What's It Like to Visit Disney's Animal Kingdom? What You Need to Know

by Mommy Frog on January 22, 2021 Orlando

Disney's Animal Kingdom Reopening Guide - PinterestJambo, frogs! Disney's Animal Kingdom now holds a special place in our froggy hearts as the first Walt Disney World theme park we hopped to after the COVID-19 closures. It's hard to believe that it's already been more than half of a year, as we've grown accustomed to social distancing and wearing masks at the parks. Park hopping returned to Disney's Animal Kingdom and all theme parks Jan. 1! And there's more to look forward to, as one of our very favorite shows, the Festival of the Lion King, will return this summer! In the meantime, there's a ton of wild and wonderful fun to be had at the park ... new experiences and restaurants continue to open around the park, keeping things fresh and hoppenin'!

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about the new character cruises, crowds and wait times. Plus we offer tips for touring Disney's Animal Kingdom during this time. Don't froget, we have created pre-set park plans for this time of modified experiences at Disney's Animal Kingdom (and all the parks). You can see them all on the go while you're in the parks or create your own with our Orlando planning app.

Getting into Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Entrance Sign

To limit capacity, keep in mind that Walt Disney World is currently using the Disney Park Pass reservation system. That means that you'll need both valid entry and a Disney Park Pass for the same park, on the same day to get in — the sooner you can purchase your tickets and secure your spot, the better! If you have park hopper allowances, you'll only need a Park Pass for the first park that you're hopping to.

If you plan to show up to the park early, know that the parking lot usually doesn't open until about an hour before the official park opening time. And if you're too early, you may wait in a line before you're allowed to park. We are usually big advocates of arriving early, but in this case, an hour or a smidge less before park opening will be the sweet spot. Parking attendants keep one empty space in between cars on both sides, but you still park in front of or behind another car. (They fill in the empty spots later.) The parking tram is not running, so keep those froggy legs in mind — not only in the morning, but also at the end of the day too!

Animal Kingdom Reopening - New Security Check

As you approach the entrance, you go through the temperature screening tents first. The park’s new security check area has grown in size, and it is now using brand-new technology! All you have to do is walk between the contactless detectors. They may ask you to take out certain items (such as umbrellas) before you walk through. If it is set off, you do have to step aside and undergo an additional bag check. But otherwise, you're good to go — look ma, no hands!

At the entrance's touch points, you scan your MagicBand or RFID ticket, but you don't use the fingerprint scan. From our experiences, all three steps of the entry process have been a breeze with minimal waits.

If you're planning to park hop, Park Hopper hours generally start at 2 p.m. and run until park close. In need of Disney transportation? You'll need to use a Park Hopper bus if traveling from another park. A cast member will scan your MagicBand or park ticket to confirm that you have Park Hopper access. If you're driving to Animal Kingdom, keep in mind that the park closes earlier than the others, and bus service stops an hour after park close. So, if Animal Kingdom is your initial park and you opt to use Disney transportation to park hop and leave your car in the parking lot, you will run into some time constraints getting back. Don't fret if this happens —Disney will not leave you stranded, but for this reason, we'd suggest driving if you plan to stay at other parks after Animal Kingdom closes.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Attractions and Wait Times

Disney's Animal Kingdom Reopening - Expedition Everest Entrance

Initially, we experienced crazy low wait times when the park first reopened in July. Nowadays, Avatar Flight of Passage may no longer be a walk-on and lines are definitely longer all around the park, but we still found that we could do everything we wanted with plenty of park time left during our more recent visits. During a repeat visit, the posted wait time for Flight of Passage was 60 minutes when we leapt in line (and at one point, we heard a cast member saying it was 90 minutes while still waiting in line). It ended up being roughly an hour, but the line consistently moved, so it didn't feel terribly long. However, since the queues are all spaced out for social distancing, keep in mind that most lines will look long; keep an eye out for the cast member with the "line starts here" sign to hop in.

Every ride has health and safety measures in place, including floor markings six feet (or more) apart and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers. While waiting in queues, plexiglass barriers separate lines when it is not possible to maintain distance, such as switchbacks or where the standby and FastPass+ lines are right next to each other. There are no FastPasses available. However, people with a DAS card or those taking advantage of Rider Switch will typically use the FastPass+ or single rider lines.

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Kilimanjaro Safaris Queue

On Kilimanjaro Safaris, there are barriers between each row, which allows the trucks to fill up every row. Individual parties are kept to their own row, even a solo rider. If you're taking pics or shooting video like Tad, we suggest sitting at either end of the row, so you can get close-ups of the animals, including the brand-new Nigerian dwarf goats!

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Kilimanjaro Safaris Zebras

On Expedition Everest, guests are filling in every row on the ride vehicle now. For Kali River Rapids, cast members instruct you to keep your masks on. The waterfalls and overhead water blasters have been turned off, so your masks don't get wet (just your bottom half).

The majority of the attractions are open, with the exceptions of shows, such as the Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo - The Musical. The Festival of the Lion King will return this summer, so stay tuned!

Characters and Animal Exhibits at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Donald, Daisy and Launchpad McQuack

It wouldn't be Walt Disney World without your favorite characters! While traditional meet and greets are not currently hoppening at Disney's Animal Kingdom, you can still see Mickey and his pals on character boat cruises. There are four separate boat cruises to see with different friends on board:

  • Discovery River Character Cruise
    • Timon and Rafiki
    • Pocahontas with John Smith or Meeko
  • Donald’s Dino Boat Bash!
    • Donald, Daisy, Launchpad McQuack
    • Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale
  • Mickey & Friends Flotilla
    • Mickey, Minnie and Pluto
  • Discovery Island Drummers

The boats move around the entirety of Discovery River randomly throughout the day, keeping their appearances a magical surprise! While there are no precise times that you can expect them, we estimate that the boats cruise along the river about once an hour — and they don't go by all at once either. They pass by quickly, so have your cameras ready! You know one is coming because you'll hear the music blasting from the boat (we often heard them before we saw them). So if you hear a change of tunes, move toward the water's edge.

Some of the best places to view the boats are from the bridges. We have two favorite viewing spots. The long boardwalk bridge that connects Pandora to the Port of Harambe gets very low and close to the water, which makes it the perfect place to see the characters. However, we found out that if the Avatar Flight of Passage line is too long and extends out along this bridge, you will not be able to access this spot unless you're in line for the ride. This pathway opens up only if the line gets shorter.

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Pandora Bridge: Viewing Spot for Characters

The other spot is the bridge between Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo - The Musical theater. This seems to be the starting and ending point for the boats. We would sometimes see one boat going out to begin its trip around Discovery Island, while another was returning from its voyage and they'd cross paths. It's a bit harder to see them because the bridge is higher up, but you can see them for a longer period of time as they come down the river at its longest point. If you want to get closer, you are allowed to enter the seating area for Rivers of Light: We Are One (which has permanently ended) and get closer to the waterline.

During a repeat visit, we got breakfast near Flame Tree Barbecue, and the outdoor patio ended up being a hidden gem to watch the character boats. We were the only ones there, so it felt like a private viewing area just for us. (But during peak dining times, there will be more people around.)

If you see one boat, we'd suggest waiting in the area before you move along, especially if character experiences are super important to you. (These boat cruises are the only way to interact with them at Animal Kingdom.) We saw Donald Duck, Daisy and Launchpad McQuack dancing along to "Surfin' Bird" and then Mickey, Minnie and Pluto followed behind shortly after (just about 10 minutes in between). We also saw Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale on a different Donald's Dino Boat Blash! boat, Pocahontas and Meeko together and the drummers on their own boat. Characters usually appear in pairs or as a trio — and sometimes the lineup switches up. For instance, earlier in the morning we saw only Donald and Daisy, but later in the afternoon, Launchpad joined the duo.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Reopening - Mickey and Friends Flotilla

The exploration trails are open, so you're able to say "hi" to some real-life animals too! We took the Wilderness Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch. The indoor animal exhibits and the Animation Experience were open and available, and Affection Section has recently reopened too.

Restaurants and Retail at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Satu'li CanteenAt Disney's Animal Kingdom, several restaurants encourage guests to use mobile ordering in the My Disney Experience app. Satu'li Canteen, Flame Tree Barbecue, Restaurantosaurus and Harambe Market use mobile ordering exclusively (the only exception is if you don't have a smartphone). Cast members stand outside and let you in when your food is ready. We have an entire separate post about how to order food through the app, but overall, it is simple to do. You can order food from anywhere in the park at anytime during park hours. When you're ready to eat, you can hit "I'm Here, Prepare My Order."

In the app, you'll choose your arrival window. Know that if you order during a busy period, it may take a while, even after you hit the "Prepare My Order" button. However, for us, it hasn't taken more than 15 minutes, so we suggest you don't stray too far away from where you're getting food from (and be sure to turn on the app's notifications!), or order during an off-peak dining time for little to no wait.

In dining areas, tables are designated as off limits to maintain physical distancing. Cast members fill drink orders for you, and condiments come pre-packaged. During past visits, we saw cast members constantly cleaning the tables, chairs and even the walls. We were encouraged to leave our used dishes on the table, so cast members knew where to clean.

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Satu'li Canteen Table

For table-service restaurants, you can now make Advance Dining Reservations through the My Disney Experience website or app up to 60 days in advance. While seating capacity is limited, we walked by Tiffins Restaurant during a non-peak dining time, and they were accepting walk-ins. We'd say it wouldn't hurt to check if a restaurant has availability, but don't expect an open spot especially during the lunch or dinner rush. You can also now see Walk-Up availability in My Disney Experience. While dining experiences were more limited when things reopened in July, more and more dining options are opening up in the park, including Harambe Market (which has limited hours from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Pay attention when entering a gift shop. There will be designated entrances and exits, so follow the pattern of arrows on the ground or watch out for special signage.

Touring Advice for Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Reopening -Na'vi River Journey Queue

Everyone hops over to Avatar Flight of Passage first. If you're inside the park early enough and can get in line before it gets too long, then we suggest taking advantage of being one of the first to ride it. However, if the line is already long when you enter the park, use that time to ride Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR and Kali River Rapids before the crowds spread out later in the day. Eventually, the Flight of Passage line decreases slightly later in the afternoon (from over 100 minutes to about 60). We noticed that Kilimanjaro Safaris had higher wait times earlier in the morning, but lowered drastically in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Kali River Rapids, DINOSAUR and Expedition Everest become busy midday once people leave Pandora. During our most recent trip, we took the morning with low wait times as an opportunity to ride Everest three times in a row with about a ten minute wait each time. Check out our step-by-step park plans for Walt Disney World.

Additional Disney's Animal Kingdom Reopening Tips and Tidbits

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Kids with Bubble Wands in front of Tree of Life

  • Florida gets humid and HOT, even sometimes during the winter months. You'll want to take your mask off, and guess what ... you CAN in the mask relaxation areas. You can find them at Pizzafari and the Upcountry Landing (across from the UP! theater). The Pizzafari location is bigger, more spread out and indoors (yup, AC included!). Meanwhile, the Upcountry Landing location is right next to the river, so you may see the characters pass by.
  • Even though we were wearing masks, we could still easily smell the distinct sweet aroma from the Pandora forest on Avatar Flight of Passage.
  • I don't know why, but it felt like there were more Wilderness Explorer locations out (there were actually less stations than usual, according to one badge guide). You can still earn and collect all 29 badges ... just at a safe distance from the badge guides and troop leaders.
  • When the Avatar Flight of Passage is long, the queue extends out over the bridge that acts as an alternative entrance into Pandora from Port of Harambe. We tried cutting through by using that pathway to enter Pandora, but we ran into an Exit Only sign. After we rode Flight of Passage, the line had decreased, and people were able to enter that way. We wouldn't count on this shortcut being open, especially in the mornings.
  • The Tree of Life Awakenings only occur when the park closes later at night (i.e. park close is 8 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. when it is not dark enough outside for the projections to be seen).

Animal Kingdom Reopening - Wilderness Explorers

Overall, we had a roarin' good time and hope this helps if you're planning to hop back to Animal Kingdom soon. What other questions do you have about visiting Animal Kingdom? Ask away in the comments below!

Related: All of the ~Magical~ Details about Disney World Reopening

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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