We’re heading out to Magic Kingdom on the morning of Tuesday May 14, 2019, to undertake what should be one of the easier rope drop opportunities at Magic Kingdom in Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland.
Last month, we took a tougher road, beginning with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train during Easter week in much heavier crowds. You can read all about that in this series.
Unfortunately, today’s experience is only going to back up 53.7% of our long-running narrative, that we can accomplish more on a busier day with an 8am open than we can on an average day with a 9am open, and that rope dropping Frontierland before heading to Adventureland results in short waits at priority attractions all morning. During the Easter week rope drop, with an 8am regular open, I mentioned that I was probably able to accomplish more than on a regular 9am open day with much lower crowds. With so few people able to arrive at a Walt Disney World theme park before 8am, we basically have an extra hour to enjoy low crowds and waits, regardless of elevated afternoon crowd levels. That’s going to turn out to be true. I was able to do more, in less time, with lower waits, on the busier Easter week day.
Unfortunately, the second part of the narrative isn’t going to pan out so well. Starting with Frontierland should be one of the best time-versus-hassle propositions. Being among the first people to Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or Slinky Dog Dash is typically going to require arriving at least an hour before open and then quickly hurrying to the attraction with a couple thousand other people whose sole interest is to elbow their way ahead of you. With Frontierland, we should be in no big hurry to our first destination – much like in the olden days, it takes a while for people to migrate west. Ideally, we’ll run into less dysentery, though I’m planning on having lunch at Cosmic Ray’s, so history may repeat itself. At least 90% of the people present at rope drop are headed elsewhere – most to Seven Dwarfs, but some to Peter Pan’s Flight and others to Space Mountain. That’s going to remain true. But with capacity reductions, bad luck, and the joy that is FastPass+ priority, we’re going to run into some issues that aren’t easy to resolve.
With the regular 9am open, Magic Kingdom allows guests onto Main Street at 7:45am, a full 75 minutes before the Park officially opens. Above is the scene from the train station at 8:20am.
Since I wasn’t in any hurry, I elected to begin my day with a ride up Main Street on the Omnibus.
What a life pic.twitter.com/0S2XD2yfMu
— josh (@easywdw) May 14, 2019
I can’t imagine that it’s a coincidence that the highest-capacity, fastest Main Street vehicle picks up guests outside of Tony’s Town Square Restaurant and whisks them away in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. People say Disney doesn’t care about capacity, but I think this proves otherwise.
A very rare omnibus ride in the opposite direction with the typical traffic one runs into about half way through the trip (a duck) pic.twitter.com/4ai8qGHkUs
— josh (@easywdw) May 14, 2019
The ride towards Cinderella Castle is relatively popular, though it’s rare for the bus to fill, perhaps because it leaves before that has an opportunity to occur.
But you can also ride the vehicles in the opposite direction, boarding in front of Cinderella Castle and ending up back at Tony’s. There, you can typically scamper off before the Tony’s cast member catches you and forces you to make a dinner reservation at breadstick-point. There are few things more worrisome than having a breadstick pointed at you while someone else is rattling off potential stromboli fillings in a menacing manner. I have more experience with this than I would like to admit.
I’m a best of both world’s kind of guy.
I like to ride the Omnibus up Main Street, then disembark and take a few photos around the Hub. Then when the Omnibus returns, I’m typically the only person boarding for the ride back towards the train station.
Then I’ll walk down the train station steps and meander up Main Street on foot, taking in the sights and sounds while trying to convince people that Swiss Family is the smartest rope drop priority. While I may have slowed down physically in my old age, I’m still able to outwit your average tourist. All we have to do is convince people that they don’t want to go to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first and it doesn’t matter how slow we might be.
Each Main Street vehicle ride takes about three-and-a-half minutes – less if you’re able to clear the way a bit via elbows and a little longer if you time the duck crossing poorly.
The Omnibus isn’t always out, but you’ll typically find a variety of other, smaller vehicles picking up and dropping off guests from the area underneath the train station.
Just listen for the honks.
Even if our hypothesis is incorrect, and we need to be in more of a hurry to get to Big Thunder, you’ll still have until at least 8:30am to enjoy the sights and sounds around Main Street before you’ll need to head over to the rope loading to Adventureland.
Here’s the scene at 8:16am.
And on Main Street at 8:22am.
This was an Early Morning Magic event day – the paid 75 minutes in Fantasyland that includes a breakfast entree and buffet at Cosmic Ray’s. You can read that review, including whether the touring advantage is worth the hefty price tag, in this post. Event attendees are now directed towards the Tomorrowland side of things.
For event-goers, it’s then a walk towards the Mine Train in the same way that you’d go if you were rope dropping.
I’m sure these attendees wanted to arrive earlier, but it’s almost unbelievable that they’d be paying the $79/person to miss 60% of their exclusive time. They’re getting their wristbands at 8:30am, which means they’ll barely have a half hour in Fantasyland before the rest of us arrive.
At 8:26am, you could still be belly-up to the rope heading towards Tomorrowland, where Space Mountain is the only priority.
The path that’s opened up for Early Morning Magic attendees pushes the regular waiting area closer to the Hub. A modest crowd has formed at 8:26am.
To be among the first people to the Mine, you typically want to arrive in the holding area no later than 8:15am, which puts you at security around 8am.
As far as what else there is to do before official open, the Main Street Starbucks is open.
The majority of the stores are open, including the entire Emporium to the left and most of the stores on the right, including The Chapeau and Confectionery.
Plaza Restaurant is a permanent breakfast fixture and one of my favorite meals on property, serving from 7:45am through 10:30am daily, before lunch takes over at 11am.
The food is better than it has any right to be and that exact same 10-ounce steak is going to cost you $32 at dinner. With Plaza going to a much more expensive dinner menu, which eliminates many of the popular sandwiches like the Plaza Club (which is still available for lunch), I’d recommend Plaza for breakfast first and lunch second, with dinner a distant third.
We start back on Main Street at 8:45am to simulate what it would be like if you were to arrive just 15 minutes before official Park open.
The walk remains an easy one.
The crowd in front of the bridge into Adventureland is somewhat sizable, but it’s loosely packed together and you could pretty easily make your way near the front. To be among the first across the bridge, you’d want to arrive by 8:30am. This is 8:50am. With Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean ahead, a couple hundred people should easily be dispersed once we’re all let loose.
There’s a surprising amount of people waiting in front of Liberty Square. Most are likely headed right towards Fantasyland with others heading left towards Frontierland.
We have our choice of spots for “Let the Magic Begin,” the name of the stage show starring Mickey Mouse that serves to welcome us to the Park. It begins five minutes before regular Park open every day of the year.
The mass of humanity waiting in front of the walkway headed towards Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has grown considerably.
You could actually sneak over here on the left and push forward pretty far, much to the delight of those that have been waiting to the right, I’m sure.
The crowd has grown sizable in front of Tomorrowland as well. It would be best to be towards the front of this group if you’re headed to Space Mountain first, which would be possible with an arrival here around 8:30am. If you’re headed to Buzz Lightyear, Astro Orbiter, Tomorrowland PeopleMover, or Tomorrowland Speedway, then you’re just fine being towards the back.
Precisely five minutes before the Park officially opens, Mickey and Minnie will appear on stage, currently in their 90th birthday celebration outfits.
After a short introduction, the princesses, along with an assortment of other characters, appear.
That’s followed by an appearance by the Fairy Godmother and some daytime fireworks.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my zoom lens on at the time, so I was unable to get a good picture, but you can sort of make out the Castle I think.
“Let the Magic Begin” only lasts about four minutes and then the ropes to the various Lands drop and we’re free to head to the attraction of our choice. With kids, the show may be worth taking in on your first morning. As adults, you may prefer to reduce your time in line at your first attraction by waiting closer to the entrance into one of the Lands. There aren’t really any spots that offer a great view of the show and the ability to be among the first into a Land.
At the conclusion of the show, I’m headed back towards Adventureland at 8:59am.
With not a whole lot of resistance.
Most of us have probably experienced rope drop from the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train side of things as pictured above. The Frontierland experience is not that.
I would reiterate that there are few things more wholesome than rope dropping Swiss Family Treehouse, which “literally” makes no sense from a touring efficiency perspective. On the other hand, there won’t be anybody behind you hurrying your group from scene to scene, so you can probably spend 2-3 hours in the tree before running into another soul.
While I rarely or never Photoshop anybody out of the pictures where I’m trying to make a point about crowds, occasionally I will make an artistic edit. In this case, here’s the Tiki Room as captured in the original image.
And the edited image without the stroller. The lousy clone stamp fence is obvious if you’re looking for it, but probably not otherwise.
Likewise, here’s the original image with a gentleman sitting on this bench.
And hastily removed. Sorry buddy.
In this image, you might have noticed the lousy clone stamp in the bushes to the right of Dumbo.
Here’s the original. You’re also missing a lamppost on the left and a couple of people in the background to the right.
Feels crowded pic.twitter.com/Y3fQzSjrWd
— josh (@easywdw) May 14, 2019
I mention that only because everything you see here is as it was.
There probably aren’t more than a dozen people heading towards Pirates of the Caribbean first thing.
Jungle Cruise is a little more popular, but you could walk on both Adventureland boat rides if you wanted to start there.
After those two rides, you could probably make it to Splash Mountain before a long wait develops there. By that time, you’d probably want to use FastPass+ at Big Thunder as we’ll be looking at a 45+ minute posted wait before 10am.
As it turns out, that would have probably been a better touring plan than trying to ride all four in standby, beginning with Big Thunder.
After the initial rush, which is pretty light towards Frontierland, we aren’t going to be inundated with too many more people for a bit.
There’s nobody behind me at 9:05am.
To start our day, we’ve run into some bad luck with what looks like a short delay in the opening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is our first stop. Big Thunder’s theoretical capacity is above 2,000 riders per hour, so even if 500 people were in front of us, the wait should still be under 15 minutes. Our slow walk back to Frontierland should give most of those that hurried back there enough time to move through the ride and then upon our arrival, our wait should be around five minutes after we walk the queue.
That’s what happened last time, when I arrived at Big Thunder during a busier time of year at 9:08am. Notice that both sides of the ride are already operating before 9:15am. That’s not going to be the case this morning.
With Big Thunder’s initial backup, your instincts might point you towards Splash Mountain next door, where the actual wait is going to be less than a minute. I wouldn’t recommend jumping ship, even if the wait at Big Thunder has already built a bit. Splash is a much lower priority and when we get in line at 9:30am after riding Big Thunder, the actual wait is still going to be under five minutes.
As I walked through more expanded queue than I would have liked, I saw no trains running, which is never a good sign.
With just one of the two sides loading, we’ve also halved capacity. That’s going to slow us down even further as the ride moves through those in front of us at half the speed.
I was on-board at 9:24am, which means I waited about 18 minutes after arriving at the back of the line.
If the ride had opened on time, I would have boarded closer to 9:18am with one side loading.
If the ride was open on time and they were running both sides, I would have been on-board around 9:14am.
Or a full ten minutes earlier.
Morning touring time is particularly precious as wait times increase quickly, particularly with most attractions distributing the maximum number of FastPass+ experiences possible during the first hour of Park operation.
A big reason why rope drop touring was so successful in the legacy paper FASTPASS days was due to the fact that the first FASTPASSes distributed typically had a return time of 9:40am – 10:40am. And most of those that collected those FASTPASSes used them towards the end of the window, both because it made the most sense from a touring perspective and because they probably left the area to ride other attractions before wanting to come back. That meant a full 90 minutes of the day where almost all of a ride’s capacity was given to standby. These days, 90% of the attractions in the Parks are going to distribute close to 100% of their FastPass+ experiences for the 9am – 10am hour. And because of it, less than half a ride’s capacity goes to standby from the minute the Parks open, in turn increasing waits for those trying to move through several priority attractions firs thing in standby.
Coming up, I’m going to wait over a half hour for Jungle Cruise and I’ll be in line less than an hour after the Park opened. Pirates of the Caribbean is going to post a 50-minute wait before 11am with an entirely-full queue. That’s mostly a function of reduced capacity. They’re running fewer boats that are also dispatched less often. During Easter week, I got in line for Jungle Cruise over an hour after the Park opened and waited four minutes. That’s 26 minutes less on a much busier day.
But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I arrived at Big Thunder at 9:06am and was back out front at 9:29am for a total experience time of 23 minutes. That’s not terrible, but it’s six or seven minutes later than where we’d be if we experienced a normal ride opening and ten or more minutes behind the times if both sides were loading.
Here’s a look at Big Thunder’s posted waits in May:
Our visit is from Tuesday, May 14, 2019, which saw the second-longest average wait of any day so far this month, due in large part to the long waits seen around 7:45pm. The ride was down for about five hours in the afternoon and early evening due to rain, which caused a lot of people to head over with FastPass+ priority once it reopened around 6:30pm.
Overall, it’s a relatively auspicious start to our day. I was able to enjoy several Main Street Vehicle rides up and down Main Street, in addition to having the opportunity to take in Mickey’s Welcome Show. Part Two will continue with Splash Mountain, where we’re expecting a short wait. Then the wheels start to come off.