Orlando’s weather is cooling off, and the crowds are coming back to Walt Disney World! This week was full of rain, but we didn’t let a few storm clouds scare us away from a recent afternoon at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where we saw first-hand just how the growing attendance is affecting the theme parks.
Currently, Animal Kingdom is the first Walt Disney World theme park to open each morning—and the first to close. With park reservations required and park-hopping still suspended, the park sees its largest wave of arrivals in the early morning. But if you show up after lunchtime, like we did, you should be able to cruise straight through the tollbooths without delay.
Upon arriving at Animal Kingdom’s parking lot, I immediately noticed two things. One, there were approximately twice as many cars in the lot as during my last visit about a month earlier. Two, even with the increase, the lot was still less than half full, allowing me to park in the Peacock lot closest to the park entrance.
Once inside, our day began with a complete lap around Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which you can watch here:
As you can see from the video, attendance at Animal Kingdom is much higher than it was just a few weeks ago. Pathways are more crowded, and posted wait times for most attractions are 30-60 minutes, where many were previously walk-ons.
Despite the growing crowds, Disney has not relaxed its social distancing restrictions, with spacing markers and warning signs still prominently displayed throughout the park.
If anything, Disney has become more proactive in reminding guests that they must wear face masks properly. We haven’t seen anyone being removed from the park for violations, but aside from the occasional nose-slip, compliance remains high among visitors.
While at Animal Kingdom, I spoke with FOX35 News about social distancing compliance in the parks and Orange County’s “strike team.” Click here to watch the video:
Although attendance is obviously on the upswing, Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s increased posted wait times aren’t quite as bad as they appear to be. I visited all four of the park’s top E-Ticket rides to demonstrate that Disney’s socially distanced queues aren’t always what they seem.
First stop was Dinosaur, where an estimated 30-minute-long line extends through the interior museum queue.
Once guests reach the preshow room, they now zigzag along taped lines on the floor rather than stopping to watch Dr. Seeker’s instructions.
My actual wait time to board Dinosaur was only 15 minutes—half the posted time.
I was lucky enough to be in the last time rover loaded before a mandatory pause to clean all the ride vehicles, which would have added 5-10 minutes to my wait.
Passing through Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama on my way to my next destination, I noted that a couple of the carnival games have reopened, with extensive sanitizing for the surfaces guests touch.
Likewise, socially distanced pin trading stations are still available with contact-free exchanges.
Expedition Everest posted a 35-minute wait, with the line filling the entire queue and extending outside the entrance marquee.
However, the actual wait was only 15 minutes, despite numerous rows being left empty on each train.
Better yet, while the Yeti will probably remain in Disco mode forever, it’s good to see that the “bird on a stick” effect at the very top of the mountain is working again after going missing for many years.
Snack time! The egg rolls from Yak & Yet’s Local Food quick-service cost about double what you’d pay at your local Chinese restaurant, but they make a savory light meal when you can’t eat another burger.
Although the banner advertising characters from Pixar’s Up still hangs about the amphitheater entrance, Animal Kingdom’s “Feathered Friends in Flight” bird show still features the wildlife trainers rather than trained Equity actors. We still think the show is more entertaining than before, but after multiple viewings you’ll realize that all the funniest “mistakes” are actually written into the script.
Enjoy a slow-motion view of the show’s stars with this video:
At Kilimanjaro Safaris, I found that the 25-minute posted wait turned out to be only 7 minutes.
With Plexiglass dividers between the boarding rows and truck benches, this attraction maintains an hourly rider capacity reasonably close to its pre-pandemic throughput, compared to many other rides.
By the way, rainy afternoons are a great time to see lots of animals up close, including a few—like hippos—that are rarely fully visible.
Just before the end of Kilimanjaro Safaris, a new structure has been near what was once the ride’s original finale scene. Our guide was vague about its purpose, but he made mention of some livestock that may appear here soon…
If your two-week safari made you thirsty, I have good news: The fan-favorite Dawa Bar is open and serving signature cocktails in Harambe.
To finish off my afternoon at Animal Kingdom, I entered Pandora for a simulated Flight of Passage aboard a Banshee. A month earlier, I was able to ride the park’s top attraction with less than a 15-minute wait, but times have certainly changed because the posted wait hit 85 minutes as I approached.
The line, although no longer stretching along the path to Africa as it had at midday, still extended across the pathway from the attraction entrance, requiring Cast Members to periodically pause pedestrian traffic to create a crosswalk.
Despite the intimidating length, the queue moved almost continuously, with hardly any long motionless pauses, making the time seem to, uh, fly by.
My total actual wait for Flight of Passage was 55 minutes, less than two-thirds of the advertised wait time. This discrepancy, and the similar ones I encountered at Animal Kingdom’s other attractions, is consistent with Touring Plans’ observations that Disney’s actual wait times are averaging 59%-71% of the posted times. This makes the queues look much worse than they are, but guests will hopefully feel happy when their waits are shorter than advertised.
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.