Visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is slated to reopen to the public on Saturday, July 11, 2020. It looks like we now have enough clarity to talk about what that means for those of you planning on visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom this summer, and potentially into the fall, assuming we make it that far. The website will be here all summer with live updates from the ground, in addition to offering what I’m hoping is an almost-daily overview of wait times and news.
Visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom should be fairly straightforward as we look towards July and beyond. Currently, the operating hours are 8am to 6pm every day between July 11th and October 31st:
You can pull up the full size version of this chart here, but it basically looks the same all the way down through October. As always, these hours are subject to, and likely will, change. Historically, Disney has initially released conservative operating hours and then extended them as a given date approaches. Obviously, we’re seeing an initial shortening of the hours with the 100+ day closure and the expectation that Disney will limit the number of guests able to enter the Park each day. It remains to be seen if Disney will extend the close on days that it expects to be busier. With a Park Pass reservation now required to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or any of the other Parks, they’ll theoretically know exactly how many people will be there on a given date. They’ll also know when demand outstrips supply.
It’s currently unclear if the number of guests admitted will increase during times that Disney expects to be busier. Over the last several years, the summers have been relatively quiet, as people push their vacations back to the fall, when temperatures cool and special events ramp up. You would think that Disney would increase capacity under those conditions; given our current circumstances, it’s possible that no such capacity increase is possible. What that means for the likes of Christmas remains to be seen. Disney will obviously have a problem if people’s propensity to travel increases at the same time that they’re unable or unwilling to fill the Parks more completely. If the vacation tax credit goes through, and Florida is flooded with tourists, we’ll have an even more unmanageable problem on our hands.
Across all of the theme parks, we’re going to see a number of changes for the foreseeable future. Disney has eliminated FastPass+. There are likely a number of reasons for that. For one, Disney needs the queue space to spread people out. Its elimination also reduces staffing and the number of people lingering around the attraction entrances trying to pull a fast one or waiting for their return time to arrive.
Disney will likely still need some mechanism for faster disability access. It will be interesting to see how the queues are set up with six feet between parties. Using the FastPass+ return space adds a lot of room at something like Pirates of the Caribbean, but very little at something like Peter Pan’s Flight. Unfortunately, queue length and attraction priority often don’t overlap. We’ll discuss more of the specifics as we take a look at the Parks, and obviously, again once they reopen.
Officially, Disney will not be using any virtual queues, including at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. To say that social distancing during rope drop will be “interesting” is probably the nicest way to put it. With ten thousand or more people willing to arrive at Hollywood Studios before 8am earlier this year, simply putting a cap on the day’s attendance doesn’t do you a ton of good if they’re all there when the Park opens. And they’re all still headed to the same priorities, now with reduced capacities, and what ends up being far less queue space with people spread out.
If it were up to me, I would identify where people head first thing and figure out what the ride’s capacity is. You’d then add 40% to that and it would be the attendance cap for the day. You would then assign people a return time to visit that priority attraction with no standby access. For those visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, everyone is still going to be headed for Avatar – Flight of Passage first thing. If Disney assigned everyone a return time in advance, it would help spread the initial crowds out among Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and elsewhere. When it comes to visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the 8am opens are a big win. It means fewer people will be around that early.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Park is currently slated to open at 10am. That will be a disaster unless attendance is truly nonexistent over the summer. At some point, as attendance picks up, Disney will have to make adjustments. Even two or three thousand people headed to Rise of the Resistance first thing will be a social-distancing nightmare. And the person who arrives last will wait multiple hours in line as each ride vehicle is filled with a limited number of guests. Fortunately, my own wingspan exceeds six feet, so I’ll have no trouble throwing elbows at a comfortable/safe distance. You may not be so lucky.
That potential for long waits incentivizes arriving early and pushing to the front of the crowd. That’s never been what we or Disney wants, but that will be particularly true this summer. We’ll cross that bridge when we have to. Disney may yet roll out some sort of plan to help with crowd control. But you’ll remember that this is the same company that cut back on operating hours and character meet and greet times during the absolute best of times early this year. The current conditions are very much not that.
Disney has scheduled no Extra Magic Hours at any theme park through the end of October. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that would be other than cost cutting. The people who are going to show up and stay at the limited number of resorts open will apparently do so whether they have the EMH perk or not. But any advice about avoiding or taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours is obviously out the window for now. If anything, you’d think adding a morning Extra Magic Hour at each Park each day would help spread crowds out.
In addition, there are basically no meet and greets with characters. Disney is replacing them with moving/floating cavalcades.
Personally, this excites me to no end, as there is nothing quite as awkward as being a 35-year old single adult male waiting to meet a princess. There is no earthly reason why I would be at Princess Fairytale Hall by myself. You can actually see the fear in both of our eyes as I approach, mumbling something about just needing a quick picture for the internet. Unfortunately, it also means that the iconic hug with Mickey Mouse is out. You can read more about what a socially-distant character meal looks like at Topolino’s Terrace on DisneyTouristBlog.com here.
Disney is currently scheduling no nighttime spectaculars. Neither of us was probably too excited for Rivers of Light, but it also means no Happily Ever After, Fantasmic, Star Wars Fireworks, and whatever the show at Epcot was called. From a crowd control perspective, it certainly makes some sense to cancel several of those offerings. Disney has no way of managing crowds for a fireworks show in the Hub at Magic Kingdom. But again, things like Rivers of Light and Fantasmic likely come down to cost cutting rather than crowd control. You can seat guests in every other row and keep them six feet apart. I’ve been to several shows at Universal where they do exactly that. Either way, they’re off for now.
This should be what we’re looking at as far as visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom is concerned:
I’ll fine-tune the map, along with a new cheat sheet, touring plans, etc. shortly after the Park reopens.
As far as Animal Kingdom, this is what we can expect to be closed, attraction-wise:
- Adventurers Outpost Mickey and Minnie Meet (and all other meet and greets)
- Affection Section
- The Boneyard
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
- Primeval Whirl
- Rivers of Light
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure
Ideally, this won’t become a habit, but if there is one bright spot to things being closed, it’s that we no longer have as many decisions to make. We don’t have to decide between Festival of the Lion King or Finding Nemo the Musical because Disney is scheduling neither. We don’t have to decide whether we want to stay for Rivers of Light or if a Dining Package or Dessert Party makes sense because none of them are available. This is probably not good. But it’s also one less thing to toil over.
Festival of the Lion King in particular stands out as being a bummer to miss, as it’s among the best theme park stage shows anywhere. Finding Nemo closed is obviously not great. Overall, it could be worse, with all of the rides sans Primeval Whirl set to reopen with the Park, along with the nature trails and other attractions. From a capacity standpoint, the shows help absorb thousands of people every hour, but that likely won’t come into play too much in the near term.
Officially, this is my current stance on the overall situation:
This is, probably obviously, not the year I would pick as my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Parks, unless we see some heavy discounting. Considering that resorts like the BoardWalk Inn don’t open until October, and others like the Port Orleans complex don’t even have a reopening date, it seems like Disney is intent on keeping crowds low rather than slashing prices. Considering these “unprecedented times,” it makes sense that would be the case.
From a touring perspective, we haven’t been together when some sort of FASTPASS system hasn’t been in use. We always tried to maximize our use of paper FASTPASS, and booked key FastPass+ experiences in advance whenever possible, in addition to refreshing FP+ availability throughout the day. For most of us, the standby lines will be it for a while.
Wait-times-wise, it’s hard to say what things are going to look like. It depends entirely on how many people show up. Like most things, hysteria over first day crowds and wait times will be high. Even the wait to be seated at Margaritaville at CityWalk was quoted as 2+ hours on the day it reopened. And that’s Margaritaville. At CityWalk. At Universal. The next day, and most other days, there was no longer a wait. Capacity was the major culprit with the restaurant only seating a limited number of guests at outdoor patio tables.
For now, the days of single rider and filling in all of the available space are out.
We’re still a couple days away from Disney calling back most attractions cast members, so it’s hard to say how aggressive Disney will be about filling ride vehicles. At a minimum, on rides like Na’vi River Journey, there won’t be any more of putting two parties in the same row. Technically, there probably isn’t six feet between the rows, either. It may just be one party per vehicle. In some cases, that could mean just one, two, or three people per boat. On one hand, it will be nice not to be stuffed in with others. There may never be a better time to take on-ride pictures and video.
On the other hand, the limited capacity is going to come into play with wait times. Eliminating FastPass+ priority will certainly help, but the fact is that we don’t want to wait in a 40-minute line much more than we want to wait in a 60-minute line. With the touring plans that I’ve designed in the past, it’s rare that I would place an attraction where you’d wait more than 15 minutes in line, and even that would be on the high end of things.
We’ll have a good idea about what waits will look like in the near term around July 16th or 17th. Only Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom open on July 11th, with Hollywood Studios and Epcot following on the 15th. The fact that the 11th is a Saturday, coupled with the fact that it’s the first day back for everyone, will mean that wait times will be disproportionately long. I’m sure we’ll all be melting down on social media come July 11th, but it will be a couple more days before we have a handle on what we’re realistically looking at.
With Animal Kingdom opening at 8am, our usual plan of attack ought to work with a 7:15am arrival and plans to visit Flight of Passage first, followed by Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Those who can skip Flight of Passage first thing and return at the end of the night will be even better off. With the anticipated 6pm closes, just about anyone should be able to stay out that late. Even my parents.
That may mean longer waits at the end of the night, but it also means that you aren’t arriving unnecessarily early, and you’re not wasting any time where you could be doing something else. With the 6pm close, and no Park Hopping expected to be available, there won’t be much else to do come 7pm anyway. You can always come over for a scotch. I’ll be here, wishing that I chose to do something else with my life.
We’ll attack things from both angles based on wait times from the first couple of days, both starting at Flight of Passage and ending with it. We’re going to run into some issues if Disney is running a limited number of trucks on Kilimanjaro Safaris, only filling every other row, and not pairing parties together. The sword is sort of double-edged in that regard, but it may also be dull on both sides. You’ll basically have full reign to move about your row with nobody’s head immediately in front of you. But you may have to wait longer for the privilege with no FP+ opportunities.
It’s likely that we’ll need to adjust our plans as we move into the fall and attendance increases, at the same time that capacity doesn’t necessarily increase at a similar rate. There’s only so much Disney can do given the current situation, even if they weren’t concerned about costs. Kilimanjaro Safaris can only have so many vehicles on the road on the busiest day of the year.
The good news is that you’re probably not visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom from July 11th to July 20th. By the time you do get back into town, we’ll have a better idea about how wait times stack up. Our touring strategies haven’t changed much at Animal Kingdom since Pandora opened. It’s likely that those who can arrive before Park open and hit Na’vi River Journey first, followed by an assortment of other rides, will be in the best shape. Hopefully getting in line for Flight of Passage just before the Park closes will continue to be an option. Over opening weekend a couple of years ago, Disney cut the line earlier in the evening because it was so long. They could theoretically do something similar. We’ll just have to wait and see what’s possible.
With the 6pm close, an afternoon break may or may not be tenable. It typically takes a lot of time to get back to the resort. If you’re standing in Asia, and relying on a Disney bus to get back to your resort, you’re looking at about an hour to walk to the front, wait for the bus to arrive, and then ride back. The return trip could be anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes or more. It depends on the arrival time of the bus and where you’re coming from, plus the time it takes to walk to the bus stop. That’s about 90 minutes total, not including any actual break time. A relaxing table service lunch, plus some time spent somewhere in air-conditioning inside the Park, may be a better bet.
A visit to Rafiki’s Planet Watch for Conservation Station and the Animation Academy comes to mind. Still, ten hours, from 8am to 6pm-plus, is a long day any way you look at it. That will be particularly true in a face mask, primarily outdoors, in Florida, in July.
Speaking of a relaxing meal, we have a preliminary list of what food outlets won’t initially be reopening to those visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom come July 11th:
- Dino Diner
- Eight Spoon Cafe
- Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery
- Smiling Crocodile
- Terra Treats
- Tusker House Restaurant
- Warung Outpost
Seeing Pizzafari on the list is a bit of a surprise, but it could certainly open as demand increases. Outside of that, and potentially Tusker House, there isn’t anything on the list that should be a deal breaker.
I’d be surprised by how many people could find Drinkwallah, Terra Treats, and Warung Outpost on a map. Obviously we both know, but most people don’t.
Disney is expected to keep a surprising number of stores closed:
- Boneyard Cart
- Colors of Mo’ara
- DinoLand Cart
- Dino-Rama Cart
- Island Mercantile
- Kali Cart
- Maharajah Cart
- Mariya’s Souveniers
- Outpost Cart
- The Outpost Shop
- Riverside Depot
- Serka Cart
- Theater in the Wild Cart
- Tiffins Cart
- Tree of Life Cart
- Yak & Yeti Bhaktapur Market
- Ziwani Traders
- Zuri Sweets Shop
Island Mercantile and Riverside Depot are the two main stores that you’ll see as you head towards the Tree of Life. It’s surprising that neither would open, considering Disney is primarily in the business of selling you things. Otherwise, most of the list consists of small shops and carts.
Overall, I’m expecting those visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom to have a fairly straightforward time over the summer. With the relatively limited number of available rides, and a historically-distinct distribution of people and wait times, it should be easy enough to piece together a cohesive plan. That will be less true if more people than anticipated visit, or capacity is so miserable that things get quickly bogged down.
Apparently, we’ll know soon enough.
We’ll take a look at Epcot next.