How To Rope Drop Animal Kingdom 2021 Edition

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great park to visit during your Disney vacation. It is also home to one of the most popular, and amazing, rides on the planet. Rope drop at Animal Kingdom has become a very popular strategy to get on Flight of Passage.

But rope drop isn’t just for the Pandora rides! Rope drop is also a very successful strategy to implement for the other rides at Animal Kingdom. So let’s take a look at how to rope drop Animal Kingdom.

Honestly, the need for a solid Animal Kingdom rope drop strategy hasn’t been as necessary since the reopening. However, as people start traveling again, I anticipate this need returning.

And remember, there are currently no FastPasses and no sign of them returning anytime soon.

Also, use my Animal Kingdom touring plan to help you determine how you want your overall day to be structured.

Floating Mountains of Pandora at Animal Kingdom

What is Animal Kingdom Rope Drop?

Rope drop is the terminology used in Disney vacation planning lingo to describe entering the park as soon as it opens. Whatever time the park opens on any given day is “rope drop”.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean there actually is a rope. Often, it’s just a metaphor, but sometimes there really is a rope blocking your path.

It is important to note that when I talk about a rope drop strategy, I do not mean that you should arrive right when the park opens. This would actually make you late for rope drop.

If you ever plan to rope drop a park, you need to be there quite a bit before opening time. Just how early depends on what you want to accomplish.

What Time is Rope Drop at Animal Kingdom?

The time of rope drop at Animal Kingdom varies depending on what time Animal Kingdom opens for the day.

The opening time for Animal Kingdom can vary slightly, but in general, the park opens to all guests at 9:00am on most days.

During very busy weeks, like Christmas week or Easter break, Disney has been known to bump up the opening time in an attempt to spread crowds out a little bit more. The park could open at 8:00am, but can even open as early as 7:00am.

While you are planning your trip, you can always refer to Disney’s website to look at the opening times they have posted. However, they don’t always post that information more than 6 months in advance, which is pretty annoying considering their entire system encourages you to start planning so far in advance.

You can find historical park opening times for previous years and base your decisions on that. Disney tends to follow the same pattern each year.

But let’s face it, this year has been a year like no others. Since the reopening in 2020, things just haven’t operated the same way. This has led to some changes in the timing of guest entry into the parks.

Right now, you should assume that guests are allowed into Animal Kingdom anywhere from 30-45 minutes BEFORE the stated opening time. This is the standard operating procedure at all the parks.

Now you see why I said not to show up right at the official park opening time.

How Early to Get to Animal Kingdom for Rope Drop

If only the answer to this question was straightforward, but alas, it is not. However, what is 100% true is: don’t show up at 9:00a, right as the park opens. If you show up right when the park is supposed to open, you actually missed rope drop.

Don’t forget, it takes time to walk from the bus to the park. Then it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to get through the temperature check and security. Next up is getting through the tapstiles, and so on and so on.

Depending on what your goal is with rope drop, by the time you actually get to your ride of choice the line may already be too long.

Pandora/Flight of Passage Rope Drop

Let’s face it, Flight of Passage is the biggest draw in the park. Most people there early are attempting to rope drop Flight of Passage. Many others will head towards Na’vi River Journey, but nowhere near as many as Flight of Passage gets.

If Flight of Passage is your goal, you should plan to get to the park no later than an hour before park opening. As I mentioned, Cast Members allow guests into the parks (and onto rides) before the park is even officially opened.

By getting there at least an hour early you at least know you’ll be in that initial group of people. It will just be a matter of your positioning within that group.

You don’t have to get there quite so early, if your goal is to rope drop Na’vi River Journey. Even if you end up towards the back of the pack moving through the park, most of the people in the crowd will veer off to the right towards Flight of Passage once you enter Pandora giving you an easy walk off to the left for Na’vi.

Everything Else at Animal Kingdom…

When the plan is to rope drop any other ride at Animal Kingdom, you do not need to wake up quite as early. Since most of the crowd will head off to the left of Discovery Island to go to Pandora, it’s pretty much smooth sailing to go anywhere else in the park.

At this point, you don’t even need to arrive super early in order to walk onto all the other rides. We’ve arrived right at official park opening (and even slightly after) and still walked onto Expedition Everest multiple times.

If you plan to do any of these other rides during Animal Kingdom rope drop, I actually recommend you avoid arriving too early. If you arrive around a half an hour before park opening you’ll likely just walk right into the park.

Once in the park, head to the right after passing through the tapstiles.

What’s the Best Way to Get to Animal Kingdom for Rope Drop?

This is actually a very valid question. And the earlier you want to get somewhere, the less you can rely on Disney transportation to do it.

There are only three ways to get to Animal Kingdom: Disney bus, drive yourself, and use Uber/Lyft.

In general, it seems like Disney it timing is so that all of the various forms of transportation arrive at the park around the same time. This is way more complicated for other parks with more options.

But Animal Kingdom doesn’t have that same level of complexity. If you think about it, absolutely everyone arriving has to go through the same parking lot entrance area, whether you’re a car, ride share, or bus.

Though clearly, the buses don’t have to wait in any lines…

What Time Do the Buses Start Running?

At this time, the buses start running approximately 45 minute to an hour before the park opens. I’m sure you can see the problem with this already…

If you want to be physically AT the park an hour before opening, this clearly isn’t going to work. Even if the first bus arrives at your resort exactly one hour before park opening, you probably won’t be at the park for 15-20 minutes, depending on your resort.

And that’s not even factoring in whether or not you even get on the first bus. With limited capacity on the buses, you might have to wait for multiple buses before you get on one.

I don’t think this will be as big a factor with Animal Kingdom as it is with the other parks. However, not a risk I’m willing to take.

What Time Does Animal Kingdom’s Parking Lot Open?

You’ll notice, pretty much every answer is prefaced with the phrase “in general”. This is because Disney changes things willy nilly. So everything has to be an estimate.

But, in general, the parking lot opens up around an hour before park opening. All cars are held outside the parking fee booths until the lot is opened up.

Anecdotal reports from a recent trip (mid-March 2021) reported the parking lot gates opened up around 8:15a, then the slow yet methodical process of getting parked started. Plan for this to take roughly 15 minutes.

At this point, people on the buses or using ride share have an advantage over you.

However, if you arrive to the lot too early, you may be turned away entirely and told to come back. This varies by park, and I can’t speak to Animal Kingdom, but this is what happened to us at Hollywood Studios.

Using Uber or Lyft

Frankly, using a ride share service is my preferred way of getting to Animal Kingdom these days. We haven’t yet rented a car and I’m not a fan of the current bus situation.

I like having more control of the situation than the buses allow at this point. Heck, even before COVID changed everything we still always took a Lyft in order to rope drop Animal Kingdom.

Keep in mind, if the parking lot doesn’t open until an hour before park opening, an Uber or Lyft driver also can’t get in to the parking lot.

One major advantage to using a ride share instead of driving is that you get dropped off much closer to the park entrance. Cars in the lots can be quite far away, depending on where they put you. And the trams are currently not running.

All ride shares have a designated drop off/pick up location, and it’s the curb shortly before the park entrance.

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Do I Even NEED to Rope Drop Animal Kingdom in 2021?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my family is rabid about rope drop in general. We are HIGHLY MOTIVATED rope droppers. And we’re good at it.

However, since reopening, Animal Kingdom is the one park that we’ve loosened up about regarding rope drop. Out of all the parks, Animal Kingdom has seen the lowest crowds.

Depending on what your threshold is for how long you’re willing to wait in lines (we don’t wait longer than 30 minutes) you can reasonably get on all the rides fairly easily throughout the day.

Who Should Definitely Rope Drop Animal Kingdom?

If you plan to only spend half a day at Animal Kingdom, I highly recommend taking advantage of rope drop. This is of course assuming that half a day is the first half of the day.

Because you are looking at a shorter time frame in general, efficiency becomes even more important. I’m assuming that most people doing a half day are aiming to park hop, leaving Animal Kingdom between 1p and 2p. Depending on whether the park opens at 8a or 9a, you are looking at a 4-5 hour window.

And yes, you can get a lot done in that time frame if you rope drop Animal Kingdom. That’s why it’s essential for a half day.

If you are only doing a half a day, try your hardest to be in the initial wave of people heading to Flight of Passage. This will likely be the shortest wait time you encounter.

However, if you aren’t in the lead group, this rapidly becomes one of the longest waits of the entire day. So it all depends on timing.

I will say, Flight of Passage is the only ride I’m willing to wait a little longer than 30 minutes for. That being said, the longest I’ve waited for it is 40 minutes.

Who Should NOT Rope Drop Animal Kingdom?

First, let me be clear. When I talk about not rope dropping Animal Kingdom, I don’t mean show up late. I mean show up at official park opening time and bypassing that initial rush.

You still want to be at Animal Kingdom early enough in the morning to take advantage of the sweet spot. Remember, the early bird catches the worm!

So, who shouldn’t rope drop Animal Kingdom?

Anyone who doesn’t plan to ride Flight of Passage first thing.

If you don’t plan to rope drop Flight of Passage (or potentially Na’vi River Journey), there’s really no point. Because that’s where EVERYONE is headed.

Because of this, every single other ride in the park will be at close to a walk on for probably an hour. And that, my friend, is an opportunity to ride Expedition Everest over and over again.

What Rides are Open for Animal Kingdom Rope Drop?

This is the other reason why it’s perhaps not necessary to arrive so early for any ride other than Flight of Passage. I can guarantee you that Flight of Passage, and likely Na’vi River Journey, start running as soon as they let guests into the park.

This is not necessarily true for any of the other rides. And this can also change day to day as well. During the recent high crowds of Spring Break, Expedition Everest didn’t start running until exactly 8:00am when the park officially opened.

Even with having to wait for the ride to start running, the line was very short and then was a near walk on for multiple rides on the train after that.

Because of this fact, walking into the park directly at park opening, or within 15 minutes of opening, allows you to walk on over to the ride of your choice and simply walk right on. Assuming the ride of your choice isn’t Flight of Passage.

If it is, make sure you read the section above titled “Who Should Definitely Rope Drop Animal Kingdom”…

Do NOT go on This Ride During Rope Drop…

There is one ride you should absolutely, positively avoid going on right at rope drop: Kilimanjaro Safari. Don’t get me wrong, the Safari is amazing and you should definitely go on it. Just not at rope drop.

Often, the Safari doesn’t begin running even right at park opening. This can depend on whether the park opens at 8a or 9a. But recent reports state that for an 8a park opening, the Safari didn’t start running until 8:30a.

Do not get in that line! You’ll waste your precious rope drop window.

The second reason to wait to go on Kilimanjaro Safari has to do with the length of the ride. You are looking at around a 20 minute ride. If animals decide to create a traffic jam, it could be even longer. Though it’s pretty cool when that happens.

Because the ride is so long, it takes up too much of that rope drop window. By the time you walk through the queue (even when empty) get in the truck, ride the ride, walk back out, you’ve eaten up a considerable amount of time. That means less time to get on other rides with little to no wait.

Always aim to get on the Safari after you’ve done Expedition Everest and Dinosaur.

How Will the New Early Entry Benefit Effect Animal Kingdom Rope Drop?

At this point, your guess is as good as mine. In case you didn’t know, Disney teased a “benefit” for all guests staying at a Disney resort, called Early Entry. This is their replacement for the old Extra Magic Hours benefit.

Basically, all guests staying at a Disney resort are granted access to the parks 30 minutes before park opening. Sound familiar? It should considering that’s what’s already happening, only EVERYONE with a ticket and park pass can do it.

So how exactly will this be a benefit? And how will it change rope drop in general? I really don’t have a clue. Time will tell on that one.

We don’t have an exact start date for Early Entry other than “later in 2021”. My guess is it will start on or around the 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021.

What Will Animal Kingdom Rope Drop Look Like Later in 2021 and 2022?

This is another question I don’t have the answer to. What is clear is that crowds will continue to increase as we move through 2021. There is so much pent up demand for travel right now it’s not even funny.

As the vaccine rolls out and people feel more comfortable, they will return to Disney in droves. Really, it’s already started. Capacity limits will increase, more resorts will open, there will just be more people to compete with.

And we still don’t have a replacement for FastPasses.

My guess is that a solid rope drop strategy for Animal Kingdom, and all of the parks, will be essential during the back half of 2021 and into 2022.

So while I’m a little blasé about the need to rope drop Animal Kingdom at this very second (spring of 2021), my tune will change later this year.

Final Thoughts on How to Rope Drop Animal Kingdom

Clearly, I am a big fan of rope drop in general. It can be a highly productive hour to hour and a half where you can get a lot done. Rope drop becomes even more important if your trip falls during a very popular time of year.

And while you don’t have to be quite so “aggressive” about your rope drop strategy for Animal Kingdom in the beginning half of 2021, this will likely change later in the year.

Unfortunately, there are so many question marks right now when it comes to predicting things. Disney changes procedures on what seems like a daily basis right now. It’s kind of unavoidable, really.

My biggest advice right now: plan on rope dropping Animal Kingdom with the information you have on hand. Then be ready to roll with the punches on the big day. Because you just don’t know what new procedure Disney will throw at you!

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Your Thoughts

Are you a fan of rope drop, or do you prefer to sleep in and get a later start to the day? Do you have any wisdom to share from your own experience rope dropping Flight of Passage? Let me know in the comments below.

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