Animal Kingdom Reopening Report

Following visits to Magic Kingdom for Walt Disney World’s reopening day and AP preview, we head to Animal Kingdom to see modified operations there. In this report, we’ll share photos, crowds & wait time info, health & safety measures, mask compliance, concluding with commentary about the rising case numbers in Florida.

Once again, we opted to arrive after rope drop to wait out whatever first wave of crowds there might be (everything we’ve heard from friends suggests there has been no such first wave). By the time we arrived, there was no wait at the parking toll booths, health screening, bag check, or the turnstiles.

Animal Kingdom was even quieter than Magic Kingdom, which was not a total surprise. Disney Park Pass reservations only filled up entirely for Annual Passholders, and excess inventory was never reallocated from theme park ticketholders and resort guests. It’s unclear if this will happen in the future–we suspect it eventually, with Walt Disney World proceeding cautiously as it scales up operations…

While Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom have been veritable ghost towns opening weekend, it’s worth reiterating that capacity is still be kept low right now. More Annual Passholders would absolutely be in the parks if allowed to enter. Reports out of Universal showed larger crowds over the weekend, which alone is indicative of Walt Disney World limiting attendance.

In other words, we’d strongly caution against booking a trip on the basis of what you’re seeing out of the first weekend. Although there’s some degree of pent-up demand that will be exhausted, there’s also the reality that Walt Disney World is artificially constraining capacity even below the 20-30% threshold. That’s probably the smart and safe move for the foreseeable future, with rising case numbers and the national eye focused on Disney.

There’s also the reality that the heat and humidity are absolutely brutal right now.

I don’t think it was any hotter than the previous day, but Animal Kingdom always feels hotter than any other park to us.

That plus this being our second consecutive day of being outdoors during the daytime after not really doing that for months made this especially exhausting.

(Some might want to attribute this to masks–that’s not it. This would be unbearable weather regardless.)

Expedition Everest had a posted 5 minute wait most of our time at Animal Kingdom, but both times we made it to Asia, the posted wait inexplicably had shot to 20 minutes.

Fortunately, the posted wait times throughout the parks are almost universally inflated. Even when lines were spilling out the entrances, we found they were short thanks to a lack of FastPass+ and the spacing built into the queues.

Kali River Rapids was a 5 minute wait (and presumably a walk-on in actuality) but we didn’t do that because we didn’t want to get soaked.

I don’t know anyone who has done this attraction since reopening, but I’d love to hear a report from someone who has–particularly how it works with masks and whether you get as wet as normal.

We also didn’t get to do Up! A Great Bird Adventure, which was seemingly running at random (or at least inaccurate) showtimes.

I didn’t even realize this was going to reopen. Either I forgot or it was a last-minute addition to the schedule.

Animal Kingdom also has a trio of Relaxation Stations where guests can go to remove their masks.

This one was the busiest and smallest–totally full when we checked it out.

However, this dining area is located immediately to the right of the Relaxation Station, and was totally empty. There are tables in the shade in addition to these two.

It’s worth reiterating that you need to be seated when eating. You are allowed to quickly pull your mask down while walking and drinking, but only while taking a sip. (We confirmed this again with the “Incredi-Crew” physical distancing Cast Members because it’s been a common question.)

Mask compliance was about 95%. We saw a few guests with the masks down while simply holding food or drinks (one couple proactively put their masks up when they saw a Cast Member, so presumably they had been admonished about this and knew what they were doing.)

Still, very good all things considered. Much better than the ~50-70% mask compliance we’ve seen at Publix or Target.

In our view, the dining options at Animal Kingdom are markedly better than those at Magic Kingdom.

There are strong options for snacks and counter service restaurants, which cannot be said for Magic Kingdom.

The weak link remains table service dining, as none of the options have outdoor seating. (See our Best Outdoor Dining Options at Walt Disney World for recommendations on that front.)

We’re going to keep beating this drum because it’s important, especially as our collective knowledge about transmission evolves. If you’re compulsively cleaning surfaces and sanitizing your hands but are still dining indoors, you’re prioritizing the wrong thing. (Of course, it’s best to err on the side of caution, eating outside and sanitizing.)

We ended up doing Satu’li Canteen (for Sarah) and Flame Tree Barbecue (for me).

Satu’li Canteen was easily the busier of the two, to the point where the outdoor seating area was close to full when we dined there. By contrast, Flame Tree has many outdoor pavilions, and only the one with the Expedition Everest view had other guests in it. The rest were totally empty.

That prime seating area would make a good spot not just for Expedition Everest, but for watching the Discovery River Character Cruises.

Above we have Pocahontas and Meeko.

Here’s Launchpad, Daisy, and Donald Duck. Other characters in their Dino Bash costumes made appearances.

The best entertainment, however, was the Discovery Island Drummers. These performers gave an energy to the park that was otherwise a bit flat.

We waited until it was a walk-on before doing Avatar Flight of Passage.

Unfortunately, our timing was poor and we ended up being in the load area with another group. There’s a ton of plexiglass installed in the queue and the interminable pre-show isn’t running (just the safety spiel video), so that’s all good. However, the spacing is only one empty banshee between parties, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that on an indoor attraction. Totally a personal thing, but we wouldn’t do Flight of Passage again in the near future.

Pandora – World of Avatar was likewise largely devoid of people after lunch.

It’s been a while since we’ve spent time in Pandora during the day, as this area is usually miserable between the crowds and heat. It was still unpleasantly hot, but there was a serene quality to the unpleasantness!

No amount of low crowds can make some places feel pleasant or serene…

We didn’t stick around long enough to find out for ourselves, but reports from friends have indicated that the crowds at Animal Kingdom are really light the last 2-3 hours of the day. This would square with what we’ve experienced at Magic Kingdom.

By the time we made our way over there, Kilimanjaro Safaris was a walk-on. Save for Expedition Everest, which was probably a fluke, most attraction wait times at Animal Kingdom can be measured by how long it takes to walk through the queue.

Lots of ride vehicles going empty, or with only one party aboard.

Barriers have been installed between each row; between that and the fact that it’s an outdoor attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris was quite a pleasant experience.

We had a giraffe try to “say hello” in our safari truck and got to see adorable baby flamingos, so great ride overall.

While waiting for unload, I received a news alert that Florida reported a record 15,300 new cases, by far the most any state has reported in a single day since this began. I had an immediate sinking feeling, and the rest of the afternoon was basically walking around in a fog, with the emotion of this news weighing down on us.

Reading more helped contextualize the bleak number, but there’s no explaining it away. That’s more in a day than numerous countries have recorded in total since this began. I’ve been hopeful that with mask mandates and bars closed, we’d start to see a decrease in numbers. With each passing day, it’s harder to retain that sense of optimism.

I’m not totally sure how to feel or what to say here. I still believe that this is complicated, and Central Florida has a difficult road ahead regardless of the decision made with reopening. Another closure would be devastating to the area, but we’re nearing the point where so will staying open. I don’t know that Americans have the tolerance for further shutdowns, especially after the time that was bought by the first one was essentially squandered. (If the choices are controlled and safe settings for going out or “shutting down” but people engaging in risky behavior like house parties and ‘unregulated’ gatherings, is the latter really the better option?)

We’ve seldom ventured out in the last several months, but Walt Disney World is the safest place we’ve been in that time by leaps and bounds. And it’s not just an illusory feeling of safety or health theater (although there is some of that); Disney is doing a considerably better job than elsewhere in this area. Within the microcosm of Walt Disney World, the measures being taken are above and beyond even those that have been demonstrably effective for other countries in obliterating the curve.

For us, going to the parks and further mitigating our risk by dining outdoors and making a concerted effort to avoid prolonged time spent indoors seems like a responsible and healthy way to attempt resuming some semblance of normalcy. However, our circumstances are also unique–we have the luxury of going for brief periods and then staying at home for a couple of weeks thereafter. We’re very cognizant that this is not reality for many people reading this.

With all of that said, I personally would not be traveling to Florida right now. If I had a trip planned for the next several months, I’d be in wait and see mode, only proceeding if the numbers start to improve. This is a point we’ve made repeatedly, but want to hammer it home again. It’d be irresponsible to let the empty park photos and reports on low crowds tell their own story because that’s simply not the full one.

Even though Walt Disney World is doing a fantastic job with safety, there is risk in getting here, getting around–and being in the parks. It’s worth underscoring that even the safest setting is not risk-free. You’re all adults who are ultimately going to assess the information and make your own decisions; if it were us and we didn’t live here, we wouldn’t be here. Regardless of the conclusion you reach about what’s right for you, we appreciate you reading this!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Did you attend the reopening weekend at Animal Kingdom? What was your experience? Thoughts on any topic discussed here? Are you eagerly awaiting your next vacation ‘escape’ to Walt Disney World, or still apprehensive about everything going on right now? Do you have any questions about the current modified Animal Kingdom experience? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!


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