ENOUGH WITH HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS, ALREADY! Although…if you missed the website’s recent coverage of touring Toy Story Land, you can pull that post up here.
It’s 7:37am on the morning of Sunday July 8, 2018 and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Disney’s Animal Kingdom to rope drop Avatar Flight of Passage. This early, parking and bag check are a breeze and we’re continuing on to wait in one of the two lines that have formed in front of the ticket booths. I think security keeps us this far back because there’s far too much available space to keep an eye on up ahead.
Buses from the various resorts begin running before 6:30am, regardless of what anyone else will tell you, so you can rely on Disney to get you here this early. Driving yourself may also be an option, in addition to going the Lyft/Uber route. Come next year, I feel like there will be rogue gondolas flying around all over the place, so you might try to hitch a ride on one of those. You might win the lottery and land in Galaxy’s Edge without the 3-week wait.
With the continued popularity of Pandora, it’s somewhat surprising that the Park is opening at 9am most days in July, particularly when you consider that we’re coming off of just about two straight months where Animal Kingdom hosted a morning Extra Magic Hour virtually every day. But as we know, the summer ain’t what it used to be in terms of crowds or wait times.
Here at 7:45am, fewer than 100 people have arrived, which is good news. I decided to see how things would go if I got in line on the right. We’ll see why the left line, as pictured above, is a smarter choice in a moment.
At 7:47am, we were allowed to press forward up to the main area in front of the entrance. The set of tapstiles on the far left is used for those with tours or Tusker House breakfast reservations. Most of them will enter at 7:55am.
And after they enter, that set of tapstiles will convert over to one that all guests can use. So if you’re a little further back in line, you can quickly move over to the newly-opened tapstiles and be closer to the front of the line. If you’re already near the front of your line, then you can stay put and have a little protection from people trying to cut in from the sides, as is often the case.
Half of the tapstiles remained roped off and covered.
So at 8am, the lines to enter are already backed up past the ticket booths.
At 8:12am, the tapstiles opened and we were allowed to enter the Park. This has been standard operating procedure.
The walk in was more chill than it has been in recent memory with just a couple of runners waving as they passed. You might remember this tweet from a couple of months ago, where a hundred people run past me as I smugly walk to Na’vi River Journey because I have an 8am Flight of Passage FP+. It was a rare opportunity to feel like Len Testa.
Just about everyone at rope drop is headed towards Pandora, but you can have just about any other attraction to yourself if you want to put the World of James Cameron off for later. One downside to visiting another Land is that attractions outside Pandora don’t typically begin operating until right at 9am. I’ll be heading into the queue for Flight of Passage before 8:40am and I’ll be finished with the super headliner just five minutes after official Park open at 9:05am. If I had gone to Everest first, I wouldn’t be finished with that until around 9:10am even if there are only six people in line.
I would reiterate the ease of rope dropping Na’vi River Journey, the boat ride in Pandora. This post goes over what that looks like. You can hang back behind the sizable rope drop crowd and easily saunter over to River Journey at your convenience with just a couple dozen other people. Riding Na’vi will take less than 15 minutes and you can then head to another attraction outside of Pandora. That’s a particularly good strategy if you have managed to obtain Flight of Passage FP+ for later and don’t want to deal with the mess that’s about to follow.
Here we are approaching the bridge connecting Pandora to Discovery Island at 8:18am. Everyone else will also be heading here.
Next up is the least pleasant of the holding areas, the bridge into Pandora. The only things flowing here are odors and regret.
Here I am at 8:19am with probably 150 people in front of me. It turns out that taking a picture every five steps slows you down. Who knew?
Here’s the scene behind me at 8:25am.
Here’s 8:32am or right before we’re going to be allowed to continue forward. If you’re heading to Na’vi River Journey first, you really can safely stay at the very back of that pack and literally let every single person go in front of you. You’ll still wait less than five minutes for River Journey as long as the Pandora Conservation Association isn’t celebrating the International Day of the Na’vi at Animal Kingdom or something. And even then, I would guess that group is probably only made up of seven or eight people.
Here we go at 8:33am. Elbows up!
This is a reused image from last year, but it shows the path that we’ll be taking. For Flight of Passage, stay to the far right and be prepared to fight.
Actually, while it’s still a bit hurried, the walk to Flight of Passage isn’t nearly as unpleasant as it was at this time last year. “Civilized” is never a word I would use to describe rope drop, but it was an orderly walk, at least near the front.
Maybe not so much back there, somewhere. I don’t understand why nobody’s smiling.
Don’t be too put off by the early morning backup. Everybody is stopping to take the same picture in the queue up ahead.
Don’t let what will likely be a 60-minute posted wait deter your advances, either.
We won’t be waiting that long.
There’s literally nobody heading to Na’vi River Journey. I’m sure you can’t come to any conclusions about the quality of the ride based on that.
I should mention that this is a below average rope drop crowd. Unless it’s pouring rain or there is some sort of other disaster such as easywdw.com being down, this is what you’ll see every day, at a minimum.
As we discovered a few rope drop posts ago, those near the front of the mass headed towards Flight of Passage go through the FastPass+ queue.
That may be a slight bummer because the standby queue sets the stage nicely for the experience that follows, in addition to holding a lot of neat things to see. On the plus side, it does cut the overall experience time down by a couple of minutes and we’ll be on our way to the pure joy that is Na’vi River Journey that much sooner.
At 8:46am, I was already in the first pre-show room.
And at 9:04am, or just four minutes after the Park officially opened, I was back out front asking this guy questions about Molycorp’s 2014 restructuring. He did not seem amused.
At 9:05am, the posted wait is up to two hours, which is probably exaggerated by about 30 minutes if you were to get in line right now.
There’s always one very stable genius that mocks our 7:45am arrival, laughing about how we ended up waiting an hour before the Park opened just to save an hour in line. But compared to a 9am arrival at the front of the Park, I’ve already saved what will be a 2-hour wait at Flight of Passage and I’m in the best possible position to enjoy short waits at other attractions for the rest of my morning. Also, a big shout out to that lady in the cool hat that rope dropped the jumbo pretzel stand. That’s how you do theme parks right. I may have to take these touring plans back to the drawing board.
I moseyed over to Na’vi River Journey to see if I could still expect to “enjoy” a short wait over there after first riding Flight of Passage in standby.
“Yes” is the answer. There were maybe 40 people in front of me, if that.
I arrived at 9:06am and boarded my boat at 9:12am:
I was back out front at 9:21am for a total experience time of 15 minutes. The posted wait is now 35 minutes and the actual wait is probably closer to 20.
The entire queue for Flight of Passage is full as it continues to stretch back towards Africa across the way.
Having already made it through both Pandora attractions before 9:30am, I have an opportunity to enjoy some of the flora.
Despite the popularity of Flight of Passage, the Land itself remains calm most of the day. There’s only a couple dozen people milling about the Land, probably trying to get as far from Na’vi River Journey as possible.
Or because most of them are in this 2+ hour standby queue for Flight of Passage.
That extends back there somewhere.
As usual, you only want to attempt rope dropping Flight of Passage if you can arrive 60-75 minutes before official open and have the ability to hurry to the attraction. There’s no worse place to be in Animal Kingdom than at the end of a 120+ minute line for Flight of Passage at 9:20am. Waits remain short virtually everywhere else at that time of day.
Here’s a look at wait times over the course of the day:
Here at 9:30am, Expedition Everest is still sporting a 5-minute wait, while Safaris is up to 15 minutes, but is probably still largely a walk-on. If you were to wait two hours for Flight of Passage beginning at 9:30am, by 11:30am you’d find a wait that’s gone up 600% at Expedition Everest and a 65-minute posted wait at Safaris that’s probably now accurate. You’ll notice that Flight of Passage’s wait drops in the afternoon and early evening with the 95-minute wait at 1:30pm. If you have to wait 90+ minutes to ride, you might as well do so when waits have peaked everywhere else. And the standby queue will be contained entirely within the attraction’s entrance, so you don’t have to deal with as many line cutters. Above, also note that the day’s average wait, as seen in the lower right hand corner of the chart, is 36 minutes.
We recently took a deep dive into Animal Kingdom wait times so far this year in this post, concluding that Wednesdays are the best day of the week to visit Animal Kingdom, with Sunday being a close second.
Here’s one of the charts from that post with Animal Kingdom’s average wait for each day through June of this year. This chart takes eight Animal Kingdom attractions into account, so we have to eliminate Kali River Rapids and the Mickey/Minnie Meet and Greet, which I included in the June 8th chart just so you could see how those wait times progressed over the course of the day. After doing that, we come up with a 38-minute overall average, which is lower than any day in June.
That’s probably why we see the 9am open. Disney hasn’t quite figured out how much less crowded the summer is these days, but they’re just about there.
Hopefully these people heading into Pandora at 9:26am have FastPass+ for a Pandora attraction, but I’m guessing they don’t. At least(?) the wait at Na’vi is still around 35 minutes.
At this point in the morning, I could head to any attraction outside of Pandora and experience a wait of 15 minutes or less. I typically favor heading to DinoLand, where it’s easy to knock off DINOSAUR, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin in short order even if I’m running a few minutes behind or if crowds are heavier. On this particular morning, given below average crowds and wait times, I could head over to Expedition Everest or Kilimanjaro Safaris without much trouble. But on busier days, Everest and Safaris could already be seeing 20+ minute actual waits. Above is the crowd heading into the Park at 9:27am.
Here’s my first two FP+ selections:
I’ve taken more of a foolproof approach with plans to use FastPass+ at both priority attractions in the late morning before returning to Pandora to use my Flight of Passage FP+.
We might also take the opportunity to snap a few shots in the morning glow.
Calling DinoLand “extinct” at this hour is probably rude, but Galaxy’s Edge it is not.
What is this? Toy Story Land?
We’ll return to Donald’s Dino-Bash in the afternoon, after the characters start appearing.
I would think the majority of the 12 other people here are lost.
It’s all smiles at DINOSAUR, despite the ride going down shortly after Park open. It ended up reopening about 45 minutes later at 10:15am.
“Great,” I thought, “that just means I get to go on Primeval Whirl that much earlier.” I don’t think you can be inside the Park and find yourself further away from Na’vi River Journey than at any point other than the far corner of the left track on Primeval Whirl. Add that to the guidebook, Dave.
Only one side was operating, but there were probably 50 people in line at 9:33am, which means my wait should be about six minutes.
But alas, Primeval Whirl went down for mechanical problems too and the queue was emptied. I think the only way I would have been more crestfallen is if they had given me an anytime FastPass+ for Na’vi River Journey.
“Darn,” I thought, as I waltzed over to TriceraTop Spin, since riding that alone isn’t embarrassing.
Riding TriceraTop took all of six minutes. It’s a ride that you might consider experiencing yourself, even if you typically skip the Dumbo-esque spinners.
After verifying that DINOSAUR was still down, I headed for Expedition Everest to use my FastPass+.
I’m here a little earlier than I was planning given the downtime at the DinoLand attractions. Everest is still sporting a 15-minute posted wait at 9:52am.
Here’s a look at Everest’s posted waits over the last 5ish weeks:
When I originally booked my FastPass+, I was expecting an 8am open. When that didn’t materialize, I figured I could still make it through at least two of DinoLand’s three rides and make it over to Everest by 10:30am, when the average posted wait is 43 minutes. On this particular Sunday, Everest would post a 45-minute wait at 10:30am. Remember that your actual FastPass+ window extends up to five minutes before and up to fifteen minutes after the stated return time. So my Everest FastPass+ for 9:15am – 10:15am is actually good and will turn “green” from 9:10am – 10:30am. I don’t typically recommend planning on using a FP+ during that grace period, because that’s when you can really risk being too late to use it. Should that happen, just explain to the cast member that you like Na’vi River Journey and they’ll assuredly take pity on you and let you through.
I got in line at 9:52am.
And was on-board seven minutes later.
I was back out front at 10:05am, for a total experience time of 13 minutes, which is a minute or two shorter than average. A number of large tour groups were quickly pushing the standby wait higher.
Things are picking up a bit.
At least in that direction. It’s 10:07am.
With the RealFeel already at 95+ degrees before 10am, this isn’t a bad opportunity to walk on Kali River Rapids, particularly if you’re rocking ponchos.
Here’s a look at Kali’s posted waits:
During the summer, Kali River Rapids’ average wait of 49 minutes is 16.7% higher than Expedition Everest’s, and by 10:30am, you’re looking at a 30+ minute wait through 8:30pm. On the other hand, wait times are typically exaggerated here more than most other attractions and it’s not unusual for Kali to post a 60+ minute wait with the actual wait being closer to 15 minutes. But it does make some sense to ride early or late if you can swing it. After dark, it’s a ghost town. Perhaps a Heart of Darkness overlay would help. Horror…horror has a face…and it’s Na’vi River Journey.
It’s 10:09am and so far I’ve experienced Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, TriceraTop Spin, and Expedition Everest.
I figured I would check in on the baby tiger cubs and walk Maharajah Jungle Trek before attending the 10:30am Up Bird Show.
“Frequently” isn’t the word I would use:
Interestingly, there are some ice buckets hidden up there and when the macaques get a little too hot, they’ll pick up an ice cube and go to town on it. It was pretty funny watching them. I also captured a couple of neat(?) shots of the bats. You can pull one up here and the other here.
A few more pictures of animals that aren’t tigers:
In Part 2, I’ll review “UP! A Great Bird Adventure” and we’ll continue on with the day.