We set out for Magic Kingdom on Sunday, November 10th, 2019. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to visit the Park when it’s been legitimately crowded, and the tail-end of Jersey Week, combined with the Veterans Day Holiday, and the fact that it’s a weekend with incredible weather, should be enough to get us into some triple digit waits. At least a boy can dream.
As you might remember, Magic Kingdom offered a morning Extra Magic Hour every day in September and October as part of the Extra Extra Magic Hours initiative. Magic Kingdom also opened at 8am to all guests during those same 2+ months. Here in the heart of November, we’re not nearly as lucky, as we have 9am regular opens as far as the eye can see. Last year was the first year in about ten that Magic Kingdom opened at 9am over the busy week of Thanksgiving, but it looks like this will make two years in a row of those later openings. What we see today won’t be quite as bad as the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Thanksgiving, but it should be comparable to the first few days of the holiday week. If you’re visiting between now and December 22nd or so, what we see today will be just about worst case scenario in terms of crowds and wait times. The following should offer insight into what you can expect should you be visiting Magic Kingdom over the next year or more given well-above-average crowds.
The picture above is from Extra Extra Magic Hours back in September, when I was able to do this before 10am:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 7:02am – 7:14am
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 7:15am – 7:28am
- Peter Pan’s Flight: 7:30am – 7:38am
- Peter Pan’s Flight: 7:39am – 7:47am
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: 7:49am – 7:58am
- Space Mountain: 8:06am – 8:20am
- Tomorrowland Speedway: 8:22am – 8:38am
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: 8:39am – 8:48am
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 9:08am – 9:22am
- Splash Mountain: 9:33am – 9:48am
On this particular morning, with the holiday crowds and 9am open, I’ll be able to do just two things before 10am – Jingle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Back in September, I was able to do five times more at the same point in the day. Worse, the combined wait for Jingle Cruise and Big Thunder at 10am is going to exceed three hours here in November. That doesn’t bode well for what we’ll be able to accomplish after.
I’m arriving much later than I would if I was heading to Fantasyland for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or potentially even something like Space Mountain. It’s just before 8:50am with the 9am open. The Adventureland and Frontierland rope drops are my favorite of any set of attractions at any Park because they offer such a big payoff with very little effort. Hurrying to Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios or Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom provides a lot of benefit, and hours saved in line, but it also requires a very early arrival, and a lot of uncomfortable jostling for position on the long walks over. For Frontierland or Adventureland, I can safely arrive much later and walk over relatively unencumbered at my own pace. Of course, we’ll still take any opportunity to throw some elbows. The people need a taste of what they’re going to experience later in their trip. As it stands, I should be able to do Jingle/Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and potentially Pirates of the Caribbean in standby without waiting all that long, even given crowds that are well above-average.
As usual, the touchpoints towards the center of the entrance see the shortest waits. On the far left, everyone coming down from the monorails instinctively gets in line with the least amount of walking possible. From over here on the right, everyone coming in from the buses, ferryboat, and Contemporary/Bay Lake Tower will file into a line that’s 10+ people deep. In the middle, nobody was waiting and I sauntered right in.
We have a slightly different take on rope drop this morning; Disney was filming some of the performances that you’ll see during the Christmas Day Parade on ABC, which meant most of the Hub area was off limits to guests.
Good morning from a busy Magic Kingdom with an alternate opening due to holiday special taping pic.twitter.com/TfA6OiHK7P
— josh (@easywdw) November 10, 2019
This video shows the alternative announcement.
For our purposes, this isn’t particularly importan,t as I’ll simply be taking a left into Adventureland once everyone has had an opportunity to disperse.
If you’re heading to Jingle/Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, or what have you, then it potentially still makes sense to move quickly to the attraction. After all, the earlier you arrive, and the fewer people that you find in front of you, the less that you’ll wait. But on Frontierland/Adventureland rope-drop-day, I like to take the opportunity to watch the Welcome Show with Mickey Mouse, which requires setting up shop closer to the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage before the show begins about five minutes before the Park opens. The Frontierland and Adventureland attractions are much more forgiving than the priorities in Fantasyland in particular. If you’re the last person at a 9am rope drop to arrive at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, then you’re likely going to wait about 75 minutes. At Big Thunder, the last person to arrive as part of the rope drop rush should wait less than fifteen minutes, even if only one of the two sides is loading.
I’ll have more holiday stuff later this week and into next.
We can see that the Hub and the area in front of the Castle is blocked off, as it would be for much of the rest of the day. Because of the taping going long, Disney actually extended the Park’s operating hours by an extra hour.
I’m heading into Adventureland after everybody else at 9:03am. You’ll notice that the Spring Rolls cart has moved out in front of the bridge for added visibility. We’ll see some other cart movement as we move about the Park.
Typically, we begin our day in Frontierland with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain, and then work our way back towards Adventureland for Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. Historically, the wait for Big Thunder has built much faster than Jungle Cruise, but we’ve been burned by long waits at the animatronic jungle ride a couple of times in the past, in addition to finding 15ish minute waits at Big Thunder first thing.
This time around, we’re going to start with Jingle/Jungle Cruise and then work our way back to Frontierland, which should also reduce the amount of backtracking that we have to undertake.
Jingle Cruise returns as a holiday overlay available all-day at Magic Kingdom for what may be its seventh year. The quality of the ride depends almost entirely on your mood and the talent of your backpack-less skipper, but on average, I think I enjoy the holiday run a little better than the rest of the year.
My plan to start the day at Jingle Cruise only went okay. Unlike a ride like Kilimanjaro Safaris, where there’s a long line of trucks waiting to be filled first thing, our skippers had to drive the boats around the great waterway before we were eligible to board. Here at about 9:07am, nobody in line has yet departed on their adventure.
This does offer us a moment to enjoy some of the queue details.
I always thought they should go with more of an “Apocalypse Now” overlay. A little Heart of Darkness.
Maybe for Halloween.
15 minutes into the day and I’m still cycling through the Cruise’s queue.
The slow start does explain a bit of the early backup that we’ve experienced during our last few visits, when we typically arrive here closer to 10am. These days, Jungle Cruise’s average wait at 10am is 50 minutes, but so is Big Thunder’s. With waits rising so quickly, we don’t have a tremendous opportunity to visit a lot of attractions before 30-minute waits develop. But we’ll still try.
I ended up boarding my boat a minute or two after 9:20am, after arriving at about 9:07am:
I was back out front at 9:34am, which is about 15 minutes later than I would have liked, thanks to our initial time waiting for the boats to cycle through denial (The Nile). The posted wait is up to 75 minutes, which is probably exaggerated by about 30 minutes, but it makes our initial 15ish-minute wait “feel” a little better.
Crowds are sparse as we make our way through Caribbean Plaza towards Pirates of the Caribbean.
I wasn’t expecting to have any trouble at Pirates, where the average wait at 9:30am is just ten minutes.
But 35 minutes was posted.
And the interior portion of the queue is already full.
Disney is assuredly loading only one of the two sides, which is largely why we see such a substantial backup so early. The actual wait here, depending on how many FP+ returners arrive, and whether the second dock opens in short order, is likely around 25 minutes. That’s much longer than I want to wait for a moderate-priority this early in the morning. I elected to move on to Frontierland in hopes that waits had not yet built up quite as far in the back of the Park.
Unfortunately, with such heavy crowds, and relatively short operating hours, even acquiring a 4th FastPass+ for Pirates is going to be a chore. Just to get an idea about what we’re dealing with, here’s what FastPass+ availability looked like for just one person to start the day. This is at 9:09am on the day-of:
Journey of the Little Mermaid is Magic Kingdom’s most-available FastPass+ ride, thanks to an incredible capacity and relatively low popularity. Even so, the earliest return window is well after lunch. Splash is showing just two return times, both at the very end of the night, and about 12 hours in the future. Big Thunder has absolutely no availability during the day, even for one person.
Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise, two attractions that you might expect would have decent FP+ availability later in the day, have absolutely none first thing in the morning. Pirates of the Caribbean is also intermittently showing no availability whatsoever. We’ll take a better look at availability throughout the morning, but additional FP+ opportunities are going to be incredibly tight all day, which means we need to be willing to wait a little longer in standby if we want to experience some of these attractions. Booking quality FP+ back to back to back without needing to refresh a lot isn’t going to be in the cards.
For future reference, these are the FastPass+ experiences that I booked in advance:
We’ve got three quality attractions here that should save me a total of more than four hours in line.
Rewinding things a little more, here’s what availability looked like on the night before my visit, for one person, at 7:14pm:
I typically book my FastPass+ experiences the day before a given date, because that’s when you’ll find the most people changing/cancelling their plans. As they do so, they release their pre-booked FP+ experiences for anyone else to secure. As an esteemed Annual Passholder, I’m typically eligible to book FP+ 30 days in advance, which means there’s no opportunity to book something like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train well in advance because there’s typically no availability at the 30-day mark.
But on this particular evening, I had to refresh and refresh and refresh for much of anything decent. An hour later, at 8:25pm on the night before my visit, there’s still no availability for Jingle/Jungle Cruise before 8:45pm:
With enough refreshing, anything that you’re looking for will eventually become available. But it may take some work.
I’m heading towards our Frontierland priorities, Big Thunder and Splash Mountain.
My hope is that the first wave of people have largely moved through Big Thunder, and ideally, both sides will be loading by the time I arrive, and my wait won’t be so bad. At 9:40am, this is a pretty decent crowd to have already formed.
As usual, we prioritize Big Thunder because waits typically rise faster than Splash. It’s also a shorter ride, which means we’ll be on our way to Splash Mountain earlier, when ideally, the wait will be shorter. If I were to visit Splash first, then I wouldn’t be on my way for at least 40 minutes, which will give Big Thunder a big opportunity for the wait to rise. Remember, we’re looking at an actual wait of 60+ minutes by 10am. Part of why I started in Adventureland is also due to the fact that this was a cooler day, and I wanted to ride Splash after temperatures had an opportunity to rise a bit.
The queue for Big Thunder was already spilling outside of its entrance with a 20-minute wait posted at 9:40am.
The fact that the line stretches this far back isn’t necessarily the end of the world, as it likely means that a good number of the switchbacks further ahead aren’t yet open. Big Thunder can easily post a 2+ hour wait and have nobody waiting this far back because the queue inside is so long.
I decided to give it a go, considering the fact that securing Big Thunder as a 4th FP+ would take a lot of refreshing later in the day, and there would potentially be other attractions that I’d rather focus on acquiring. Obviously, I also don’t value my time.
And the standby wait is only going to get longer as more and more people approach from the main entrance and other attractions.
Perhaps they should actually open this Cafe for when FP+ availability is this dire.
I arrived at Big Thunder at 9:40am and was past the merge point with FP+ about ten minutes later.
It would be about eight more minutes before I would have an opportunity to board, even with both sides operating:
I was back out front at 10:04am, for a total experience time of about 24 minutes. That’s only seven or eight minutes longer than the ride typically takes with FP+, which means we did pretty well for ourselves.
But this was only possible because both sides of the ride were loading. With only one side open, my wait would have been over an hour, and that would have basically been my entire morning.
In the next Part, we’ll try Splash Mountain in standby and see if we can make it in time to use our Haunted Mansion Fastpass+, with a return window that’s just about half-closed at this point.