Tuesday, May 7, 2024

How We Did Most of Animal Kingdom In Four Hours (Without Genie)


I recently wrote about how we did mostly everything at Epcot in one day with the help of Genie+.  In that piece, I revised my opinion about Genie, saying that it was a big help at Epcot, even if not strictly necessary.  If you have a limited budget, Epcot would be one of the parks I would skip purchasing Genie+ for, though it would make for a longer and more stressful day.

Today I'm going to talk about Animal Kingdom a bit.  As the title of this post should make clear, I did NOT revise my opinion about this park as it relates to Genie - I still don't see any way in which it's worth it, at least until Tropical Americas opens (in other words, we're talking about years, not months).  The only way in which Genie makes sense at Animal Kingdom is if you start at a different park and plan to hop here later, and you've already purchased the Genie+ multi-park option.  In that case, I can see an argument for stacking a few rides so that you can get more done in a shorter amount of time.  If you're really itching to spend money at Animal Kingdom, there is a better use of your funds (which will be discussed below).

We spent part of two days at Animal Kingdom, one at park open and one in the late afternoon until park closing.  This post will mostly talk about that second one; even though we did not have Genie, as mentioned above, we were still able to accomplish a ton of stuff in what amounted to four hours of park time or so.  Animal Kingdom is the easiest park to "beat" with very little strategy involved.  You really have two options - rope drop and get everything done early, or come late and get through everything as people who followed that first strategy are leaving, having accomplished everything themselves.  The only thing you shouldn't do is show up about an hour or two after the park opens, leave in mid-afternoon and then complain about how busy it was.  Those will be the busiest hours of the day at any park, even Animal Kingdom.

On this particular day, we spent the morning at Magic Kingdom, from rope drop until lunchtime.  We then headed over to Steakhouse 71 at the Contemporary for a lovely lunch and break from the parks.  From there, we hopped on a bus at the Contemporary and went to Animal Kingdom.  According to the time stamp on my first photo (another great reason to take lots of pictures!), we were outside the gates at 2:54 p.m.  The park closed at 7:00 on this day (a fact that will become important later).

In general, on days that you rope drop a park, your strategy should be to hit as many high priority attractions as you can before they start getting really crowded.  On days like this, with a late arrival, I actually follow the opposite strategy - save any really high priority rides for the end of the day when the crowds will (theoretically) be lower.  That strategy led us to walk into the park and go directly to It's Tough to Be a Bug on Discovery Island.  We were at the theater at around 3:15.

From there, we headed over to Dinoland to hit the only ride worth anything in that section of the park, Dinosaur.  We were at the ride vehicles at 3:45.  I think there had been a fifteen minute wait listed; this was probably close to correct, though most of the time was spent in the room with the dinosaur fossil, waiting for the group in front of us to finish the preshow.  

We stopped for a snack sometime after this (and I made a new bird friend that Google tells me was an ibis) before going over to Kilimanjaro Safari.  Luck was on our side a bit here, as this is one that can still have a long wait time until later in the day.  I think the sign said fifteen minutes and our actual wait was pretty much as long as it took to walk through the entire long, empty queue.  The first time we stopped was at the ride vehicles, around 4:30.  

No animals decided to take a nap on the path this time, so the ride finished in normal time, which gave us just enough time to make the last showing of Festival of the Lion King at 5:00.  I don't think we did much else after this until we hit up our favorite quick service spot in the park, Sa'tuli Canteen.  I have a picture of my food (as one does) at around 6:05.

Our goal here was not only to enjoy great food, but to end up in Pandora so that we could jump on the standby line for Avatar Flight of Passage before the park closed.  A few notes as to what we did (and didn't) do at this point.  There were three "major" rides (and I use that term loosely) that we hadn't done at this point (and indeed, did not do on this day, as we knew we would be back here in the morning).  Those were Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Na'vi River Journey.

We certainly could have picked up Everest between Dinosaur and the Safari, though I think the wait time was a little higher than we would have liked.  I didn't feel like criss-crossing this giant park before dinner just to say we did it (spoiler alert - we ended up doing it three times in a row the next morning - arriving early is still as good a strategy as any other).

For Kali River Rapids, that's a ride that we simply don't do.  No one in our party loves getting wet, so it's pretty much a non-starter.  I can't even say I looked too closely at the wait times for this one, so I don't have any good advice on when to do that one.  If you didn't feel like hitting up the Lion King show, that would have been a good time to get this in before dinner, however, and I'm pretty confident that the wait was not all that long.

Na'vi River Journey was the only one that we "missed" in this case, but again, we knew we would be back here the next day.  We could have played this a little differently if we really wanted to squeeze this one in.  Remember above when I said that there was a better use for your money at this park than Genie?  That use is the Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) for Flight of Passage.  It's one of the two that I generally recommend purchasing (along with Rise of the Resistance) if you don't want to work hard to prioritize them (or do them a second time).  

So we COULD have purchased the ILL for Flight of Passage, picked a time towards the end of the day, and then ridden Na'vi River Journey via standby.  That's not what we did in this case, though.  It basically IS what we did the next day (we needed another Flight of Passage fix, and we were just slightly behind the rope drop crowd) as we hit Na'vi first and then used our ILL for the afternoon before we left the park for the day.  In general, if you have money to burn, Genie will be a better purchase since there are more rides for the price, but the ILL for Flight of Passage is cheaper and will save you a big headache if you're so inclined; you can basically get everything else done easily, no matter your strategy.  Plus Flight of Passage is well worth it, so I don't feel bad spending a few bucks on it.

In any case, at 6:40, the wait time said 45 minutes for Flight of Passage on this night.  We had nothing but time, since the park closed at 7:00 and we weren't doing anything else after this anyway.  Plus I know that wait times are often inflated at the end of the day.  I know we were at the room with the floating Na'vi in about 25 minutes, so it was probably only a few minutes longer until the ride room.  That's time well spent.

I mentioned earlier that the park closed at 7:00 on this night.  This is by far the earliest of any park (and again, I expect this will eventually change once there's some more stuff to actually keep people there longer) but it was actually later than it closed every day the rest of that week, which was 6:00.  I mention this because if your strategy is to arrive later in the day, like we did here, you probably want to make sure you're there by 2:00 so you don't feel rushed.  If the park had closed at 6:00 when we were visiting, I either would have timed my meal at Sa'tuli Canteen for like 5:55, or just eaten elsewhere once we left the park.  If you were trying to fit in Flight of Passage right before park close, I definitely would have waited and eaten later.  Don't waste time eating when the park closes while the sun is still out.

Animal Kingdom requires very little strategy and if you're willing to pay for Flight of Passage, basically no strategy at all.  But I liked visiting in the afternoon here, as you could feel the park getting quieter as the day went on, and there was almost no wait for anything in most of the park.  Contrast that to ... well, any other park, and you'll be happy for the reprieve.  We also usually only do Animal Kingdom in the morning, so it was nice to see it in the later light, especially as we were leaving.  One day I hope to be able to enjoy the beauty of this park after dark, but I think that will have to wait until there's more there.

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