We set out for Disney’s Animal Kingdom on the afternoon of Thursday, May 16th, 2019. While most of our touring guidance revolves around arriving early and touring efficiently in the morning, an afternoon or evening arrival can work similarly well provided you go about things in an intelligent manner. In addition, Animal Kingdom is going to be offering a morning Extra Magic Hour from 7am to 8am every day between August 29th and November 2nd as part of Disney’s “Extra, Extra Magic Hours” that coincide with the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening. If you’re not eligible for Extra Magic Hours, or have no intention of arriving at a theme park before 7am on vacation, then you’re probably not going to be able to ride Flight of Passage in the morning without a wait that exceeds an hour. At least if you can’t score a rare FastPass+, which are typically unavailable 60+ days in front of a given date. The late arrival, with plans to visit Flight of Passage at the very end of the night, then becomes your best option to experience what will become Disney’s second most popular ride in a post-Galaxy’s-Edge world.
For those who are eligible and able to arrive at the Park by 6:30am during the Extra, Extra Magic Hours initiative, you’re going to be in luck. There won’t be a lot of people there that early, particularly if they’re keying in on one or more early arrivals at the Studios on other days, which will be opening at 6am every day during that same time frame. Somebody who got up at 4am to be at Hollywood Studios at 5am probably isn’t going to be up at 5am the next morning to do something similar at Animal Kingdom. Even if you are eligible to arrive early, you may still elect to sleep in and tour the Parks later in the day instead, particularly with temperatures that cool into the evening. In this post, I’ll outline some basic late arrival touring strategies as I go about the day, ultimately ending with Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage at the end of the night. I’ll actually be getting in line for Flight of Passage right at 8:59pm with the 9pm close. In case you’d like to bypass the rest of this series, I waited just about 45 minutes for Flight of Passage.
Late arrival touring strategy is basically the opposite of early morning touring strategy. In the morning, we identify which ride will see waits that rise the fastest and visit it first. Our next attraction is typically the one where waits rise second-fastest, followed by another attraction where waits quickly accumulate, and so on, ideally visiting each attraction before long waits develop. As wait times peak, we begin to use FastPass+ where priority boarding will save us the most time. This works because crowds and wait times typically rise throughout the morning as more and more people arrive and get in line for something.
An afternoon arrival is the exact opposite. When you first arrive, there will be more people in the Park than when you exit. That means we’re going to want to start with the anytime attractions, since standby waits will be prohibitive at the popular attractions. Most of the time, we’ll also want to book key FastPass+ experiences for shortly after we’re planning on arriving because we’ll save more time than if we use them later in the day. We can then refresh FastPass+ availability to score additional experiences throughout the afternoon and evening. You may also want to prioritize shows, characters, or attractions that won’t be available later in the day. I use http://wdwent.com/ to pull up the show schedule for the week in an easily-readable format. Orlando Theme Park News also posts the actual Times Guides for the week here.
This consolidated version, with next week’s show times, may also help offer an idea about what to expect:
From there, you’ll see that the last performance for UP! A Great Bird Adventure is scheduled for 5pm. The last Finding Nemo the Musical is at 4:30pm, while the final Festival of the Lion King starts at 7pm (6pm with a 9pm close). You’ll obviously need to plan your arrival based on what you’d like to do, keeping in mind show times.
My plan was to arrive a little before 4pm, see how many cupcakes I could eat, and then catch the 4:30pm Finding Nemo the Musical, ideally arriving about ten minutes before showtime to see what kind of a seat I could expect to find.
Kevin, the colorful bird from UP!, continues entertaining guests around Discovery Island.
She and Meeko got down for a bit of a dance-off. It wasn’t close. Nobody gets down like Kevin.
Kevin appears and returns to her nest across from Flame Tree Barbecue and to the left of the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party.
She travels around between 9:30am and 4:30pm, typically taking breaks on the half-hour. She walks from here in front of Flame Tree, up to the area in front of the Theater in the Wild where the UP! show takes place to the left of Yak & Yeti, and then retraces her steps. So if you don’t see her around Flame Tree, try walking up to Asia, keeping in mind that she’s usually backstage from :27 – :30 and :57 – :00 past the hour. She appears in the Flame Tree area a couple minutes before and after those times as she arrives and exits.
The Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party might be fun with kids.
You’ll find a variety of characters depending on the time and day.
Here’s what must be an African Bear, for example.
Disney blogging runs on cupcakes these days, here with a particularly precious entry with “The Bird” from Restaurantosaurus. Imagine if your very livelihood was dependent entirely on how many people you could get to read about a cupcake that they will never see, let alone taste. Welcome to my world.
For $6, you’ll come away with a “Lemon Cake filled with Blueberry Cheesecake topped with Buttercream and Chocolate Feathers.”
Not that it really matters, but it was actually pretty good as far as mass-produced, previously-frozen, served-cold-out-of-a-refrigerator Disney cupcakes go. While the poor thing looks a little squished, not unlike he or she had a recent run-in with a hydraulic press, there’s quite a bit of detail in the plumage with the three colors of icing on top of the chocolate feather pieces.
The cold temperature makes for a relatively refreshing experience. I appreciated the fact that the Lemon Cake carried a very light citrus flavor, while the buttercream icing, which may have been frozen when it was initially served, added plenty of sugar. The Blueberry Cheesecake filling was soft and light, adding just a hint of a berry flavor. Overall, it’s one of the tastier cupcakes that I’ve sampled in recent memory, but it will probably be long gone by the time you visit. Whatever replaces it will probably look just as cute and taste just about the same. Please read the review nonetheless.
At most stage shows, the last scheduled time is typically the least crowded, which is another reason why a late arrival makes sense. The first show of the day is also typically less attended than the peak afternoon shows with more people arriving closer to showtime than a 1pm or 2:30pm show. With overlapping showtimes, you may not be able to see the last showtime of each of the productions. But you could feasibly see the 3:30pm UP! show, which is the second-to-last of the day, which would carry you to about 3:55pm. Then you could see the 4:30pm Finding Nemo, which would take you to about 5:10pm, followed by the 6pm or 7pm (when applicable) Festival of the Lion King.
At 4:16pm, or about 15 minutes before showtime, the last of the standby guests that have been waiting for a while are filling into the theater. I’m purposefully trying to arrive right around the time that I can walk into the theater and find a seat, since I don’t want to stand out in the sun, uncovered, for too long.
Most Disney stage shows and entertainment offerings see a duration in the 20- to 30-minute range. Finding Nemo is legitimately 38 minutes long, a run time that may prove problematic with youngsters in tow, particularly when you’ll probably be sitting for at least ten minutes before the show begins, in addition to however much time you spend outside. You’ll want to plan on Nemo taking about an hour of your time, with the potential that you’ll need to add as much as another half hour if you want to arrive earlier to secure seats closer to the stage.
Personally, I subscribe to the following when it comes to where to sit at Disney shows: away from the people is always best.
And we have some opportunity to do that with the rows further back from the stage still largely empty just ten minutes before showtime.
While the rows closer are just about shoulder to shoulder.
Sitting further back will allow us to spread out a bit more, in addition to having some more wiggle room should a tall blogger with a large camera sit down in front of you at the last minute. Because of the long length of the show, the seats are a little more comfortable than some with the wood backs.
Finding Nemo the Musical is quite the production.
You’ll hear 14 original songs.
Each penned by the Academy-award winning duo behind the music of Frozen and Coco.
Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
The puppets are incredible.
Many of them take more than one person to operate and may be ten or more feet long.
Me, August 29th, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Most of the singing is live.
And all of the sets vibrant:
The show is a little less intimate than most with the large size of the stage, puppets, and theater, but the quality of the production is on par with Disney’s best. It’s also indoors and air-conditioned and while I would appreciate a little padding on the seat, it’s one of the more comfortable spots at Animal Kingdom to spend an hour that isn’t named Nomad Lounge. Nemo may not be on your itinerary every trip, but it’s a show worth considering and when appropriate, revisiting. I like it a lot and see it just about as often as I can get “Just Keep Swimming” out of my head, which is once every few years.
As we begin to plot out the order in which we’ll visit the major rides, here’s a look at wait times as they progressed over the course of the day. The current time, 5:15pm, is highlighted:
From 9:45am through 6:30pm, the average wait at attractions that post one exceeds 40 minutes. That means that as early as 45 minutes into Park operation, you’re already looking at waiting over 40 minutes per attraction if you were to throw a dart at a list and then get in line for whatever it lands on. Just over two hours into operation, at 11:15am, the average wait exceeds an hour. At 6:45pm, the average wait drops below 40 minutes and stays that way until the end of the night. That means we enjoy more than two hours of waits under 40 minutes to close out the day, while those that arrived early see only about 45 minutes of those same low wait times. That’s part of why our late arrival is going to work so well – wait times are lower for a longer period of time and only decrease as Park close approaches.
The show schedule is also of some benefit, since most shows are performed for the last time around 5pm, when posted waits still exceed 50 minutes, on average. It isn’t like I’d want to be in most standby lines that early, anyway. We’ll enjoy the least-attended showtimes while the Park continues to empty out.
As far as when to schedule FastPass+, there’s two ways of going about it and again, it depends on what you ultimately want to accomplish. I could have arrived earlier and begun using the three FastPass+ experiences that I’m able to book in advance immediately, when I would save the most time. A FastPass+ used at 3pm is going to save 56 minutes, on average. At 7pm, I’m only going to save 38 minutes, on average. Using my three initial FastPass+ experiences earlier also opens up my opportunities to book additional experiences, based on availability. While there will be very little FP+ availability at any given time, considering that most FastPass+ are booked in advance these days, experiences that others cancel and change will come up with purposeful refreshing on the My Disney Experience app or website. If I were to use my three FP+ experiences before Finding Nemo, I could sit and refresh availability for ten or more minutes before the show begins and probably come away with something decent.
The other option is to simply book the three FastPass+ towards the end of the night. With the 9pm close, it would make sense to book FastPass+ for 5pm to 6pm, 6pm to 7pm, and 7pm to 8pm or thereabouts. I’m planning on heading to Pandora after 8pm, to ideally ride Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage in standby, when waits are lower at the very end of the night. If I were to get in line for another attraction after 8pm, I’d be cutting it close with the 9pm close. If you’re headed to Pandora last, you’ll likely want to plan on arriving an hour before close.
This is how the website priorities FastPass+ at Animal Kingdom:
Pandora (Choose One)
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Na’vi River Journey
Everything Else (Choose Two):
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids (when highs are 80+ degrees)
- Adventurers Outpost Mickey and Minnie Meet (due to fewer experiences available)
- Rivers of Light (Primarily first show. Last show is easier to see in standby)
- Kali River Rapids (when highs are under 80 degrees)
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo the Musical
- Up! A Great Bird Adventure
- Primeval Whirl
- It’s Tough To Be A Bug
This holds mostly true for an early or late arrival and is based largely on how much time using FastPass+ will save. For the sake of this test, I’m not going to use FastPass+ at either Pandora ride because they’re the most difficult to acquire. River Journey is typically available 30 or more days in front of a given date, making the boat ride easy enough to secure in most situations. And if you can get a River Journey FastPass+ for a desirable time, you’ll want to, as using FastPass+ will still save you over an hour in line, on average, and will save closer to 90 minutes during peak times. Kilimanjaro Safaris typically sees an average wait around 50 minutes, while Expedition Everest comes in around 45. These days, Everest FastPass+ are far more plentiful. It’s not unusual for Safaris to be out of FastPass+ on the day before a given date, while Everest is still distributing FastPass+, particularly into the evening. That’s another benefit of the late arrival. If you check FastPass+ availability for the next day right now, you’ll typically see that morning and afternoon return times are either gone or are severely limited, while late afternoon and evening return times are more plentiful. That makes it a lot easier to plan a spontaneous late arrival, whereas you’ll have to refresh availability a lot more for morning or early afternoon return times.
Here’s how I’ve set up my FastPass+:
I’ve booked the two highest-priority FastPass+ from the “Everything Else” category, in addition to Primeval Whirl, which is towards the end of the list. I’ve booked Primeval because capacity is going to come into play, where only one side will be operating when it’s time to ride, in turn causing longer standby waits. Since Primeval Whirl is an incredibly easy FastPass+ to acquire as a 4th or subsequent selection, it wouldn’t make much sense to book it in advance if I was booking my initial three selections earlier in the day. If I was going to use my third FastPass+ around 5pm, then I could easily book Primeval Whirl as a 4th selection after. Since I’m booking my FastPass+ late, I won’t have an opportunity to use a 4th FP+.
If I were booking my FP+ earlier, I’d instead use FP+ at DINOSAUR to start and then book Primeval Whirl as my fourth choice.
At 5:10pm, shortly after Nemo let out, TriceraTop Spin is a walk-on. DINOSAUR is posting a 30-minute wait at the same time with an actual wait that’s probably closer to 15 minutes.
Primeval Whirl is posting 20 minutes, but the queue is backed up relatively far as you can see a lot of people waiting in the extended queue inside the entrance. However, with both sides of the ride currently operating, it would actually make more sense to ride standby now than to wait until later in the evening when only one side will be operating. Even with fewer people in line at 6pm, the wait is going to be longer if the ride is only moving through half of the people, particularly with more FastPass+ returners arriving. Primeval Whirl will be one of the only attractions that still has availability after 5pm, causing more people to select it since it’s one of only two or three options. We’ll be returning with FP+ after dinner.
I have in mind to get going with the rides at 6pm, which means I have about 50 minutes to kill between dinner, checking out a variety of animal exhibits, meeting some characters, visiting an anytime attraction like It’s Tough To Be A Bug, or what have you.
I opted to visit the Otter Grotto, which is hilariously supported by the “OTTERBOX” brand of phone cases, and reopened across from Pizzafari last month:
They’re more than a little precious as I first caught them napping in a pile before setting out to try and break into this log where the food is kept. If you’re interested in seeing them, I’d check back a couple of times throughout the day as like most of the other animals, their appearance at any particular time isn’t guaranteed. They also head back to their offstage home early in the evening, which is why we’re stopping in before dinner instead of after.
You don’t see the lemurs out very often, which made for a fun sighting.
Speaking of dinner, another bonus of the late arrival is the fact that Animal Kingdom’s quick services are absolutely slammed during lunch service and then find themselves much less popular later in the day. At noon, the wait to order would be at least 15 minutes and can be as much as 30 minutes. Here at 5:30pm, I’m going to walk right up to a register and I’ll have no trouble finding a prime table down at the water with few other people around. What a life.
Flame Tree is one of the two best quick services at Animal Kingdom with Satu’li Canteen perhaps edging it out. Where I end up largely depends on my mood and where I happen to be at the time.
My favorite meal, and one that’s probably shareable among two people with large appetites, includes the $12 Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Pulled Pork. I’ve only heard good things from those who have tried it.
You’ll want to add a $4.49 side of Onion Rings to that order. Try them with the Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Sauce from the condiment station.
This time around, I went with the $11 “Smokehouse Chicken Salad – Pulled Chicken on top of Mixed Greens tossed with Smoked Cheddar Cheese, Diced Granny Smith Apples, Cornbread Croutons, Crispy Onions, and Barbecue Ranch Dressing.”
Like most Disney salads, all of the ingredients were incredibly fresh with crisp lettuce and plentiful chicken that carried a nice smoky flavor underneath the tangy barbecue dressing. The cornbread croutons stuck out in particular, crumbly and sweet with a nice chew.
It was a nice, light-yet-filling meal that “felt” like it was just the right amount of food to power me through about four hours of evening touring.
And you can’t beat the view.
In Part Two, we’ll begin our grand circle around Animal Kingdom, first visiting DinoLand for DINOSAUR, TriceraTop Spin, and Primeval Whirl. Then it’s off to Asia, Africa, and finally, Pandora.