Our series on The Walt Disney World Theme Parks after reopening continues with Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. Like the other parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is going to be a different experience in 2020 than what you are used to, but it may be our favorite park to visit during this time.
In this post, we are going to explain everything new and changed in Disney’s Animal Kingdom since reopening July 11, 2020. We’ll let you know which attractions and rides are open, which restaurants you can eat at and what’s going on with the various entertainment choices in the park.
There are a lot of new basics any visitor has to learn before going, like how to get park pass reservations, and all the new safety measures that guests have to follow.
Since we’ve had a chance to visit the Animal Kingdom already, we wanted to give you a guide that you can use while visiting and we’ll include as many new photos since the reopening so you can see firsthand what to expect.
Before we get started with the tour, we want to ask you to have patience while visiting the Animal Kingdom at this time. Some attractions and restaurants aren’t available, plus the guidelines you need to follow keep changing every week.
It hasn’t been easy from a trip-planning perspective on our end, and it’s not easy for you as the guest either. If you go into the experience knowing this, you’ll be able to handle the frustrations that come up much easier.
Before we get into our look at the Animal Kingdom for 2021, make sure to read our Complete Walt Disney World Reopening Guide which will answer any questions you have about anything going on during the reopening period in the parks, hotels, and restaurants.
Point us in the direction of Everest or the Floating Mountains of Pandora and let’s go!
What to Know
The first thing you need to know right now during the reopening phase is all the new safety measures Disney has put into place. The only reason Disney is able to operate during a health crisis is because of the extreme care they take to protect guests and Cast Members.
The most basic ones are:
- Increased cleaning and sanitation
- Wearing face masks
- Physical distancing in queues
- Temperature screening
- More guest hand-washing and sanitizing stations
As in many public places across the country, face masks are required in all Disney theme parks, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Masks are required on all attractions, including thrill rides like Expedition Everest and Flight of Passage even. Only when consuming food or drink or when in one of the new “Relaxation Stations” is it possible to take them off.
You also need to be aware that distancing is practiced throughout the park, including in the attraction queues, many of which have been fit with new protective barriers to keep guests separated.
Disney has gotten pretty strict about it and they are cracking down on guests who aren’t abiding by the rules. Read our post on all the New Safety Measures at Disney World which explains them all in more detail.
In all 4 Disney World theme parks, the maximum guest capacity for each park has been greatly reduced, meaning fewer people can enter the parks each day compared to normal park capacities.
Under normal circumstances, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park has a maximum capacity of approximately 60,000. Right now the maximum capacity is 35% of that, but from our experience, it’s often not much more than 10% – 20% on a daily basis at the moment.
Not Everything Open
Even though Disney’s Animal Kingdom is currently open, not everything in the park is open right now. Some attractions are not running and about half of the restaurants and food carts are not open. Also, entertainment options are few with many shows not operating.
Recently Closed Attractions
One of the bigger surprises after the Animal Kingdom reopened was that Disney has canceled 2 attractions, and they will be closed for good.
First, we knew that the River of Light nighttime spectacular wouldn’t be running, which is the same thing happening in all parks. The big news was when Disney said the show is not coming back even after the current health crisis, and it will eventually be replaced by a new show.
Secondly, Disney announced that Primeval Whirl in Dinoland USA has also closed for good. Last year the spinning roller coaster started having problems and moved into “seasonal operation.” It didn’t take long for Disney to pull the plug altogether.
We aren’t super upset about these cancellations, but losing a show and a ride does hurt. It’s not a huge problem for Rivers of Light since they can’t run it anyway, and maybe gives them a jump-start to working on the new show. Primeval Whirl was not a “must-do” in our touring plan, but being down one ride is not ideal.
Suspended Services and Experiences
While visiting the Animal Kingdom and the rest of the Disney theme parks right now, many of the normal services and experiences you are used to are not currently running.
Extra Magic Hours
During the reopening phase, there will be no Extra Magic Hours in the Disney Parks, including the Animal Kingdom. This is less important at the Animal Kingdom than in other parks since the new opening time is the same as the old Morning Extra Hours time.
“Early Theme Park Entry” now replaces Extra Magic Hours. It lets all Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests access the parks 30 minutes before the scheduled park opening for that day. It is available at all 4 theme parks, every day of the week. Disney has said it will debut sometime in 2021.
We’re happy you can still get an early jump when visiting the Animal Kingdom since we like to go on the Kilimanjaro Safaris early in the morning when the animals are most active.
Right now, the popular FastPass+ system is suspended in all the Disney World theme parks at this time. Of course, this totally changes how you go about touring the parks as stand-by queues are the only way to ride the attractions.
The FastPass+ queues are being used for extra space to get guests in line while keeping a distance from each other.
This means you won’t have to wake up early 60 days before your trip to get those coveted Flight of Passage FastPasses!
There have been quite a few changes to dining in the Animal Kingdom and the other theme parks:
- No Disney Dining Plan – This has been suspended for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. That means no more snack credits for a while and guests will not have the option to pay for meals ahead of time.
- Dining Reservations – The Advanced Dining Reservation booking window has been reduced from 180 days to now only 60 days.
- Limited Dining Options – Not all restaurants will be open right now.
- New Technology – For safety reasons, Disney is using new technology in its restaurants including contactless menus, Mobile Ordering, Mobile Dine Check-In, and cashless payment.
Special Experiences & Events
As of this writing, all special experience bookings, tours, and events have been canceled in Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the rest of 2021. This includes the popular Wild Africa Trek and Disney After Hours events in the Animal Kingdom.
Disney will release more info soon on when we can expect these experiences to return.
How to Get Into the Animal Kingdom in 2021
If you like waiting until the night before to decide which park you are going to visit the next day on your vacation, I have some bad news for you…that’s not possible right now. In fact, you can’t even show up at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and buy a ticket for the day. Also, all guests must use Disney’s new Park Pass Reservation system to get access.
The first step to get into the Animal Kingdom is getting your park tickets. For a couple of months, Disney had blocked new ticket sales in order to give priority access to the parks to guests with existing tickets.
Now theme park tickets are back on sale and you can purchase single and multi-day tickets to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for dates in 2021. Tickets are available right now through December 31, 2021.
If you have an annual pass that will also still work, though there are some blockout dates depending on what level annual pass you have.
Getting Park Pass Reservations
Once you have your regular park admission, the next step is to get a Park Pass Reservation. This is Disney’s new reservation system designed to help manage crowds and help keep the parks to a limited capacity.
Park Passes are limited to the number of days on your park admission ticket, and also limited for Annual Passholders. Even though park passes are limited, the Animal Kingdom is not very hard to get a reservation for and unless you try booking at the last minute, it should be easy to get into.
You can make reservations on the Disney World website, just remember, you’ll need to have a valid park admission before making a park reservation.
Read our post on How to Make Disney World Park Reservations for a detailed walkthrough on the new system.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has never been the park that stays open the latest in Disney World, and now its hours have been reduced even further.
Upcoming Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park Hours:
- From Now through January 10 – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily
- From January 11 through Jan 15 – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily
- January 16 – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily
- From January 10 through Jan 23 – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily
- January 23 – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily
- From January 24 through March 20 – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily
Park hours for Disney’s Animal Kingdom schedule right now vary slightly and range from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm daily.
There are a few days in January when the park closes at 6:00 pm, but for the next few months, 5:00 pm is the more common time. Of course, Disney could extend the hours at any time so we’ll keep an eye on things and see if there are any changes.
Besides reduced normal operating hours, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will not be running Morning or Evening Extra Magic Hours for the time being. The alternative is the Early Theme Park Entry service which lets you in 30 minutes before opening.
So far wait times have been so low that the reduced operating hours haven’t been an issue. We’ll let you know if the opening or closing times change over the next weeks and months.
While you do have to take into consideration the temperature checks when arriving at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, overall entering the park is a breeze. We honestly thought it would be much more difficult but there is no rope drop crowds like usual even when arrival in time for the park opening.
There were hardly any waits and everything moves very quickly from the toll booth in the parking lot to the bag-check and finally at the turnstiles.
Like in the other parks, not all of the attractions in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are currently open. Right now there are a total of 17 open attractions on the list. Let’s show you what’s open, what’s not open and then how some attractions are different after reopening.
- Affection Section
- 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
- Rafiki’s Planet Watch
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
- The Oasis Exhibits
- TriceraTop Spin
- Wilderness Explorers
- Wildlife Express
- The Boneyard
- Fossil Fun Games
- Primeval Whirl (Permanently Closed).
All of the “important” E-Ticket attractions are currently running in the Animal Kingdom. This includes Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur and Na’vi River Journey.
It does however feel somewhat empty without some of the big shows and the park’s 17 attractions are easily tackled in a day, with plenty of room to spare. It’s one thing when you visit the Magic Kingdom and there are close to 30 attractions running, but 17 is very doable.
As you may have heard, Primeval Whirl has closed permanently, which makes Dinoland USA even more barren. Really, this whole area of the park needs to be taken down and built from scratch because there were no more than 10 people in the whole land every time we walked through.
Walking through Pandora is even super quiet, and great for snagging some photos of the Floating Mountains with no people around I might add. It’s too bad though that the park isn’t open past sunset right now because we really miss the bioluminescent lights.
Attraction Reports and Wait Times
Wait times in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are at an all-time low right now. Out of 17 attractions currently running, they have an average wait time of 15-20 minutes each! Think about how crazy that is! We also want to point out that wait times in all the parks right now feel inflated and whatever reads as a 20-minute wait is likely closer to 10 maximum.
Here are some of our thoughts on the changes to the Animal Kingdom attractions and what you can expect as far as wait times when experiencing them.
Dinosaur – Mostly a walk-on with no more than 20 minutes for most of the day.
The Dinosaur pre-show isn’t running right now, so when you get to that point in the queue, you’ll walk right through to the loading area.
There is also plexiglass on the ride vehicles separating each row.
We didn’t find them to be super distracting since most of the action is happening on either side of the vehicle.
Flight of Passage – These are by far the lowest wait times we’ve EVER seen for Flight of Passage. Most of the day the wait times never get more than 45 minutes or 60 minutes max. Even so, the lines are actually 20-30 minutes most of the time which is basically enough time to walk through the entire queue up until the pre-show areas.
Throughout the queue, you’ll notice the ground markers telling guests where to stand.
You’ll also see plexiglass up to distance guests doing the switchbacks in the queue.
We didn’t actually run into crowds until the last part before the pre-show rooms.
We would have like to see more spacing on the actual attraction. Guests not traveling in the same party are distanced with only 1 vehicle between them. We would have liked to see at least two.
Na’vi River Journey – Believe it or not, the Na’vi River Journey has a longer average wait time right now than Flight of Passage does, but still it’s not long by any means. Expect to wait 30-40 minutes in the morning and watch it get progressively lower throughout the day.
Plexiglass is up in part of the queue like the others
We think the reason is because of the time it takes to get in each boat and disinfect them after every couple of uses, while Flight of passage is quicker to clean since they can rotate which theaters are in use.
Expedition Everest – This usually has the “longest” wait times of all the attractions in the park at the moment, but for the first couple of hours per day it is only averaging 10 minutes. Even when it increases later in the day it’s been maxing out at around 30 minutes.
Kilimanjaro Safaris – 15 to 20 minutes is the most you will wait right now for Kilimanjaro Safaris.
The safari ride vehicles have been fitted with plexiglass dividers between each row of the vehicle. Though a large part of the action happens on the sides of the vehicles, we found it kind of distracting and it gives you a ‘closed-in” feeling.
Kali River Rapids – Kali River Rapids might have the shortest wait time of any ride in the Animal Kingdom right now and you’ll find it’s only 5-10 minutes most of the time. Guests have even been invited to get right back on a raft at times when there are no guests waiting in line.
It’s Tough to be a Bug – The wait is not longer than 15-20 minutes, just enough time for the show in progress to finish.
The entire theater is sectioned off with many seats blocked so guests can distance properly.
Maharajah Jungle Trek – There are no wait times for the Maharajah Jungle Trek and we think it’s a great attraction to visit at the moment since it is mostly outdoors.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail – The same thing with the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. It’s great because of the open-air factor, besides the fact that we love to watch the gorillas! We recommend doing this right after Kilimanjaro Safaris since you are right there.
Check here for the full list of Walt Disney World attractions that are currently open.
As you might of heard already, during this reopening phase, there are no character meets in the parks and very few ways to see the characters. If you have kids this might be a big problem since the character meets are extremely popular with children.
This means that in the Animal Kingdom meets like Donald’s Dino Bash and the characters on Discovery Island are not available at this time.
Other popular Animal Kingdom entertainment is also not running such as the drummers in Pandora and the street band in Harambe village. Stage shows have also been affected with Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical also closed for the time being.
Here is a list of the Animal Kingdom Entertainment you can expect to see during your visit and also what’s not opening at this time…
- Character Cruises throughout the day, with Guest-favorite Disney friends appearing in boats around Discovery River—including the following:
- Discovery River Character Cruise
- Discovery Island Drummers
- Donald’s Dino Boat Bash!
- Mickey & Friends Flotilla
- Animal Encounters: Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight
There were also special Christmas Character Cavalcades (“Festive Flotillas”) going on during the holiday season with characters in their holiday outfits:
- Donald’s DinoBash Festive Flotilla (Chip, Dale & Goofy)
- Mickey and Friends Festive Flotilla (Mickey, Minnie & Pluto)
- Timon & Rafiki
- Santa Claus Festive Flotilla (Santa Claus & Reindeer)
- Discovery Island Drummers Festive Flotilla
- Festival of the Lion King
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
- Pandora Drummers
- Pandora Rangers
- Rivers of Light (Permanently Closed)
- Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe
- Tree of Life Awakenings
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure
Entertainment options are hurting right now in the Animal Kingdom, much like all the Disney World parks.
It’s obviously a bummer not having any nighttime spectaculars in the park for the time being. This is the same as with all the nighttime shows in the Disney Parks right now as they create groups of people that are too big when watching them.
During the holiday season Disney was running the Tree of Life Awakenings, but those have stopped for now.
The other big show, Rivers of Light, is gone for good. The show never really gelled with audiences and Disney already is working on a replacement show. Since we can’t have any nighttime spectaculars right now anyway, it was a good time to pull the plug and start working on the next one.
We think the park is really missing The Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical. These are arguable the two best stage shows in Walt Disney World and they would make the park feel much more complete than it feels right now.
Even though there are no character meets right now, we love the uniqueness that the Discovery River Character Cruises bring to the park over the traditional parade floats or cars in the other parks.
To get the best view of the characters, we recommend watching them pass by from one of the Flame Tree BBQ outdoor seating areas. The area is spacious and usually not too crowded. We also spent some time at the Nomad Lounge and this gets you really close to the characters too.
Our favorite characters in the Animal Kingdom are Donald, Daisy and Launchpad McQuack who have moved from Dinoland to Donald’s Dino Boat Bash! Really all of them are fun though. For something completely different, be sure to check out the Discovery Island Drummers who bring a ton of life to the park, which right now feels a bit dull.
Read our detailed guide for more about how to find characters in the Disney Parks now.
As we mentioned earlier, not all dining locations are currently open in the Animal Kingdom, though right now we think it offers one the best selections of restaurants, especially quick service.
Right now there are 21 restaurants open in Disney’s Animal Kingdom including table service, quick service, lounges and snack carts.
- Anandapur Ice Cream Truck
- Creature Comforts
- Dawa Bar
- Dino-Bite Snacks
- Flame Tree Barbecue
- Harambe Fruit Market
- Harmabe Market
- Isle of Java
- Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company
- Mr. Kamal’s
- Nomad Lounge
- Pongu Pongu
- Rainforest Cafe® at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Satu’li Canteen
- Tamu Tamu Refreshments
- Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks
- Tiffins Restaurant
- Yak & Yeti™ Local Food Cafes
- Yak & Yeti™ Restaurant
Right now there are 12 restaurants in Disney’s Animal Kingdom that are not open:
- Caravan Road
- Dino Diner
- Eight Spoon Cafe
- Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery
- Restaurantasaurus Burger & Sundaes
- The Smiling Crocodile
- Terra Treats
- Tusker House
- Warung Outpost
Of these, the most notable are Pizzasafari, Restaurantasaurus Burger & Sundaes and Tusker House. We love Tusker House and consider it one of the best character meals in Walt Disney World, but since character meals are mostly not running at the moment, it’s understandable that it’s missing.
Besides the two quick service locations we already mentioned, most of the other locations are snack carts located throughout the park. Many of those don’t open except for the busy season, so it’s no surprise that Disney has them closed right now.
Overall we think Animal Kingdom has the second-best selection of open food locations in Disney World. The only one that beats it is EPCOT, and we’d say the Animal Kingdom is definitely ahead of the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, though they are catching up.
Dining in the Animal Kingdom was fairly enjoyable and we noticed that even the most popular locations like Flame Tree BBQ and Satu’li Canteen are running fairly efficiently despite the challenges.
We’d definitely recommend using Disney’s Mobile Ordering system when you go as it will save you a bunch of time and spare you the experience of waiting in line.
Some technologically challenged guests were still getting in line, but the others were all being encouraged to use Mobile Ordering.
We also noticed that the tables and chairs are spaced out well, with plenty of distance between you and the next table. We recommend the Flame Tree BBQ since there are plenty of outdoor spots to choose from.
Remember that Disney is requiring guests to wear a mask at all times unless you are eating and drinking. However, you cannot do that while walking around the park and need to be stationary to do so. Most guests we saw complied with this rule and we’ve even seen some asked to cover up.
For more info about the changes to dining right now, read our post about Disney World Restaurants after reopening.
The following shops are open in the Animal Kingdom:
- Africa Hub Cart
- African Heritage Wood Carving
- Baby Care
- Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures
- Discovery Trading Company
- Garden Gate Gifts & Strollers
- Kilimanjaro Safari Cart
- Mandala Gifts
- Mombasa Marketplace
- Out Of The Wild
- Serka Zong Bazaar
- The Dino Institute Shop