Animal Kingdom Morning Strategy & Rope Drop Tips
Animal Kingdom has the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World and arriving for park opening is essential. Our morning strategy and rope drop tips cover beating the Pandora – World of Avatar crowds, which other attractions to prioritize, and anticipated wait times. We’ll also answer the question of just how early you need to arrive at Animal Kingdom to rope drop Flight of Passage.
Speaking of which, the top morning priority for any Walt Disney World attraction is the “Flee to Flight of Passage.” (I wanted to call this the “Flight of Passage Flee,” but that implies leaving Flight of Passage, and this blog is nothing if not pedantic. You can tell by all of the typos.) Doing Avatar Flight of Passage first thing in the morning can save you hours in an unpleasant line later in the day, and puts you on a great path to accomplishing all of Animal Kingdom’s headliners by around 11 a.m.
As compared to its opening summer, things have started to calm down with Pandora – World of Avatar, so we thought now would be a good time to revisit the land for rope drop with a more reliable assessment of what strategy works for first thing in the morning at Animal Kingdom. With that said, we should note that Walt Disney World is still likely to tweak park opening protocol for Pandora, so if you’re planning a 2020 vacation now, it may not be best to study up quite yet…
Conventional wisdom says the best course of action is scoring a FastPass+ for Avatar – Flight of Passage and not hassling with that attraction at rope drop. Here at the Disney Tourist Blog Labs, our wisdom is anything but conventional, and it’s probably not actual wisdom, either.
We suggest scoring a FastPass+ for Avatar – Flight of Passage and also rope dropping the ride. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to get off that attraction and say, “that was definitely a one and done.” (Spoiler: we also recommend doing it at the very end of the night.)
Flight of Passage made our Top 10 Walt Disney World Attractions List for a reason, and to be honest, most people are going to rank it even higher than we did. In terms of guest satisfaction scores, Flight of Passage is at or near the top of all Walt Disney World attractions.
Perhaps you’d feel differently about that if you waited 180 minutes for it and wet your pants in line, but most experts agree that you ain’t cool unless you pee your pants, so perhaps even then you’d still rank it #1 or #2.
Committing to doing Flight of Passage first impacts what time you should leave your hotel and get to Animal Kingdom. Obviously, the earlier the better. Even this is tricky, because if you arrive too early, you’ll start to see diminishing returns in terms of a reduced wait. Basically, you’ll be redistributing your wait from the standby line for Flight of Passage to the park’s turnstiles, if that makes sense.
As such, finding the sweet spot where you spend the least amount of time at the turnstiles and in line for Flight of Passage combined is ideal. In our not-quite-scientific view, this is just over an hour in advance for a 9 a.m. park opening. This may seem like a long time to just stand at the park entrance, but in reality, you’ll be waiting ~15 minutes at the turnstiles, another ~15 minutes at the bridge leading to Pandora – World of Avatar, and will be in line for Flight of Passage by just before 8:45 a.m.
Via Disney transportation, you could arrive to Animal Kingdom as early as 7 a.m., but that’s overkill. There’s no need to be at the absolute front of the rope drop herd, and if you’re really concerned about jockeying for position a bit, power walk from the park entrance to the Discovery Island/Pandora bridge. There’s absolutely no reason to run unless you feel the need to sweat profusely first thing in the morning, ensuring everyone keeps their distance from you in line the rest of the day.
Note that we’re being intentionally vague with the times here since there is no precisely scheduled time each of these opening procedures occurs. Turnstiles could open at 8:10 a.m. one day, and not until 8:17 a.m. another day (the horror!). Moreover, as demand decreases, there could be even more delay, as this unannounced early opening functions as a release valve on crowds.
People tend to get antsy when the realities of park operations don’t match whatever they’ve read online and plans they’ve neatly made. Don’t get antsy–be cool–and go with the flow. Irrespective of exact times, you’re going to ride Flight of Passage with a minimal wait.
You should be finished with Flight of Passage before 9:30 a.m. even on a moderately busy day, in which case you should head immediately to Na’vi River Journey unless the posted wait is at or above 60 minutes. Most mornings, you’re looking at an actual wait of between however quickly you can walk through the empty queue and 10 minutes.
Suffice to say, Na’vi River Journey is not Pandora’s headliner. If you enjoyed Na’vi River Journey the first time through, consider doing it again. The posted wait will undoubtedly be higher, but it’s still inflated. Unless you stay until nighttime or have a midday FastPass+, you’re going to want to stay out of Pandora for the bulk of the day after this.
The advantage of doing Pandora first is that these attractions begin operating before official park opening, whereas Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, etc., all start operating at 9 a.m. sharp.
From there, the park is your oyster. Regardless of arrival time, pretty much everyone races to Flight of Passage first thing in the morning. Honestly, unless you’re in line for it before park opening, that’s a pretty lousy strategy since Flight of Passage’s line shoots up to 120 minutes (at least) pretty quickly and stays there.
Jumping into a 120-minute line at 9:15 a.m. means you’re forgoing short waits at literally every other attraction in Animal Kingdom.
That’s a crumby strategy, so if you’re delayed or you oversleep or whatever, and don’t enter Animal Kingdom until 9:00 a.m., do not head to Pandora. Do it in mid-afternoon or the very end of the night instead. Pick up this strategy right here with the early-rising rope droppers.
From here, I like the approach of doing Expedition Everest a couple of times (although my ultimate preference is Expedition Everest at sunset via FastPass+ or Single Rider) if the posted wait is 30 minutes or less. After that, head to Dinosaur, and then Kilimanjaro Safaris.
All of these should be near walk-on status until 10 a.m. (regardless of what’s posted), and only Everest starts to develop longer waits before 10:30 a.m. All 3 of these can peak above 60 minutes on moderately crowded days, so hitting them with no wait is a nice consolation prize if you do miss out on the morning Flee to Flight of Passage.
The goal here is sort of to “ride the wave” and stay ahead of the bulk of crowds exiting Pandora, and where they head next. At around 11 a.m., you might want to start using your FastPasses, slowing down, and proceeding with your plan for the rest of the day at Animal Kingdom. Of course, we recommend our 1-Day Animal Kingdom Park Itinerary but you can strike out on your own and dine at Restaurantosaurus followed by riding TriceraTop Spin on loop if the mood strikes you.
Overall, rope drop at Animal Kingdom is not nearly as bad as its newfound (post-Pandora) reputation suggests. The Flee to Flight of Passage does involve being stuck in a high-strung sea of humanity, but after you knock that attraction out, the rest of the morning is clear sailing with wide-open pathways, the clear sounds of active wildlife, and walk-on attractions. Pandora – World of Avatar definitely transformed Animal Kingdom from Walt Disney World’s “sleepy” ambiance park into something far more frenetic, but following this morning strategy for DAK will allow you to experience the park the way it used to be, if only for a couple hours.
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What’s your rope drop strategy for Animal Kingdom? Do you participate in the Flee to Flight of Passage? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!
Tom, I know in an ideal scenario morning rope drop of FOP is the way to go, but what are your thoughts on getting in line to ride right before park closing? We’ll be doing AK day 1 of our trip on June 17th with fairly young kids and it’s an EMH 8:00 opening for us that day. Thanks
We were at Animal Kingdom on 12 December 18, and followed this strategy (Touring Plans also has a You Tube video documenting a similar/the same advice). The beginning part was a strung out sea of humanity, but it was, in the end worth it. We arrived at the park around 8am and had done FOP and Navi River by 920. Made the rest of the day a breeze.
We’re currently at Disney and have used so many of your tips this year and the last 6 years we’ve been. So we woke up early and arrived at AK by 8am….waited in bag check and the turnstiles. We made it to pandora by 8:20 and the line was to the back of Africa by then . Posted wait of 60 min which quickly climbed to 135 by 9am. People were straight up running like nuts to get to it. They need to rope off the entrance like HS does and let everyone in at the same time.
Do WDW resort buses pick up early enough to get there at ~7:45 for a 9am opening?
(All-Star Music Resort).
“We suggest scoring a FastPass+ for Avatar — Flight of Passage and also rope dropping the ride.”
One thing I like about this site, is that the advice columns consider this possibility. So many of the other Disney sites seem to assume that everyone will only want to do each attraction once.
We will be in Disney World the week after Thanksgiving. 🙂 I have been told by a neighbor who was there in the spring that I should not ride FOP due to having neck surgery during the summer. Any thoughts on the matter? Is the ride really that rough? I see the neurosurgeon on Friday and will get more guidelines but have been allowed to do most normal activities, just can’t do anything where I might fall – like roller skating, etc. I don’t do roller coasters or Space Mt. I do ride Splash Mt. and Test Track, at least I did before my surgery.
I’ve never done it but from the videos at YouTube , it’s a motion ride but instead of a buggy(chair sit down ride) you are sitting on what looks like a motorcycle so lots of movement and bent back involved
As a nurse, I say consult with your provider. As someone who rode the ride, it did not jerk me around at all. A nice relaxing ride.
I’ve ridden it several times and it’s very smooth and relaxing. Nothing even close to test track.
So we have a FP for FOP for Dec 15 Saturday, but the time is 6-7pm. Should we try to rope drop, it’s our last day of our week long trip so I know we’ll be tired and I’m afraid a rope drop plan might fall by the wayside. Should we just ride everything thing else we want that morning using our FP for Everest and dinosaur and just chill knowing we at least have a FP for FOP?
You cannot go wrong riding Flight of Passage as many times as possible. It’s the most amazing ride anywhere. I literally shed tears of joy the first time we rode it. If you only ride it the one time on your last day there, you will regret not getting another shot at it. We luckily had FPs for each of our last two days, so we got to ride it twice. Still not enough. For a trip where I got absolutely fed up with the heat and the crowds, this ride alone has me wanting to go back for more.
My question is how are the animals protected with all this new stuff coming to Animal Kingdom? It seems the park use to be closed early for the animals sake, now staying open later. Are the animals still living comfortably?
The park used to close so early, in part, because there wasn’t as much to do, and because there weren’t any nighttime-specific activities. Between Pandora’s lighting package, Rivers of Light, evening safaris, and tree of life awakenings, there’s enough to do ‘after dark’ that it makes sense to keep the park open later.
Pandora is not in or near animal areas (and replaced Camp Minnie-Mickey, which was not an animal area), so that’s a non-issue. The Rivers of Light nighttime show doesn’t use any concussive pyrotechnics, so no trauma to neighboring habitats there. The animal walking trails still close at dusk, regardless of when the park closes. As far as we know, the only operational change that has impacted the animals is the extension of Kilimanjaro Safaris into the evening, so the animals stay out on the savannah longer before being called back to their overnight barns. There’s no glaring evidence that this has caused discomfort for the animals.
Did any of that answer your question?
Doing Animal Kingdom the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and have 2 questions. All opinions welcome.
1- If I were to add the Mickey and Minnie meet and greet at Adventures Outpost to this rope drop itinerary (in place of Dinosaur) should I do it right before or right after Expedition Everest?
2- If the park closes at 8:00 and I watch the 7:30 Rivers of Light from the fastpass section will I have enough time to rush over to Pandora after and get in the standby line for FOP?
We were at Animal Kingdom on Columbus Day of this year and watched the only showing of Rivers of Light that night. They did NOT let anyone head back towards the Pandora side of the park. Everyone was routed through Dinoland towards the exit. We were a little bummed because checking out Pandora after dark had been part of our plan, and we missed out.
I’m sorry, I can’t help with your first question – we’ve never done the Adventurer’s Outpost meet and greet. We did really enjoy the new Dinoland meet and greets with the Duck Tales characters!
Well that’s disappointing. I guess I’ll try to attend the 6:15 Rivers of Light show and if it doesn’t happen I’ll just skip it. I don’t want to miss spending some night time in Pandora. Thank you for the information, much appreciated. 🙂
What are your thoughts about a mid-day FP+ for Flight of Passage and leaving the rest of the park open to adventure at 9am? (assuming this is park opening time.) You lose the option of riding F of P twice but you avoid the sea of humanity altogether.
We did this on our last trip, except with a 10-11am FOP fastpass. It was great! We arrived at exactly 9am, went straight to Everest, and rode it several times with no wait, rode a couple of other rides, and then made our way to Pandora mid-morning for our FOP fastpass time slot. We didn’t feel the need to ride FOP twice, and avoided the people soup of waiting for rope drop.
I did this on my last trip! We went on a day with morning extra magic hours and got right on Naavi River Journey. After that, we headed to Everest and Kilimanjaro Safari. We finished all that with time to spare before our late morning breakfast reservation! We did a 1ish FastPass, but I probably would’ve made it for earlier if I knew the morning would go so smoothly.
What do you mean by rope drop?
If the park opens at 9am isn’t that the time you are allowed in??
We are travelling from Sydney in Dec and could not secure a FP for this ride. Plan to get there and line up before park opens at 9am
We arrived at AK last year about 8:15am in a lower crowd time of year. We (along with those in front of us and behind us) were slowly walked back as described here and were actually in the ride line by 8:50am.
They have been “unofficially” letting people in to ride flight of passage about 10/15 minutes before park opening for a long time now. This is not true for other rides in the park; it is just for FOP because that ride has by far the highest demand first thing in the morning.
All of the parks have different procedures for opening first thing in the morning. For example, if the Magic Kingdom opens at 9am, the turnstiles will open well before 9am to keep crowd sizes manageable and to let people buy starbucks and such. Everyone is held at the end of Main Street by ropes until 9am, at which point the “rope drops” to let you go beyond main street. Similar procedures are followed at each park, with dedicated cast members slowly walking the crowd back to key attractions.
We were there last week. The park opened at 9. We got through the turnstiles at 8:30 am and were in line for FOP at 8:45. We waited 100 minutes until it was our turn. Next month I plan on being at the park by 8 am to avoid another 100 minute wait with my 74 year old mother in law.
Hi what about the ride for wheelchair users should we do the same approach?
Clearly, Jim has never seen an Adam Sandler movie.
Guess again there, Tina.
My conjecture is Jim has seen too many Adam Sandler movies too many times!
Our Animal Kingdom day is during Christmas week (yikes I know) with a 7am opening for us. We have a fast pass but want to ride it twice. Do you suggest getting to the park by 6AM taking into consideration that it is the most crowded week of the year? Or since it’s so early in the AM would 6:30 ish suffice? Thank you always for all the great reads and tips. We adhere to them religiously.
Get there early. Like 6 am early. An hour before it opens, and there will probably still be people ahead of you, but that’s ok, you’ll still get through fine. The idea is to do your waiting BEFORE park opening so you are not wasting precious park time waiting. We rope drop FoP every AK day of our trips (usually 3 different days each trip) and use fastpass, and we’ve never seen it slow. Better safe than sorry!
“you ain’t cool unless you pee your pants”
Mr. Bricker. What you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Well this is just unnecessary, isn’t it?
Fans of the film “Billy Madison” would belive it is absolutely necessary!
Yeah, Mr. Bricker, why would you suggest it’s cool to pee your pants!? Horrible! There is no possibility this could be a joke or a reference to anything! I’m sure of it!
(Finger to mouth) “That is correct!”…..
If peeing in your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis
This is great, but what about on a day when Animal Kingdom has morning EMH? Does Pandora still open earlier, or does it open at 8 with the rest of the park?
Curious about this too…is there a best strategy for EMH days?
Couldn’t get a FastPass+ for our first day at AK for Flight of Passage, so our only option is standby. Any arrival time tips for EMH would be grealy appreciated!!
An hour early, regardless of when the park opens. Seriously. If it opens at 8:00am for EMH, be in line at 7:00am. If it opens at 7:00, be there at 6:00. There will still be people ahead of you – do not worry about this. There could be 100 people already there, and you’ll be fine. The idea is to do the waiting BEFORE park opening, to save precious park time. FoP is still that popular, but this plan will ensure you get on and off with little wait, and you will be amazed how many people will be coming in right after you. This works! Happy Holidays!
What about naming the “fleeing” strategy “Flight TO Passage?”
Just a thought…
Thanks for all the previous rope drop advise, we put it good use recently.
Rope drop at Animal Kingdom does not seem as organised as it is DHS for Slinky Dog ride, where I was very impressed with the CM’s herding of the crowd.
In both cases I enjoyed the rope dropping nearly as much as the rides themselves. And in both cases you have done the whole section of the park by 10, leaving you to relax a bit more and take it easy.
In the case of Fast Pass on our second day in AK, we had a 9:30 FP and hadn’t rushed for park opening. There was a bit of confusion because it was not clear where the Fastpass entrance was and we almost joined a long line thinking it was the line to get into the Pandora section of the park (which in a way it was). If you have early fast passes you compete with rope droppers to get into the area, it is best to ask CM directions for pass fast.