What certainly doesn’t “feel” like a short daytime visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park arrives at its ultimate conclusion, without the need for a whole lot of words on my part. We’ll still take a moment to get caught up on all of the recent news that Disney has announced about upcoming offerings that may impact your upcoming trip. And just because there isn’t cause for mass amounts of wordage doesn’t make this post any shorter. I’d almost be concerned what it would look like if there actually was something to say.
Via the pictorial proof in the post that follows, we’ll verify that the tigers aren’t being particularly photogenic at Maharajah Jungle Trek, try to enjoy a glorified bowl of lettuce out in the blazing sun at Harambe Market, and walk through Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail to see if there really is cause for “gorilla” leading the name of the attraction or there just happened to be one passing through at some point in the past. You know, basically a normal early afternoon visit. It’s possible that “Naked Mole Rat Island of Love” or “Canary Walk” wouldn’t draw the crowds quite like the promise of seeing large, hairy primates in the name, even though those animals promise a higher chance of visibility. To see how we got here in excruciating detail, you can pull up the Penultimate Part of this series, which links back to what are probably five or six previous Parts and a lot of details.
We’ll still brave the summer heat, clouds, and constant threat of storms once Animal Kingdom “feels” like it’s operating as we can expect it to over the next several months. We’ve kind of been twiddling our thumbs over the last few weeks, as just about everything I’ve written about visiting the Parks over the last 11+ months doesn’t really apply to the next 11 weeks, let alone 11 months. It’s not really my fault, *HONEST*, but with everchanging operations, constantly fluctuating Park hours, variable attraction capacities, new opening procedures, and more, I’d spend even more time correcting what I’ve said in the past, or at least showing how conditions have changed, if you were to consume even more information over the last month. But you could say that about almost all of the Disney theme park content that has come out over the last year. If anything, this site has probably offered a more realistic view of what you can expect moving forward, instead of spending so much time waxing poetic about crowdless evenings and picturesque buildings before fireworks return to Magic Kingdom and Epcot and keep thousands of guests in the Park later beginning in just over a week.
TouringPlans is obviously still struggling with what’s happening. We can take a look at their predictions for yesterday, June 21st, 2021:
It’s true that you could technically be farther off – they could have predicted Animal Kingdom to be an 8 or a 9 instead of a “7” and been eight levels off instead of just six. Across the Parks, and according to their own numbers, they’re off four levels at Magic Kingdom, one at Epcot, seven at Hollywood Studios, and six at Animal Kingdom, for a total of 18. If you had just randomly put a “5” for every crowd level, you’d only be nine total crowd levels off. So just start your own crowd calendar and say every day is a five, and you’ll ultimately prove to be more accurate. But it is one more data point that overwhelming crowds are far from descending on the Parks at the present time.
I used to joke that if you put your life in the hands of the TouringPlans’ crowd calendar algorithm, you’d be dead in two days:
That may actually be a rosy prediction as these types of algorithms, patched over so many times with little Band-Aid fixes and without the actual scientific data inputs available to machine learning accurate, will only become more common with increased automation. At least if you relied on TouringPlans this week, you’d be pleasantly surprised with just how wrong they are, but it can just as easily work in the opposite direction. Neither will prove to be useful. You can pull up the full article on algorithms and how they’ll end up being our demise on Stat News here.
Animal Kingdom’s next stress test should come as early as the week of July 4th, as the other three Parks have already re-adopted rope drop procedures similar to what we saw prior to the March 2020 closures. That means holding guests in certain areas inside the Park and then slowly walking them over in a draconian march that’s closer to what you’d see during Walmart’s Black Friday circa 2013 than the friendship and togetherness of Neighborhood World or whatever they’re going to end up calling the middle of Epcot.
A similar rope drop procedure to what we saw as recently as the beginning of March 2020 may return to Animal Kingdom sooner rather than later, and be the precursor for the 30-minute head-start that Disney casually promised guests months ago, but never mentioned a start date. Obviously getting people into the Park, and separating those eligible to enter early from those who will be forced to wait until official opening, is a major impediment. It wasn’t possible with social-distancing protocols because there wasn’t enough space, but the overall operation shouldn’t look much different than Extra Magic Hours. The main difference being that if you arrive 15 minutes into it, you’ve already missed half your time, instead of just a quarter of it.
While these pictures are now somewhat dated, the day’s overall timing is similar to what we’ve been seeing over the last few weeks, even with a couple incremental increases in attendance. Those summer attendance increases won’t be fully realized until the College Program kids are deployed in a couple of weeks.
Many of us were expecting Disney to increase capacity significantly over Memorial Day Weekend. Here’s a look at waits on the Saturday then:
Recent capacity increases at individual attractions have helped lower waits, to the point where they’re actually lower over Memorial Day Weekend than a random weekday before Disney began filling just about every row and seat on the likes of DINOSAUR, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, and Na’vi River Journey. But even the shorter waits at Kilimanjaro Safaris are an indication that Park Capacity hasn’t demonstrably increased.
As a reminder, these were the wait times I was looking at when capacity was more limited during this visit in particular:
Waits were almost 25% higher over the course of the day – 34 minutes during my weekday visit compared to ~26 minutes over Memorial Day. We can also clearly see which attractions have seen a capacity increase:
Flight of Passage is about the same – the May holiday average is actually higher, likely due to theater downtime in the early afternoon, but we’re talking about 72 minutes versus 64 minutes. Neither is ideal.
DINO’s average dropped in half, from 32 minutes during my visit to just 15 minutes now, with Disney filling just about every seat in each vehicle.
Expedition Everest’s average, where Disney began filling every row a couple of months ago, is now around 19 minutes, compared to 15 minutes during my visit. Part of that is due to the shorter waits in the last hour, since Disney actually kept the Park open later into the evening earlier in the year.
With every row now filled at It’s Tough To Be A Bug, along with most seats, the wait there drops over half, from an average of 23 minutes to just 10 minutes.
Kali was 39 minutes during my visit compared to an average closer to 30 minutes now.
Kilimanjaro Safaris also dropped, from 48 minutes to 28 minutes. Part of that is likely due to an increase in staffing, when available, in addition to loading multiple parties in the same row.
Na’vi River Journey, with multiple parties seated together across both rows, drops from an average of 40+ minutes to closer to 30 minutes.
TriceraTop Spin’s average posted wait was twice as long, peaking at 20 minutes when I was there compared to a solid five on Saturday.
So far, this is how my timing has worked out:
- Nav’ River Journey: 8:11am – 8:21am
- Kilimanjaro Safaris: 8:37am – 9:28am
- TriceraTop Spin: 10:15am – 10:24am
- DINOSAUR: 10:26am – 11:13am
- Expedition Everest: 11:21am – 11:45am
I’m far from flying from attraction to attraction, which is partially why my waits at Safaris and DINOSAUR are about 20 minutes longer than I’d like each. But the flower and crowd pictures don’t take themselves, and likely represent a pace closer to your own as you stop for snacks, pictures, distanced character pictures, mean tweet me things, and what have you.
While just about every Disney-operated quick service has moved to “mobile-order-preferred” to say the least, that hasn’t extended to third-party outlets like the Local Foods Café, or quick service arm of Yak & Yeti. So if your app isn’t working properly, or you don’t want to/can’t load a credit card or gift card into the app and order that way, you can at least seek out locations like this and at Epcot, where most quick services are operated by third parties. We may see mobile order requirement relaxed as well, since it seems to take just as many cast members to police the entrances/exits, and explain to people why they can’t just go in, get a feel for the place, take a look at the menu, and decide if that’s where they want to spend their time and money
I may be reminiscing to a time long forgotten, or February 2020, but sitting there at Be Our Guest Restaurant for breakfast or lunch as meal after meal was delivered by confused-looking cast members to other tables as you sat there waiting for your cup of soup and sandwich to arrive was one of the more stressful experiences at the Park. The food would eventually arrive, at least some of the time, but usually just about 30 seconds before you were ready to get up and hunt someone down to ask what the heck was going on. At least with the lines as they used to exist, you knew where you were in line and could get a cast member’s attention without much trouble. Now, you’ll stand there alongside 30 other people waiting for your app to tell you your food is ready, instead of alongside the same people in line somewhere.
Kali River Rapids. A “maybe later” attraction even when it’s posting five minutes.
It’s 12:10pm, which means we’re looking at peak waits for the next two to three hours at just about every attraction that routinely posts one. We’ll take advantage of something with no wait with Maharajah Jungle Trek:
It wasn’t the most successful walkthrough as the gold standard is a shot of multiple tigers up and out and about. At least we got our Birds Walk.
With the summer highs, and the fact that the RealFeel is around 90 degrees come 9am, Kali is going to see some high afternoon peaks. “Maybe later.” It is basically a walk-on, as is just about everything outside of Pandora, in that final hour of operation.
Also enter the fact that the ride now opens an hour after the Park having a bit of an effect on morning demand and higher initial waits.
We’ll make our way back to Harambe Market in Africa for lunch just before 1pm:
Here’s a look at Harambe Market from earlier in the day.
Shortly before opening, the signage comes out:
You can try scanning the QR code on the screen with your phone’s camera above if you’re unfamiliar with how the system that will never quite catch on works. You’ll be in the best shape if you’ve added your credit card/gift card to the My Disney Experience app ahead of time so you’re not standing around in the heat scrambling around for CVC numbers and expiration dates. You’ll also want to make sure you have the most recent version of the My Disney Experience app as they’re constantly introducing new
flaws features. Depending on your situation, you’ll likely want the member of your group with the newest phone to place the order so you’re least likely to run into problems. Cast are around to help, but they can only troubleshoot so much with so many devices and individual problems that are seemingly impossible to mimic.
At sit-down restaurants, your server should deliver a piece of paper with a QR code that will simply take you to the appropriate menu on DisneyWorld.com. At quick services, the QR code should bring up the quick service’s ordering page and menu in the app. At table service restaurants, I’d recommend requesting a hard copy menu, as what’s actually offered sometimes differs from what’s online, either in content or price. At quick services, you’re usually hamstrung with what’s on the app, but it’s usually comprehensive.
Harambe Market’s menu has changed slightly since it reopened several months after the rest of the Park, if memory serves. Here’s the current rundown:
It’s a similar idea to what we’ve seen in the past. You can pull up my previous review of most of the bowls here. You can pull up the current menu, along with the operating hours, at DisneyWorld.com, here. Harambe Market is currently open from 10:45am to 3:15pm daily, with hours currently available through August 21st. Disney should continue to add hours for additional dates as time passes.
A couple of notes on mobile order. First, you can place one as soon as you’re ready in the day. Here I am at noon placing my salad order:
Back in the good ‘ol days of before March 2020, the website recommended checking mobile order if it was available to see if there were any customizations that you might not have thought of or additional items that may not be on the physical menu. If I was ordering in person, carrying an unusually large camera, pouring sweat, debating on whether or not I was going to go fishing later, and trying to find my sleekest-looking credit card, there’s a 99.9% chance I’d forget to ask for the dressing on the side. In the app, it basically yells the option out at me. It’s not really a big deal, but often there are sides you can substitute or other enhancements available. At a minimum, you won’t have to substitute the apples for the fries and the bottle of water for a Diet Coke out loud. Only clicking embarrassingly in the app.
I went with an original arrival window that ended at 12:35pm:
But you can see that we have the option to either change the arrival window or cancel the order outright. Since I took a detour through Maharajah, I’ll be arriving after my original 12:35pm arrival window closes. But with just a couple of clicks, I can extend that window out by clicking the appropriate buttons:
In most cases, you won’t have any trouble making modifications. I’m now able to return through 1pm, which should be plenty of time.
One other tip:
One piece of advice I’m not sure I’ve seen elsewhere? You can refresh mobile order times and grab other’s cancellations. Easiest is to hit more times. Lunch Box was out to 330ish but an almost immediate time became available. I was refreshing around 225pm. Love my register(s) pic.twitter.com/JPmcpqSV6B
— josh (@easywdw) April 30, 2021
The vast majority of quick services will have immediate or near-immediate availability for food pickup; as crowds increase, that may not be the case on some days. The mobile return window is most similar to the MaxPass system at Disneyland, where if someone cancels their digital FASTPASS, that time becomes available for someone else using the system to book, even if the present, default return time is in the distant future.
Here I am looking at Animal Kingdom availability at 11:05am eastern time at Animal Kingdom:
And the pickup times for the popular quick services are already 20+ minutes out in some cases. So even if you were ready to theoretically get in line and eat at 11:05am, you wouldn’t be able to put in for your order to be prepared until 11:25am at Satu’li Canteen, where you’d likely wait five to fifteen minutes more for your order to be ready, depending on what it is.
The worst offender is Woody’s Lunch Box at Hollywood Studios, where the wait to pick up your order can be hours in the future at first glance. Such is life when you set up your restaurant inside of a lunch box instead of an entire market.
At noon on the same day as above, here’s the Studios’ availability:
Availability for ABC Commissary and Backlot Express is about an hour off, plus additional preparation time should you put in an order now. Woody’s Lunch Box was showing a return over three hours in the future at the same time, due in large part to the small kitchen.
So the takeaways there are to refresh mobile order availability for better times should you find yourself indecisive earlier in the day. You can also put in a lunch or dinner order with a pickup window far in the future, even if it’s just a single entrée or beverage. Then come back later and hit the “Change Order” button and complete as large of an order as you’d like once people have a better idea about what they’re in the mood to eat. On busier days, you’ll have less flexibility in changing times, especially for lunch. The later in the day it gets, the more availability will open up, with dinner typically offering immediate return times at most locations. Current dining capacity may be part of the reason why we haven’t seen that big Park Pass availability increase actually come into play. Disney is actively hiring for quick service positions, and banking on the incoming College Program kids to make up the bulk of the “just get your foot in the door,” crowd; the latter of which can make up as much as 40% of the Park’s workforce.
I went with the $12 “Harambe Salad with Chicken – Mediterranean-influenced Salad with Pepperoncini, Kalamata Olives, Cucumber, Tomato, and Feta served with Grilled Chicken with Greek-style Vinaigrette Dressing.”
It sounded nearly identical to the old Backlot Express Salad with a similar description:
“Mixed Greens, Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers, Kalamata Olives and Feta Cheese tossed in a Greek Vinaigrette and served with Hummus and Pita Chips.” Yes, I had that one too.
And Harambe’s version was indeed similar – a much more hulking portion than I was expecting, served similarly to what you’d receive at Satu’li Canteen, here with far fewer customization options. The Grilled Chicken in my salad was a little dry and overcooked, but was at least plentiful, with the flavor profile boosted by the tang of the Feta, which there is more of hiding underneath the Grilled Pita, which you can use to soak up any extraneous toppings, which include the mildly spicy peppers, sharply rich Kalamata olives, cool cucumber, and juicy tomato, all of which combined together nicely with the olive oil- and garlic-forward vinaigrette.
Animal Kingdom is probably the most underrated Park on the food front, though Tiffins has taken a bit of a hit recently with its reduced menu. But quick-service-wise, you’ve got Flame Tree Barbecue with similar options that I would argue are more varied and taste better. Satu’li Canteen offers similar food with far more customization options available, refillable fountain beverages, and air-conditioning inside, in addition to more covered, outdoor seating.
I’m not sure there’s an identifiable reason to make Harambe Market your lunch choice – seating is limited, all-outdoors, and often sparse. It’s not open for dinner. The food isn’t much different than what you can find in more comfortable locations. But it’s there. And sometimes that’s enough, particularly if you’re in Africa and don’t want to trek all the way to another quick service. I think you’ll leave satisfied, but it won’t make the highlight reel like the overall experience at Flame Tree or Satu’li might. It’s also more comfortable in the “fall” and “winter.” If you do dine here, you might see if a table as far in the back as possible is available as the Wildlife Express that transports guests to Conservation Station rumbles safely along a track on the other side of the seating section. But you probably wouldn’t even notice from where I’m sitting. For real serenity, I’d look at Flame Tree and its expansive seating section.
We have two anytime attraction options in Africa – the Wildlife Express over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, now with the petting zoo and Animation Academy, in addition to the usual exhibits in Conservation Station.
I opted for a walk through Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail:
I spent about 35 minutes wandering through the exhibit, though your own experience sans pictures will likely be closer to twenty. It may also depend on whether or not your own Trek is filled with more gorillas than birds. I got pretty lucky.
While I waited a bit longer than I would have liked for Safaris in the morning, at least I made it through the main queue and only into the first of the three extended queues.
Now we’re looking at 65 minutes, which will likely be the norm here at 2:40pm once those real capacity increases come into play, potentially as soon as in a couple of weeks, if not earlier.
At least the lines for the attractions will (hopefully) look shorter.
With the stickers pulled up and people breathing down your neck again. Finally, a return to normalcy!
On the plus side, most of the traditional queues are covered at a minimum, which will offer some additional protection from the elements during the traditional summer downpours around 3pm and 8pm.
If you want to see the backside of building more often, and not be in line for a ride at the same time, you’ll have to book one of the backstage tours like Caring for Giants once they return.
In addition to reducing the amount of space between parties and filling more rows, Disney has also added two morning showtimes to the interim replacement for (A Celebration of) Festival of the Lion King. You can now catch the show at 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. You can currently pull up showtimes 60 days in advance here in case they should be different on the day of your visit. If they’re unavailable more than 60 days out, it doesn’t mean that the show will be unavailable or the regular show is coming back. It just means that Disney is only filling 60 days of times at the moment
The showtimes are a pretty clear indication that there are basically two groups of guests arriving at the Parks. The early arrivers who clear out shortly after lunch after “doing everything,” and those either Park Hopping or purposefully arriving later to take advantage of lower waits in the evening. Hence, no shows going on between 1pm and 3pm with the standard start of Park Hopping beginning at 2pm.
Disney announced Tusker House is the next distanced character dining location to open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, having begun service on June 20th, 2021 with the following hours at the moment:
- Breakfast – 8:00 AM to 10:30 AM
- Lunch – 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM
- Dinner – 3:35 PM to 7:00 PM
Like other character meals, it will be served family-style with the following menus:
Lunch and Dinner:
With “Animal Inspired Mini Desserts.”
Those are most of the highlights of what was the regular buffet, but with no reduction in pricing, and no iconic pictures hugging the characters or custom autographs on the table (no pun intended), this may or may not be the time to commit the money. On the plus side, the family-style setup means you won’t have to constantly get up to serve yourself. And you may prefer pictures with the characters when they’re a little farther away and potentially a little less awkward than fumbling around for a minute before getting six to eight blurry photos. Not that I know anything about that. But you’ll want to be aware of the limitations before committing to a “character” meal that will likely cost a family of four at least $200 with tax and tip. And will still be there, likely with more interactivity and food options, during a future visit.
My generic recommendation for most visitors is to commit to one or two character meals because it’s difficult to get a quality picture with the speed or distance of the various cavalcades. Animal Kingdom, and its flotillas, are of particular difficulty with the characters typically appearing much lower, though a “selfie-style” photo may help with the angle. Of course, you’re also limited to the characters on hand at that particular meal. But everyone is different. With tax and 20% tip, adults are looking at spending about $70 each to eat dinner at your typical Disney World Character Meal. Splitting the Ahi Tuna Nachos and an Entrée at Yak & Yeti would put you much closer to $40 per adult. There are no character photos, of course, but the restaurant offers a more tranquil environment and a more robust menu.
We’ll head out:
We’ll return once crowds and wait times look to hit much closer to their peaks, so we have a better idea about how to go about the day. With decently-long operating hours, and a relative lack of attractions, “doing everything” at Animal Kingdom is possible, and pretty easy when the early arrival still in the cards. But you’ll likely want to mix indoor activities with outdoor attractions, and have a solid plan of what you’ll be up to from 11am to 3pm, when crowds and temperatures peak.
Here’s what Animal Kingdom looked like on Monday, June 21st, 2021:
The 28-minute average is right around the Memorial Day holiday with the average waits at most attractions similar to or shorter than my visit. Looking at DINOSAUR, I’d certainly take ten minutes in line. Safaris also looks to be helped by an early morning capacity increase, in addition to multiple groups potentially being seated in the same row, in turn increasing capacity without Disney doing anything that costs them more money.
Finally, Disney announced a couple of enhancements coming to Animal Kingdom for the 50th anniversary that begins October 1st, 2021, and apparently lasts for 18 months:
It’s probably the weakest of the 50th anniversary additions, but that’s not all that surprising with the real focus on Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It will be nice to see some of Epcot Forever’s kites apparently repurposed and the theater should work better for more of a “drop-in” experience that’s easy to see while a “real” nighttime spectacular is ultimately figured out. We’ll certainly check the show out in just a few months.
Some Magic Kingdom is on the way next.