We return to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to see what we can expect from rope drop to Avatar Flight of Passage given Park capacity and crowds trending upwards over the last few weeks. At the moment, there are two potential sets of operating hours. For most Mondays through Thursdays, the Park operates from 9am to 5pm. On most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Park is open from 8am to 6pm, or two more hours, So far, Disney has extended the weekend hours with only a couple of weeks of notice. As of this writing, Disney has extended the weekend hours through Sunday, October 24th, 2020. If you look at dates past that, you’ll still see the 9am opens. Disney typically extends the hours in two week blocks on Fridays. There’s no guarantee that every weekend or holiday will see extended hours, but it’s something to keep an eye on as your visit approaches. You can pull up the official Park operating hours at DisneyWorld.com here.
If you’re looking at a potential 8am open, Friday is really the only day where you may see some advantage. Here’s a look at the average daily wait across Animal Kingdom’s rides over the last few weeks, after the Park changed to 9am opens on weekdays:
Even with the extended hours on the weekends, you can see how much longer the average waits are on Saturdays and Sundays in particular. Last week, just from Sunday to Monday, we saw a drop of more than ten minutes, on average, before the wait dropped even more on Tuesday. Fridays do potentially offer an advantage if you get an 8am open because there will be fewer local Passholders on hand. But even for the week of September 27th, average waits were still lower on the Thursday with two shorter operating hours. So you likely don’t want to hone in on days with longer operating hours, particularly on Saturdays. Fridays could be a bit of an exception, but not enough that it would receive a strong endorsement given the higher waits.
We’ll look at some specific charts as we move through our day to see how things line up and where an earlier arrival on an 8am day may make sense.
We’re pulling up to the parking lot at 8:26am on the morning of Tuesday, September 29th, as perhaps the 25th car to arrive.
Animal Kingdom’s parking lot typically opens 25 to 35 minutes before the stated Park opening, with 30 minutes early being the most common start. We were obviously here in plenty of time with just ~25 other cars in tow and the parking lot not yet open when we initially arrived. It is a slow, methodical process to park.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom, at least at the moment, is probably the one instance where arriving via Disney bus will put you ahead of those using other means of transportation.
We may have arrived plenty early compared to the car crowd, but as you can see, there are far more people ahead of us who arrived on Disney buses or Uber Helicopter. We’re currently waiting at temperature check at 8:47am, which meant it took about 15 minutes to park and walk over to the entrance.
And there are a lot of people arriving behind us coming in from the bus side. My guess is that Disney is still prioritizing Animal Kingdom drop-offs over Magic Kingdom drop-offs earlier, even if both Parks now see standard 9am opens. That’s part of why we’ve had very good morning success at Magic Kingdom. Disney just doesn’t get a lot of people over to the Most Magical Place on Earth before 10am.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom continues to use the newer scanners, which typically means you can leave the majority of your stuff in your bag and simply walk through. They want umbrellas and aluminum water bottles held out in front of you as you pass through. I also take my larger camera out of the bag and hold it out in front of me as to not trip the sensor. When I’ve left it in my backpack, I usually have to go over for a secondary screening, where they sort of eyeball my stuff for a moment to see what may have set the scanner off and wonder aloud why anyone would willingly choose Canon. The new procedure probably cuts bag check times down by 80- to 90-percent.
At 8:50am, we’re headed towards the entrance.
The finger scanners are still covered, which makes the arrival process smoother. We don’t need one line for Annual Passholders who remembered which finger they used last time, and another, much longer line for Annual Passholders who somehow managed to forget that it was their left pinky toe that they chose to scan during their first visit. “Well wouldn’t this be fun?” he asked, two ACL sprains ago. Guests may still be trying to press down on the finger scanner ahead of us, but it’s not going to do much good. Either their tickets weren’t valid or they didn’t have the appropriate Park Passes for the day.
We ended up switching lines before we were inside at 8:54am.
The larger crowd heading in is a far cry from what we’ve seen in the past.
Not exactly the usual rush to flight of passage or I guess what is now the usual rush pic.twitter.com/XvS4rrrR3e
— josh (@easywdw) August 28, 2020
This video, taken about 15 minutes before official Park open almost exactly one month before the date of this visit, shows the stark contrast between low late August crowds and now.
Just about everyone is headed to Pandora for Avatar – Flight of Passage. The size of the crowd reminded me of the number of people that I used to see back before the March closures, when we were all held out in front of the entrance.
Pandora is still ahead on the left, past Island Mercantile, which won’t open until later in the afternoon. Ahead in front of the Tree of Life, people are taking advantage of some early morning photos. Five or more weeks ago, you could have spent 15 or 20 minute posing in front of the Tree and still basically walked on Flight of Passage after. I would even go through several wardrobe changes as you just never quite know how the light will glisten on your sequined jumper.
Now, if these people were to head over to Flight after taking their pictures, they’d wait an hour or more in line. Hopefully the light hit right on the first try.
Those headed to Asia or DinoLand first are in luck with virtually nobody moving in that direction. It may even be a “literally” instead of a “virtually.” The one gentleman appears to be lost as he’s at least pointing in the right direction. It’s a start.
I think there are more people heading towards the bridge over to Pandora in this frame than we used to see in line waiting for Flight of Passage back when the Park opened at 8am every day from July 11th through September 7th.
It may or may not be slightly amusing that the last couple of major attraction and Land openings have seen some of the lowest crowds. Disney World was never less busy than that first week after reopening in July. Rise of the Resistance was also never easier to ride than those first couple of weeks with the surprise 6am opens. Don’t tell Twitter, but we even got two boarding groups one day and rode twice before 11am. Now two rides on Rise on the same day are virtually impossible as you can only sign up for a maximum of one boarding group per day.
A handful of people are passing the left turn towards Pandora in favor of either Creature Comfort Starbucks or Kilimanjaro Safaris. Or at least that’s what we can assume. There is no telling where some of the tourists are headed at any given time. They may think “The Cotton-top Tamarins” is a roller coaster and not a cute little monkey hut. That’s Pizzafari also on our left, which is currently a Relaxation Station instead of a Reheatederia, which doesn’t type out as well as reheated-pizzeria sounds in my head. I don’t think we’ll use that one again.
It’s 8:59am, and considering our place at the front of the toll plaza, I didn’t consider us to be too far behind the pack. The Park has still not officially opened.
Those are physical-distancing markers for Na’vi River Journey on the left and Flight of Passage ahead on the right. They are both often in use on the weekends.
I’ve rope dropped Flight of Passage 50 or 60 times since it opened in May of 2017 and this visit will mark the longest I’ve ever waited for it. That’s not exactly what you would expect with the Park Pass capacity limits and lack of FastPass+ priority. We’re passing by a 60-minute wait sign on the left as the line continues ahead and then wraps back around.
It’s not even sunny!
We’ll continue ahead. At some point in the near future, people will be stopped completely on these markers where we currently stand. At this point, it was pretty clear that we should bail in favor of River Journey or another attraction.
As I’ve stated before, if you arrive later than you anticipated, or more people were able to arrive before you, it makes sense to skip the super-headliner that you probably have at the top of your itinerary. The worst place to be first thing is typically in a 60+ minute wait for something. During that time, almost any other attraction would be a walk-on, and you can wait that 60 minutes or less for the headliner later in the day, when waits have peaked elsewhere.
But since we’re still sort of in research mode, we’ll move forward and see what happens. It would be an even lamer post if I threw up my hands and left for It’s Tough To Be A Bug. Here we go:
Before arriving in Africa, with Club 33 and the Festival of the Lion King building just ahead, we’re circling back around to Pandora.
At least we’re facing in the direction of the attraction entrance. We may have to rank how bad our position is in line beyond simply not being able to see the attraction entrance from the back. Pointing away from the entrance would be worse. Being outside of the Park or in a backstage area while also in line for an attraction would be a step lower than that.
“We are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.” – Pocahontas
That just about sums up circling around this line that may never end. I bet not a lot of you saw me being able to pull out a semi-relevant Pocahontas quote. Don’t get me started on how the river is still the river even if the exact same water isn’t currently there, though. No wonder Pocahontas 2, 3, 4, 4.5, 5.2, and 6 failed at the box office.
I think we’re looking backwards towards Africa here as more and more people arrive. The line is now backed up on both sides of the bridge with everyone currently stationary.
I’m not sure if this is a good opportunity to point out that today will see the fourth lowest waits of the last thirty days or not. That probably means you could expect to see more people here 85% of the time.
The End of Line sign reminds me of something you’d see in Braveheart, with the various factions carrying their colors into battle. I wield TriceraTop Spin and I invite you to join me. Since I don’t play fair, it’s rare that I lose. Plus we are riding prehistoric dinosaurs that actually spin and will help propel our javelins forward. These people riding Flight of Passage will be stationary and I doubt adding 3D glasses will help their line of sight. We can’t lose.
At 9:23am, I could at least see the entrance. Before the March closures, this is around the time I’d be off the ride, though I would need to arrive earlier in the morning to beat more of the people. With the parking lot not opening until 8:30am with the 9am open, there isn’t much of an opportunity to arrive earlier unless you get lucky with a Disney bus. People are evidently doing just that in large numbers. Back when the Park opened at 8am before September 8th, you could ride Flight three times before 9:20am without trying.
But we weren’t quite headed for the attraction entrance yet. We still need to circle around to the left with everyone else.
And then circle back again. Not pointing towards the attraction entrance equals bad. There’s an algorithm we could put to use.
And 25 minutes into the day, we’ve found the entrance with a 90-minute posted wait.
The long early morning waits for Flight of Passage are both an old and a new phenomenon.
Here’s a look at Flight of Passage’s wait each day since August in one long chart that we’ll both probably gloss over:
It’s possible that in addition to being a long chart, we can glean how good those early and late hours were back in August and early September. 8am to 8:30am and 5:15pm to 6pm are the only times we see green, indicating shorter waits. The other thing is that wait times earlier in the day are typically longer. We hit higher, red wait times right at 9:15am, and the average is only three minutes shorter before that.
Those longer early waits have materialized to an even greater extent over the last few weeks. Here’s the chart since Disney moved to the 9am open on September 8th, and then extended the hours only recently on the weekends:
That’s a lot more red. And no green. But even here, the average wait drops below 40 minutes after 1:30pm, after opening the day at 9am at 43 minutes before the average quickly climbs to 60 minutes by 9:30am.
Shortening the chart to just the last two weeks, and the waits climb even higher:
Now you’re looking at 75 minutes at 9:30am, or a 20% increase. Compare those numbers to the 39-minute average at the same time of day when we include all dates since August 1st. The wait has nearly doubled.
Here’s the same info with just the date and average wait for the day:
Even back in August, weekend highs jump out with the taller bars. But back in August, there were 15 days when Flight of Passage averaged a wait of 15 minutes or less over the course of the day. After the September 8th switch to the 9am opens, we’ve seen exactly zero days with an average of 15 minutes or less.
So what is the point, exactly? Flight of Passage is much less forgiving than it once was, with waits that may be substantially longer than what you previously read about. Shortly after Animal Kingdom reopened, our advice was to “just show up and do whatever you want” because there were so few people around. You almost couldn’t wait longer than three minutes for something if you tried. That is very much no longer the case. And even as one of the first vehicles to park, we still find ourselves in a very long line given the number of resort guests who apparently beat us.
During my first several rope drops after reopening, I didn’t even run into another group until the final laboratory area, even with the same arrival time. Now, it’s been 33 minutes and I’m barely inside the building after walking quite a bit of outdoor queue.
We’ll continue through:
I wasn’t back out front until 10:06am, for a total experience time of over an hour. That was as long as I had ever waited for Flight of Passage in the morning, at least as far as time spent in line after Park opening.
At least it’s more socially-acceptable to grab a beer after 10am. I’m not sure anybody would even blame us, particularly if it had a greenish tint and could be kale water like one of the beers they offer. Hops might be vegetables anyway.
Assuming you can figure out where this line starts and ends. That’s half the battle these days.
We could have saved the hour in line and just sat on the test seat and watched the video on YouTube as I blow in your ear from time to time at a physically-safe distance. How peaceful.
These people to my left are in line for Flight of Passage with a line that’s apparently moving slow enough that everyone is either sitting down or looks like they need to visit the restroom.
At 10:07am, Na’vi River Journey was posting 40 minutes.
I don’t think we can see the back of the line from this spot.
But it’s back here.
As with every other attraction queue, the line appears longer than it would be if we could fill in all of the available space. Maybe we will again.
We’ve got six feet between parties instead of about six inches.
But with physical-distancing mandates, River Journey is still one party per boat, regardless of group size. That drops the ride’s capacity to less than 50%, with most groups currently consisting of four or fewer people. At Flight of Passage, they still leave one empty seat between parties, which doesn’t reduce the ride’s capacity by nearly as much.
With 40 minutes posted, we ended up waiting 34. We’ve already collected two actual wait times. Maybe it’s time to charge a subscription model. Here we go:
We were back out front at 10:48am, for a total experience time of 41 minutes.
That’s also just about as long as I’ve ever waited for Na’vi River Journey in 3+ years.
And the line for River Journey is now even longer. I was probably around here before.
And now you’d be back here, likely adding about ten minutes to your wait.
And the line does theoretically extend much further. As you’ll recall, posted waits on the day of my visit were among the shortest of the last couple of weeks, and less than half of some weekend dates.
Here’s a look at wait times at each attraction throughout the day of my visit:
As it turns out, getting in line for Flight of Passage right off the bat was a poor decision, despite being among the first vehicles of the day to arrive. I could tell that we were in for a wait once we started crossing the bridge into Africa, but decided to stick with it just to see how long the actual wait would be. The 60 minutes that the sign posted as we passed turned out to be about ten minutes too long, with 90 minutes about a half hour longer than we actually waited. Even so, an hour is longer than we’re used to waiting for our first attraction of the day. The 90-minute wait is probably also accurate for those who were in the very back of that line.
Our actual wait of 34 minutes at River Journey, with 40 minutes posted, was going to be the reality for the next several hours, as the boat ride wouldn’t post anything under a half hour until 3:15pm. That sounds relatively early in the day, but it’s a little less so with the 5pm close.
The strange thing about Flight of Passage is that waits elsewhere are largely nonexistent all day. DINOSAUR never posts anything longer than five minutes. Everest is never longer than 15 minutes. Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safaris both average less than 15 minutes over the course of the day.
Obviously, we knew that Flight of Passage was popular, with some of the longest waits of any attraction at any of the Walt Disney World theme parks. But it’s interesting that waits build so quickly in the morning and then the people seemingly disappear or get absorbed into other attractions. We are not going to see a lot of people walking around later in the morning.
While it isn’t nearly as severe as what we see at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom also sees its longest waits during the first few hours of operation. It’s possible that the September and October visitor is more informed than the summer visitor. After all, if you’re booked for September, you’ve probably already done some research on pricing and crowds. From there, you’re probably educating yourself more about how to tour the Park. If you show up in July, paying rack rate, you may not have looked into things quite as well.
We’ve got a few takeaways from the visit:
- Animal Kingdom appears to be the one Park where taking a Disney bus provides an advantage because more buses apparently pick guests up earlier. There’s no other explanation for how so many people got ahead of us despite arriving before the parking lot even opened. It does also explain why we’ve seen so few people arriving via Disney buses early in the morning at the other Parks. It’s possible that Disney will redistribute things if they realize bus lines are longer for the other Parks as Animal Kingdom bus after Animal Kingdom bus arrives.
- If it “feels” like a lot of people are headed to Flight of Passage, and the app is posting a 60+ minute wait, it’s best to save the ride for later. Even by 10:30am, or a half hour after we disembarked our first ride, the posted wait drops to 30 minutes, and stays around there for the rest of the day. It even bottoms out at 15 minutes around lunch at 1pm. Instead of sticking with Flight first, we should have started with River Journey and waited about ten minutes there, or started elsewhere with something like Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest. I stuck it out at Flight just because I have so little going on.
- Even though it took almost two hours to get through the two Pandora rides, we’re not going to run into any waits longer than about ten minutes for the rest of the day. Kilimanjaro Safaris does post 30+ minutes from 10am to 11:15am when we’re in line for River Journey, and then headed to Asia. We could have just as easily been waiting there instead. It would have been smarter to visit one of the other attractions first thing, but most people can only cycle through DINOSAUR or Expedition Everest a few times before the intensity and sensory overload get to be a little much.
In the next Part, we’ll hope for some shorter waits at Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest before we head over to DinoLand.