Animal Kingdom Touring: How a Touring Plan Can Help

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I have grown to love all of the parks at Disney World, but the one that took me the longest to befriend was Animal Kingdom. It’s not that I don’t love the theme (what’s not to love about animals?). It’s not that I don’t love the attractions (Kilimanjaro Safaris and Finding Nemo the Musical are two of the best things at any park, in my opinion.) It’s that I’m always feeling the pressure of the time schedule.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

I just love the gorillas along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, one of my favorite YOPAs.

Animal Kingdom is made up of three types of attractions. The first (and most prevalent) is Your Own Pace Attractions (let’s call these YOPA, just for fun). These are experiences that take varied amounts of time, depending on your pace and interest level. The YOPA list is long:

 

The mighty lion is one of the featured animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The mighty lion is one of the featured animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of the TAs at Animal Kingdom.

The second type of attraction is the Traditional Attraction (these we will call TA). These attractions have a queue, and take an exact amount of time to complete. The TAs are:

 

Flights of Wonder is a fun and educational show about birds, and can only be seen at certain scheduled times throughout the day.

Flights of Wonder is a fun and educational show about birds. The SAs can only be seen at certain scheduled times throughout the day.

The third type of attraction is the Scheduled Attractions (SA). These are shows that only occur at certain times of the day, where the doors close if you aren’t there in time. The SAs (with current show times):

With the advent of FastPass+, it’s important to note that many of the Traditional Attractions can essentially become Scheduled Attractions once you apply a FastPass+ reservation (luckily, these attractions have a one hour window and not a specific start time, giving a bit more wiggle room in the schedule). FastPass+ has made it possible to have 5 SAs and 3 TAs (with FastPass+) on your to-do list, totaling 8 scheduled items throughout the day. That’s a lot to juggle in a park that’s open only 9 hours on most days! Sprinkle in a fair number of YOPAs taking up ambiguous amounts of time and voila, time pressure. What is there to do but sit on a curb feeling hopeless about missing some of the favorites of Animal Kingdom? Well never fear, touring plans are here to manage some of the time traps that are found in Animal Kingdom.

Not familiar with what touring plans are? Read up here. And with a subscription to TouringPlans.com, you have access to a lot of premium touring plans that you can personalize and optimize based on your own preferences. With 12 pre-designed Animal Kingdom touring plans to start with, most of the work has been done for you. Neato!

So what are these time traps, and how can a touring plan help?

Time trap 1: Travel Time. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think everything is about 5 minutes from everything else as a general rule – boy, am I wrong when it comes to Animal Kingdom. While only inches apart on the park map, it takes about 13 minutes to travel from Festival of the Lion King to DINOSAUR walking a moderate pace (and even on the lightest crowd days Animal Kingdom always feels crowded, so expect to be weaving in and out of people if you are walking at even an average pace). An even bigger travel time is heading to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The Wildlife Express Train from Africa to Rafiki’s Planet Watch takes about 12 minutes including wait time, plus add a 5 minute walk to get to the Conservation Station. That’s an additional 17 minutes in travel time to see those sweet baby animals (not to mention the 17 minutes to return to Africa). TouringPlans includes these travel times in the touring plan schedule, times which would be easy to underestimate if trying to plan on the fly. And your personalized touring plan even calculates the travel times based on your walking speed (from “very relaxed” to “fast”). Now that’s a cool feature. (Incidentally, the 13 minute walk from Festival of the Lion King to DINOSAUR jumps to 22 minutes when walking at a “very relaxed” speed).

Time trap 2: Wait Times. Whether you are in the standby line or the FastPass+ line for the Traditional Attractions, there is some amount of time spent waiting in line. Even first thing after park opening, you can wait ten minutes in the standby line at some of the more popular attractions (DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids), and by later in the afternoon wait times can triple (or more). TouringPlans calculates estimated wait times with great accuracy (predicting crowd levels for specific dates and times, using lots and lots of statistical data). A touring plan can give you a clear picture of where in your schedule these attractions with wait times will fit (so that you can make it to the Scheduled Attractions on time). Using the Lines App, you can even see up-to-the-minute wait times while in the park so you can change your plan on the fly if necessary.

Time trap 3: Your Own Pace Attractions. The YOPAs are a bit of a conundrum in trying to manage your time at Animal Kingdom. When you approach the entrance to one of these, it is difficult to estimate how long it will take to experience the attraction to your heart’s desire. Usually, you can’t even see the whole attraction to know how big it is. TouringPlans has done their homework here, too, factoring in an average expected time for the YOPAs in their touring plans. I usually find that my family tours these attractions at about the expected pace, being surprised only once or twice when we take longer (my family always seems to get sucked into the gorillas on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and the 20 minutes that is included in our touring plan isn’t long enough for us there). If there is a YOPA that I know we love, I will add two occurrences of the attraction back to back in my personalized touring plan to accomodate.

Time trap 4: Wilderness Explorer Badges. I loved the movie Up, and seeing the addition of Wilderness Explorer experiences at Animal Kingdom made perfect sense to me. Across the park, there are over 30 Wilderness Explorer badges that can be earned. I generally don’t set out with a plan to earn certain Wilderness Explorer badges, but I will include one or two timeslots in my touring plan through the day, so that when we stumble upon one that interests us we have time for it in the plan. TouringPlans allows a generous 25 minutes to earn a couple badges. (Any leftover time can be spent admiring Divine.)

As you can see, there are a few time traps at Animal Kingdom that can be a challenge for touring. It is all-too-easy to miss out on the Scheduled Attractions just by losing track of time or miscalculating travel or wait times. Without a touring plan, you might be boarding a vehicle at Kilimanjaro Safaris at 2:30, thinking “I’ll do the safari really quickly and then hop over to the 3:00 showing of Finding Nemo – the Musical,” but you’d be sadly disappointed. The 20 minute safari and the 13 minute walk will mean you’re already 3 minutes late for the incredible spectacle that is Finding Nemo the Musical. Using a touring plan keeps you on track and mindful of the time so you can catch all the attractions that make Animal Kingdom unique.

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Posted on August 27, 2014

4 Responses to “Animal Kingdom Touring: How a Touring Plan Can Help”

  • I’ve never had trouble finishing everything I want to see at Animal Kingdom in one full day, arriving at rope drop, even before I discovered Touring Plans. But it IS a *LOT* of walking. I should optimize the touring plan to minimize the wear and tear on my feet. One day I wasted forty-five minutes looking around for DiVine — she can be hard to find – I always miss her if looking for her, but often run across her by accident if not. Never did find her that trip.

    I’m fascinated by the silly walking tree.

    • by Trista VanderVoord on September 3, 2014, at 12:41 pm EST

      I agree about the walking! It seems everything is very spread out at AK, so it really makes you think twice about treking back across the park to experience something a second time. And DiVine is, well, divine. :)

  • I have been working on my AK plan using the create your own…it seems to me like there is a BUNCH of backtracking and going from one side of the park to the other. We can walk no problem…but do you find the optimize option works that much better than the evaluate option? I was thinking of starting on the safari and going to the right…to Asia and then Dinoland…the only back track I wanted to do was Kali late in the day (FP for 3:10) and then end the day with FOTLK. We are going Sept 6 – crowd level 3. Do you really think waits will be that big of an use? Worth crisscrossing the park for? Thanks for your opinions.

    • by Trista VanderVoord on September 3, 2014, at 12:38 pm EST

      Sorry for the delay, I just returned from another magical trip to Disney World!

      Regarding the touring plan: I always optimize first (selecting “average walking speed” and “balance” for the waiting vs. walking option. Then, I tweek the attractions list if anything looks to be too much of a backtrack. After that, I only evaluate (evaluate doesn’t change the order of your touring plan, it only re-evaluates the times). The Safari is a very good place to start (first thing in the day, lines are minimal, and the animals are pretty active before it gets too hot). Crowd level three will be very good for you (ours was a three, too, and it was very manageable). As long as you can handle the walking, backtracking is a fine idea (especially since Kali is best experienced when on a hot afternoon when you will welcome getting soaked). I would say a lot of criss-crossing shouldn’t be required for you to experience minimal lines in September. Have a great trip!