We’re arriving at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on the morning of Friday, November 22nd, 2019, or a little less than a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. This series continues our return to rope drop touring strategies after the Extra Extra Extra Magic Hours period ended on November 2nd. So far, we’ve rope dropped Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios, and started the day bright and early in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom over a holiday weekend.
With the official 9am open, bag check had already begun before I arrived at 7:35am, with a couple of extra bag checkers already set up on the right, indicating that this might be a busier day.
While I have arrived nearly a full 90 minutes before the Park officially opens, we’re far from the first people to arrive.
As we approach the entrance, those with pre-opening breakfast or tour reservations line up on the far left and will enter via dedicated touchpoints at about 7:55am.
A pre-opening breakfast reservation continues to offer absolutely no touring advantage to Pandora, and will actually put you at the back of the pack after you finish your meal. That’s fine if your first destination is Kilimanjaro Safaris or Na’vi River Journey, but if you’re willing to be up and at the Park at 7:30am, then you might instead plan on rope dropping the Pandora attractions first and then scheduling breakfast later in the morning. Tusker House seats for breakfast, and charges the lower breakfast price, through 10:55am. With a reservation that late, you’d also be able to take advantage of the more expensive lunch items that will begin showing up on the buffet after 11am, in addition to the full breakfast buffet on the other half of the buffet area. A reservation after 10:30am would give you a full 90 minutes of touring before sitting down to the meal.
In the picture above, about half of the touchpoints are uncovered, which is where the “Obviously Open Touchpoints” arrow is pointing. Typically, Disney will begin to open more and more entrance tapstiles/touchpoints/lines down to the right as crowds increase.
At 7:40am, I’m in the far right line with the expectation that more touchpoints will open to my right. At that time, I could hurry over and jump in front of a few people that arrived before me, or I could move up after a few people standing in front of me inevitably move over. As it stands, I’m about eight people back in my line, which isn’t too bad.
At this point in the morning, it’s all clear to my right.
Things pick up relatively quickly, with this scene just ten minutes later, at 7:50am.
Just five minutes later, or more than an hour before the Park officially opens, even more people have arrived. At this point, you’d be about 20 people back in one of the centralized lines.
Just before 8am, two more sets of touchpoints were uncovered and a few dozen people moved over. If you arrive a little later than you’d like, then you might split the group up so that half of you are waiting in a line that’s definitely going to open, and the other half stands in front of what is a currently-closed set of touchpoints. In the unlikely event that a cast member harasses you about standing off to the side, just tell them that you haven’t had your coffee yet and the bloggers smell bad. They’ll understand.
Rarely, no new touchpoints will open if Disney is planning on letting people into the Oasis earlier in the morning. Splitting the group up hedges your bets a bit. If none of the additional touchpoints open, then the group hanging out in front of the covered touchpoints can simply hold their noses and return to the rest of the group. By arriving closer to 7:30am, you won’t have to play any of these games because you’ll be at the front of your chosen line.
By 8am, or a full hour before the Park opens, things continue filling in. These lines to my left, which have been open all morning, see long lines already.
The newly-opened lines on my other side are still much shorter. You can use a similar strategy at Epcot, where more touchpoints/lines typically open up to the right. At Hollywood Studios, more touchpoints/lines typically open to the left of those already established early.
By 8:10am, things have filled in almost completely in front of the ticket windows.
We won’t have to deal with these iPhone pictures for too much longer, but it’s slightly less awkward to take them with a phone and it still gives us a pretty good idea about how things are looking. This is a full 50 minutes before the Park officially opens. At this point, you’re out of luck on new lines opening.
From here, it’s just more and more people squeezing in.
Just before we’re allowed in at 8:20am, it looks like the lines extend well past the ticket booths and back to security. This is a slightly above-average number of people waiting to enter, but it’s similar to what you’ll see most days over the course of the year. Now during Thanksgiving Week, crowds would be even heavier, particularly with Disney refusing to move the opening to 8am.
So far, it’s basically business as usual as we await the opening announcement.
And at 8:21am, we’re heading inside.
Since we’re heading to Flight of Passage first thing, we want to move quickly through The Oasis by heading up the left pathway. To avoid 90% of the people, head through The Oasis on the right instead.
With the touchpoints slowing people’s entry, it’s a relatively chill walk through here, but see if you can hear the faint whisper of, “Is that the same finger that you used last time?” behind you in the distance. A cast member ahead is trying to slow everyone down, which will work for about the ten seconds that they can see you ahead of them. Disney World tourists are sort of like kindergartners in that most will try to get away with whatever they can when the teacher isn’t looking.
And we’re walking.
The only high priority attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Flight of Passage. If you’re headed anywhere else, including Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, or Expedition Everest, then you can safely arrive much closer to 8:30am and take your time heading to the attraction of your choice. We’re taking a left up ahead.
And then another left.
With a regular 9am open, this is the same basic process that we’ve seen virtually every day since Pandora debuted almost exactly two-and-a-half years ago.
The next holding area is on the bridge over to Pandora outside of Nomad Lounge and Tiffins.
At 8:26am, a hundred or more people have managed to get ahead of me.
Things fill in quickly, as this is the scene behind me at 8:35am. The person at the back of this mass of humanity will wait well over an hour for Flight of Passage first thing, despite the fact that they’re here “early.”
Since Pandora opened back in May of 2017, Disney has walked guests over to Flight of Passage around 8:32am, on average. Since the Extra Extra Magic Hours period ended earlier this month, though, Disney has pushed back Pandora’s opening by about 20 minutes, on average, to around 8:50am. Sometimes, the walk starts closer to 8:40am, while other days it’s closer to 9am.
The change certainly doesn’t appear to be due to reduced demand. This is as many people as I’ve seen waiting for Flight of Passage at rope drop as the crowd backs up all the way around the corner. Whoever is back there will now wait over two hours to ride Flight of Passage first thing.
We were still waiting to head into Pandora at 8:57am.
There’s a lot of people back there – far more than on many other dates that I’ve visited when we started walking over to Pandora much earlier in the morning.
Right at 9am, we began our march.
I’ve actually given up on taking my own photos.
I just zoom in on other people’s and post those. That may be why you see an improvement in overall quality.
We’re following the Flight of Passage End of Line sign to the right.
For River Journey, you’ll be one of eight people continuing straight ahead. To get a better idea about what you can expect from River Journey first thing, see this post.
We’re taking a right down towards Flight of Passage.
You’re typically in good shape if you stick to the right through here.
In the past, we’ve been able to take a left down towards Flight of Passage. Instead, we’re going to circle back around up ahead.
Only to stop in yet another holding pattern.
Eventually, we’ll be on our way again.
Shortly, cast will start sending guests down this path towards the bridge over to Africa, after hastily building the same extended queue that they create every other morning.
You can sort of get an idea about how many people are behind me. This is why our early arrival is so important.
The walk through here is slow-moving, as Flight of Passage is already posting a 75-minute wait at 9:06am.
We should wait much less than this, but Disney can’t show us a short wait, and also show the people near the end of the line a longer wait. With Flight of Passage moving through about 1,600 people per hour, as long as you’re within the first 500 people to reach the attraction entrance, you should wait less than 20 minutes.
They walked us all the way through the extended queue just outside of the attraction entrance.
Sending everyone the maximum distance through the queue may make it easier for cast to decide when it’s time to take additional queuing measures.
As you’ve probably seen me say before, somebody present before Animal Kingdom opens is going to wait 30 seconds for Flight of Passage. And somebody else who is also present before the Park opens will wait 2+ hours. Hopefully my wait will be about 15 minutes.
The line will continue to move slowly right up until the point where you cross the bridge that looks down at the Valley of Mo’ara.
And everyone takes this picture.
It was 9:15am by the time we arrived at this point in the cave. That’s a solid half hour later than usual, which makes sense considering we started our journey 30 minutes later than before the Extra Extra Magic Hours period ended on November 2nd.
I thought we might continue through the full standby queue given the fact that it was so much later in the morning. Historically, the first 750+ people who arrived at Flight of Passage first thing walked through the FastPass+ line to get as many people as possible on the attraction early.
It turned out that we still used the FastPass+ line, bypassing the majority of the queue. This is both good and bad; it will speed up the boarding process, but we’ll also miss a lot of the story that comes from walking through the laboratory.
I was past the standby/FastPass+ merge at 9:18am, or 18 minutes after first getting going, and about ten minutes after first passing through the attraction entrance. That’s right around how long this all usually takes.
About five minutes later, I was inside the pre-show.
I was back out front of Flight of Passage, to a 165-minute wait, at 9:38am. If you were to get in line now, you’d be off the ride at about 12:45pm. At that point in the day, I’ll have ridden Na’vi River Journey, DINOSAUR, TriceraTop Spin, and Expedition Everest (with FastPass+), in addition to spending 30 minutes walking Maharajah Jungle Trek.
There’s about 1,500 more people waiting for Flight of Passage right now than will fit in the queue, so we’ll need to wait a moment to pass through the Valley of Mo’ara and walk over to Na’vi River Journey next. Cast are constantly sending people from the queue that we walked through to get over here first thing on the left, over to the actual queue on the right, as space becomes available. This process typically continues until around 10:30am, depending on crowds.
I wasn’t delayed too long, as I’m also in front of Na’vi River Journey at 9:38am.
This is about a half hour later than previous visits, which makes sense since we started our morning a half hour later. The picture above shows my 9:06am arrival at River Journey back in July of 2018, when the posted wait was less than half of what I saw in November 2k19. We started walking to Flight of Passage about a half hour before the rest of the Park officially opened.
Here with an 8am regular open back in June of this year, I managed to get over here just six minutes after the Park officially opened. We started walking to Flight of Passage around 7:30am, or a full half hour before the rest of the Park opened.
Here’s what I saw at River Journey back in July of 2017, just a month after Pandora opened. I’m still over here more than 20 minutes earlier in the day, thanks to the walk over to Pandora beginning about a half hour before the rest of the Park officially opened.
Despite the 25-minute posted wait, I was pretty sure that I would still be in good shape, with at least 95% of the people heading to Pandora first thing going to Flight of Passage first. This phenomenon is beneficial because it’s what allows us to do both rides in standby first thing with relatively minimal waits. If half of the people at rope drop headed to Flight of Passage, and the other half headed to River Journey, then our wait for River Journey would be well over an hour after finishing up with Flight of Passage. Since almost everyone visits Flight of Passage first, there are few people in line for River Journey immediately after.
I’m hoping that we see a similar phenomenon at Hollywood Studios come December 5th, when just about everyone heads to Rise of the Resistance first thing. That will open up Smugglers Run to ride in standby with a short wait immediately after. Rise of the Resistance is the first ride that guests see as they enter Galaxy’s Edge, and the reviews are expected to be much better than the Millennium Falcon simulator, so we’ll hopefully be in luck.
There are a couple issues that come up with our later start. Obviously, it means we’re going to arrive later at subsequent attractions. But there are two bigger problems – the first of which is more FastPass+ returners arrive as it gets later in the morning. The second is that later in the day, more people have had an opportunity to arrive, and we’ll find longer lines and wait times than if we were on our way a half hour earlier.
Without many FastPass+ returners arriving with priority access, my wait would have been about five minutes given the small number of people waiting in front of me in standby. If it had been closer to 9:15am, then only a handful of people with FP+ would have shown up while I waited in standby.
With so many FastPass+ returners arriving now that it’s later in the morning, I waited more than 15 minutes. Worse, the standby line grew incredibly quickly as more and more people arrived at River Journey after finishing Flight of Passage. With so little capacity going to standby already, wait times are going to build quickly. Back when we were here closer to 9:10am, almost 100% of the ride’s capacity would go to standby. By 9:45am, only about 30% of the ride’s capacity goes to standby.
But at least we get to ride:
I was back out front at 10:04am, for a total experience time of 26 minutes. That’s about ten minutes longer than the ride would have taken if I had arrived a half hour earlier, thanks to the earlier start in Pandora. That’s not bad, of course, but it’s already about 40 minutes later in the morning than where I would be if we started walking to Flight of Passage at 8:30am instead of 9am.
Still, moving through Animal Kingdom’s two most popular attractions in standby in about an hour isn’t too shabby, particularly when the combined wait for Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey is currently just five minutes shy of three hours.
We’ll need to change our timing expectations if Disney is going to permanently move Pandora’s opening about 20 minutes later in the morning. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but having to wait with a couple thousand other people on the bridge leading into Pandora for an extra 30 minutes is a bummer, as is the longer waits that we’re going to experience all day. Previously, with our 7:40am arrival, we usually waited about 30 minutes for the Park to open, and then another 15 minutes for the walk over to Pandora to begin. Now, we’re waiting 30 minutes for the Park to open, and then another 40 to 50 minutes for the walk over to Pandora to begin.
There are two good ways to avoid the Flight of Passage rope drop. The first is to get in the standby line a minute or two before the Park is scheduled to close, when the actual wait averages about 45 minutes. This is your best bet if you’re able to easily stay out that late. With sunset around 5:30pm these days, you’ll still have an opportunity to enjoy Animal Kingdom After Dark, and the first Rivers of Light show, should you elect to get in line for Flight of Passage late in the day.
An even better bet is to acquire Flight of Passage FastPass+:
These remain difficult to secure, but those eligible to book FP+ 60 days in advance should find plentiful availability, with even more opportunities for those booking 61+ days in advance.
If FastPass+ isn’t in the cards, then you’ll either need to arrive early or stay late in order to enjoy a short wait. The cooler fall weather makes both a little more comfortable.
We’ll see how the later start affects the rest of our day as we head off to DinoLand USA.