We set out for Magic Kingdom on the morning of April 15, 2019, which happens to be the Monday before Easter this year. Where on the calendar the sometimes-March-but-usually-April holiday falls impacts spring break crowd flow significantly, but the week leading up to the holiday is almost always the busiest week of the first 11.75 months of the year, with just the week from December 25th – January 1st seeing heavier crowds and longer wait times. When Easter arrives in March, which it won’t again until 2024, crowds are typically even heavier. Some school districts, and primarily those in the northeast that funnel big crowds into the Florida theme parks, always have the week leading up to Easter off. Even if that’s somehow in August. Other schools schedule their spring break in late March, regardless of when Easter comes into play. When these two phenomenons collide, as they did in 2016, things get particularly ugly. Fortunately for us, things are just regular ugly this year. Like looking at a hamburger from Electric Umbrella made by someone who cares. Still pretty bad looking? Sure. But it could be a lot worse.
On this auspicious morning, we enjoy a rare 8am regular open – just the sixth of 2019 up until this point. The early opens are one of our best tools to help us stay ahead of the crowds because far fewer people are able to make it to Magic Kingdom at 8am than 9am. With a 9am open, waits might be short at most attractions just through 9:30am. With an 8am open, waits are still going to be similarly short at 9:30am, giving us a much-needed extra hour to enjoy light crowds.
With the first Disney buses arriving at the resorts before 6am every day, guests have plenty of opportunities to arrive at the Parks well in advance of rope drop, even if that’s scheduled at 8am. This Friday, Magic Kingdom will host one of what may be only three or four 7am morning Extra Magic Hours of the year. Disney buses will be out in force to shuttle you, and exactly one other family who also can’t believe they’re up that early on vacation, over to the Park. If you have a non-believer in your party – someone threatening not to get out of bed when the call needs to be answered – just tell them that you know a guy with a 450-minute Powerpoint presentation on Epcot FastPass+ priorities who can’t wait to come over and convince them of the importance of early morning touring. And no, that’s not a four hour and fifty minute presentation. It’s a seven and a half hour presentation. And it deserves to be savored.
Conversely, you could show them this picture, taken at 8:56am.
And this picture, taken just about two and a half hours later, at 11:37am. Then ask them which Frontierland they might like to be a part of. If that doesn’t do it, then I can come in and start my presentation. I’m probably already outside the door hanging out. I have nowhere else to go.
Despite the cataclysmic afternoon crowds that we’re going to experience, I’m going to be able to accomplish more on this high-attendance, 8am open day than I would on a regular 9am open day with much lower attendance, thanks to the extra hour advantage.
The opening procedure on a regular 8am open day is a bit of a departure from what we see on ordinary 9am open days.
With a regular 9am open, everyone is let into the Park and onto Main Street at 7:45am, as seen in this summer 2018 touring strategy post. The majority of the Main Street stores are open, in addition to Starbucks, and guests are welcome to mill about for a little over an hour before the Welcome Show begins on the Castle Forecourt Stage at 8:55am, and the rest of the Park opens at 9am.
Days with 8am opens are a throwback to the old operating procedure/nightmare, where we’re going to be held as a fire-code-friendly mass of humanity in front of the train station until we’re dispersed inside around 7:45am.
Rewinding a bit back to 7:15am, those with breakfast and tour reservations head to the tapstiles down to the left, closest to the monorail station.
The rest of us line up here on the right, closest to bag check and the bus stops. With 45 minutes until official Park open, there’s only about 25 other people waiting. To be among the first guests to enter, this is around the time that you’ll want to arrive.
Ten minutes later, at 7:25am, 50ish more people have arrived with what looks like a lot looming in the distance.
Just four minutes later, at 7:29am, it looks like a couple hundred more people have arrived as Disney buses begin delivering guests in droves. The line for each tapstile stretches back 20 or more people.
At 7:30am, we were let in exactly this far – to the area in front of the tunnel leading into the Park.
At one point, “Hurry Up and Wait” was the working title of my memoir. I ultimately ended up going with, “What Does Beef Cost, Anyway?”
At 7:35am, there’s still plenty of room behind me to the left as I awkwardly turn around to take pictures of people just minding their own business standing there. As always, go around the clump of people if you have the opportunity.
At 7:40am, or five minutes before we’ll be released inside, I still see some available space back there to the left. By the afternoon, we’ll come to cherish the sight of bare concrete, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Not so much over there.
As expected, we were released at 7:45am on the dot. The Main Street Vehicles, happy to transport guests up and down Main Street, sit at the ready with a special appearance by my personal favorite, the double-decker bus.
If you can’t figure out what time it is based on the angle of the sun, it’s 7:47am, which you can verify on what is now a Citizen-branded clock on the left. I’m heading to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first, which means it’s imperative that I hurry to the appropriate holding area, which is the path immediately to the right of Cinderella Castle.
A very festive morning jaunt up Main Street USA! pic.twitter.com/PLQfBWzpxB
— josh (@easywdw) November 12, 2018
If I was headed elsewhere, I could safely stop and enjoy a ride on a Main Street Vehicle.
Those with pre-opening breakfast reservations are released first and get the jump on the rest of us by about 90 seconds, which is why there are a few hundred people ahead of me. Be Our Guest Restaurant is the only pre-opening breakfast I recommend and that’s probably only if you’re sharing meals at this point, given the $28/entree price. You can read all about that touring advantage, if you’re unfamiliar, in this post. With the regular 8am open, that advantage is moot since you’ll find yourself eating breakfast during at least part of the best hour of touring of the day.
Here’s a look at the crowd behind me and why my early arrival is so important. There are people back there who did almost everything right. They got up early. They arrived prior to Park open. But they still haven’t even made it onto Main Street. If they’re headed to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first, they’ll probably end up waiting over an hour for the privilege. Hopefully, my wait will be closer to ten minutes once the Park opens.
Here’s the usual breakdown of where you’ll want to wait depending on which attraction you’re headed to first.
Based on how quickly wait times build, your rope drop priorities are:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Space Mountain
- Anything else
If you’re not headed to one of those three rides, then you can safely arrive at the tapstiles 15 minutes before the Park opens and suffer no ill consequences. You could show up at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 15 minutes after the Park officially opens and still walk right on, even if today’s peak afternoon wait is going to ring in at two hours. For Peter Pan’s Flight and Space Mountain, you’ve also got more leeway, though wait times build quicker there, and particularly at Peter Pan’s Flight. Seven Dwarfs remains the super-headliner and the top priority. Someone who is inside the Park at 7:55am is going to wait two minutes for the Mine Train. Someone else, arriving at the attraction’s entrance just three minutes later is going to wait over an hour.
If you’re heading anywhere other than the top three priorities, you can safely enjoy the Welcome Show front and center. I do exactly that during my Frontierland rope drop before heading off to Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain in this touring strategy post. I like to see the Welcome Show from further back where the ground is raised and it’s easier to see over the tops of the shoulder kids.
For the Mine Train, there’s exactly one holding area that you want to be in, and that’s the one to the right of the Castle.
With a regular 9am open, you’ll want to be standing here by 8:15am. Remember that you’ll be let inside the Park at 7:45am, or the same time that we’re let in with the 8am open.
There’s an average number of people waiting behind me at 7:55am.
The downside of being belly up to the rope at any of the Land entrances is the fact that you won’t be able to see much, if any, of Mickey and the gang welcoming us to the Park. At the conclusion of the four-minute show, the daytime fireworks signal that it’s time to raise our elbows and get ready to roll.
With the sun beating down, it’s not a moment too soon. I like to pretend that my elbows are solar-powered and the energy is going to be used to knock an extra two or three kids out of the way. But we all get through the day in different ways.
Right at 8am, our march towards the Mine begins with cast members keeping the pace up ahead.
We’ll be making a left turn at Mad Tea Party.
Past Cosmic Ray’s.
To the left of Mad Tea Party.
At this point, we’re going to begin swinging around to the right.
Against the fence, like so. Stroller parking is ahead so you can jettison your compliant non-wagon ahead.
At this point, we’re pretty much in line.
Anyone trying to get over here from any other path is going to find themselves at the back of the line.
A line that’s going to stretch back past Mad Tea Party and into Storybook Circus most mornings.
Even if you do manage to yank one of these gems out of the mine cart, it turns out that Disney does not accept them as a form of payment.
By 8:09am, I was past the merge point with FastPass+.
And five minutes later, I’m on-board:
I was back out front at 8:19am for a total experience time of less than 20 minutes and to a 90-minute posted wait.
Some genius always points out that because I arrived at 7:15am, I actually waited 45 minutes for Mine Train before the Park opened and another 15 minutes in line after, for an actual wait of 60 minutes.
And that’s absolutely true. I did do exactly that.
But if you were to arrive at 8am and head to the Mine Train first, you’d find yourself at the end of a one-and-a-half hour line, which means you won’t be on your way to your next attraction until at least 9:45am.
And this is the line for it’s a small world at 9:45am. A 30-minute wait has already materialized. It’s also one of the shortest posted waits at that time of day.
My early arrival and short wait for the most popular ride at the Park allows me to move on to other attractions earlier, when waits remain short.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is posting a 5-minute wait at 8:20am.
And the actual wait is going to be less than three:
I arrived at 8:20am and was back out front at 8:27am for a total experience time of seven minutes. Mine Train’s line is still backed up outside the entrance, though it’s typically even longer on an average day with a 9am open, due to how many more people are capable of being here an hour later.
If you’re running behind schedule and planning to head to a super-headliner first thing, then it makes the most sense to switch up the plan and instead visit that attraction later in the day when wait times have peaked everywhere. Actual waits for Mine Train are in the vicinity of 75 minutes at this point in the morning. At this point in the morning, the only other ride with a wait longer than 20 minutes is Peter Pan’s Flight. Space Mountain follows with a 15ish minute actual wait. Any other attraction is a walk-on. If you were to wait 75+ minutes for Mine Train now, you’d run into long waits just about everywhere else for the rest of the day. Instead, you’ll want to visit other attractions before waits have built up. When we circle back through here in two hours, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is going to have the exact same 85-minute posted wait with an even shorter standby queue. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is going to be 60 minutes, or 55 minutes longer than it is right now. It makes much more sense to ride that before waits have an opportunity to increase. If you have to, wait 75 minutes for Mine Train when the line for Mad Tea Party starts in Storybook Circus, as it will later in the day.
The Princess Fairytale Hall Meet and Greets remain a surprisingly-low priority given how popular they were a few years ago during the Frozen craze.
Granted, it’s been several years since we saw those 3+ hour waits.
But you’d think Cinderella, Elena, Rapunzel, and Tiana would command waits a little longer than the “0” that’s currently posted there in the distance. Even so, the princesses will see peak waits over 90 minutes later in the day. You could be in and out of both meets in about ten minutes.
That picture in the bottom left might be the best that I’ve ever taken. If Fantasyland is your top priority, then you may want to check out this post, which covers visiting all of the Fantasyland attractions in succession. We’ll be on our way out of Fantasyland shortly on this particular morning. The princesses don’t need any more trauma this calendar year. Neither do I.
There aren’t a lot of scrims up in the Park at the moment, though work continues here at Castle Couture.
It shouldn’t affect your back-of-Castle pictures, at least if you’re willing to go tall and narrow. That was me before the buffets caught up to me. Like they catch up to us all.
I made three FastPass+ reservations, the first two of which are noted below:
Scheduling a FastPass+ beginning just 30 minutes into Park operation is a little earlier than I would normally book, but knowing how long FastPass+ return lines will be later in the day, I thought that I would get a couple out of the way early. Peter Pan’s Flight is also a short ride with a long peak wait, so using FastPass+ there early won’t take much time – ideally about ten minutes.
This turned out to be a wise decision. In the picture above, it isn’t even 10am and Peter Pan’s FastPass+ return line is backed up all the way out here with a 75-minute posted wait.
Here we are in Old Fantasyland at 8:30am.
The 30-minute posted wait is probably about accurate. The queue is winding around outside, but part of the covered queue probably isn’t yet open.
There was nobody in front of me in the FastPass+ line and I was on-board in two minutes:
I was back out front at 8:38am for a total experience time of just seven minutes, which is almost as quick as it gets. The posted wait is 40 minutes with a line still stretching outside the entrance as seen towards the bottom of the frame. The actual wait is probably pushing 45 minutes, which is why we’re using FastPass+ this early.
On one hand, it’s too early to ride it’s a small world. On the other hand, all of the queue that you see in this picture, including the uncovered extended part, is going to be full in just one hour’s time. As one of the easier 4th or subsequent FastPass+ experiences to acquire later in the day, it makes sense to bypass it now. And the 50-minute posted wait that we see just after noon, while horrific, is still a lot shorter than most other attractions at that time.
I would recommend against hanging out here at Kingdom Crossing.
Outside the tangled bathrooms a father and son emerge with dad telling mom that he changed the family’s next fastpass from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to “the Mickey meet.” but he actually changed it to Mickey’s PhilharMagic.
Mom literally screams “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” pic.twitter.com/6weeBlexet
— josh (@easywdw) April 15, 2019
Or…maybe you do.
Outside the tangled bathroom I am standing there switching lenses and this mom/daughter sit down next to me and mom immediately screeches “OKAY NOW TAKE OFF YOUR SHOE AND SOCK AND SEE WHAT YOU STEPPED IN” which makes no sense but it concluded my time outside the tangled bathroom
— josh (@easywdw) April 15, 2019
But you probably don’t.
At this point in my day, I’ve already experienced three high priority attractions in less than 40 minutes of Park time. The combined peak wait of the three rides is going to be 370 minutes, which is not three hours and seventy minutes. It’s six hours and ten minutes. But by all means, show up for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Park open and wait the 90+ minutes instead of going about things this way. You’ll sure show me.
I’m on my way to Adventureland to visit two priorities over there – Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. I could just as easily stay in Fantasyland to meet the Princesses and ride small world, The Barnstormer, Dumbo, Journey of the Little Mermaid, etc. I could also head to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. It just depends on which attraction priorities I want to visit.
Since I’m passing through Liberty Square, it makes sense to ride Haunted Mansion now. The peak wait will be 85 minutes at 1:45pm.
At 8:40am, we see 15 minutes posted.
But I’m going to be able to walk right into the Mansion.
And into the stretching room.
With no resistance whatsoever.
One bonus of the early morning ride is the fact that there’s absolutely nobody crammed into this area.
It actually makes it a bit more foreboding when you aren’t shoulder-to-shoulder with a hundred other people trying to cram their way forward towards a narrow walkway.
Almost right after your doom buggy makes its first right turn, there’s a new on-ride photo.
Theoretically, your picture will be sent automatically to your PhotoPass/My Disney Experience account, assuming you’re wearing a MagicBand. I was, and of course, my picture did not follow me home.
But you might try to look spooky around this area:
I arrived at 8:40am and was back out front at 8:53am, which is the absolute minimum amount of time that the attraction takes.
Not bad when the area is going to look like this in a few hours with Haunted Mansion posting a 75-minute wait.
So far, things have been going well. I’ve accomplished:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 8am – 8:19am
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: 8:20am – 8:27am
- Peter Pan’s Flight with FastPass+: 8:30am – 8:38am
- Haunted Mansion: 8:40am – 8:53am
But what do you do when the FastPass+ return line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad starts at the toppings bar for Pecos Bill?
We’ll find out in Part Two.