It’s been a while since we’ve rope dropped Epcot, so I thought we would head out to see if any of our touring strategies need to be tweaked and how much we’ll be able to get done on a Saturday morning with above average crowds.
It’s 8am on Saturday, February 9th, and there’s probably about a hundred people here ahead of me. Those with breakfast reservations currently head down to the left. If you arrive a little later than you’d like – around 8:15am or thereabouts, then you might hang out down there and wait for the entrance tapstiles used for breakfast reservations to convert over to regular use. Cast members will ask those in the next line over to move into the newly-opened line.
If you’d like to be near the front of your choice of tapstile, then an 8am arrival at bag check is smart. Here at 8:10am, the lines are beginning to get backed up.
Just ten minutes later, at 8:20am, you’re looking at a lot more people.
Five minutes later, at 8:25am, you’re looking at this crowd. This is actually a below average number of people waiting.
Typically between 8:20am and 8:30am, the entrance tapstiles will open and we’ll be let into the Park.
Don’t get too excited as this area in front of Spaceship Earth is as far as we’re going to be able to go, here at 8:28am. If you’re headed to Soarin’, it makes some amount of sense to stand to the right and then walk to the right of Spaceship Earth. If your first stop is Test Track or Frozen, then it makes more sense to stay to the left.
I was told this was going to be a low crowd time!
Here’s the crowd behind me at 8:35am. With such a wide expanse of land, we have more room to spread out, unlike the narrow corridor that is Hollywood Boulevard over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I covered rope drop to Slinky Dog Dash last week in this post with Part 2 following here.
Ten minutes later, at 8:45am, the mass of humanity is backed up closer to the entrance.
This is the worst day of my life pic.twitter.com/v15eC8z1nb
— josh (@easywdw) February 9, 2019
A minute later, at 8:46am, you can look forward to the arrival of The Jammitors, who will answer once and for all whether or not 8:45am is too early to listen to people hitting garbage cans with sticks.
Here’s the scene behind me at 8:52am or about three minutes before we’re released. Again, this is a below average number of people waiting.
There isn’t much to the rope drop ceremony these days. Some may remember when a dozen characters came out to welcome everyone or the family of the day would roll up in a Test Track vehicle. Instead, we’re made to raise our right hands and promise that we won’t run. Fortunately, there is nothing in there specifically prohibiting the throwing of elbows.
At 8:56am, we were released towards the attraction of our choice.
If you’re trying to “do everything” in one day, then your first stop of the day is somewhat debatable. Test Track easily sees the longest waits at the Park and would be the clear first choice if not for its tendency to be down for technical trouble first thing in the morning.
Here’s a look at Test Track’s wait times over the last month. Every blank cell in the chart indicates about 15 minutes of downtime:
The ride has its ups and downs and, over the course of the year, is closed for technical trouble at Park open about 20% of the time. Here in January and February, I assume that cold weather is tough on the system and we see the ride down within 15 minutes of Park open on 12 of the last 31 days, or 38.7% of the time. It comes online within an hour about half the time, but most people aren’t going to want to wait around for that to happen with other priorities on their touring plan.
The good news is that the ride is usually operating at Park close, which offers another good time to ride with lower waits than any other part of the day outside of immediately after Park open. We do see the ride closed on three out of the last thirty-one days, though one of those was January 27th, a day with terrible weather. On the two other days that it’s not operating at Park close, it was operating first thing in the morning. So if you’re skipping IllumiNations and happy to ride Test Track at Park close if it’s down in the morning, then that should be a viable alternative.
What does all of this mean, exactly? It means that you may want to plan to use FastPass+ at Test Track and instead visit another attraction first thing. If Test Track is down during your Fastpass+ return window, then you’ll be able to use that FP+ at any point after the ride returns to operation, which protects you from unexpected technical problems.
If you’re not headed to Test Track first, then you’re probably starting with Frozen Ever After or Soarin’ Around the World. Soarin’ is actually one of the easiest major attractions for which to acquire a 4th or 5th FastPass+ due to its hefty capacity and the number of FastPass+ experiences distributed per hour. A ride that distributes 15,000+ experiences over the course of a regular 12-hour day is going to see some day of availability as people change and cancel plans. Frozen is tougher to get as a 4th or 5th FastPass+ but they do open up much more frequently now than a year or more ago, in part due to shorter posted waits and a reduction in demand given the fact that a lot of people have experienced it and moved on.
The attractions that you’re planning on visiting after Soarin’, Frozen, or Test Track also come into play. Frozen is quite a ways away from Soarin’ and Future World West. Even from Test Track, you’re looking at a six- to eight-minute walk to and from Frozen, or about 15 minutes round-trip. Frozen to Soarin’ is a 13- to 15-minute walk. Because of that, it doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense to walk from Soarin’ all the way to Frozen and then all the way back to Future World West for something like The Seas with Nemo, Turtle Talk, or the Wreck-It Ralph Meet and Greet. Because of that, it probably makes more sense to start at Frozen and then do Soarin’ immediately after if you don’t want to bank on being able to secure Soarin’ as a 4th, 5th, etc. FastPass+ experience. After Soarin’, you’ll be right there in Future World with the ability to ride Living with the Land, Journey into Imagination with Figment, etc. Another option is to ride Soarin’ at the end of the night when the wait should be under 15 minutes during the last half hour of operation. With three independent theaters, Soarin’ is virtually never closed for technical problems. We’ll take a look at the wait times charts when we arrive at those attractions.
In most cases, it makes the most sense to start with Frozen and then move on to Soarin’ Around the World, followed by other nearby attractions. Then use FastPass+ at Test Track later in the day.
We were feeling lucky, so we elected to try Test Track first. We’ll return on another day to try Frozen followed by Soarin’.
As usual, I’ve fallen behind to better emulate what you can expect if you’re pushing a stroller or arrive a little later in the morning and are further back in the pack.
We’re filing into Test Track at 8:59am. As always, the posted wait is already 30 minutes, but don’t let that deter you if you’ve moved relatively quickly to the ride.
Despite a hundred or more people passing me, I was able to head straight through the queue and into the area just in front of the doors to the design area.
There’s still a lot of people waiting to file into the queue. While everyone in this picture arrived before Park open, the last person in line will probably wait about 40 minutes. That’s not nearly as bad as the 100 minutes at Slinky Dog or Flight of Passage, but it’s still longer than you probably want to wait for your first attraction of the day, particularly if it means that you won’t be on your way to your next attraction until after 10am.
Is it art?
Just ten minutes after arriving at Test Track’s entrance, it’s time to board.
Complete with Windows icon.
These days, there’s a 90% chance that the single rider sitting next to you is a blogger looking for a Space Restaurant construction photo.
You can see how close it’s going to be to the track, no pun intended. The Guardians of the Galaxy building is behind it on the right.
There’s a better look at it.
And in the context of Test Track.
Probably set to open sometime next year, the restaurant is supposed to host a 250+ foot screen that wraps around the interior of the building to, ideally, simulate being inside of a space station. It will be operated by Patina, the restaurant group that also manages the Italy Pavilion dining here at Epcot and a host of restaurants at Disney Springs, including Morimoto Asia and Frontera Cocina. Disney World is a little short on Italian food, so hopefully we’ll see some noodles on the menu.
I’ll take “Things you don’t want to see when you’re walking towards an attraction entrance, Alex.”
Tour groups, primarily from South America, have been a little more prevalent this year than the past couple of years. But it’s still nothing like it would have been in 2014 or 2015, thanks to higher taxes and contracting economies down south.
I arrived right at 9am and was back out front at 9:20am for a total experience time of 20 minutes, which is right around the bare minimum amount of time that the attraction takes. We do have a moment to stop and smell the flowers.
Test Track’s posted wait at 9:15am was 45 minutes with a 60-minute posted wait showing at 9:30am. That means you probably don’t want to make Test Track your second stop of the day if you’re planning on riding in standby. Single rider is a viable alternative. If you head through single rider first thing in the morning, then you’ll be able to bypass the design stage and get on the ride about five minutes earlier than if you were the very first person to arrive in standby. With nobody from standby yet waiting to board a vehicle during the first few minutes of the day, it’s also likely that your party will be able to ride together. Single rider waits typically remain under 10 minutes during the first hour of operation. If Test Track is down at Park open, then single rider later in the day is your best bet if you can’t acquire FastPass+ and don’t want to ride last thing at night in the dark.
A year or more ago, it probably wouldn’t be possible to ride Frozen Ever After with a short wait after first experiencing another attraction.
These days, it’s much more possible as we head towards Norway at 9:25am. There doesn’t appear to be anybody following me.
Fortunately, everyone on the right is waiting to be seated at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall during what happens to be the best time to tour.
The posted wait is 25 minutes at 9:26am.
About half of the queue inside remains empty and at this time of morning, few people are riding with FastPass+, so most of the ride’s capacity will go to standby.
That helps lower the standby wait. If the standby queue was the same length at 2pm, the actual wait would be about 60% higher with the maximum number of people returning with FP+.
I was past the merge with FastPass+ in just nine minutes.
And on-board just three minutes after that:
I was back out front at 9:45am for a total experience time of just 18 minutes. That’s seven or eight minutes longer than the ride typically takes with FastPass+, which isn’t bad at all for this time of day. Here’s a look at wait times over the last month:
The average posted wait doesn’t eclipse 25 minutes until after 10am. On much busier days, like January 19th and 20th for Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, the posted wait does build much quicker, hitting about 45 minutes at 9:30am. If you’re visiting during a holiday or extremely busy time, you may not be able to experience Frozen with a short wait after 9:30am. About 90% of the time, however, you’re looking at a 20- to 25-minute posted wait through 10am. Like other attractions, wait times also drop significantly at the end of the night. While you might see a 30-minute posted wait at 8:30pm, the actual wait should be around 15. Those getting in line at 8:59pm with the regular 9pm close should wait less than ten.
Here’s a look at the chart for the same dates last year:
The 57-minute average wait for the 31 days in 2018 is 21.3% higher than 2019. Waits also rise more quickly in the morning with the 36-minute average at 10am in 2018 versus the 24 minutes we saw this year.
Let’s rewind another year, to 2k17:
As expected, the wait is higher in 2017 than 2018 or 2019. Over these 31 days, the overall average wait has dropped 17 minutes in two years, or 26.6%. A lot of that is probably due to people that have experienced the attraction and don’t want to wait 45+ minutes to ride it again. While I think most of us will agree that Disney did a good job with the overhaul given the constraints of the building and the ride system, the ride is probably a lesser version of something like Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s charming, but I don’t think most people that have ridden it once would wait 45 minutes to ride again or deal with the hassle of walking all the way up to the Norway Pavilion first thing in the morning to ride, only to then find a 60+ minute wait at Test Track immediately after.
In Part 2, we’ll retrace our steps back towards Mission: SPACE and then head over to Future World West for Soarin’ and Living with the Land.