After Hours at Animal Kingdom is a Walt Disney World special event with 3 hours of access to the park with extremely limited attendance and minimal waits for select rides, including Pandora – World of Avatar. In this post, we’ll recap & review our experience. (Updated November 5, 2019.)
As with the other After Hours events at Walt Disney World in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom’s version of the event does not require regular theme park admission and allows entry as early as 7 p.m. As with the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version of the event, the special event begins 30 minutes after official park closing; to the extent necessary, event guests bypassing what remains of the day guest lines via the FastPass return.
The big question about Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom is likely how much you can accomplish, most significantly, the number of possible rides on Avatar Flight of Passage. We won’t bury the lede–during After Hours, we did the following…
Avatar Flight of Passage (x5)
Navi River Journey (x2)
Expedition Everest (x1)
Tree of Life Awakenings
Dino-Riffic Dance Party
That’s a total of 11 or so things, and with Annual Passholder pricing of $95 or regular pricing at our event, that breaks down to around $9-$12 per experience. We also ate about a half dozen ice cream novelties and had a few Cokes, each of which are also unlimited/included in the cost of admission during the event. Here are upcoming 2019 and 2020 dates for Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom:
We want to note that we were invited guests of Disney at this event, and as such, our tickets were free. Whether you can still trust our review as truly unbiased or if you perceive us as paid shills is up to you. As noted in our last Magic Kingdom Update, the price of me “selling out” is a return of Country Bear Christmas to Walt Disney World, and it’s not back (yet), so draw your own conclusions.
Perhaps the silver lining here is that most of our editorializing here doesn’t matter one way or the other–number of attractions experienced is an objective metric for measuring the event, and that’s in no way dependent upon whether we paid to attend or not.
It might seem silly, but I actually dislike that the value of Animal Kingdom After Hours is so easily ascertainable. There’s something disconcerting about saying each ride on Avatar Flight of Passage or Expedition Everest cost $10 (or whatever).
Perhaps it’s just an artificial disconnect, but I prefer when things are more opaque. I grimace when spending ~$100/ticket on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but rationalize it as being for an overall experience that lasts around 7 hours. If I started to break things down, and viewed each parade as $25, the stage show as $15, etc., that grimace might change to skipping the event due to the per-experience price.
It could be totally psychological, but as someone who views Walt Disney World more as cohesive theme parks than a collection of rides, that’s sort of where I stand. I’m fine doing only a handful of rides each day. The highlight for me is mostly just being there. Fortunately, Animal Kingdom After Hours is a good mix of ‘doing a lot’ and ‘being there.’
In terms of the former, Avatar Flight of Passage is the main substantive draw of Animal Kingdom After Hours. FastPass+ remains challenging to score and wait times during the day still regularly eclipse 2 hours. Experiencing this attraction with a minimal wait is a huge selling point of the event; if you value your time and/or sanity, there’s tremendous value in experiencing Flight of Passage as a walk-on.
And that’s exactly what Flight of Passage is during Disney After Hours. During the party we attended, Flight of Passage was a walk-on after about 9 p.m., and less than an hour after that, there were entire theaters going nearly empty. Seriously, there were 2 occasions when no one else was in the entire theater (not just our load area–all of them). It was surreal looking left and right while riding the banshee and seeing a sea of empty seats on an attraction that is the hottest at Walt Disney World.
As odd as this might sound, there’s a good reason for it: Flight of Passage’s pre-show. If you’ve only experienced the attraction a handful of times, the awkward and rambling pre-show might strike you as mildly annoying. Try experiencing that same pre-show 4 consecutive times and you’ll find it interminably long and bordering on torture (talk about the ultimate first-world hyperbole, but still).
In theory, you could ride Avatar Flight of Passage 9 times during Animal Kingdom After Hours. The full experience from entering the queue to exiting and walking back to the front of the line as a walk-on ranges from 19 to 22 minutes (depending upon walking speed, load time, and whether you have Pandoran parasites).
However, I do not believe anyone will have the patience to subject themselves to that pre-show that many times in a single evening. It just isn’t possible. As majestical, detailed, and euphoric as the ride experience itself is, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in the pre-show each time, and that’s just too much. Unfortunately, there is no way to skip the pre-show. We asked–twice.
I don’t think most people will end up doing Avatar Flight of Passage more than 3 times, which will still eat an hour of the 3-hour event. We did it more because Expedition Everest makes Sarah sick and she loves Flight of Passage. Plus, there’s a certain pull in walking onto the most popular ride at Walt Disney World, even if we do grumble a bit about the pre-show.
In terms of After Hours strategy, I think the best approach would be starting in Asia and doing Expedition Everest repeatedly. The total ride experience there is significantly shorter, meaning you can get more ‘per ride value’ from Disney After Hours by doing Expedition Everest 5 or 6 times.
From there, doing Dinosaur a couple of times makes sense (you can skip the pre-show there…but why would you want disrespect the venerable Dr. Seeker like that?!) before ending the night in Pandora – World of Avatar where you can bounce between Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage to mix things up a bit, and prevent overload on that pre-show.
Our rationale for this strategy is that everyone is going to head to Pandora first. It’s the main draw, and why 95% of people are going to buy tickets to this event. At the beginning of the event, not only will party guests flock to Pandora, but day guests will still be there.
After about an hour of the event, day guests will be long gone, and Disney After Hours guests will also start to move on to other areas of the park. The last 90 minutes of the special event, you should have Pandora pretty much entirely to yourself.
This strategy is more for the future than it is the present. The first Disney After Hours event was absolutely dead, and that’s even with it being the media event. If you told me there were under 1,000 people in the entire park, I’d believe it. Even if attendance triples or quadruples for the 2020 nights, most attractions will still be walk-ons.
There were several occasions when walking around the park when we wouldn’t see anyone else for minutes at a time. This desolate feeling was one of the cooler aspects of After Hours at Animal Kingdom. Well, “cool” until you think about all those carnivores that might be lurking in the shadows, biding their time until they can grab some prey without being detected.
Kidding aside, the lack of crowds was my favorite aspect of the event. I love the physical environment of Pandora, but it is normally so chaotic that it’s difficult to enjoy. During Disney After Hours, it was so devoid of people that the “organic” ambiance there felt apt–like an alien planet being reclaimed by nature. Walking around other areas of the park was similarly satisfying.
Likewise, there’s something to be said for the novelty of walking right onto attractions that are normally packed with people. I lost count of the number of times we attractions entirely to ourselves. Not just our ride vehicle empty–but all of those around us, as well. I’d hazard a guess that only a single-digit percentage of available ride capacity was in use at any given moment.
As with the Magic Kingdom incarnation of the event (which gave away tickets to hotel guests for several parties before finally finding its groove), it’ll take a while for After Hours at Animal Kingdom to gain momentum. To be honest, I’m not sure it’ll ever gain that much traction–outside of Pandora, Animal Kingdom has less appeal, and the park is so spread out that it absorbs the After Hours attendees incredibly well.
The biggest downside to Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom is everything that isn’t open. Even with early admission at 7 p.m., After Hours guests won’t be able to experience Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, or UP! A Great Bird Adventure, all of which currently end operations before 7 p.m.
We’d recommend arriving early, and allocating that time to Kali River Rapids or Primeval Whirl–or anything else that won’t be open during Disney After Hours. During the event, you’re necessarily going to be repeating attractions, as so few are open. Doing other things in that 90 minute window will at least give the sense of greater variety.
If this event were to have a ‘soft’ opening time of 4 or 5 p.m. a la the Halloween and Christmas Parties, a strong case could be made to skip a full day at Animal Kingdom and just do this hard ticket event instead. You’d be able to experience enough of the shows and regular day experiences, and have an exceptional time doing headliners with minimal waits for 3 hours.
As things stand, After Hours at Animal Kingdom is a great option for those who want to avoid crowds and experience Flight of Passage (or other headliners) repeatedly. In which case, maybe do another partial day at Animal Kingdom to see shows, animals, trails, etc., rather than a full day.
Ultimately, Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom is an event that leaves me conflicted. On principle, these upcharges bother me, especially considering that they could be Extra Magic Hours (something that has been scaled back in the last several years) available to all resort guests. The flip side is that you’d never get this much done at a free EMH evening, and more special ticketed events is clearly the direction Walt Disney World is going, whether I like it or not.
What do you think of Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom? Is this something that interests you, or is the cost too high to justify? How many times do you think you could handle the Flight of Passage pre-show in a single night? Do you agree or disagree with our review of the event? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!