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Animal Kingdom Trip Report 9/17/08

This was a trip to remember, for all of the wrong reasons. Having been to Walt Disney World® five times previously, we really thought we had our act together and could do some spontaneous planning without getting in trouble. Within an hour of arriving at the Animal Kingdom, however, we felt like every other unprepared first-time visitor, only we knew what the alternative was, so if possible we felt worse.

The background: this was our first foray into the resort during a free dining period. We stayed at Old Key West using DVC points, so we paid for our dining plan out of pocket. We had taken the opportunity to attend Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on Tuesday night, and essentially closed the park. We decided to sleep in on Wednesday morning, hit Animal Kingdom for lunch and a couple shows, then take advantage of evening Extra Magic Hours to hit a few attractions. At least that was the plan.

Our lie-in kept us from getting to the gates until nearly 11:00 AM. We had our first hint of trouble in the parking lot, which was more crowded than we'd ever seen it. Undeterred, we made our way in, heading towards Asia and the Maharajah Jungle Trek to kill time before Flights of Wonder. The crowd, the heat, and our tempers slowed us down, and we missed the show, so we decided to get something to eat before we started snapping at each other.

Of course there were no tables available at Yak & Yeti, and the line at the Y&Y Local Food Cafe was too daunting to try it. Heading over to Africa, we found an identical situation with Tusker House and Tamu Tamu. No problem, we thought, let's go to Pizzafari. Never have we seen the line make it all the way to the door (we usually go in January). In the end, we picked up some pretzels and water with our snack credits and sat on a pair of benches on Discovery Island. In fact, we ended up on the crying benches, as we discovered within five minutes when the crowd exited It's Tough to be a Bug! and nearly swamped us.

To recap: two and a half hours in the park, no shows, no attractions, we had walked through every land except Dinoland U.S.A., and our lunch consisted of bread and water. We were reduced to looking at the park map trying to figure out what we could do that was fun, because we weren't having any. What to do? Why, head to The Boneyard, of course! At least the kids were happy.

We did end up catching Flights of Wonder and watching Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade. After the parade, we flowed with the crowd to catch the EMH showing of Festival of the Lion King. We felt really sorry for the cast members having to ask to see Key to the World cards at the entrance to Camp Minnie-Mickey, as a horde descended on the land. We still don't understand why they stopped handing out wristbands. We made it to the door in time to sit in the Lion section, and pretty much all of the troubles of the day disappeared. Don't ever think that this show is something you can skip.

Now the weird part: after Festival of the Lion King let out, everyone left the park! For the next two hours we could wander around in the slightly cooler air, see the Animal Kingdom at night, and walk on to all the rides in Dinoland U.S.A. To be honest, we didn't try for Expedition Everest, as our kids are not keen on it yet, but unless everyone was in Asia, the park quite simply emptied out within an hour of normal closing. All of these guests, undoubtedly lured to Disney resorts by the free dining offer, subjected themselves to the largest, hottest, and most congested park on property because of EMH, then left because they had finished everything they wanted to do!

What we learned on this trip:

  • If you absolutely must go during free dining, avoid the Animal Kingdom on EMH days. We had never run across crowds like this during the off-season before, but with a larger proportion of guests staying on Disney property, and the park closing at 5:00 PM, it seems everyone choose Wednesday for their Animal Kingdom visit. We'll be checking this theory in September 2009.
  • If you are on the dining plan, make absolutely sure you have Advanced Dining Reservations for a table service meal in the Animal Kingdom. During crowded times, the quick service locations get mobbed, and there are no table service slots available for walk-up.
  • Make sure your touring plans eliminate backtracking. The Animal Kingdom is far too large, and the lands too spread out to allow crisscrossing the park without exhausting everyone in your party.
  • Get to the park early. Have we said that before? The Animal Kingdom does not handle large crowds well, so on the chance that it will be packed, you just can't afford to lose that first hour or two when the crowd is relatively lighter.

That's why we keep going back to Disneyworld - there's always something new to learn.

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