Early Theme Park Entry is available for on-site resort guests at Walt Disney World, and we’ve taken advantage of the perk several times for each park. This Animal Kingdom photo report offers step-by-step “speedrunning” strategy for accomplishing every ride with minimal waits during the morning hours in the park.
While this Early Entry at Disney’s Animal Kingdom report is based on a single experience, it’s the culmination of several times doing EE at DAK. We’ve taken advantage of the morning Extra Magic Hours replacement several times, following the tips & tricks here, more or less. In essence, this is the refinement of everything we’ve learned, avoiding mistakes & pitfalls, while also getting lucky with zero ride breakdowns.
The first thing you need to know is that Park Hours at Animal Kingdom can vary. In a nutshell, there are some days when the park opens at 8 am, and some days when it opens at 9 am. For this strategy to work, an 8 am opening time is necessary. It’s possible that Animal Kingdom will open at 8 am on every day of your trip. Even if you’re visited during a moderately busy time of year, the park often officially opens at 8 am on Fridays through Sundays. If you want this to work, do DAK on those days!
Moving from a 9 am opening time to 8 am might seem like a big hassle for an insignificant gain. It’s actually huge and that’s precisely because it’s a hassle. That hour earlier in the morning is a big deal because it shrinks the pool of potential guests who are willing and able to get up early on vacation. When park opening is at 8 am, this means that Early Entry is at 7:30 am. For most Walt Disney World guests, that’s simply too early.
When park opening is at 9 am, there are a ton of people partaking in the 8:30 am Early Entry because it’s relatively easy to be out the door and to Animal Kingdom by that time. It’s a different story entirely when moving that forward by an hour–especially for the families with small children.
This isn’t just conjecture or speculation. We’ve tested this repeatedly in multiple parks, and it is always the case that an earlier Early Entry is more fruitful because fewer guests can and will take advantage of it. Suffice to say, the 7:30 am Early Entry at Animal Kingdom is a game changer. Very few guests have the desire and determination to be out their hotel room door by 6:30 am, which is pretty much what’s necessary to arrive at DAK in time for the start of Early Entry.
For this day in DAK, I stayed at All Star Sports Resort and left my room shortly after 6:30 am for the main bus stop. My goal with Early Entry at Animal Kingdom is to catch the bus before 7 am; I’ve found that usually buses begin running from most resorts at around 6:45 am for the 7:30 am Early Entry.
With a wake up call at this ridiculous hour, I’ve found that I’m often the first one at the bus stop and sometimes the only person on the first bus to the park. Neither were the case on this particular day, but it was also the peak of spring break season and my hotel was hosting a couple major youth sporting events. Our bus was fairly full, which is a rarity–and gave me some pause that my plan might not work.
A lot of people like to knock the All Stars, but there’s one undeniable positive that they offer: proximity to Animal Kingdom. Probably not a thing most guests prioritize when ranking resorts, but still. It comes in handy on days like this.
Thanks to that, our bus was among the first dozen or so to be dropped off at Animal Kingdom. I packed light on this particular day so my camera bag wouldn’t flag me for additional screening, and breezed through security as a result.
This was the scene at the park entrance as of 7:07 am.
Inevitably, when people are “this far back” despite getting up at the crack of dawn, they are anxious and annoyed. That plus sleep deprivation and minus caffeine are a dangerous combination. Tensions are often running high. However, I can assure you that this is a very good spot. It may look like a lot of people, but diluted across an entire theme park (or in this case, more realistically, a single land), it’s not much at all.
Cast Members started admitting guests into Animal Kingdom at around 7:20 am.
The specific times vary from day to day, and there are multiple points at which guests are held, so don’t get too discouraged if you enter the park later or earlier. Seriously, there is zero cause for stress. Keep the vibe light and positive–it’s going to be a magnificent morning. And if it’s not, that won’t be because of any variables that you can change.
That first stopping point is pretty close to the park entrance; the next one is on the bridge to Pandora: The World of Avatar.
Of course, that assumes that you’re prioritizing Pandora: The World of Avatar. If you’re choosing to start your day in another land, uh, you should’ve slept in another hour or so.
From this point, Cast Members slowly lead the herd of guests into Pandora.
If you’re heading to Na’vi River Journey, you can go left and run, moonwalk, or however you choose to move to that. Everyone else is slowly shuffled to Avatar Flight of Passage through the long route. It might sound tedious, but it’s efficient and easy. Most importantly, you don’t have to fight with fellow guests or jockey for a spot ~17 seconds earlier in line.
At first, it’ll appear that the Avatar Flight of Passage line extends all the way through the queue.
This is very disconcerting for anyone who has ever done this attraction; a walk-on is still a ~10 minute wait because that’s about how long it takes to walk through the lengthy line.
In actuality, it just takes some time for people to make their way through the line.
None of the switchbacks inside Avatar Flight of Passage are in use at this hour, meaning that you, uh, fly through the queue and have a minimal wait.
I was in the first pre-show by 7:44 am.
Delays are common with Avatar Flight of Passage, and I experienced a few during my morning. Nothing major, but they added about 5 minutes to my speedrun. Still much better than Flight of Passage being down, and being denied the opportunity to, uh, fly as part of this amazing rite of passage.
After Flight of Passage, it was on to Na’vi River Journey.
The posted wait time for this was 15 minutes, which was actually lower than expected given that I was arriving ~13 minutes after park opening. No matter what the posted wait time, this should be your second stop. The posted time is usually inflated and wrong, regardless.
My actual wait for Na’vi River Journey was about 5 minutes or so.
Even on busier days, less than 15 minutes is pretty close to par for the course. Almost everyone arriving for regular rope drop does Avatar Flight of Passage first and Genie+ doesn’t sell as well at Animal Kingdom, so Na’vi River Journey’s line takes longer to build.
From there, it was on to Kilimanjaro Safaris.
There are two schools of thought here. One is to cross the entire park and knock out Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, and Dinosaur in quick succession. Depending upon the day, you can potentially do several rides on Expedition Everest (if you so desire) as a walk-on. All of these rides combined have a shorter total duration than the safari, so knocking them out first can be savvy.
I opted to go the easy route and do Kilimanjaro Safaris first. It’s closer to Pandora, and I like seeing the wildlife first thing in the morning when they’re most active.
Really, though, either approach will work. If you bounce to the other side of the park, you’re more likely to encounter a longer line upon returning to the safari, but it still should be manageable.
From start to finish, Kilimanjaro Safaris was a nearly 45 minute commitment.
That was despite the posted 35 minute wait time being closer to 10 minutes, and was in large part courtesy of some big bird (not the Big Bird…or Kevin) standing in our vehicle’s path for what felt like an hour.
Following that, it was off to Asia and Dinoland.
The last of these attractions that I did was Dinosaur and, well, I think the on-ride photo speaks for itself in terms of the “wait times” (air quotes) that I encountered for these attractions. In fairness, I only did Expedition Everest once. Had I reversed the order, I’m pretty confident I could’ve done Expedition Everest three times and still arrived at Kilimanjaro Safaris with an actual wait time under 30 minutes.
All in all, I was done with every ride for adults before 10:30 am.
I did skip TriceraTop Spin, which is not as cool as it might sound, both because I’m not a fan and I don’t have the confidence to do kiddie rides by myself as a grown man. However, it was a walk-on after Dinosaur and would’ve put my finish time (still) at around 10:30 am.
At this point, I could have done the Minnie & Mickey Mouse at Adventurers Outpost meet & greet with literally zero wait. I poked my head inside, and there was literally no one there.
Strategy-wise, this is a savvy time for the meet & greet. This ends up having one of the highest average wait times at Animal Kingdom, which is due to a mixture of low capacity, high demand, and overzealous Lightning Lane usage. If meeting the mice matters to you, do it now.
Another solid option is eating. For one thing, if you were up at 6:30 am for Early Entry, there’s a good chance that it’s lunch time for you. For another thing, both Satu’li Canteen and Flame Tree BBQ are incredibly popular and have long lines or crowds during the lunch rush.
The last time I did this, I actually rope dropped Nomad Lounge. That’s not open quite yet, but arriving 10 minutes or so before it starts seating guests guarantees you a table and great service. (If you ask me, this is the underrated option among all of the choices.)
On an average day, crowds will start arriving in full force at Animal Kingdom at around 10 am…but the vast majority of people, no matter what time they arrive, make a beeline for Pandora: The World of Avatar. As a result of this, you usually have about another hour until the wait times start getting bad anywhere else.
Consequently, this step-by-step strategy for Early Entry also ends up working out pretty well for regular rope drop, too. Simply skip Avatar Flight of Passage and pick up the plan from there, and you’ll have similar results. In fact, you should be able to do slightly better, as I didn’t get to Na’vi River Journey until after official park opening.
The difficulty is going to be resisting the temptation to do Avatar Flight of Passage first. Upon arrival at regular rope drop/park opening, it will have a moderate posted standby time, but keep in mind that the time is increasing and you will be behind “the wave” of crowds for everything else if you do Flight of Passage first. Accordingly, our advice is to return to Flight of Passage during the lunch lull and just deal with the standby wait, bite the bullet and buy an Individual Lightning Lane, or outlast the crowds.
To that last point, Animal Kingdom usually starts clearing out in mid-afternoon. Because there are only 4-6 rides that most people care about doing plus 1-2 stage shows and maybe a bit of wildlife watching, even those who arrive by 10 am have usually had their fill by 4 pm. Meaning that you can follow our Animal Kingdom Afternoon Arrival Strategy for the most efficient itinerary if you’re not a morning person and want to focus on rides. (Spoiler: it’s basically this, but in reverse.)
Ultimately, Early Entry at Animal Kingdom is excellent. I call it speedrunning rides in the title to make me sound super cool (did it work?), but in reality, there was nothing speedy about this on my end. I got distracted by animals on multiple occasions, spent an inordinate amount of time photographing sunbursts rising below the floating mountains of Pandora, and wandered aimlessly for a few minutes trying to track down mac & cheese. I left those diversions out of the core itinerary because I don’t think doing those things offers any strategic advantage.
In reality, my Early Entry run at Animal Kingdom was speedy because it’s speedy. Animal Kingdom is, without a doubt, the easiest park at Walt Disney World from a strategy perspective. The big secret is timing. Arrive early or late and avoid the middle of the day. That’s really about it. This continues to work incredibly well because so few people do it.
Like clockwork, they show up at 10 am, head to Pandora at the busiest time of day in that land, and do the rest of the park inefficiently. Arriving late often results in leaving early out of frustration (or “animal fatigue”), so most guests never experience Animal Kingdom efficiently. Now you know what to do–it’s just a matter of setting that alarm and making it happen. As the Na’vi say, Sivako! Rise to the challenge…literally and figuratively!
For more info and advice on this “Extra Magic Half-Hour” in the morning, see our Strategy Guide to Early Entry at the Walt Disney World Theme Parks. We’ll have several more new run-through reports coming soon, including EPCOT from the front entrance, another stab at the SDMT Shuffle in Magic Kingdom, and a reprise of RotR at DHS. So stay tuned for all of that!
Thoughts on Early Entry at Animal Kingdom with the 7:30 am start time? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day at DAK? What’s your preferred approach to Early Entry and traditional park opening/rope drop at Animal Kingdom? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? 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!