We’ll make our triumphant return to Walt Disney World to see what we can accomplish given current wait times and crowd levels. Currently, each of the Parks basically sell out of Passes across each ticket type every day, indicating capacity crowds and peak waits given current restrictions, whether you visit on a Tuesday or a Saturday.
Here’s a look at Disney Park Pass availability for the rest of the month:
Even on a Wednesday and the Easter holiday weeks ago, Animal Kingdom is sold out across each of the ticket segments most days for the rest of the month. So what you see as we go about our day is typical. At least at the moment.
And this is how Animal Kingdom posted wait times usually stack up given current crowds:
The distribution is similar to the other Parks with the longest wait times seen from the late morning to early afternoon. Here, I’ve marked the overall average waits under 25 minutes as green, under 40 minutes as yellow, and anything above that as red.
With Disney’s Animal Kingdom officially open from 8am to 8pm, the Park actually opens closer to 7:15am most days, with the Pandora rides typically operating. As Disney does their best to spread out the crowds, the “surprise” of the early opening allows several hundred to a thousand or so guests experience the attractions and move about their day as more and more guests arrive. That’s the reason why you see the 80 minutes at Flight of Passage right off the bat – the ride has actually been letting people enter the line for about 40 minutes.
Safaris, which doesn’t typically open until the rest of the Park (and won’t typically open until 8am should you run into a rare 7am opening), also lets its last guests enter the queue at 7:15pm at the moment. That time will get pushed back as it stays light out a little later heading into the summer.
The distribution, and lack of shows and “anytime attractions,” can make afternoon touring a little on the rough side. Those 30- to 40- minute waits for It’s Tough To Be A Bug are real with Disney still closing off every other row and keeping three seats empty for each group of up to four, bringing the attraction’s capacity down below 25% of what it ordinarily would be. Disney has promised some version of Festival of the Lion King is coming back in the middle of May, but the staging area is still typically used as queue space for Flight of Passage and sometimes Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Without FastPass+, we don’t have a ton of choices come noon – Expedition Everest is easily our best bet with a wait that’s shorter than everything but TriceraTop Spin, but we’re still looking at waiting about 25 minutes on our feet with about 80% of that wait outdoors and at least a third of it in the extended queue that we’re only seeing because of the six-foot markers in between parties. When I get in line, I’ll be doing so right around the bridge into DinoLand and near the still-shuttered Theater in the Wild on my right and the waterway with the canceled Rivers of Light on my left. The wait will still be about 15 minutes.
From 11am to 2pm, when waits are longest, I’ll spend my time eating lunch and walking Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, though even those can see actual backups and waits during the busiest times of day. As Disney “relaxes” social-distancing, these sorts of waits have become less common in recent weeks as Disney lets more guests enter the habitat. We’ll see how we do.
It’s 7:45am on the morning of Monday, April 12, 2021. We’re arriving 45 minutes to an hour later than we’d like to take advantage of that unannounced extra time in the morning, when waits would be short at Flight of Passage when the Park actually opens closer to 7:15am. You could say we’re “testing” what it will be like for off-site guests once Disney allows all on-site guests into the Park a half hour early, as we’ll be inside a little after 8am.
Should you arrive later than you’d like – and it’s a distinct possibility with the low capacities on Disney’s buses, monorails, watercraft, etc. and transportation typically starting up later than it had before last year’s closures, you may need to make about one change to your touring plan, which is to move your first super-headliner to either the end of the night, or as late in the day as possible.
We’ll quickly pull back up our chart:
Avatar Flight of Passage is there along the top with the longest waits of the day in the morning and short waits at just about every other attraction. Even if we have to wait that 70 to 80 minutes in the afternoon, we’re better off doing so when waits are longer everywhere else. Is a 65-minute wait for Flight at 12:45pm long? Certainly. But it’s actually five minutes lower than what Kali is posted at and within ten minutes of DINOSAUR’s 55 minutes. Outside of last thing at night, the best time to get in line for Flight in the afternoon is typically is that 12:45pm as people head to lunch. Disney’s posted wait catches up to that fact at 1:30pm, when it posts 45 minutes, before quickly going back up to 75 minutes.
As always, guests may enter the queue for an operating attraction right up until Park close. With the 8pm close, guests entering Flight’s queue around 7:55pm should wait 20 to 45 minutes, even if the posted wait is 45 or more minutes. It could be shorter if operations went well throughout the day. It will be on the longer side if technical trouble kept the wait longer, because more people will return late, or if there is technical trouble closing theaters late. But after 8pm, the Park is “closed,” so any time spent in line isn’t necessarily better spent elsewhere as it isn’t like you can get in line for Na’vi River Journey at 8:15pm, not that either of us would entertain the idea in the first place.
Another small bonus of the late night ride on Flight is the pleasant walk out of the Park with very few other people around.
If you’re relying on Disney transportation, they’ll get you back to your resort regardless of when you exit the Park, often on a bus to yourself. So even if you do get on Flight early in the morning, or wait longer in the afternoon, you may still want to end the evening by riding again. You’re paying for it, after all.
As we pull through the toll plaza at 7:53am, we can already see that we’re well behind the game based on the number of parked cars.
But it can always be worse, as many of these spots will fill as the day wears on. And many more will likely fill this summer with capacity increases. We’re not opening The Lion King show and keeping the number of Park Passes the same. That number is heading up, baby.
It will be interesting to see what does and what doesn’t return to the Parks once we’re as close to being on the other side of this thing as possible. Trams have been out of service for about a year, but you could argue people are able to park closer given lower attendance. But Chapek and Co. have said they’re looking to cut as much fat from the operation as possible, so at a minimum, it may be a while before we see some of the world’s noisier conveniences return to service.
We’re arriving right at official Park opening, or 8am, which is about 45 minutes later than we’d like for a quick move through Flight of Passage and River Journey.
But as designed, we won’t run into any backups at security, thanks in large part to the Evolv scanners, which also seem to have been “turned down” in the name of fewer false positives. I used to make the scanners beep with my camera held out proudly in front of me, but haven’t on my last several visits. As always, if you do have metal, including large water bottles, you’ll want to hold them out in front of you. The worst case scenario is a second bag check.
We’ll discuss Disney’s relaxation of its mask and other social-distancing policies as we move about our day.
As we can clearly see at 8:05am, we’re far from the first guests to arrive, and too late for a short wait at Flight.
My therapist asked me about my goals and ultimately what I hope to achieve out of life/this simulation, and my answer was to put off Na’vi River Journey for as long as possible. This photo op with no line caught the corner of my eye.
But you’re also talking to the guy who rope dropped this photopass picture this morning instead of flight of passage so what do I know pic.twitter.com/TGnfYKAqep
— josh (@easywdw) April 12, 2021
It seemed precious enough to make a 30-second stop since we are not in a big rush.
I was a bit surprised by the number of people at the ticket booths to start the morning.
The Park was sold out for the day, meaning they wouldn’t be selling one-day tickets to enter. If you were after an upgrade or anything that can be handled later, you’d want to do so as the afternoon wait to talk to someone here or at Guest Services would be about two minutes instead of twenty or more. It’s possible a hundred-plus people started their day not knowing about the Park Pass system, but things are getting tighter looking into the late spring. And they definitely know about the system now. At 8am. In Florida. On vacation. With maybe the hole at Epcot to visit as their only option.
Theme park tickets are something you want to buy in advance and make those Park Passes as early as possible. Things certainly aren’t easing up.
It had been some time since I had rope dropped a Park with my camera and full assortment of lenses. Thus, we’ll run into the occasional blurry shot as my limited skills take some refreshing. We have obviously been covering things in-person since the Parks reopened last July, but at the time, catching what we’ll call Cove-19 seemed like an inevitability. And may have been. But with the vaccine quickly becoming available, and it seeming like it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to go catch the Cove a week before vaccination started, we took some time away. So with Pfizer one under my belt and a day that wasn’t supposed to be sweltering hot, I figured we might as well see how things are looking at the tail-end of spring break.
Also, with attraction capacities that continue to change, what is a relevant or optimized touring strategy today may also be less successful the next. For example, at Flight of Passage, they opened the Park and kept a seat in between parties empty. They don’t do that anymore, increasing the capacity by 20ish percent. That move doesn’t compromise our strategy, but it would change the timing as we could potentially now move through quicker. At Na’vi River Journey, just this month, they installed the same plastic barriers in between rows that we’ve seen at the likes of Rise of the Resistance, basically doubling capacity there and decreasing waits by ~40%. A few months ago, and with no modifications to the ride vehicles, Disney began loading every row on Expedition Everest, which just about halves wait times there.
Those sorts of changes can have a big impact on our touring strategies. We may have prioritized Everest higher when its waits were 40 to 60 minutes with only half the rows filled. We’re a little less concerned about the wait with the average down closer to 15 or 20 minutes. In reality, our plan of attack doesn’t necessarily change that much at Animal Kingdom with a relatively short list of headliners. But we’ll see the benefit of the increased capacity at Na’vi right off the bat. Whether we want to or not.
Disney management didn’t look too excited to see me, but I rolled my eyes the best I could at 8:10am while giving the website’s patent-pending finger wave of sarcasm. If you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.
I still remember this exchange from a couple of years ago:
here is me whining about getting harassed by some variety of security personnel on my walk into animal kingdom the other day. “we’ll be watching you” pic.twitter.com/u3XiV1iXwY
— josh (@easywdw) June 3, 2019
I get followed around a fair bit by security, which given my level of intense fandom bringing some number of….excited folks my way, is sometimes comforting. I’m not sure if they would save me from being mauled by a family unit or not, but at least they have earpieces to let the boss know that blogger nine may be down for the count outside the cotton-top tamarin exhibit. “Not again,” you may hear me mutter.
A couple of minutes into day, we can check the Disney World app for their opinion of wait times:
Flight of Passage is out, but River Journey is….unfortunately still in.
Not only is the 80-minute wait for Flight of Passage about as long as it’s going to get during the day, if I were to get in line at 8:15am and the total experience time was about 90 minutes, we wouldn’t be on our way until 9:45am, when waits everywhere else will be longer everywhere than Flight. To get on Flight first and wait the hour-plus, we’d be playing ourselves. And playing is usually something we leave to Don Black Sax at Disney Springs.
The sun’s morning glow is always an underrated bonus of the early morning.
Particularly at Animal Kingdom. We won’t really see these yellows and oranges again until sunset.
Island Mercantile had been opening around 11am due to a lack of morning interest. It has since moved to 9am with some items already available outside. Nothing says Florida summer like a black, long-sleeve Spirit Jersey.
“The Lion King” photo-op on the walk to Pandora, outside Mercantile, and almost across from Tiffins, is still there as we are apparently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release. We’re now on the movie’s 27th year, so we may just hold off until we can celebrate the 30th anniversary…and then then the 35th anniversary. Why not?
Pizzafari remains a relaxation station rather than a pizza reheateria (not a word.)
While I do my best to keep this hardened exterior up, I would admit under duress that I am pretty easily amused, and got a kick out of this sign just inside Pizzafari essentially demanding guests to keep their comfort to under a half hour.
We’re taking the usual left into Pandora at the corner of Pizzafari.
The markings on the left and right are (usually) for the River Journey and Flight of Passage backup that may occur from around 9:30am to 11:30am. And hopefully not much later.
Should you find yourself on that sticker that ends at the entrance to Nomad when it’s open, it would be difficult not to take a right inside.
We’ll ignore the fact that if there are that many people in the Park, Nomad’s waitlist is probably full.
Disney’s price increases on drinks has actually saved the website money:
Your “Night Monkey” would now run you $13.
Here’s your price list for when the lounge opened:
So the price on that drink has gone up 37%. It would be interesting to know whether revenue, profit, and/or drink sales are up given the price increases. At $9.75, I’d probably order two, and by that time, be ready to plunk down what was $12.75 for the Tempting Tigress and is now $15 and come away with a fairly reasonable bill, three drinks, and then happily move on, probably picking up a beer or something in Pandora. But at $15 for that Tempting Tigress, or over $19 with tax and tip, I’m probably nursing that one cocktail for as long as I’d like to sit in air-conditioning, and making a second drink significantly less tempting.
Anyway, I’ll see you (or you’ll hear me) at the Ale House.
While not known for our physical prowess, I’m actually doing a handstand here and taking the picture of the Tiffins menu with a remote as to not cast a shadow:
It still looks like someone threw it into the tiger den:
You can pull up Disney’s online menu here, which is far more readable.
It’s 8:10am as we approach the Valley of Mo’ara with those headed to Flight of Passage making this first right and those unfortunate souls headed straight for Na’vi River Journey….continuing straight.
Flight of Passage isn’t too nutty here and we’ll check back on the line later. But even if a 50-minute wait now is better than the 80 posted, wait times are generally only increasing.
After a brief field trip over to the mountains, we probably can’t put Na’vi River off any longer.
It’s 8:09am with Na’vi posting 20 minutes. The people on right right appear to be looking at a map, likely trying to find any other attraction to go on.
We’ll continue through without anyone ahead of us. Good, I guess.
If the Park opened at 7:15am, and you made it to Flight around 7:20am, you’d be done around 7:40am to 7:45am, so you could theoretically arrive at Na’vi River Journey before I have. With a 7:30am open and 7:40am arrival at Flight, this is probably about where you’d be if you’re not in a mad frenzy to get from attraction to attraction. And being River Journey, I think we can both assume you’re not. Part of the point is that the line is completely empty and we will be able to basically walk right on. That would also be true with an earlier start at Flight, since we’d be over here around the same time.
We’ll head in:
Disney tested plastic barriers in between the rows back in March, and finished adding them to all vehicles earlier in April, essentially doubling capacity at what is technically a ride.
We can see that capacity increase, and the lower waits that come along with it, as we look over what the ride has done this year. We begin with the long chart since that’s just how this website operates. Basically, we’re just showing off that we have the data to go on:
As you can see, you’ve got a short time in the morning to take advantage of a shorter wait before things hit 50+ minutes from 9:30am through 4:30pm. As with Flight, the later you can visit in the day, the better, with the potential that actual waits will be lower around 11:45am to 1pm as people head to lunch. If you’re trying to do both Na’vi and Flight at the end of the night, you can check on Na’vi posted wait and the physical length of the queue. To be on the safe side, I’d get in line for River Journey 45 minutes before close so you can be sure you’ll be able to ride, stop by a restroom, and get in line for Flight.
Here’s Na’vi River(y?) Journey’s average wait by month this year:
The April drop-off in waits given the fact that the ride’s capacity has basically doubled is similar to what we’ve seen when Disney has installed similar acrylic between rows elsewhere. With Easter falling in early April, along with the spring break crowds that come with it, we should see a meager increase over March. With no change in capacity, April’s average would be ~60ish minutes.
“But Josh, maybe wait times are down at every attraction in April and the capacity increase has very little effect on waits.” Since I can’t slap you through the screen (physically), you could ask a family member to give you a good whack, or just slap yourself, ideally not while being monitored or on a Zoom call. In my experience, that’s always a little awkward. You can try to save some of your dignity if you’re wearing a 10-gallon hat and growl, “Wildcard!”
We’ll take a look at Avatar Flight of Passage’s average waits by month this year to see if they went down a similar amount in April. Spoiler: if they did, we wouldn’t be talking about this. I’ll spare you the long chart, but can provide it to you given you send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, much like it’s 1994, or around the last time Epcot added a new attraction:
Disney started filling every seat on Flight back in September, so we don’t see any significant changes to hourly capacity this year. Because of that, Flight’s wait goes up given heavier spring break crowds in April, while the wait at Na’vi virtually drops in half. Wait times are largely a capacity game. And we see that as Disney alters their loading procedures.
We’re here at Na’vi, so we might as well. My actual wait was somewhere between two seconds and two minutes depending on whether you started the clock at the beginning of the queue or when I reached my row assignment. I tried to take a few pictures that we don’t ordinarily hone in on:
The acrylic plastic works similarly to other attractions in that it’s not typically bothersome unless you’re looking for it to be. I would imagine you could request the front row without causing any slowdowns or hassle on the part of the cast member assigning you your spot. You don’t want to miss anything after all, like the 19th icicle or 37th jellyfish. I’m sure they have Na’vi names. And I have no interest in learning what they are.
You can see the side of the row barrier on the right, but the ride is slow and meandering enough that I don’t think you’ll have any trouble enjoying the ride from the back. Still, with one potential ride, the front row is the way to go. You may even be doing those in the back row a favor. I would have installed blackout barriers. “Nothing to see here, folks.”
I got in line at 8:12am, boarded at 8:14am, and was back out front at 8:21am, which is just about the minimum amount of time the ride takes.
We’ll consider our next move in Part Two.