Sorry, the following is probably the opposite of light weekend reading. You can always wait for Monday to dive in to more charts than either of us would probably like to look over. Or, for my own benefit, you could just slowly scroll through the post while doing something that’s more entertaining, ideally without that ad blocker on. Our time together is likely coming to an end, so you may want to savor the red arrows and wide charts before the only content left to consume is cupcake reviews and pictures of the same oversized spirit jersey, this time in a slightly whiter shade of pale.
We’ll take a look at each Park’s recent wait times to see if we can identify which days of the week see lower wait times, whether recent shifts in attraction capacity will have us rearranging our priorities as wait times drop at some attractions and stay the same or rise elsewhere, and how we might want to go about our day visiting the Parks while still minimizing our time in line as things remain very much in flux.
We’ll first pull up our usual chart of wait times since Animal Kingdom reopened back in July of 2020:
Waits have dropped off significantly this week and last. The weekly averages hovered around 30 to 50 minutes from November 1st, 2020, through January 9th, 2021. Last week’s 20.8-minute average is the lowest that we’ve seen since the end of September, due in part to those capacity increases causing more people to be able to ride per hour. The week of January 10th was a cooler one based on my single anecdote of opening my front door the one time and wondering if the gophers had hauled me off to Minnesota. But it was a clear, sunny week, so rain or unusually harsh weather wouldn’t be the culprit. Early next week looks to be warmer with highs in the mid-80s, so you’ll find me in my replica of Darth Vader’s meditation chamber until Thursday or Friday, contemplating whether a 30-second increase in waits at DINOSAUR is worth burning all of our plans to the ground. By the end of the week, highs should be back in the 70s. Take the time to dip those toesies in the Cars pool at Art of Animation while you have the chance.
As we’ve discussed since the middle of November, lower waits aren’t always indicative of lower crowds or attendance, as attraction capacity increases lower waits. The company continues to fiddle with acrylic plastic barrier testing on ride vehicles, most recently at attractions like “it’s a small world,” oftentimes giving up after a while and figuring anyone willing to travel to Florida right now will put up with another party breathing down their necks on one of the only available cruises at the moment. Animal Kingdom’s 12.9-minute average is the lowest since the last week in August, when we saw our last waits in the single digits.
Here’s the wait time chart for Wednesday, when the weather might have been on the chillier side, but was a perfectly pleasant “winter” day in Florida:
You couldn’t have done much better than that without a time machine. You can even use the excuse that you can’t ride Na’vi River Journey again because its 31-minute average wait is nearly twice that of Avatar – Flight of Passage, which came in at just 16 minutes.
Compare those waits to the longest we’ve seen so far, back on Saturday, January 2nd:
The dates are fewer than three weeks apart, yet Flight of Passage tops out at a 2.5-hour wait on Saturday, January 2nd, and 25 minutes on January 20th. On the 20th, Flight of Passage actually hits five minutes in the afternoon, probably for the first time since early August.
Both dates in 2021 would fall after the capacity increases at Expedition Everest, where they now fill every row, and Flight of Passage, where they now fill every seat. Six weeks ago, cast would have left an empty row between parties on Everest and an empty seat in between each party on Flight of Passage. As a party of one, that basically meant I took up the equivalent of four seats on Everest and three on Flight of Passage, since they were left empty. Those are significant capacity reductions.
Apparently in December, Disney decided that the backs of the seats on Everest were high enough to “keep guests safe” while filling every row. I’m not sure what the rationalization would be for leaving empty seats between parties on Flight of Passage for the first six months of operation, and then decide in December that filling every seat is “safe,” but that was the call. Hopefully, ventilation and the fact that you’re only sitting there for about five minutes in face masks means that there isn’t any more risk here than in a hundred or thousand other locations around Walt Disney World where you might find yourself. I’d rather be sitting here for five minutes than on a Disney bus with 18 other people for twenty minutes, convoluted plastic barrier layout or not.
Of course, an increase in capacity will eventually mean an increase in the number of Park Passes allotted and an increase in attendance. Disney may or may not cop to how much they’ve raised theme park capacity this quarter during their next earnings call on February 11th, with many expecting attendance to now be in the vicinity of 40% of “total capacity,” up from the original 25%. During the last earnings call, they mentioned they raised capacity to 35%, which is a 40% increase in the theoretical number of people admitted, even if the number initially looks to be just a ten-percent increase. What total capacity means is hard to say. If you base it on the fire code numbers of the maximum number of people who can be in each open space, you’re talking about a lot of people. An average day at Magic Kingdom two years ago probably saw attendance in the vicinity of 40 to 50 percent of that number. There’s a reason why Disney discusses these things in percentages and not real numbers.
We’ll get back to our weekly averages with the numbers displayed in a different variety of chart:
With the recent capacity increases, demand is potentially less likely to be met during historically less-crowded times. That could result in shorter waits, like what we saw over the course of the week on January 10th. Of course, we’re well aware that Disney can and does ramp down capacity to decrease costs, which would then “artificially” increase waits again.
But we can kind of see when and where capacity/demand increased since the Park reopened via our scientific red lines:
While I doubt DINOSAUR will see a wait times overlay where you travel back to July 2020 when waits were short and your goal is to bring back a Flower and Garden Festival bird feeder, there are four clear periods where wait times stayed around the same levels for four to eight weeks before rising to the next level. There are some outliers, of course, with Thanksgiving Week and Christmas showing peak waits for those times of year and capacity at that time. But the low average during the week of January 10th – you’d have to go back to September to find waits that low, does seem to indicate that there may be opportunities in the future to hone in on less-crowded times of year. With Disney having a pretty good idea about what attendance will look like on any given day far in advance via Park Passes, I’m not sure how many days we’ll see where attraction capacity is high and attendance is low.
Of course, while Disney doesn’t routinely acknowledge how many Park Passes it has distributed for any given day, someone somewhere knows the answer. But the company has been incredibly slow to react to changing behavior, even knowing exactly how many people they have booked at their hotels before the whole Park Pass thing. It took about three years before they realized nobody really visited during the summer anymore. Once they did, they shortened the theme park hours from June through Labor Day by about 40%. You would hope that those hours would shift to the fall along with the crowds, but we didn’t see extended fall hours for long. One year, just about every Mickey’s Party date in the fall saw 8am to 7pm hours. The event was canceled in its entirety this past year, of course, but Disney went to 9am to 6pm hours on Mickey’s Party dates in 2019, cutting the hours by nearly 20% and eliminating our early morning 8am jump on the crowds that allowed us to get a lot more done.
Part of the point of this series is to reassess wait times given recent capacity changes to see if we need to adjust our priorities. Animal Kingdom is not the best example of that, but I only know how to do things alphabetically and/or chronologically.
The following chart shows the overall average wait at each Animal Kingdom attraction from December 20th, 2020, through January 21st, 2021, so it only includes dates after Disney made their capacity modifications:
There probably isn’t anything too earth-shattering here. Flight of Passage waits have come down with the capacity increase, while River Journey’s average is within about five minutes of Pandora’s major headliner given the fact that they still only seat one party per boat, whether you’re a single adult male blogger who doesn’t want to be there or a happy family of eight. Potentially, the fact that DINOSAUR now sees higher average waits than Everest or Safaris is interesting, as we haven’t seen a major shift in capacity there, which now technically makes it “the third most popular attraction at Animal Kingdom,” at least based on average waits.
Everest’s posted waits didn’t drop significantly with what is basically a doubling of its capacity. At the Studios, we saw Runaway Railway’s average wait basically drop in half from about 85 minutes to about 40 minutes when they started loading every row there. Slinky went from about 85 minutes to about 55 minutes with every row up for grabs there. Everest’s average wait to start was under 30 minutes, which isn’t so long to put people off from riding. Twenty-five minutes sounds better than thirty, but a lot of people are going to get in line whether the wait time sign reads 25 minutes or 30 minutes, which is likely why the drop in wait times there is closer to 10% than 50%.
The drop of a few minutes does puts Everest right in line with Kilimanjaro Safaris. Kali River Rapids is now closed until the beginning of April, so the average there is only based on December 20th through January 3rd, both a busy and cold time of year.
With Disney leaving three empty seats in between each grouping of up to four available seats at It’s Tough To Be A Bug! and blocking off every other row, it’s possible that you’ll need to wait through a show before seats become available for your party, but most of the time you’ll be able to see the next show. Then there is our beloved TriceraTop Spin. Always available for your love.
Below is a chart of what wait times would have looked like from October 1st through October 31st of 2020, before the capacity increases and when overall averages for the day across the attractions hovered around 30 minutes:
I didn’t rearrange the attractions from highest wait to lowest wait, which may or may not make our comparison to the new year more clear.
Across the attractions, the overall average wait in October was 27.5 minutes, compared to 30.4 minutes in our December to January chart. The biggest change looks to be Na’vi River Journey. Its average in October was 42.2 minutes, compared to 56.2 minutes from December to January. That’s a 33% increase. During that same time, waits went down at Flight of Passage by just a couple of percent. At Everest, the same is true. Waits were longer at both attractions in October, before the capacity increases, despite shorter overall waits. Elsewhere, where there was no change in capacity, waits are similar. Safaris has loaded every row from day one, and the October average is about two minutes shorter in October. The increase in waits at DINOSAUR from October to December/January is also about seven minutes. That may be due to Disney loading just one of the two sides early in the morning and late at night, basically halving capacity.
So what are we gleaning from the current state of affairs? Drops in waits at Flight of Passage and Expedition Everest haven’t been significant, despite the capacity increase. An increase in the number of Park Passes Disney is now distributing is likely part of the culprit. Disney might open three seats on each row on Flight of Passage, but if there are now three more people to fill them, we won’t see much of a difference since the seats are occupied one way or another.
We can take a look at one more chart here for the most recent complete week of January 10th to 16th, when waits fell to their lowest levels since September:
This is probably our best example of how capacity increases have impacted wait times. We see higher waits at Na’vi River Journey than Flight of Passage – something you would rarely or never see prior to the March closures. Everest’s wait also drops below both Safaris and DINOSAUR as about twice as many people can now ride the roller coaster per hour. During the holidays, Disney increased capacity, but the demand was there. During the quieter weeks in March, that’s less true.
Of course, things continue to evolve across all of the Parks. Just this week, Disney announced that a modified version of Festival of the Lion King will return this summer:
Just the one show is named and “this summer” doesn’t officially begin until June 20th, or about five months away. The post also makes no mention of Finding Nemo the Musical or a return of UP! A Great Bird Adventure. They may elect to make separate announcements over the coming months based on a number of changing conditions. Lion King always seemed like a show that would be relatively easy to reformulate as a temporary offering. The soundtrack is powerful and the majority of what makes up the stage and surrounding elements are old parade floats that don’t require a lot of people. From day one of the Parks’ reopening, I would have been happy to enter the theater and listen to the songs sung live with the characters coming out to wave at the audience as the show moved forward.
But Hollywood Studios is where they need the capacity the most, so I’d be surprised if we don’t see something announced for Beauty and the Beast and/or Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular in the near future. More shows will again result in more overall Park capacity, shifting crowd movements, and altering wait times.
I would imagine Disney is looking at the summer as a “safer” time overall given increased access to vaccinations, particularly among populations that are at an increased risk. For the last several years, the summer has been relatively quiet at Walt Disney World, but that may be much less true if people haven’t quite maxed out their credit cards and travel “feels” safer to your average visitor. Or at least in my experience, if you think about Florida long enough, you’ll be willing to do just about anything. After millions or billions of people have been cooped up for a year or more, Florida may be a desirable retreat, even if we’re actively trying to pass legislation making it legal to run people over in your vehicle. But that sort of thing may be what gives the state its charm.
People always obsess over the “best” day of the week to visit a certain Park based on crowds and wait times. We can take a look at the daily and weekly average waits over the last three months and see if we can come to any conclusions:
And those conclusions are the same as what we’ve deduced the last several times we’ve looked at it. Weekdays are largely a wash with the average ranging from a low of 28.0 minutes on Thursday up to 32.1 minutes on Monday. The 4.1-minute difference comes out to less than a 15% change from the “worst” weekday to the best. Looking over each of the past twelve weeks, Monday’s average, which we’ve deemed “the busiest weekday,” was lower than Thursday’s, or “the best weekday” during five of the twelve weeks. So even locking in Thursday thinking you’re doing a lot better for yourself is far from a sure bet as Thursdays saw higher waits than Mondays over 40% of the time.
Weekends remain the busiest, as you might expect, with Saturday and Sunday both seeing average waits of 36 to 37 minutes with Passholders joining the tourists. The overall average for this time period is 31.7 minutes, so 36.2 minutes on a Saturday would result in waiting about five minutes more per attraction, on average. Still, Animal Kingdom is a Park that should be avoided on the weekends unless the openings are earlier than weekdays and you can take advantage of them.
Remember, the Parks routinely open 30 to 45 minutes before what’s officially stated. On my Tuesday visit to Magic Kingdom this week, the Park officially opened at 9am, but I was inside the Park at 8:32am and done with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight before 9:10am without really trying. The same is true at Animal Kingdom, where you can move through Pandora quickly so long as you arrive about 55 minutes before the Park is slated to open. You’ll be able to quickly move through Pandora and on to the other attractions before most people arrive. If Disney transportation won’t get you there that early and you don’t have your own vehicle, use Uber for about $10. It may be the best ten bucks you spend considering how much you can get done early. When it’s expected to be busier, the Parks in turn open even earlier compared to what’s stated. So be mindful of that as well.
For a detailed look at how to go about your day touring Animal Kingdom, check out our recent series from the ground:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom 8am Rope Drop to Avatar Flight of Passage
- Easy Morning Touring at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Late Morning Touring at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
What you see there should hold true with the lighter crowds that we’ve seen the last couple of weeks. Our next touring series will focus on Magic Kingdom. We’ll come back to these posts intermittently along with Festival of the Arts reviews and other happenings.