Disney’s Animal Kingdom often awakens each morning before the rest of Walt Disney World’s attractions, and it offers encounters with nature that go far beyond any roller-coaster. But as you’ll discover in today’s article, the park can also be a paradise for thrill-seeking late arrivers who want to enjoy an evening experiencing the Animal Kingdom’s E-Ticket adventures with minimal waits.
“Arrive early” has long been our mantra at the Unofficial Guides, but in the age of social distancing and capacity restrictions, many of the old rules have at least temporarily been turned upside-down. We learned how to take advantage of this inversion in our recent guide to afternoon touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and wondered if the same techniques would work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While our first effort wasn’t quite an unqualified success, it actual turned out surprisingly well. Read on and learn how you can enjoy Animal Kingdom’s top rides without the stress of early-morning rope drop.
Currently, Animal Kingdom is operating daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., tying it with Magic Kingdom as the first Walt Disney World theme park to officially open each morning. At various times of the year, Animal Kingdom opens up to an hour before the rest of Disney’s parks, making it a popular pick for early birds hoping to beat the crowds. As a result, we often see wait times for Animal Kingdom’s E-Ticket attractions—especially the headliner Flight of Passage simulator—spike within the first minutes after park opening, and they remain high until long after lunch.
For this experiment, we decided to buck the conventional wisdom on crowds, wait until late afternoon to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and then see how many of the park’s top rides we could fit into the few hours remaining before closing time. Spoiler alert: We didn’t squeeze in every attraction we wanted to, due to some circumstances beyond our control, but we did manage to fit nearly a full day’s worth of fun into barely four hours!
Upon arriving at Animal Kingdom’s parking lot, I was directed to the row adjacent to the pricey preferred parking section, which is always a pleasant surprise.
There were hardly any other guests in Animal Kingdom’s entry plaza as I approached the touchpoints—and even fewer clouds in the clear blue sky overhead.
According to the optimized custom Touring Plan I assembled, my first stop of the afternoon would be Flight of Passage in Pandora. It might seem counterintuitive to make a beeline for the attraction with the longest wait in the park, but you’ll see how this choice pays off later.
Flight of Passage’s posted wait time was 45 minutes when I entered the queue, but without FastPass+ the line didn’t back up until the interior caves, and it moved almost continuously. I was climbing aboard my virtual Banshee after only 35 minutes, which is a very reasonable wait for such a popular attraction.
As I exited Flight of Passage, I noticed that the posted wait time for Na’vi River Journey next door had dropped to only 15 minutes. Although this gentle boat ride isn’t exactly an E-Ticket (C+ would be generous), it is among the park’s top draws.
My actual River Journey wait came in exactly 1 minute under the advertised time, and it gave me the opportunity to cool off while basking in the air-conditioned black light.
The attraction’s centerpiece animatronic was out of service during my previous Na’vi boat ride, but I’m happy to report the Shaman of Songs was back in fine voice during my latest voyage.
The Drums of Mo’ara remain silent, since the audience-participation percussion show is still suspended. So there isn’t much else to do in Pandora beyond the two rides during daylight, other than admiring the alien ecology.
Fortunately, Walt Disney World’s most luxurious in-park public watering hole is only a few paces outside of Pandora, and thanks to the standby dining feature in the My Disney Experience smartphone app, I was able to put my name on the mobile dining walk-up wait list for Nomad Lounge while still waiting for Na’vi River Journey.
Ten minutes later, I was settling into a comfy seat inside Nomad Lounge and studying the list of daily specials.
As tempting as the temporary menu items looked, I decided to stick with a couple of old favorites, starting with the sweet but deceptively potent Lamu Libation, topped with 151-proof rum.
While the adjoining Tiffins Restaurant is Animal Kingdom’s true epicurean destination, don’t overlook the noshing possibilities at Nomad. This noodle bowl with seared sashimi-quality tuna costs the same as a quick-service bowl at Satu’li Canteen, but it contains much higher-quality ingredients. Watch out, though, for the togarashi seasoning has a kick!
After recharging with a light dinner, it was time for a light drenching. Kali River Rapids recently returned to service after an extended refurbishment, and although none of the ride’s original forest fire special effects have been restored, the elaborately themed queue is looking better than it has in years.
Kali’s 30-minute posted wait turned out to be right on the mark, almost to the second. As warm as the evening was, I was almost surprised it wasn’t even longer.
If you don’t want to risk a soaking by riding in person, check out our complete POV video of Kali River Rapids:
After emerging from Kali only mildly soaked, it was time to dry off with a tea train ride around Anandapur on Expedition Everest.
Expedition Everest’s posted wait times are often exaggerated, and this evening was no exception. A 15-minute estimated queue actually turned out be barely 4 minutes before boarding.
As an added bonus, the “bird on a stick” effect, which has frequently been out of order over the years, was back in service for a change. Nature is healing!
On our way to our next destination, we passed by Dino-Rama. The Prehistoric Whirl spinning roller-coaster is extinct, which saves us the trouble of trying to figure out if it belongs in a touring plan with the park’s E-Tickets. (Narrator: It doesn’t.)
Unfortunately, this is where our touring plan went a bit off the rails. Dinosaur had a 10-minute posted wait, and that’s about how long I had waited to reach the final boarding area when the ride shut down due to technical difficulties.
As the queue was evacuated, cast members with tablets tapped feverishly, distributing compensatory FastPasses to exiting guests. I’d hoped to cross the park and use mine to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris, the last E-Ticket on my agenda for the evening.
However, upon entering Harambe, I discovered that Kilimanjaro Safaris had closed that day at 7:15 p.m., which is 45 minutes before the park’s official closing time, and 4 minutes before my arrival.
In the B.C.E. (Before COVID Era), such a schedule change would be printed in the daily Times Guide brochure and posted on a sign warning of “early sunset.” However, these alternate attraction hours are currently only displayed inside the detailed attraction listings inside the My Disney Experience app and website. Be sure to double-check operating hours, lest you get locked out of your chance to see the lions like I did.
How to cope with the crushing disappointment of being closed out of my golden-hour Kilimanjaro Safari? Why, with another ride on Flight of Passage, of course!
This time the posted wait was 50 minutes, with an actual wait of about 43 minutes, or about 10 minutes longer than my wait earlier the same day. Exactly as Touring Plans predicted, the most efficient time to experience Flight of Passage is late afternoon, with wait times increasing again until closing time.
Although the sun was still shining when I entered the Flight of Passage queue, night had fallen by the time I emerged. That presented the perfect opportunity to enjoy the land’s bioluminescent pathways, many of which were recently repainted to restore their ultraviolet glow.
Seeing the World of Avatar in all its evening splendor is perhaps the best reason of all to skip rope drop at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and plan a late-day visit instead. And the fact that you’ll be able to enjoy most—or even all—of the park’s E-Ticket attractions with shorter waits makes spending your evening at Animal Kingdom an even smarter choice. The only catch is that you’ll want to try to book your park pass reservation before hours are reduced and the park begins closing before sunset again.
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. 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.
I have to say, Disney is the world’s best at making a jaw-dropping scenario–I can only imagine how astonishing this must be in person. These photos are totally stunning. As in how-the-HECK-did-they-do-that-? stunning. The predator aloft in Dinorama? Mount Everest? I have to see this for myself. Good story.
and I forgot to mention the Wold of Avatar. Just gorgeous. I don’t have enough superlative adjectives in my vocabulary!