We’ll begin our look at some of Walt Disney World’s new additions with the Frozen Ever After ride that takes over for Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. This post will be nearly spoiler free and I will walk you through the queue and the on-ride experience with photos and video separately. So if you don’t want to know that Olaf dies at the end then you can click the “X” long before we get to that point. The view above is the rope drop crowd headed to Frozen Ever After. And no, this is not from the first day.
I’ll cut to the chase. If you can secure FastPass+ for the ride, you absolutely want to do so over any of the other Tier 1 FastPass+ choices. It’s not even close. Frozen Ever After enjoys a miserable hourly capacity in the vicinity of Maelstrom, which puts it around 1,000 riders per hour. Over the course of a regular 12-hour day, that means somewhere between 25% and 50% of the people that visit Epcot will have an opportunity ride. And that assumes just one ride per person and 100% uptime, which looks like it will be rare moving forward. Over each of the first three days of operation, Disney has closed the standby line in order to move all of the FastPass+ returners through the ride. With hours of downtime each day, you’ve got hundreds of FP+ users returning after their return window. Using FastPass+ here is a no-brainer as it will save you more time than any other FastPass+ attraction. It will also guard against the strong possibility that the ride will become “FastPass+ only” at some point during the day and you won’t risk standing outside in the sun for an extended period of time.
Maelstrom and the ride system that arrived with it, opened all the way back in 1988. That’s almost 30 years ago. Wait times were typically short prior to FastPass+, usually peaking around 20 minutes.
Here’s a couple weeks of wait times at Maelstrom before it closed back on October 5th 2014:
At the time, a lot of people seemed to be blaming renewed interest on higher waits. And that certainly comes into play over the last three days leading up to the closure, but 40- and 50-minute peak waits were the norm before then with the occasional 70-minute wait showing up. The ride also closed at some point during the day on 9 of 22 days or a little over 40%.
We obviously don’t have a lot to go on with the ride opening just four days ago, but posted waits so far have been attrocious, peaking each day at 3+ hours. The question marks indicate potential downtime or when the ride is not accepting standby riders. When Frozen goes FastPass+ only, it no longer posts a standby wait.
Unfortunately, I think we have a situation at Frozen that’s very similar to when Test Track reopened. You have what is historically a ride system prone to breakdowns and then on top of that, Disney has added a layer of technology that is also prone to malfunction. At least Frozen doesn’t have to close due to inclement weather.
Heading to Frozen Ever After first thing in order to experience a short wait is not going to be viable for most guests, which is a departure from how high priority attractions at the other Parks work. While the march to Toy Story Mania is somewhat unpleasant, an early arrival and a relatively quick walk over will result in a wait that should be under 15 minutes. At Mine Train, we are smart enough to take a right at Cinderella Castle towards Mad Tea Party and it’s relatively easy to arrive at that attraction and enjoy a wait under 15 minutes. Above is the main entrance at 8:15am on Wednesday June 22nd. There’s easily ten times as many people as there would have been at the same time last week.
I was able to use the breakfast line trick to move in front of a lot of people. As a reminder, Disney reserves a set of entrance tapstiles for those with breakfast reservations, but opens these lines to all guests closer to Park open – in this case about 8:25am. If you arrive later, you might send half of your party down here to the far right to wait for the lines to open up and have half of your party wait in a regular line. That way, if the breakfast tapstiles don’t open to all guests, you’ve hedged your bets. If you’re headed to Frozen first, strongly consider arriving closer to 7:45am than 8:15am.
Disney should allow people to enter the Park around 8:30am. I had lunch with a family on this particular afternoon that had entered from International Gateway and they were actually closer to the front of the pack headed to Norway than I was, so those heading in from the BoardWalk/Beach Club/Yacht Club/Swan/Dolphin are not necessarily at a disadvantage compared to those heading in from the main entrance.
There is a ton of ground to cover on the walk up to Norway. As I wait to go in, you can see people running into the Park ahead.
Disney does very little in trying to get guests to slow down. You will see plenty of people run past.
If you are headed elsewhere, you will have a much easier time – going to Soarin’ or Test Track or Joy/Sadness first thing makes a lot of sense if you are able to use FastPass+ at Frozen Ever After.
My advice is to be content with the one ride on Frozen should you secure FP+. You don’t want to deal with this if you don’t have to.
I am curious about whether the path to the left here represents a possible short cut into the holding area in front of La Cantina de San Angel. It doesn’t really seem like it…but I will test it the next time I rope drop.
The holding area is in front of La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico. Cast members will yell at you to keep right so those with breakfast reservations at Akershus can bypass you. An 8am reservation at the princess breakfast would put you at a distinct advantage should you be able to exit the restaurant no later than 8:50am. Of course, 100+ people book breakfast, pay the $10/person no-show fee, and then camp out in front of the ride. If you are heading in from the main entrance, you will be behind a couple hundred people from Akershus already.
The wait here clumped together with 1,000+ other people without shade with the sun bearing down is incredibly unpleasant here in June. The RealFeel at 9am is going to be 90+ degrees through September. Tomorrow’s estimation is 96 degrees at 9am.
People behind me on day two.
Day 1 stretches back even further. The July 4th situation is going to be out of control.
Disney will release you towards Norway just before 9am.
The path widens a bit in front of Mexico.
It’s a good opportunity to try to bypass those headed straight down the middle.
Disney will walk you past Norway and then have you double back towards the ride entrance and into the ride queue. You want to be as far to the left as possible for the easiest turn into the queue. Those on the right will have to make a wider turn and will be behind anyone heading in from the same area on the left.
Here I am lined up back in China somewhere with hundreds more people arriving after me. Keep in mind that I arrived at 8:15am and moved here at a reasonable speed. The ride has not been operating at Park open either of the last two days. On this particular morning, Disney announced that there would be a delay of 20 to 25 minutes.
My original plan was a complete bust. I was going to try to ride Frozen then see how viable it would be to ride Test Track, Sum of All Thrills, and Mission: SPACE after, assuming the majority of people will be preoccupied with Norway.
But I had a lunch reservation to make at noon and was honestly not sure I was going to be off the ride by then. By 9:20am, the line backed up past the Temple of Heaven.
The wait from just inside the indoor queue portion is about an hour assuming standby is open and the ride hasn’t gone down for an appreciable amount of time. It would be longer with more FP+ returners. And add to that however long you wait outside.
So if you want to ride Frozen Ever After in standby first thing, you need to be prepared to arrive 75 minutes before the stated open and then move as quickly as possible to the holding area in Mexico. Stay to the left, bypassing as many people as possible when the path widens in Mexico and Norway, and then hurry into the queue as quickly as possible. Another option is the pre-opening breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. If you plan to eat there, ask for the check after you order drinks and be out in front of the entrance no later than 8:50am.
It’s difficult to say how often Frozen Ever After will go FastPass+ only moving forward. But if it does, it’s likely that standby will reopen once Disney is able to move the majority of those waiting with FP+ through the ride. If you hang out in the area waiting for standby to open then you can sneak in the queue and likely experience a much shorter wait in the vicinity of 20 to 40 minutes. There is of course no telling when or if this will happen, but it has every day thus far.
The other option is to go last thing at night if you are willing to skip IllumiNations. That of course assumes that the ride is operating and does not break down. But as long as you are in line prior to the official closing time, Disney will let you ride.
If you are visiting over two days and unable to secure FastPass+, which is a real possibility for those staying off-site or selecting FastPass+ closer to a given date, then you may try one of the tricks listed above on your first day – hang out to see if standby reopens or try to ride last thing. If neither of that works and you have to ride, then trying to grin and bear the morning nonsense makes sense if you can arrive early and move quickly. If you can’t, then it might make sense to visit later in the afternoon. If you’re going to wait 2+ hours then you might consider the afternoon when waits are going to be longer everywhere else and instead spend the morning visiting other attractions with short waits. If you’re not done with Frozen until 11am then Test Track/Soarin’/Mission: SPACE etc. are all going to be seeing peak waits. If you visit those three rides early in the morning instead, then you can experience each with a short wait and then prepare for the Frozen wait, which is going to be long either way.
I’ll be discussing the ride experience separately since this is already a wordy post. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think it’s worth your Tier 1 FastPass+.
As far as this sort of hysteria trending down by _________, the answer is probably not. Consider the rush to Toy Story Mania, which opened in 2008, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is now 2+ years old. These attractions remain the top priorities at their respective Parks and most people present at rope drop continue to head to those attractions first thing. So at the moment, 95%+ of the people headed to Frozen on a given day are going to be experiencing it for the first time. Fast forward six months or a year and that number is going to be similar. Even two years from now, the vast majority of those visiting will have never experienced Frozen Ever After. And because the ride is legitimately fun, a lot of people are going to be angling to ride on a return visit too.
Good luck out there.