Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2016 9:08 AM | Contributed by Jeff
Disney's Animal Kingdom started late-night hours this spring, but after just a few months, those hours are getting much shorter, with planned closings as early as 6 p.m. in the fall. While theme parks stay open later in summer, Animal Kingdom's shorter operating times come amid months of delays for the planned Rivers of Light nighttime extravaganza and declining theme park attendance so far this year.
Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.
As a former Kilimanjaro Safari driver, I was not overly impressed with the night safaris. It was ridiculously cool to be out there at night, but there really wasn't much to see.
I think the biggest takeaway is that Animal Kingdom honestly just isn't a night park. Granted, when they finally get Rivers of Light going and the Avatar stuff opens, that could change. But as cool as the place looks all lit up at night (I love night rides on Everest and walking around the Oasis after dark), they have never been able to get people to stick around late in the day. And if this hasn't done it, I'm not sure anything will.
I think that is exactly the point they are addressing. Their strategy to expand the offerings hasn't failed, it hit a snag in execution. Without a big splashy show to keep people hanging around, there's no reason to keep the park open late. Animal Kingdom can most certainly be a night park. Guests just need more stuff to do. It's coming. Is it more complicated than that?
I guess the point I was trying to make, and reading back clearly didn't, is that I don't even know if they will be able to keep people in the park after the new stuff opens. I'm sure Rivers of Light will be a hit, but I think it is just instinctual for people to go there in the morning to see the animal exhibits and then go to Epcot and Magic Kingdom in the evening.
The only way to keep people around is to offer them a reason to. AK has been a half day park for many WDW guests since it opened. Adding a big night time brouhaha definitely seems like the most sensible way to expand AK's useful operating hours which I'd imagine will help Disney meet a bunch of strategic goals - more food and merch sales, lessened guest burden at MK, potentially for increased resort sales or extended stays, etc. Definitely people are used to leaving AK for the other parks that have evening shows but if you want to influence guest behavior you have to start somewhere. I personally really want to do the night stuff at AK because I've done the other night shows a million times already.
As a first-time tourist, I never saw AK as a half-day park. Between the safari, the big shows, the walk-through "zoo" parts and the rides, I always found it easy enough to spend most of the day there, open to close. Even as a local, we'll spend four or five hours there easily, and miss a ton of stuff.
My family and I were there to close once, maybe two years ago, with a strange closing time of 8. Maybe that's normal now for summer, I'm not sure, and we really enjoyed it. No waits for Primeval Whirl, Triceratops Spin, Dinosaur, and my boy had the dig site playground to himself. Earlier that day, we did the Nemo musical, Festival of The Lion King, Kilimanjaro, the walk-throughs in Africa and Asia, dinner and a few snacks. It was a great day. (We went on to MK after that, in a rare instance of great pre-K kid behavior.)
For me, as a more seasoned tourist, the reason I wouldn't spend more time at AK was dinner. Honestly, I was rarely in MK for the same reason. There just wasn't enough there, especially if you're on the dining plan and looking for table service.
I liked the tree lit up when we went at night but I could take or leave the rest of it. The animals were almost non-existent when we rode through the safari...a huge difference from the daytime. I agree with Jeff that the sit down restaurant options are too limited...making me want to get out of there before dinner.
Avatar Land may change all of this...and maybe there is something to be said for spending a year or two refining the nighttime experience before that section of the park opens.
Has anyone been to the new Tiffins restaurant yet? Looks like Disney is trying to check the "improved table service dining" box there.
We always wind up at Yak and Yeti, which is a Landry's, so any mall in America might offer that unique experience...
It's cute and all, it's fun to sit upstairs at a window. We've never cared for Rainforest Cafe so it's out. And once again they're kind of common anymore. Two at Disney, then there's Las Vegas, Niagra, Texas, MOA, etc.
We've always treated AK as a first-day, after we get checked in and settled kind of park. We go during the off time of year, so it's never very busy and we can get it all done in that half day. We'd make more of it if there was a night time experience, I'm sure, but so far that hasn't been the case. It sounds like when we go this February it may be shorter hours, unless they get everything for the spectacular up and running by the holiday season.
I like AK a lot, and was pleasantly surprised. Especially my first time. After that it just seemed to fail in the fresh and new department, more so than the other three parks. Nemo is one of my favorite shows in all of WDW, and Everest is good too.
I love the safari and the walk-thrus, they're so well done, but I'd never expect high caliber at night. I mean, the critters gotta sleep sometime, and they punch out at sundown.
^I agree. We went in November last year(the first week Mickeys Very Merry Christmas party opened.) We didn't have to spend a full day to get everything done.
We went to AK two times last visit so we could reride(and watch Nemo,) and we still didn't spend a full day between both visits. It's nice to use those half days as R&R after. The one day we just spent the rest of the day/night at our resort (Coronado Springs,) swimming at the main pool and eating dinner at their table service place.
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