Animal Kingdom Early Entry Strategy (2024)

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We’ve spent many mornings figuring out the best way to use the Early Entry time at Animal Kingdom (spolier: it’s all about Pandora – The World of Avatar!). With 6 rides to choose from and 30 minutes to play with, we have a few preferred strategies that we wanted to share that always work great for us. For those of you planning your own trip, we’ve included our best early entry strategies for Animal Kingdom and our tips for making the most of your extra 30 minutes in the park!

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Tree of Life, Animal Kingdom

How Does Early Entry and Rope Drop Work at Animal Kingdom

One of the most valuable perks of staying at a Disney World Resort is the 30-minute Early Entry to each of the 4 parks: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Having early access to the parks is an awesome experience and we really strive to make the most of our Early Entry.

Animal Kingdom typically opens at 8am or 9am:

  • Early Entry is 30 minutes prior to opening – so 7.30 a.m. for an 8am opening or 8.30am for a 9am opening.
  • Regular rope drop for non-Disney resort guests is at park opening, so typically 8am or 9am.
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DiVine greeting guests at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Early Entry tip: we find that the 7.30am early entry atrracts lower crowds than the 8.30am early entry. It makes sense as the 7.30am early entry requires a very early start.

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Early Entry at Animal Kingdom

What rides are open during Early Entry at Animal Kingdom?

Typically, there are 5 rides and 1 3D show available at Animal Kingdom in the early entry period. The rides, and their minimum height requirements, are:

  • Avatar Flight of Passage (44″/113cm)
  • DINOSAUR (40″/102cm)
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – (44″/113cm)
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug! (3D show)
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • TriceraTop Spin
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Pandora – World of Avatar

What’s not open in Animal Kingdom during Early Entry?

Two rides, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids are not open during Early Entry. The shows and meet and greets start to operate at, or in the hour or two after the regular opening.

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Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond! at Animal Kingdom

Early Entry at Animal Kingdom

Here’s some info you need to know prior to choosing your early entry strategy:

Avatar Flight of Passage is available via standby or Individual Lightening Lane

Animal Kingdom’s most popular ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, is accessible via a standby line (a regular walk-up line) or a lightning lane by purchasing an Individual Lightening Lane (the Disney equivalent of pay-per-ride) – the Individual Lightening Lane for Rise runs between $11 and $17 depending on the day. It is not included in Genie+.

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The entrance to Avatar: Flight of Passage

Genie+

 With the exception of Avatar Flight of Passage and TriceraTop Spin, all the Animal Kingdom rides can be reserved with Genie+. Genie+ is a ticket add-on which costs around $15 (Animal Kingdom only) to $35 (all park) depending on crowd levels. It allows guests to reserve a timed slot to ride a Genie+ ride. Guests can reserve Genie+ ride access at various points through the course of the day – the first ride selection is made at 7am, the second at 2 hours after regular park opening time or when you tap in for your 7am selection if this is earlier. Subsequent rides can then be reserved every 2 hours or after you have tapped in for your existing Genie+ selections. When your ride time slot opens up you can access the ride through the lightning lane (an express line which is separate from the regular walk-up standby lines and provides expedited access to the ride).

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Scanning in for a Genie+ reservation at Animal Kingdom

Most Popular Rides at Animal Kindome

This is based on our experiences and wait times at Animal Kingdom. Avatar Flight of Passage is the most popular ride closely followed by Kilimanjaro Safaris early in the morning, Na’vi River Journey and Expedition Everest. Kali River Rapids and Dinosaur are also quite popular. TriceraTop Spin is aimed at younger quests and is usually a pretty short wait.

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Kali River Rapids

Crowd Levels

Like any Disney park, crowds at Animal Kingdom vary depending on events, time of year and even the day of the week. If you are lucky you might hit Animal Kingdom on a slower day. Our strategies and recommendations will help you navigate either way.

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Early Entry Crowds at Animal Kingdom

Early Entry Strategies at Animal Kingdom

Pandora – World of Avatar, is the biggest draw of early entry at Animal Kingdom – in fact, it’s the only reason we aim for Early Entry at Animal Kingdom if we have Genie+. All the other early-entry attractions are relatively easy to tick off during the day especially given there are only 7 rides in total.

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Pandora – World of Avatar

We typically change up our early entry strategy depending on whether we have Genie+, if our young kids are with us at the park, if we’re prepared to splash out on an Individual Lightening Lane or even something as simple as what rides we’re in the mood for that morning! However, the early entry strategies at Animal Kingdom are pretty straightforward as most guests are focused on Flight of Passage.

Animal Kingdom Early Entry tip: there are two rides we don’t prioritze during Early Entry at Animal Kingdom: It’s Tough to be a Bug! and TriceraTop Spin. It’s Tough to be a Bug is a 3D show and is easily accessible throughout the day. It’s also quite time consuming (the walk through the line is long and the show lasts almost 10 minutes). TriceraTop Spin is aimed at younger guests and typically has a short wait time throughout the day.

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TriceraTop Spin is not an Early Entry priority for us

Early Entry Strategy 1: Avatar Flight of Passage

Prioritise for Early Entry: everyone (it’s one of the best rides in all of Walt Disney World) /Avatar fans/ you don’t want to wait in a long line/ you don’t want to purchase an Individual Lightening Lane/ if you have Genie+ (all the other Animal Kingdom rides can be easily covered by Genie+ so you can focus on riding those later) / minimum height 44″

Avatar: Flight of Passage takes riders on a soaring flight over Pandora atop a winged mountain banshee. With an average wait time of around 60 minutes and the only alternative an Individual Lightening Lane, Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the best rides to tick off during Early Entry – it’s also one of the best rides in Animal Kingdom and Disney World, period!

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En route to Avatar: Flight of Passage

Make sure you are through security and ready to enter at least 45 minutes before Early Entry if you want to be close to the top of the Avatar Flight of Passage line. Animal Kingdom begins to admit guests to the park from around 15 minutes prior to Early Entry but it can be right up to the scheduled Early Entry time depending on the day. It’s about 10 minutes walk to Pandora and nearly all of the Early entry crowd will be going this way.

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The walk to Avatar: Flight of Passage passes by the Tree of Life

As you approach Avatar Flight of Passage the Cast Members will be directing guests and managing the crowd flow to the ride.

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The Early Entry line at Avatar: Flight of Passage

Animal Kingdom Early Entry tip: Avatar Flgith of Passage is a 3D Simulator and some guests have reported suffering from motion sickness after riding.

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Avatar: Flight of Passage

Rider Switch on Avatar: Flight of Passage

If you have younger kids who can’t ride Avatar: Flight of Passage then you need to be aware of Rider Switch!

Rider Switch is a fantastic service for families with kids who don’t meet the attraction height requirements or don’t want to ride. It allows one parent to wait in line and experience the attraction with the children who are riding while the other adult stays with those who aren’t able/don’t want to go on Avatar: Flight of Passage.

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Rider Switch means you don’t have to join the general line twice!

After the first parent rides and exits the attraction they can switch with the waiting parent who can then use the Lightening Lane so they don’t have to wait in the full queue again. This means both parents have a chance to experience Avatar: Flight of Passage while avoiding having to queue twice – it is a huge time saver for families.

How to use a Rider Switch on Avatar Flight of Passage: as you move through the line you will pass a Cast Member setting up Rider Switches close to the ride entrance. Let them know and they will scan your Disneyland passes in your app and then apply a Rider Switch pass to your account. This will allow the other adult to return to the ride via the lightning lane once the first adult has completed the ride. A maximum of 3 people can ride in the second group.

Animal Kingdom Early Entry tip: we have a 5, 4 and 1 year old so have used Rider Switch extensively over recent years! It is an invaluable offering for families and is the only we can both experience popular rides like Avatar: Flight of Passage.

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The second Rider Switch guests can use the Lightning Lane

How to get to Avatar: Flight of Passage: Avatar Flight of Passage is almost directly west of the Entrance but there are no direct paths across to Pandora Land. You will walk straight ahead to the Tree of Life and turn left just past the Island Mercantile store. The first path on the left (just before Pizzafari) leads to Pandora Land and you will pass Tiffins Restaurant and Nomad Lounge en route. Cast Members are always out directing guests to the Avatar line.

What to Ride Next

If you have Genie+: opt for Kilamonjaro Safari as your first selection at 7am as the animals are most active early in the morning. We’ve always managed a return time in the first 30 minutes after park opening but it’s by far the most competitive Genie+ in Animal Kingdom so there are no guarantees. Our next stop is breakfast in Tusker House followed by Expedition Everest or Na’vi River Journey. Meeting Mickey and Minne at Adventurers Outpost is another favorite.

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Kilimanjaro Safari

If you don’t have Genie+: Na’vi River Journey can have quite low wait times in the opening hour (it’s very unlikely you’ll be done with Flight of Passage and over at Na’vi River Journey before early entry ends). Kilimanjaro Safari is next – the line will be long but the early morning safaris are always much more interesting and the line moves relatively quickly. The Mickey and Minne meet and greet at Adventurers Outpost starts at park opening and is one of our favorite meet and greets.

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Mickey and Minnie at Adventurers Outpost

Early Entry Strategy 2: Na’vi River Journey

Prioritise for Early Entry: If you are purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane for / are not intending to ride Avatar: Flight of Passage / you have young kids who don’t meet the Avatar: Flight of Passage height requirement (all guests can ride Na’vi River Journey).

Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful boat ride through the Pandora Rainforest. It’s a stunning ride through a bioluminescent rainforest and features an incredible animatronic of the Na’vi Shaman of Songs – the Na’vi Shaman is one of the most advanced animatronics in the world and is an incredible sight, it’s truly the highlight of the Na’vi River Journey.

Na’vi River Journey is quite an easy first ride as most of the Early Entry Guests are focused on Avatar: Flight of Passage.

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Na’vi River Journey

How to get to Na’vi River Journey: Follows almost the same route as you would for Avatar Flight of Passage. You will walk straight ahead to the Tree of Life and turn left just past the Island Mercantile store. The first path on the left (just before Pizzafari) leads to Pandora Land and you will pass Tiffins Restaurant and Nomad Lounge en route. Instead of turning right for Avatar, you will continue straight for Na’vi River Journey.

What to ride after Na’vi River Journey

If you have Genie+: opt for Kilamonjaro Safari as your first selection at 7am as the animals are most active early in the morning. We’ve always managed a return time in the first 30 minutes after park opening but it’s by far the most competitive Genie+ in Animal Kingdom so there are no guarantees. Depending on your Genie+ time for Kilimanjaro Safari, you might be able to fit in Expedition Everest or Dinosaur before the lines are long. We usually book a late character breakfast at Tusker House.

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We love meeting Mickey Mouse and Friends at Tusker House

If you don’t have Genie+: The location of Pandora Land is a little awkward for a second ride during Early Entry as Kilimanjaro Safari opens with the park and you don’t have time to go over to Asia for Expedition Everest if you want to get in line for the safari opening. If Kilimanjaro Safari is next on your list then we’d recommend stopping by Pongu Pongu for a Pongu Lumpia accompanied by a beautiful Night Blossom before making your way over to Africa for the safari- these are two of the best snacks in Animal Kingdom and a great way to start the day! If not, walk over to Asia for some Expedition Everest fun.

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Stop for a beautiful Night Blossom at Pongu Pongu

Early Entry Strategy 3: Expedition Everest and Dinosaur

Prioritise for Early Entry: ride preference/ you have purchased an Individual Lightning Lane for Avatar Flight of Passageyou arrive after Early Entry has started and lines are long for Avatar and Na’vi River Journey / you want to tick off a few rides during Early Entry / minimum height 44″ Expedition Everest and 40″ for Dinosaur

Expedition Everest is an awesome rollercoaster where guests ride a runaway train through the Himalayas and even encounter a Yeti. The line is usually relatively short for Expedition Everest so you should be able to do a second ride during Early Entry (or ride Expedition Everest as many times as your heart desires!) – we’d go for Dinosaur in Dinoland U.S.A (a dark ride aboard a bumpy Time Roveror where guests travel back in time to rescue a dinosaur before a meteor strikes) or Na’vi River Journey if the wait time is still short.

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Expedition Everest

How to get to Expedition Everest: at the Entrance you will walk straight ahead to the Tree of Life. Continue straight on to the right of the Tree of Life and you will reach Asia. Follow the path to the right for Expedition Everest.

What to ride next

If you have Genie+: again, opt for Kilimanjaro Safari as your first selection at 7am as the animals are most active early in the morning. We’ve always managed a return time in the first 30 minutes after park opening but it’s by far the most competitive Genie+ in Animal Kingdom so there are no guarantees. Depending on your Genie+ time for Kilimanjaro Safari, you might be able to fit in Na’vi River Journey and/or Dinosaur or a meet and greet with Mickey and Minnie at Adventurers Outpost. We usually book a late character breakfast at Tusker House.

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In the line for Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom

If you don’t have Genie+: go for the low wait time rides. Dinosaur (and TriceraTop Spin if you have young kids) should be achievable in Early Entry. If you plan to do Kilimanjaro Safari then early morning is the best time as the animals are most active but it doesn’t open until the regular park opening time.

What time do I need to arrive for Early Entry at Animal Kingdom?

If you are intending to ride Avatar: Flight of Passage then we recommend arriving at the park an hour before the listed Early Entry entry time. This means you will be at the front of the line, among the first to tap into the park, and will be close to the front of the line for Avatar: Flight of Passage

If you opt for Early Entry Strategy 2 or 3 or choose another first ride, then you can arrive a little later – it’s always best to arrive around 30 minutes prior to Early Entry but it’s still worth getting into the park any time before the regular opening time so you beat the rope drop crowds.

After arriving at the park via your chosen means of transport (see below for the Early Entry transport options) you will need to allow time for:

Security

The security checkpoint is located in front of the entrance at Animal Kingdom. We’ve always found it relatively quick – guests walk through a metal detector with their backpacks and a bag search is typically only required if the metal detector alarm sounds. Guests with strollers are directed to a separate line where the stroller is checked and then the same process applies. The stroller line can take an extra 10/15 minutes depending on how many strollers are passing through at that particular time.

Park Entrance

After you pass through security you will then walk ahead to the Animal Kingdom entrance. The first guests are usually scanned 10 or 15 minutes prior to the park opening (it can be up to 30 minutes), so from around 7.00am for a 7.30am Early Entry – we were scanned at 7.15am on our last visit. You can tap in with your Disney ticket card, a Magic Band or a ticket saved to your cell phone wallet and then verify your fingerprint. All guests, irrespective of whether you have Early Entry or not, can enter at this time.

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Waiting for the Animal Kingdom to open for Early Entry

Early Entry Check

There will be a sign to direct guests with Early Entry and a Cast Member will check that everyone passing this point is eligible for Early Entry. Your Resort stay should be linked to the My Disney Experience App – if the Cast Member can’t see you will be asked to show your reservation/room key to confirm Early Entry eligibility. Guests with Early Entry are then able to access the rest of the park.

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Giraffe spotting from our balcony at Animal Kingdom Lodge

How to get to Animal Kingdom for Early Entry?

Animal Kingdom is only accessible by bus, driving or Minnie Van/Uber/Lyft:

Bus: buses start running around 45 to 60 minutes prior to Early Entry. If you want to ride Avatar: Flight of Passage we recommend arriving at the bus stop prior to this (so 90 minutes before the start of Early Entry) so you are towards the front of the line.

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Buses at Animal Kingodm

Driving: the parking lot at Animal Kingdom opens 60 minutes prior to Early Entry. We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and so regular parking was included at the parks.

Minnie Van/Uber/Lyft: you can also use the Minnie Van (a ride service for Resort Guests) or a regular Uber or Lyft.

Is Early Entry Worth it at Animal Kingdom?

We often get asked if Early Entry is Worth it at Disney parks. Personally, we rarely miss an early entry opportunity and we love the quieter mornings in the parks. Here are some thoughts on Early Entry:

  • crowds are lower: crowds are generally lower during Early Entry and in the couple of hours following. However, don’t expect to have the park to yourself – there are over 35,000 resort rooms at Disney, all of which benefit from Early Entry. We came to Walt Disney World having visited Disneyland Paris with 6 hotels granted Early Entry) and Disneyland California where 3 hotels benefit – it was a surprise to realise that it was possible over 100,000 guests have access to Early Entry across the 4 parks!
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Animal Kingdom
  • save on Individual Lightning Lanes (ILL)/Genie+: park tickets, Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes can really add up so we like to focus on covering the ILL rides at rope drop to save the extra expense/likely long lines. We have 3 kids under 6 so often purchase Genie+ to save on waiting in line but Early Entry definitely reduces the need for it especially in Animal Kingdom, So, on a busy day, you might save $50 per person by not needing an ILL or Genie+ and still be able to ride everything you want.
  • ‘Why bother getting up early and having to wait in line for an hour before the park opens? Why not just stay in bed and wait in line for the rides when you have to?’: we were asked this before and I thought it was a fantastic and accurate question! For us, we’re up way before Early Entry anyway (special shout out to our 1-year-old!) and we love being able to use that time to our advantage – it also means we can bail out of the park before the temperatures peak or we can take an extended afternoon break and enjoy the resort facilities because we’ve done most of what we wanted early in the morning.
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Early Entry means more time to enjoy all the amazing Animal Kingdom snacks!

Animal Kingdom is unique in that it has a smaller number of attractions that the other Disney World parks so it’s relatively easy to tick off all the rides. So here’s when we think Early Entry is/isn’t worth it at Animal Kingdom:

Worth it:

  • you have 1 day to cover Animal Kingdom
  • you want to do a mix of rides, shows and meet and greets and need the extra time in the park. Animal Kingdom has 3 shows (Feathered Friends in Flight!, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!), meet and greets with Moana, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Daisy and Donald Duck and Chip ‘n Dale, amazing nature walks and the Animation Experience at Conservation Station. You need an early start to experience even some of the amazing things on offer!
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Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
  • you are up early anyway
  • you want to ride Avatar Flight of Passage without purchasing an Individual LIghtning Lane.
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Moana hosts a meet and greet at Animal Kingdom

Consider if it is worth it

  • you have Genie+ and want to focus on rides: you can stay in bed or hang by the pool and easily stack rides for later if you have Genie+ – only Avatar: Flight of Passage and TriceraTop Spin are excluded from Genie+ in Animal Kingdom so you can certainly cover everything.
  • you don’t mind purchasing an ILL or waiting in line for Avatar: Flight of Passage
  • you have more than 1 day in Animal Kingdom
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We like to take the train over to the Animation Academy

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