We’ll head out to Animal Kingdom on the morning of Friday April 24th, 2015. I’m in the process of updating the various cheat sheets, so this should give us a good idea about whether or not our touring strategies are up to date. What the cheat sheet says:
According to the crowd calendar:
Animal Kingdom is recommended with Epcot attracting resort guests with evening Extra Magic Hours. Hollywood Studios is a better choice in most scenarios and some guests may want to take advantage of being able to see both nighttime spectaculars at Magic Kingdom, but Animal Kingdom works very well too. As always, arrive prior to Park opening and take care of Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest first thing and/or stay through close because waits only decrease as people leave in the afternoon.
We arrived at 8:20am, which is right around the sweet spot in between arriving earlier-than-really-necessary and so late that you end up waiting significantly longer at each attraction. Arriving at 8:20am instead of 8:45am is going to save us more than 25 minutes in line after just the first two attractions.
At exactly 8:45am, a short spiel welcomed us and we were allowed to enter to the Park, as the cheat sheet stipulates.
It takes about two minutes to walk through The Oasis and arrive on Discovery Island with the Tree of Life ahead.
I’ll cover construction and miscellaneous other changes of little interest at the end of this post, but it’s worth noting that a lot of the walls around the Tree of Life and Island Mercantile are down.
With a pre-rope-drop arrival, there are really two ways to attack Animal Kingdom. I favor the Africa approach, beginning with Kilimanjaro Safaris and then continuing to Asia for Kali River Rapids* and/or Expedition Everest, and onto DinoLand for Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR. Whether or not you do Kali that early depends on whether you plan to use FastPass+ at Animal Kingdom or at another Park later. The Africa Approach otherwise gets you through all the priority rides before 11am and you have little to worry about for the rest of the day. You can use FastPass+ if you choose to re-ride favorites later in the day or at choice character meet and greets like Mickey and Minnie.
The Asia approach sees the guest head straight for Expedition Everest to ride a few times with short waits before heading elsewhere. Because of its healthy capacity and the fact relatively few people show up early to Animal Kingdom, you can usually get four rides on Everest before 10am and still arrive in DinoLand before waits materialize at Primeval Whirl or DINOSAUR. You would then probably rely on FastPass+ at Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids, in addition to another attraction, later in the day.
There’s a few reasons why I like the Africa approach more. If something happens later in the day – somebody gets sick, the heat is too much, Tusker House lunch takes twice as long as expected, a ride goes down etc. you’ve already done the major attractions without FastPass+. In addition, Kilimanjaro Safaris is a different experience each time you ride and I like to get one ride in first thing to see what’s out and about and then return much later in the day to see a different variety of animals. With the Asia approach, you can still do Safaris multiple times, but it would take a FP+ after riding Everest to cut down on a probably-already-lengthy wait or you’d be riding back to back later when there’s less chance that different animals will be out.
Heading to Africa first is also probably going to be more viable for most families that aren’t planning to visit the thrill rides. Cut out Everest, Primeval Whirl, and DINOSAUR, and you can hit Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing, walk Pangani Forest Explortation Trail, and sneak into the 10am Festival of the Lion King for great seats, before heading over to DinoLand for The Boneyard and TriceraTop Spin and then walking over to see the first and least crowded Finding Nemo the Musical at 11am.
But the Asia approach is perfectly viable and favored by a lot of people that like to ride Expedition Everest over and over. If I’m going to plan to do that, I like to do so at the end of the day when waits only get shorter and shorter as Park close approaches.
Anyway, enough about me. You ordinarily won’t run into any ropes once you’re let into the Park. Note that the quick services that serve breakfast don’t typically serve until right at official open. Pizzafari here has a breakfast menu and Kusafiri in Africa also offers a breakfast sandwich. Most people will probably prefer to eat something quick before leaving the room or on the way because the early morning sees some of the shortest waits of the day and spending time eating a lengthy breakfast just means longer waits at the rides once you finish.
Once Starbucks opens here it would make sense that Pizzafari would drop breakfast.
And onto Harambe.
Tusker House is the character buffet that opens for breakfast daily at 8am. I’m not a big proponent of the 8am breakfast – too early, too expensive, and too rushed in most cases, perhaps with the exception of Be Our Guest if you’re looking to visit Anna/Elsa or Mine Train with a short standby wait first thing. And in Animal Kingdom’s case, the early breakfast is really the least advantageous as there isn’t necessarily a huge rush to Kilimanjaro Safaris with its hefty hourly capacity and plentiful FastPass+ availability.
While Safaris is supposed to be operating by the time anyone arrives, it can occasionally see a delay for a variety of reasons. After entering the Park at 8:46am, we arrived at Safaris at 8:52am and were held in front of the entrance.
It was 8:56am or just four minutes later when we were let through.
And we were on our way four minutes later at 9am. There’s a fair amount of construction out on the savanna. It will be interesting to see what they’re up to.
We were off the ride and back out front at 9:27am.
We’re going to be roughly following the basic cheat sheet morning plan:
The plan says we should have arrived at 8:55am and been on our way at 9:25am with 15 minutes to walk to Expedition Everest. Instead, we were let through at 8:56am and arrived back out front at 9:27am.
Another bonus of the Africa approach – very few people walking this path from Africa to Asia.
It’ll only be a few hours until we’re dealing with this.
You might notice the morning touring plan that doesn’t take advantage of FastPass+ puts Kali River Rapids here in the morning long before it will incur a wait. With high temperatures already reaching 90 degrees, the popular flume ride is going to have the longest peak and average wait in the Park – by far. With FastPass+, we’re going to be able to ride around 1pm when temperatures peak and we might appreciate getting drenched a little more than the morning. The good news for those of you skipping FP+ here is that the RealFeel is already going to be 80 degrees by 9:30am most days. My recommendation is usually to just skip Kali entirely. The potential discomfort is not worth what amounts to one of the most disappointing major attractions in a Disney theme park.
Walls still surround the walk into Asia.
And continue up through Everest and through DinoLand for Rivers of Light construction – the new nighttime show expected to arrive in spring of next year.
The cheat sheet allows for 15 minutes to walk to Everest – we arrived in less than ten at a gingerly pace. The posted wait is 15 minutes.
We were on in less than ten.
And back out front 16 minutes later at 9:50am to a 25-minute wait.
Singer rider is very viable at this hour for those that don’t mind spending 2 minutes and 54 seconds of your vacation apart. Your expected wait in single rider would be two minutes at worst. You tend to get people that are more and more willing to split up the later in the day it gets. I have no idea why…
From here it’s on to DinoLand USA, where you could argue there are 1.5 priorities, whether you consider both DINOSAUR and Primeval Whirl to equal 1.5 decent rides or figure peak waits at both are low enough that they aren’t necessarily as big of a deal as something like Mine Train or Test Track.
Walls lining the walk to DinoLand.
The cheat sheet plan has us arriving at Primeval Whirl in DinoLand at 10:05am or ten minutes after disembarking Everest. In reality, it took us about six minutes to walk it, including intermittent stops for photos.
While it’s unlikely either Primeval Whirl or TriceraTop Spin will accumulate waits by 10am, we still prioritize Primeval Whirl because it does see higher peak waits and is more likely to see longer waits later in the day due to tour groups, FastPass+ backups, etc.
Arriving at 9:56am, the posted wait is ten minutes.
With virtually zero FastPass+ returners and both sides of the ride operating, we’ll end up waiting less than two.
I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good thing.
The cheat sheet allots ten minutes and our total experience time ended up being ten minutes. Even in heavier crowds, there isn’t going to be anybody here this early.
TriceraTop Spin is up next if your party has interest. The cheat sheet allots eight minutes here from 10:17am-10:25am.
The popular Goofy and Pluto meet down below would be a good alternative for the kids while others do DINOSAUR and Primeval Whirl.
It ended up taking six minutes and we remain about 13 minutes ahead of schedule with the current time of 10:12am. The times are padded a bit for unexpected bathroom breaks, etc.
Nearby DINOSAUR is up next. The cheat sheet calls for FastPass+ here around 10:30am with a window of 10am-11am. Under FP+, average and peak waits had taken off at DINOSAUR due to maximum FastPass+ distribution even on the least crowded days of the year. We can take a look at posted waits over the last month to see if that trend continues:
Larger for a complete picture: https://www.easywdw.com/reports13/dinosaurapril.jpg.
Looking at wait times around 10:30am in particular:
For the most part, it looks like wait times are tolerable, even over the busy Easter season towards the beginning of the month. Still, the occasional 30 minute posted wait pops up, particularly as you edge further away from 10:15am and closer to 10:45am. Time really is of the essence over the first two hours, which is why the early arrival is so essential. If you arrive at 8:50am instead of 8:20am, you’re going to end up waiting an extra ten minutes at Safaris, which will turn into an extra 20 minutes at Everest, which will turn into an extra 30 minutes at DINOSAUR and will continue ballooning from there.
I made FastPass+ reservations the night before and got most of what I needed, though the Mickey/Minnie meet had severely limited options and I ended up scheduling them for 11:40am-12:40pm instead of the 11am-12pm that the cheat sheet calls for.
With the positive recommendation, the average overall crowd level, and easy touring so far, I decided to call an audible and change our FastPass+ reservation on the fly from DINOSAUR to something else. Remember, you can change your FastPass+ selection to a different time or experience in the same theme park, based on availability, even after the window opens.
Using the My Disney Experience app, it took less than 90 seconds to switch out DINOSAUR for a convenient Everest FP+ shortly after our Kali River Rapids FP+ expires in the afternoon.
The DINOSAUR FP+ otherwise would have been useless:
We marched right into the next pre-show in standby along with anyone else that would have arrived with FP+.
If flash photography alters the homing beacon, I would hate to find out what selfie sticks do.
After the pre-show, you can run into a bit of a wait at loading, particularly if they’re only running one side.
That’s not much of a concern here.
The cheat sheet allots 20 minutes with FastPass+. We ended up arriving at 10:17am and were back out front at 10:35am for a total experience time of 18 minutes after basically getting as close to walking on as possible.
In the cheat sheet revision, I think we’ll move up DINOSAUR to standby right after Expedition Everest and plan to use FastPass+ elsewhere.
At 10:40am, TiceraTop Spin would still be a two or three minute wait with Primeval Whirl nearing actual waits of eight or nine minutes.
The cheat sheet plan next calls for a visit to nearby Mickey and Minnie with FP+. That would allow you to basically walk in to the only remaining meet and greet where the two famous mice ordinarily meet together. Using FP+ that early also allows an earlier visit to a kiosk for a 4th FP+, which we’ll discuss in more depth when that comes up. Because I set up FP+ the day before and availability for Adventurers Outpost was very slim, we’ll visit the 11am Finding Nemo the Musical in the meantime. Seeing the first show of either Nemo (usually at 11am) or Festival of the Lion King (usually at 10am) will result in some of the lowest crowds of the day, which in turn means finding better seats with the least amount of lead time possible.
Using FastPass+ for most shows winds up being largely useless. At Nemo and Lion King, the FP+ return time is going to be between 30 and 10 minutes before showtime. So for an 11am show, the return time would be 10:30am to 10:50am. If you’re going to show up 30 minutes early, you might as well use standby as your seat would be somewhere between very similar and the same as what you’d get with FP+, just because FP+ users don’t fill in that much space and you would arrive in front of virtually anybody else in standby.
At 10:40am, FastPass+ users are already allowed in the theater through the open door in the picture above, while the rest of us file down into this outdoor holding area.
5 minutes later, at 10:45am, we were let in. So for FastPass+ to have any value here at all, you’d either have to arrive at least 15 minutes early to beat standby or arrive very late with hopes of finding the theater mostly full and a sympathetic cast member that ignores the FP+ return window and lets your party enter the theater in front of some poor lowly family planning to use standby. Neither situation is particularly ideal. If you arrived at 10:50am with FastPass+, the theater would already be full of everyone that arrived earlier than you in standby. Using FastPass+ at Nemo or Lion King is really not much of a time or comfort saver.
Entering the theater in standby, there’s plenty of room.
In the front too.
I prefer to sit a little further back, here with several mostly-empty rows off to the side.
Nemo is a bright, fun, musical on a scale not often seen at Walt Disney World these days.
I recommend seeing it. You’ll need to budget about 50 minutes with the 35-minute runtime.
Leaving the theater is always sort of a clustercuss. There’s only one exit in the back right of the theater as you look at the stage. You could plan to sit near the exit for a quick escape or wait around after the show concludes to wait for the area to clear out. Or you can push your way through right after the show ends like everybody else.
At 11:45am, the posted wait for Primeval Whirl is still 10 minutes.
TriceraTop Spin would take about the same amount of time with the limited capacity.
DINOSAUR was posted at 20 minutes with guests already filing in through the outdoor extended queue, which isn’t a good sign.
Heading over to Mickey and Minnie.
After a bathroom break and some construction pictures, we arrive at Adventurers Outpost right at 12pm with a 15-minute posted wait.
A chart of wait times for the Mickey/Minnie Adventurers Outpost meet over the last month, with the blue highlighted portion highlighting expected waits in the window where we’re planning to use FP+:
Again, with the positive recommendation and average overall crowd level, waits remain manageable for the most part. That’s why the cheat sheet does offer a morning touring plan without FastPass+, just in case you want to park hop and use it at priority attractions elsewhere. FP+ would save you a lot more time at Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Star Tours in the afternoon than anything you could use it on here.
The plan without FastPass+, which should include Mickey and Minnie in the next revision.
Still, FastPass+ does make touring a lot easier.
FastPass+ users wait in this nondescript room before merging with standby.
Adventurers Outpost is one of my favorite meet and greets, featuring Mickey and Minnie in fun outfits with an interesting background. We got in line at 12pm, met Mickey at 12:11pm, and were back out front at 12:13pm to a 20-minute posted wait.
Kali River Rapids is our next FP+ with the window opening at 12:40pm and continuing through 1:40pm. With the built-in grace period five minutes prior to the start of the window and continuing for 15 minutes after, that makes the “real” window between 12:35pm and 1:55pm. So there’s somewhere between 25 and 100 minutes for lunch.
Checking in on the Kali River Rapids wait, which is already up to 60 minutes with the heat.
It ended up being less than ten minutes between our arrival and seating, which is about as efficient as you could expect.
The restaurant revamped its menu back in December, changing a few recipes and adding new items:
Not a lot has changed, but you might want to double check to make sure a favorite is still on the menu with a similar presentation. The popular steak/shrimp combo is still on the menu, but the presentation, preparation, and ingredients are very different.
I won’t rehash most of my thoughts on the restaurant. Past reviews are available here (in addition to a look at most of the alcoholic drinks available around the Park and a better look around the restaurant) with a second review available here.
I started with the $4.99 Wonton Soup – Pork wontons, clear chicken broth and vegetables, which arrived alongside some crispy wontons.
With three sizable wontons packed with pork and toppings served in a piping hot broth, I thought this was a nice way to start a meal for five bucks or so.
For an entree, I went with a menu staple, the $27.99 Slow-roasted pork ribs, hoisin BBQ sauce, chicken fried rice, sweet chili slaw.
The hoisin bbq sauce is somewhat unique with its salty, sweet tang. The portion size is very large, like it is with most of Yak & Yeti’s entrees. The ribs even come pre-portioned in two sets of four ribs each. The meat was otherwise tender without being mushy. With virtually no fat to speak of, the meat had a nice bite off the bone, which I appreciated. Disney’s ribs usually have a fatty, mushy texture.
Their fried rice is reliably prepared well with interesting vegetables.
The sweet chili slaw is virtually identical to what they serve during lunch at Kona Cafe. It’s a mixture of crunchy vegetables in a sweet chili sauce, as you might expect from the description.
Lisa ordered the relatively new Chicken Tikka Masala – Boneless chicken breast marinated in yogurt and freshly ground herbs cooked in a traditional Masala sauce, jasmine rice, garlic naan bread – $23. I’m not sure how obviously large the portion size is, but that is not a small scoop of rice. It was a ton of tender chicken in a sauce that overwhelmingly tasted like a mildly spicy yellow curry.
The naan and rice serve as nice accompaniments to soak up any additional sauce. Lisa enjoyed it.
I like Yak & Yeti a lot, but it is on the expensive side for lunch with just the one menu served all day. Disney table service ribs usually come in between $22 and $24, compared to $28 here. $23 on the chicken is $2 or $3 more expensive than you’d expect to pay at a Disney-operated restaurant. Overall, one soft drink, the soup, and two entrees came out to over $75 with tax and tip. And they don’t take Tables in Wonderland, though they do offer 10% off entrees for Annual Passholders and DVC members. That would present a savings of about $5 on a $60 bill.
Otherwise, the atmosphere is a lot of fun, service is reliably friendly, it’s usually easy to get seated without a reservation, the food is good, portions are large, and it’s a relaxing overall experience, even if it is occasionally loud. With that said, it’s not an inexpensive proposition compared to the quick service next door, which serves good food for around $10/entree.
Taking a look at Kali River Rapids wait times over the last month:
The blue section highlights the time around when I like to use FP+. It’s after lunch so you’re not sitting there wet trying to order and eat and it’s late enough that temperatures should be plenty comfortable for a water ride. It’s also early enough for a 3rd FP+ use that a decent 4th option should be available after.
Free lockers remain available to the left of the entrance, which you want to use for anything and everything you don’t want getting wet.
With the 55-minute posted wait, the locker was available free for 210 minutes, or 3.5 hours.
We ended up being about seven minutes past our official FP+ time, arriving at the entrance at 1:47pm. It’s no problem. The Mickey reader automatically turns green given the grace period. We were back out front with our stuff out of the locker at 2:10pm, for a total experience time of about 23 minutes. 20 minutes is about the least amount of time it’s going to take in the afternoon. Budget up to 30 minutes come summer.
Changing the earlier FP+ from DINOSAUR to Everest makes a return visit easy here at 2:16pm with a 35-minute posted wait. The FastPass+ line is backed up outside the entrance fairly far due to user error of some sort. These sorts of backups are somewhat common, but not really a big deal. You’re either waiting for this many people in front of you in line outside the FP+ entrance or further inside the queue waiting to get to the merge point with standby.
We boarded exactly five minutes later at 2:21pm.
And back out front just 11 minutes later to a 45-minute peak wait, which is slightly above average.
Animal Kingdom, like the other Parks, typically sees its highest wait times between 12pm and 4pm.
With the restricted walkways due to construction and what probably amounts to poor planning overall, portions of the Park “feel crowded,” even given average crowds. After using your third FastPass+ or after the return window of the third FastPass+ passes, you’re eligible to visit a FastPass+ kiosk to check availability for a fourth. Believe it or not, the Asia FastPass+ kiosk is visible in this picture.
We chose Kilimanjaro Safaris for 3:20pm to 4:20pm, which is about 50 minutes in the future. Once you make an additional FastPass+ reservation at a kiosk, you can modify it via the My Disney Experience app on your phone. So it isn’t necessarily essential that you get exactly what you want at the kiosk, which can be a hectic experience as the cast member tries to rush you through the lagging screens. Just make sure you get the party members right and pick an attraction. Then change it at your leisure.
For a party of 2 at 2:37pm given average to very slightly above average crowds, this is what was available:
A couple times for Safaris.
A few times for DINOSAUR.
The next three showings of Lion King.
Just the next show for Finding Nemo.
Plenty for It’s Tough To Be A Bug.
And Primeval Whirl.
Remember that the day before, there was virtually no availability for Mickey and Minnie with the “no alternate times available” warning on the right. That meet and greet along with Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest had no 4th FP+ availability when we checked at 2:37pm. That’s not necessarily the end of the world as we’ve already visited all of those attractions at least once.
Speaking of additional FastPass+ opportunities, the kiosk locations have changed again:
I’ve circled the new locations on the map above. The location next to Kali is official just as of April 26th.
From the ground, as you enter the Park, the first actual kiosk you’ll see is near the base of the Tree of Life on the right outside Disney Outfitters.
The “FastPass+ Service Center” is located at the regular Guest Relations office, which is just inside the entrance on the left. They can help with big picture problems, but will likely send you to a kiosk if you’re looking to set up a 4th FastPass+.
The other FastPass+ kiosk closest to the entrance/exit is across the way next to Island Mercantile.
The kiosk location in Africa hasn’t changed. It’s right past the bridge on the left.
The new location in Asia is about in the least convenient location possible.
If you can avoid the Kali FP+ location, I would. Unfortunately, it’s the most convenient to Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest.
Overall, the day went well. The only change I think I’ll make to the plan is moving DINOSAUR up after Expedition Everest in standby and then add FastPass+ somewhere else later in the day – probably Expedition Everest. Eating lunch around 11:15am is otherwise a lot better than 12pm. While I didn’t get a picture, the line to Restaurantosaurus was out the door at noon. Planning an early lunch, as the cheat sheet calls for, will result in a lot less hassle for that Mickey burger.
Lines have been so long at Restaurantosaurus that Disney installed water dispensers outside the entrance in what can be an external queue. Things should cool off a bit when Flame Tree reopens, hopefully next month.
So in less than six hours, we accomplished:
- 1x Kilimanjaro Safaris
- 2x Expedition Everest
- 1x Primeval Whirl
- 1x TriceraTop Spin
- 1x DINOSAUR
- 1x Finding Nemo the Musical
- 1x Adventurers Outpost Mickey and Minnie Meet
- 1x table service lunch
- 1x Kali River Rapids
Not too bad. A look at wait times over the course of the day:
Waits continues to drop in the evening. You could fit three or four more rides on Everest in the final hour or walk on Safaris or something else. If you wanted another ride on Kali, it would be prudent to get in line a couple minutes before close. Attendance was a little higher than expected on this particular day due to a heavy storm the morning before. Wait times from Thursday the 23rd, another recommended day:
The weather necessitated the close of Expedition Everest for over an hour in the morning. Waits rose quickly for a while in the afternoon, but the Park emptied out as people were more or less able to walk on everything by 4pm with the 7pm close.
Projects continue inside and outside the Park. Some sort of repaving work is going on near disabled parking and the charter bus lot.
Not much of the Avatar construction is visible, but at least one show building towers above the tree line with multiple cranes doing work.
From the top of Everest.
Not much to see across the water.
Roof work continues at Flame Tree Barbecue, which is now expected to reopen no sooner than May 23rd.
The food it used to offer is still available at various nearby kiosks.
Very little, if any, work looks to have been completed in the seating area.
Discovery Outfitters is being expanded on both sides.
I got a kick out of the sign they stuck in front of the building that will soon be Starbucks. “There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” Except there was no place to put the coffee store so they had to repurpose a shop.
Daisy continues to meet on the walk to Africa to mostly short waits.
The dock area behind her old meet and greet building has been removed.
More walls near Baby Care on the walk to Africa.
The morning stroll back to Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Oh, the front of the Theater in the Wild got a paint job.
That’s what’s going on at Animal Kingdom.