Jambo, frogs! After four long months, we hopped back to Walt Disney World for the first time! We were lucky enough to attend one of the Annual Passholder preview days at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and it's surreal to say that the magic has finally returned. Turning the corner and seeing the Tree of Life again was quite an emotional moment for us all. Leap won't admit it, but I'm convinced that I saw a tear roll down his cheek. Overall, we were impressed by how Disney handled the Animal Kingdom reopening on our preview day. Crowds were minimal, wait times were almost non-existent and Mickey and Minnie blew kisses our way ... while socially distanced on a boat.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about the new character cruises and how the overall park experience has changed, as well as tips for touring Animal Kingdom during this time. We understand our preview experience may have been slightly different, so we continued to monitor wait times over the opening weekend. Hoppy to report that they remained just as low!
Entry into Disney's Animal Kingdom
From new ride debuts to daily parades, Disney has always impressed us with how it manages crowd control. So naturally, one of our biggest questions was, “How will Disney handle rope drop?” A long line of people waiting at the entrance would surely be nothing short of a nightmare, right?
Well, there’s a new kind of rope drop now! We arrived at Disney’s Animal Kingdom shortly after 7:30 a.m. before its 8 a.m. opening for the annual passholder preview. After we went through the parking toll booths, we came to a halt in a double line of cars (it ended up being the longest line we experienced that day). 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 kept 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 was not running, so keep those froggy legs in mind — not only in the morning, but also at the end of the day too!
As we approached the entrance, we went 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. 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, cast members scanned our MagicBands with an iPad instead of us having to scan our fingerprints. Shout out to Christopher, the cast member who scanned us in, for making Lily feel like a princess with a royal welcome (yes, he even bowed for her). All three steps of the entry process were a breeze, and we didn't have to wait in a line for any of them. That's some Disney magic right there.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Attractions and Wait Times
If you love low crowds and short wait times for rides, this may be a great time to go (however, consider weighing the pros and cons — you know what's best for your family). With the exception of Avatar Flight of Passage during the first two hours after opening, every single ride had a 25-minute wait time or less for the remainder of the day. WHAT. Crazy, right?! We'll continue to monitor wait times at this park, considering we attended an annual passholder preview. But wait times during its opening weekend did not change too drastically with the park's limited capacity.
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.
When we went on Expedition Everest, cast members kept an empty row in between parties. On our second ride of the day much later in the afternoon, we were the only frogs on the entire train. For Kali River Rapids, cast members instructed us to keep our 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 Primeval Whirl and shows, such as the Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo - The Musical. Nighttime entertainment — Rivers of Light: We Are One and the Tree of Life Awakenings — are temporarily unavailable.
Characters & Animal Exhibits at Disney's Animal Kingdom
It wouldn't be Disney World without your favorite characters! While traditional meet and greets are not hoppening upon Animal Kingdom 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 had 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. It's also not very crowded! 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 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. We saw the very last boat of the day at 5:50 p.m., and it was Pocahontas by herself.
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 highly 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 stood outside and would let you in when your food was 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 assign you an arrival window for a later time. 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.
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 in the car line. Despite arriving later, you will still have plenty of time to do whatever you want. Also, everyone hopped over to Avatar Flight of Passage first. At around 9 a.m., we walked by and it had a 60-minute wait. However, after 10:30 a.m., the popular ride had a consistent wait time of 25 minutes or less for the remainder of the day. We only waited for 18 minutes right around 11:30 a.m.! Therefore, you'd be missing out on the busy initial wait time.
Because of the low wait times, we were able to ride everything at least once (including repeats!), leisurely eat meals and snacks, explore the trails, take multiple breaks and spot the characters several times. In terms of planning our day, it was one of the least stressful visits we've ever had at Disney! Imagine being at a regular Disney After Hours event but it's a whole day instead of three hours. We also managed to get some great family photos because there weren't as many frogs hopping in the background.
Our best advice is to do whatever your froggy hearts' desire. If you want ride Flight of Passage seven times in a row, you can. If you want to do everything, it's toadally possible. Lunch time was the busiest since Harambe Market and Pizzafari were closed, leaving less quick-service options available. However, we still got our food much sooner than we expected.
We expect to see low crowds during this initial phase of Animal Kingdom reopening (and Disney World overall). While we can't ignore the fact that coronavirus is still around, we believe it's up to each individual family to make the best choice for them. For some families, it may be a good time to visit. For others, it may be better to postpone until 2021.
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 the coronavirus from touching contaminated surfaces or objects, it's still a good idea to minimize the contact that your stuff has.
- 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 distance from the badge guides and troop leaders.
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!