No matter which park you pick, the Christmas holiday is one of the busiest times to visit Orlando. But if you must attend a Walt Disney World theme park during the peak travel system, I discovered that you could do worse than spending Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom may seem like a strange Christmas Day selection, since the park is positively Scrooge-like in the seasonal cheer department when compared to the other WDW parks. There’s nothing at Animal Kingdom on the scale of Magic Kingdom’s Holiday Wishes, DHS’s Osborne Family Spectacle, or Epcot’s Holidays Around the World; there isn’t even an Animal Kingdom Christmas parade anymore.
But that lack of seasonal draws made Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom a great idea, if your plans included enjoying attractions without asphyxiating in capacity crowds. This may change after Avatar arrives, but as the least-attended Walt Disney World park Animal Kingdom was a relative oasis for those seeking a smidgen of elbow room.
On my way into Walt Disney World property on Christmas morning, road signs advised that the Magic Kingdom was closed. Over at Animal Kingdom, however, there were acres of empty parking spot. Since this lot is the easiest of the four parks to get in and out of, consider using it when heading to one of the other parks on peak days.
For Christmas 2015, the entrance to Animal Kingdom was decked out with the usual giant tree, and new security scanning stations. Unless you are one of the few folks randomly selected for scanning, the new procedures appear have little to no effect on your entry speed.
Animal Kingdom was open until 8:30 p.m., an unusually late hour for a park that usually closes around sunset. Here’s the Christmas Day Times Guide and show schedule:
No, there isn’t a star on the top of the Tree of Life, nor any other sort of seasonal trimmings…but with the wonders of projection mapping technology, who knows what the future might hold?
Let’s start with a walk through The Oasis and Discovery Island, as originally broadcast on the Touring Plans Periscope channel:
One thing sharp-eyed Animal Kingdom fans may notice is that many of the outdoor carts around Discovery Island and Asia now have new names. Most of the actual menus are unchanged, but a few new items have been added here and there.
I tried the Smiling Crocodile’s Cucumber-Mint Pomegranate Lemonade. It sounded like a refreshing combination, but the overly sweet pomegranate flavoring overwhelmed any other ingredients.
The Riverside Depot store near the entrance to Discovery Island is now open, with a selection of Disney merchandise that is mostly indistinguishable from all the other nearby shops.
Elsewhere in Discovery Island, I found this sure sign that we are in peak season: the appearance of relatively obscure character Flick (from Pixar’s a bug’s life) performing a meet and greet in the street.
For my money, much more captivating than a big plastic bug is this cage of Cotton-Top Tamarins, who captured quite a crowd with their cavorting.
It’s a shame the Discovery Island trails around the Tree of Life were closed, since they make a great wait-free attraction on busy days.
Even though the park is open late, the sign at the entrance to Africa warns that Kilimanjaro Safaris is closing before dusk. New nighttime safaris should start departing by the time Animal Kingdom’s upcoming expansions arrive, but in the meantime I’m glad I went online the night before and booked a FastPass+ for my favorite ride in the park.
To handle the crowds, FastPass+ guests were entering through the old FastPass ticket kiosk area, instead of the usual FastPass+ entrance.
While the line looked long, I was aboard my truck and off on my 2 week safari in a little over 5 minutes. Here’s the full Kilimanjaro Safari’s ride through video that I broadcast on Periscope:
Seeing lions and elephants always makes me hungry, so it’s a good thing that Harambe introduced new food options just in time for Christmas.
Kusafiri Coffee Shop is now serving four styles of panini sandwiches with house-made curry potato chips.
Harambe Market has unified their menus, so you can now order any item from any of the three themed food shops. Be aware that the drinks window was still only serving beverages, and the wait for the Ribs window was the slowest.
I selected one of Harambe Market’s newest entrees, the Tikka Masala chicken with basmati rice and flatbread. A version of this dish was briefly served at Tamu Tamu; I wasn’t a fan of that recipe, and this one isn’t an improvement.
The typical seasonings of the stew were muted, overwhelmed by an salsa-like overload of cilantro, and the flatbread was floppy when it should be grilled black. But the fatal sin is that many of my chicken chunks were pink and translucent in the middle; salmonella is an even sorrier Christmas present than socks.
One of Animal Kingdom’s chief strengths for peak season touring is its abundance of high quality, high capacity live shows. Don’t overlook the Flights of Wonder bird show, or the educational preshow that entertains standby guests waiting to enter the theater.
Another must-see show is Finding Nemo The Musical, which you can almost always get into by arriving just 15 minutes early. Not only is it a Broadway-caliber production full of hummable tunes from the Oscar-winning team behind Frozen, but it lets you sit in the air-conditioning for the better part of an hour. That’s an important consideration when it’s over 80 degrees on Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom!
After all those fish, you may feel like a drink. Dive into the new Thirsty River Bar, which used to be the Expedition Everest FastPass distribution kiosk. The stand serves a few new signature mixed drinks, along with a modest menu of cold snacks.
Now that we’ve refueled with holiday cheer, it’s time to challenge the Yeti! Expedition Everest‘s standby wait is quite reasonable for an E-Ticket, but the FastPass+ I pre-arranged had me boarding a runaway tea train in under 5 minutes. And for those without FastPass, the single rider line is always a smart option.
One place where FastPass+ wasn’t as helpful was Kali River Rapids. Perhaps it was the seasonably warm weather, but the raft ride had one of the longest standby waits I saw, and the FastPass return line stretched past primate island towards Yak and Yeti.
As you can see from this report, Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom certainly wasn’t slow, but as just as our Crowd Calendar predicted it was the quietest of the four Walt Disney World parks. Armed with pre-arranged FastPass+ reservations, a customized Touring Plan, and my Lines app, I was able to enjoy my holiday visit with much less aggravation than I anticipated.
Let’s close this Christmas trip with a sneak peek at some infrastructure installation a show that might change all that: Rivers of Light, the nighttime multimedia spectacular that hopes to finally turn Animal Kingdom into a full-day, year-round park.