Welcome to Part 3 of our early summer 2019 Walt Disney World trip report. This post covers a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including morning Extra Magic Hours.
About This Trip Report
This trip report covers our May 2019 visit to Walt Disney World. It’s designed to provide a final set of notes for visits in summer 2019 before August 29, 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.
This trip report will be in six parts (links open in new tabs and will go up as content goes up):
Part 3 - Animal Kingdom Day (with morning Extra Magic Hour) (this post)
We’re heavily into Extra Magic Hours and After Hours this trip, so the reports might not be as valuable for guests who won’t have access to Extra Magic Hours. Our next Walt Disney World trip report will probably be the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. That report will cover post-Galaxy’s Edge strategy.
Today I was aiming for a full day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you’d like more background, you should consider the following posts (links open in new tabs):
What’s New at Animal Kingdom
Before we get to the itinerary for the day, I wanted to highlight some new things at Animal Kingdom
(Update) Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Although we didn’t get to experience it, Rafiki’s Planet Watch will be reopening July 11.
Bollywood Beats Dance Show. Disney recently debuted a new Bollywood Beats dance show on the small stage across from Up! A Great Bird Adventure. We enjoyed this one, and I’ll discuss it more below.
20th Anniversary Ended. Beginning April 22, 2018, Disney was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Animal Kingdom. This celebration ended in the past few months.
Lion King Celebration and Merchandise. With the 20th anniversary ending, Disney has shifted toward an emphasis on all things Lion King. This isn’t so much decorative, but there’s a new merchandise line. Here’s some of that merchandise, along with some other additions:
Otter Grotto Reopened. This was under construction for a while, but has finally reopened. The otters are some of the best animals to watch. The grotto is on the path from Discovery Island to Africa, across from Pizzafari.
New Baby Animals. There’s a new baby gorilla at Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and a new giraffe calf on the Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Animal Kingdom Rope Drop (Flight of Passage)
I was heading to Animal Kingdom After Hours at night, and I can usually get a Flight of Passage FastPass+ for one person with little effort. But I was here to work and write for you, so I obviously had to check out Flight of Passage rope drop.
After arriving at Hollywood Studios extra early for Extra Magic Hour yesterday, I wanted to try a more leisurely approach to Animal Kingdom. I aimed for a 7:30AM arrival—30 minutes before the start of Extra Magic Hour.
The first bus I saw on the app was a 6:41AM with a 6:51AM estimated arrival. I slept in, snoozing my alarm until around 7AM when I figured I’d catch the next bus. At 7:12AM the bus arrived, and after a slow load it departed at 7:18AM.
By 7:12AM, the line for the bus was incredibly long (above). Honestly, some of those people aren’t going to make Extra Magic Hour. They need to change plans and see about taking an Uber (as long as they don’t have a stroller).
I didn't stay to see how their waits worked out. Overall I was very satisfied with bus operations the trip, so it's possible Disney had a follow bus at Pop even before I departed.
We arrived at Animal Kingdom at 7:29AM. If you follow our Instagram, you saw me freak out a bit at the crowds that were pouring into the gates at this time. During summer, I recommend arriving no later than 45 minutes early for Flight of Passage rope drop.
I assumed the park had been open for a few minutes and the crowds were just this huge. I think actually it probably opened right as I arrived (at 7:30AM), and these were the only people here so far.
As always, the rope drop walk is from Discovery Island over into Pandora. I assume the bridge holding area wasn’t used today and is only rarely used during Extra Magic Hours.
Flight of Passage line wasn’t even on the boardwalk when I arrived, a very good sign.
I wound up entering the decontamination chamber on Flight of Passage at 8:09AM, a great result for a 7:30AM arrival. I was off the ride at 8:24AM.
Here’s a look at the waits times once I'd finished Flight of Passage. Expedition Everest was at the bottom because it was temporarily closed.
While in line, I modified my Na’vi River Journey FastPass+ from 5:15PM to the ideal slot of 1:55PM. I’d been trying to modify this for weeks, but same-day modifications are often much easier. No one changes plans 10 days before their trip, everyone is changing plans the day before and day of, especially when it comes to FastPass+.
Continuing my day, Na’vi River Journey had a posted wait of 60 minutes. It’s always worth considering heading to it during Extra Magic Hour after Flight of Passage even if you already have a FastPass+ for it. You can either ride it twice or swap the FastPass+ for something else.
I made a different change. I had a 3:10PM FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris, but that’s not an ideal time to ride the safari because the animals usually just relax once the heat sets in. Since it had a posted 5 minute wait, I went ahead and changed my FastPass+ to DINOSAUR (definitely not necessary to get a FastPass+ for this one so early; Kali River Rapids would probably be a better choice).
Of course, as these things go, when I actually arrived at Kilimanjaro Safari at 8:35AM the wait had ballooned to 35 minutes. I was suspicious and decided to stick with it, and I was on the ride only 11 minutes later at 8:46AM.
While waiting in line I started building my entertainment schedule for the rest of the day. I use the entertainment section of the My Disney Experience app and try and lay out everything I want to visit. I wish I had a step-by-step here, but it’s really just about looking at the schedules, along with your FastPass+ reservations, and making sure you're always doing something.
The safari was quite good—really validating my decision to come early. The downside to an early safari is that it's a long ride and you let other waits get longer. With a full day at Animal Kingdom that started before 8AM, I wasn’t really worried about fitting all the rides in.
Has anyone experienced the “broken bridge” effect on the safari recently? I think it’s just permanently off.
Morning at Animal Kingdom
I was off at 9:11AM and decided to get some coffee at Creature Comforts (Starbucks) and catch two pieces of entertainment in Harambe—the Tam Tam Drummers (9:15AM set) and Kora Tinga Tinga (9:30AM set). I was aiming for the 10AM opening of Kali River Rapids, as I didn't have a FastPass+ for it.
Over by Tamu Tamu Refreshments, Disney was advertising a cupcake celebrating the birth of a new baby Gorilla (it’s a girl). I didn't get to see this new Animal Kingdom resident, but she makes occasional appearances on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.
I headed over to Kali just before 10AM, thinking I’d be early. I saw Kevin along the way. He’s a really fun addition to Animal Kingdom. Everyone was a little baffled by his absence from Up! A Great Bird Adventure, but he’s definitely more interesting walking around the park than he would be on stage.
Of course when I arrived at Kali at 9:54AM the line was already building and the posted wait was at 20 minutes (probably just the standard opening amount). I was on at 10:03AM.
I’m a fan of this queue. I like that it has this map of Anandapur. A similar map can be found near the entrance to this area, across from Yak and Yeti quick service and the Joffrey’s stand.
A lot of our earlier content passes over Kali River Rapids somewhat because it was being refurbished when we were last in Orlando for a few months. While the waits can get high for it, I still don’t like booking an advance FastPass+ for it because it usually has a later open than the rest of the park. Ideally, you’ll do what I did and plan to be there when it opens rather than having to waste a FastPass+ on it.
You can get really wet on Kali River Rapids, but you might also escape unscathed. Besides the random turns of the raft, the big factor is the other guests at the end, as there’s a spot on the bridge where you can push a button to spray people on the ride. If you raft gets stuck in a pileup at the end, you might find yourself on the receiving end of multiple soaks.
I think Kali is too short, but I think that’s maybe just an incidental effect of the concept. There’s only so much you can do with a raft ride, and Kali hits the major ideas (rotation, “rapids,” drops). Maybe if it were any longer I’d get bored.
All that aside, it's a good ride and worth your time at Animal Kingdom. I would never wait 100+ minutes for it, as some people allegedly did today, but it’s worth a FastPass+ or a sub-30 minute wait.
My FastPass+ time for DINOSAUR was here, and I was on that ride by 10:40AM. I passed by Expedition Everest on the way—still down.
The DINOSAUR FastPass+ queue was long, but I was merged with the standby line after only 11 minutes. More on these long FastPass+ queues below.
DINOSAUR is a solid attraction. People rag on it for having a near-identical track layout to Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland, but these are two entirely different experiences. With good FastPass+ availability, relatively short waits, and an indoor queue, there’s no reason not to find space for it in a full day at Animal Kingdom.
If I'm trying to hit as much as possible at Animal Kingdom, I usually try and visit the Finding Nemo show at about 11AM, right after riding DINOSAUR or Expedition Everest, both of which are nearby. Today that worked out perfectly, and I was at the 11AM Finding Nemo show at 10:50AM.
There were plenty of seats available, including in the front “bubble” section (where there are bubbles, I guess). I chose a seat in the back off to the side. I like to have some space, and honestly I just don’t need a good seat for a show I’ve seen dozens of times, I’d rather a first timer or vacationer have it.
I really liked how the morning went—Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tam Tam Drummers, Kora Tinga Tinga, Kali River Rapids, DINOSAUR, and Finding Nemo all done by 11:40AM.
What I like about this morning is that it checks all sorts of boxes—major rides, streetmosphere entertainment, and a larger show. If you firmly believe Animal Kingdom takes a full day or more to experience (like I do), you have to balance these three things the entire day.
Could I have skipped Kora Tinga Tinga and Tam Tam Drummers for another ride? Sure, but it would be much harder to fit both of those in later than a single ride, especially since the Tam Tam Drummers finish at 12:15PM.
Similarly, I generally advise pushing stage shows into the afternoon, but I find it much easier to fit two into my afternoon than all three.
I grabbed lunch at Restaurantosaurus, which was recently the victim of a viscious hit job by Disney Tourist Blog. Someone has to stan for whimsical curtains and bad burgers—I guess that’s me!
Afternoon at Animal Kingdom
In Dinoland, Scrooge McDuck was greeting…
And over on the Discovery Island stage there’s still a dance party with Rafiki and Timon. I thought Viva Gaia was involved in this, but they didn’t make this picture so it’s possible they’ve been cut.
As with pretty much every theme park in the world, afternoons are for everything without lines and hopefully with shade.
That means lesser attractions, shows, streetmosphere, and FastPass+. I started with the Tam Tam Drummers (I’d only caught half a set earlier and I had the time).
I took these screenshots just after noon. 12:12PM and the wait for Kali River Rapids is at 110 minutes.
But at 12:14PM you could grab a FastPass+ 12:15PM. I was just searching for one person (probably doesn’t matter in this case), but it's still a striking point about how powerful FastPass+ can be if you're checking during the day.
I caught the 12:30PM performance of the new Bollywood dance show on the small stage across from Up! A Great Bird Adventure. I was really happy with this show. The don’t have quite the space that the Harambe performances do, but they were still able to build a big audience.
Most importantly, they kept them engaged. I’ve never liked the Pandora streetmosphere because (in part) I don't find it naturally engaging enough. This new show gets people moving and then pulls them into the show in seamless fashion.
The plan was to use my Expedition Everest FastPass+ next, but I encountered a really crazy scene—the FastPass+ line was all the way back to the Finding Nemo theater. The Cast Member at the end said it was 20 minutes, and I do believe her. Someone asked me about this via message on instagram, so I want to discuss it quickly.
Everest didn’t open until 11:30AM this day (technical difficulties), and it was a perfectly bad storm for a few reasons. With Extra Magic Hours in the morning, many guests were planning to visit the park for only a half day. This was exacerbated because the park had After Hours at night, which meant an early-ish close and an influx of ticketed guests at 7PM.
When a ride with FastPass+ isn’t operational during your time slot, you get a replacement FastPass that allows you to come back at any time (you can also visit select other rides with it instead). So at 12:50PM, the ride was accommodating a lot of people who had FastPass+ slots between 9AM and 11:30AM (when the ride opened) and people who had planned to visit it during Extra Magic Hours.
FastPass+ queues also aren’t designed to hold huge amounts of people. They get long outside of the tap points because (1) there just isn’t much space inside the tap point and (2) people are really slow to get through the tap point (especially if they “accidentally” used their replacement FastPass for something else already).
Despite all of this, the FastPass+ wait was only an estimated 20 minutes. Do I think 20 minutes is an acceptable wait generally for a FastPass? No. But do I think a 20 minute wait in the middle of the day for a popular ride that opened late is anything to blow a gasket about? No.
All of that completely necessary and worthwhile analysis aside, I was going to be in the park the rest of the day, so I just swapped my FastPass+ for a later time (6:50PM).
I went back to Harambe for the 1PM performances by the Harambe Village Acrobats. This is one of the more “wow” experiences of streetmosphere, and they’ve actually upped the engagement level recently as well (this was Emily’s observation, I honestly don’t know their set well enough, but she’s a bigger fan).
I grabbed a beer at Dawa Bar while I was there. Dawa beer and Harambe performances is probably my favorite Animal Kingdom activity.
Next I headed down to the front of Discovery Island for Winged Encounters at 1:30PM. This is another “wow” experience. The show is only six minutes long, and it has a few moments that are unlike anything you’ll experience in any other theme park or even most zoos in the world. We never miss Winged Encounters. Update: Rumors of Winged Encounters end were premature.
Originally I thought I’d visit the 2PM and 2:30PM shows in Pandora, using my Na’vi River Journey FastPass+ in between, but I felt like I needed to make better use of the next 24 minutes. Instead, I headed to the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.
Here’s a look at the Harambe crowds along the way.
I was in at 1:41PM and out at 2:02PM. I think I go through the trails quickly at my 20-minute pace. Primarily I think families with children who like animals might be slowed to 30 minutes. The younger gorillas were being playful and drew a big crowd.
I headed to Pandora, where I tapped onto Na’vi River Journey at 2:11PM when the posted wait was 80 minutes. Here are the waits around then:
You see Expedition Everest at 115 minutes because FastPass+ guests are prioritized.
For the sake of scheduling, I planned to be in Pandora for the 2:30PM showing of Swotu Waya, the Pandora drummers. The boardwalk from Africa to Pandora has some beautiful views.
I first used my FastPass+ for Na’vi River Journey. As much as I love this ride, I don’t often wait more than 30 minutes for it. It’s beautiful, but between FastPass+ and early/late waits under 30 minutes, it shouldn’t demand much of your time. Realistically, you should always just FastPass+ or rope drop it (if you have a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage).
I usually can’t get halfway decent pictures of the shaman, but today I used burst mode on my iPhone and it worked pretty well.
As I told my instagram story and alluded to earlier, I don’t care for Swotu Waya (the Pandoran drummers), so I actually just browsed Windtraders (the main store in Pandora) instead of watching the show (I did catch it during this visit, I still just don’t love it; you should watch it, it’s worth 15 minutes if you haven’t seen it).
From there it was all the way over to the Maharajah Jungle Trek. I really love the Maharajah Jungle Trek theming and aviary. I think Gorilla Falls might be better for animal experiences overall, but I prefer Maharajah Jungle Trek.
I finished that at 3:10PM, another just-about-20-minute trail.
This put me in the perfect time and location to see the 3:30PM showing of Up! A Great Bird Adventure. This is a show that has struggled a bit. The old Flights of Wonder had the oft-maligned Guano Joe, but that storyline has been replaced by the storyline involving the Up! characters. This doesn't seem to resonate much better with the audience, honestly.
The core of the show are the entertaining performances of the birds. Like many, I’d like to see them add a few of these and move away from some of the extra narrative, but I get that that’s easier said than done. And to be clear, the show is still good and worth a visit.
After exiting the show at 3:56PM, I swung by It’s Tough to Be a Bug, which I finished at 4:15PM. I love this show, and it’s always one of the highlights of visits to Animal Kingdom (and a great way to beat the heat). From there it was to Harambe for another one of my favorite parts of Animal Kingdom—Burudika—at 4:30PM.
I love Burudika, but they have a long, awkwardly timed set. It usually starts at little after the scheduled time. This is good if you’re coming from Festival of the Lion King but bad if you’re hoping to see Festival of the Lion King afterwards, like I was.
Here are the 4:50PM waits. You can see crowds thinning out as people head to dinner or an evening park (like Magic Kingdom, open until 10 or 11PM usually).
I wound up missing the end of the Burudika set (the best part) to go to Festival of the Lion King at 5PM. I walked in at 4:57PM. It wasn’t a fully occupied show. As a solo visitor, I was stuck in a spare spot in the second row. I like the farther back seats in this theater because there’s so much going on during some of the scenes.
The show finished at 5:32PM.
Evening at Animal Kingdom
I headed to the front of the park to meet Emily, and while she watched the Harambe Acrobats at 6PM, I headed to the Pandora Rangers…performance.
Pandora Rangers is advertised as “New” in the times guide and is at least a “new” name, but otherwise the show is nearly identical to the old “Pandora Utility Suit,” which is really disappointing. No doubt a few people find it cool, but the audience generally watches in awe at a show designed around the premise of underwhelming.
That’s not a joke—the show literally revolves around the idea of “let’s see what this awesome suit can do!” being met by the suit doing nothing that impressive. It’s supposed to be funny, and to some people it probably is (and I’m happy for them).
Anyways, the other thing I wanted to mention is the sun’s position in Pandora. I made the mistake once of heading to Pandora in the afternoon to grab some photos, but the positioning is really tough. I’m sure real photographers have no problems, but I recommend average guests swing by earlier in the day if they want some good iPhone pictures.
After our respective shows, we headed to Expedition Everest for our FastPass+. We tapped at 6:49PM and were on five minutes later.
On the way to TriceraTop Spin, I snagged at 7:55PM FastPass+ for Primeval Whirl, which should have saved us a few minutes in line later. We walked right onto TriceraTop Spin at 7:05PM.
For dinner we went with our favorite spot—Satu’li Canteen. I broke from my normal practice and got the hearty salad instead of the potato hash—best decision ever! I’m never going back. The salad was way more filling and I’m sure much better for me.
Unfortunately, when we got back to Primeval Whirl, the ride broke down as we were in the FastPass+ queue at 8:04PM. With the park closing at 8:30PM, it meant I’d actually missed out on a ride today.
The obvious way this could have been avoided would have just been to wait in line for 20 to 30 minutes after TriceraTop Spin. I’m not upset about it, but it’s another reminder that rides do break down, so try not to save them for the very end of the day.
We stuck around for Animal Kingdom After Hours, which I’ll review separately.
The nighttime show is Rivers of Light, and you can usually easily grab a seat without a FastPass+. We skipped it today. We’re bigger fans of Tree of Life Awakenings, which is a projection show on the Tree of Life that plays short snippets during the evening hours. Update: “Rivers of Light: We Are One,” a revamped show has now debuted.
Reviewing this Animal Kingdom Day
Here’s a look at what I accomplished this day:
8:09 Avatar Flight of Passage
8:46 Kilimanjaro Safaris
9:15 Coffee and Tam Tam Drummers
9:30 Kora Tinga Tinga
10:03 Kali River Rapids
11:00 Finding Nemo
12:30 Bollywood Dance Show
1:00 Harambe Acrobats
1:30 Winged Encounters
1:41 Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
2:16 Na’vi River Journey
2:30 Swotu Waya
2:55 Maharajah Jungle Trek
3:30 Up! A Great Bird Adventure
4:04 It’s Tough to Be a Bug
5:00 Festival of the Lion King
6:00 Pandora Rangers
6:55 Expedition Everest
7:05 Triceratops spin
But even with that schedule, I missed plenty (in a good way—the park just offers so much). I didn’t have any table service meals or visit Nomad Lounge, one of my favorite bars at Disney World. As noted, we missed Primeval Whirl.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch remains closed, but is set to reopen sometime in summer—that’s easily an hour of your day. I spent little time in the Oasis or Discovery Island Trails, both of which are worth a bit of time.
As usual, I didn’t visit the Boneyard (the children’s play area) or meet any characters. Finally, I didn’t go any of the Wilderness Explorers badges because I keep leaving my book at home!
Thanks for reading part 3 of this trip report!
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
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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! And for some some fun prep, check out our Ranking of Every Ride at Walt Disney World.
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