We set out for Animal Kingdom to continue our early-2019 look at rope drop touring strategies. Earlier this month, we saw what it took to rope drop Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in this post, with Part 2 following here. We also checked out the rope drop process at Epcot beginning with Test Track and Frozen Ever After in this post, with Part 2 found here.
We’ve covered rope drop touring at Animal Kingdom a dozen-or-so times since Pandora opened, typically focusing on either Na’vi River Journey or Avatar Flight of Passage first thing. As we’ve come to learn over the last 1.7 years, Flight of Passage is the Park’s highest priority and the only attraction that requires an arrival more than a half hour before official open to experience with a wait anywhere in the vicinity of short.
If Flight of Passage is your first stop, then you want to arrive no later than 7:45am with a regular 9am open or 7am with a regular 8am open. If it’s a busy time of year, such as Presidents Day Weekend as it is here, then you may want to arrive 15 minutes earlier than that. Above is the scene at 8:06am on Friday February 15, 2019. There’s already well over a thousand people here waiting.
That means we’re getting in line back here, just about even with the ticket booths.
Within two minutes, the line behind me stretches back to bag check. This is at 8:10am, or a full 50 minutes before the Park officially opens.
Between 8:10am and 8:30am, an announcement will come over the intercom announcing the Park’s regular opening time and inviting you to enjoy The Oasis just inside the entrance until then. You have my permission to chuckle at the thought.
When you have Flight of Passage FP so you can enjoy the Navi River Journey shuffle to Pandora pic.twitter.com/xeOeDymuhu
— josh (@easywdw) February 15, 2019
You can join 18,000+ people and walk through the Oasis with me. I wasn’t going to take a video, but when I saw a duo next to me setting up a piggyback, I knew what had to be done.
As I’ve said every time we visit, there is absolutely no hurry to any attraction other than Avatar Flight of Passage, which means we can enjoy ourselves to the best of our ability during the walk towards the Tree of Life. To get away from a lot of the rush that you see in the video, take the path on the right. With Pandora located to the left, most people head that way.
With the heavy crowds outside, we were let into the Park at 8:13am. At 8:20am, I have the area in front of the Tree of Life to myself. It’s a great opportunity to get some pictures with nobody else around.
The only entrance leading to Pandora at Park open is located to the left. You’ll then take another left after passing the Island Mercantile store and before arriving at Pizzafari. Also, a reminder that a pre-opening Tusker House breakfast provides absolutely no advantage to Pandora and will only set you back. There’s no way to make it back to the restaurant, check in, get seated, eat, meet the characters, and settle the bill in 15 minutes, which is what you’d have to do in order to join the fray all the way back here near Pizzafari.
This is 8:23am as people continue streaming in.
We have some time to enjoy the morning light on the Tree of Life.
Typically, the only attractions that begin operating before official Park open are found inside Pandora, even if other areas of the Park are open. You could certainly head back to Africa, Asia, DinoLand, or what have you, but there isn’t going to be anything to really do other than stand around and potentially take some glamour shots. If you’re inside the Park before 9am, then it makes a lot of sense to make a stop at Na’vi River Journey, even if your first intended stop is elsewhere.
If you’re serious about maximizing your time in the Park and plan to head to Na’vi River Journey first thing, then I’d still arrive by 8:15am and then somewhat quickly move over to the Pandora clustercuss. You’ll then be ready to head over to the boat ride as soon as cast start walking guests toward the attractions.
The rope drop process is a little different due to the fact that about two-thirds of the ground near the entrance is roped off for painting.
Normally, we’d be held at the bridge until right around 8:30am, but we’re already on our way.
More than 95% of the people present at rope drop will be headed to Avatar Flight of Passage, which is located down to the right after you enter the Land.
When we’re held at the bridge, this is what things typically look like as 2,000+ people are absorbed into Pandora.
At 8:26am, you’re probably looking at a 60-minute wait if you got in line for Flight of Passage now. The line isn’t really backed up this far, but it takes some time for everyone to move through the queue and stop to take that one shot looking down at Pandora from the bridge. If you arrived at 7:45am and moved quickly to the attraction entrance, then you’d be nearing the pre-show room or potentially already on the ride. Some genius always points out that if I arrive at the front of the Park at 7:45am and don’t ride until 8:45am that I have also waited an hour for the ride. While this is true, I would also be on my way at 9am when waits are still short at every other attraction. And those that arrive at 9am and head to Flight of Passage first thing are going to wait about two hours for Flight of Passage as we’ll see momentarily. Come 11am, waits just about everywhere will already be prohibitive.
I’m headed left towards Na’vi River Journey with about 20 other people that are probably also lost.
At 8:27am, we don’t yet see a wait posted. I’m guessing these people are asking if this is Splash Mountain.
Flight of Passage does have a 44″ height requirement, so keep that in mind if you’re considering it as your first destination.
There’s literally nobody in line this early:
We arrived at 8:27am, were on-board at 8:31am, and found ourselves disembarking at 8:37am. There’s still “literally” nobody in line.
We have a moment to enjoy the scenery with just about everyone in the Park currently in line for Flight of Passage.
Yes, if you’re wondering, every shot in this post will be taken at f1.4. I’m not carrying a 1.5-pound, thousand dollar lens to shoot at f8.
Just to reiterate, there’s absolutely no rush to Na’vi River Journey. My early arrival will allow me to ride a second time with no wait, but if you were to arrive here at 8:45am, then you’d still run into virtually no wait to board.
For example, you might realize that you’re in line for Na’vi River Journey.
This time around, about ten people were waiting in front of me, a few of which are probably from the first couple of theaters at Flight of Passage letting out.
We were still on-board in about four minutes from the time we initially got in line:
Our second ride took a total of ten minutes, which is right around the minimum experience time. With FastPass+ later in the day, you’d probably be looking at a 14-minute expenditure. I’ve managed to ride twice in 22 minutes, in between taking other pictures.
At the same time, the entire Flight of Passage standby queue is full.
That equates to a wait of 75 to 120 minutes, which means if you were to get in line now, that you wouldn’t be on your way elsewhere until at least 10:30am. And this is still ten minutes before the Park even officially opens.
Here’s a look at Na’vi River Journey waits over the last month:
I’ve included the wait times during morning Extra Magic Hour where applicable and you can see how much that affects wait times come regular open. On days without morning Extra Magic Hour, the posted wait at 9am averages just 11 minutes, which means it’s a virtual walk-on. On days with a morning Extra Magic Hour, the average posted wait come 9am is 61 minutes.
Typically, on days with a regular 9am open and no morning Extra Magic Hour, the ride welcomes its first guests beginning right around 8:30am and River Journey will see actual waits under ten minutes through 9am. On days with a morning Extra Magic Hour, you obviously want to arrive in time to take advantage of the full hour or you’re going to run into some very long waits come regular open.
Note that the average wait over the course of the day of our visit on February 15th is 79 minutes, which is the third longest over the last month. We’re going to be seeing some very long waits and some very heavy crowds as we move throughout the day. But River Journey is still easy to experience in the early morning.
Avatar Flight of Passage, is, of course, a different beast. Here’s a look at posted waits over the last month:
By 9am, the average posted wait is 127 minutes, or more than two hours. On days with morning Extra Magic Hour, the average wait at 9am goes up to 180 minutes, or a full three hours. You’re not safe on regular 9am opens either, though. On those days, the average wait come 9am is still 108 minutes. That’s still better than 180 minutes, though. Even though 127 minutes is still a long time to wait, it’s actually the lowest average wait that the attractions posts until the very end of the night, at 8pm. The longest waits are seen from 9:45am to 12pm, as people inevitably arrive throughout the morning and get in line for Disney World’s hottest attraction. Generally speaking, the later in the day you get in line, the better, with the lowest posted waits seen after 7:15pm. If you have to get in line during the day, then your best bet is around 1:15pm. Not only will wait times to be at their highest levels elsewhere, but you’ll also wait 15 to 30 minutes less than most other times of day, on average. Eat lunch beforehand, potentially skipping the beverages, because it’s going to be a while.
Here’s a look at Flight of Passage wait times from the same dates last year:
Year over year, the overall average wait has dropped just six minutes, from two hours and fifty-eight minutes to two hours and fifty-two minutes. That’s just 2.3% lower. On the plus side, Animal Kingdom currently opens a little earlier this year, which means the average wait at 9am in 2019 is 127 minutes, compared to 147 minutes in 2018.
Here’s Na’vi River Journey while we’re here:
In 2018, from January 16th through February 15th, River Journey posted an 86-minute average wait. This year, over the same dates, the wait dropped a full 20 minutes, to 66 minutes. That’s a drop of 23.3%. Given most people’s reactions after experiencing Na’vi, it makes some sense. You might be willing to wait 90 minutes for your first ride through the tunnel of love, but maybe not more than…two minutes on a second ride-through. Even with the 20-minute drop, River Journey still remains the attraction with the second-highest posted waits at Animal Kingdom.
With virtually no effort whatsoever, I’ve been able to ride River Journey twice in standby, waiting a total of one or two minutes. At noon, the posted wait is going to be 105 minutes, which means I’d be waiting in line over two-and-a-half hours to ride twice back to back later in the day.
Back to February 15th, it’s 8:53am and the end of the Flight of Passage line is backed up all the way across the bridge into Africa on the far side, out of frame.
At the moment, the wait is posted at 90 minutes. But at 9:15am, it will go up to 150 minutes, followed by 195 minutes at 9:30am, and 240 minutes at 9:45am.
Despite the long waits, six other days over the last 30 have seen average waits that are even longer.
Part of that is due to theater downtime, in turn causing capacity reductions. With all four theaters running most of the day and with average crowds, the average wait is about 150 minutes.
All of those people in the distance are backed up on the bridge towards Africa, in line for Flight of Passage.
With short waits at “literally” every other attraction, finding yourself in a 90+ minute line for Flight of Passage is “literally” the worst place you could be right now. By the time these people disembark Avatar after 11am, waits are going to be intolerable just about everywhere. I’m going to run into a 120-minute wait for Expedition Everest at 11:37am. Safaris will be posted at 105-minutes at 12:45pm. That’s not good. You could experience either with waits under ten minutes right now.
There’s still a lot of people streaming in.
In Part Two, we’ll begin by riding Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa. We’ll then skip the 50-minute posted wait at Expedition Everest in favor of riding DINOSAUR in standby and see how we do from there.