All four Walt Disney World theme parks have reopened, and Disney is welcoming guests back to enjoy the magic. A visit to the theme parks may not be for everyone right now, but for some, it can be a great time to experience Walt Disney World. (Click here for our overview of visiting Walt Disney World during the phased reopening and what you need to know). In this article, I’ll focus on visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom and what you can expect. Learn more below.
1 – Arrival & Health Screening Before Entry
Editor’s Note: Disney has announced they will phase out temperature screenings beginning May 16, 2021.
As a reminder, all guests are required to undergo temperature screenings prior to entering a theme park. Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be directed to an additional location for rescreening and assistance. Those who again measure 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher are not allowed entry, nor will those in their party.
2 – Don’t Forget You Need a Park Reservation
One of the most significant differences you’ll notice when you return to the parks is that capacity is drastically lower than what is considered “normal.” Disney has created a new park reservation system that ensures the parks will not be too crowded and promote physical distancing. Because of this, you simply cannot just show up and get into the parks. You must obtain a park reservation in the new Disney Park Pass system. Disney Resort guests and regular theme park ticket holders generally have good availability options. Disney annual passholders have more limited availability. Learn more about making park reservations at the link below.
3 – Health & Safety Measures
Disney is committed to health and safety and has instituted many new measures in the parks. Like we noticed at Magic Kingdom, there are health and safety signage in many locations that are hard to miss. There are hand-sanitizers and hand-washing stations for guests to use. Anywhere where there could be a line of guests, there are markings on the ground to promote physical distancing. You’ll also notice plenty of Cast Members cleaning high-traffic areas. Disney cannot eliminate the risk of coronavirus, but they are doing everything they can to promote a safe environment. Visiting the parks right now is a personal decision that only you can make for your family, but know that Disney is taking their role in this very seriously.
In attraction queues where physical distancing is not possible, plastic barriers and screens have been put up. Most attraction ride vehicles are at lower capacity, and empty rows separate groups of people. Note that for the Safari, guests were not separated by rows; instead, they had plastic screens in place. Over at Dinosaur, the preshow movie is playing, but you’ll walk through this room instead of gathering (see photo below). See the photos below to get an idea of the safety features in the attraction queues. (Click on any photo to enlarge).
4 – Reduced Hours and No FastPass+
When considering visiting during the phased reopening, you need to be aware that a visit like you may be used to is not available at this time. The park will operate with reduced hours. While hours vary by season, the park is usually open from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. However, during busy periods, those hours may be adjusted. Usually, the park opens early and stays open late until 9:00 pm. You won’t be able to enjoy late nights this year. While I didn’t appreciate the early alarm, I really liked that I could get into the park at 8:00 am before the heat really kicks in. You can get a lot done in those first few hours. I highly recommend going on the Safari in the early morning. When I visited, I went rode the morning and then also in the late afternoon. I saw so many more animals in the morning than I did on the second safari when it was the hottest point of the day. Also, FastPass+ is temporarily suspended. While wait times can still be a bit long, they are still not close to what they would be during “normal operations.”
5 – Face Coverings and Relaxation Stations
All guests two years of age and older, along with cast members, are required to wear an appropriate face covering while visiting the theme parks. Except when eating, drinking or taking photographs, they must be worn over the nose and mouth at all times. For the most part, we’ve seen most people following the mask guidelines.
At Animal Kingdom, there are “Relaxation Stations” where guests can sit without their masks on. These are spots in the parks where individuals are spread out with enough extra distance between guests that masks are not necessary. We visited two of the locations.
- Pizzafari Restaurant (air-conditioned)
- Seating area across from UP! A Great Bird Adventure (shaded)
I spent quite some time at the second location because you get fantastic views of the backside of the Tree of Life, and you have a perfect spot to watch the character cruised (#6) go by. A pavilion covers the area, and there are fans. It was a nice spot to take a break and be on the lookout for characters coming down the river.
6 – Characters
Traditional character greetings and parades are on hiatus during the phased reopening. Because a trip to a Walt Disney World theme park wouldn’t be the same without seeing the characters, Disney has introduced character cruises sailing down Discovery River at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Here are the character cruises that you can expect:
- Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Pluto cruise along the Discovery River!
- “Donald’s Dino Boat Bash!” – Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Launchpad McQuack and Goofy and Chip ‘n Dale wave to guests from their party boat as “Donald’s Dino Bash!” moves from DinoLand U.S.A. to Discovery River.
- “Discovery River Character Cruise” – Throughout the day, guests can see Timon and Rafiki or Pocahontas with Meeko, who set sail on the parks’ waterways.
- Discovery Island Drummers – These high-energy percussionists cruise along the Discovery River, entertaining guests on the shore with an energetic beat.
Compared to Magic Kingdom, I thought it was harder to catch the characters. There are many sections of the walkway where a view of the river is blocked. However, there are some good locations for viewing.
Here are some locations that are good for character viewing:
- The pathway from Pandora to Africa
- Bridge from Discovery Island to Africa
- The eating area behind Mr. Kamal’s
- Relaxations Station across from UP! A Great Bird Adventure
- Bridge from Discovery Island to Asia
- Open seating area in Asia
7 – Open Attractions
Most attractions will be available at the park when visiting. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the most glaring omissions are the fantastic stage shows: The Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical. These shows are both unavailable at the moment, however, the Festival of the Lion King, is set to return in summer 2021.
Here is the list of open attractions:
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Discovery Island Trails
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- It’s Tough to be a Bug!
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Na’vi River Journey
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
- The Oasis Exhibits
- TriceraTop Spin
- Wilderness Explorers (modified-see note in #8)
- Wildlife Express
8 – Attraction Experience
As we mentioned earlier, because of the park’s capacity limits, you’ll find that wait times in the parks are much lower than normal. For example, Avatar – Flight of Passage, which usually has wait times of anywhere from 2-3 hours on a typical day, now has wait times around an hour. Most of the attractions at Animal Kingdom are short as well. Sometimes it just depends on your timing. I had a five-minute wait for Expedition Everest in the morning, but in the afternoon it had a wait time of 15 minutes. Some attractions, with slower loading and low capacity, such as Na’vi River Journey, have been up to about 45 minutes. Simply put, if you love attractions, and want to ride a lot, now is a great time to visit Animal Kingdom.
While Wilderness Explorers is still being offered, they have modified the experience. The interactive displays have been removed. Guests and Cast Members will keep a required physical distance (see photo below). Also, guests will remove the badge stickers themselves to reduce contact for the Cast Members.
9 – Dining
New health and safety measures are in place at restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These include enhanced cleaning procedures in seating, dining, and common areas, as well as changes to self-serve options. For instance, you can no longer get your own beverages at Satu’li Canteen. However, you can still get refills, but a Cast Member will get it for you.
While Disney has always promoted using Mobile Ordering, now they essentially require it at specific locations. They will not allow you to enter the building unless you have a mobile order. If you wanted water at the canteen, you had to wait outside, and they would bring it to you. Disney really wants to minimize contact, and Mobile Ordering is a great way to do that. Also, for table-service restaurants, guests will need to use the new Mobile Dine Check-In.
Here is the list of open dining locations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
- Anandapur Ice Cream Truck
- Creature Comforts
- Dino-Bite Snacks
- Flame Tree Barbecue
- Harambe Fruit Market
- Isle of Java
- Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company
- Nomad Lounge
- Pongu Pongu
- Rainforest Cafe® at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Satu’li Canteen
- Tamu Tamu Refreshments
- Tiffins Restaurant
- Yak & Yeti™ Local Food Cafes
- Yak & Yeti™ Restaurant
10 – Overall Thoughts & Recommendations
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been my favorite park for years, and a visit to the park during the phased reopening is different but still magical. I feel that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the least crowded park right now, but it is busier than it was in the summer. Perhaps it is the park’s sheer size. There is also so much to enjoy, and with the lower wait times, you’ll be able to go at a slow pace and get a lot done. If you are a fan of Avatar-Flight of Passage, you’ll enjoy drastically lower wait times and be able to ride it multiple times a day.
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