We pick up our morning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom after a bit of a rocky start in Pandora. You can pull up Part One for our arrival experience to Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey here. Part Two followed here with a much easier time visiting the Asia and DinoLand attractions.
So far, this is how our day has shaped up:
- An 8:25am arrival at the toll plaza with the parking lot opening at 8:30am, which is standard for a day with a 9am open. There were about 20 vehicles there before us. Disney buses enter on the other side, and I think the fact that so many guests arrived from the Disney resorts before the parking lot opened was a major factor in why we were behind so many people to start the day. Part One covers that.
- Avatar – Flight of Passage – 9:01am – 10:06am
- Na’vi River Journey – 10:08am – 10:49am
- Kali River Rapids – 11:06am – 11:33am
- Expedition Everest: 11:42am – 11:57am
- TriceraTop Spin: 12:06pm – 12:13pm
- DINOSAUR: 12:16pm – 12:35pm
That leaves Kilimanjaro Safaris as the only ride that we haven’t experienced. It should be easy enough to get over there either now or after lunch.
According to the My Disney Experience app at 12:35pm, Kilimanjaro Safaris was posting a 5-minute wait, and we weren’t quite ready for lunch. Sometimes, there is something to say for completing most of what you want to accomplish before sitting down to relax over a spicy fast food chicken sandwich outdoors in Florida. Other times, you may want to sit down and relax over lunch before continuing on. Planning on a quick service lunch offers more flexibility, since you won’t need to check in to a restaurant at a specific time.
I’m a big proponent of the Landry’s Select Club card as well, which works at the Yak & Yeti Restaurant and most any other Landry’s restaurant. Much to the dismay of those with reservations, the Landry’s Card will get you the next available table, even if you have made no reservation whatsoever. There is a one-time fee of $25, but the card comes pre-loaded with $25, so it’s basically “free.” Landry’s then adds $25 in credit each year during your birthday month with basically no strings attached. I’ve saved a couple hundred dollars over the years using it and the disgruntled faces of the tourists as you waltz by them in the cramped waiting area with your priority status is priceless.
With no Park Hopping and the short hours typically pushing more people to arrive earlier, wait times typically go down as it gets later in the day. If you visit just about any attraction after 2:30pm, it’s going to have a shorter wait than it would at 11am or earlier. There may be eight people heading in from the entrance at 12:40pm, and there isn’t going to be an influx of people arriving between now and closing time at 5pm.
I would imagine Disney is reassessing just about every aspect of their operation as they look at revenue numbers, profit maximization, crowd flow, etc. They also certainly had time during the closure from the middle of March through the middle of July to reconsider how they wanted to proceed. Unfortunately, most of those cast members who figured those things out probably managed to cut their own way out of a job with the 28,000+ layoffs across the company. If anyone ever asks you what you do at your place of work, just keep repeating, “absolutely essential things.” A good line is, “What are your thoughts on the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient? I’m doing a lot with that at the moment. Really inspiring stuff.” In my experience, by the time you finish rattling that off, whoever you are talking to will no longer have any interest in continuing the conversation. If they do, tell them you have to return some videotapes.
For most of the last ten years, we’ve seen Island Mercantile, the main store on the left side of Discovery Island, open with the Park. These days, the store, which probably moves the second- or third-most merchandise in the Park, doesn’t open until 12pm, or three to four hours after the Park. It make some sense, since most guests are likely focusing on the attractions during the first few hours of the day; it’s still a little strange to walk by closed doors first thing, but most people probably don’t notice with their Pandora-vision blinders on, their glasses fogged up from the face coverings, or both. But whatever someone was likely to buy at 9:30am, they’re probably also looking to buy at 12:30pm, and other stores remain open earlier in high traffic areas like the exit from Flight of Passage.
But it will be interesting to see what kinds of changes Disney makes throughout the rest of the year as they tinker with hours and staffing. It’s unlikely that Island Mercantile wasn’t profitable earlier in the day, but it probably wasn’t maximizing profits given the size of the store, particularly if whatever $50 trinket you might be interested in is more likely to sell at 2:30pm than 11:30am. We’ve already seen Disney close Ronto Roasters in Galaxy’s Edge at 3pm and reduce the operating hours at PizzeRizzo, while at the same time extending the hours at Backlot Express and opening ABC Commissary only during lunch hours. So they have their eye on it.
I have been doing this for over ten years, or something like 550 weeks. If I were to average one visit to Animal Kingdom every other week during that time, I’d have about 275 visits under my belt. This visit really was one of the stranger ones with the crush of the crowds in the morning and then the people basically evaporating into thin air after that. It was likely just a case of “literally” everyone headed to Pandora first before dispersing around the Park, but considering how long we waited for Flight of Passage and River Journey, and where we started in line, I was prepared to see a lot more people around later in the day. As we head for Kilimanjaro Safaris, there might be nine people around, in addition to the eight or ten we just saw around the Tree of Life.
As required by law, I offer this picture of New Harambe.
And the Forbidden Mountain with another one of those floating character cavalcades in the distance. If you do time it right, when the characters float under one of the bridges for a few seconds, you can get a pretty good look at them. But most of the closeup pictures you’ll see online are via a zoom lens. These pictures are all with my 35mm lens, so the viewing angle is perhaps slightly wider than what your eyes would naturally see.
One theme park phenomenon that has always been true is that short posted waits are not always your friend because they typically attract people who also notice that the wait has come down. Since Disney is usually slow to react to post higher waits, it can be 15 minutes or more before the posted wait mimics something closer to reality. We left DinoLand when Safaris was posting five minutes.
And we’ll arrive when it’s risen to 20 minutes.
We’re not exactly “backstage” here in line for the Safaris, but this portion of the queue would historically only be used during the busiest days of the year, when the standby wait would be 150+ minutes.
With physical-distancing, every line you see will look longer than it would have back before March. It’s usually not cause for too much concern.
And it will only be about three minutes until we’re in the ordinary queue.
I checked on the posted waits while I was in line:
And before 1pm, it seemed like just about everyone had left. Even Flight of Passage, which people waited 60+ minutes for to start the day, is down to just 20 minutes now. We do usually see a lull there between 12:30pm and 1:30pm as people sit down for lunch. The same is likely true at other attractions, but it sticks out more at Flight when the wait drops from 90 minutes at 9:30am to 20 minutes at 1:30pm.
With 5 minutes originally posted when we started our walk over from DinoLand.
And 20 minutes posted upon our arrival.
We’ll end up waiting just about ten minutes. Seeing one of the loading bays for Safaris offline doesn’t bode well for our capacity concerns. Safaris can move through a tremendous number of people, but it can get bogged down for a variety of reasons, from animals hanging out on the road, to trucks getting pulled, to the various cleaning procedures. Rides running at half-capacity usually mean double the wait.
The loading area for Safaris is somewhat reminiscent of a prison with the long, narrow barriers in between rows. Not that I have a lot of experience spending more than six months in jail. Once you board your vehicle, a layer of plastic will greet your face so that Disney can fill every row “safely.” For a very short time, Disney was actually telling guests that they could remove their masks on the ride, but that practice is long over. Even if it’s probably “safe” to do so outdoors and behind plastic, the tourists are easily confused and may then think taking their masks off on other attractions is also okay. Kilimanjaro Safaris is already the one ride where Disney will park your stroller for you under ordinary circumstances. If it was your first ride at Walt Disney World, you might assume that cast park strollers at most of every attraction, even if this is basically it.
Like the plastic we’ve seen in front of our faces at other attractions like DINOSAUR and Rise of the Resistance, the reflections are probably more noticeable in pictures than anything. You’ll spend most of your time looking out the sides of the vehicle, where the plastic isn’t. Still, you can see the plastic obscuring the view on the left, while we have a much clearer view to the right.
We got in line at 12:46pm and were on-board about ten minutes later:
It’s possible that we still don’t know exactly what this little house is going to be used for towards the end of the Safari ride, but there was a truck sitting outside of it for a while, which makes it seem like it will tie in to a warden’s station of some kind. Disney could have also originally budgeted 250 million dollars for a new ride here before the March closures, and is now trying to do something with the new budget of about tree fiddy. I don’t have any problem being a man staring at goats if that’s what ends up being installed here, along with the voice of the warden thanking you for your diligence protecting the savanna. I suppose we could always try to cover the poachers in the sticky plastic barrier screens. It would probably take them a couple of days to unravel that.
We were back out front at 1:25pm, for a total experience time of 40 minutes, which is only a couple of minutes longer than the ride would historically take with FastPass+.
Dawa Bar has officially reopened, but you’ll likely only see the cloth pulled up and the bar serving on the weekends.
Tamu Tamu Refreshments across the way offers a couple of lesser beer options along with a DOLE Whip served about 40 different ways.
Harambe Fruit Market is also open daily, while Harambe Market behind it remains closed.
Here’s the main menu at the Fruit Market. They also have more fruit and beverages around to grab.
And Hot Dogs and Heinekens are also on the menu.
Mahindi, the popcorn outlet that somehow receives every souvenir vessel and straw a day before the other kiosks, remains closed across from Tamu Tamu.
Who knows what they’ve got in there.
Probably the Easter lineup at this point.
With Dawa Bar and Thirsty River Bar typically only operating on the weekends, along with so many other outlets remaining closed daily, all sorts of other kiosks are sort of picking up the slack by offering the same four bottled beers. I’m still waiting for Wolf Cola to come in.
Feathered Friends, with more of an emphasis on the birds, continues in place of the UP! show.
I reviewed the show shortly after it debuted in July in this post.
The show is charming and educational, and with limited entertainment opportunities, it’s worth your time if you’d like to get off your feet in a relatively comfortable theater for about 20 minutes.
Showtimes are still 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, and 3:30pm. You only need to arrive a minute or two before a show starts unless you’d like to sit in the very front.
My personal preference is to hang back where the people aren’t.
We’re headed for the quick service arm of Yak & Yeti.
While mobile order is virtually required at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, where Disney operates just about every venue, it also isn’t an option at any third-party outlets, including the Local Food Cafes. There are a few reasons why I typically avoid this quick service. In my opinion, they’ve been phoning things in for years, serving below-average food at above-average prices. My go-to meal/big snack of Chicken Fried Rice and Two Egg Rolls will set you back $13, which is more than a lot of quick service meals and about $5 more than the same food would have cost two or three years ago. Seating is also all outdoors and rarely covered, which isn’t typically comfortable during summer afternoons in Florida. There are also usually a lot more people in line, causing long waits, also uncovered in the heat. At least here at 1:35pm, there’s nobody waiting to order. Perhaps because everything I just said is true.
The quick service somewhat recently overhauled its menu:
I wouldn’t say we “lost” the “American Kobe Beef Hot Dog,” but it has been replaced with the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich. We also have a different take on the salad.
This is the $12 “Teriyaki Chicken Salad – Mixed Greens, Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, and Wonton Crisps with Asian Dressing.”
It doesn’t get much more authentic than Ken’s Pan-Asian Sesame.
But the salad was pretty good overall, I thought. The mixed greens enjoyed a nice crisp quality and they threw in some cabbage, carrots, cucumber, and tomato to make things a little more interesting. The portion of lean chicken was adequate with a sweet teriyaki glaze that paired nicely with the ginger and sesame in the dressing. The little cup of airy wonton crisps was also welcome, adding another layer of texture to the salad.
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to order the new salad, it was certainly better than the previous abomination pictured above, which arrived with bone-dry chicken and some sort of atomic salad dressing. I would guess my body is still trying to digest some of this, even if it’s been a couple of years.
My favorite quick service salad currently available at the Park is the Smokehouse Chicken Salad from Flame Tree, which is larger, arrives with more chicken, comes with cornbread croutons, and costs a dollar less. Those are all good things. While seating is also outside at Flame Tree, it’s almost all covered, with fans circulating the air and beautiful views across the water. That’s a big upgrade from Yak & Yeti, where the theming is largely dead leaves on the ground.
Back in July, I tried Yak & Yeti’s Korean Fried Chicken inside the restaurant. While it’s listed under appetizers, the $15 portion comes with eight large, crispy tenders tossed in a spicy chili sauce with a touch of sweet maple syrup. While I lauded that dish, I have had enough poor experiences outside that I was not expecting anything from the quick service to approach the quality of the restaurant.
But we are beholden to bloggability, which means whatever we haven’t tried before is what we’re ordering, so we have the $14 “Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich – Fried Chicken Breast, Kimchi Slaw, and Honey Heat Sauce.”
I’m not sure I had seen “honey heat sauce” advertised elsewhere, which immediately gave me pause, as the Local Food Cafes is not where I would turn for innovation on the fast Asian food front. But the sauce balanced the sugar from the honey and a little bit of peppery, tangy heat nicely. The large, thick, crispy chicken patty was also doused in the stuff, along with quite a bit of what they’re calling “Kimchi Slaw.” That’s really just shredded lettuce, cabbage, and carrots to add some more crunch to the situation. The bun was soft and fresh and didn’t get in the way of the fillings, which may be the best thing you can say about two untoasted slices of sandwich bread. The only disappointing thing was that the patty itself was your standard issue Tyson variety. They would kill it if they put a couple of those strips from the restaurant inside the bun a la Chicken Guy at Disney Springs. “The Kimchi Sauce Boss” sort of has a ring to it.
The sandwich was a messy undertaking with so much of the slaw spilling over. Four hours into the day, most of us probably resemble this sandwich in one way or another, anyway. There’s no reason to be embarrassed. I look like death 99% of the time, though I’m not sure how much of that can be directly attributed to the heat. There probably isn’t a whole lot Korean about the thing, but at least they don’t refer to it as American Kobe Chicken.
I also like Yak & Yeti’s fries, which are thicker and meatier than Disney’s typical thin, flavorless potato stick. The zesty seasoning at Yak & Yeti also brings the deliciousness.
All in all, it was another step up from the previous offering, which was this hot dog hiding underneath a cucumber salad with a side of undercooked fries. That thing also cost more money than the Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Talk about a positive blog.
With temperatures potentially cooling, Yak & Yeti may be a more desirable stop in the afternoon. I’d still look at Flame Tree Barbecue or Satu’li Canteen first, and also consider sharing an appetizer and entrée inside the Yak & Yeti Restaurant, where pricing will probably be similar to ordering two quick service entrees outside.
You may or may not be aware of this fact, but there is a drink window on the side of Yak & Yeti that I would guess will not open anytime soon. It’s located in just about the most inconvenient place possible on the walk into the main seating area. But they have updated their menu there, too:
This is the one spot to get a Turkey Leg at Animal Kingdom and it’s actually a different version than what Disney sells. When the window is open, there are usually between one and two people in line, and you can sometimes sneak in and grab something real tricky like if it’s available. Soon, Yak Attack. Soon.
That just about sums up this particular visit to Animal Kingdom. I still don’t know where everyone went. For years, many guests considered Animal Kingdom a “half-day Park,” and after hitting the major attractions that they identified as only being Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and DINOSAUR, left. But with no Park Hopping, and the high cost of visiting, you’d think that we’d see more people hanging around for some of the other attractions, virtually all of which are worth your time. Maharajah Jungle Trek, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, TriceraTop Spin for a sixth time, the Discovery Island Trails, all of the animals scattered about the Park, Wilderness Explorers, and repeat visits to the attractions with short waits would all make sense. With waits going down, just about anything would be a walk-on after 3pm, and it’s smart to finish the day with River Journey and Flight of Passage in the last hour, where you should be able to ride at least one more time each.
A couple of years ago, Disney put a lot of effort into coming up with additional activities to extend the Park’s hours all the way out to 9pm, 10pm, and 11pm. With the current crowd levels, and mixed reviews (at best) for the likes of the nighttime safari and Rivers of Light, it will likely be some time before we see late closes again. Hopefully things do pick up and Disney finds a suitable replacement for Rivers of Light. That was a big theater they built with seating for about 5,000 guests that’s currently empty. Perhaps I could read off my wait times charts while cast try to hit with me with flamethrowers a la Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. That looked to be at least part of the original plot for Rivers of Light with Mama Lotus opening up to fire and cast members on the float with fire guns of some variety. You know I’ll be eight whiskey sours deep, so I’m in.
Apparently, Disney is trying to keep the birds out of the Flame Tree Barbecue seating section by adding what appears to be complicated do-it-yourself K-NEX sets.
At least, I don’t think LEGO makes a set specifically to deter birds from going after your French Fries.
But the thin strings didn’t seem to be working as birds meandered about the area looking for a little of this and a little of that.
It may also have nothing to do with the birds and they are just trying to keep the bloggers from scrounging around for barbecue scraps.
It wasn’t very busy, so there are just a couple tables occupied. One is behind this tree and at least three birds are in the frame, circling them and waiting for any dropped food, purposeful or otherwise.
With little kids, I’m not sure how wise it is to basically set up trip wires around the area.
But if someone should get stuck going for a jettisoned French fry, you can probably score some paper re-adds for Journey of the Little Mermaid or something for later in the week. No good deed goes unpunished.
On the way out, we got to catch the macaw flyover.
“Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight” is a little surprise show that 98.3% of guests aren’t expecting. It begins right in front of the Tree of Life at 9:15am, 10:15am, 11:15am, 1:15pm, 2:15pm, and 3:15pm. The introduction to the birds only takes about a minute before they blast off and at least half return to base before cast go looking around at the various trees to herd them all back. People often ask, “How do they do that?” out loud as they see the birds flying overhead in unison. I always respond that they are animatronics. Birds aren’t real.
Perhaps five people are coming in at 2:15pm.
Along with the macaws, we got a closeup glimpse of Chip, Dale, and Pluto sailing by from the bridge as we departed. That was another nice wave goodbye to a theme park that only gets more beautiful with time.
One last look at a bright and sunny day.
And a final goodbye to our black swan friends.
And nobody coming in.
Overall, this is how our day shaped up:
- An 8:25am arrival at the toll plaza with the parking lot opening at 8:30am, which is standard for a day with a 9am open. There were about 20 vehicles there before us.
- Avatar – Flight of Passage – 9:01am – 10:06am
- Na’vi River Journey – 10:08am – 10:49am
- Kali River Rapids – 11:06am – 11:33am
- Expedition Everest: 11:42am – 11:57am
- TriceraTop Spin: 12:06pm – 12:13pm
- DINOSAUR: 12:16pm – 12:35pm
- Kilimanjaro Safaris: 12:46pm – 1:25pm
- Yak & Yeti quick service lunch: 1:37pm – 2:08pm
- Meandering: 2:09pm – 2:23pm
Other than waiting longer than I would have liked in Pandora, the day went swimmingly from there on out.
They say you are not supposed to read the comments, but obviously I am a glutton for punishment, and there are often some amusing ones.
Here we have a few on Facebook from the first post where we rope dropped Pandora:
Leslie comes through with basically no information to add other than all of the hundreds of pictures and thousands of words are lies. We don’t have any specific dates for Leslie’s visits, but you’d have to imagine she’s talking about early September. Of course, I just wrote a post titled, “Wait Time Trends Since Walt Disney World Reopened and the Best Days to Visit Each Park.”
That included this chart, which shows how waits have increased 39% since labor day and 287% since the first week in July.
We also have this chart from last week showing how much wait times have increased at Flight of Passage over the last couple of weeks in particular:
But maybe we should listen to Leslie. She has been twice since Labor Day. And to be fair, she does not identify the “this” in what isn’t true. It might have been raining during one of her visits and it is not raining during my visit. Point Leslie.
Wayne chimes in calling the post a “joke,” followed by a paragraph that’s vaguely written in English:
The amusing thing is that his experience in the morning basically mirrors what I reported exactly. I waited a little over 40 minutes for Flight of Passage first thing. He did too. I then waited 34 minutes for River Journey, which is right in the middle of his 30 to 40 minute estimated wait. The following posts then basically cover the same points.
Amanda also weights in, offering no specific date of her visit, when she got in line, how long she waited, or if she was able to take advantage of the 8am opens Disney added back on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Of course, I do love all my fans.
You can always join me on Facebook. There are few things better in this day and age than no barrier to entry on social media.
We’ll focus on Epcot next and also do some Magic Kingdom stuff.