Like most things in life, touring Animal Kingdom post-Pandora is either easy or hard depending on how you go about it.
The keys to success are not unlike our modus operandi elsewhere – arrive early and use FastPass+ intelligently. On one hand, it’s not that hard. On the other hand, neither is “eat well and exercise.” And I don’t know about you, but I’m shoveling Doritos into my mouth as I write this up. At 9:18am.
Through July 4th, Animal Kingdom’s operating hours are currently 8am-11pm with evening Extra Magic Hours inside Pandora every single night from 11pm-1am. After that, Animal Kingdom is currently scheduled to operate from 9am-10pm with no evening Extra Magic Hours on any date. Given the Land’s incredible popularity, and the propensity for guests to arrive earlier and earlier, I think we will see Disney extend the hours to 8am-11pm for the rest of the summer. If you’re planning a trip before August 27th (and perhaps for sometime after), I’d plan on an 8am open. The picture above was taken at 6:51am on the morning of May 31st, 2017. Note the number of Disney buses that have already arrived from the resorts.
If you need to, you can rely on Disney transportation to get you to Animal Kingdom by 6:45am if you’re standing at the resort bus stop no later than 6am to board the first bus that arrives. Other options are to drive yourself as the parking lot will be open before 6am or try Uber/Lyft/Mears Taxi.
This is 6:54am with the Annual Passholder line on the far right and the general admission tapstiles to the left.
To ease the experience and wait even less at one of the Pandora rides, you’d want to be here 90 minutes before open or 6:30am in this case. I’m about 20 minutes after that, which may be a more realistic arrival time for most people.
But arriving an extra 20 minutes early out here will result in waiting 20 less minutes for Avatar Flight of Passage, if that’s where you’re headed first.
I suggest filling in on the far left instead of the far right if you can, or whatever line in the center seems shortest. No additional tapstiles will open up and people that arrive later will try to cut in front of you if you’re standing in the far right line. Remember to look for a single line in front of a set of tapstiles because that single line will break up into two separate lines once people start entering.
If that sounds confusing, I have more details in the Hollywood Studios rope drop post from last week, which details touring strategy there. Also look for ECVs or large strollers that are taking up a lot of space. That may be a better tip for bag check, where the side with a large stroller and an ECV might have three people in it while a line that appears to be the same length actually has ten people in it because they’re standing in a clump next to each other.
Disney has tweaked the rope drop procedure a couple of times already – but what you want to do is the same – arrive 90 minutes before open, try to angle yourself into the shortest line, and be prepared to hustle through The Oasis just inside the entrance and to wherever it is that Disney decides to hold you that morning.
The other key is acquiring FastPass+ for one of the two Pandora: World of Avatar attractions. Disney only lets you select one in advance. If you’re staying on-site with the ability to book FastPass+ 60 or more days in front of your arrival, and sign on right at 7am as soon as you’re allowed to make FP+ selections, then you’ll see plenty of availability for Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. If you’re off-site and booking at 30 days or book your trip much closer to the travel date, then you’ll likely only see Na’vi River Journey available and typically only for days 26+ days in advance. FastPass+ return times are more and more likely to be later in the day as a given date approaches. For example, 30 days out right now, I can book FastPass+ for River Journey for four guests as early as 2pm. 26 days out, the earliest is 6:25pm.
If Flight of Passage FastPass+ is available and you’re planning on riding, book that over Na’vi River Journey. Peak waits for the simulator ride are much longer and FastPass+ availability is much tighter. At rope drop, getting to River Journey is also much easier than the ordeal that is Flight of Passage. On the other hand, there is something to say for the Flight of Passage standby queue, which I have about a hundred pictures of, in this post.
But I’m not sure seeing that queue is worth the struggle of getting to the ride first thing. If you’re among the first people to enter the queue immediately at open, there’s also some pressure to continue walking through it at a quick pace, which means you wouldn’t be taking in a lot of the details anyway.
Back to the front of the Park. At 7:15am, Disney opened the gates.
During the previous couple of days, Disney had been holding guests where they used to prior to Pandora’s opening.
Which is up here on the left.
Pandora is located in the old Camp Minnie-Mickey area, the main entrance/exit of which is located in between Island Mercantile/Pizzafari. Basically, you take a left at the Tree of Life towards Africa and then another left after passing the first store. You’ll know you went too far if you end up at Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Knowing that Disney was modifying their opening procedures, I perked up a little at this point thinking that maybe…just maybe…they would at least let everyone freely walk to the attraction of their choice inside Pandora. That has always seemed like a more comfortable solution to holding people outside in a mass-of-humanity in Florida in June. Once you’re safely in an air-conditioned queue, there isn’t a whole lot of line cutting that can go on and the entire process is more spaced out and comfortable.
But any hopes of that happening were dashed a couple of steps later. This is 7:20am and we’re held inside the Land just across the bridge. People arriving well after me would be backed out to Pizzafari and then around the corner towards the Tree of Life. If you find yourself back there, abandon ship and return to Pandora later in the day. There’s no reason to spend 3+ hours in line when waits are short everywhere else.
At 7:38am, cast started walking the mass towards Na’vi River Journey straight ahead and Avatar Flight of Passage down to the right.
Na’vi River Journey is a significantly easier rope drop prospect. The queue entrance is just a couple of steps away from where the group is held and it’s a straight shot along the far left side of the Land. Also, something like 5% of the people at rope drop are heading in that direction, so it’s a lot more forgiving than Flight of Passage if you arrive closer to 7:30am than 7am.
Otherwise, the walk to Flight of Passage is an unpleasant one as Disney walks you down the winding and sloping walkways to the right.
7:40am as the path gets wider and then narrower and then wider and then narrower.
Every 200 people in front of you means a wait of about ten more minutes. That’s a lot of people behind me.
A lot narrower through here. The heat and humidity aren’t helping.
7:42am, so as uncomfortable as the march might be, we’re still talking about four minutes.
Here at 7:48am, I can see the entrance off to the right, but things slow down significantly here as people start walking the queue.
At 7:50am, or 12 minutes after starting the walk over here, I’m almost to the entrance.
Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey both offer FastPass+ during the whole first hour of operation, which bogs down the standby line further. These people to the right have FastPass+ and are waiting until they’re allowed to scan once the Park officially opens at 8am. If you do have FP+ early in the morning, it makes more sense to visit other attractions first before heading back to use the FP+ towards the end of the window. If you have FP+ for Flight of Passage and will either be visiting Na’vi River Journey on another day or have no interest, then you might as well head to Kilimanjaro Safaris first and experience no wait there. Then swing back around to Pandora towards the end of the window and you won’t have to deal with the rope drop nonsense.
Things slow down because every person takes three or four of the same picture. There’s this one.
Where they’re standing is the big one and that comes up very early in the queue. It wouldn’t slow things down so much if it was much further down the line.
Here’s that picture.
It is pretty during the glow of the early morning. This was taken at 8:56am, so it took almost 20 minutes between the time we started walking to where I was comfortably in line. If you arrive earlier and throw more elbows, you’ll be further along at this point. I try to be a little more realistic in how quickly your average family can move, so I’m further back than if I was weaseling around myself.
I then walked the queue without resistance until this point, which is inside and comfortably air-conditioned.
Another point where everybody takes a picture.
Here we are in the last holding area before being assigned a row and merging with FastPass+ users. It’s 8:14am or about 90 minutes after I arrived at the gate. That’s still just 14 minutes of “official” Park time used.
At 8:24am, I’m waiting to head into the first pre-show area.
And in the pre-show at 8:30am or 30 minutes after regular open.
This is a lengthy process as I’m now in the second pre-show room at 8:37am.
And walking down towards the gift shop at 8:53am. That’s about two hours after I arrived and 53 minutes after Park open. Amusingly, they weren’t letting anyone enter Windtraders from this side. You had to go around. So much for nobody being interested in anything Avatar.
The line to pick out a Shoulder Banshee on the other side of the store.
So we’re not yet an hour into operation with FastPass+ users waiting on the right. What do you think the standby wait is for Flight of Passage?
If you guessed 295 minutes, or just shy of five hours, you’ve won a prize. The prize is not having to go through this. Pick it up at Guest Relations on the way inside.
Not only is the wait crazy, but the queue is not long enough to hold the number of people that want to get in line, even given the 4-hour-55-minute wait. A cast member holds them across from the entrance and allows only as many as will fit in the extended queue across.
Here we are at Na’vi River Journey. From my lengthy review of the ride, you might remember that I had some concerns over the capacity of the ride and what that would mean for wait times.
I’m happy to report that I was exactly right. Before 9am, the line for River Journey extends back near the entrance to the Land.
This is the end of the line just inside the entrance. The posted wait is 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, before 9am.
The good news is that there hasn’t been any restriction in letting guests enter Pandora throughout the day. You might remember on the first day that waits just to enter the Land peaked around two hours. I’m not sure if we’ll see that again this summer…perhaps one or two days here or there.
Here’s a look at posted wait times over the course of the day, which was Wednesday May 31, 2017:
Unless you arrive very early and hustle to a Pandora attraction, you probably want to avoid it in the morning. If you have to wait in standby for one or both, then you’re better served holding off until the afternoon, when waits dip significantly. There’s a bit of an “artificial” drop at 5:15pm as rain and lightning closed outdoor attractions. Luckily, both Pandora rides are inside and aren’t affected by inclement weather, except in their outdoor queue portions. One potential strategy to save time could be to head over to Satu’li Canteen and grab a meal/snack/beer when rain is supposed to arrive. Wait there and enjoy yourself under cover as the rain passes through. Once it looks to be letting up, put on the ponchos and head over to Flight of Passage. Very few people are going to get in line during a storm. Actual waits should be even lower than posted.
Otherwise, you may want to take advantage of low waits elsewhere in the morning and ride the Pandora attractions later in the afternoon when standby waits will be equal or shorter than they were earlier in the day.
One interesting phenomenon is that the walkways in Pandora are not congested, even given long waits. This is 1:25pm with a 120-minute wait at Flight of Passage and a 135-minute wait at Na’vi River Journey. Way more concrete is visible here than you’d see in virtually any other area of the Park outside of DinoLand.
Heading into the Land is wide open.
11am is the same story.
I’m about to run out, so this will do it for now. Feel free to post any questions and I’ll expand some thoughts in Part 2.
The bottom line is that you want FastPass+ for Flight of Passage if you can and if you can’t, get Na’vi River Journey, which should have decent availability 30 days out. If you can arrive 75 minutes before open, do so, and rope drop the attraction that you don’t have a FastPass+ for. After that, get the heck out of there because wait times will be short at all other attractions for about an hour.
The bad news is that the increase in attendance does seem to be having an effect on “crowd feel” perhaps more so than attraction wait times. But I’ll cover some more specifics in the next post.
But seeing a queue for Pizzafari stretch outside the door before 11am is not good.
With a good plan in mind, Pandora shouldn’t throw you for too big of a loop. Those unable to get FastPass+ for either attraction or those unable to arrive until later in the morning will have more problems. But we’ll discuss evening strategy and Extra Magic Hours wait times too.
Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. Probably. More or less.