The website typically discusses touring strategy beginning with an early morning arrival for a couple of reasons. First, rope drop touring is mostly foolproof so long as you arrive in time to take advantage of low crowds and short waits. That typically means arriving between 15 minutes and an hour before Park open depending on how quickly waits build at your first attraction stop. The only real potential curve ball is if your first or second stop of the day is closed due to technical difficulties. That can be a real issue if you only have one day to visit and something like Test Track or Flight of Passage isn’t running.
Second, morning touring goes similarly regardless of afternoon crowd levels. The difference between a “busy” and “not busy” day comes down to what you’re able to accomplish 90 minutes after Park open in the standby line. We saw that recently in my comparison of an extremely busy Saturday at Magic Kingdom versus a much less crowded weekday in this post.
Third, if there’s an attraction you’re not interested in, you simply skip that step on the touring plan and you’re that much further ahead of the game.
In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach is easier to construct for the first couple hours of operation.
Big-picture-wise, efficient late arrival touring strategy is the same regardless of what you want to accomplish. You’ll want to start by selecting three high priority FastPass+ experiences and scheduling them to start around your planned arrival time. The website’s Cheat Sheets detail which FP+ experiences will save you the most time, in addition to including color-coded Park maps based on when waits will be short, touring plans, and expected wait times based on the time of day and expected crowd levels. For an afternoon arrival, simply pick the priority FP+ experiences that you’d like to do and then mix in anytime attractions in between FP+ return windows. After you use your three initial FastPass+ experiences, refresh availability via the app until you find a desirable attraction and return time. Rinse and repeat depending on where you’re having dinner, how late you’re staying, and what you want to do.
This is how the website breaks things down at Epcot:
With one day at Epcot, riding each of the three Tier 1 rides is a little challenging, but still doable. If you’re able to enjoy Test Track in single rider, it makes the most sense to do that, then use FastPass+ at Frozen Ever After and ride Soarin’ at the very end of the night, when the actual standby wait should be under 20 minutes. If you want to see IllumiNations too, then getting in line for Soarin’ between 7:30pm and 8pm, depending on crowds and wait times, should allow enough time to ride and walk back up to World Showcase.
If you can’t get FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After, then it makes sense to ride Test Track in single rider, use FP+ at Soarin’, and ride Frozen Ever After by getting in line a minute or two before official Park close. Disney will let everyone in line ride regardless of the posted wait time. The actual wait should be 20 minutes or less. But even if you get unlucky and the wait is closer to 40 minutes, the rest of the Park is closed and your time isn’t necessarily spent better elsewhere.
If you can’t do single rider at Test Track, then things become more complicated with just one day. But you’re probably going to want to ride Soarin’ in standby in the afternoon, use FastPass+ at either Test Track or Frozen, then ride the other at Park close. If you also want to see IllumiNations, then you’re probably running into at least one 60+ minute wait. Of course, if you constantly refresh FastPass+ availability, then you should be able to score additional Tier 1 FastPass+ experiences, particularly if your group is small, or you’re willing to break the group down and search for availability based on smaller groups. That results in additional experiences and return times being available.
But as you can see, there are a ton of “what ifs” based around just these three attractions when considering a late arrival. That makes a catch-all plan a little harder to create, but the Epcot Cheat Sheet does offer a variety of late arrival touring plans along with specific and more generalized advice on how to make the day work. With two days at Epcot, touring becomes much easier and the Cheat Sheet includes a 2-day late arrival plan that will work well under just about any crowd conditions.
I’ll go over what I did, why I did it, and changes you might make depending on your own priorities as we go through the afternoon of Monday, October 2nd. These are the same-day FastPass+ experiences that I booked just before 11am:
I’ve booked my top two Tier 2 priorities along with Soarin’. Frozen Ever After wasn’t initially available and we were planning on riding Test Track in single rider.
After “enjoying” lunch at ESPN Club, I arrived at Mission: SPACE just before 2pm to use my first FastPass+.
Wait times were already nonexistent. Here’s what Orange Team/Mars wait times have looked like over the last month:
Unfortunately, due to my ineptness at migrating servers, we’re going to be missing “data” for October 8th through the 12th for every attraction. Otherwise, Mission: SPACE wait times remain short for the most part, post-upgrade.
Here’s Mission: SPACE Orange wait times during the same period last year:
On one hand, a 37.5% increase in wait times year-over-year seems relatively significant.
On the other hand, it’s “just” six minutes. And a lot of the higher wait times are likely due to technical problems rather than a thousand people entering the line at the same time and then disappearing moments later.
Considering NASA’s current budget, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that this is the state of the warning placards. The family picture Astronaut Charles Duke allegedly left during the alleged moon landing is probably in better shape.
Otherwise, with my 2pm Monday arrival, there was basically nobody waiting in standby.
I wrote a short review of the new Green/Earth Team version in this post.
“Rhonda sue [sic]” did not agree with my assessment that the new version was a bit of a snooze. She counters: “Don’t let the cynical and jaded among the walking snobs make you skip either side.” This made me question everything I do. Everything I feel.
But I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment.
Nearly every Walt Disney World attraction is worth experiencing for yourself. We all have different tastes and different likes and dislikes. Yours might be wrong. But you’re still entitled to those feelings as bad as you should feel about them.
The fact that wait times remain so short may be a testament to how unpopular the attraction is and how few people are interested in re-riding. But the upgraded Orange Team does look fantastic, so anyone that has enjoyed the 100+ million dollar ride over the last 14 years should enjoy the current version even more. Anyone considering the Green Team may be better off sitting in a rocking chair, in the dark, in a small closet, and spinning a globe with a flashlight pointed at it. It’s a similar experience.
Otherwise, I arrived with FastPass+ at 1:56pm and was back out front at 2:21pm for a total experience time of 25 minutes. That’s just about the minimum.
It almost looks like water continues flowing at the Universe of Energy if you don’t look very hard. Walls have gone up since this picture was taken.
We moseyed over to Test Track.
A 5-minute single rider wait just before 2:30pm with a 60-minute standby wait.
It was basically a straight shot to the loading platform:
The total experience time was about 17 minutes, which is at least eight minutes less than it will take with FastPass+. In single rider, you can scan your ticket or MagicBand at the kiosk in the queue and select a pre-made vehicle or simply walk past the kiosks.
If you’re doing single rider and would like to design a vehicle, there are three stations inside the Chevrolet showroom/ride exit/store.
Over to Spaceship Earth at 2:48pm:
To a 10-minute posted wait and maybe 50 people waiting in standby:
I arrived at 2:49pm and was back out front at 3:14pm for a total experience time of 25 minutes. That’s longer than average due to a number of lengthy on-ride stops and slowdowns.
Here’s a look at Spaceship Earth wait times over the last month:
Spaceship Earth is the number one Tier 2 priority because of the high peak wait times in the early morning. If you’re rope dropping, you probably want to ride in the late morning before heading up to World Showcase. If you’re arriving later, you probably want to ride on the way in when it’s convenient. But there are plenty of opportunities to ride later in the day with shorter waits, like any of the other Tier 2 attractions.
I took a look at the queue for Joy and Sadness just after 3:15pm. It looks like there’s only about 12 groups, which means the wait should be around 20 minutes. Not bad at all given the low crowds and a wait closer to 40 minutes would be normal.
Maybe three minutes for Baymax.
Even if you have little interest in characters, Baymax’s waits typically peak around 15 minutes and it’s a fun picture.
With no real concern that you’re going to have to awkwardly interact with the gentle giant.
Character Spot with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy offers FastPass+, unlike the Joy/Sadness and Baymax greets. The posted wait is 15 minutes with nobody in the standby line. Even if the posted wait is much longer, you may still want to check the actual length of the line inside because it’s often posted at 45 or more minutes with an empty queue. A lot of capacity does go to FastPass+, but not so much that they will never admit you. Probably…
A look at wait times:
Even if wait times are often inflated, it may make sense to move Character Spot back up to #1 on the FastPass+ priority list for those that want to experience it.
And over to the Land Pavilion.
For Soarin’ with FastPass+.
Living with the Land is posted at 15 minutes.
With Soarin’ at 90 minutes just before 3:30pm.
There was a problem with at least one of the theaters.
Causing the FastPass+ return line to be backed up nearly to the entrance.
But since I really, really wanted to watch three seconds of the Taj Mahal rendered in 100% CGI along with an artsy tilt, I persevered.
It took 20 minutes to arrive at the pre-show.
And back out front at 4:09pm for a total experience time of 40 minutes, which is 15 minutes longer than average. Unless you really don’t care about experiencing an attraction, it doesn’t make sense to bail on a ride even if the FastPass+ return line “feels” long. Over the course of a day or a week or a vacation, you’re going to run into the occasional bump. But your experience will be a lot more positive if you smile and roll with it, of course keeping in mind that you’re never any more than 6.3 minutes away from a Bud Light at Epcot.
Soarin’ wait times while we’re here:
October 2nd, the day in question, is highlighted on the chart with a 210-minute standby wait at 11am due to the aforementioned technical problems. But an hour and a half later, the posted wait has dropped to 25 minutes and 15 minutes after that, the wait is just 15 minutes. Then it’s back up to 105 minutes at 4:30pm, before dropping back down to 15 minutes just 45 minutes after that. Talk about all over the place.
Otherwise, Soarin’ remains Epcot’s most forgiving rope drop priority. As long as you arrive at the attraction entrance by 9:15am, you should be looking at an actual wait under 20 minutes.
I always enjoy a trip through Living with the Land and with a 15-minute posted wait, hopped in line.
With only about 25 people in line, the actual wait was about two minutes:
Yes, the cast member really is holding a banana prop for pin trading. I arrived at 4:07pm and was back out front at 4:32pm for a total experience time of 25 minutes.
Looking over waits:
While it’s nothing new, peak afternoon wait times may surprise. We’re seeing 30+ minutes even in late September when we’re enjoying some of the lowest crowds of the year. Over the last week, the standby wait hits 50+ minutes every day. Even at 4pm, the posted wait is still 20 minutes more often than not, though waits do bottom out after 6pm with the 7pm close on days that don’t offer evening Extra Magic Hours.
As always, your ability to book additional FastPass+ experiences after using your initial three is based on your ability to continuously refresh availability and the size of your party. Via the app, the easiest way to refresh is to click the different times at the top of the screen. Via the website, refreshing the page is typically easiest. You can check for 4th FP+ availability immediately after scanning your ticket/MagicBand at the attraction entrance.
Above is the availability I saw while waiting in line for Soarin’ at 3:35pm. Frozen was unavailable and Soarin’ and Test Track initially don’t have times until at least 7pm.
Lower priority attractions typically have more availability with earlier return times.
The app was giving me trouble, so I switched to checking availability via DisneyWorld.com. After just a couple of refreshes, a Test Track was available for two people at 4:15pm. That’s about as early as I could get over there considering I’m still in line at Soarin’.
After refreshing for another minute, a Soarin’ with an immediate return time was available, while the earlier Test Track had been taken by another wise refresher.
After four minutes of refreshing off and on, I booked a Frozen Ever After FastPass+ for two people for just about an hour in the future. “Just keep refreshing.” – Dory, probably.
I gallivanted over to Journey into Imagination.
Basically no wait:
I want a Figment tea kettle. Otherwise, I arrived at 4:37pm and was back out front at 4:50pm for a total experience time of 13 minutes.
With plenty of time until I needed to get over to Frozen, I sashayed over to The Seas with Nemo and Friends to find a 10-minute wait.
I arrived at 5pm and was passing the jellyfish just seven minutes later.
The Seas Pavilion stays open until Park close and anyone visiting after 7pm will typically find a ghost town.
It’s a great time to see Turtle Talk and take in some of the exhibits, though some of the animals are taken backstage earlier in the evening.
“Literally” nobody in line at Character Spot at 5:20pm.
Frozen ever after was at 105 minutes just past 5:30pm, making my five minutes of refreshing seem like a smart alternative.
But with the low crowds, there weren’t that many people waiting. The actual wait is probably more like an hour.
I arrived at 5:33pm and was on-board about five minutes later.
And back out front.
At 5:48pm, for a total experience time of 15 minutes.
Overall, the afternoon went swimmingly. I was able to accomplish:
- Mission: SPACE with FP+: 1:57pm – 2:20pm
- Test Track Single Rider: 2:26pm – 2:43pm
- Spaceship Earth with FP+: 2:49pm – 3:14pm
- Soarin’ with FastPass+: 3:26pm – 4:06pm
- Living with the Land: 4:07pm – 4:32pm
- Journey into Imagination with Figment: 4:37pm – 4:50pm
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends: 5pm – 5:15pm
- Frozen Ever After with FastPass+: 5:33pm – 5:48pm
Not bad for less than four hours with FastPass+ experiences that I had booked that morning at 11am.
Here’s a look at wait times over the course of the day:
Wait times are on the low side of things for the most part, though there are still lousy times to visit secondary attractions. The Seas tops out at 40 minutes around noon; Living with the Land hits 35 minutes; and Spaceship Earth is around 40 minutes in the late morning. I basically walked on all those and more in the afternoon. For the shortest waits, you typically want to visit Future World after 5pm, keeping in mind that Journey into Imagination, Pixar Shorts, Living with the Land, and Circle of Life close at 7pm unless the Park is hosting evening Extra Magic Hours.
World Showcase is best enjoyed from 11am-5pm.
Especially during Food and Wine Festival season.
Otherwise, I had little trouble booking three priority FastPass+ attractions. And while I didn’t end up needing FP+ at Mission: SPACE or Spaceship Earth, my afternoon would have gone similarly even if I did, since I would have been able to bypass longer standby waits. By 5pm, waits at most secondary attractions are going to see waits of 15 minutes or less on most days.
We’ll get over to Animal Kingdom next.