We pick things up on the morning of Friday, May 24th, 2019, at 8:40am. In Part One, I covered what to expect from rope drop as we headed straight for the Flight of Passage standby line. After that, I rode Na’vi River Journey twice in standby. If I had skipped the second ride on River Journey, I’d be about 15 minutes ahead of where I am now, but I elected to ride again to show how much later into the morning actual River Journey waits remained short. Since the point of these posts is not to show off how much you can accomplish if you run from place to place, the extra 15 minutes that I spent suffering through River Journey a second time could also be attributed to your own picture-taking, snack-accumulating, or bathroom-break-taking. You may also arrive at Flight of Passage a little later than I did, pushing back your morning timing. Considering cast began walking us towards the Pandora attractions beginning at 7:35am, a little more than an hour has passed since we got going. With an arrival an hour before the Park officially opens, you shouldn’t have much trouble experiencing both Pandora rides by this point in the morning.
The 8am opens are a real pleasure as they greatly reduce the number of people that you’ll see during the first hour of operation, compared to a regular 9am open. It’s 8:40am and you can see how few people are heading for Pandora. Granted, the posted wait for Flight of Passage is already 120+ minutes with an actual wait that’s probably now coming in around there. But the lack of crowds should bode well for our next couple of stops, each of which will be a much lower priority than the Avatar rides.
Unlike Magic Kingdom, where we don’t currently see any regular 8am opens in June, we enjoy a number of them at Animal Kingdom during the same month. Here’s a look at the calendar with the regular 8am opens highlighted in green:
During the first 25 days of June, 13 of them see 8am regular opens (including June 1st) and six of them actually have 7am to 8am morning Extra Magic Hours attached as well. Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t typically extend the hours and move Park openings to 8am until about six weeks before a given month begins.The 8am opens that we see throughout June were originally 9am openings until Disney extended the hours during the second week of May. That can make planning for those 8am opens difficult. Most guests are booking their FastPass+ experiences, and in effect locking in which park they visit on which days, 30 to 60+ days in advance. If your trip was scheduled for the first week in June, there’s no way that you would know which days were going to see regular 8am opens more than three weeks in advance of your dates.
There isn’t necessarily any great advice to impart then on how to plan to visit the Parks when they end up opening at 8am instead of 9am. You can certainly try to switch your days and FastPass+ around after the schedule is updated. You should be able to move about 75% of your FP+ selections without much trouble. Of course, priority attractions with little to no FP+ availability 30 days in advance are going to be difficult to rearrange. If you pull up FastPass+ availability for 30 days from now, Slinky Dog Dash and Flight of Passage are going to see no availability. Tower of Terror probably has no availability and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster probably won’t have any return times available until well into the afternoon. So if you had booked your Studios FastPass+ 60+ days in advance, and were trying to now switch your Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios days, you’d have some trouble doing so. In that scenario, it may be better to keep your plans as they are. I’m going to have a lot of success thanks to the 8am open, but 9am opens certainly aren’t the end of the world.
Trying to guess which days will see 8am opens may also be a fool’s errand. At Magic Kingdom, Saturdays are the most likely day to see a shift from 9am to 8am. But if you plan on that happening, and it doesn’t, then you may find yourself visiting on the busiest day of the week without that coveted 8am advantage. Epcot almost never sees regular 8am opens, so that’s out. The Studios likely won’t see any regular 8am opens until after November 2nd. With Galaxy’s Edge opening on August 29th, the regular open remains 9am with the 6am – 9am Extra, Extra Magic Hours scheduled every morning through the second of November. Of course, an 8am open isn’t going to help you there anyway. We are all doomed. Until Galaxy’s Edge opens, the Studios doesn’t currently see any regular 8am opens.
That leaves Animal Kingdom, where the 8am opens look to be based on the expectation of elevated weekend crowd levels during certain weeks. The 8am opens are found on Thursday through either Monday or Tuesday during three 4- or 5-day blocks in June. You could then plan to visit Animal Kingdom on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, considering Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays don’t see any 8am opens. But if you end up visiting during a week where Disney doesn’t move any of the openings to 8am, then you may find yourself visiting the Park on a day where the open probably should have been moved to aid in crowd flow, but wasn’t.
The good news is that when hours are extended, Disney typically releases FastPass+ for those newly-minted hours. So if Animal Kingdom is originally scheduled to be open from 9am to 9pm, but the hours are extended to 8am to 10pm, then Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, and all other attractions that are open and offer FastPass+ will distribute FP+ during those hours. Disney usually makes those FastPass+ available to book a day or two after the hours are extended. I have a program that automatically updates me when operating hours are extended and it’s something that I could call attention to in the future. We’ll see if there’s any interest. If you are changing your dates around, or were unable to initially acquire Flight of Passage FastPass+, then you may be able to snag one of the experiences during the extended hours.
It’s also worth noting that from August 29th through November 2nd, Animal Kingdom will open at 8am every day with a morning Extra Magic Hour also scheduled from 7am to 8am every day. Those who are EMH eligible and able to arrive by 6:30am to take advantage of the full morning EMH will likely have a tremendous advantage as there will be very few people in the Park that early. We’ll do a 7am morning EMH rope drop after that schedule takes over at the end of August. There likely won’t be a better time to visit Animal Kingdom than from 7am to 9am this September.
We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of the animated release of The Lion King, with the “live action” film of the same name slated for a July 19th release date. You’ll find this backdrop on the left of the path into Pandora, typically with a short line and a PhotoPass photographer.
At this point in the morning, there are several intelligent directions that I could choose to go with my day. Any attraction outside of Pandora would be a walk-on at this point and should continue to be for at least a half hour. My usual approach is to head to Kilimanjaro Safaris next, where I should be able to walk-on the next vehicle and enjoy some great views of the animals in the early morning light. After that, I’ll head for DinoLand, where I should be able to experience all three rides in standby with short waits. I’ll then rely on FastPass+ at Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids, since waits will be appreciable by the time I arrive there around 10:30am.
If I wanted to prioritize Expedition Everest, I could head over there and ride a couple of times without waiting more than a minute or two each time. I could then head to DinoLand and experience short waits before using FastPass+ at Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids. Kali won’t see actual waits of more than 10 minutes until at least 10:30am, which means I could ride before or after Everest if I wanted to risk getting wet that early. I could also reduce the amount of walking I’ll need to do by heading straight over to DinoLand after Pandora. I’d probably need to use FastPass+ at both Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris in that scenario, in addition to a third selection.
There’s also this Creature Comforts Starbucks. One of my favorite pictures of all time is this one, where more people are rope dropping $6 coffees than Na’vi River Journey.
We’ll see how heading to Kilimanjaro Safaris goes. If you’re heading to Everest instead, then your experience in DinoLand after should be similar to mine.
We’ll take a look at the wait time chart for the day once we arrive in Diggs County.
While the light was certainly pretty in Pandora, it’s a lot harsher looking in the opposite direction.
At 8:45am, this does not look to be an original idea as we head through Old Harambe.
Don’t you worry, I will be reviewing all of these fresh takes on soft serve ice cream in the near future.
How many opportunities do you have to eat an ice cream sandwich with a chocolate tail?
There were quite a few people already headed into the FastPass+ line for Safaris as seen to the right of this frame. If you’ve been rope dropping the Parks for years, then you’ve probably noticed that it “feels” like there’s a lot more people around nowadays. I chalk some of that up to the fact that all attractions that are enabled for FastPass+ distribute FP+ during the first hour of operation. And if Animal Kingdom is open at 8am and DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Na’vi River Journey, Primeval Whirl, etc. are distributing thousands of combined experiences during that first hour, people are more likely to show up early since they have somewhere that they’re scheduled to be.
Safaris was already posting a 25-minute wait.
If that’s true, then I am going to look dumb. “Josh said we had some big advantage if we went to an 8am open, but we ended up waiting five hours for Kilimanjaro Safaris even though we got in line at 8:30am. Vacation ruined.”
To my credit, things are looking good so far.
Indeed, there are a ton of people walking the queue on the right side of the rope, which means they’re using a FastPass+ that may not be of much benefit.
But I am “literally” the only person in the entire standby queue.
And I’ll have a straight shot past the merge with FP+ and to my vehicle.
As usual at this hour, only one of the two loading docks is in use, in turn halving the ride’s capacity.
That’s not an issue this early. In fact, there’s “literally” nobody waiting for the next truck to pull up. While the website has been harsh on capacity reductions in the past, I should mention that I have absolutely no problem with them when it doesn’t adversely affect operations. If loading one truck at a time instead of two moves through everyone without an appreciable wait, then by all means, throw just one truck at me. Put that money towards new cupcake development. The problem is when Disney isn’t quick enough to ramp up capacity, which unnecessarily increases wait times. That 25-minute wait time that we saw outside the attraction isn’t yet accurate, but it will be shortly as more people arrive and get in the standby line. With a 9am open, you can bet that the actual wait would be at least 25 minutes if we were 45 minutes into operation.
Here’s a look at Safaris’ posted waits since May 1st:
By 9:30am, the average posted wait already rises above 40 minutes, which probably means actual waits are nearing 30ish minutes. Just over an hour later, the average wait rises to more than 60 minutes and stays there for a couple of hours. As far as standby is concerned, there’s a drop in waits from 5:15pm or so until 6pm, probably due to people leaving for dinner or otherwise finding something else to occupy their time. Then the wait rises to 40+ minutes for nearly two hours due to Disney cutting the capacity in half by closing one of the loading docks.
The bottom line is that you’ll want to make Kilimanjaro Safaris your first stop after Pandora if you’re planning on riding in standby. After that, FastPass+ is your best bet. Safaris does typically close an hour before the rest of the Park and returns to being a walk-on during its last 30 to 45 minutes of operation. With the 10pm close most days in June, you could feasibly get in line for the jeep ride around 8:15pm and be done by 9:15pm most nights, but you’d be in a rush to get to Pandora if you were trying to ride both River Journey and Flight of Passage in standby in that final hour. If you’re not riding Safaris early and don’t want to book it as one of your initial three FP+ selections, then you’ll likely want to refresh availability as a 4th or subsequent opportunity. The ride does enjoy a monster capacity when both docks are operating, so it does distribute a lot of FastPass+, making other people’s cancellations/changes a regular occurrence. You might be surprised how limited Safaris FP+ are on the day of, though. It’s not uncommon for all FP+ to be spoken for on the day before a given date, even if you’re searching for just one or two people. Book it in advance when you can.
It looks like I’ve arrived in time for breakfast:
Amusingly, nobody in the safari vehicle was as impressed by the water-drinking rhinos, prancing cheetahs (not pictured), roaring lions, chomping elephants, nibbling giraffes, or any of the other animals as they were of that single little bunny rabbit.
I arrived at 8:46am and was back out front at 9:16am for a total experience time of just 30 minutes, which is the absolute minimum amount of time that the journey takes. The posted wait remains 25 minutes, which is probably about accurate. Just 30 minutes later, the ride would post 55 minutes with an actual wait that’s probably closer to 40.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris’ script is undergoing some changes as part of a push for The Lion King, which I will mention again is opening July 19th. I’m really trying to get on that Disneyland Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge media list here, or at a minimum, not interrogated every time I try to visit a theme park. Your safari driver may interject a number of movie tie-ins as you roll by some of the animals represented in the movie. I was most interested to learn that the female pink-backed pelican selects its mate based on whichever male brings her the best-looking stick. Just in case I am reincarnated as a pink-backed pelican, I always like to know in advance how I’m going to disappoint women in the next life.
Back in March, the Disney Parks Blog announced that Rafiki’s Planet Watch will be reopening this summer, despite the fact that nobody was asking for it.
The brief announcement:
Rafiki’s Planet Watch will still include the animal encounters our guests love, as well as new experiences that draw from Disney’s rich heritage of wildlife animation, featuring a celebration of “The Lion King.” We cherish this special place where our guests and cast members can connect to the magic of nature and see the importance Disney places on animal care and conservation in our parks and around the world.
They’ve only got about six weeks to get their act together before The Lion King opens on July 19th.
At 9:17am, crowds are picking up on the way into Africa, making it easier to imagine how that Safaris wait is going to more than double in a half hour’s time.
The Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe typically perform for the first time beginning at 9:15am, which means we can enjoy a few minutes of their performance. They typically perform seven times per day, which means there should be 315 performances before The Lion King debuts in theaters on July 19th.
I’ve covered exactly one ride in this post, which “feels” like it’s plenty of content.
In the next part, we’ll move on to DinoLand USA for DINOSAUR, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin.