We’ll take a short respite from the joy that is repaying the loan on all of those Food and Wine Festival “bites” to take a look at current crowd levels, how we can maximize our summer days in front of the 50th anniversary changing everything on October 1st, and see what kinds of opportunities during the day we might have to enjoy short waits…if any.
The chart above shows the average weekly wait across 17 Magic Kingdom attractions that aren’t Splash Mountain dating back to last year’s reopening. Back at the end of May of this year (really just about two months ago, even if it “feels” like ten years), you could expect to wait about 21 minutes per attraction, down from the 30+ minute averages that we saw last fall. Even with higher attendance this year, Disney’s increases in attraction capacity gained by filling more seats on vehicles and rows in shows tended to drive down waits…at least until the company increased the number of Park Passes it distributed each day to compensate. Basically, Disney invited 10,000 more people for dinner, but only had 6,000 chairs.
We haven’t spent much time covering touring strategy lately for a wide variety of reasons. The first being that whatever advice on crowds and wait times I offer this week will likely be irrelevant by next week as crowds and waits climb. Every time things seem to stabilize, with three or four weeks of days with similar waits, we’ve seen another spike or (more rarely) dive. During the week of July 4th, which would historically be the busiest week in July, Magic Kingdom’s average wait was about 30 minutes per attraction. On precedent, it would make sense to consider that week’s numbers as a potential peak, and work our way back as we plan out what we should be able to accomplish. If we plan for the worst, our day should only go more smoothly. However, just three weeks later, average wait times jumped 50%, to 45 minutes. Across ten attractions, that means spending 2.5 hours longer in line during a week that has been less busy each of the last ten years.
Spending 25 minutes in line, as we would have from the beginning of April through the end of June, doesn’t sound unreasonable on paper. If I told you that you could be on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in about half an hour, most of us wouldn’t consider that to be too terrible, particularly with the easy morning rope drops that we had enjoyed until a couple of weeks ago.
Here we are moseying into Magic Kingdom freely earlier this summer. Because Disney didn’t want guests to congregate en masse, we enjoyed the option of heading to the attraction of our choice at our own pace, about a half hour before the Park officially opened to guests. That was regardless of whether we were staying on property or not. Most major attractions would be running by the time we were able to arrive, or a higher priority attraction nearby would be running. Most days, we could feasibly make it through Mine Train, Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan’s Flight by official Park open, with a smart arrival and fancy movements.
Most of our strategy was built around being among the first people to arrive at the Park and to then take advantage of short to nonexistent waits in the early morning. The advice on how to accomplish that is easy to give – use the Contemporary Resort’s walkway and you’ll be among the first couple hundred guests inside. But if you’re not staying at the resort, parking there and walking to Magic Kingdom is an official no-no. With many outlets recommending the Uber drop-off instead, morning vehicle availability tightened and high surge pricing took over, which could easily make a ride that would ordinarily cost about $12 turn into $50 or more. And a wait for said vehicle could easily be 15+ minutes instead of the usual five minutes given a limited number of drivers. And you’d still have to sweet talk your way past the guard.
Obviously, not everyone vising Magic Kingdom can use the Contemporary walkway, even if we know it’s our best bet for an early arrival. Disney hasn’t had need to enact any new policies regarding drop-offs yet, but they could easily limit them to guests staying at the resort should there be a logistical need. Word would travel fast that “The Wave trick” was out as Disney would simply cancel your reservation and motion your Uber driver to head to guest drop-off at the Transportation and Ticket Center instead.
When the Grand Floridian walkway opened, it became the second best option for guests attempting to arrive at Magic Kingdom’s entrance gates first. But with limited parking at the resort, security was even tighter there. With breakfast at The Wave moving to California Grill during its transformation, securing breakfast reservations as an excuse to be there became more difficult.
Back when it was offered, brunch at California Grill topped $100 per person. “The Wave at the California Grill” is obviously a different experience, but it doesn’t make the views any less desirable. Instead of needing to spend the hundred-plus bucks per person for brunch, or at a minimum commit to appetizers or drinks at the bar for dinner, breakfast at The Wave is currently the easiest and least expensive way to see the restaurant and enjoy the sights and sounds. With the Tower rooms at the Contemporary under refurbishment, there aren’t a lot of guests staying there at the moment. The Grand Floridian is also down a building as it’s converted to DVC, and the Grand Floridian Café has all of a sudden become a breakfast hotspot as well.
Your third best option, and the easiest to pull off without fake breakfast reservations and feeling bad about yourself, would be the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) drop-off, which doubles as the transportation hub to Magic Kingdom via monorail or ferry. Because you could be dropped off and get in line for security earlier than Disney opened the actual parking lot, anyone getting dropped-off an hour or more before Park open would also have an advantage, as they would be through security before anyone parking their own vehicle could even make it to a spot. In the picture above, I’ll be dropped off at the TTC in about three minutes, while those waiting to park are either sent back around or sit waiting in front of the auto plaza for the next 20+ minutes. Disney buses would slowly arrive with a few guests on each around the time the first guests from the Contemporary were walking up Main Street.
Traditional rope drop doesn’t nullify the advantage of arriving earlier and being closer to the front of the crowd headed to the attractions, but it does mean that many who arrive later will be able to bob, weave, and most importantly, elbow their way around others on the hustle to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and other priorities. It’s also much less comfortable moving as one huddled, hurried mass. Anyone who has experienced both types of openings knows what I’m talking about. I’m not sure I know anybody who prefers the mob of people to the easier, spaced arrival, but your elbow sharpeners are in the mail.
Which guests have the morning advantage will change again come October 1st, when Disney Resort Guests and guests staying at select other resorts like the Swan, Dolphin, Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons, Disney Springs Area, Hilton Bonnet Creek, and others will be eligible to enter the Park and head to the attractions at least 30 minutes earlier than guests staying at other ineligible off-site resorts. You can pull up Disney’s official word on “Early Theme Park Entry” here.
With no announced alternative to FastPass+, that obviously puts off-site guests and (the three remaining) Passholders at a distinct disadvantage in just under two months, since they’ll be forced to wait for official open, while eligible guests who arrive after them pass right by. Note that Disney did announce they will begin selling Annual Passes again before October, so soon there will be at least nine of us. But that still means no opportunity for guests ineligible for the early time to ride attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Flight of Passage first thing without a massive wait behind thousands of other guests, regardless of their original arrival time. Heck, even the last eligible guest who arrives for Early Entry will likely wait over an hour for the major headliners should they head there first thing.
That means we’ll basically have two versions of each touring plan depending on your eligibility or when you actually arrive. It should come down to ineligible guests bypassing one or two morning priorities and reattaching them to the end of the day, whenever possible. Or, at worst, move them to the middle of the afternoon, when waits are longest everywhere.
The following chart, which is now a little unwieldy, shows the average wait at Magic Kingdom every day since it reopened just over a year ago:
As we can plainly see, the last three weeks have been the busiest yet, with two days of 50+ minute averages. Fifty minutes sounds long at attractions like Big Thunder, Space, and Splash, but since we’re talking about an average, those attractions are likely closer to 70 or 80 minutes, with secondary attractions like Mad Tea Party and Tomorrowland Speedway “pulling down” the average with waits of “just” 25- to 35-minutes.
Here’s the chart for the busiest day of the year thus far, Tuesday July 27th, with Splash Mountain included:
We have about two hours of downtime in the late afternoon due to lightning in the area, which isn’t uncommon during the summer. But it certainly looks like the people stuck around with waits of 60+ minutes generally continuing until just before 9pm. Perhaps more worrisome is how fast waits rise in the morning, with the average hitting 30+ minutes at 9:45am and climbing to 45 minutes by 10:30am. By that time, there are a few secondary attractions with waits hovering in the 20-minute range. But if you don’t get on something like Jungle Cruise immediately at open, the posted wait hits 35 minutes at 9:15am and is an hour or more until 9pm. With the increase in crowd levels, attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight hit an hour before 10am and peak at 90 minutes or more. And that’s without any form of FastPass+/line-cutting for most guests. There are simply 1,200 people in line most of the day, causing the long waits.
We can see if Magic Kingdom is hitting capacity by pulling up the reservation availability:
And there’s only one day this month that’s showing no Magic Kingdom availability. And it was a Tuesday. The 4th and 5th show no availability only at Hollywood Studios.
As far as Park Pass allotment is concerned, we’re likely nearing a cap, but Disney will still likely open up a couple thousand more slots per day by the end of the month with Columbia Harbour House and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor set to reopen. Hall of Presidents reopened this week, which also increases the theoretical capacity of the Park by a thousand or more guests per hour on its own.
At the same time Disney is allowing more guests in, they’re also continuing with their announced “workforce reduction plan, primarily at the Parks, Experiences and Products segment, which we expect to be completed by the end of fiscal 2021.” That fiscal year will end in about eight weeks. Peak crowds combined with lower staffing is a big reason for some of these longer wait times, as loading and unloading every cycle takes longer, reducing the number of guests who can experience each attraction per hour, among other things.
We’re usually interested in whether or not there is a clear “best” day of the week to visit each Park. Since reopening last year, here are the averages by day:
Looking over the complete set of data, the average wait ranges from about 24 minutes per attraction to about 28 minutes depending on which day you elect to visit. As we’ve seen plenty of times before, Wednesdays post the shortest waits, with Saturday proving busiest. But with a difference of less than three minutes in line per attraction between Monday and Wednesday, you’d have a tough time convincing me that there’s an overwhelming need to plan our trip around “the rules.”
But since it’s “data,” we can mess with it to tell just about any story we want. In the picture above, it doesn’t look like there’s much variance between the bars/days with the y-axis starting at zero minutes. But if I start the y-axis at 22 minutes, the exact same averages appear like this:
The numbers are exactly the same, but the change in the y-axis makes Tuesday look about twice as busy as Wednesday, even if the actual difference in the average wait is the same – less than three minutes.
We’re also biased by the data we select. Instead of concerning ourselves with crowd flow in January, which is probably somewhat irrelevant here in August, we can take a look at average waits over just the last six weeks. I’ve only included the averages during those dates in the following chart:
And we uncover a different phenomenon that we’ve seen summer after summer for years. The “best” days of the week flip, with the lowest waits on Saturdays and Sundays, and the longest waits in the middle of the week. Here in the summer, the difference between Sunday’s 30.9-minute low and Wednesday’s 38.5-minute high is 7.6 minutes, or more than twice the difference between the best and worst days when considering all the data. That means you’d wait a little over 2.5 hours longer to experience all 17 attractions on our usual chart, or about 76 minutes across ten attractions.
Of course, the above is without any perks offered by Disney to push or pull crowds in a particular direction. We currently have no Extra Magic Hours, FastPass+, special events, differing operating hours, etc. to sway people’s decisions on when to visit. Potentially, the one driver would be the Park Pass system, but we’ll remember that Magic Kingdom is more likely to sellout during the week over the summer.
So why the jump on Wednesdays? It’s likely due to guests starting their trips with new attractions at the other Parks and prioritizing Rise of the Resistance and other new attractions at Hollywood Studios, followed by Pandora at Animal Kingdom. Given the momentous cost of a trip, and what’s transpired over the last
decade year-and-a-half, the majority of people visiting Hollywood Studios should be riding Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway for the first time, and many will have never seen the two registers at Woody’s Lunch Box, let alone experienced Slinky Dog Dash. Magic Kingdom is (probably) still the most trafficked theme park in the world, but until Tron opens, it’s probably a lot of “been there, done that” until the second or third day of the trip. Weekends over the summer are less busy with fewer locals interested in visiting given the heat, blockouts, and perceived crowds. Local visitation is likely even lower this year given that Annual Passes remain unavailable and a few other things going on.
While 2021 is anything but normal, it is interesting that we see similar crowd patterns to previous years. Potentially, the good news is that the summer is winding down with local kids returning to school next week. September will likely prove to be “busier” than at least a couple months earlier in the year with the higher capacity. Even if demand was greater over spring break than it ultimately will be at the beginning of next month, Disney simply didn’t have the space with social-distancing still in effect and kept the number of reservations available much lower earlier in the year.
So what does it mean? It wouldn’t surprise me if last week was the busiest week until the last week in September and moving into October, with waits gradually falling back to where they were in June as school picks up. Present conditions in Florida, and the reintroduction of the indoor mask mandate, don’t make a visit during the hottest time of the year make a lot of sense, especially with the new shows and offerings arriving October 1st for what should be 18 months of anniversary celebration.
But come October 1st, and largely continuing through the end of the year, it’s likely that the numbers we saw last week will be the norm, and may even be on the low side. The After Hours Boo Bash, which was largely mocked online for its high cost and lack of offerings, is completely sold out in October:
i would watch a disney+ series where the execs are talking pricing, someone blurts out a crazy high number no rational person would pay, the room goes silent, then everyone starts laughing and says, “okay but make it 30% more.” then drinks are passed and that’s just every episode
— josh (@easywdw) July 30, 2021
Somewhere, an exec has to return their drink, as Disney apparently could have commanded even more money per ticket. Ideally, I suppose you would sell your last ticket to each event on the day of the event. Hopefully you weren’t waiting for reviews to come in before deciding on a purchase as Disney has also sold out of the first four dates in August and four of the five final dates in September – another indication that crowds will remain relatively heavy for another couple weeks, drop off for a bit during the first three weeks in September, and then seriously ramp up coming into October.
While several resorts remain closed, each will be open by the end of the year, currently on this timeline:
It wouldn’t surprise me if December 11th proves to be the busiest day thus far. I’ll be at Nine Dragons. Where it’s safe.
Come October, we’ll also see the reintroduction of Evening Extra Magic Hours in the form of “Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.” I suppose EETPH has a ring to it:
With daytime waits so long, and temperatures continuing to hit 90 degrees throughout October, those Extended Hour days will likely prove to see higher peak waits during the day, and shorter waits during the actual extra time at night. That was typically the reality back when “normal” evening EMH existed something like 40 years ago.
We’ll get back to Food and Wine and also consider what’s going on at the other Parks.