Our morning at Animal Kingdom continues as we head towards Asia after first experiencing Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris. I would link to the previous Parts, but I’ve been assured by every comment that there has been plenty of time to catch up on them. But just in case, here they are: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. You might also pull up, “The Calm Before the Storm, or the Calm Before the Manageable, But Definitely the Summer at Walt Disney World” for a broader, early look at what we might expect to see over the summer.
One reason why these posts are taking a little longer than usual is that we’re still waiting on the theme park capacity increases expected this summer to catch up with the recent increases in attraction capacity, the latter of which continues to ramp up daily as more and more attractions return to “normal operation.”
Just a few weeks ago, we’d be talking about It’s Tough to Be A Bug or Mickey’s PhilharMagic operating at around 20% of their potential capacities, with Disney closing off every other row and requiring six feet and then three feet between parties of up to four guests. As a party of one, that meant I was basically taking up seven or ten seats in the theater – the four seat maximum for a single party, plus the three empty seats on either side of me.
Fortunately, most of my lenses are long enough that I could still at least whack the acrylic plastic barriers built to protect you from my menacing ways. Just because some things change doesn’t mean everything has to:
The day’s lens: A Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.
Few would argue that I’ve probably eaten one Disney quick service meal of questionable edibility and/or origin too many, but I can still typically squeeze my interminable body into a single seat. Particularly when visiting with some of my best friends.
Often, the capacity reductions, most of which are no longer a thing, actually made what have historically been anytime attractions higher priorities than “more popular” rides like Expedition Everest, which have returned closer to form and move through about 80% of their typical capacity, or 1,500 guests per hour. Now, many of the shows that would have operated at a reduced capacity are running much closer to the ~90% capacity of the past as Disney begins filling every row and every seat available.
I would love to be able to tell you with more certainty how June through the end of the year will end up playing out. Unfortunately, there is little precedent for what we’ve been through over the past 15 months, and whether people spent all their money on Buy 1 Get 1 Free Chalupa Boxes delivered through DoorDash, or saved the $82,000 required to visit Disney World, only to show up and get shut out of Rise of the Resistance six mornings in a row. Or as we call it in Florida, a quality vacation with guest satisfaction at record highs.
And the posts may be a little self-indulgent as Animal Kingdom is such a beautiful, detailed Park that I have something like 600 pictures to cover.
It’s just after 10am as we pass by Expedition Everest and its 20-minute posted wait.
At the time of this visit, masks were still required outdoors, and the six-foot markers between parties were still enforced, so the line backed up over the bridge and towards the Theater in the Wild, which may yet stage a production again.
As Disney makes more and more moves to return to standard procedures, it will be interesting to see when standard meet and greets return, likely replacing the variety of cavalcades and flotillas that we’ve seen since the Parks reopened. Whoever came up with the idea of “random,” distanced meets is a genius as they breathe quite a bit of life into the Parks and add energy and excitement that would have otherwise been seriously lacking over most of the last 10+ months.
It wouldn’t surprise me if we see outdoor meet and greets with “fur” characters like Meeko return first. Not that you could ordinarily meet the biscuit-loving racoon before, but Disney has a plethora of characters in its repertoire and could easily bring back Baloo, King Louie, Dug, and the like, and move Mickey and Minnie outdoors along with Donald, Goofy, and others. They’d be increasing capacity and the characters could potentially wear masks without anyone noticing. Pocahontas hugging hundreds of snotty kids/bloggers every day may still be a ways off. Though Downtown Orlando is planning their usual 20-minute fireworks show this year, and that celebration, certain to be popular, is only about five weeks away. That show occurs around quite the lake, but it’s just one more indication that the city is pushing towards “normalcy” at an increased pace.
While you probably don’t have to guess that the outdoor seating section at Nomad Lounge is my favorite place to watch the flotillas, I guess what we have to refer to as the old Rivers of Light stadium seating is your best bet to enjoy some space between you and your fellow tourists without the pressure of dropping significant cash on food and drink. Over on the right, the seats at Flame Tree under the blue roof are always among the most scenic, but that’s even more true with the characters floating by there too as well. Heading into the summer, you may also appreciate the covered seating.
Here’s another look at the seating section in Asia, where people are taking some time to enjoy some sitting and potentially some snacks.
Thirsty River Bar & Snacks is to the left of the entrance to Everest and offers a nice variety of drinks, though we have recently lost our beloved Victory Brewing Golden Monkey on draft, which came in at 9.5% ABV. Your husband never had to know. $10.25 for a White Claw is pretty nutty, so you might go with a mixed drink from what’s not exactly a full bar, but it’s close. And I guess they have water, Simba Pretzels, popcorn, ice cream, and the like available too.
Backtracking a bit further, there’s also the Anandapur Bus, which has recently added specialty cones themed to recent movie releases or the yeti, depending on which way the box office schedule…is moving.
Somebody apparently found The Big Book of Dole Whip Flavors as we see more and more flavor combinations. And you can always douse it in cheese sauce if you’re in the know.
With Everest backed up past the bridge, it seemed like we probably couldn’t do much worse if we bypassed it and returned later.
Herein lies the rub of touring that we’ve discussed so often over the last several months. Just a couple hours into the day, we’re looking at actual waits of between 20 to 60+ minutes for most rides. The spacing is of little consequence as we’ve pointed out. It’s sort of like the occasional FastPass+ backups that would occur every once in a while as someone as the front is either confused or trying to game the system. The optics have always been poor with lines stretching back so far, but the wait depends entirely on how many people are in front of you, whether you’re packed in like sardines or enjoyed the previous spacing. You’re either waiting behind the people out here or inside. It’s not of much consequence.
Still, 30+ minute standby waits add up, and will likely tire you out more quickly than you might expect, even as Disney allows guests to walk around in common areas, including extended outdoor queues where applicable, sans masks.
It hasn’t been too bad since October with the cooler temperatures, but we’re looking at 93+ degree highs just about every day until at least the middle of October. I’m still convinced Walt never visited the state between June and the end of September. There’s really no other explanation for how you would be like, “Yep, this is definitely the swamp for me.”
I opted to head to TriceraTop Spin and DINOSAUR, hoping that I’d be able to beat some of the wait there, and Everest would be around the same wait when I returned after.
Over the summer, you’ll likely find yourself saying, “We’ll try again later” more often than not. Reenter the joy of spontaneity, I suppose. At least if spontaneously looking at each other in some amount of bewilderment as to what to do next counts. At least you (probably) won’t have to wait through numerous anytime shows anymore.
That’s particularly true as we battle the heaviest crowds of the day instead of rocking a late arrival. Once crowds and wait times ideally stabilize after Memorial Day Weekend, we’ll reassess the best plan of attack. I wouldn’t expect any major changes at Animal Kingdom, and if anything, our plan of attack will revert back to much closer to what it was before the March closures, when we didn’t have to concern ourselves with such heavy capacity restrictions. It’s potentially further proof that if you ignore a problem for long enough, it will eventually go away. Of course, I’m still here. So sometimes it’s worth seeing a doctor.
We’ll stop by TriceraTop Spin, which is more fun than you might expect as a 90-second aside, with views of all of DinoLand from up high.
While the line stretched back further than usual, the wait should remain under ten minutes, and still likely closer to five.
By the time we return from DINOSAUR, the extended queue will be full. And we’ll see a generic End of Line sign somewhere back towards the entrance to DinoRama, since they don’t have one specifically for the ride. Because it’s preposterous that TriceraTop Spin would need one. Again, with social-distancing now back to “Please Fill in All of the Available Space,” the optics will improve dramatically. But your wait still depends entirely on how many people are in front of you. And that number moving forward is still something we’re waiting to see.
TriceraTop Spin took less than ten minutes. It’s decidedly in “Why the heck not?” territory for me, but we also add it to the touring plan because the Duumbo-esque clone is likely a priority with younger kids, while older kids and an adult head to DINOSAUR nearby.
I always feel a connection to the Abdim Stork.
And the fact that that as many as 10,000 birds make up a flock.
Which reminds me of the first day of the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. I’m not sure about their side-eye capability, but with that many birds flying together, you’d have to think that it rivals a flatulence of bloggers, or whatever they call a large group of flamingos these days.
DINOSAUR didn’t look to be much of an upgrade compared to our Everest prospects, but at least those markers on the right, which will soon be picked up if they haven’t been already, aren’t yet filled with guests standing on them. It can always be worse, as they will be occupied by the time we exit. So we may be making the best worst decision available to us unless we want to find somewhere to twiddle our thumbs for about five hours. Nomad Lounge comes to mind, but I’ve tried politely knocking on the door for a couple hours before they officially open at 11am a few times, and only get served a 9am cocktail to go away about half the time.
At 10:26am, we’ve got 35 minutes posted as guests funnel into the extended queue down to the right.
We’ll see how we do as I circle around areas of the Park that even I haven’t seen in the ten years I’ve been doing this:
I got in line at 10:26am, and was inside the Institute at 10:47am, for a 20-minute wait outside as we now proceed through the indoor queue:
Another question is when the pre-shows will return, as they’ve been used as additional queue space 99.9% of the time since the Parks reopened in July of 2020. Most of you reading this have probably seen the full pre-shows for rides like DINOSAUR or Tower of Terror at least once, but it may be less likely that you’ve seen the full pre-show for newer rides Smugglers Run or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, both of which remain unavailable.
With social-distancing going the way of the dinosaur, hopefully we’ll see their return in the near-term, as they obviously set the stage for what you’re about to experience. Selfishly, I haven’t minded spending about ten seconds in this room instead of a few minutes in the dark watching the same old video for the 90,000th time while the people next to me talk through it. But a few extra people waiting in here means a few extra people aren’t waiting outside. That will only be appreciated more now that the low temperature on the weather report won’t drop below 70 degrees again until October.
Crowd-wise, DINOSAUR certainly opened up in the loading area with just a handful of people allowed this far inside.
I was on-board at exactly 11am, or 34 minutes after getting in line with the 35 minutes posted. You’d think they could get it right in this day and age…
Those empty seats were nice while they lasted. Less so on the capacity reduction causing the wait to be at least twice what it would be with the ride running close to full capacity:
They can’t all be winners.
A quick palate cleanser before we try Everest again:
Okay, that’s better. I was back out front at 11:13am, to a posted wait that was ten minutes longer than when I got in line a little more than 45 minutes earlier. Whether or not we made the right call on skipping the roller coaster will depend on whether Expedition Everest’s line has grown at a similar rate.
While we’re here, we can take a look at DINO’s waits over the last month, and see if we can pinpoint when Disney began filling that middle row that it hadn’t since the July reopening:
And it looks to be May 18th, with the wait dropping from 41 minutes to 26 minutes overnight, followed by an average of around ~20 minutes for the next week-plus. That’s compared to the first 2.5 weeks of the month, when the day’s average was only under 30 minutes once And only because it was 29 minutes.
From “The Calm Before the Storm or the Calm Before the Manageable But Definitely the Summer at Walt Disney World,” we know that Animal Kingdom was officially “sold out” of Park Passes across all ticket segments most days over the past week, which is another good indication that attraction capacity increases have preceded Park capacity increases.
It’s a little surprising considering there was certainly additional demand and Disney isn’t a company that typically leaves money on the table. We still haven’t seen the “low double-digit” Park capacity increases that CEO Bob Chapek promised about a week ago, which should ramp up further as the summer rolls around into the fiscal fourth quarter.
I’m not sure we can necessarily nail down why that increase hasn’t arrived outside of a labor shortage. Disney, desperate to fill thousands of positions, recently reinstituted its version of free labor in the form of the college program. But they should still be a couple weeks away from joining the front lines.
Universal is moving to eliminate the mask requirement entirely at its Orlando parks this weekend for any guest claiming full vaccination, and reinstituted single rider at select attractions weeks ago, in addition to eliminating attendance caps that have hampered the Park’s operations across numerous busy weekends over the last several months. Oh, and Hot Butterbeer is available year-round now. But I digress.
While I waited a solid 20 minutes longer than I would typically like, it beats being on the other side of a walkway, where you have to wait until there’s space to cross the path to enter the next section of extended queue. As Disney picks up more and more spacing stickers, you can expect to be packed into the queue we saw previously.
I don’t know if I’ll miss the days of being able to order chicken nuggets at Restaurantosaurus and still be able to rejoin the extended queue freely or not, but we’re certainly protecting this sign in case it’s ever required again. We can certainly hope not. No offense to the sign, of course.
I would imagine Disney never thought a TriceraTop Spin “Line Starts Here” sign would be necessary; it’s likely this one was repurposed from the now-permanently-shuttered Primeval Whirl across the way. The wait should be about 20 minutes compared to the eight-or-so I experienced a little less than an hour ago. Another win.
My return to the Forbidden Mountain wasn’t entirely victorious as the line still stretched back across the bridge, but unlike the DinoLand rides, it’s actually slightly shorter than it was when we passed by earlier.
And the extended stop does afford an opportunity to watch the gang return as we move continuously forward:
The posted wait is the same 20 minutes as we saw last time. We’ll see how we do:
I got in line at 11:19am, and was on-board at 11:39am, for a wait of exactly the 20 minutes promised by the sign. Finally, some semblance of accuracy.
A MagicBand. How quaint. What is this? 2020?
Everybody’s brave on the straightaway.
But we’ll see:
The next time someone accuses me of being no fun, I’ll refer them back to this picture, where I’m clearly enjoying myself.
Looking out at 11:45am, things have certainly picked up as crowds peak for a couple of hours.
As we narrowly beat a giant 25% increase in the wait as I’m back outside at 11:45am.
We’ll check on Everest’s daily average in May:
And it’s consistently about 20 minutes with the capacity increase already happening a couple of months ago. It hits that 20+ minute mark at 9:45am, on average, with it continuing until about 2:30pm. By 4pm, the posted wait drops to an average under 20 minutes and goes down from there, which would have made several late night rides a piece of cake, as the wait drops under 15 minutes after 5:30pm before falling into the single digits in the final half hour. Without much of an initial wait, Everest only takes about 12 minutes to ride, so you could fit in three rides in that last half hour if that’s the direction you wanted to take it. And further proof that later is better than earlier. We’ll certainly try that approach this summer whether the crowds materialize or not.
In the evening, most people are pulled back to Pandora in that final hour, both to enjoy lower waits at the rides, and potentially see a little of the bioluminescence, the latter of which won’t really be in play without Rivers of Light necessitating the Park stay open a couple hours after dark each night for two performances.
We should be able to close things out with one more 3,200 word post and about 150 more pictures. Or maybe two or three.