We’ll see if we can pin down what to expect from the rest of the summer now that everyone has enjoyed the opportunity to read, “The Calm Before the Storm or the Calm Before the Manageable But Definitely the Summer at Walt Disney World,” and, “Memorial Day Walt Disney World Crowds Fail to Materialize with No Change to Park Capacity.” Things may appear to be a little slow around here, but hopefully easywdw 3.0 is worth the wait (and the cost).
From a touring perspective, we’re also waiting on October 1st, when Disney will begin admitting resort and other eligible guests into every Park before official open every day. Disney didn’t list exactly which resort guests outside of its own operation will be eligible, but it will likely be the Disney Springs area resorts that got in on the Extra Magic Hours and 60-day FastPass+ booking window bandwagon a couple of years ago, in addition to the Swan, Dolphin, Four Seasons, and Waldorf Astoria resorts. It remains to be seen how many, if any, of the newer Flamingo Crossings hotels jump on board, but it’s likely they will since Disney actually cops to their existence on its website under “More Accommodations.” Typically, if you ask Disney about Hilton or Marriot, they’ll pretend like you’re making up words.
Flamingo Crossings is a 450-acre piece of land located in the westernmost corner of property. Owned by Disney, Imagineering initially designed the area to be its own little city-state of sorts, aimed at guests looking for a safe, less expensive alternative to staying at its own branded resorts, since everything would be operated by third-parties. That was back in 2007. Unfortunately, a myriad of pesky economic recessions, downturns, and general catastrophes got in the way of finding many takers. But sales and construction have ramped up in recent years, and particularly in the last 12 months, with several lower-cost hotels opening along with the likes of Walgreens, since it’s in the constitution that there be at least one in any given square mile.
Flamingo Crossings is also Disney’s attempt to siphon money away from the resorts/motels on US-192, which is the Floridian equivalent of Disneyland’s Harbor Boulevard, where you’ll find some nicer hotels mixed in with the sort of rundown motel that will close up shop on a random Tuesday morning, leaving hundreds of guests stranded, as happened here a few weeks ago. With Disney as your landlord, you would expect the area to be largely pristine with well-known, well-vetted operating partners. For the pleasure of Disney publicly acknowledging their existence, I would imagine those resorts write a seven-figure check more often than they’d like to remain on that dropdown menu on DisneyWorld.com and offer some of the same amenities as guests staying at Disney’s _____ Resort. Margaritaville, of all places, may also be eligible, as Disney has worked out a number of mutually-beneficial contracts with the experts in day-drinking since the resort opened, not coincidentally right next to where I live.
The head-start granted to eligible guests come October 1st should prove beneficial, and puts anyone staying off-site at a distinct touring disadvantage, at least if you’re planning on arriving for opening. Come October 1st, and probably lasting for the full 18 months of the Resort’s “50th anniversary,” we can expect 30,000+ rooms full of guests to be eligible for this temporary(?) Extra-Magic-Hours-replacement. Disney initially mentioned that the extra time blocked out for eligible guests was on the horizon a few months ago, but was incredibly vague on when the offering would become available or what exactly it would entail. At the time, Disney may not have known when they would officially unveil their magical morning half hour, but with the 50th anniversary rundown looking a little meager once you get past the initial “EARidescence,” the fall debut makes sense. By that time, Disney will also have more resort guests to spread out with the rest of its hotels opening. The Polynesian Village Resort opens July 19th, followed by Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House on August 26th, then All-Star Music on September 16th, Riverside on October 14th, French Quarter on the 28th, and the venerable All-Star Sports pulling up the rear on December 9th, at which point all resorts will have reopened. Of course, the DVC wings at the Poly and Jambo House have been open for more than a year. It will be the standard rooms opening up.
The company remained mum on the duration of the daily extra time in their most recent Parks Blog post on the subject, after originally quoting it would be 30 minutes, which is obviously half as long as a 1-hour morning Extra Magic Hour used to be. Perhaps they could count the extra 30 minutes in seconds, so it’s Extra Magic 1,800 seconds. That doesn’t sound so long either, but it has a better ring to it than Extra Magic 30 minutes. The new campaign would make for a total of 14 extra theoretical hours across the week for eligible guests, which would be an increase compared to the combined number of weekly morning Extra Magic Hours before the March 2020 closures, when morning EMH totaled just five hours most weeks. The schedule was typically two morning EMHs at Animal Kingdom, two at Magic Kingdom, and one at Epcot. After Galaxy’s Edge opened, Disney did away with morning Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios due to the overwhelming number of people willing and able to be at the Parks by 6am. It will certainly be interesting to see how Disney pulls off what they couldn’t for seven months, particularly given they only have half the time to figure out who’s supposed to get in.
Thirty minutes of extra time is not very long, but the fact that the bonus time is available at every Park , every day, shouldn’t directly drive crowds in any particular direction or adversely affect wait times on any given day. Ultimately, transportation may continue to be a problem with a lack of buses, and ideally bus drivers behind the wheel, on the road. Officially, you might get 30 extra minutes, but in reality, it could be closer to 45 or 60 minutes if you’re able to get on one of the first buses, boats, or monorails leaving your resort and the Parks are open almost in their entirety upon your arrival. On the other hand, Disney could simply opt to hold those who arrive earlier in the main Hub area at Magic Kingdom, in front of Spaceship Earth at Epcot, on Hollywood Boulevard at Hollywood Studios, or on the bridge leading into Pandora at Animal Kingdom, just as they would during traditional rope drops. Impatiently waiting guests, who could easily number 10,000 or more, would then be let in for their 30 minutes, as thousands of other guests staying off-site brood somewhere off in the corner.
The lesser 30-minute head-start also means more guests ineligible for the extra time will be arriving as it gets underway. That was less of an issue when morning EMH was an hour long, and 95%+ of people on-hand an hour or more early were resort guests. With just a half hour to spare until official open, expect a lot of confusion as more ineligible guests arrive without any knowledge about the on-site advantage that they’re missing out on.
As far as general touring goes come October, and probably for the next 18 (or more…or less…) months, those staying off-site will merely need to move their super-priority attraction that they were planning to visit first to the end of the day. There will likely be no opportunity for off-site guests to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Flight of Passage, or Slinky Dog Dash with a short wait after so many resort guests have entered before them. Depending on Epcot’s opening time, things will be tight at Epcot for Test Track, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and Frozen Ever After. Theoretically, you should be able to do the Rat Ride and race over to Frozen or Test Track before the off-site guests start barreling in. But if you’re ineligible for the extra time, plan on moving the first and second steps of your morning plan to the end of the night. You’ll then be right back on schedule for an efficient morning.
Guests staying at select Deluxe Resorts will also have access to an undisclosed number of evening Extra Magic Hours beginning October 1st. Disney didn’t offer a lot of details on how many would be offered or which attractions would be operating. But it will be nice to have more of an opportunity to enjoy the nighttime ambiance again, particularly in the fall and winter when the Halloween and Christmas decorations go up.
We’ll definitely keep an eye on how things shape up come October, probably with two versions of each touring plan that differ slightly depending on whether or not you’re eligible to head in early. Resort guests will have an easier time if they’re able to arrive early, but many don’t arrive more than a few minutes before regular open, if that. While the late-ish eligible arrivers certainly won’t maximize their bonus time, they’re still going to be in front of you if you’re staying at an ineligible resort and headed to the same attraction with their advantage.
These pictures are more dated than I’d like due to a number of factors, so we may move quickly through them since they still show people following the mask mandate, which is no longer in place, and there’s a lot more physical-distancing going on than you’d see if you were to visit today. But the wait times and what I’m able to accomplish in this series should be similar to what you’re able to accomplish now. And if anything, my wait times are actually longer given the attractions operating at lower capacities than they are now.
Nothing has changed from the arrival experience at Magic Kingdom, where cars are typically held at the auto plaza until 35 to 50 minutes prior to Park open. Before then, or 8:15am in most cases, you’ll need to pull around and circle back to the plaza as Disney tries to keep the roadways clear until then. Keeping guests securely in their Dodge Caravans was one of the main “social-distancing” procedures Disney enacted when the Parks reopened, so that people wouldn’t be waiting in front of the entrance/tapstiles, where there typically wouldn’t be enough physical space for hundreds or thousands of people to wait with six feet between them. Holding some guests outside the parking lot, and limiting the number of buses arriving, was a good way to control the incoming crowds, particularly at Hollywood Studios.
Disney will have a bigger problem if they promise extra time in the Parks and then don’t have the means to transport hundreds of antsy guests over to take advantage of their extra time. Seeing throngs of people waiting for the appropriate bus hasn’t been an uncommon sight for the last ~year with hundreds of people typically waiting out front, hoping that the next bus to arrive is destined for the theme park they booked a month or more in advance via the Park Pass system.
With most social-distancing measures now out, with every seat filled in every row, and those identifying themselves as fully vaccinated allowed to go maskless just about everywhere, the opening procedures have largely reverted back to what you would have experienced in February 2020. At Epcot, you can now expect to be held at the tapstiles, then again in front of Spaceship Earth ahead of what is usually an 11am open. The result has only been the usual discomfort of being elbow to elbow with someone who thinks that if they “accidentally” ram the back of your heels with their stroller enough times that they may save 15 to 30 seconds in line somewhere down the road. The holding areas typically mean some number of late-arriving guests will push or run to the front, which is always a little frustrating as the careful rule-follower is almost always at a disadvantage when it comes to rushing to something first.
Hollywood Studios is the same with guests held on Hollywood Boulevard until much closer to open. Magic Kingdom now holds guests on Main Street and in the main Hub area. Animal Kingdom is the one Park that hasn’t yet reverted to the Pandora bridge hold, likely because there just isn’t enough room.
One positive of dropping most social-distancing protocols is that the “anytime attractions” like Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, Liberty Square Riverboat, Mickey’s PhilharMagic (soon with a Coco scene), and Carousel of Progress are more or less back to their “anytime” status. Other attractions, like Pirates of the Caribbean and “it’s a small world” now also seat more guests, which increases throughput and decreases waits. Of course, waits won’t change much if Disney increases capacity by increasing the number of Park Passes it distributes and the demand is there to fill them.
The following two charts show the wait times before and after the capacity increase.
Here’s the posted wait chart during my visit:
And June 16th:
They’re within a minute of each other, with my waits actually proving to be longer overall at 27 minutes. June 16th probably had 5,000 or more guests in the Park, but the waits are still shorter given the improved capacity.
Here we are heading in at 7:48am, or 12 minutes before the official 8am opening.
As far as which guests will arrive first, not much has changed since July of last year. Those coming in from the walkway connected to the Contemporary Resort will usually be first, followed by those walking over from the walkway connected to the Grand Floridian. It’s worth noting that the walkway from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian may be closed during your visit as Disney transforms one of the buildings at its flagship resort over to DVC. Signage will indicate if that walkway is closed as it will depend on construction and what machinery is present. Guests may still walk to Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian freely, so long as they start there. The first buses from the Disney resorts should arrive and bag check at the Transportation and Ticket Center/Parking Lot should also begin as the first guests of the day head inside. With Disney now holding guests in the Hub prior to opening, the head start offered by the walkways is less beneficial, but it will still put you at the front of the pack headed to Mine Train or wherever else you’re headed.
Our approach will likely change again come October 1st. “Avoid Extra Magic Hours” is easy advice to disperse, and at one time it would have actually made a difference, but it’s been years since we’ve seen waits discernibly shift based on the Extra Magic Hours schedule from day to day. FastPass+ was the great equalizer in that it rendered almost all of the “best day” advice moot as just about every day saw the same long waits with every FP+ for most attractions taken well in advance by more and more guests. Or if it did turn out that the day with morning EMH saw slightly higher attendance, it’s not like you’d want to get in a 65-minute line for Space Mountain one day much more than you’d like to wait in a 60-minute line for the same attraction two days later. And if you could actually identify days that were less crowded, Disney often cut capacity by only loading one side later into the day on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or Big Thunder Mountain. Often, those capacity reductions meant equal or longer waits even when there were fewer people in the Park during historically “less busy” times.
Theoretically, Disney should know just about exactly how many people are going to visit a Park on a given day based on its Park Pass reservation system. Based on availability, Disney can still expect to sell some day-of tickets, and once theme park capacity is high enough that switching/picking your Park is wide open, some guests may wait until the last minute before choosing a Park. But even those last-minute arrivers/deciders should be relatively easy to factor in, since you could assume it would be a similar number of tickets. Or I could at least make a graph that would convince you of it. Thanks, statistics. So far, it doesn’t seem like Disney has successfully leveraged the data it does have to improve operations on busier days. That may change with the College Program kids arriving and Disney increasing its workforce exponentially, which will better allow the company to deploy labor when it’s needed on a more temporary basis. They probably won’t. But they could.
At Magic Kingdom, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train remains the top priority with Splash Mountain coming in at a close second. Those coming in from the walkways will be able to best position themselves, but the fact that you’re now held like the rope drop days of old means that advantage is considerably less as people who arrive later push forward.
There’s always Starbucks.
Now, you’ll want to set up shop for the Mine Train in the usual location on the walkway to the right of Cinderella Castle that looks to be headed straight for Mad Tea Party.
I think we all remember this scene, though you can ignore the Fairytale Hall part until the meet and greet reopens.
My visit came before they reinstituted the old rope drop process, so I opted to head through the majestic Castle.
It’s definitely a more festive way to begin your morning than passing the ominous Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, whether someone will try to convince you that it’s the best quick service at Walt Disney World or not. With the traditional rope drop now in place, you’ll want to wait on the path towards Mad Tea Party and come back through here later.
I arrived via the Transportation and Ticket Center drop-off just before 7am. Bag check started at 7:20am and I was walking down the monorail ramp towards the Park’s entrance by 7:35am.
But as you can see towards the end of the video, everyone from the Contemporary and Grand Floridian walkways is already inside, in addition to some number of busloads full of people from the various Disney resorts:
Top of the morning pic.twitter.com/xOgbevWKRx
— josh (@easywdw) April 22, 2021
With Disney removing social distance barriers, only more people will be on those buses and monorails should you be running later than anticipated.
There’s close to a 100% chance that something isn’t going to come to pass when it comes to your Magic Kingdom morning. With Splash down about half the time at Park open, and most people headed for Mine Train first, I’m too late to ride with a short wait, even if I’m among the first people to arrive from the parking lot. The issue here is that they were filming a commercial before the Park opened, so the line is filled with several hundred guests who aren’t moving as the ride has not yet opened to the public.
With FastPass+ out of the picture for most guests, the best strategy you have for unexpectedly long morning waits is to shift the attraction to last thing or, when possible, a luckier second rope drop as people are more likely to be planning a second day at the most popular theme park in the world with the sheer number of attractions at Magic Kingdom. And if not, there’s always that economically-priced ~$199 After Hours Boo Bash ticket this fall, which could mean short waits in the last hour of the event in particular. It also might not.
In my case, I’ll plan on moving Mine Train to my last attraction of the night. With the 9pm close, that means getting in line as close to then as possible. We can also take a look at wait times from the past month:
While the Mine Train is ultimately more reliable than a log flume ride that Evil Emperor Chapek apparently thinks is about twice as old as it actually is, it’s still down at Park open about a quarter of the time for one reason or another. Ideally, just one super-priority would be offline at Park open, making it relatively easy for most guests to return a couple of minutes before close. The good news is that both headliners are open at the end of the day 90%+ of the time.
Happily Ever After, the nighttime fireworks (and projections) extravaganza, has returned to Magic Kingdom.
Here’s the schedule later in the month:
The return of the fireworks is great news for guests who both want to see the show and also those who don’t have interest The former is obvious as the nighttime spectacular is meant to be a delightful endcap to a great day. The latter might be a little less obvious, but if you don’t care about seeing the show, it will only pull thousands of people away from the attractions, making wait times that much lower and pathways outside of Main Street that much clearer beginning an hour before Happily Ever After launches.
At Magic Kingdom, on days that Disney has already extended the closes to 10pm or 11pm, the 9:15pm start to the fireworks will provide enough time to hurry back to one or two final attractions with a 10pm close, and more with the 11pm closes.
At Epcot, you’ll be less lucky in that Epcot Forever begins at Park close. Like always, everyone is eligible to stay and watch, but it means no rides with short waits after:
Epcot Forever’s return may complicate things if Test Track or your other chosen priority is down at Park open and you want to experience the ride and see the show, since you’ll need to get in line for Test Track at least an hour before Park close to experience it before moving back to World Showcase for the nighttime spectacular. With no fireworks, you could arrive at Test Track with just a couple of minutes to spare and enjoy a short wait without missing anything happening over the Lagoon.
Once Harmonious is live this fall, the nighttime show will only be more popular, requiring an earlier arrival to secure quality spots. Hollywood Studios remains fireworks-/Fantasmic-less, which makes planning a late ride easier over there, but is probably a bummer for those who want to see one of the two shows or would be helped by them pulling 10,000+ guests away from the attractions on an ordinary evening.
With Mine Train and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh basically down at the onset of my visit, it would likely take 75 minutes or more to move through them, which is about the same amount of time it would take later in the afternoon. Mine Train averages about a 45-minute wait as early as 6:30pm, and Winnie the Pooh should take about 15 minutes before or after. That leaves us a full 75 minutes to account for additional, unexpected downtime, in addition to adding more attractions like Splash Mountain, when applicable, or time to move to Main Street. Of course, those waits could go up if demand increases significantly or FastPass+ is reinstated earlier rather than later.
But all is not lost as we should still be able to hit a few other priorities. We’re still about ten minutes before official open.
Peter Pan’s Flight was posting five minutes at 7:48am.
And that’s as long as it would take to walk the queue and board my ship:
I was done with Peter Pan’s Flight just seven minutes later. Skipping Mine Train first is also a good example of what you’ll likely want to do if you arrive a little later than you’d like or aren’t eligible to head in early come October 1st. “We’ll try to come back later” may be the major theme of your trip versus spending that time staring at your phone refreshing FastPass+. It’s actually been…refreshing…to not have to be constantly refreshing FastPass+ availability in hopes that somebody else changed/cancelled their plans and actually remembered to cancel their family’s FastPass+. With so many people searching for additional FastPass+ just prior to the March 2020 closures, you’d be lucky to time that refresh just right in order to score that newly-available FastPass+. Of course, if paid FP+ becomes a thing, you’ll be doing a lot less refreshing and a lot more cleaning dishes at Crystal Palace in order to be able to afford to experience a ride in a theme park that you spent well over a hundred dollars just to enter. Rides. Shmides. That’s what I always say.
In the next Part, we’ll move on to Frontierland for Big Thunder and Splash, before moving on to Jungle Cruise and Pirates.