Animal Kingdom Rope Drop Strategy

The best way to maximize your enjoyment at any Disney World theme park is to combine a good Walt Disney World FastPass+ strategy with a good rope drop strategy.

In our Animal Kingdom FastPass+ Strategy post, we cover how to use FastPass+ to skip the lines at Animal Kingdom. In this post, we cover how to handle rope drop—the very beginning hours following opening—at Animal Kingdom.

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For a full itinerary at Animal Kingdom, check out our one day Animal Kingdom itinerary post. We also recommend checking our most recent trip report to see if we’ve provided any updates and just to see how this strategy is holding up.

What time does Animal Kingdom open?

Animal Kingdom opening times vary on a day-to-day basis, with openings at 8AM and 9AM being most common. You should check the Disney World website or My Disney Experience app for the scheduled opening times for your visit. But keep reading…

What Is “Rope Drop”?

Rope drop refers to the actual—as opposed to scheduled—opening of the park. Depending on the precise protocols at a park on a day, Cast Members may actually have a rope up cutting off people from the park which is dropped when the park opens.

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What Time Is Rope Drop At Animal Kingdom?

Rope drop at Animal Kingdom usually occurs before the scheduled time the park is open. There are several times to know when it comes to rope drop at Animal Kingdom.

Turnstiles typically open 30 (less common) to 60 (more common) minutes before the scheduled park open. At this point, guests are allowed to tap in and visit most of Discovery Island, but they’re corralled at different points heading into the park.

Between 15 and 45 minutes before the scheduled park open, guests will begin to be escorted to attraction queues. Precise times may vary, and the Pandora attractions usually get a head start.

So When Should I Arrive At Animal Kingdom?

When you arrive at Animal Kingdom depends on which rides you don’t have FastPass+ for or otherwise want to get done quickly in the morning. And, obviously, all these suggestions have caveats, so be sure to read on!

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If you are only concerned with Avatar Flight of Passage, arrive 45 to 60 minutes before scheduled park open. You’ll usually be off 0 to 45 minutes after the park opens.

If you need to rope drop Avatar Flight of Passage followed by either Na’vi River Journey or Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’ll want to arrive between 60 and 75 minutes early. If you’re hoping to get all three of these in, aim for 75 to 90 minutes early.

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If you need to rope drop Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris, arrive 30 minutes early and start with Na’vi River Journey. If you need to rope drop one of Na’vi River Journey or Kilimanjaro Safaris, arrive 15 to 30 minutes early. For any other attractions, you can arrive at the scheduled park opening time. Night owls may prefer to pay to visit Animal Kingdom After Hours.

Notes About Arrival Times

It’s up to you to know how much more safe than sorry you’d like to be. While the above times work most days, holidays will always throw a wrench into things. For example, below we cover “Flight of Passage Rope Drop - Busy Day,” where an 8AM arrival for a 9AM park open didn’t get us off Flight of Passage until 9:54AM.

On ordinary weekends, add 15 minutes to the start of your day. On minor holiday weekends, add 30 minutes to the start of your day (up to 90 minutes). On major holiday weekends, add as much time as possible and pray.

If you have a stroller, add 15 to 30 minutes to the start of your day. Strollers really need to start near the front of the pack. You will get passed, so you need to start as far forward in the crowds as possible.

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Unlike other parks, you can’t really count on pushing your way to the front of the rope drop pack into Pandora if you arrive after turnstiles open but before Pandora opens. People stand shoulder to shoulder on that bridge, and it’s common for Pandora to open very shortly after the turnstiles open anyways. Keep reading for the step-by-step of the morning at Animal Kingdom…

Animal Kingdom Rope Drop Part 1 - Pandora

For most guests, rope drop at Animal Kingdom is pretty straightforward: head to Pandora, where you’ll find the most popular ride at Animal Kingdom—Avatar Flight of Passage—and another popular ride (sometimes the second most popular), Na’vi River Journey.

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If you don’t need to go to Pandora because you’ve decided not to ride these rides, or you have a FastPass+ for one and will ride the other at park close (or not at all) then you can either sleep in or just start with Tier 2 rides, which we cover below.

Once the turnstiles open, guests wishing to visit Pandora will be corralled at the bridge between Discovery Island and Pandora (just follow the massive crowd on the left when you enter). While this corralling can last 15 minutes, it sometimes lasts only 5 to 10 minutes.

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Guests are then escorted to the ride queues, and the queue for Avatar Flight of Passage runs down the boardwalk into Africa.

If you arrive after rope drop, you need to walk from Discovery Island, through Pandora, and down the boardwalk to the back of the line. It is common for there to be a Cast Member at the Africa end of the boardwalk preventing people from entering the line from that direction.

A great Pandora rope drop for a 9AM park open will have a schedule like:

  • 7:45AM Arrive at Animal Kingdom

  • 8:15AM Turnstiles Open

  • 8:45AM on Avatar Flight of Passage

  • 9:00AM on Na’vi River Journey

An okay Pandora rope drop for a 9AM park open will look like:

  • 8:15AM Arrive at Animal Kingdom

  • 9:15AM on Avatar Flight of Passage

  • 10:15AM on Na’vi River Journey

A bad Pandora rope drop for a 9AM park opens looks like…the next section!

Flight of Passage Rope Drop — Busy Day

I recently visited Animal Kingdom on a busy day (10/10 by Touring Plans measurements) to rope drop Flight of Passage.

I’m not caught off guard much at Disney parks, but I was pretty shocked when I arrived at 8AM—an hour before the park opened—and crowds were already excessive. This was the Tuesday following Presidents’ Day, and I wrongly assumed everyone had gone home.

Here’s how the schedule wound up going:

  • 8:00AM - Arrive at Animal Kingdom

  • 8:05AM - Turnstiles open

  • 8:15AM - Through Turnstiles

  • 8:25AM - Rope Drop

  • 9:47AM - On Flight of Passage

By the time I exited the ride building at 9:54AM, Na’vi River Journey was at 60 minute wait and Kilimanjaro Safaris was at 95 minutes—definitely not ideal since I didn’t have any FastPass+ today. But it’s important to note that with FastPass+ the day would still have gone well.

Animal Kingdom Rope Drop Part 2 - Tier 2 Rides

Riding all of the Tier 2 rides at Animal Kingdom in a single (or even half) day only poses a challenge if you don’t have FastPass+. With FastPass+ for two of: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, and DINOSAUR, you really can’t go wrong. There are two options for visiting the Tier 2 rides once you’ve left Pandora.

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If you don’t have a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris, the conventional wisdom is to head there immediately from Pandora. From there, you’ll typically want to visit Kali River Rapids, then Expedition Everest, then DINOSAUR.

We really prefer to have a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris to avoid this. The problem is that Kilimanjaro Safaris is a really long ride (20+ minutes), which leaves Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR, and Kali River Rapids time increase in wait.

Of course, if you don’t have a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris you should have FastPass+ for two of Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, and DINOSAUR, so there really shouldn’t be a problem, unless you happen to be at Animal Kingdom without FastPass+.

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The alternative, only for those who don’t mind a lot of quick walking (or have a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris) is to speed walk around the park visiting (in order of priority) Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, and DINOSAUR as long as their waits are 15 minutes or under.

On many days, Kali River Rapids opens later than the rest of the park. In that case, it’s actually easiest just to head there when it opens, saving yourself the FastPass+. We highlighted this option in our May 2019 trip report.

Usually it will make sense to visit DINOSAUR after Kilimanjaro Safaris. Its waits increase slower than other rides and, more importantly, its queue is heavily shaded and mostly indoors.

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We’ve tried both of these approaches with no problem (we are very fast walkers). Again, the only real “challenge” occurs when you don’t have FastPass+, so let’s move on to that!

Animal Kingdom Rope Drop With No FastPass+

Here’s an example of how we visited Animal Kingdom without FastPass+ on a 9AM open. Kali River Rapids was closed for refurbishment this day, or we would have visited it before DINOSAUR. A late rope drop on a Sunday pushed up waits which caused us minor difficulty but nothing terrible.

  • 7:27AM - Arrive at Animal Kingdom gates (7:45AM arrivals this Sunday were in great position as well)

  • 8:05AM - Turnstiles Open

  • 8:37AM - Rope Drop

  • 8:58AM - on Flight of Passage (we had technical difficulties that delayed the start of the ride)

  • 9:14AM - on Na’vi River Journey

  • 9:53AM - on Kilimanjaro Safaris 

  • 10:57AM - on Expedition Everest

  • 11:16AM - on DINOSAUR

As you can see, we went the conventional route of starting with Kilimanjaro Safaris after Pandora. Now, will this plan work every day? Definitely not! But it will work many days, and it serves to show that Animal Kingdom is manageable without FastPass+ provided you arrive early enough.

Animal Kingdom Extra Magic Hours Pandora Rope Drop

Extra Magic Hours is a perk offered to guests of Disney hotels (and select other hotels) that allows them to visit the park an hour early on select mornings (and evenings, which obviously don’t concern us here).

We’ve done Animal Kingdom Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom a number of times, and we’ve thoroughly documented it twice—once during a mid-level crowds day (6 on a Touring Plans standard) and once on a heavy crowd day (9 on a Touring Plan standard). Here’s how we fared those two visits.

What if you don’t have EMH?

Generally, I would not visit Animal Kingdom on a day with morning Extra Magic Hours if I did not have access to Extra Magic Hours. I might consider it if I had a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant day.

If I absolutely had to visit without EMH and without a Flight of Passage FastPass+, I’d plan to get in line for Flight of Passage a minute before the park closed, which might mean missing the arguably missable nighttime show, Rivers of Light.

Animal Kingdom EMH - Pandora - Moderate Crowds

This day we arrived at 7:38AM for 8AM EMH. Gates were already open, and we were in the Avatar — Flight of Passage queue at 7:51AM when the posted wait was 75 minutes. We were off Flight of Passage at 8:55AM and in line for Na’vi River Journey at 9:03AM with a posted wait of 40 minutes. We were off Na’vi River Journey at 9:29AM—29 minutes after the rest of the park opened to regular guests.

Animal Kingdom EMH - Pandora - Heavy Crowds

We arrived at 7:17AM, prior to the gates opening. They opened at about 7:25AM, and we were through at 7:31AM and off Avatar Flight of Passage at 8:17AM. We were in line for Na’vi River Journey at 8:25AM (posted 30 minute wait) and off the ride at 8:53AM—in time to beat the regular park opening.

Notice that arriving 20 minutes earlier saved us 36 minutes, even though the crowds were heavier. Arriving 45 to 60 minutes before the start of EMH is advisable if you’d like to ride both Pandora rides.

Animal Kingdom Rope Drop - Conclusions

There’s no way to guarantee the perfect day at a Disney park—rides break down, crowds get strangely high, and other unexpected things happen.

But the earlier you put yourself at the park with a plan for rope drop, the better your chances of a great day. With FastPass+ and rope drop, Animal Kingdom is a very manageable park.

So arrive early, know your plan, and keep busy during the morning. That leaves you afternoon open to take in the sights and sounds of one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world!

All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered

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Just starting out? Check out our Walt Disney World planning guide! If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars. For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.

When it comes time to book, we've got you covered with posts on how to book cheap flights, how to get the best deal on your Disney hotel, and where to find discount Disney World tickets. And of course everyone wants to know whether or not they should get a dining plan—check out our Complete Guide to Disney World Dining Plans!

Don't forget to master your Disney World FastPass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! We've got park-specific guides as well: Magic Kingdom FastPass, Epcot FastPass, Animal Kingdom FastPass, and Hollywood Studios FastPass.

Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides, Hollywood Studios rides, Epcot rides, and Animal Kingdom rides! Plus learn about the water parks with our guide to Blizzard Beach and our guide to Typhoon Lagoon!

Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.