We continue our day at Animal Kingdom after checking out what it takes to rope drop Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey in Pandora. We pick things up at 8:57am, or three minutes before the Park officially opens. I’ve already experienced Na’vi River Journey twice in standby with virtually no effort whatsoever. Flight of Passage is, of course, another matter. We’ll be returning to Pandora later in the morning to check out peak crowd levels and to see how long it takes to ride Avatar Flight of Passage with FastPass+ when the standby line is over three hours long.
It’s mildly amusing to see more people rope dropping the Creature Comforts Starbucks than Na’vi River Journey. People are lined up outside with the doors closed since the coffee house doesn’t open until 9am. The wait to ride River Journey, one of Animal Kingdom’s newest attractions, and a ride that will see a 100+ minute peak wait later in the day, is virtually a walk-on at the same time. But these people are going to be here for at least ten more minutes to order and receive their coffees. On one hand, I understand wanting to be fully-caffeinated before your first major attraction of the day. On the other hand, it might be better if you’re asleep during Na’vi River Journey.
The Cotton-top tamarins were happy to come out and say good morning as we passed.
The morning light is pretty in Pandora and over the Tree of Life, but it’s a little harsher in Asia and Africa as we look towards the Forbidden Mountain.
While Pandora typically welcomes guests 30+ minutes before official Park open, the rest of the attractions will either open close-to or right-at official Park open.
As I approach the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris at 9:01am, that means everyone that arrived before me will still be in line and waiting to board the first safari trucks of the day.
The posted wait is 15 minutes as we’re temporarily backed up outside the entrance.
That “feels” like there’s a lot of people in line.
A lot of that slowdown is caused by the delay in guests passing their strollers off to cast members about two-thirds of the way through the queue.
I’m using a Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens for the majority of these shots, but it’s “too zoomed in” to produce a wider look, so we’re stuck with some blurry on-the-go iPhone photos from time to time. This one shows that both of the Safaris’ loading bays were running at Park open. That’s nice to see as it will facilitate as many people moving through the queue as possible first thing and, ideally, keep waits as low as possible as the day progresses.
We were past the merge point with FastPass+ in under ten minutes.
And on our truck a couple of minutes after that.
At least 80% of the time, the driver’s side of the truck offers the best views of the animals.
I happened to be on the other side of the truck and missed a number of pictures.
Including these hippos out of the water.
But we do what we can:
We arrived at 9:01am and were back out front at 9:39am, for a total experience time of 39 minutes. That’s two or three minutes longer than the ride typically takes with FastPass+, which means we waited right around the minimum amount. At this point, the standby line is backed up well past the entrance with the 25-minute posted wait. There’s a ton of queue that can be opened inside, making it hard to gauge the actual wait, but I’d put it around an hour. The Park has been officially open less than 40 minutes.
Here’s a look at posted waits at Kilimanjaro Safaris over the last month:
The date of our visit is Friday February 15th, 2019. And while wait times are going to be incredibly long as we traverse the Park, the day’s 71-minute average isn’t even in the top ten highest over the last month. Still, it’s nine minutes above the 62-minute average, which is only about five minutes less than Na’vi River Journey’s average wait.
I’ll be writing a separate post comparing early 2019 wait times to past years, but here’s a look at Safaris’ waits over the same dates in 2018:
It’s a pretty staggering increase, year-over-year, as waits continue to climb even higher in January and February. In 2018, the average wait was “just” 47 minutes, compared to 62 minutes this year. Part of that is due to the fact that Disney now closes the ride shortly after dusk with 7pm closes being the norm this time of year. Last year, the ride operated through Park close, which was typically 8pm.
You might remember last year’s exposé, “‘Off-Season’ Wait Times at Walt Disney World – January at Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” which showed how much wait times have been rising at Animal Kingdom in the month of January over the last several years.
The following chart shows how much the average wait at DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin rose from 2015 to 2018:
That’s a 70.7% increase. Pandora opened in June 2017, so just the 2017 to 2018 jump can be attributed to higher attendance from the hype surrounding Avatar. Before that, the waits rose for other reasons.
The chart below shows the daily average wait for the same five, non-Pandoran attractions, from 2015 through 2019:
2019 continues the upward trend with waits rising another seven minutes, or 21.8%. In five years, posted waits have more than doubled from 18.8 minutes in 2015 to 39.1 minutes in 2019. So if it seems like wait times have more than doubled since your last visit, you may not be wrong. On the other hand, year-over-year, Flight of Passage wait times are up less than three percent, while wait times at River Journey are down more than 20%. That was discussed in more depth in Part 1 of this series. So if higher attendance is what’s pushing wait times up, then it hasn’t had an effect on the new rides.
Briefly back to the 2019 chart for Safaris, this time with the days with morning Extra Magic Hours eliminated. By 9:30am, the average wait is already up to 32 minutes. By 9:45am, you’re looking at a 49-minute average wait. That means that there isn’t a tremendous opportunity to get over here to ride standby with a short wait if you’re making other stops first. If you were to ride Expedition Everest twice at rope drop, back to back, and headed here immediately after, then you’d be looking at an arrival right around 9:30am. The actual wait at that time is going to be about 25 minutes, on average. If you don’t make it over until 10am, then you’re looking at an average wait of around 45 minutes. Of course, if there’s ever a complete washout, like there was given the torrential downpours on January 27th, then you might leave everything that you don’t want to get ruined back in the room, put on the ponchos, and give rainy-day touring a shot. The average wait on the 27th was just 11 minutes, almost a tenth of the 102-minute average just a few weeks later.
It’s 9:40am and the crowds are rolling into Africa. I have a couple of good options here given the fact that my first FastPass+ is for Avatar Flight of Passage from 9:45am to 10:45am. I could quickly walk through Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and then head to the 10am Festival of the Lion King show. The theater is located just ahead to the right. I could also grab something to eat and then head over to Lion King after. Or I could just go over and find the best seats possible now. While later Lion King shows will be popular, the 10am show is less so, and you’ll be just fine heading in at 9:55am. It also makes sense to head to DinoLand USA, where I should still find short waits at DINOSAUR, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. The quickest way to get there would be the direct path back in the same direction that I came, passing by Pizzafari and the entrance to Pandora on the way.
There’s also an opportunity to enjoy some live music or perhaps refresh easywdw.com, knowing that the chances of a new post are in the vicinity of 0%.
We elected to head towards Asia to see if Pandora and other attractions would pull enough people away to keep Expedition Everest waits low.
It doesn’t look like we’re going to run into too much resistance at this point.
Kevin, the goofy bird from Up!, began appearing last week.
Her travels take her throughout Discovery Island.
At least at the moment, she goes as far as the Theater in the Wild in Asia, which is where the Up! stage show takes place.
Honestly, I think that show would be 10x better if it was just Kevin on stage interacting with a bunch of other birds.
Perhaps it could be hosted by Dee from It’s Always Sunny.
Kevin’s journey typically begins and ends across from Flame Tree Barbecue.
She usually begins her strolls at 9:30am with her last walk beginning at 4pm and ending at 4:30pm. That means you should run into her at least a couple of times throughout the day.
While she doesn’t sign autographs, because she’s a bird, she does stop periodically for pictures. She’s an extraordinarily fun addition to the Park.
Our walk towards Asia continues at 9:47am.
We’ll take a moment to check out the siamangs.
The Forbidden Mountain awaits.
The lack of people seems to bode well.
But that feeling is going to be short-lived.
Everest is already posting a 50-minute wait at 9:49am.
And that probably isn’t exaggerated as the standby line already stretches out into a temporary queue outside the entrance.
Knowing that riding this “late” in the morning would be a stretch, I’ve secured FastPass+ for 11am to 12pm. At this point, the single rider line would be a viable option with an actual wait closer to 15 minutes.
When we circle back around to ride with FastPass+ a few minutes after 11:30am, the standby wait is going to be more than double, at 120 minutes.
We’ll continue on to DinoLand USA, where waits typically build slower than other Lands.
I just do what I’m told.
With no sign ever telling us to go, we might be here for a while.
I go back and forth on whether it makes sense to ride Primeval Whirl or DINOSAUR first. On one hand, Primeval Whirl sees waits that build slower. But the capacity is also much lower than DINOSAUR, so waits can rise quickly. That’s particularly true on busier days when the ride opens with just one of the two sides loading, in turn halving the capacity. With no pre-show and a mercifully-short duration, the experience time is much shorter than DINOSAUR, which means you’ll be on your way sooner. Since waits typically rise as it gets later in the morning, moving on to the next attraction earlier is usually better. With no appreciable wait, you can be on and off Primeval Whirl in about seven minutes. Closer to 15 minutes is your best case scenario at DINOSAUR given the same conditions. On the other hand, Primeval Whirl is among the easiest day-of FastPass+ experiences to acquire later in the afternoon. So if the actual wait looks to be 20+ minutes already, then you can easily return later in the day to ride with a FP+ gained via refreshing availability on the My Disney Experience app or website.
With the holiday crowds, DinoLand is already relatively busy. It’s not uncommon to see TriceraTop Spin flying half-empty before 10am, but there’s already a line forming.
As we approach DINOSAUR right at 10am, we can sort of see that the standby line already spills outside the building. Some number of “experts” have said that Disney learned their lesson from cutting capacity so much last year and wouldn’t “make the same mistake twice.” The thing is, Disney’s cost cutting is purposeful and more importantly, for their stock price, works. If people are willing to wait 75 minutes for DINOSAUR during spring break, then they should be willing to wait that long when attendance is naturally much lower. At least in the eyes of Park Operations.
We already saw Disney cutting back on the operating hours at Kilimanjaro Safaris by an hour every day, or about 30 hours per month. That’s the equivalent of three fewer days of staffing every month, or about 36 days per year. Just by shutting down one ride one hour early. That means the attraction distributes 1,000 fewer FastPass+ experiences and moves through about 1,500 fewer people per day, given the fact that the ride would only be loading one side during the last hour of operation. Everyone that does visit is also crammed into a shorter operating window, increasing waits. DINOSAUR suffers the same fate, now opening 30 minutes after Park open five days per week and typically only running during one of the two morning Extra Magic Hours.
Here’s this week’s Times Guide showing the late starts. Worse, the ride also closes a half hour before official Park close. While someone might arrive at DINOSAUR at 9:20am and be disappointed to find out that the ride doesn’t open for another ten minutes, it would be a much bigger bummer to arrive during regular Park hours at the end of the night, only to find out that the ride is no longer operating. The only identifiable reason for that is cost-savings.
On one hand, a late open makes a lot of sense from an operational-standpoint. Nobody really heads to DinoLand first thing, so why operate an expensive attraction when there’s nobody to fill the seats.
But there is always a trickle of people headed towards even the lowest-priority attractions first thing in the morning. Many of those that arrive at DINOSAUR between 9:15am and 9:29am, when the ride isn’t typically yet operating, will wait around for it to open. That obviously creates a longer line. Come 9:30am, you actually have an appreciable number of people waiting, in turn increasing the wait for everyone that arrives after them. Even on three of the four days that made up this incredibly busy Presidents Day Weekend, we still saw delayed openings. Just imagine what Disney is planning when crowds are expected to be much lower. The above was taken at 10:01am with the standby queue stretching well past the entrance.
Despite my whining, we were in the pre-show in eight minutes, only to find ourselves being sent back in time to what may be the largest meteor shower in the history of the world in a roofless vehicle.
If you’re thinking that Disney might be opening the attraction late in order to operate it at full capacity from the get-go, then you would be wrong.
We only have one side open on a day that will easily be in the top 20% of the most crowded days of the year.
Despite my whining, we were on-board our roofless vehicle of death exactly 20 minutes after getting in line.
I’m not sure what would be more uncomfortable.
Experiencing a meteor shower in a roofless vehicle during the age of extinction.
Or finding yourself on an ordinary gondola ride on the way to Hollywood Studios in July.
I might take my chances with the dinos.
Still just one side operating, probably until closer to 11am.
Our total experience time was just 24 minutes, which is only about five minutes longer than the attraction typically takes with FastPass+.
Given that fact, it might be hard to come down on Disney too hard for the capacity reductions. On the other hand, I would have waited zero minutes in line if both sides were loading or the attraction opened with the rest of the Park. Those arriving later in the morning would also wait much less because they would no longer be behind me.
Here’s a look at wait times at DINOSAUR over the last month:
It’s a little disconcerting knowing that the average wait at DINOSAUR in January has risen 84.2% between 2015 and 2018, from 19 minutes to 35 minutes. Even more disconcerting is the fact that knowing that, Disney continues to run the attraction at half capacity and, worse, is now cutting an hour of operation every day of the year.
Still, actual waits at DINO should be under 15 minutes through 10:15am most days. After that, you’re looking at 25 to 50 minutes most of the day. Check the Times Guide to verify when the attraction closes if you’re planning on visiting late in the evening. Waits still drop off during the last 90 minutes of operation and the ride will be a virtual walk-on during the last 15 minutes that it’s open. That 15 minutes may just be earlier than you’re expecting.
From here, we’ll return to Pandora to check on crowds and see how long it takes to ride Flight of Passage with FastPass+ when standby waits are longest. We’ll also take another lap around the Park, stopping by Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris with FastPass+, in addition to trying some dumplings from Mr. Kamal’s.