We decided that Animal Kingdom was our ‘must-do’ partially because of its flow and the wide-open spaces. In general, it’s our favorite park. However, we weren’t sure how it would be without Festival of the Lion King or Finding Nemo and some added precautions.
We recently talked about our decision-making process surrounding returning to Walt Disney World on our Florida Staycation 2020 Road Trip.
Here’s a turn by turn of our adventure in Animal Kingdom and things you might want to keep in mind.
Timing Is Everything
One of the first things to know is those park reservations are a MUST under the new COVID-19 restrictions. You are not permitted into any of the parks without making a reservation. So, plan and check out the Park Reservations System.
Secondly, we chose a Monday and found that it seemed a bit quieter than more recent trips to other parks on a weekend and holiday weekend.
Lastly, don’t rush to get there early. Because of timing driving back from the coast, we arrived just before opening and found longer lines to get into the parking lot and into the park than any other time of the day.
It seems that with some of the changes, people are heading in early, getting through a majority of the attractions. Then heading back to the hotel for pool or nap time and possibly dinner off the property.
Know Before You Go
First and foremost, absolutely take a look ahead of time at Disney’s regulations under Experience Updates on the Walt Disney World website!
We, okay, Mark thought we had read these thoroughly and missed the part about no face coverings containing valves.
Several years ago, we had purchased masks for an overseas trip because of the pollution- these were double-ply fabric with valves but had cloth and a filter inside covering the valve. NOT okay.
Fortunately, Chuck always carries a backup mask. So, check out the list of what is and is not acceptable.
Be prepared for temperature checks and know that signage is popping up being really specific about wearing masks properly. Fortunately, Disney junkies seem to get it and what they lose if they don’t, and 99.9% of the people were excellent about masks and distancing.
Take An APP
Do not go to any Walt Disney World theme park without downloading the Disney World app! Not only will it help you know any wait times or attractions that might be down, but there are other huge plusses.
Nearly all Quick Serve locations are using Mobile Ordering. It’s easy to do, and you can do it before you get to the place where you want to eat. Additionally, they send you a message when your food is ready to avoid crowds.
We also found that Table Service restaurants are using the app for mobile check-in to keep crowds from gathering to check-in.
Take Your Time!
With smaller crowds, it was nice not to rush. We took our time and enjoyed seeing the animals in The Oasis, something we too often blow past.
For the foreseeable future, there are no Fast Passes, so everyone is on equal footing. There may be lines. But, with six-foot social distancing markers and people spreading out, the lines seem to look MUCH longer than they actually are.
So, relax, look around, see new things, and enjoy yourself!
We headed over to Pandora first, and it was the only time during the day where there seem to be quite a few people. We quickly realized that everyone seemed to go there first.
Next, we headed to Na’ vi River Journey first and practically walked onto the attraction. Just before the loading area, there was a short line. But we were through the queue and on the attraction in under ten minutes.
Chuck headed over to Avatar Flight of Passage and again had just a short wait.
True Confession: I previously rode this attraction and personally didn’t care for it because of the 3D and motion. I was afraid that between the movement, the heat, and wearing a mask that I would not enjoy it.
So, I stayed in the Valley of Mo’ara and took lots of pictures of the incredible floating mountains and landscapes- you’re welcome!
Jambo, Welcome To Africa!
Africa is probably our favorite part of Animal Kingdom! Having spent nearly two weeks in Kenya with multiple game-drives, we are always blown away at how authentic Kilimanjaro Safari and Harambe are.
Again, without Festival of the Lion King being open, we didn’t see crowds gathering for shows. The interactive drums for kids to play with have been removed. However, a Kenyan woodcarver is now in their place. We visited for a few minutes and were impressed to see that he worked with both a mask and a face shield.
We had a short wait for Kilimanjaro Safaris. We were really impressed with the social distancing markers throughout the queue. Disney had also installed tall acrylic barriers that kept Guests separated when we could not be physically distant.
The safari vehicles have hanging plastic barriers between each row of seats and keep groups on separate rows. While the experience was a little different, we still had a great time taking photos to our side.
Chill Out at Tamu Tamu Refreshment
After leaving Kilimanjaro Safaris, we wanted to chill out a bit and take a mask break. We enjoyed a refreshing Simba Sunset ($5.49) – DOLE Whip Pineapple with Watermelon, Strawberry, and Coconut-flavored Syrup.
It was actually less sweet than I thought it might be and very refreshing. Tables are marked off to keep physical distancing, and Cast Members did an incredible job of wiping down tables and chairs. It was a great outdoor space to relax in the shade and get a little mask break.
Never In Our Wildest Dreams
We made our way toward Asia and stopped just out front of Yak & Yeti. It was about 11:30 AM. Every direction we looked – across the bridge toward Discovery Island, back toward Africa and ahead to Asia, was practically deserted!
Character Meet and Greets
Obviously, for physical distancing and the safety of Guests and Cast Members, Character Meet and Greets around the parks are not happening. However, we were excited to see how creative Disney is getting.
The waterways that weave their way through Animal Kingdom are dotted with decorated pontoon boats with musicians and a small crew of characters. Something Disney refers to as ‘fabulous flotillas.’ We saw one with some drummers and another with Goofy, Chip, and Dale!
This, hands down is Chuck’s absolute favorite attraction! Again, we found wait times of less than 15 minutes. We had some time to take a few photos along the walkway with fewer crowds, something we often forget to do.
Our only delay on this attraction was Cast Members taking time for the vehicles’ regularly scheduled sanitization. We saw that Cast Members were leaving one empty row between each group. But, as you can see from our PhotoPass image, we had the entire car to ourselves.
If you currently visit the Animal Kingdom website, it seems to gloss over this attraction completely. With most carnival games and The Boneyard being ‘high touch’ and Primeval Whirl (reportedly) going way. There’s not much there but TriceraTop Spin, some great photo ops, and Dinosaur.
The attraction DINOSAUR had just a quick wait and the only place where line queues got a little messy. Inside the large hall where the dinosaur skeleton is located, the taped off queues on the floor were easy to overlook. But the line moves so quickly you weren’t really near anyone.
The ride vehicles had large acrylic barriers between rows, and as with other attractions, masks were required. In addition, we had one empty row between the other guests and us.
Flame Tree Barbecue is our favorite restaurant in Animal Kingdom. It might just be our favorite Quick Service restaurant at Walt Disney World.
We love the menu there. It’s a great value. The seating area is picturesque and relaxing, with plenty of tables.
They are operating with Mobile Orders, which ensured no lines and the wait time seemed to be very short. So be sure you download your Disney app!
Chuck had the St. Louis Rib Dinner ($16.29). It came with about eight tender pork ribs, beans, and coleslaw.
I chose the Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Pulled Pork ($11.99). The dish had baked macaroni and cheese, smokey pulled pork, coleslaw, onion rings, and barbecue sauce drizzle. It was really well prepared with many different textures and flavors all coming together.
Disney Pro Tip: When on the Disney Dining Plan, we share the Rib and Chicken Combo. It was about four ribs and a quarter chicken with baked beans and coleslaw for one Quick-Service meal credit, and plenty for lunch.
Physically Distant and Serene
The seating area for the Flame Tree Barbecue is absolutely beautiful. There are about eight individually themed covered dining areas. They sit along the waterway and an attractive water feature and sculptures.
If you look closely, each area is themed to predator and prey. From anteater and ants to crabs and snakes, each has colorful and playful décor.
For safety, each area’s condiment areas were empty and flatware, napkins, and condiments provided when picking up your food. Additionally, tables were marked with signs asking Guests not to sit there, to maintain physical distancing.
It’s a beautiful place to chill and unwind!
This may very well be THE most underrated experience at Animal Kingdom, if not all, of the Disney theme parks. If you blink, you miss it, and most people are beating feet past the entrance to get to Africa. The entrance is on the right-hand side of the walkway, right near Creature Comforts.
This tiny trail weaves its way past several animal encounters and right up under the Tree of Life. If you like seeing the Tree of Life, you will LOVE how up close you get with some of the carvings. I first learned about this trail when I was a Cast Member working in Media Relations, touring with a South American film team. The carvings are INSANE! We were the only people on the trail and had lots of time for photos.
An Amazing Day
We’re so glad we chose to go to Animal Kingdom. We were very comfortable with reduced attendance and mask requirements. There were hand washing and sanitizing stations everywhere. The low contact Mobile Ordering made lunch really safe and comfortable too.
It really set the tone for us to consider returning to other Walt Disney World theme parks during COVID-19. But more on those in later blog posts.
* PLEASE NOTE: Masks are required at all Walt Disney World property. Cast Members are doing an excellent job of enforcing this, including when Guests remove them to take photos. This featured photo on this blog post was taken just outside of the theme park, near the parking lot, where no one was around us.