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3. Strategies are changing for avoiding long lines

Direction signs at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Most of Walt Disney World’s parks have trended towards a similar pattern when it comes to avoiding long lines: your best bet for most parks is to arrive at opening gate because lines increase throughout the day for most attractions (you can look at some of our reports on Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom to see specifics).

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is proving different in several ways. Arriving for opening gate at this park is still a good idea—most attractions (with the exception of Avatar: Flight of Passage) offer very short wait times for the first hour of the day. However, if you miss that window, you may be better off waiting until later in the afternoon to catch shorter queues.

Right around 9AM, we noticed a few interesting trends. For one thing, Kilimanjaro Safaris starts getting busy, reaching its longest wait times between 10 AM and 1 PM. If you miss that early morning window, you’re probably better off waiting until later in the day when lines go down for this popular attraction (around 2:15 on the day we visited). We noticed a similar trend with the Na’vi River Journey.

Expedition: Everest across water
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Avatar: Flight of Passage remains the park’s most popular attraction with the longest consistent wait times. People flood this attraction as soon as it opens, so it’s difficult to catch truly low waits. Wait times hit a peak of 80 minutes (the longest time we saw all day) right around 10:00 AM and didn’t start to dip until 1:00 PM. The lowest wait we saw was 35 minutes around 3:00 PM, but people quickly took notice and the queue shot back up to 55 minutes by 3:30.

In short, if you aren’t one of the first people in the park and miss the early morning window, your best bet to catch a low wait for this popular ride might be in the mid-afternoon or in the last hour before the park closes.

We saw a few other interesting line trends. Kali River Rapids has reopened and offered extremely low waits throughout the morning… then blasted up to a 70 minute wait by 2:15 PM. This may have been due to the Florida heat or the fact the ride was closed much of the early afternoon.

Creepy drooling raptor head fountain near Dinosaur attraction
What... is this thing?...

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Dinosaur is one of the more unpredictable attractions in the park, but the day we visited, we saw wait times start off light, rising slowly to peak at 1PM (like many other attractions), then slowly fall. Weirdly enough, this ride got a large influx of visitors right before the park closed.

Finally, we have Expedition: Everest, which offers some of the lowest waits in the entire park—which is fantastic because it remains one of Walt Disney World’s best coasters. With capacity staying low, marathon riders can enjoy this ride to their hearts content throughout the day.

Touring strategies will likely shift as we draw closer to summer, but our best recommendation is this: if you can arrive for opening gate, do so, and take advantage of majorly low wait times for most rides. For any rides you missed during that window, use the afternoon to enjoy the park’s exploration experiences, then return to ride hopping around 3:00 PM to see if you can catch some of those low times. This strategy may not hold out, but it does look to be the trend right now.

Here's some specific data on wait times the day we visited:

 

8AM

8:30

9:00

10:00

10:30

11:00

12PM

1PM

1:30

2:15

3:00

3:30

4:00

5:00

6:30

7:30

Avatar: Flight of Passage

50

55

55

80

80

70

65

45

40

50

35

55

50

55

45

40

Na’vi River Journey

5

10

15

50

40

40

45

25

40

40

30

35

30

30

20

10

Kilimanjaro Safaris

5

20

40

40

50

40

40

50

30

20

20

20

20

15

25

X

Kali River Rapids

5

5

5

10

10

X

X

X

15

70

40

40

15

25

10

10

Expedition Everest

5

5

5

15

20

25

25

25

20

20

20

20

20

10

10

5

Dinosaur

5

5

10

35

40

40

45

55

55

50

40

40

40

30

20

40

 

4. Rafiki’s Planet Watch is back with a new experience

Wildlife Express sign
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Rumors have abounded for some time that Rafiki’s Planet Watch & the Conservation Station were on their way out—likely to never open again after the pandemic.

In delightful news, the Wildlife Express is back, and the Conservation Station is open once more with several old and new experiences available for guests who visit.

The day we visited took place during Disney’s Earth Day celebrations, so quite a few people were interested in visiting Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Wait times for the Wildlife Express can get long depending on how many trains are operating, and these times aren’t made easily visible in the My Disney Experience app. We waited a bit over a half an hour to get on the train during our visit.

Guests visiting Rafiki’s Planet Watch have access to a few different experiences. Character greets are still distanced, but we did see Russel from Up! when we visited. The Affection Station is also now open, with some new guidelines.

Guests drawing Dumbo at the Animation Experience
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

The biggest addition is the arrival of the Animation Experience at the Conservation Station. We talked about this new experience at length in our Earth-Month focused update earlier this week, but in short, it gives guests the opportunity to learn how to draw some of Disney’s most popular animal characters under the guidance of a Disney artist. I expected to just stand back and watch and ended up taking one of the classes, and it was a wonderful experience—I especially liked how the artist also gave guests the opportunity to learn about the real animals behind the characters (like the Asian elephant that inspired Dumbo). Characters you might get to draw include Terk, Simba, Crush, Shere Khan, Dumbo, Heimlich, Bruce, and more.

We weren’t certain if the Animation Experience was going to last beyond Earth Day weekend, but it appears that Disney has posted showtimes for the experience throughout the month of May. Take advantage and jump in a class if you get the chance!

5. Good news for the park’s incredible exploration trails

White Bird at the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

We are huge fans of the walking trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, particularly the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, which allow guests to view some of the park’s most unique animals up close in gorgeous settings. In a way, these two trails best capture the heart of park.

Earlier this year, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail was partially closed, with the path diverted to loop back on itself to accommodate construction on the trail’s aviary bridge. This made for a distinctly awkward touring experience with many crowding issues.

We are happy to report that the full Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is open again with a brand new bridge installed in the aviary. Changes made to the exhibit are hard to spot, but a cast member filled us in that they expanded the beach for the water birds and also made the bridge about a handspan wider to give guests a little more touring room.

New post for new bridge at Gorilla Falls aviary
Those extra six inches make a difference!

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

It was such a pleasure to get to tour the aviary again—the weaver birds are out in force right now. If you enjoy watching the weavers, you’ll also want to take a trip over to the Maharajah Jungle Trek to see their adorable competitors—the metallic starlings, who are also hard at work right building massive nests right above the path.

In conclusion, we think it is a fantastic time to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom—to the point that we actually feel a sense of urgency to visit again sometime soon. Recommendations for best practices to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to evolve, and it seems likely that in the next few months (possibly during the summer), Disney will start increasing capacity. This month may be the last chance for some time to enjoy historically low crowds at Walt Disney World’s most beautiful park.

Rhino at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

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