Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Disney's Animal Kingdom - Park Strategy




We’re going to be looking at park strategies for all four of the parks at Walt Disney World.  My previous strategy guides assumed that you wouldn't be staying on property or purchasing Lightning Lane Multipass (LLMP) or Lightning Lane Single Pass (LLSP).  But so much of the best strategies involve these options, so instead I'm going to talk about what the best option is for each particular park.  Since Early Entry is available to all on property guests, this also changes traditional rope drop strategy. We'll also talk about what you can do if these options aren't available to you.  Today we’ll be discussing Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). (Updated July 5, 2024)


Animal Kingdom attractions:

Highest wait times – Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey

Moderate wait times – Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost, Kali River Rapids

Lowest wait times – DINOSAUR, TriceraTop Spin, It’s Tough To Be A Bug

Best strategy: Early Entry

Alternate strategy: Arrive late afternoon (maybe park hopping)


I’m leaving out any of the animal trails around the park, which are self guided walks around certain areas.  Similarly, I’m also leaving out Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which is an “edutainment” section devoted to animal care and conservation.  Finally, I’m ignoring the shows that have performances at set times (Festival Of The Lion King, Feathered Friends In Flight and soon the returning Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond).  If you arrive a little before show time, you should have no issues getting in to see a particular performance.  It’s Tough To Be A Bug, while a show, is listed on the official and unofficial wait time apps and the performances run one after the other; that line can back up on busy days but is usually one of the lowest at the park. That will be included here.



Animal Kingdom is an interesting park, strategy wise.  It is the largest of the Walt Disney World parks by area, though much of that is in the animal trails that many people choose not to do.  Either way, during our recent trip, we logged the most steps the whole week in this park.  It also typically opens and closes the earliest.  And with so few attractions, many people consider it to be a “half day park” – you may consider it the same, and earmark this as a good park to start a day of park hopping.  Or you can take it at a more leisurely pace and get more attractions done in the late afternoon, when many of the early guests that day have finished and gone elsewhere.  Personally, I think it’s a shame that it often closes so early as it is a beautiful park at night, especially the Tree Of Life and the Pandora section.  But these lower crowds can work to your advantage.


The elephant in the room so to speak (sorry! Animal puns!) is Avatar Flight Of Passage, which is not only this park’s signature attraction but is one of the very best and most impressive rides in any of the Disney parks.  I personally have it as my number one attraction, though obviously this is subjective.  I mention this here because if you are rope dropping Animal Kingdom, the overwhelming majority of people there in the morning are headed towards Flight Of Passage.  

LLMP is not recommended for this park.  There are so few attractions and even fewer top line attractions that it is largely a waste of money.  If you're intent on throwing money at Disney, you'd be better served by purchasing an LLSP for Flight of Passage.  This isn't necessary if you're staying on property and plan to arrive for Early Entry.  If you're off property, this can be a savvy move but is not a necessity, particularly if you follow the alternate strategy of arriving late.  In that case, you can save Flight of Passage for the end of the night.  Lines should be shorter (due to most people arriving and leaving early) and any time spent in line will be essentially after the park closes, so you're not "missing" anything else.

The reason Early Entry works so well at this park is because Animal Kingdom usually opens earlier than any other park.  Historically, people just aren't up and out the door very quickly on vacation, so if you CAN do this, you are ahead of the game.  The earlier the hours, the less crowded the park.  If you can arrive to the park around an hour before Early Entry is due to start, you will be right near the front of the pack.  In this case, rope dropping Flight of Passage is a great way to start your day.  You should be off that attraction quickly enough to immediately go to Na'vi River Journey.  You can have both of these knocked out before the park officially opens to regular guests.  In this case, it helps that the two highest wait time attractions are right near each other.  

If you want a more relaxed start to your day, you can purchase that LL for Flight of Passage that we discussed earlier.  If that's the case, you should still take advantage of Early Entry for Na'vi River Journey.  You don't need to be as close to the front of the pack in this case, because most people will go to Flight of Passage first.  Either way, this takes care of Pandora early (depending on your Flight of Passage return time).


If you don't want to or can't do Early Entry, go against the grain and go right once you reach the Tree Of Life.  You can easily hop on Expedition Everest with virtually no wait.  In fact, if you wanted to, you could probably ride this one two or three times before you even have to wait more time than it takes to walk through the queue area (though for me, this is a “one a day” ride – I have a post on motion sickness that touches on this..  Doing this one multiple times in a row is a bit much for me!).  From there, venture into Dinoland and ride DINOSAUR, which should also have little to no wait, even if you did Everest multiple times.  DINOSAUR can have somewhat long waits mid-day, and this is a good way to get around that.  TriceraTop Spin can also be done here (or at any time, really) if you have kids that are so inclined.  This ride almost never has a wait but you’re also probably not coming back to Dinoland later, so take care of it now to avoid long walks.

If you were able to do Pandora first, you can pick up the strategy in the above paragraph.  No matter when guests arrive, the overwhelming majority will head to Pandora.  So if you're either skipping/delaying that or have already done those rides, you should have an easy time hitting everything else in the park by staying ahead of that crowd.


You have some options at this point.  Kilimanjaro Safaris would be a good choice here if the line hasn’t gotten too bad yet, but you’re about as far away from Africa as you can get in Dinoland and it’s a fairly long walk.  Wait times for the Safaris usually level off early and then decrease in the late afternoon (like many rides at this park), so you can save this for later.  If you really want a unique experience, wait for the sun to go down, as there are different animals to see at that point.  I’d actually recommend riding in both the daylight and after sunset as time allows.


You can probably finish up anything on this side of the park now, including Kali River Rapids and It’s Tough To Be A Bug, as well as any shows that you can time to fit in.  Lunch is never a bad idea during this time either.  Animal Kingdom doesn’t have a tremendous amount of table service restaurants but they do have some great quick service options including Flame Tree Barbecue and Satu’li Canteen (a personal favorite).  If you’re in Pandora for the latter, check out the line situation at Na’vi River Journey if you weren't able to do it earlier. That’s a tough one to fit in but you might get lucky here. 




If you followed our optimal strategy of doing Early Entry, you should be mostly done with everything by now.  You can either do some leisurely animal trails or meet and greets as you prefer.  That latter option will probably have long lines by this point, but if you really don't have anything else to hit, this is a good plan.  If you intend to spend the whole day here, have a nice relaxed evening and enjoy the Tree of Life and Pandora in all their glory.  I would also double dip and hop on Flight of Passage again - if you're still there, why not.

Our alternate strategy involves arriving later in the afternoon, probably after 2:00 when you can park hop (or sleep in - I hear people do that sometimes).  Most people will not arrive very early, but instead come at the most crowded time of day (around a 10:00 arrival) and thereby make the park busy at that time.  But by late afternoon, even those who arrived later will largely be done with everything they want to do.  In that way, Animal Kingdom is the "easiest" park to plan, as even following a non-optimal strategy should be enough to get everything done (though with more waiting involved).

If you follow that alternate strategy, you can either pair that with a LLSP for Flight of Passage or just ride it at the end of the night, as we suggested above.  You should probably just do things in the reverse order of the Early Entry strategy - start with the attractions that have the lowest wait times and work your way towards the highest wait times.  The later you do these, the more likely it is that crowds have dispersed or hopped elsewhere.  If you only have one day here, this can be a risky strategy as you don't want to risk a ride being down, but it is a way to avoid the heaviest of the crowds.


As we said earlier, Animal Kingdom is an interesting park to work with but there should be little trouble getting to everything you want to do.  If you end up being done early, this is definitely a good park to hop from – for a really full and long day, Epcot is a good park on the second half of your day, since it’s often open the latest.  Animal Kingdom is often treated like the “fourth best” park in Walt Disney World but it has a bunch of great stuff for all ages and can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace compared to most of the others.  A lot will change once Tropical Americas replaces Dinoland, but for now, this is the park that requires the least strategy and the least money spent on "extras."

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