Jambo, frogs! Back in July when Walt Disney World first reopened, Disney's Animal Kingdom was the first park we hopped to. Turning the corner and seeing the Tree of Life again was quite an emotional moment for us all (and now, it's hard to believe it's already been a few months since then!). During the Annual Passholder preview, crowds were minimal and wait times were almost non-existent. But now that the crowds have started to return to Disney World, we had to change up our touring strategy during our most recent visit.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about the new character cruises and how the recent crowds have impacted wait times, as well as updated tips for touring Disney's Animal Kingdom during this time and in preparation for the holidays!
Entry into Disney's Animal Kingdom
If you plan to show up early, know that parking is a bit of a process (it's basically the new kind of rope drop). We learned that from Day 1. During our first visit in July, we arrived and went through the parking tolls shortly after 7:30 a.m. before the 8 a.m. opening. We had to wait in a double line of cars, and the parking attendants weren't letting anyone park yet. Once it hit 7:40 a.m., they started to direct cars to park and allowed only a certain amount at a time. Because cars were parking in waves, there was a consistent stream of people flowing in rather than all at once. We finally parked at 8 a.m. on the dot.
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!
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.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Attractions and Wait Times
Initially, we experienced crazy low wait times during the preview. 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 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. Kilimanjaro Safaris had a 30-minute posted wait time, but we ended up almost walking right on.
Every ride has new 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.
On Kilimanjaro Safaris, there are barriers between each row, which allows the trucks to fill up every row (as you can see from Tad's video above!). Individual parties are kept to their own row, even a solo rider. Early reports during cast member previews said you could take your masks off, but the rules have already changed and we were not told that we could take ours off. (This actually made us feel much safer — it showed that Disney quickly adapts and we super appreciated it.) 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, like this.
On Expedition Everest, cast members keep an empty row in between parties. 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 Tree of Life Awakenings are also temporarily unavailable.
Characters and Animal Exhibits at Disney's Animal Kingdom
It wouldn't be Walt Disney World without your favorite characters! While traditional meet and greets are not hoppening upon Animal Kingdom's reopening, you can still see Mickey and his pals on new 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. Later in the day, this pathway opened up as the line got shorter.
The other spot was the bridge between Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo - The Musical theater. This seemed 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.
The exploration trails were 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, but the Affection Section remained closed (although you can still wave to the goats in the pen area).
Restaurants and Retail at Disney's Animal Kingdom
At Animal Kingdom, several restaurants were encouraging guests to use mobile ordering in the My Disney Experience app. Satu'li Canteen was using mobile ordering exclusively (the only exception was if you didn'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."
Know that if you order during a busy period, it may take a while after you hit the "Prepare My Order" button. We ordered food from Satu'li Canteen at noon, but it told us to come back between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. However, we got a notification at 12:30 p.m. that our food was ready! Luckily, we had remained in Pandora, so we weren't far away. For this reason, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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
Unless you want to be one of the first people inside the park for the day, we suggest arriving a bit later after park opening, so you can avoid waiting the car line and initial crowds. 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.
Additional Disney's Animal Kingdom Reopening Tips and Tidbits
- Florida gets humid and HOT. 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.
- Limit what you bring with you to a small purse or backpack. Fortunately, no rides require you to put your belongings in a locker, but on DINOSAUR, they still made you put your stuff in the pouch in front of you. While research has shown that you're less likely to catch coronavirus from touching contaminated surfaces or objects, it's still a good idea to minimize the contact that your stuff has (and to sanitize or wash your hands regularly — we do this after each ride regardless).
- 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.
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 Animal Kingdom reopening? Ask away in the comments below!