Magic Kingdom Rope Drop Expectations and Tips
Welcome back to Walt Disney World as we re-embark on our mission to minimize the amount of time you spend waiting in line and maximize the value you’re able to extract for your dollar. The website will be here all summer and into the fall to see how things evolve. I really have no way of getting anywhere else. This assumes, of course, that the place continues to stay open.
Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a good grasp of what crowds and wait times will look like after things pick back up again. That will be abundantly clear as we move about our day as close to the Magic Kingdom rope drop as we can get.
By now, you’ve probably familiarized yourself with Park Pass. Disney uses the system to theoretically limit capacity at each of its theme parks at what it deems to be manageable levels. If Park Pass doesn’t ring a bell, I have a full rundown of how it currently works here. Both Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom reopened on Saturday, July 11th. On opening day, Magic Kingdom had not reached its capacity for guests with theme park tickets:
This screenshot is from 11:41pm on the night before the reopening. You’ll note that Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom both show availability. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t tell us how many spots are available. Based on what we see after the Magic Kingdom rope drop, you’d have to imagine that they were nowhere close to capacity, as limited as it might have been.
The story is the same for Disney resort guests:
Anyone staying at an eligible resort could have booked a Park Pass for Magic Kingdom on opening day.
The story is very different for Annual Passholders:
As always, you can pull up a live version of this calendar at DisneyWorld.com here. Even if it was Disney’s intention to cap initial attendance at incredibly low levels, they didn’t even fill that demand in two of its segments. We’ve already seen Disney redistribute Park Pass availability from Theme Park Tickets Guests to Disney Resort Guests.
It’s possible that Disney will move excess availability over to Annual Passholders in the near future. There are obvious growing pains with so many new systems and practices. It makes a lot of sense that you wouldn’t want an overwhelming number of people to show up on day one.
But Disney did go through two full preview days for cast members. And two more preview days for annual passholders. So they did undergo some training and practice leading up to the big day. What we see on opening day is the “current normal;” I don’t think I would go so far as to call it the “new normal.” What the new normal ends up being will depend on people’s propensity to travel and whether or not things in Florida get back under control. Not that Florida has ever really had things under control. At least during the ten years that I’ve been here.
You’ll remember that Disney didn’t resume ticket or resort sales for 2020 dates until July 9th. The first two Parks reopened two days later. And they didn’t announce that they would be resuming sales until the day before they went on sale. So even if you did want to plan a trip for reopening day, you would have had about 36 hours to put everything together and figure out travel, lodging, financing, etc. The main point is that the first day was far from a “sell out,” even if Disney was capping attendance at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom at levels lower than it was planning on instituting later in the year. We’ll continue to monitor crowds and wait times after our initial Magic Kingdom rope drop.
You may have caught my original series on what I was expecting from the Park’s reopening:
According to that series, I said, “Potentially, Magic Kingdom is where we’re best off, given what appears to be low attendance caps and the wide assortment of still-available attractions.” In that respect, it’s lucky that this is our starting point.
Unfortunately, for a lot of guests, actually getting to the Magic Kingdom entrance is the most problematic of the four major theme parks. The parking lot, at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), is across a large body of water. You get in trouble for both trying to swim across and camping out on the various islands.
For guests parking their vehicles at the TTC, making it to Magic Kingdom’s entrance requires riding a ferry boat or monorail. With physical distancing in place, the capacities of these systems are much lower than they would have at the beginning of the year. That means it’s probably going to take longer than you’d like to transfer over. Historically, Disney has jammed as many people as can “literally” fit in the monorail cabins. Now, it may be just your party. The new procedures typically make the experience more pleasant, even if it takes longer.
You’ll also remember that Disney is opening its parks on what may or may not be called a rolling basis. But the current operating hours are:
- Animal Kingdom: 8am to 6pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 7pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 8pm
- Epcot: 11am to 9pm
It’s probably not a coincidence that each Park opens an hour earlier, and closes an hour earlier, than the next.
For years, Disney has insisted that bus transportation starts 45 minutes before Park open. In reality, bus service started two or more hours before Park open. The first buses to the theme parks arrived at the resorts around 6am, in plenty of time for a Magic Kingdom rope drop or anything else. There were a number of events and tours that began much earlier in the morning, and Disney was responsible for getting you over there in time to experience them. Now that Disney has “paused” all of those tours, there’s less incentive to begin transporting guests that early. If Hollywood Studios doesn’t open until 10am, Disney doesn’t want you standing there at 7am. It means they have to pay parking attendants, janitors, security, etc. We also don’t want to be there at 7am if we don’t have to be.
The new reality is that Disney is using a limited fleet of buses. They start by transporting guests to Disney’s Animal Kingdom first. Around 8:15am, they switch most buses over to Magic Kingdom to begin transporting guests there. It stands to follow that Disney would begin transporting guests to Hollywood Studios around 9:15am and Epcot around 10:15am.
Disney is also opening its toll plazas/parking lots much later than it has in the past. At Magic Kingdom, guests aren’t able to actually park until about 8:15am. At Animal Kingdom, guest parking begins at 7:30am with the 8am open. The cars you see on the right are not in line to pay or scan their tickets to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center. They have pulled over on the shoulder. Until a little after 8am, cast members tell guests to pull back around and wait for parking to actually begin. Security has the parking lot barricaded until then.
The good news is that Disney will tell you when the bus is going to arrive at the bus stop. If you’re staying at the resort where you’re waiting for the bus to the theme parks, you can also pull up bus arrival times on the My Disney Experience app. If you’re waiting in line to park, you’re likely in the same boat as most other people. They’re also delayed getting to where they’re going. It may still be a frustrating experience, but it’s now one that we can expect.
There are probably two main reasons why Disney is limiting transportation options early in the morning and parking guests much closer to Park open. The first is a combination of limited staffing and cost-minimizing. Disney lost an untold number of cast members during its four-month closure. Historically, a large number of Disney bus drivers were retirees. I wouldn’t return to that job given the present conditions if I didn’t have to. With the limited number of guests Disney is admitting to each Park, they also require less staff. Running fewer buses costs less money.
Second, there isn’t enough physical space in front of the Parks to hold thousands of guests waiting for Park opening now that six feet is required between parties. Disney would prefer that you socially distance in your car, with the air-conditioning on, until they’re ready to let you inside. That may be a good thing.
If I could spend 7:45am to 8:30am sitting down in air-conditioning, away from the people, instead of this, I’d probably take it. At least we used paper straws and went without lids for a while to offset all of those emissions. And all of the plastic barriers in the queues that we’ll see later.
We’ll travel to Magic Kingdom from the Transportation and Ticket Center and on the Disney buses in subsequent visits, when hopefully(?), crowds will be heavier. Tom Corless and I are currently fortified inside of the Contemporary Resort, so we’re coming in from that walkway today.
Here is one project that Disney did look to complete during the closure. You might remember that a mound of dirt used to surround this odoriferous body of whatever liquid it is. Disney has since installed retaining walls and trees. The berm looks pretty nice as Tron construction continues behind Space Mountain off-screen.
Security screening practices continue to evolve based on the available technology. Disney does not want cast members touching your stuff. And you also probably don’t want them touching your stuff. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it’s an even more streamlined process than what we see for Magic Kingdom rope drop. We’ll take a look at that process early next week.
At Magic Kingdom, it’s more of the grey bins and metal detectors that we’re used to seeing.
From the Contemporary, moving through security is a three-step process. At 7:51am, there are about 35 people ahead of me. Disney is ready for the crowds with the “Please Wait Here” lines that they’ve spaced about six feet apart. Get used to seeing them. Get ready to embrace them. Just don’t pick one up.
The first tent up ahead is where a cast member will take your temperature. They use one of those gizmos that they hold up to your head.
It’s probably hard to tell because I’ve cropped the photo a bit, but before 8am, the line stretched back across the street.
Day one crowd management for those arriving early was as good as it possibly could have been. It may also not be the norm moving forward. Just about every manager, from the bottom on up, was on-hand to see how things were going. They took us in groups of about 20 people. We first went through the temperature check, with everyone that I saw passing. We then waited a minute or two for bag check/scan. After that, the friendly cast member in yellow walked us to the entrance and answered any questions people might have. Disney designed everything to feel as safe and personal as they possibly could. The high level of service impressed me.
At 8:17am, very few people have managed to arrive at the gates. Only a monorail or two has dropped guests off, at most. Potentially, a bus or two has dropped a couple dozen people off as well. They are not yet letting guests inside.
Even with just five groups in line, spaced about six feet apart, physical distancing has already backed up these people about 40 feet from the tapstiles. Under normal conditions, 40 or 50 people would be bunched together in the same line. There would also be about ten more lines of people in this picture.
You might remember that one of our rope drop strategies was to line up in front of a covered touchpoint/tapstile. A cast member would typically take the cover off to reveal it for use closer to Park open. SURPRISE. With physical distancing, that isn’t the case. There obviously aren’t six feet in between the touchpoints on the same platform. There probably isn’t/aren’t six feet in between the sets of touchpoints closest to each other, either. So we’ll be using an uncovered touchpoint. With the relatively limited number of guests who will be arriving at any one time, backups at the Magic Kingdom entrance shouldn’t be much of an issue in the morning. Or at any point later in the day. There simply isn’t a mechanism for Disney to transfer a lot of people over to the gate at any given time, even if that’s what they wanted.
You can see how far back the physical distancing markers go. We also see that nobody is arriving from the monorails at 8:15am.
With physical distancing, a number of the lines that we encounter will look a lot longer than they would if we were able to cozy right up to the strangers in front of us and have somebody else’s kid kicking us in the heels from the rear. With Magic Kingdom closing at 7pm, with no fireworks, major parades, or projection shows to keep people around, we likely won’t see the mass exodus in the evening that we typically saw back in the Happily Ever After Days of early 2020. Disney is probably missing a couple of arrows here, but you can see the system that they’ve implemented to keep guests distanced as they wait for an available monorail cabin. You’ll move from the 4s, to the 3s, to the 2s. Eventually, you’ll get to the 1s before heading up the ramp.
A couple of minutes later, more and more people are beginning to arrive for Magic Kingdom rope drop.
At 8:18am, Disney began letting guests enter the Park. Two minutes later, everyone either entered or was on their way to guest services. Disney is no longer using the finger scanners for sanitation reasons. That quickens the process up considerably.
I was one of the people jettisoned off to guest services after my Park Pass for the day failed to register. The gentleman in blue talking to the cast member ran into a similar problem. Within an hour, hundreds of people would be in line for guest services with a variety of problems. Most of them were probably on Disney’s end.
Fortunately, I arrived early enough for Magic Kingdom rope drop that I didn’t have to wait more than a minute to talk to anyone. At 8:28am, you can see more and more people arriving via Disney bus and ferry.
Even as a few hundred people streamed inside, and the backup behind me at guest services continued to grow, there was never a backup to enter the Park.
I spent 25 minutes at guest services, from 8:20am to 8:45am. Disney’s IT systems are notorious for not communicating with each other. They could see that my Annual Pass was valid, and they could see that I had a Park Pass for Magic Kingdom that day, but they somehow were not able to connect the two via the touchpoint system at the entrance.
You might remember that originally, annual passholders were either able to book Park Passes for the length of their resort stay, or the three Park passes that they were eligible to book as annual passholders, but not both, concurrently. Disney changed their tune a few days later, allowing annual passholders to book Park Pass days for their resort stay, and also be able to book three additional Park Passes for days they weren’t staying at an eligible resort. These systems were evidently not speaking to each other.
I revisited guest services later in the day, hoping that IT would have fixed the problem. Foolish, I know. But you’re also talking to the guy who was at Magic Kingdom on day one. The guest services cast member assured me that my annual pass showed was valid. They could see my Park Passes in the system. Still, the IT problems persisted. They were hopeful that they would be fixed, but had no timeline for when that might be. I’m not sure if we know whether or not they’ve patched the problem. At a minimum, I would expect that as long as your admission is valid, and you can show the manager at the touchpoint your Park Pass in the app, that they would allow you into the Park without having to visit guest services.
To Disney’s credit, my interaction with Brandon at guest services outside the Park was outstanding. They worked diligently to try to fix the issue on their end without success. Having arrived early, I was apparently the first person to show up with my particular problem. Although they couldn’t fix the problem with my ticket/pass, he ended up leaving the office, coming around, and physically opening a side gate to let me in. That way, I could be assured that I wouldn’t need to return to guest services after unsuccessfully scanning my pass at the touchpoint a second time. I would have had to wait more than an hour before I’d be at the front of the line again.
Meanwhile, the 50+ year old gentleman next to me was screaming at the cast member about how his pass hadn’t been automatically extended after the closure, how long he had been on the phone, and how he “HADN’T RECEIVED ANY PIXIE DUST IN AT LEAST TWO WEEKS.” This is a real quote. It was too early to burst out laughing, but the stories you hear about passholders wilding out for one reason or another are probably true. That outburst probably wasn’t even that bad compared to what guest services cast members had to endure throughout the morning, as wait times ballooned. Standing there for 25 minutes, as they actively tried to fix my problem, wasn’t terrible. I would have been in a worse mood if I had waited over an hour just to talk to someone, particularly if the problem was entirely on their end.
The good news is that Disney should be able to iron out these issues by the time you’re able to return. By noon or so, the wait for guest services outside the Park was minimal. When I left around 5pm, there was nobody waiting at all. Lines for guest services on opening day at Animal Kingdom were also largely nonexistent. It was likely a one-day problem.
I was slightly frustrated myself, watching more and more people pass by. If anything, I thought, my day would now look a lot more “normal” with my 8:45am start. That’s around the time you’d arrive if you were coming in on an ordinary Disney bus, the ferry, or monorail. Whatever data I was able to collect by getting a head start that 99% of the people visiting wouldn’t be able to take advantage of would be largely meaningless. “Just get a bunk bed with Tom Corless and walk over from the Contemporary” is not particularly actionable advice. I can make it happen for you, though.
In the next Part, we’ll get going with our day, and see how things shake out.