Wait Time Trends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Since Reopening
Chart Week continues on easywdw.com as we take a look at wait times and what we’ve seen so far since Disney’s Animal Kingdom reopened on Saturday, July 11th, 2020. Our analysis started at Magic Kingdom Park with the aptly titled, “Magic Kingdom Wait Times Since Disney World Reopened.” We are nothing if not creative.
Perhaps the most surprising phenomenon that we’ve seen since Walt Disney World reopened is the low wait times in Pandora. Avatar – Flight of Passage, a ride that’s now about 3.5 years old, was still pulling 120+ minute peak waits before the extended theme park closure in March of this year.
Since reopening, Flight of Passage’s average wait is 15 minutes. That’s over two hours less than the overall average that we’ve seen from the day the ride opened in May, 2017 through the middle of March of this year. Here’s Flight of Passage’s chart over the last ~3 weeks:
Wait times don’t appear to be rising a significant amount, either. The last three days all saw average waits under 15 minutes. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that there was a small chance of a hurricane barreling through this past weekend, which probably caused waits to be lower than they would have been. Some of the “longer” waits, which are now in the range of 25 to 35 minutes, are likely due to deep cleaning or technical trouble in one of the theaters. Over the course of the few weeks, there isn’t a time of day when the average wait is longer than 20 minutes.
Here’s a look at the overall average daily wait at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since it reopened:
This takes seven attractions into account. So far, it looks like Saturday, July 15th, 2020 saw the highest average wait so far. Here’s the chart for that date:
It’s not surprising that we see the busiest day on a Saturday. As I’ve mentioned several times, those who can avoid the weekends will enjoy the lowest waits on weekdays. Still, if you got in line at the worst possible time for Flight of Passage, on the most-crowded day so far, you’d wait 40 minutes according to the sign. The ride would hit a 10-minute wait less than two hours later, at 1:15pm. A couple spurts of downtime look to prop up waits at Expedition Everest a bit. Safaris gets slightly bogged down in the morning. It’s more or less a walk-on with the 15 minutes posted from 12pm onward. River Journey sees longer waits most of the day, too, with a peak wait that’s the same as Flight of Passage.
Here’s a chart from the same date with the anytime attractions that aren’t included in the previous averages…included:
This also shows when a couple of the attractions get going.
You can board the Wildlife Express Train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch beginning at about 9:45am.
The first Animation Experience show begins at 10am.
Gorilla Falls pushes a zero-minute wait to the app all day after it opens at 8:30am.
Maharajah Jungle Trek opens at 9am, but doesn’t typically show a wait on My Disney Experience. While both nature trails operate through the current 6pm close, the last Animation Experience is at 4:45pm.
I don’t include Kali River Rapids in the average because its wait times vary based on weather and Disney often posts an inflated time. That’s less true without FastPass+, but I can also virtually guarantee you that the actual wait for the raft ride was not 45 minutes at 2:15pm, before dropping to 15 minutes at 2:45pm. However, the longer waits could have been due to an extended cleaning cycle.
Part of what we’re trying to uncover is if it matters which day of the week you choose to visit each Park.
For Magic Kingdom, the weekly distribution looked like this:
Wednesdays and Sundays remain the best days to visit the most popular theme park in the world. That has been true for the last couple of years. It’s somewhat interesting that it holds true when the operating hours are exactly the same, there are no Extra Magic Hours scheduled, and special events are basically off. There are simply more people in town visiting the Parks on Saturdays and fewer in the middle of the week. It makes sense. Sundays are likely less busy due to guests from out-of-state traveling and local visitors electing to relax at home or take care of other family obligations. It’s a lot easier to spend seven or eight hours at Magic Kingdom when you know you have a day to recover.
Here’s the weekly distribution for Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
The best days to visit Animal Kingdom are also Wednesday and Sunday. That doesn’t do us a whole lot of good. If waits were clearly shorter at Animal Kingdom on the opposite days that they’re longest at Magic Kingdom, then we’d have a much clearer idea about what we want to do. At least so far, there isn’t as big of a jump between the least-crowded and most-crowded days of the week. At Magic Kingdom, Saturdays see waits that are about 47% higher than Wednesdays. Over at Animal Kingdom, Saturday’s average is 38% higher.
Our hypothesis is that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will see less of an increase in wait times on Saturdays compared to other days during the week. We’ll see if that comes to fruition. While we don’t have enough data to come to any concrete conclusions yet, it looks like Mondays and Thursdays at Animal Kingdom are also very good. An 8.9-minute average wait per attraction line is not much worse than an 8.4-minute average wait. You might choose to visit Animal Kingdom on a Monday or Thursday, in addition to visiting Magic Kingdom on Sunday and Wednesday.
One of our other hypotheses was that Animal Kingdom wait times would drop significantly in the afternoon and evening. Disney canceled Rivers of Light in its entirety, so that’s not keeping people around. With the 6pm closure, there’s also no opportunity to experience the Park after dark. The sun begins setting around 8:15pm at the moment, or well over two hours after the Park closes at 6pm.
Let’s break down the busiest day since reopening by time of day:
As expected, wait times largely increase as it gets later in the morning. We start out with an average of around 7.5 minutes and end at more than twice that, at 17 minutes. The average for the two hours in the morning is about 12 minutes.
During the next two hours, waits jump almost 60%, to 19.3 minutes. There are still a couple of opportunities to enjoy short waits at the likes of DINOSAUR, It’s Tough To Be A Bug! and TriceraTop Spin, along with the anytime attractions and limited shows.
By 12:15pm, waits already begin to drop by more than ten percent. Flight of Passage sees several 10-minute waits, while River Journey actually sees higher waits. That’s likely due in part to the long time that it takes to clean every boat every two hours. The fact that cast only seat one party per vehicle on River Journey, whether the group is made up of one or eight people, also reduces the capacity significantly.
At Flight of Passage, cast leave one empty seat on each side of parties, regardless of their size. So if you had two parties of two and two parties of four, they would currently take up four boats at River Journey. Before physical distancing came into play, those same groups would fill just one-and-a-half boats. They would also fill just one of the three rows in just one of the theaters at Flight of Passage before or after physical distancing. I don’t think I’m prepared to live in a world where we prioritize River Journey; it is something to potentially keep an eye on. I never thought I would have to beg people to ride Flight of Passage so I didn’t have to flip it with River Journey on the touring plan.
From 2pm to 4pm, we see another slight decrease of a minute, on average.
Finally, in the last two hours of operation, we see the average wait drop to within two minutes of the morning average. It’s also about 30% lower than the afternoon peak waits. One thing about average waits is that they don’t always sound that significant. A 20-minute wait is not all that much longer than a 14-minute wait. But if you’re visiting 12 attractions over the course of the day, that does mean waiting about 75 minutes more in line.
One other thing to keep in mind is that crowds typically stick around longer when wait times are longer. If you want to get each of these attractions done, you obviously need to wait in line for them. If it takes ten minutes longer to ride DINOSAUR, 15 minutes longer to ride River Journey, and 20 minutes longer to ride Flight of Passage than a less crowded day, you’ve already spent nearly an extra hour in the Park. Those people are going to continue staying later, and getting in additional lines, which keeps waits higher.
Even on the busiest day so far, just about everything should see an actual wait of under ten minutes in the last hour. If you pass by an attraction and the wait is prohibitive, plan on returning in the last one to two hours of operation. You’ll want to arrive closer to Park close for the most popular attractions. You can always get in line for an operating attraction at the very end of the night as well. Jumping in line at 5:58pm for one last ride on Flight of Passage is smart. I also recommended extending your day by grabbing one of the last reservations at a table service restaurant. Service will likely be more attentive and you’ll be able to enjoy walking out of an empty Park. Tiffins is particularly smart for that, as is Yak & Yeti.
I also took a look to see if wait times at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom went up and down in tandem. I’ve listed the difference in wait times from one day to the next under the “change” column. When waits went down, I highlighted the cell in red:
Somewhat interestingly, wait times went down at both Parks ten times out of 24 days. That’s certainly not a steady climb that you might expect if Disney is successfully convincing guests to return to the Parks. On August 4th’s earnings call, which covered the Walt Disney Company’s third fiscal quarter, Bob Chapek said that attendance so far has been split about 50/50 between in-state and out-of-state guests. Those numbers may be skewed by Disney Vacation Club Members who “need” to burn their points by using them. You’ll remember that the DVC resorts opened up in Jun. That was a few weeks before the theme parks began reopening in the middle of July. It was potentially a good opportunity to get some rest and relaxation in. Something uncommon with a visit to the theme parks.
Looking at the chart, we do see the biggest drops in wait times on the same dates. On July 15th, waits at both Parks dropped more than 2.5 minutes. On the 26th, we see a drop of at least four minutes at both Parks. And then on August 2nd, we see a drop of 7.7 minutes at Magic Kingdom and 4.8 minutes at Animal Kingdom. Wait times also increase on similar days, for the most part. Some of the discrepancies, with Animal Kingdom potentially going up a bit when Magic Kingdom doesn’t, can often be attributed to weather or downtime. Overall, from July 11th through August 3rd, the average difference in wait time from one day to the next is only about six seconds at both Parks.
With our Magic Kingdom analysis, we were interested in seeing if wait times were increasing from week to week. Here’s that chart again:
And waits have been increasing, despite a good number of drops in wait times from day to day. We see an increase of over 50% from the first week to the third.
Here’s Animal Kingdom:
The increase is actually more pronounced here. Wait times have nearly doubled from the 6.3 minutes that we saw during the first week to the 12.2 minutes that we saw last week. Still, a 12.2-minute average is a far cry from what we’ve seen in the past. Here’s Animal Kingdom’s average waits by day back in 2018:
The best you could do is about 46 minutes on a Wednesday. That’s about four times the waits that you would currently experience.
That means Animal Kingdom is still more than doable with little effort. Let’s bring up our Flight of Passage chart again:
An hour into operation, what was once Walt Disney World’s most popular attraction posted a wait longer than 20 minutes only four times.
With waits potentially increasing, it still makes sense to tour intelligently. You don’t want to rope drop It’s Tough To Be A Bug any more than you want to make The Barnstormer your first stop at Magic Kingdom. But in the current climate, the major attractions are certainly more forgiving. In 2019, Flight of Passage’s average wait at 10am was 137 minutes. Since the Park reopened, it’s 17 minutes. That’s a decrease of two hours in line. You can certainly make mistakes in touring efficiency; I’d take 40 minutes as the worst case scenario at Flight of Passage.
It will be interesting to see how things progress over the coming months. Over the last few years, crowds in early- to mid-August have been below-average to average. Summer attendance, for a time, was driven by South American tourism. That has been out for some time, even without the external forces currently coming into play. The middle of August, to the end of September, is historically the least crowded time of year at Disney World. Schools are back in session and September’s weather is the most miserable. I would expect to see low crowds continue through at least the end of September.
I know a lot of people still have October to December trips planned. You probably have one finger on the cancel button. We’ll continue to monitor wait times and see if they begin to rise significantly. They could even without attendance increases if Disney pulls back on staffing or capacity. Flight of Passage could run with one fewer theater, for example, saving Disney some money on staffing. DINOSAUR could very easily load one side instead of two. Kilimanjaro Safaris could halve the number of trucks running through the savanna.
But as I said at Magic Kingdom, low waits are what Disney World has to offer right now. If waits begin to increase, we’ll know. And we won’t be very happy if it’s due to capacity cuts.