What’s Up with Wait Times at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

This is the third of four blog posts about wait times at Walt Disney World. A lot of the math and FastPass+ background material is explained in the original Disney’s Hollywood Studios post. We’ve also covered Epcot.

The average wait in line at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2015 is up about 1.6 minutes versus a year ago: from 21.9 minutes to 23.5 minutes. The average number of people in line across all of the Animal Kingdom’s major attractions is up by about 260 people, or 6.2%:

AK2015

We think the all of this increase can be attributed to 3 things, each of which we’ve already discussed at other parks:

  1. Growth in attendance
  2. Better handling of FastPass+ return lines in the park
  3. A quirk in the way Disney displays its posted wait times

Attendance

Attendance grew 2% at Animal Kingdom in 2014, without any major new rides or shows. If you said attendance was up 2% in 2015 as well, I would believe that – maybe even another half-percent or so because of a slightly better economy and lower gas prices.

And if you said that 1 or 2 of every 100 tourists in Orlando for a long weekend now chose Animal Kingdom over Disney’s Hollywood Studios for their last park to visit, I wouldn’t argue a bit. Those two things alone probably account for half or more of Animal Kingdom’s increases.

A Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Boats While there are more people in the Animal Kingdom in 2015, crowds are not going to each attraction the way they were in 2014. Some attractions, such as Primeval Whirl, are seeing fewer riders in 2015 than 2014, even though park attendance is up. The same thing is happening at Dinosaur, where fewer people were in line for January through August, 2015. Things only improved at Dinosaur once Primeval Whirl closed for refurbishment, but the ride still has a negative rider total for the year to date. We’ll see that in the charts below. It’s also happening at the Adventurers Outpost, which has had 10% declines in wait times in 2015.

Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl are part of the Animal Kingdom crowd calendar, so this isn’t the reason why the calendar has been off. But the same crowd shift is happening at many of the New Fantasyland attractions over at the Magic Kingdom, and we think that is affecting the MK’s crowd calendar. We’ll get to that next week.

Ride Closures There haven’t been many ride closures at the Animal Kingdom in 2015. Besides the Primeval Whirl refurb mentioned above, the only one of note is Flights of Wonder’s month-long downtime in October (10/5 through 11/5). Flights of Wonder is a 1000-seat theater and averages 5 shows between 10 AM and 5 PM. You’d think that’d be a big number of people to account for. But October’s crowd increases only account for around 15% of 2015’s total – around 40 of the 260 incremental people in line – so it’s hard to attribute anything to FoW’s downtime.

Better Handling of FastPass+ Return Lines in the Park

As we’ve said for Hollywood Studios and Epcot, we think that Disney has resolved many of the technical issues around using FastPass+ in the parks, which would increase standby wait times versus 2014.

That prompted an excellent point from one of our readers:

I take issue with the claim that more efficient FPP entry procedures have increased wait times. If they’re admitting the same # of FPP users per hour, how long the FPP users wait has zero impact on standby wait time.

Our reader’s logic is perfectly sound, and I agree completely. But there’s a way in which we’re both right. In fact, FastPass+ technical issues probably made lines shorter at the Magic Kingdom more than any other park, by a wide margin. We’ll cover it in detail (with some numbers I haven’t shared yet) in next week’s Magic Kingdom post.

Disney’s Quirky Wait Time System

I mentioned this in a footnote in yesterday’s blog post on Epcot wait times. When Disney posts standby wait times, it does so in 5-minute increments: 0 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and so on.

But that can be misleading when you’re trying to look at averages over time. A line that works out to a 7-minute wait gets rounded down and posted as 5 minutes, while a 7.5-minute line gets rounded up and posted as 10 minutes. That’s a 100% increase in posted wait times but a 7% increase in people.

As I mentioned yesterday, this effect is bigger when wait times are low and when a park has fewer attractions. The Animal Kingdom’s average wait times are the lowest of any Disney park, and it and the Studios have the fewest number of attractions with posted wait times. If I had to guess, I’d say that this is having a slight upward effect on Animal Kingdom’s posted waits, because Disney’s posted waits tend to be overestimates.

One last thing: The Wildlife Express Train takes people from Harambe to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and back. You’d think that the posted wait times for the outbound and return trips would, on average, balance out. The number of people coming back from Rafiki’s would be the same as the number of people who went. But the wait times are higher on the return trip back to Africa – around 440 people or so. I’m almost entirely sure this is just a rounding error like we just described. A tiny part of me wants to think it’s animals dressing up as guests to escape the petting zoo.

WET

The Animal Kingdom Crowd Calendar

There are a couple of things we’re looking at for the Animal Kingdom models. First, we think the models underpredicted the rise in wait times – they probably missed by a factor of 2. If guests are choosing Animal Kingdom over Hollywood Studios – and we think they are – that’s also a phenomenon that the models have never seen.

Also, we don’t think the models picked up early enough on the shift in guests away from Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl, to the other rides. Finally, we’re looking at the 1-to-10 crowd levels for each attraction. Because the average wait times are lower at the Animal Kingdom, a 4-minute increase in standby times can mean 2 points on our 1-to-10 crowd scale.

 

Animal Kingdom Wait Time and FastPass+ Trends

Here’s a look at wait time and FastPass+ availability trends for 2014 and 2015 at the Animal Kingdom. First up is It’s Tough to Be a Bug:

ak-ITTBAB

ITTBAB’s average wait time is under 10 minutes, and you can get a FastPass+ for “a few minutes from now” most of the year[2]. It’s not a new movie franchise and Disney’s not putting any special emphasis on the show. I think the only reason why we don’t see a drop in popularity is that we’re starting from a pretty low point to begin with.

Here’s Kilimanjaro Safari:

ak-KS

There are a couple of FastPass+ availability drops in 2015 that correspond to wait time increases – when FastPasses ran out 2 hours in advance and wait times were over 50 minutes. I’m not sure that’s a pattern though. For one thing, the opposite happened at the end of October, where wait times averaged 60 minutes and FastPasses were still available within an hour of when you wanted to ride. FastPasses were also harder to get in late June, July, and August 2014, but wait times were lower.

Here’s Expedition Everest:

ak-EE

Year-over-year wait times have been consistently higher at Everest since early May 2015, but FastPasses were harder to come by (or just as hard) for 5 of those weeks. The few times were FastPasses ran out the soonest – 4 to 8 hours in advance – don’t correspond to the longest waits either. There still may be a pattern in here somewhere, just maybe not at the extremes.

Here’s Expedition Everest’s single-rider line (which doesn’t offer FastPass, but FastPass riders can get in to):

ak-EESR

Here’s Kali River Rapids:

ak-KRR

There’s probably a pattern here, and this is one of the graphs we spent a lot of time on. As Fred pointed out, though, Kali River Rapids is an outdoor water ride, and both lines above generally follow the average temperature trend for central Florida. There might be a relationship between FastPass and wait times here, but there’s also a weather component.

Here’s Dinosaur:

ak-D

Dinosaur’s wait times are the same or lower for many weeks in 2015 versus 2014. The FastPass-to-standby points are all over the place for the second half of 2015, too. In early July, FastPasses were available about 20 to 45 minutes in advance, and wait times were around 30 to 45 minutes. When FastPasses were available 30 to 45 minutes in advance in late August, waits were under 20.

Here’s Primeval Whirl, which has lost the most riders year-over-year in 2015, even before it closed for refurbishment:

ak-PW

Here’s TriceraTop Spin, which doesn’t offer FastPass+ and isn’t very popular:ak-TS

Finally, here’s the Adventurers Outpost [1]:

ak-AO

Based on what we’ve seen at other rides, it’s not surprising that the periods of low FastPass availability also have lower standby waits than you’d expect.

We’ll cover the Magic Kingdom in a few days. There are definitely trends there that we haven’t yet discussed. It’ll be an interesting story.

 

Footnotes

[1] Why isn’t there an apostrophe anywhere in “Adventurers Outpost”?
[2] FastPass+ availability is based on the daily average if the daily minimum time a FastPass+ reservation was available and the time the FastPass+ return time is for.

Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

10 thoughts on “What’s Up with Wait Times at Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

  • November 1, 2015 at 5:22 pm
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    Sorry for the duplicate post from yesterday, but are the custom touring plans “equations” updated for the new data?

    • November 2, 2015 at 3:33 pm
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      They’re being updated, Melissa. Should be done within a few days.

  • November 1, 2015 at 11:02 pm
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    Regarding (1), I think “adventurers” here is an attributive noun, not a possessive. The outpost doesn’t belong to the adventurer(s). It’s like a “people person” or “diners club.”

    • November 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm
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      That totally makes sense. I didn’t know this, either. Thanks!

  • November 2, 2015 at 10:59 am
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    Any thought on WHY attendance is lower at Dinosaur?
    Is the ride just aging? Are there less people going to that part of the park?

    • November 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm
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      I think it’s aging. We’ll see this at some Magic Kingdom attractions too.

      • November 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm
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        That’s so crazy that Dinosaur is “aging” with the same ride system as Indiana Jones, who’s age is even older than Dinosaur, but the ride times seems as long as ever. It really is too bad they didn’t bring Indy to Florida instead of adding Dinosaur.

        • November 2, 2015 at 3:53 pm
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          Sorry, I don’t mean “ride times” I mean “wait times”—-

  • November 3, 2015 at 7:42 am
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    Re: Ride closures. We visited AK on 10/12 and Flights of Wonder was open. Possibly this was just for the Columbus Day holiday?
    I was very pleasantly surprised as I’d already prepared my friend (who loves the show) for the disappointment of it being closed! Quick update of the touring plan was required!

    • November 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm
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      Flights of Wonder was open for us, too. We were there Saturday, October 17.

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