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!