Our peak crowd day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom continues as we see how things look when Park Passes are completely sold-out days before our visit, indicating that what we encounter is about as “bad” as crowds and wait times can get given current capacity constraints. You had about six months to read the first part of this series, but it’s still available here, in case, like me, you forgot. The main difference being that now there are no temperature checks. And we’ll be moving to three-feet stickers instead of six-feet markers in a lot of locations.
According to the Disney site, it’s the first paragraph that’s rewritten after the first sentence:
And Disney will no longer skip rows when parking automobiles, which had allowed guests more room to take out everything they apparently own, on top of what they purchased specifically for the trip, out of the Chrysler Town & Country. Those vans somehow seemed to continue back forever as strollers that appeared to be larger than the minivan itself were whisked out and unfolded like they had been a million times before as Zoey and Paisley hop in. I’m not entirely sure why you would move away from that model of filling the lots given the increased comfort right off the bat. We’ve probably all struggled to see whose door is swinging open first back in the pack ’em in days that are returning faster than I would have expected. Filling in every row probably takes a couple fewer cast as you don’t need any extras staying behind, and with parking only costing like $27, margins are going to be pretty slim on that one.
More recently, in Part Two, we began our touring in Pandora, before considering how we wanted to plot out the rest of our day. With a break, or plans to take it easy from 11am to 4pm or so, heading to Asia and DinoLand next to take advantage of nearly nonexistent crowds and waits makes the most sense. Without a break, heading to Kilimanjaro Safaris next is our best play as our wait should be closer to 20 to 30 minutes than the 45 to 70 minutes that it will quote from 9am until much later in the afternoon.
Looking ahead towards Creature Comfort Starbucks on the left, it doesn’t look too bad, but we’re only a half hour into the day as hundreds of people head towards Harambe.
Of course, even with a million people threatening to pass us, we can’t saunter by the cotton-top tamarins enjoying breakfast without enjoying a peek at the funny little creatures. There are more to come. Only half of which are bloggers.
No, those people are not waiting for the return of the modified Festival of the Lion King show officially expected to debut on Saturday, May 15th, 2021. It’s the back of the line for Flight of Passage and just about the worst place you could be right now, as the wait will never be longer.
According to Disney:
“Festival of the Lion King” will be presented in a modified format to be mindful of the current environment. There will be adjustments to the show on stage and backstage, including updates to choreography to allow for appropriate physical distancing. We’ll also adjust how the audience is seated, in line with other theater-based experiences at Walt Disney World Resort.
You can watch the full show, and see the seating arrangement before it begins above, or straight to YouTube, here.
Beginning May 15th, shows are scheduled at 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 5pm, 6pm, and 7pm. You can pull up showtimes for a given date, if they’re available, here. Don’t be too concerned if showtimes are unavailable far down the line in something like November. Disney will fill in the schedule as they assess demand, and eventually, a much higher supply with an inevitable increase in summer capacity.
Personally, I was a bit surprised that Disney didn’t make more of these types show modifications earlier, at least on peak days when the company “literally” ran out of capacity across all of its ticket segments. Part of it is the seating situation – with every other row blocked off, and three seats blocked off in between each party of up to four guests, you’re looking at shows with about a fifth of the people who would ordinarily pack into the theater at a cost somewhere in the vicinity of the original. And those Park Passes sold out without any additional offerings, rendering any argument that modified shows would be necessary to draw crowds moot.
And it’s probably true that I visit the theme parks a few more times a year than you do. But it seems like most people would have been happy enough to get off their feet and into air-conditioning for a modified show much earlier. Just four singers, perhaps with the floats wheeled out at some point, would have been plenty to entertain most last year. And that’s something you can build on. “Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage” could have easily been reworked with the characters distanced and singing the songs with a bit of hijinks from the likes of Lumiere.
In addition to entertaining those who opted to take in the modified offerings, the shows would have pulled people away from attraction lines that grew much higher towards the end of 2020 and returned from the middle of February until the end of April this year. They’re ramping up again.
Of course, additional attraction capacity will lead to increased Park Pass distribution and overall crowds. So wait times could very easily go up with additional offerings, particularly if few people are interested in them. Adding a modified Beauty and the Beast show to the roster might pull 600 people away from the rides during six 25-minute shows a day, but if it also means Disney lets 2,000 more guests in the Park to make up for it, we may be worse off overall. That’s a lot of people in line elsewhere during 90% of the day. In Animal Kingdom’s case, we can look at Flight of Passage waits rising and peaking much higher, particularly with the first Lion King show scheduled at 12:30pm, or 4.5 hours after the Park usually opens. That’s going to be a lot of people in line for something for several hours before sitting down to the new show even becomes an option.
As far as the show is concerned, I was impressed by what Disney was able to pull off given the circumstances. The show is no “Festival of the Lion King.” There are no aerialists or tumble monkeys and you’ll have to Google what a warthog sounds like, but it’s still 25 minutes sitting down in air-conditioning with about a dozen exuberant performers.
And demand may outstrip supply. Two years ago, you might not be able to get into the next It’s Tough To Be A Bug show at some point in the day around Easter and Christmas about 5% of the time. And even then, shows would typically only fill from 11am to 5pm, if that.
With the current, modified seating arrangement, it’s a virtual guarantee that you’ll wait through a full show before it’s your turn. But some major changes are coming. We may no longer see empty rows or there may only be two empty seats between parties instead of three. Those things would lead to major capacity increases, potentially offset by a major increase in attendance. The summer season had been quiet for the most part for much of the last four or five years, but that may not be the case with people’s propensity to want some relief from lockdowns. The bad news I suppose is that you probably end up in Florida in July with the exact same people and about a quarter of the space. If that doesn’t sound joyous, I don’t know what does.
While we’ve enjoyed the morning light in Pandora and Newish Harambe, it’s always a little more difficult looking into the sun. But I get fined if I don’t post this angle.
The last Safari departure is actually the time you need to be in line for it, and may or may not be relevant on the day of your visit. With the current 7pm closes about half the time, these signs are irrelevant as you’ll be eligible to enter the line through close. With 8pm closes deeper into the summer months, there may also either be a 7:30PM cutoff time or no cutoff time at all depending on light and whether Disney squeaked out a profit on $5.50 waters this quarter. Parking may have some money left over, though I’m not sure it’s appropriated to the only known relative of the giraffe or not.
Animal Kingdom reopened about ten months ago to virtually no crowds or waits. Those days are obviously behind us as we see what will become a familiar sight again in the “Pandora – Exit Only” sign to the left of Dawa Bar. Since the main entrance into Pandora is back at Pizzafari, this shouldn’t be much of an issue, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning on visiting Safaris first and doubling back to River Journey. Getting to the ride would likely take less time via the main entrance anyway. Still, it’s an indication that there’s no room for people on the bridge as they wait for Flight at current capacity levels.
Tusker House is also set to reopen in the somewhat imminent future. According to Disney:
The guest-favorite character dining location at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Tusker House Restaurant, will reopen this summer! During the modified character experience, guests will enjoy delicious family-style entrees inspired by the flavors of Africa and can snap photos of Donald Duck and friends, dressed in their safari best as they promenade through the restaurant. We will share more about the menu and reservation information soon.
Disney made the announcement in this post, which includes specific dates and menu items for Cape May Cafe and Chef Mickey’s dinner, both of which will open again later this month with modified offerings. That likely means they’re both closer to being ready than Tusker, which is waiting for a big summer capacity increase for there to be enough interest. And also people to work there.
Generally, the website’s advice is to skip most of what were character buffets until they return to their former glory, unless you won’t have another opportunity to visit them. Chef Mickey’s will be serving this menu, family-style, for $55/adult and $36/child. For kids, they’ll receive:
Kids’ Platter – Macaroni & Cheese, Chicken Nuggets, Turkey Corn Dog Nuggets, Tater Puffs, Steamed Broccoli and Vegetable Dippers with Ranch.
That’s probably not too far off what they would pick out anyway, and you may prefer the family-style service, but most of the cost is usually chalked up to the convenience of the character photos, which will remain distanced for some time.
On the other hand, your photos at one of the quasi-character-meals may be the best you get of the trip, making them much more worthwhile. But I’d definitely pull up the menus, check the prices, and consider when you might return for a more “normal” experience. Or at a minimum, when you can capture photos hugging Mickey and other favorites instead of sitting there with them waving in the background and the server delivering a signature card at the end of the meal.
On the other hand, the limited menus, in exchange for not having to get up to fill junior’s plate with chicken nuggets may be a trade-off worth considering. And not actually having to talk to Mickey may be more desirable than striking up a conversation with a guy who is a lot more likely to remain silent than share his opinion on the likelihood of the Seattle Kraken finding similar success to Vegas.
Tamu Tamu Refreshments now opens with the Park alongside Harambe Fruit Market at the same time. You’ll have to decide if a bag of Dorito’s or a Guava and Cream Cheese Danish sound more appetizing as you eye the Kilimanjaro Safaris queue.
Back to our previous discussion about optics, the back of the line for Kilimanjaro Safaris is back to the Fruit Market. Two years ago, in the afternoon and with FastPass+ in play, this would be a three-hour wait.
With no FastPass+ for most guests and the six feet between parties, it should be less than 20% of that.
Oh, FastPass+ there on the left. Maybe someday. And maybe at a cost. If they can add a ticket to your Apple Wallet, they can sell you a FastPass+ on the fly. And if it’s $10 per person to wait ten minutes for Flight of Passage, against a 2+ hour wait, there are going to be some people who opt for those FastPass+.
More and more people will arrive after us, which is what pushes up the peak wait to around an hour by 11:30am.
We’ve got 35 minutes posted. Considering the Park hasn’t even been officially open for 45 minutes, that “feels” a little rough. But we can take a look at waits since April to see what we’re dealing with:
As usual, it’s a lot of numbers, but as we look at the averages along the bottom for each time of day, we can pretty easily see the best and worst times to get in line with most of the shortest waits coming after 3pm and going down from there, even with the potential for Park Hopping after 2pm daily. That goes back to our advice about skipping the Safaris early if you’re planning on returning or spending a lot of time at the Park. Otherwise, by 9am, you’re looking at 50 minutes or more for about 2.5 hours and then four hours where the wait is 35 minutes or more, with it longer earlier in the day. With no intention of spending 12 hours at Disney World’s best theme park on this particular day, Safaris is our smartest move as we head under a 35-minute posted wait at 8:37am. The peak wait would be twice that.
The line for Safaris has been pretty…wild…since the Park reopened. It’s snaked through the Festival of the Lion King Theater, used all of the regular extended queue, and gone even further backstage to realms previously unknown.
Our wait won’t be quite as exciting as spending 70 minutes walking back and forth with little more than an industrial air-conditioner to watch, which is probably for the best:
Despite a lengthy line of safari trucks waiting to be loaded, posted waits that are often over 70 minutes by 9am, and a queue that winds around a good distance outside uncovered before at least half of America has even woken up, Disney is loading just one of two potential trucks at a time, in effect doubling wait times and halving the number of people who can ride early.
I got in line at 8:36am and boarded at 9:05am, for a total wait of 29 minutes, or six minutes less than what was posted. Hopefully we can shuffle into one of these rows before disembarking:
I was back out front at at 9:27am, for a total experience time of just over 20 minutes. We’ll get a good look at the gorillas a little later.
The Wildlife Express may be the absolute last thing on property that you would need to wait for, but it hasn’t stopped a couple dozen people waiting for its first departure. If there was no attraction to be waiting on, I’m not sure if you’d still see the same number of people waiting. There are few things as comforting as being in line for something. Even if it’s technically nothing.
We’ll return to Harambe Market for lunch. The quick service is now open daily, usually from 10:30am to 3pm, but currently from 10:45am to 3:15pm. You can pull up the hours for a given date, along with the menu and other information we’ll cover in more detail later, here.
I noticed that there was nobody at the counter debating which cookie they were going to end up not buying, so I pounced over to Zuri’s Sweets for a clear shot of the case, which is located right across from Harambe Market and attached to Mombasa Market on the other side.
One thing you might notice is a lack of snack credits symbols. The Dining Plan is currently unavailable to book through 2022. Overall dining capacity probably comes into play more than anything.
But even after the Parks reopened, Disney was still printing snack credit logos on new menus for months and months, indicating that there may be some possibility that the Dining Plan could return. With more dining opening, we may see the Dining Plan offered before too long. Or we may not with so many modifications to so many establishments. Everything you see here would ordinarily be a snack credit if they were available.
We’ll enjoy the scenery before moving on to Asia and DinoLand next.