Walt Disney World’s theme parks began their phased reopening on July 11. Immediately after we returned to the Magic Kingdom, our very next visit was to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where a fantastic new Feathered Friends in Flight bird show has just premiered. Take a trek with us from the moon of Pandora to the Kilimanjaro savanna to see what’s new at Disney’s socially distanced nahtazu.
After spending a few crowd-free days at the reopened Magic Kingdom, our return visit to Animal Kingdom was even easier. Disney Park Pass reservations are required in advance, but a large number of spaces were recently shifted over to annual passholders, so it’s now fairly easy for everyone to get into the parks (with the exception of Disney’s Hollywood Studio) on most days.
Arriving in early afternoon, we had zero delays at the toll booths and were parked in the only-partially-filled Peacock lot, a short walk from the newly renovated entrance. I suspect there may have been nearly as many cars in the cast member parking lot as there were in the guest lot!
The mandatory temperature check and security screening were equally stress-free. The brand-new Evolv touch-free scanners are amazing. You no longer need to take things out of your pockets or let a guard poke through your bag. If you have an umbrella, tripod, or similar metal object, take it out and hold it in front of yourself; otherwise, you can just walk straight through without breaking your stride.
Rainforest Cafe outside the Animal Kingdom entrance is open, and they aren’t shy about letting guests know.
My first stop was Flight of Passage, the headliner E-Ticket of Pandora: The World of Avatar. Ordinarily, even showing up long before park opening might not be enough to guarantee a short wait for this attraction, and guests jumping into line at midday could expect a wait of 2 to 4 hours.
Instead, at 1 p.m. on the park’s second day after public reopening, the posted standby wait for this uber-popular ride was only 20 minutes, and the actual wait was less than half that.
In fact, from the moment I stepped inside the park until I entered the Flight of Passage simulator chamber was less than 20 minutes. To see this incredible journey, watch this POV video walk-through from Animal Kingdom’s Oasis through Discovery Island into Pandora.
Note that only three parties are now allowed in each 18-passenger link chamber, and the first preshow is, uh, skipped entirely. In addition, the ride’s water and mist effects have been disabled. My only negative observation as that additional social distancing markers are needed in the ride’s exit pathway, where one slow-moving guest can cause a traffic jam.
Amazingly, the Na’vi River Journey boat ride next door had a 20-minute actual wait, double that of its bigger neighbor. In part, that’s because only one party was being loaded into each six-passenger boat, a common social distancing precaution across the parks.
The ride’s queue, like most others, has gained a gauntlet of Plexiglass walls that keeps the switchbacks separated.
Protective barriers have also been added to the trucks at Kilimanjaro Safaris. Transparent vinyl windows now separate each row of guests, with additional barriers protecting the driver. Due to this setup, guests are permitted to remove their masks during this ride, but I personally opted to leave mine on.
Wait times at all the major rides were extremely short throughout the afternoon, ranging from less than 15 minutes for the Safaris (including a delay to sanitize vehicles) to a walk-on for Dinosaur.
Among the secondary attractions, many were either closed or only partially operational. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail was open, but the research station (home to the naked mole rats) was bypassed.
The Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch is running, but only the Animation Experience and a no-petting zoo are open at its destination.
The Primeval Whirl roller coaster and Rivers of Light nighttime spectacular are both casualties of the park’s cutbacks, as Disney has confirmed that both (along with Stitch’s Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom) are now permanently closed.
Chester and Hester’s Din-o-rama is especially depressing without its signature ride, whose queue has been repurposed as a socially distanced pin trading station.
While there may not be many rides in the park, you can always eat. In addition to the aforementioned Rainforest Cafe, the Yak & Yeti table service restaurant has reopened with a modified menu…
…as has my favorite Disney quick-service eatery, Satu’li Canteen, which prepared my mobile order meal in less time than it took to walk from one end of the Avatar land to the other.
Satu’li is a good spot for outdoor dining, with staff continuously wiping down the tables.
Animal Kingdom’s entertainment lineup is especially light at the moment with live shows like Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo The Musical remaining closed.
Characters are also much less in evidence at Animal Kingdom as compared to the Magic Kingdom; they can be spotted on barges sailing around Discovery River, but that waterway isn’t visible from large sections of the park.
On the other hand, Disney’s Animal Kingdom did reopen with one pleasant surprise on the performance scheduled: a brand-new bird show entitled Feathered Friends in Flight.
The new production uses the same stage that previously hosted an Up-themed bird show, and many similar avian acts before that. But now, instead of Pixar characters or professional actors, the animal handlers themselves are front and center, giving straightforward—yet still entertaining—explanations of their charges’ natural behaviors.
We think that Feathered Friends in Flight is a big improvement over Animal Kingdom’s last bird show, and at the moment it’s the park’s #1 must-see live show (almost by default). Judge for yourself with this full video of an opening-week performance:
If you can’t get enough of those flocking birds, hang around the Tree of Life, where parrots periodically dive-bomb guests on an unpublicized schedule.
In conclusion, Disney’s new pandemic policies have turned Animal Kingdom from one of Walt Disney World’s most challenging parks to navigate into perhaps its easiest. Operating hours may end early (the park is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. right now), but that’s no impediment to both sleeping in and seeing it all: we were able to experience eight attractions, including all of the park’s E-Tickets, and eat a meal in under 4 hours. It may naht exactly be the nahtazu you remember, but in some ways Animal Kingdom is lot more humane without the usual stampeding herds.
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.