The website embarks on a new series this week with two main questions in mind:
- Are the Walt Disney World wait times that we experienced in January unprecedented?
- Is there an “off-season” at Walt Disney World where we can reliably expect to experience lower crowds and shorter waits? And if so, when?
We’ll start with the first question and break things down by Park. Then once we’ve established that, we’ll take a look at the big picture stuff.
This is what the main chart for each Park in this introductory series is going to look like:
This chart is relatively straightforward with the days of the month going down the far left column. The columns to the right then represent average wait times at certain attractions on those days in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
These numbers take fives rides into consideration:
- Expedition Everest
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Primeval Whirl
- TriceraTop Spin
I chose those five because they’re constant over the four years and none of them go down for annual refurbishments in January. Adding Kali River Rapids, which typically goes down for most of January and has wait times dictated largely by weather, doesn’t make a lot of sense. And if I added the Avatar rides for January 2018, the numbers would be wildly higher with Flight of Passage averaging something like a 160-minute wait. We will discuss Pandora separately later on.
Each entry in the main chart is the average wait over the course of that particular date across those five rides. The chart immediately above depicts wait times on January 31, 2017. The last column is the day’s average wait for the attraction listed in the first column.
And the average wait across all attractions and times of day is found in the lower right hand corner of the chart. So for January 31, 2017, the average wait across all attractions and times of day was 14 minutes and that’s what you’ll find for January 31, 2017 on the main chart.
Here we have the year with the overall average wait for the month of January across those five rides immediately underneath. The year-over-year increases are the highest that we’ll see across the four Parks. 2016’s wait times are 13.8% higher than 2015’s. 2017’s wait times are 18.2% higher than 2016’s. And 2018’s wait times are 26.9% higher than 2017’s wait times. All in all, we see a 70.7% increase in four years and we’re only an additional 5.5 minutes away from a 100% increase.
So what gives? Pandora is the obvious culprit with Rivers of Light and the other nighttime enhancements playing a smaller role. Say what you will about Cameron’s franchise, but it’s hard to argue that the alien land hasn’t been incredibly popular with guests given the immense wait times for Flight of Passage and the number of people now arriving 60+ minutes early for rope drop. But even before Pandora’s opening, the increase from 2015 to 2017 is still 34.6%. During those same years, Epcot and Hollywood Studios wait times are actually down.
Let’s see if breaking it down by attraction offers any additional insight. Here’s DINOSAUR wait times in January 2015:
Ah yes, the good ol’ days when DINO didn’t hit a 20-minute wait until noon and the day’s average wait is typically around 15 minutes. Also note the Park’s early closing times – 5pm on well over half of the days.
DINOSAUR sees an 84% increase in wait times over the span of four years – an incredible increase. That’s with longer hours too – we see an 8pm close every day. And worse for morning touring, the average wait already hits 20 minutes by 10:15am and is a whopping 51 minutes at noon. That’s pretty wild. Unfortunately, I am missing data for January 3rd and 4th, though we can expect that the average waits for those days would be around 60 minutes, pushing up the 2018 average more.
For a moment, let’s ignore Pandora and rewind back to 2017:
Between 2015 and 2017, DINOSAUR’s average wait time in January went up 47%.
One thing we can’t adequately measure is FastPass+ utilization, or probably more accurately, FastPass+ under-utilization. All of these wait times are from the FastPass+ era. But anybody that’s booked FastPass+ this year compared to past years has probably noticed a significant decrease in the number of return times available, particularly a day or two before a given date. And then how few same-day FP+ opportunities there are available on a given afternoon.
We know that most attractions give 60-80% of their capacities to FastPass+. When more guests utilize FP+, fewer guests in standby are admitted and posted standby wait times are longer. DINOSAUR is a good example of a headlining attraction where the majority of guests didn’t historically use paper FASTPASS, partially because of its inconvenient location and because of that, its relatively short standby wait times. With digital FP+, it’s much easier to book DINO in advance. And with more people than ever trying to book FastPass+ at Animal Kingdom given Pandora’s popularity, a lot more of those DINO FP+ are going to be taken, particularly when Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey are routinely out of FP+ availability at the 30-day mark.
Moving on to Expedition Everest in 2015:
The 25-minute overall average wait for the month seems more than reasonable, though we see 21 minutes by 10:30am and 31 minutes at 11:30am, on average.
As expected, this is another significant increase. 76%. If you’ve visited this site before, and particularly during 2016, you might remember our extensive discussion about capacity reductions and how running fewer vehicles and reducing staffing increases waits even given fewer people in the Park. This isn’t unique to Walt Disney World. If you go to your local McDonald’s at 12pm, you’re probably going to find a good number of people and several cashiers. Return at 9pm that same day and there will likely be fewer people and perhaps just one cashier that has a couple of other responsibilities. It makes sense from a business standpoint. Unfortunately, Disney has proven to be particularly bad at identifying when and by how much they should ramp up or down staffing. They were slow to identify how much attendance was lagging in the summer. And slow to identify how much attendance was increasing in the fall. That led to artificially low wait times during June and July and much longer wait times in October, even if it didn’t need to be that way. Much of January may prove to be another example of a failure to increase capacity and extend hours given much higher attendance. On the other hand, thinking within the company seems to be that guests should be willing to wait a standard amount of time to experience attractions, whether they’re visiting during a relatively “high” or “low” crowd time. That’s part of why you’ll see a 45-minute peak wait at DINO whether you’re visiting on a day with attendance in the 25th percentile or the 75th percentile. Capacities and staffing can be manipulated enough that the company can save considerable money during less crowded times. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but makes trying to identify “less crowded times” a fool’s errand for your average guest. You could wait less with more people in the Park if Disney has increased staffing and capacity compared to a less crowded day with much lower capacity.
Expedition Everest does not suffer from that phenomenon – you’ll almost always find five trains on the track. And if anything, the hourly capacity is actually higher in January 2018 than it would have been a couple of years ago. But the 76% increase remains. In 2018, that means we see the 20+ minute average wait a full hour earlier at 9:30am. By 11:30am, the average posted wait is 58 minutes, compared to the 31 minutes we saw just a few years ago in 2015. It’s difficult to account for how much of an effect early morning FastPass+ utilization has had on wait times, but I think we have to assume that it’s made a significant impact given the fact that the average wait is now 46 minutes at 10:15am. In January. And again, that’s not a capacity thing – they are running what is basically the maximum number of vehicles from Park open through Park close.
So no, it’s not just you noticing the longer waits.
Here’s a look at posted wait times at Flight of Passage since October:
The average wait in January 2018 was 169 minutes, which is actually higher than October’s 148 minutes. Most of us probably don’t want to wait either amount.
But it is interesting to see how much wait times have increased at attractions outside of Pandora. I’d expect Animal Kingdom attendance to see a 10-15% increase year-over-year depending on how you calculate it. Word is that upper management is disappointed by those numbers, especially when it’s people shifting away from Hollywood Studios. But the attendance gains are not proportional to the wait time increases. We’ll see what Animal Kingdom wait times look like over the course of the year when we try to answer question number two.
The conclusions are not as quantifiable as I’d like. Wait times are (probably) up in part due to increased FastPass+ utilization, in part due to attendance increases, in part due to capacity decreases, in part due to Pandora, and in part due to other variables. But the fact remains that wait times at Animal Kingdom are up in January. By a lot. And they have been increasing rapidly each of the last four years.
Interestingly, we are not going to see the same thing when we take a look at Epcot.