We’re headed to Animal Kingdom on the morning of Friday, May 24th, 2019 to see about a regular 8am open.
It’s 6:51am, which means it’s about five minutes before bag check begins. Until that process gets underway, we’ll line up in front of one of the tables. Those without bags congregate in the middle.
Guests without bags continue to have an advantage at Animal Kingdom as they’ll be released from the bag check holding area towards the entrance tapstiles first. And because they don’t have bags, they won’t be slowed down by the search process. It’s a moderate gripe as the last person to arrive at bag check without a bag will be in front of the first person to arrive with a bag once we get to the tapstiles, which is where we’ll wait until the actual Park opening process begins.
If your party consists of more than one person, then you may have one or more members collect the group’s bags for bag check and then send the recently-bagless to the no-bag area to enjoy their head start. After everyone has completed their predetermined version of security theater, you can meet up at the tapstiles. A couple of weeks ago, Disney re-calibrated the metal detectors so they won’t beep given common pocketed items, like smartphones, keys, or wallets, in addition to belt buckles and the like. You’ll still place large items off to the side, but you should be able to prance right through the metal detectors with your pockets full.
With the 8am open, and assuming you’re headed to Flight of Passage first thing, I’d try to arrive by 7am if you can. 7:10am will do. 7:20am is probably too late. Above is the meager crowd at 7:10am – there aren’t a lot of people in attendance.
We’ve seen a great number of different opening procedures at Animal Kingdom in what is now the 2+ years since Pandora opened. With a 7am arrival, it won’t matter much which line you choose once you arrive at the entrance. Closer to 7:10am, things will begin to back up. On this particular morning, at 7:13am, additional lines opened to the right of where I was standing, which had been the last uncovered tapstile on the right. That gave those behind me an opportunity to move over into a shorter line. I’ve also been at rope drops where no additional lines opened. If your party consists of more than one person, then you may elect to have someone wait in a line in front of an uncovered tapstile and then have another stand in front of a covered tapstile that may be uncovered and put to use closer to Park open. If no additional tapstiles open, the other person can simply return to the original line. If new lines form, then the other members of the group can scoot over to the shorter line. That technique will save you more time if you’re 15+ people back in line.
Just seven minutes later, at 7:20am, the mass of humanity stretches back past the ticket booths. There may be no telling which line any of these people are actually standing in at this point.
Between 7:15am and 7:30am, guests should be allowed inside the Park. The specific timing doesn’t necessarily matter as we’ll want to be here either way. I’d actually prefer to wait outside the entrance than our next stop, which will be right before the bridge over to Pandora.
The walk/run to Pandora is typically a bit of a free-for-all, but the paths are wide enough that it’s not anywhere close to as uncomfortable as the huddled slow-walk to Slinky Dog Dash or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
The tapstiles also act as a “natural” barrier with only one or two people able to tap their ticket/MagicBand and gain entry every handful of seconds.
As always, we are headed to the left.
For Flight of Passage, we want to move as quickly as possible. If you’re not headed to Flight of Passage, then you can take things much slower, enjoying the walk in and taking as many pictures as you’d like. There won’t be another opportunity to get a photo with the Tree of Life with “literally” nobody else around until after 11pm. With the 8am open, there will be far fewer people in attendance, which does make for a less stressful experience wherever you decide to go.
Na’vi River Journey, also in Pandora, is a much, much, much lower priority than Flight of Passage. But it still opens with the Land, typically between 7:30am and 7:45am with an 8am open, or 8:25am and 8:40am with a 9am open. Because of that, if you make it to the Park this early, but don’t want to deal with the hassle to get to Flight of Passage quickly, then you might as well still head to Na’vi River Journey first thing. You’ll be able to ride at least once and still make it to your first attraction outside of Pandora before the rest of the Park opens. While we’ll be heading to Pandora at 7:35am, no other attractions are open that early. Everything else will come online right at 8am at the earliest. So your options are to do a little shopping, twiddle your thumbs, or head over to Na’vi.
You’ll shave a few seconds off your walk to Pandora by taking the path closest to the Island Mercantile.
On the other hand, if we all took the much wider path to the right, we’d all still be in the same position.
You have no idea how hard it is for me to pass Nomad Lounge without going in. But I do it for you.
The next holding area is just up ahead.
The walk towards Flight of Passage typically begins 15 to 40 minutes before the Park is officially scheduled to open, depending on crowds and operations. Occasionally, there may be a delay for one reason or another, whether it be technical issues, filming, or what have you. I arrived here at the red line at 7:30am.
And by some miracle, we were on our way just one minute later.
For Flight of Passage, we’ll want to stay to the right and keep up with the group as much as possible. For Na’vi River Journey, you can hang back as far as you’d like and simply continue in a straight line toward the boat ride’s entrance. There is no rush to River Journey whatsoever.
And we’re walking.
Our path is clear.
There is nobody headed to Na’vi River Journey.
As an added bonus, the morning is the prettiest time of the day in Pandora with the morning glow on the Hallelujah Mountains.
Perhaps due to the fact that there were relatively few people participating, the walk towards Flight of Passage was easily the calmest that I’ve ever experienced.
And this was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend.
We’ll swing around.
My early arrival puts me closer to the front of the pack, though I’ve certainly fallen behind those a little more eager than me.
But that’s actually the end of the line there, which goes back to our theory that 8am opens are worth seeking out because far fewer people are in attendance that early. If this was a 9am open, so many more people would be here that the back of the line would not be visible.
I’m passing by the entrance to Avatar – Flight of Passage at 7:35am, a full 25 minutes before the rest of the Park opens. We can ignore the 60-minute posted wait that shows up by default here. As long as you’re among the first 400 or so people, your actual wait will be under 20 minutes if all the theaters are operating.
There are a couple of traffic patterns in use depending on the day of your visit. Sometimes, you’ll walk straight into the FastPass+ queue.
We’re winding around, instead.
Don’t be too put off if the line moves slowly to start.
Everybody stops to take this picture on the bridge looking out at the vast alien landscape.
We’ll head through the cave portion of the standby queue.
But this early, we’re going to be diverted through the FastPass+ line, which bypasses all of the laboratory portion of the queue.
That’s a bit of a bummer as the queue helps build the story behind the ride. If you want to walk the queue, you’ll likely need to wait until cast members begin sending people in that direction. At that point, the actual standby wait will likely exceed 45 minutes, which probably isn’t worth it. If you’d like to walk the queue, then you may elect to get in line a few minutes before Park close, when standby waits will decrease to 30 to 60 minutes. I’ve outlined what to expect from a late night visit to Pandora here. I’ll be comparing and contrasting the two strategies as we move through the day, but the ability to walk the standby queue is an advantage to the late arrival. Waiting less is an advantage to the early arrival.
Here we are squarely in the FP+ line, though we obviously don’t have or need FP+ at this point. With FP+ only distributed during normal operating hours, nobody with FP+ priority is going to arrive until after 8am. The fact that 100% of the capacity goes to standby is what helps us move through the line faster both here at rope drop and last thing at night.
With all theaters operating, I’ll be able to basically walk into the next pre-show.
Later on, if you’re using FastPass+, you’ll likely find these lines full, which will result in a longer overall experience time than I’m going to find here.
I entered the queue right around 7:36am and was in the first pre-show room less than ten minutes later.
Five minutes later, I’m into the second pre-show.
And 13 minutes after that, I’m down in the gift shop. While Disney couldn’t keep these banshees in stock for about a year after Pandora opened in May 2017, there’s plenty of adoption opportunities available now.
So much so that Disney is throwing in the perch “for free” via a $25 discount on the set. Certain colors of banshees have also hit the outlets.
Na’vi River Journey is our next stop. It’s an easy walk over.
You may run into this rope that extends across the path. Every day, the line for Flight of Passage spills out of the extended queue and backs up all the way back to the bridge over to Africa.
After a minute or two, the rope will be taken down, allowing those waiting to head over to the other side of the Valley of Mo’ara.
Only five minutes into Park operation, and I’ve already experienced the most popular ride in any Walt Disney World Park and one that will see peak waits of 2.5 hours virtually every day. To accomplish that, I “only” needed to arrive by 7am and then wait about a half hour to be released towards Pandora. While it’s an early morning, the pay off is substantial.
Here’s a look at Flight of Passage’s wait times in May:
Flight of Passage’s average wait, as seen in the lower right hand corner, remains above two hours. As always, if you’re running behind in the morning and arrive later than you’d like, the worst place to find yourself first thing is in a 90+ minute wait for a ride. By 9am, Flight of Passage’s average posted wait is just shy of two hours with an actual wait that should be between 75 and 100 minutes. 30 minutes later, at 9:30am, actual waits approach two or more hours. Beginning around noon, there is a bit of a lull as those who arrived during the first hour finish up with the ride and few people get in a line that says the wait is going to be 150+ minutes. Lunch probably also has something to do with the drop in waits.
During the month of May last year, Flight of Passage’s average wait was “just” 104 minutes, so we’re seeing in increase of about 25%. The ride’s popularity, and crowds in general, certainly aren’t diminishing. Do what you can to ride Flight of Passage first thing, last thing, or with FastPass+. If that fails, get in line around noon when waits have peaked elsewhere.
Na’vi River Journey remains a walk-on at 8:06am. If I had started my day here at 7:35am, I could be getting in line for the fourth time right around now as each ride-through takes about ten minutes with little to no initial wait.
There’s maybe five people coming over here from Flight of Passage at this point.
And about the same number of people coming in from the main entrance. Thanks 8am open.
I made it this far into the queue without running into resistance. The merge with FastPass+ is about five people ahead of where I’m currently standing. At this point, nobody is arriving with FP+, which also benefits us as most of the ride’s capacity is going to standby.
After merge, there’s about two minutes worth of line ahead of me.
I arrived at 8:05am and was on-board at 8:11am for an actual wait of about six minutes.
That’s a full TWENTY PERCENT HIGHER than advertised.
Where is your manager?
I was back out front at 8:19am for a total experience time of 14 minutes and a posted wait that remains five minutes.
It also looks like the number of people around here has doubled! To ten! I thought this was supposed to be a low crowd time.
As you might expect, the line is a little longer this time as I got right back in line.
I was on-board at 8:27am.
Which means my actual wait was seven minutes.
FORTY PERCENT HIGHER THAN ADVERTISED.
Where is your manager?
No, I won’t go stand over there.
Anything you can say to me over there, you can say to me over here.
I was back out front at 8:35am for a total experience time of 15 minutes and a posted wait that is now THREE TIMES LONGER than when I got in line.
There’s now a handful of people around. At this point in the morning, the 15-minute posted wait is about accurate.
Here’s a look at River Journey’s posted waits in May:
Na’vi River Journey is much more forgiving than Flight of Passage, with an average wait for the month that’s less than half of the flight simulator. Wait times also rise much slower in the morning, though by 9:15am, the average wait is still 40 minutes. With a 9am published open, 9:15am is still typically 30 to 45 minutes after Pandora opens. While downtime isn’t that common at Na’vi, we do see the ride go down on about 35.5% of days, typically for about a half hour. On the day of my visit, on May 24th, there’s about 30 minutes of downtime shortly after 9am. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of that downtime is due to people deciding that they’d “literally” rather be doing anything else and then jump out of the boat in a blaze of glory and swim madly back to the dock. “I just want to ride a real ride, like TriceraTop Spin.”
In May 2018, River Journey’s average wait was 64 minutes, so we actually see a drop there year-over-year. That may not be surprising given most people’s reactions to the ride. It’s certainly worth experiencing for yourself if you can ride it as easily as I did early in the morning. On the other hand, I’m giving up a couple of rides on Expedition Everest or another priority attraction without any wait to do so. Once you experience the River Journey for yourself, you can decide how much you’d like to prioritize it in the future.
I caught a few minutes of the Pandora Drummer show.
Flight of Passage was advertising a 2-hour wait at this sign on the left at 8:37am. At the attraction entrance, a 135-minute wait is posted.
Flight of Passage’s queue winds around and around back in this direction, ultimately stretching back along the bridge that goes all the way to Africa. If the actual wait was 135 minutes, you wouldn’t disembark the ride until 11am. At that point, waits would begin to be prohibitive at almost every other attraction that posts one. Meanwhile, all of these people could walk on any other attraction of their choosing. This is the absolute worst place that they could be. And we thank them profusely for doing so as this is exactly what is freeing up every other attraction for us to enjoy next.
Overall, my morning in Pandora was incredibly successful. It was the easiest Flight of Passage rope drop experience that I’ve ever enjoyed, due in part to the fact that there were fewer people around with the 8am open. Two years in, there are probably fewer people willing to get up at 5:30am, to be at the bus stop by 6:20am, to be at the Park by 7am.
This is how my day went:
- Flight of Passage: 7:35am – 8:05am
- Na’vi River Journey: 8:06am – 8:19am
- Na’vi River Journey: 8:20am – 8:35am
Just 35 minutes into Park operation, I’ve already experienced both high priority attractions and I’m ready to head somewhere else, where I shouldn’t run into an appreciable wait. All told, I’ve spent 105 minutes at the Park, given the fact that I arrived at 6:50am.
The week before, during our afternoon arrival with Pandora last thing, this was the timing that I experienced at the two Pandora attractions:
- Na’vi River Journey: 8:24pm – 8:58pm
- Avatar Flight of Passage: 8:59pm – 10:03pm
Doing both rides at night took 99 minutes, or six minutes less. But I also did Na’vi River Journey just the one time. In the morning, it took me 89 minutes to experience both Pandora rides a single time. The bottom line is that the time investment is similar whether you want to do the early or late arrival. Both strategies work well with the bulk of the wait occurring outside of normal operating hours.
We’ll see how the rest of the morning goes, but we’re certainly off to a good start.
Part Two follows here.