Instead of inputting the various attractions we’re interested in experiencing through a computer algorithm that doesn’t work and pretending like that offers insight into why our crowd calendar is permanently broken, we’ll hit the pavement and see how the 1-day cheat sheet touring plan actually plays out on the ground.
It’s exactly 8:30am on Wednesday May 20th. According to the May Crowd Calendar, Magic Kingdom is the most recommended Park with an overall crowd level of “6” for slightly above average as we head into Friday’s 24-hour day and the kickoff to the busy (and hot) summer season.
One of the more common questions people ask is, “When should we arrive?” It’s an easy question to answer. With a regular 9am open, 8:20am tends to be the sweet spot in between arriving too early to gain any additional advantage and arriving so late that you’re so far back in line for the tapstiles that you’ll encounter longer waits throughout the morning.
In practice, gauging what time to leave for an 8:20am Magic Kingdom arrival is a little more difficult with transportation uncertainties – you just never know when the bus is going to show up. If you’re staying at the Contemporary, you’re in business. Leave the resort around 8:10am and walk the ten minutes to the Park. From the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, you want to be at the monorail station around 8am. From other resorts, I recommend being at the bus stop by 7:45am. That gives you 20 minutes for the bus to arrive and depart, plus the 15 minutes it’s probably going to take to drive to MK. If you’re a little antsy about it, you could certainly plan to be at the bus stop by 7:30am.
The least forgiving rope drop for most people, by far, is Hollywood Studios, where signing up the kids for Jedi Training and racing to Toy Story Mania as fast as possible are paramount with such limited capacities. Animal Kingdom rope drop is the most forgiving – there are really only two priorities and Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest both have healthy capacities that move through a tremendous amount of people quickly. An 8:20am arrivial at Epcot is smart with either Soarin’ or Test Track in mind. Both get bogged down relatively quickly (Soarin’ in particular).
At Magic Kingdom, you’ll need to arrive by 8:35am or so to guarantee you can get through security and into the courtyard in front of the Mickey floral. Once the courtyard fills, cast members will keep additional guests outside the entrance tapstiles until the morning welcome concludes and the courtyard empties. So you’ll miss out on most of the view of Mickey and the gang’s arrival via train and be a few minutes behind the 1,000+ people that are holding here with an arrival if you arrive too late.
From now until the end of August, I’d expect the welcome show to begin at 8:40am with a regular 9am open. With an 8am open, the welcome show moves to 7:40am. On morning Extra Magic Hour days, there is only one welcome show prior to the start of the morning EMH.
At Magic Kingdom rope drop, you need to decide whether you want to prioritize your view of the welcome show or prioritize positioning yourself on one of the far sides of the train station near the actual entrances to the Park. Obviously if you’re in the middle of the courtyard for the best view of Mickey and Friends, you’ll be behind everyone that’s closer to the two entryways.
8:45am. This is what Magic Kingdom rope drop will look like virtually every day of the year – whether we’re talking about January 28th, March 6th, July 4th, September 18th, or December 27th.
This video shows the walk up Main Street at rope drop (direct video if it doesn’t embed correctly). It may be a little shaky as I had not had time to pull my second scotch out from my backpack.
At Magic Kingdom, there are basically two remaining ultra-high priorities where hurrying as quickly as possible is vital to securing a short wait – Anna/Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Mine Train. If you’re interested in visiting either in standby first thing in the morning, it’s absolutely imperative that you arrive early, position yourself on the far end of either entrance, and stay in front of everyone who is also jostling for position during the walk up Main Street. Just about any other attraction, including Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, etc. will be more forgiving if you want to prioritize the welcome show instead, as many people do. My advice is to see the welcome show from the center of the Mickey Floral on your Frontierland/Adventureland day and position yourself near one of the entrances on your Fantasyland/Tomorrowland day, assuming you’re planning two days at the Park. The Frontierland priorities like Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain won’t see waits that exceed 10 minutes until after 10am, so arriving at 9:05am instead of 9am isn’t a big deal.
The Magic Kingdom cheat sheet boils all of this down for you into just a couple of paragraphs:
And the 1-day plan that we’ll be following:
The plan is necessarily aggressive – visiting eight of the most popular attractions in the Park before lunch. The 2-day plans benefit from much better compartmentalization. But if you want to ride the major attractions in each of the various lands over the course of a single day, we don’t have much choice other than to visit those lands when waits will be short.
We’ll discuss wait times intermittently throughout this post. But for now, check out how long you’d wait for each of the eight rides if you were to get in line at noon:
Assuming Big Thunder was operating with a 30 minute wait, that’s almost six hours of waiting for eight things. Add in the time it takes to experience the attractions themselves, and you’re looking at spending seven hours for what’s going to take us less than three in the morning.
Our day begins with Peter Pan’s Flight, arriving at 8:51am after the six-minute walk up Main Street.
The vast majority of people at rope drop will be heading to Mine Train and Anna/Elsa, which opens up Old Fantasyland considerably.
I was on my way five minutes later at 8:56am.
And back out front at 8:59am for a total experience time of eight minutes. The cheat sheet allows for ten minutes.
Before the Park even officially opens, the lines for both Cinderella/Rapunzel and Anna/Elsa have filled the interior queue and spilled outside. The wait for Cinderella/Rapunzel is still showing five minutes, though you’d wait closer to 30 if you got in line now. Anna/Elsa is posted at 45, but you’d be waiting at least 75.
The line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ends around the corner from the entrance in Storybook Circus somewhere. This is 9:02am and illustrates the importance of staying ahead of the pack coming in from the main entrance. The same group that arrived at 8:20am could wait five minutes if they hurry or 75 minutes if they waste 30 seconds taking a group picture in front of the Castle.
Those interested in learning about what kind of an advantage you can get from an 8am reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant ought to read this post, which starts with breakfast and a ride on Mine Train before anyone from the main entrance could possibly hope to arrive. That advantage remains with current reservations and cast members will occasionally allow guests to ride Mine Train a second or even third time before the incoming main entrance crowds arrive. At a minimum, you’ll beat anyone from the main entrance to Mine Train or Anna/Elsa if you’re out in front of the entrance at least 20 minutes before official open.
Our second ride is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which actually sees slightly lower waits in the FP+ era. Still, its short duration, proximity across from Mine Train, and 45-minute peak waits make it a good choice here.
I arrived at 9:03am and was on board and blowing away three minutes later at 9:06am.
And was back out front at 9:10am, for a total experience time of seven minutes. The cheat sheet plan allots ten minutes. I had made a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FP+ for 9:20am-10:20am at around 7:50am that morning. The FP+ grace period allows guests to enter the FP+ queue up to five minutes early and up to fifteen minutes late with no questions asked. The Mickey Reader should simply turn green. The grace period is not a 100% absolute thing. More like a 99.9% absolute thing. I don’t recommend planning to use the 15-minute grace period on the late side because that’s when you can actually run into problems with unexpected delays.
Since my goal was to run through the plan as written, I walked over to Dumbo to kill some time as I’m not supposed to use my Mine Train FP+ until 9:27am. I arrived two minutes later at 9:12am.
While the Dumbo or Die approach might have been valid when Dumbo sat squarely behind Cinderella Castle in Old Fantasyland, there is no rush over here in the morning.
I actually had the entire left Dumbo carousel to myself, which is 2% kind of cool and 98% very depressing.
I was back out front six minutes later at 9:18am. With the 10-minute posted wait, there was one child playing inside, and maybe a total of eight people on both carousels. They would let you ride a few more times if you wanted.
Barnstormer is another ride that you can fly through early in the morning, but will see 20 to 30 minute peak waits later in the day.
If you’d like to ride this one back to back to back early in the morning, request the second or third to last row.
Cast will fill the front rows first and if somebody is waiting to board, they’ll make you disembark and walk around to ride again. If nobody is waiting for your row, they’ll let you ride again if you so choose. Because they fill rows from the front and somebody will occasionally request the back row, you’ll be able to stay on longer if you’re in the second to last row.
There may or may not be anybody on this train.
I was back out front at 9:24am, for a total experience time of under five minutes.
A rare opportunity to prance through Casey Jr. without risking arrest.
You may or may not have time to add Dumbo or Barnstormer in the morning or you may want to stay ahead of the game and move on to Mine Train and then Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as early as possible. The times on the cheat sheet plan are purposefully padded for families to have an opportunity to park strollers and regroup and most people will find themselves a few minutes ahead for the duration of the morning. Magic Kingdom typically letting guests into the Park closer to 8:50am than 9am also helps.
Looking over my FP+:
The line for Mine Train still fills the queue and wraps around stroller parking outside.
The ride was not showing a posted wait, but actual waits would be around 70 minutes if you got in line now. That’s why we’re using FP+ here this early – it’s going to save us a ton of time, we won’t have to backtrack to ride later, and we’ll be able to get a 4th FP+ at a kiosk earlier.
I entered the FP+ entrance at 9:27am and was rolling through Diamond Pass five minutes later at 9:32am.
Pictures in here are a struggle. Like any dark ride, you want to turn the F-number on your camera down as much as possible and turn up the ISO. This is ISO 25,600 at F2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/100.
I was back out front at 9:35am for a total wait/ride experience time of eight minutes with FP+. The cheat sheet plan allots a full 15 minutes.
Back through Old Fantasyland at 9:38am. Peter Pan’s Flight is already posting a 50-minute wait. You may remember I waited about three minutes first thing.
it’s a small world is an easy FP+ to get later in the day and with lower peak waits than other priority attractions, in addition to a lengthy duration, is best skipped for now.
Haunted Mansion is a relatively high middle-tier priority these days, usually posting 45-minute peak waits. But again, with a relatively long duration with the pre-show etc. it’s best saved for later in the day with FP+ or in the last couple of hours of operation when wait times reliably drop.
Frontierland, with Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain as two major priorities, is our next destination. The cheat sheet allots a full 15 minutes to walk from Mine Train to Big Thunder.
It takes me about eight minutes with intermittent picture stops.
Big Thunder is still posting a 5-minute wait at 9:45am.
None of the elaborate interactive queue was in use.
And I was ready to board ten minutes later at 9:55am.
Pulling back into the station three minutes later.
And back out front at 10am, for a total experience time of 15 minutes. The cheat sheet allots 20 minutes. So before 10am I made it through Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, Barnstormer, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Splash is much longer in duration than Big Thunder, which is why I recommend riding Big Thunder first – you’ll be on your way earlier and fewer people will have an opportunity to make it in front of you. If you took 20 minutes to ride Splash first, you’d disembark the ride much later when there’s been more time for a wait to develop at Big Thunder. At 10:02am, the posted wait is 10 minutes.
It took eight minutes to reach the boarding area.
And I was zip-a-dee-doo-dah-ing away a minute later.
Even with just an 8-minute initial wait, Splash took a total of 26 minutes and I was back out front at 10:28am to a 30-minute posted wait. If you’re running behind, this is the ride you probably want to ax in favor of moving on to Pirates. You can return fairly easily in the evening after the first Electrical Parade to short to nonexistent waits.
Pirates of the Caribbean was down, as it often is, when i passed by at 10:30am.
Since we’re not supposed to be at Pirates until 10:50am anyway, I went ahead and checked the wait time for Jungle Cruise, which is going to be our second FP+ opportunity. The wait is already up to 35 minutes.
I opted to ride Aladdin’s Magical Carpets first with a 10-minute posted wait. Remember that lines typically only get longer. So we’ll wait less at Aladdin if we get in line before using the FP+.
I got in line at 10:33am and was flying relatively high ten minutes later at 10:43am.
Carpets is actually more fun than you might be expecting with some terrific views of Adventureland below.
I returned to Pirates at 10:47am to the attraction operating with a 15-minute posted wait.
I was backed up just outside the inside queue.
And found myself face to face with Blackbeard 14 minutes later at 11:01am.
The ride is still scheduled to close June 8th for a refurbishment expected to continue until September 25th.
It needs a lot of work.
There’s a ton of new Pirates merchandise, which we’ll take a look at in the merchandise update.
Anyway, the cheat sheet allots 30 minutes for Pirates – from 10:50am to 11:20am. I got in line at 10:47am and reached the gift shop at 11:11am for a total experience time of 24 minutes.
If you’re wondering why our second FastPass+ is at Jungle Cruise, it’s because the posted wait is 60 minutes when we’re scheduled to ride. According to my watch it was 11:22am, but their clock above the FP+ entrance says 11:25am. I had no trouble using my FP+ that “expired” at 11:20am with the 15 minute grace period. I think I’ll revise the cheat sheet plan slightly to start the Jungle Cruise FP+ a little later so we aren’t worried about having to use an expired FP+.
This video shows the Jungle Cruise post-refurb (direct video if it doesn’t embed correctly).
Disney spruced it up nicely – particularly in the temple scene which starts at 5:50 in the video.
According to the cheat sheet, I should have arrived at 11:22am and been back out front at 11:45am. According my camera’s clock, I got in line at 11:22am and was back out front at 11:43am. Not bad.
The plan next calls for us to head over to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain, get a 4th FP+ for Buzz, and have lunch in Tomorrowland – most likely at Cosmic Ray’s. I instead scheduled my Space Mountain FP+ a little later in the day with plans to grab lunch at Tortuga Tavern. You may remember it debuted a new menu a couple of months ago:
Changes include no more Taco Salad, the introduction of the Beef and Vegetarian Rice Bowls, and the removal of the toppings bar.
Longtime readers may remember when the website was a beacon of condiment pictures. Unfortunately, FP+ happened and took our eyes away from the real prize. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to what’s really important soon. Anyway, the most interesting thing at Tortuga these days is the hot sauce packets. Cheese is now provided in little tiny cups with burrito purchases.
The $11.49 Beef Rice Bowl is basically a deconstructed burrito.
The layer of pico de gallo on top is thinner than it might look in the picture and there’s a ton more food underneath – I was impressed by the quantity and the quality. The pulled beef was tender with some mild, lingering spice from the taco seasoning. The pico freshened up the flavors along with some cilantro in the rice and the black beans, which added some additional heft to the dish.
Plus you get a 1-ounce package of sour cream. #blessed
I went in quite hungry and had trouble finishing it off, which is not usually a problem now that I’ve spent more than four years on a diet consisting almost entirely of Disney World quick service. Note that Tortuga Tavern, located across from Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland, is usually just open for lunch from 11am-3pm:
This is the schedule for the first few days of this week and I’d expect a similar schedule to continue through the end of August.
I actually like Tortuga a lot and it’s a nice change of pace from what is largely chicken nuggets, chicken sandwiches, and hamburgers at the various other quick services.
After hanging out and cooling down for a few minutes, I checked Pirates, which was up to 45-minutes at 12:15pm.
Still 60 at Jungle Cruise.
Passing by Cinderella Castle on the way to Tomorrowland, we’ll come back to construction and various other points of interest at the end. THERE IS NO TIME NOW.
Merida continues pulling decent lines – if you got in line here you’d be in for about an hour.
Right at 12:30pm, Space Mountain has a 50-minute posted wait and the FP+ line is backed out a little ways outside of the entrance.
As I mentioned before, the cheat sheet plan has us riding Space before lunch – it’s a little easier on the tummy and will allow us to get a 4th FP+ at the kiosk outside Stitch earlier, which in turn means more FP+ availability. We can then enjoy lunch with Sonny Eclipse while our FP+ window opens.
But riding after lunch isn’t that big of a deal if you want to visit another location for lunch. Or if you’re like me, you’d probably prefer to skip Space entirely. The stupid thing is so uncomfortable. But here I am.
I arrived at 12:30pm, boarded my antiquated ride vehicle of probable death at 12:43pm, and arrived in the gift shop at 12:50pm for a total experience time of 20 minutes. The cheat sheet allots for exactly 20 minutes between 12pm and 12:20pm. It’s almost like I know what I’m talking about.
movie show merchandise has arrived.
The old arcade area is still boarded up with little going on in the gift shop.
By the time I emerged a few minutes later, Space’s FP+ line had backed out much further.
The website relinquishes all rights to this image and you are more than welcome to upload it to the photobucket account of your choice, in addition to being allowed to bastardize the point I’m trying to make, which is that these lines are not a big deal even when they do form. You are either waiting behind this many people for five minutes before the touch point or you are waiting behind this many people for five minutes after the touch point. It doesn’t really matter. Also, California, be sure to say hi to FP+ for me.
Buzz had a 25-minute posted wait at 12:55pm, which is nominal in the FP+ era.
The FP+ kiosk at Buzz Lightyear’s old FASTPASS machines is no longer an “official” location, but may be open to help with congestion at Stitch across the way. I visited the kiosk and selected Buzz with the first time available:
I then opened up the My Disney Experience app on my phone. While you have to visit the kiosk to select a 4th FP+ (and each subsequent FP+), you can change the experience or the time via the app on your phone. My usual advice is to select something at the kiosk as quickly as possible and then make modifications via the app. Most of the touchscreens at the kiosks are finicky (to put it politely) and aren’t particularly responsive. I know what you’re thinking…”Everything else about MyMagic+ works so well and they got the iPads wrong???”
So I have the app open and I’ll click on the Buzz FP+.
Then “Update this FastPass+” at the bottom.
Click today’s date.
Change a single FastPass on this day:
Click on Buzz.
I’d like to see if an earlier time is available, so I’ll click the applicable button.
Confirm who we’re talking about. If you have more people in your party, you can change the experience or the time for certain individuals if you’d like. Not everybody has to ride the same thing at the same time.
There we are! A time just ten minutes in the future. FastPass+ availability on your phone updates in real time, so there is an advantage to checking and re-checking.
You may have to swipe down on the screen to refresh the return time on the app. Mine still shows the old time.
And there we are. So instead of having to wait 30 minutes in line, I can use the FastPass+ line in just five minutes with the grace period.
I took the opportunity to hop on PeopleMover, which sees an extended queue almost every day in the FP+ era.
It’s so commonplace that Disney printed a sign for it.
Even with a “long” line, you’ll be on the attraction in a couple minutes. I got in line at 1:02pm and took this picture at 1:07pm.
A shot of the Buzz line we’ll be skipping momentarily.
And into the Buzz FP+ line a few minutes later.
I got in line at 1:17pm and was on the ride six minutes later at 1:23pm.
And back to the Buzz kiosk at 1:30pm to try for Haunted Mansion. Like I said a few thousand words ago, the touchscreens on the kiosk don’t work very well and as I was trying to scroll down, I accidentally clicked Big Thunder Mountain instead of Mansion. And after a few seconds couldn’t get the check mark unchecked, so I just clicked done at the bottom and planned to change it on my phone:
So we use the same process as before, only choosing to change the experience instead:
Haunted Mansion is available just seven minutes in the future.
Confirmed in My Disney Experience.
Because I was visiting alone, FastPass+ availability was a lot better than it would be for a larger party. Even adding a second person can significantly alter what My Disney Experience says is available.
Let’s say it’s 2:30pm and you’re trying to get a 4th FastPass+ for Splash Mountain for a party of four. Hypothetically, let’s say the following numbers of FastPass+ are available at the following times:
- 1 for 3pm – 4pm
- 1 for 3:15pm – 4:15pm
- 2 for 3:20pm – 4:20pm
- 3 for 3:45pm – 4:45pm
- 2 for 5:10pm – 6:10pm
- 4 for 6:15pm – 7:15pm
- 3 for 6:30pm – 7:30pm
- 4 for 7:10pm – 8:10pm
- 2 for 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Disney is not going to split the difference with you and offer you any times before the 6:15pm slot because that’s the first slot where four FastPass+ are available. They don’t group the first four together and offer you 3:10pm to 4:10pm, for example. As a party of 1, I would see availability for each time slot.
So you can go two different ways on the additional FP+ thing. You could select a relatively high priority attraction for a 4th FP+ with a return time well in the future. For example, even with a party of one, the earliest Big Thunder Mountain Railroad FP+ available was after 5pm. If you were going on an afternoon break, which is smart in this heat with these crowds, picking something like that for after a break back at the resort would be smart. On the other hand, if you were planning on staying in the Park and picked Big Thunder for 7pm, you wouldn’t be able to select any additional FP+ until after you used the Big Thunder FP+ at 7pm. So there are some takeaways when selecting one of the high priority rides with a return time far in the future.
The other option is to select some of these middle-tier FP+ attractions that have return times much closer to when you select them at the kiosk. The advantage here is that you can select a FP+ attraction that will have a return time just a few minutes in the future, use the FP+, and then return to the kiosk and select another. Attractions like Buzz, Dumbo, Barnstormer, it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and similar rides are good examples because so few people select them in advance and they have relatively high hourly capacities and thus, more availability.
I’ll run a post shortly that outlines more specifically what you can expect in terms of 4th FP+ availability at each of the Parks. The short answer is that at Animal Kingdom, most attractions will have availability at 1pm. The exception is usually the Adventurers Outpost due to a limited number of FP+ being distributed. Expedition Everest tends to be more limited beginning around that time as well.
At Epcot, IllumiNations, Soarin’, and Test Track FP+ will either be gone or severely limited by 1pm and availability for most lower-tier rides will be surprisingly limited. There just aren’t enough to go around.
At Hollywood Studios, the first Fantasmic, Frozen Sing-Along, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania will have nonexistent or very limited availability come 1pm. FP+ for the other attractions is much more plentiful.
At Magic Kingdom, the first nine rides on the FP+ priority list will have limited or no availability. The rest will have decent availability with the exception of Mickey Mouse (somewhat limited), and Festival of Fantasy, Wishes, and the first Electrical Parade, all of which will have no availability save for cancellations.
Odds and Ends
In other news, it’s been a long time since Friar’s Nook served breakfast, though it is open daily for $10 macaroni and cheeses.
I took 12 pictures of that rice bowl.
Walls remain to the left of what would now be Sunshine Tree Terrace seating.
And continue down to the right of the old Tinker Bell meet.
And down around the patio.
There’s not a lot to see, but construction crews were active during the day.
Hub construction continues:
Looking across at the Tomorrowland side.
And the Adventureland side.
One more of the old rose garden.
Hub picnics remain unpopular in the heat.
Ummmmmmm guys…can you get out of the way I’m trying to take a scrim pic.
Overall, the day couldn’t have gone much better. As far as the plan is concerned, the one spot where you can run into problems is Splash if you fall behind schedule over the summer, when people are interested in riding as soon as Park opening. Taking a look over wait times over the course of the day:
Lightning closed several attractions for about an hour around 5:15pm, which is the reason for the downtime there.
I’ve included the averages for each time slot along the bottom as well, to show how waits increase going into the afternoon and then begin decreasing again in the evening. It’s kind of interesting how similar wait times are at 10am and 10pm, one hour after open and one hour before close, respectively. Regardless of how many days you plan to spend at Magic Kingdom, you may want to take advantage of short waits in the evening if you have more to accomplish.