It was around the first week in September when I was standing in front of Cinderella Castle in the early afternoon after basically walking on each attraction I had visited all morning. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? Walked on twice without even having the opportunity to throw a single elbow. Peter Pan’s Flight? I counted three other people in the entire queue and I can count a lot higher than that. To at least ten. Space Mountain? Everyone had either fallen out of their rocketships and entered orbit or I was the only one already on the phone with my chiropractor as I crashed back into my front row seat for the seventh time in as many seconds. The joyful laughs and giddy woohoos entirely absent as I embarked on my mission alone in the dark. Frontierland? Exactly what the name suggests – just me, wide open spaces, and a quaint saloon with apple juice as the featured cocktail of the day.
The lower half of my face was not quite contorting into a smile, but the few people in the vicinity did get to enjoy the rare glow of my half-smirk, at least as they passed me on their way to their next walk-on attraction. Was touring really going to be this easy? Even without character meets to occupy the families and weird bloggers that just need a quick picture to prove they were there, stage shows to absorb the thousands of extra parkgoers ready for a break from the long lines and sun, and with most attractions running at severely limited capacities?
Walt Disney World had been open for about two months after being closed for about three. Crowds and wait times remained low to nonexistent most days, making for easier and more relaxed touring than I think anyone was initially expecting. There isn’t usually a lot of overlap in the words “July,” “Florida,” “Disney World,” and “pleasant,” but here we were. Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the situation were anything but positive, but it’s hard to focus on that when you’re being invited to rejoin the line for Flight of Passage without even having to exit the building because there was nobody else waiting to ride.
That began to change during the second week in September. Disney reduced the operating hours of its theme parks across the board for dates beginning September 8th, citing a lack of demand over the first eight weeks of operation. The theme parks would be open for six fewer hours each day. That reduction in supply seemed to arrive at the same time as tens of thousands of new guests, many of whom probably saw those initial reports of low waits, and decided to book a trip for a couple of months later, perhaps thinking even more policies would be ironed out by then and things would return to some semblance of normalcy. Instead, waits quickly went up, touring got a lot more complicated, and you couldn’t count the number of people in line for Peter Pan’s Flight even if you could count to a thousand. The line now routinely stretched around Fantasyland, back to Liberty Square, and eventually into the winding queue.
For a look back on just how easy it was to tour Epcot back in July, you can take a look at our original series:
- Epcot Arrival and Rope Drop Experience After Reopening
- Epcot Morning Touring After Reopening
- Epcot Future World Late Morning Touring After Reopening
- Epcot Afternoon Touring Since Reopening
In the picture above, there may be more people headed towards Epcot’s entrance at 10:30am on a Wednesday than we saw in the entire Park back during that first month.
To further illustrate the point, here’s the wait time chart for July 22nd, or the second Wednesday that the Park was open:
That was actually a day with above-average waits for July, thanks to significant downtime at Test Track, along with technical difficulties at Living with the Land and Frozen as well. Still, none of the average waits for the day hit 30 minutes. You’d have trouble finding a time of day when the actual wait for Soarin’ was longer than 20 minutes.
Here’s the wait time chart from this past Wednesday, October 14th:
Wait times have more than doubled over the last twelve weeks with the 30-minute overall average in the lower right hand corner of the chart. The overall average on weekends is over 40 minutes, or about a third higher than what you’d experience on a typical weekday. The worst part is how quickly wait times now take off in the morning, with the longest waits of the day during the first three hours of operation.
That’s not unusual as the majority of guests arrive at the main entrance and head to a priority ride first. But back in July, Frozen Ever After didn’t post a wait longer than 15 minutes until 12:15pm. Now it opens the day at 95 minutes and rarely posts anything below 55 minutes. Soarin’s average has more than doubled, while Test Track’s average wait has almost tripled. So some strategy is going to be necessary if we want to get all of the rides and several of the theater shows done in one day. Back in July, the combined average wait for Frozen, Soarin’, and Test Track was 72 minutes. With posted waits about 30% higher than reality, you wouldn’t even wait an hour to do Epcot’s three premier rides. Fast forward to October and the combined average wait for the same three rides is exactly three hours. That’s a significant increase.
Fortunately, we’re not only armed with our experience, our piles of wait time charts, and our elbows, but we also have the help of RideMax technology:
If you’re wondering what that means, see yesterday’s introduction written by the creator of the touring optimization software. The post also includes a bevy of tips and tricks to get the most out of the program. With yet another tool at our disposal, we should be set up to wait less, even as waits rise significantly for everyone else.
There is one thing that hasn’t changed much since July and we can get that out of the way right off the bat. The parking lot still opens about 30 minutes before the Park most days, though there is now a chance that it might open five to fifteen minutes earlier on busier days. With the 11am open on the day of our visit during a holiday week, it’s 10:23am and we’re already on our way to find a space. I visited the week before and we were held at the toll booth until right at 10:30am. To be among the first vehicles in one of these lines, you probably want to arrive at about 10:15am. You’ll sit there for between five and fifteen minutes, ideally refreshing this website for the potential of new content (unlikely), or gazing at the beauty of your RideMax optimized plan (more likely).
Our visit happened to coincide on the day the Evolv Technology scanners were added to the main entrance. The walk-through artificial intelligence allows you to keep most things in your bag for the contactless experience that is so popular at the moment. They do ask that you hold out any umbrellas or large aluminum water bottles out in front of you as you pass through the scanners.
I’d also suggest taking any large electronics, like big cameras, and hold those out in front as you walk through. The streamlined process is much more pleasant and much more “fair.” How quickly you move through the line won’t depend on the arbitrary attentiveness/aggression of your bag checker. I think we’ve all been in a line that moves at a snail’s pace while security touches, squeezes, and caresses every one of your belongings at the same time you’re watching others whiz through a line where the bag checker is more concerned about getting to Applebee’s by the end of happy hour as they barely glance down at what you’ve got going on. Now it’s up to Skynet on whether or not you get to proceed.
It’s exactly 10:30am as I head inside without a whole lot of people around. As with the other Parks, once the first buses arrive, the parking lot opens, and temperature check starts, you’ll be allowed to head inside the Park. There are no major holding areas other than out in front of the Toll Plaza. Disney doesn’t want people to congregate, which is part of the reason for the parking lot hold and new screening technology.
Ordinarily, about 80% of the rope drop crowd will be headed left for Test Track or Frozen. The other 20% will be headed right, largely because they are lost or headed to Soarin’. If you enter the Park late, which is probably defined as within 20 minutes of its official open, then you may want to start with Soarin’ as the wait for the other two priorities will already be prohibitive. You don’t want to start your day waiting for Frozen outside Lotus Blossom Cafe in China or Test Track back at Temporary Mouse Gear.
We’re going to run into some bad luck right off the bat with Test Track not opening with the Park. The aging ride is probably the equivalent to the hunk of junk that is the Millennium Falcon, only without any of the unrealistic movie stuff, so the thing just doesn’t really work well because it’s old and beat up. We won’t enjoy a lucky jump into hyperspace here – just the potential for a responsible recall if the check engine light won’t turn off.
We can take a look at how often Test Track, one of Disney World’s three least-reliable attractions, is down at either Park open or close. Here’s the ride’s wait times throughout the day over the last month, with the days that it’s down at Park open or Park close highlighted in red. Any blank cells during the day represent another 15 minutes of downtime:
Over the last month, it looks like Test Track was down at open on five dates and also down at Park close on five dates. The downtime typically occurs on consecutive days, which makes some sense as maintenance struggles to fix whatever problem is going on. Perhaps comparing Test Track to your air-conditioner or freezer on its last legs would be more apt than a fictitious spacecraft. You might think you’ve fixed the problem on the cheap, but that handyman is probably coming back the next day to spend a lot more time and money on it.
Looking over the chart, October 3rd was the most problematic day in recent memory, with the ride operating for less than two hours, and then not opening with the Park the following day. October 8th and 9th were also two days in a row when the ride was down at open. Late night downtime may be more of a coincidence, but the ride was also down at consecutive Park closes two times as well.
When FastPass+ was a thing, we prioritized Test Track because it protected us from downtime, which is obviously common. If the ride was down during our FP+ return window, we could simply return any time after it came back up and use the FP+. Single rider was also historically an option with waits that were typically shorter than either standby or FastPass+ thanks to the ride’s seat configuration. With both those options currently off the table, there are only two opportunities for most guests to ride Test Track with a wait of less than 40 minutes – absolutely first thing or absolutely last thing at night.
If you arrive early enough and Test Track is operating, starting there may make the most sense. You’ll get an unreliable ride with long waits out of the way. A ~17% chance that the ride will be down at the end of the night isn’t overwhelming, but it’s also far from uncommon. You’ll want to keep an eye on the weather because lightning in the area closes the ride. That’s less common in the evening as we move towards November, but you’ll see rain and the potential for lightning after 7pm at least 40% of the time during the summer. While the one red box at the end of the night isn’t a lot of downtime, it does take away the ability to get in line and wait at the end of the night on October 9th isn’t a lot of downtime, it also means you wouldn’t be able to get in line to ride last thing.
Here’s the chart for Frozen Ever After on the same dates:
While it wasn’t always this way, Frozen is significantly more reliable than Test Track. Like any attraction, it is occasionally down at Park open, but it hasn’t happened in the last ~30 days. The ride looks to be down at Park close twice with sporadic spurts of technical trouble in the middle of the day when the wait would be around 50 minutes otherwise.
Three other things to note. First, check out how much longer wait times are first thing than they were even three or four weeks ago. On September 21st, the ride opened with a 20 minute wait. on the 22nd, it was 25 minutes. Most other days over the next couple of weeks, it was 45 minutes. Now, you’re looking at between 60 and 100 minutes at 11am, with even higher waits at 11:15am and 11:30am.
You’ll also want to note how much longer waits are on Saturdays and Sundays. Without having to look up specific dates, Saturdays are the middle row when the Park is open until 9pm on three consecutive days. Sunday is then the wait in the third row. October 12th was Columbus Day, so the Park’s hours were also extended then, but the average on the Monday holiday is almost a half hour shorter than either Saturday or Sunday. If you visit on a weekend, expect waits to be 30% to 40% higher than weekdays.
Last, Frozen does see the longest average wait at Epcot, likely in part due to physical distancing – they only load the first and last rows – and likely in part because of a lack of things to do in World Showcase with only one other ride open around the entire lagoon.
So what’s the right play between Test Track or Frozen first? If you’re among the first few hundred people in the Park and Test Track looks like it’s going to open on time, then starting there is your best bet. If it’s not running, then Frozen is the obvious first stop. If you arrive closer to Park open, then beginning with Soarin’ is likely your best choice.
With only one day at Epcot, you’ll have to wait longer than you’d probably like for either Test Track or Frozen if one of them is down first thing or you arrive late. Looking at the chart for Frozen, waits actually drop off between 12:15pm and 1pm with the likelihood that getting in line at 12:30pm will result in the shortest wait possible outside of riding last thing. For Test Track, getting in line between 1:30pm and 2:45pm is your best bet for a shorter wait.
One of the perks of using technology like RideMax is that the software already knows this and can rework your plan on the fly depending on how your morning works out, what time you arrive, and which attractions are operating. You won’t have to try to hunt down this chart that you think you might have seen on that one website with the url that you can’t quite remember.
Your initial decision may also come down to where you plan to eat and where you’d like to end your day. We chose to visit Frozen Ever After first with lunch in World Showcase and dinner at Sunshine Seasons in Future World. The website’s original advice was to visit Test Track first, followed by Frozen, and then spend a couple of hours in World Showcase when crowds there are lowest. We’d then return to Future World in the late afternoon, when crowds and waits are lower there as people inevitably finish up with the Future World rides and head up to World Showcase, probably with hopes of missing the JAMMitors.
Doing both Test Track and Frozen back to back with short waits isn’t going to be viable most of the time now with the larger number of people arriving early and again heading to Frozen first. By official Park open, the end of the line for Frozen will be in the China Pavilion, and it will stay there for at least an hour, if not most of the day.
As a couple of adults, it’s easy for us to bypass Future World and enjoy World Showcase first. With young kids, you may want to stay in Future World and visit additional rides to try to sell them on the Park before hitting up a cultural exhibit about Mesoamerican architecture. Part of the fun of RideMax is playing around with the various options and seeing the impact that changes you’re considering could have on your day while you’re still at home on the couch.
For Test Track or Frozen, there is exactly one corridor to walk through to get to that side of the Park. Stay left as you pass Spaceship Earth. The middle of Epcot remains behind walls and will likely stay that way for at least the next 24 months, whether Disney ends up building that Festival Center or decides to go with plan B, which is a giant statue of me. You can have dessert parties at the top of either, so both projects are equally viable.
We’ll take a brief look at a number of projects as we tour the Park and likely come back them for a closer look in a separate post. Yes, this is me not getting bogged down in the details. The bathrooms on the left across from Spaceship Earth are closed for refurbishment. Luckily, most people are able to contain their excitement as they enter Epcot, but if you pee your pants, we will understand. I’m nervous about running into a JAMMitors show too.
If we were going to get bogged down in the details, then I’d have to mention that we’ve got new paint and accents above the stores on either side of Spaceship Earth as well.
I would guess the most popular show on Disney+ would be a live stream of wherever it is that they lead people who refuse to wear their mask properly out of the Park. I’ve never personally seen any major altercations, but you never know when a maskless madman is going to invoke a misquote of the villain from “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” as a rationalization for endangering others.
It’s 10:35am as we continue past what will eventually become part of the Guardians of the Galaxy building.
While we can see more clearly above the walls that surround what used to be the central spine leading through Future World and into World Showcase, the area remains an active construction zone. At a minimum, it seems like at least one of the Property Brothers comes through here every night with a sledgehammer, knocking over exactly one thing while looking for water damage. Those people on the right are standing in front of the entrance to Temporary Mouse Gear as Classic MouseGear is now MouseRubble.
Fortunately(?), the decision on whether we were headed to Test Track or Frozen first was made for us. Test Track was down at open. The bad news is that we were already planning on doing Frozen first, and Test Track’s downtime means more people will continue up to Frozen. It’s potentially worse for those who were planning on staying in Future World as the 1,000+ people headed to Test Track first are now in line elsewhere, causing significantly larger backups at rides like Mission: SPACE, which aren’t prepared for an early influx of people.
As a second data point, here I am headed to Test Track a week earlier at 10:39am, or right around the same time.
They’ve already had to add a number of additional switchbacks to handle the morning crowds.
That’s in addition to the regular outdoor extended queue.
This is where I ended up after being among the first vehicles to arrive before the parking lot opened. My actual wait from here would be 15 to 25 minutes depending on how much of the indoor queue they’ve opened.
Here is the scene behind me at 10:50am, or ten minutes before the Park even opens. Hence the advice to not come here first if you are running “late.”
I really can’t emphasize enough how much larger crowds are now than they were from July 11th through the first week in September. That’s another area where something like RideMax will keep you and your plans up to date with the changing times. Back in July, you could have arrived at 12:30pm and waited ten or fifteen minutes for Test Track. Now, it’s 45 to 60 minutes. That is potentially still better than the 90 to 120 minutes you would have waited with the same arrival time with FastPass+ priority in play before the March closures.
That is one thing I’ve noticed amid the theme park discourse on current crowds and wait times. The people who visit with no idea how to tour effectively, and are used to waiting 30 to 60+ minutes to do just about anything, continue to applaud these “lower” wait times. Since they’re used to waiting two hours, one hour sounds better. If you’ve made it this far into the post, then you’re probably unaccustomed to waiting more than ten or fifteen minutes for most attractions, thanks to the use of an intelligent touring plan and hitting that FastPass+ refresh button. We’re a little less enthusiastic about waiting longer now without the ability to take advantage of FastPass+.
But, never fear, we’re still going to do just fine.
But that line for Test Track does go all the way back to Temporary Mouse Gear. On a weekday. During a non-holiday week.
Back to the day at hand, we’ll pass by the walkway towards Test Track and then take a left at Cool Wash, just past these restrooms that recently reopened.
The one thing that may have you second-guessing your plan to visit Frozen first is the smell of fresh meat and burning charcoal up at Flavors From Fire. I think it’s pretty rude to put it on the walkway right where we’re planning on making our turn. You’ll remember that all of Epcot currently opens at 11am, instead of the 9am open that we had seen virtually every day for 10+ years. Starting next month, the Park will move to a 12pm opening on some dates. That’s lunch time or what would usually be three hours into our day given the old 9am opens. The late start is part of what makes it possible for more people to be here for Park open. Getting the dad and kids out of bed, bathed, and clothed for an 8am arrival is more difficult than shooting for 11:15am come November and December.
We’ll be taking a shortcut through the old Odyssey building instead of walking all the way around.
*Holding up flag*
And we’re walking.
We’ll continue through these open doors with “The Epcot Experience” inside and on the right.
The Epcot Experience opens with the Park, which is part of why we can easily skip through here first thing.
Epcot is unique in that it has two entrances and exits. Most people will come through the main entrance, like we did, but there is also the International Gateway (IG) in between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions. For years, we’ve discussed the advantages and disadvantages of coming in from both areas for rope drop based on Disney’s current opening procedure and where you’re planning on heading first. Before the March closures, guests entering from the IG had an advantage to Frozen Ever After because the walk was shorter than coming in from the main entrance. Those same guests coming in from the International Gateway were typically at a slight disadvantage to Soarin’ and a bigger disadvantage to Test Track because those rides are farther away.
Currently, guests coming in from the International Gateway are typically the best off regardless of their first attraction stop. Disney should open the International Gateway at the same time they open the parking lot and as the first couple of Disney buses arrive from the resorts. With no holding areas inside the Park, the few guests present at the International Gateway when it opens should be able to make it through temperature/bag check, into the Park, and over to their desired attraction before 99% of the people coming in from the main entrance, even if that attraction is Test Track and the walk inside the Park is a little longer. That’s because of the delays in parking and the longer walk from the buses, etc.
Back during our last Studios rope drop, I discussed the potential benefits of coming in from the Crescent Lake area and how it would allow you to be among the first guests to arrive. Guests from that area are the same ones who would use the International Gateway. If you missed the Studios series, which discusses touring the most frustrating Park in depth, you can pull up the posts in order here:
- Rope Dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Trattoria al Forno Breakfast
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway September Rope Drop
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Morning Touring as Crowds Continue to Rise
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Late Morning September Touring
- Touring Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a Busy Afternoon
With how nutty the Studios arrival experience has become, I would potentially advocate in favor of going out of your way to make an arrival from Crescent Lake work. For Epcot, it’s less necessary. A very small fraction of the guests visiting Epcot will be coming in from the IG, so even if every one of them is ahead of you in line for Frozen or Test Track, your wait would only increase by a couple of minutes, if that. Epcot is also much easier to tour overall, so we won’t be nearly as pressed for time. Actually, once we get through Frozen in Norway and Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico, we basically have three hours of free time in World Showcase for lunch and to do whatever else we’d like. So even if Frozen takes 25 minutes instead of 12 minutes, we’ve only lost 13 minutes of that free time and it won’t affect our wait at Gran Fiesta. At the Studios, you can save an hour or more in line by being among the first guests in the Park, which is easiest from the Crescent Lake area.
But if you are staying at a Crescent Lake Resort – the Beach Club, Yacht Club, BoardWalk, Swan, or Dolphin, and are present at the International Gateway 40 minutes before the Park opens, you should be able to beat just about everyone coming in from the main entrance to any attraction. Obviously, the Ratatouille ride is not in the mix yet, but the IG will offer a major advantage there as the attraction’s entrance is right around the corner. From the main entrance, those headed to Ratatouille first are in for a haul. We’ll have to make a big reassessment of how we go about our day once Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opens, but at this point, it doesn’t look like it will be this calendar year. Somehow, it both feels like November is sneaking up on us in just about a week, but it also feels like it’s been five years since March. The Rat Ride was originally set for a summer opening.
From here, things should look familiar as we head to Frozen:
What may look less familiar is the length of the line, unless you visited shortly after Frozen Ever After debuted, and waits were routinely 120+ minutes amidst a significant amount of downtime. But the line is not nearly as bad as it looks…yet…as they actually haven’t opened the doors to the ride queue yet. We’re also spaced about six feet apart, which makes every line appear longer than it would be if we were filling in all of the available space.
At 10:45am, we’re waiting in the old Norway smoking area, around the corner from the entrance to the ride. The people on the left are also in line, but they’re behind us, waiting to cross over from China to Norway. It should be an easier crossing than in the Viking days. We may need to add another ranking to our list of worst places to be at the end of the queue. “Waiting in line not even in the same Pavilion as the ride” would probably come in low on that list, somewhere around being in line on the opposite side of the mountain than the entrance is located, like we recently saw at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
A minute or two after we arrived, the doors to the queue opened, and we could almost get a glimpse of the attraction entrance. That’s an improvement. We’re in the right Pavilion. Never let anyone tell you RideMax never got us anywhere.
Kringla Bakeri reopened at the end of September, but you’ll only see it operating on the weekends at the moment. On weekdays, it’s just the promise of School Bread from the Norway Kiosk out front. Still, knowing that there’s School Bread somewhere on the other side should power us through however long this wait ends up being.
Like a lot of major attractions, Disney operates a separate station for Disability Access Services. At Frozen, that’s it under the brown umbrella on the left.
It’s the entrance! RideMax works! We knew it all along!
It’s a little hard to tell, but that’s the standard 90-minute wait that Disney posts to start the day. It’s 10:50am, or ten minutes before the Park officially opens. Disney typically begins operating the major attractions, including Frozen and Test Track, before official open if the rides are ready to go. The fact that the doors didn’t even open until 10:45am may have meant we were close to this one opening late too.
The 90-minute wait isn’t aimed at us. It’s for the people far out of frame back somewhere in China.
From Frozen’s entrance, our wait should be about 15 minutes until we board:
We were back out front at 11:09am, or just nine minutes after the Park opened and a little less than 40 minutes after entering the Park. The posted wait went up while we were riding to 95 minutes. Those currently standing at the end of the line, somewhere in China, will wait a little more than an hour.
So it certainly seems like RideMax got us started on the right foot, getting through an attraction that averages a wait well over an hour and reducing it to only three minutes of actual Park time.
Now that we’ve made it through the first attraction, we should be able to breeze through a quick World Showcase update and then get back to Future World for the rides.