Labor Day Weekend has come and gone, marking the three busiest days that Walt Disney World has experienced since reopening in the middle of July. That means we should now have a solid foundation for how “bad” crowds can get and how high wait times can climb given current capacity limits.
This will be a shorter(?) roundup post as we’ve taken a detailed look at wait time trends over the last couple of months. For a spatter of past coverage, see:
- Walt Disney World Crowds and Wait Times Late August Update
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Wait Times Since Reopening
- Worst Case Scenario Waits on a Capacity Day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Wait Time Trends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Since Reopening
- Magic Kingdom Wait Times Since Disney World Reopened
The first article is the most recent and dives into the specifics of daily and weekly wait time distributions at each of the theme parks. You likely want to hone in on the less crowded days of the week and plan your day around visiting the attractions when their wait times will be lower. A lot has changed with Na’vi River Journey now posting longer average waits than Flight of Passage and it’s a small world proving to have longer lines than Peter Pan’s Flight. We’re either part of a brave new world or stuck somewhere in the upside down from Stranger Things. Maybe both. The previous articles are the building blocks of what we’ve experienced over the last couple of months as guest behavior and demand continue to evolve.
We should be looking at increased interest in travel moving through September and into October and beyond:
Or at least Disney hopes so. Surprisingly, people would rather be on vacation. I’m glad we spent at least a few million dollars to find that out. You wonder how many slogans they went through before finally deciding on the impactful, “let’s go there.” You might as well have gone full meme with “let’s go to there” and saved the cash for some of those thousands of still-furloughed cast members. It reminds me of that scene in Dave when he’s trying to cut the budget by axing a program that would make people feel better about cars that they’ve already bought. Of course, that car probably doesn’t also come with the high probability of disease. But I digress.
Short wait times are what Walt Disney World currently has to offer with so many things unavailable. If wait times do go up, I would imagine more people will inch closer to that cancellation button. While September is easily the least crowded month of the year, Disney’s predilection for staffing cuts and reduced operating hours during leaner times of the year has offset much of that advantage in recent years. We’ve probably all been to a McDonald’s when there’s nobody there but it still takes three times as long to get our food because one person is working.
Beginning today, we’re going to see that planned reduction in operating hours come to fruition. Animal Kingdom will be open from 9am to 5pm instead of 8am to 6pm – a 20% cut. Epcot will be open from 11am to 7pm instead of 11am to 9pm. Another 20% cut. Hollywood Studios, despite actually filling to capacity on a number of ordinary weekdays, will see a one-hour reduction, operating from 10am to 7pm. Magic Kingdom will be open from 9am to 6pm instead of the 9am to 7pm hours that we’ve seen since the Park reopened to the public on July 15th. We’ll have to see if additional staffing cuts and capacity reductions come into play alongside that overt reduction in supply.
With that sunny Florida introduction out of the way, let’s go get those wait times.
Here’s our chart of Magic Kingdom’s average daily wait since the Park reopened a little over eight weeks ago. The Labor Day Weekend dates are highlighted in red at the bottom:
As expected, Magic Kingdom realized its three busiest days yet with the highest waits coming on Sunday. With daily attendance capped via the Disney Park Pass reservation system, we don’t see a tremendous jump over past weekends. Labor Day Saturday’s average wait of 23.1 minutes is “literally” less than 30 seconds longer than the prior Saturday. The average was also within 2.5 minutes of the four previous Saturdays. That certainly doesn’t seem to indicate a cataclysmic increase, which makes sense if most Saturdays are either sold out or approaching selling out.
One big point we’ve made since the Parks reopened is how you want to avoid the Parks on the weekends, and Saturdays in particular, if at all possible. Without fail, Saturday’s wait at Magic Kingdom has been longer than any other day. Wednesdays are typically the least crowded, followed closely by Tuesdays and Thursdays. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen less of a drop from Saturday to Sunday, likely due to increased discounting for Florida residents and the prevalence of the weekend staycation. Or maybe they just heard “let’s go there.”
One potentially interesting thing is that the week leading up to Labor Day Weekend was actually less crowded than the week before. The 14.9-minute average is less than a minute longer than the overall average, even with a new Saturday high. That makes sense with schools now back in session and fewer people traveling from out of state. The high waits on September 6th and 7th will likely pull this week’s average up. While attendance will drop off considerably midweek, it remains to be seen what potential staffing/operating hour reductions do to wait times.
The following is a terrible picture, but it illustrates the state of Space Mountain at 2:52pm on September 2nd, or less than a week ago:
It’s hard to smile with your eyes when you can’t smile with your whole face.
Physical-distancing would require a couple of those seats behind me to be kept empty, but there is “literally” nobody there to fill the back car with Disney operating both sides of the ride all day. There isn’t even anybody waiting to fill the next set of rockets. If this was your business, you’d probably close one of the two loading bays and send at least half the staff home too.
But cutting capacity in half will inevitably increase waits. That’s likely less of an issue here in September, but Disney has not historically ratcheted up capacity as quickly as demand has increased. I would imagine that the thinking is that if people are willing to wait an hour during spring break, they should be willing to wait an hour during much less attended times of year. That’s a big part of why we threw the crowd calendars out a couple of years ago. Even if you could guarantee that you’ll visit on the “least crowded” day of the year, you may end up waiting longer overall if it’s also the least-staffed day of the year.
Since we’re primarily interested in “how bad wait times can get,” here’s the chart of Magic Kingdom’s wait times on Labor Day:
This chart includes all of Magic Kingdom’s attractions that post a wait, which is why the 19-minute average in the lower right-hand corner doesn’t match the average from the previous chart. For the sake of keeping things tidy, our usual daily average is based on 17 rides. I’ll post that specific chart a little later. For suspense.
One thing we’ve been interested in is how physical-distancing measures have caused wait times at some attractions to increase, while wait times elsewhere have decreased given the elimination of FastPass+ and less stringent distancing. If you look at the chart, you’ll note that the average wait for it’s a small world is longer than Peter Pan’s Flight. The average wait for Pirates of the Caribbean is just five minutes shorter than the average for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Even the average posted wait for Carousel of Progress is within two minutes of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and longer than Tomorrowland Speedway or Dumbo.
Did anybody actually wait 35 minutes for the Carousel? If you add theater cleaning time and capacity reductions, it’s possible. Inside, you’ll find that every other row is blocked off. In the rows that are available, three seats are blocked off for each group of up to four sitting together. That brings the theater capacity down to about 25%. Hence, longer waits.
Labor Day Monday waits were over twice as long as your average Monday and more than ten minutes longer than the overall average since the Park reopened. Still, if you’re planning on visiting on a Saturday, and even more so as we move into October and November, the above is what you’ll need to plan on dealing with. Save the chart so you don’t end up waiting 40 minutes for the Mermaid Ride at 1pm.
With the holiday now over, we do enjoy a month of what should be low wait times. Here’s the chart from just one week before, on Monday, August 31st:
The 8.3-minute average is less than half of the holiday’s average. The Mermaid Ride never hits a wait longer than ten minutes. If you’re visiting on a Monday through Thursday over the next month, this is likely what you can expect to see. You’ll still note that the average wait for small world is longer than Peter Pan’s Flight. Pirates of the Caribbean has the second-longest average wait and one that’s only six minutes shy of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Things are different.
We’ll be returning to the Parks with the shorter hours and the potential for reduced staffing, but here’s what Liberty Square looked like an hour into the day just last week. It looks like someone is playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom on the left and a group of people are standing outside the Hall of Presidents wondering if their political allegiances will allow them inside.
It’s not exactly gangbusters. A full report on the day is incoming.
I would bring up the scary version of our chart one last time with the 17 rides that we usually take into account in our average, plus Splash Mountain:
While we are “enjoying” the current normal, and the low wait times that it has brought, the above will become reality again sooner rather than later. If you’re looking at a weekend getaway in the middle of October, the above is much closer to the reality that you’ll experience than any of the reports of low crowds and wait times that we’ve seen over the last couple of months.
We haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on wait time trends at Epcot. I wouldn’t say that this is a mistake…because it’s Epcot…but the Park does likely offer the most Park Pass availability, and currently, a rather meager lineup of attractions. That makes things look pretty ugly on a busy day.
Here’s the wait time chart from Labor Day:
The loss of an hour at the end of the day at Magic Kingdom obviously isn’t positive, but the two hours that we’re losing from Epcot are almost a tragedy. You can also see how problematic the 11am open is with the headliners starting the day with posted waits of 40+ minutes. Things don’t get a lot better as the day wears on. Beginning now, anything after 7pm is off the table as the Park will be officially closed.
While the line for the Mexico Pavilion in EPCOT was at capacity earlier today, we got a spot in line on our way back around the World Showcase. Crowds are thick here and social distancing markers are being ignored. pic.twitter.com/7kk2yOWjAs
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) September 7, 2020
It’s not ideal when there is a wait just to go inside the pyramid to then wait to enter the rest of the Pavilion to then wait in another line for the actual thing that you want to see or do. Again, these are basically worst case scenario wait times given current attendance limits. But we’re also talking Labor Day in September with very little propensity to travel from out of state. Demand will eventually rise until these wait times become the new normal.
For comparison, here’s a look at Epcot’s wait times when it was much less crowded just four days prior:
This is obviously much more positive with Soarin’ never posting a wait longer than ten minutes and both Frozen and Test Track averaging less than 30 minutes each. I’d be willing to deal with the heat, the face masks, the lack of character meets, basically no live entertainment, and no nighttime spectacular for waits this short. Labor Day crowds and a 62-minute average wait for Frozen Ever After? Not so much.
One reason why we’ve focused less on Epcot is because of how much is closed there, including numerous restaurants and stores. With the Park closing at 7pm for the foreseeable future, we’ll also be losing virtually all of the Park’s nighttime charm. My advice would be to book the latest dinner reservation you can get, eat three courses slowly, and enjoy a leisurely walk out of the Park as close to sunset/sundown as possible.
But even that may prove to be a challenge. For example, La Hacienda de San Angel only looks to be open from Thursday to Sunday for the foreseeable future:
Previously, we discussed a little bit about the chicken and the egg and whether demand will increase before or after Disney ramps up its offerings. Epcot, with no nighttime atmosphere, no international college program charm, a limited lineup of attractions, and massive construction seems like a hard sell. We can get excited about Epcot logo pylons arriving, but after that excitement fades away two seconds later, we’re still left with that big hole in the center of the Park.
The good news is that Epcot is easy to tour on an average weekday. You can follow along with our recommended touring plan, which begins with Test Track and Frozen:
- Epcot Arrival and Rope Drop Experience After Reopening
- Epcot Morning Touring After Reopening
- Epcot Future World Late Morning Touring After Reopening
- Epcot Afternoon Touring Since Reopening
It’s possible that those are not the most exciting post titles. Perhaps we should glide into the Land Pavilion or something. Like a new cupcake at Sunshine Seasons.
Epcot will be one to watch with the shorter hours. With the other Parks more likely to fill to capacity, Epcot will end up being some people’s only choice to visit at some point. Strip away the four best touring hours of the day – 9am to 11am and 7pm to 9pm – and you’ve got a truncated day with a limited roster of attractions.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios continues to be the most likely to sell out of Park Pass availability. Even when there isn’t a holiday driving crowds, the Park is routinely unavailable to book on weekends. That means an overall increase in demand shouldn’t have much of an effect on wait times since the maximum number of people are already there on most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Let’s look at our chart since the Park reopened in July with Labor Day Weekend highlighted at the end:
And it looks like we’re right. While Magic Kingdom saw its three busiest days yet over the holiday, the Studios very much does not. Saturday’s average wait of 25.2 minutes is less than the four Saturdays before. Sunday’s 26.6-minute average is longer than the previous two weeks. But in both instances, the holiday average is within a minute of the others. The two Sundays before that also see 26+ minute averages – the same as the holiday weekend.
This may be evidence that the capacity limits are “working.” Or, at a minimum, there is a threshold that we can expect to be met when the Parks do fill. With the 24.6 minute overall average wait, just about every day over the last several weeks is within four minutes of that average. You may remember that the 32.7-minute outlier from a couple of weeks ago was due largely to Rise of the Resistance not coming online until the late afternoon. It also appears that our advice that the Studios is your “best worst choice” on Saturdays remains true. Over the course of the holiday weekend, Saturday saw the lowest average wait. It was also shorter than two days earlier in the week. You can’t say that about any of the other Parks.
Here’s Studios’ chart for Labor Day:
The wait time distribution is what we’ve come to expect. We see the longest waits in the early morning due to the large number of people arriving prior to Park open for the Rise of the Resistance boarding group signup.
It will be interesting to see if waits drop as much in the evening now that the Park will be open an hour less. We only see an average wait under 20 minutes right at 10am before it more than doubles at 10:15am to 43 minutes. There’s a solid hour of waits under 20 minutes in that last hour of operation, but that’s also the hour we’re losing. The Studios had a slightly rough day on Labor Day with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Toy Story Mania all going down for at least a half hour. Toy Story Mania’s 3+ hours of downtime is unusual and the likely culprit for why the overall average is higher than other days. Other than that, nothing sticks out as being surprising, other than perhaps Smugglers Run posting a higher average wait than Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror.
The last couple of months have been some of the best to tour Disney’s Animal Kingdom since the Extra Extra Magic Hours initiative ended last year just in time for Galaxy’s Edge to actually drive demand higher. That may be less true with what will now be 9am to 5pm hours each day instead of the 8am to 6pm days that we’ve enjoyed since July. Those 8am opens made morning touring incredibly easy, as we rode Flight of Passage back to back with basically no waits on multiple occasions, followed by short to nonexistent waits everywhere else for much of the day. We’ll be most interested in seeing how the truncated hours increase waits and early morning crowds.
Here’s the chart of Animal Kingdom’s daily average wait with Labor Day Weekend highlighted:
Animal Kingdom follows a similar pattern to Magic Kingdom with Labor Day Weekend proving to see the three most-crowded days since the Park reopened. It’s also the only Park where this past week saw a higher overall average than the week before, which may also not bode well for the Park’s new shorter hours.
Still, the middle of the week was more than manageable. Saturday’s 25.1-minute average isn’t wildly higher than a couple of other Saturdays, where the average comes in between 21 and 22 minutes. Sunday’s average is also just over three minutes longer than the previous two Sundays. Monday sees a big jump for the holiday, but that’s to be expected.
Here’s the chart for Labor Day:
On the plus side, Avatar Flight of Passage sees a longer average wait than Na’vi River Journey for once, even if it’s only by six minutes. There is some comfort in a return to normalcy, however brief. On the downside, we have over two hours of “green” wait times to close out one of the busiest days yet. And we’re about to lose one of those hours, in addition to the 8am to 9am hour getting chopped off to start the day. If memory serves, two years ago, Animal Kingdom was open most days from 8am to 11pm with Rivers of Light, the nighttime safari, and the Tree of Life Awakenings, among other nighttime activities. Now, the Park will close about three hours before sundown with basically no opportunity to sit down to dinner with the 5pm close.
Overall, Labor Day Weekend proved to be the most crowded Walt Disney World has been since it reopened. Still, waits were typically only 15% to 25% higher than the Saturday and Sunday the week before. That may be proof that the attendance caps are working to keep waits largely manageable. Obviously, if you can avoid any major holiday, you want to do that. Avoiding Saturdays and Sundays is also smart whenever possible, with the potential exception of Hollywood Studios, where the weekends are business as usual.
We’ll see how much the shorter hours affect wait times and how quickly demand increases now that we know people want to go on vacation.