Recently I wrote about our research around the best touring plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios that didn’t use Genie+. I was surprised by how many of you wrote in to say you tried the plan and it worked – thank you!
We’ve now moved our testing over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Today I’d like to share with you the results of that testing: two Early Theme Park Entry touring plans that cover every major ride, show, and attraction in the park. Your average wait in line should be under 10 minutes for the entire day, and our strategy means you won’t need to buy Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane.
Just like last time, we’ll tell you the order to see the attractions, and why the attractions are in that order. So if you want to skip something or grab a snack and come back to it later, you’ll understand how to do that. And if you just want to see the touring plan, click here to go straight to it.
What We Tested in Animal Kingdom – And Why
We Used Early Theme Park Entry
Just like we did at Hollywood Studios, we decided to use Early Theme Park Entry. For testing, it keeps things simpler since we know the waits at park opening are zero minutes. From your touring perspective, time versus money is a common trade. To save time in line without paying for Genie+ one of your best tactics is to get to the park as early as you can.
The Attraction List
Animal Kingdom doesn’t have that many rides, so this plan includes all of them:
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
- Na’Vi River Journey
- Triceratop Spin
If I can nerd out for a minute, there are only 362,880 possible touring plans for a list of nine attractions, and only 5,040 if we assume that Flight of Passage and Na’Vi River Journey come first. As I remind my daughter, ever since we had kids I can only keep around 3 things in my brain at any one time. But 5,040 combinations is easy for a computer.
We included the Adventurers Outpost meet and greet for the same reasons we included Red Carpet Dreams in our Hollywood Studios touring plan: every age group enjoys meeting Mickey Mouse. But character meet and greets have a really low capacity – around 200 to 300 guests per hour. Kilimanjaro Safaris easily handles ten times that number.
So the hard part in this test is accurately predicting how fast the lines grow at secondary attractions like Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and the Adventurers Outpost. A wrong choice there can add 50% or more to the amount of time you spend in line for the rest of the day.
Stage Shows and Walking Trails Too
Both of the plan’s variations will get you on all of the park’s attractions before noon. This gives you plenty of time to eat and rest before seeing the park’s stage shows and walking trails during the afternoon. The plans include these shows, walking trails, and activities:
- Discovery Island Trails
- Feathered Friends in Flight
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo: The Big Blue … and Beyond
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- Maharaja Jungle Trek
- Wilderness Explorers
Attractions Not Included in the Plan
You’ll notice the plans don’t include a visit to Conservation Station. We didn’t include the attractions at Conservation Station in the test for two reasons:
- The Wildlife Express Train is the only way to get to Conservation Station. Your waits for the train are somewhat unpredictable – you could hop on the train just before it leaves, or you could just miss the train by a few seconds. We didn’t want that randomness to affect our testing of everything else in the park.
- Most of the attractions at Conservation Station are self-guided, so everyone will spend a different amount of time there. Since we can’t predict that, we didn’t want it to affect these tests.
If you want to experience Conservation Station, there’s plenty of time in this plan to add in an afternoon visit. I suggest seeing it after the stage shows.
We also didn’t include The Boneyard, a huge children’s playground, which was closed during our tests.
We Tested Right After Spring Break with Park Openings at 7:30 and 8:30 AM
We tested our Hollywood Studios plans during Spring Break, and these Animal Kingdom plans immediately after. Actual crowd levels at Animal Kingdom varied from 4 to 6 during these tests.
We think the plan below that covers the park’s 7:30 a.m. opening will work well for higher crowd levels, since the park will open at that time or earlier. The key observation is that relatively few people are willing to get up early enough to be at the front of the crowd for a 7:30 a.m. opening.
We Didn’t Use Genie+ – And You Don’t Need To
We didn’t use Genie+ for these touring plans. One reason is the cost: Genie+ was priced at $20 to $22 per person during our tests. A Disney trip is expensive enough already, and saving time and money with technology is what we do best.
Also, the attractions and return times you get with Genie+ are somewhat random, and we don’t want random things to affect our strategies. If we based our test results on us getting a 9:00 AM Genie+ reservation for Kilimanjaro Safaris, but most people won’t get a 9:00 AM Genie+ reservation for Kilimanjaro Safaris, then that’s not great advice. Kinda like saying the key to being rich is to choose wealthy parents.
What We Wanted to Observe – And Why
Real Wait Times versus Disney’s Posted Wait Times
Since we tested early in the morning on days with average crowds, most of the posted wait times we saw during these tests were 15 minutes or lower. And most of those were accurate.
However, there were important instances where Disney’s posted wait times were either way too high or way too low. And the problem with that, as always, is that you can’t make good decisions with bad information.
Here are some examples:
- Flight of Passage: posted wait of 60 minutes, actual 17 minutes at 8:19 AM. on May 2.
- Killimanjaro Safaris: posted wait of 50, actual 74 at 10:15 AM on May 2.
- Adventurers Outpost: posted wait of 10 minutes, actual 19 at 8:55 AM on April 21.
In each of these examples, making a decision based on the wrong posted wait at that one attraction would’ve led you to much longer waits everywhere else for the rest of the day. Specifically, you would’ve been better off getting in line anyway at Flight of Passage. And the best choice you could’ve made was to skip Kilimanjaro Safari and Adventurers Outpost for other attractions and come back to them later in the morning.
So another key part of these tests was to determine when and where Disney’s posted wait times were off, so we could account for that in our wait time predictions.
The Best Touring Plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Right Now
We’ve got two plans below: one for when Early Theme Park Entry is at 7:30 a.m., and one for when Early Theme Park Entry is at 8:30 a.m. We’re confident that these are the best plans for Animal Kingdom right now, especially if you don’t want to buy Genie+. And we think the 7:30 a.m. plan will work well on days with high crowd levels, too, such as Memorial Day, July 4, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. (High crowd-level days are also the ones most likely to have a 7:30 a.m. opening.)
That said, a good use of Genie+ would be if you want to see some of these attractions twice in the same day.
Step by Step Plans
If you want the lowest possible waits in line at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, here’s a step-by-step guide.
The first two steps are the same in both plans:
- Arrive at the entrance to Disney’s Animal Kingdom 30 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry begins. When admitted into the park, follow Cast member directions to get in line for Avatar Flight of Passage in Pandora.
- As soon as the park opens, ride Avatar Flight of Passage. Your wait here should be under 10 minutes if the park opened at 7:30, and under 20 minutes if the park opened later. Note that Flight of Passage has a 44” height requirement, and child swap is available.
- Next, ride Na’vi River Journey, also in Pandora. Na’vi is not the same quality of ride as Kilimanjaro Safaris, but its lines grow quickly just because it’s next to Flight of Passage. Also, Na’vi River Journey is in the far end of a land that’s at a far end of the park, so riding now will save you a lot of walking later.
The steps you do next depend on if Animal Kingdom opened early. We’ll cover in detail what to do if the park opened at 7:30 a.m. or earlier. After that we’ll summarize the plan steps for when the park opens later.
Next Steps When Animal Kingdom Opens Early
- Head to Discovery Island for photos with Mickey Mouse at Meet Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost. Wait times grow relatively fast here in the morning – faster than at Kilimanjaro Safaris right now – so this is the time to visit. Plus, you’ve had your morning coffee, Mickey’s had his morning coffee, the caffeine is kicking in, so everyone’s in a good mood and relatively few children have sneezed on either of you. No better time for pictures.
- Take a ride on the Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa. The Safaris is Animal Kingdom’s centerpiece and is rated at least 4 ½ stars by every age group that visits. It winds through rivers, savannahs, and high plains, showcasing animals from all over the continent.
- Next, visit Expedition Everest in Asia. Everest was Animal Kingdom’s first roller coaster (44” height requirement) and remains one of the top-rated and popular attractions in the park. A couple of tips: The front seats of Expedition Everest might be the best “front seat experience” of any Disney coaster. And Expedition Everest has a single-rider line, which can really cut down on waits if your group is willing to ride separately.
- After Everest, head to Dinoland U.S.A. and ride TriceraTop Spin. This small, dinosaur-themed ride is a clone of other Disney spinning-type rides like Magic Carpets of Aladdin and Dumbo. You can absolutely skip it if you don’t have small children – this would be a great time for a snack.
- Next, see DINOSAUR, also in Dinoland U.S.A. DINOSAUR was the park’s first thrill ride. It hasn’t retained its popularity the way that other attractions have, and DINOSAUR sits in another far corner of the park. So lines here shouldn’t be more than 12 minutes.
Parents should be aware that DINOSAUR has periods of near-total darkness punctuated by screaming dinosaur attacks, so it’s not recommended for small children. It’s also got a 40” height requirement because of a really rough ride.
- After riding DINOSAUR, head back to Asia. Grab a snack along the way – you’re past all of the hard parts of the plan. When you’re ready, take the Kali River Rapids raft ride (38” height requirement). Disney’s lowered the amount of water that splashes you on Kali, so you shouldn’t get completely soaked. We still think you should take off your shoes and socks before riding, and store them in a bag or in the storage area in the center of the raft. The typical wait here should be 5 minutes.
- Next, see the 3D film It’s Tough to Be a Bug, inside the Tree of Life on Discovery Island. The good parts of this film are its humor and detail – if anyone ever deserved to win a Grammy for a song about pollinating insects, it’s the writers of this movie. The downside of the film is that there are segments involving crawling insects that can absolutely scare both children and adults. All in all, we think it’s worth visiting, especially during the hotter parts of the year.
Those are all of the steps that are specific to early park opening at the Animal Kingdom. Even with a couple of quick snacks and bathroom breaks, you should be done with all of the park’s rides around 10:45 AM, which means you’ve waited less than 7 minutes per attraction on average.
The rest of the plan includes the park’s stage shows and walking trails. But first, let’s start with some suggestions for lunch:
- See the first showing of Festival of the Lion King in Africa. This is typically around 11:00 AM. Lion King has been the highest-rated show in the park almost since the day it opened. And since crowds are relatively low for the first performance, you should be able to see the show without having to stand in line for half an hour. You’ll have more than 90 minutes for lunch and a break after Festival of the Lion King. Now would be a good time to place your mobile food order.
- Eat lunch. The highest-rated quick service restaurant in the park is Satu’li Canteen in Pandora. It’s essentially Disney’s version of Chipotle’s rice bowls. Very tasty, and quick service. Another great choice is Flame Tree Barbecue on Discovery Island near the Tree of Life. Flame Tree has very good barbecued chicken, pork, and ribs. It’s also got tons of covered seating with excellent views of the parka and landscape.
- Hike the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa. Besides gorillas, the exploration trail has exhibits showcasing everything from fish and hippos, to naked mole rats. There’s also an extensive aviary, with colorful birds in the air and water, and on the ground.
- Next, walk the Discovery Island Trails on the way to Asia. These trails are one of the hidden secrets of the Animal Kingdom – most guests walk by their entrances on the way to Africa or Asia. But they contain interesting animals, plus up-close looks at waterfalls and the Tree of Life carvings.
- In Asia, take the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walk has a completely different set of animals than Gorilla Falls; here you’ll see everything from Komodo dragons, antelope, and deer, to Bengal tigers and fruit bats.
- Stop for a snack. In Asia, try the nearby Royal Anandapur Tea Company for baked goods and loose teas (hot or cold). If you’re looking for something more substantial, we recommend the orange chicken at Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes, also here in Asia.
- Next, see the next showing of Feathered Friends in Flight, also in Asia. The Animal Kingdom has had several variations of a bird-themed show. Feathered Friends in Flight is the best one by far. This version focuses on the birds’ natural behaviors and habitats. It’s really done well. There’s usually a show around 1:30 p.m. that should fit right into this schedule.
- You’re headed to Dinoland U.S.A. for the last attraction of the day. But there’s always time for snacks. If you’re in the mood for something cold, you’ll be passing by the Anandapur Ice Cream Bus on your left as you walk to Dinoland. Or try the Dino-Bite Snacks ice cream window, on the side of Restaurantosaurus in Dinoland.
- In Dinoland U.S.A., see the next showing of Finding Nemo: The Big Blue … And Beyond! There’s typically a show around 2:30 p.m. that works well here. The Big Blue is the second version of a Nemo-themed show in this theater, and this one is much shorter than the original. That’s great for parents with kids who are getting tired or fidgety. And it’s got air conditioning, which is fantastic on hot days.
- You’ve completed all of the popular rides, shows and attractions in the park! If you want to remain in the park, we suggest signing up for a few rounds of the Wilderness Explorers scavenger-hunt game, on the bridge between Discovery Island and The Oasis. Wilderness Explorers has you searching throughout the park for clues about animals, people, and their natural habitats. It’s a great activity for anyone who wants to learn more, and for kids and adults who like to explore.
When The Animal Kingdom Opens Later
Here’s the same set of attractions, shown in the order in which you should see them when the park opens at 8:30 AM for Early Theme Park Entry. Note that the way Disney sets performance times for its shows means that it’s necessary to cross the park to see the “next” show.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa
- Kali River Rapids in Asia
- Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost on Discovery Island
- Expedition Everest in Asia
- TriceraTop Spin in Dinoland, U.S.A. (skip if you don’t have small children)
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug, then grab a snack on the way to Dinoland U.S.A.
- See Finding Nemo: The Big Blue … And Beyond!
- Eat lunch (or snack, depending on how much time you have)
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Discovery Island Trails
- Eat lunch (if you’ve not already done so) or grab a snack.
- Festival of the Lion King
- Grab a snack (Harambe Market has rice bowls with chicken and ribs, salads, and chicken nuggets, while Harambe Fruit Market has grab-and-go fruit, pretzels, and cold drinks).
- Feathered Friends in Flight
- Wilderness Explorers
You should be able to complete these steps – with snacks and bathroom breaks – before 12:00 noon, with an average wait of under 8 minutes per attraction.
To Make Your Own Customized Animal Kingdom Touring Plan
If the plan above doesn’t suit you because you don’t want to ride coasters, you don’t want to arrive early, or for any other reason, you can make your own customized touring plans here, or in the Lines app. Never done it before? See our walkthrough: Step-By-Step Guide: Make and Use a Touring Plan in the Lines App (Including Lightning Lane).
Future Touring Plan Testing
Our next steps are to do similar 10-attraction plans at the Magic Kingdom. We’ll be doing those live on Instagram, so follow us there to see them as they happen.
When we come back to the Animal Kingdom, we’re interested in testing a couple of things:
- A plan for regular park opening
- What to do if you’re 90 seconds behind the crowd at Flight of Passage
The second test is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that 90 seconds is not a whole lot of time – it’s probably one bathroom break or the time it takes a toddler to tie their shoes. But I suspect that being 90 seconds behind the lead guests at Flight of Passage would increase how long you wait there by 20 or 30 minutes.
And, of course, while you’re waiting in line those extra 20 to 30 minutes, the lines are getting longer at every other ride in the park. So the bad effects might compound throughout the day. In this case, the questions are whether you should skip riding Flight of Passage first, and if so, what to do instead.
Let me know in the comments below if you try this plan, and if there’s anything else you’d like us to test in the parks.