Last month we took a look at September crowds and wait times, which are among the absolute lowest of the year. As the numbers show, this is in no way debatable. Much of September is the least crowded time of year at Walt Disney World, regardless of how crowded it is. And again, to any naysayers, I offer the same challenge: give me a date and send me a check. Maybe I can get on the Draft Kings bandwagon and we can do Daily Fantasy Crowd Prediction. One week free with Crowd Kings! Promo code: Kira.
There are a few things that come into play with the higher wait times than we’ve seen in past years. Yes, crowds are up, but as a percentage, it’s only in the very low single digits as compared to last year. And looking over September attendance, the percentage jump was actually higher from 2013 to 2014 than 2014 to 2015. The main culprit, as I’ve discussed endlessly over the last couple of years, is FastPass+ priority and maximum FastPass+ distribution. FastPass+ availability gets worse every day as more and more people become aware of the system and make their plans in advance. For example, there is usually no day-of FastPass+ availability for more than ten WDW attractions:
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- Festival of Fantasy
- Main Street Electrical Parade
- Meet Anna/Elsa
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Character Spot
- Toy Story Mania
- Adventurers Outpost
So if you show up to Hollywood Studios tomorrow without FastPass+ scheduled, there will be no availability at Toy Story Mania unless you luck into a cancellation. It also means no 4th FastPass+ availability unless you’re refreshing your phone constantly hunting for a cancellation. We’ve come to expect new attractions like Mine Train to be without FP+ availability well in advance and with such a limited capacity at something like Fairytale Hall, I don’t think a lack of availability there is surprising. But seeing things like Peter Pan’s Flight completely out of inventory, in addition to other character meets like Character Spot completely unavailable is more surprising. It’s also indicative of lower availability at other priority attractions, where Soarin’ or Test Track may only have a handful of available FastPass+ times at 10:30am and absolutely none after 1pm. This is as true on September 14th as it is on Christmas Day.
As we know, FastPass+ takes up as much as 70% of an attraction’s capacity. So let’s say Pirates of the Caribbean has an actual hourly capacity of 2,000 riders per hour and you’re 200 people back in standby before FP+ haunted our dreams in July 2k12. In this scenario, you’d be on the ride in about six minutes. Give 70% of that capacity to FastPass+ and by the time the 200th person rides in standby, 462 will ride before using FastPass+. Many of these people in FP+ will arrive long after the 200th person in standby, but will still ride first due to FP+ priority boarding. So in this scenario, the 200th person in standby actually rides in the spot of the 662nd person in line. With 2,000 riders per hour, the 6-minute wait turns into a 20-minute wait even with the same number of people in standby. It’s pretty easy to figure out why standby lines are so much longer now, particularly at the attractions that didn’t historically offer FastPass+.
So what does it mean? Let’s start with the worst case scenario here in October: Magic Kingdom on a day that it isn’t closing at 7pm for a Mickey’s Party. Or, yesterday, a Wednesday with evening Extra Magic Hours, Wishes, and two Electrical Parades:
From noon to 2:45pm. The red underlines are the peak waits during this time period at a few interesting attractions:
This is ugly. 85 at Big Thunder. 80 at Haunted Mansion. 95 at Jungle Cruise. 105 at Ariel. 120 at Mickey. 40 at Monsters Inc. 110 at Peter Pan. 80 at Pirates of the Caribbean. 130 at Space Mountain. 60 at Under the Sea. Etc.
Compare that to the same Wednesday last year at the same time of day:
It’s not exactly a night and day difference; Buzz is still at 55 minutes versus 60. Haunted Mansion is still 45 compared to 80. Jungle Cruise is 60 compared to 95. Pirates is still 65 compared to 80. Peter Pan’s Flight is 80 compared to 110. Under the Sea is 50 compared to 60. So year over year, it’s decidedly “worse,” but these wait times haven’t appeared out of thin air and you can probably attribute this year’s longer wait times to more on-site guests visiting with the Extra Magic Hours scheduled, which wouldn’t have been on the schedule in 2014.
But Magic Kingdom waits aren’t always this bad here in October. Subtract just one day to Tuesday October 13, 2015 with a Mickey’s Party scheduled and a 7pm close. Here, we have the recommended Tuesday Party day wait times in white and the non-recommmended Wednesday evening EMH/Wishes day in green right underneath:
The differences in wait times are pretty shocking considering we’re talking about a difference of exactly 24 hours. Wednesday’s wait times are somewhere between 50% and 100%+ longer on Wednesday as compared to Tuesday.
Looking over the October crowd calendar, you’ll notice that Magic Kingdom was the most recommended Park on the 13th and the least recommended Park on the 14th. The wait times above illustrate why.
Looking back at October 2014, there’s one other reason why Wednesday’s wait times were lower last year. Tuesdays last year also saw extended hours and both nighttime spectaculars, which helped even crowds out better between the four days with late closes. This year, Disney eliminated the early September Halloween Parties and moved them to October, so only three days each week see extended hours and both nighttime spectaculars. So you have a similar number of people cramming into three days with longer hours and both nighttime spectaculars instead of four and because of that, crowds and waits are even longer this year.
Wednesdays last year with the Electrical Parade/Wishes were actually “tentatively recommended” because they were still more or less manageable. This year, you can still kind of make it work, but it’s going to be a pretty miserable experience getting out of Magic Kingdom after Wishes and the daytime waits are horrendous. So Wednesdays this year aren’t recommended, given the much worse crowds and wait times.
While we’re discussing Extra Magic Hours and recommendations, the website admits that it sensibly chuckles whenever it sees someone say, “easywdw never recommends parks with extra magic hours.” This is, of course, factually inaccurate. You literally have to go no further than the first day in October to see Magic Kingdom recommended with a morning Extra Magic Hour attached.
Looking over the rest of the wait times from the 13th and 14th. Again, recommended Tuesday in white. Non-recommended Wednesday in green:
The numbers more than speak for themselves. Looking at the full chart from Tuesday October 13, the Party day with the 7pm close:
If you’re visiting on a Party day between now and mid-December and the overall crowd level is a 5 or above, this is what you’re looking at. If you’re visiting on a Wishes/Electrical Parade/Non-Party night, well…bring body armor.
This isn’t a one-off phenomenon either. It’s an every week thing and it has been for years. Here’s Friday the 9th – another Party day:
And the next day, a Saturday with a later close, Main Street Electrical Parade, and Wishes:
You’ve probably seen me assert that the Park recommendations are much more important this time of year because crowds vary so wildly from day to day due to the changes in the operating schedule, particularly at Magic Kingdom. Over the summer, it doesn’t really matter where you go with the same operating hours and entertainment every night. Recommended Parks will still see lower attendance and wait times compared to the non-recommended days around them, of course, but it’s not the night and day difference that we see in the fall.
Animal Kingdom on Tuesday the 13th on a recommended day, which is about what we can expect given above average crowds. The 120-minute wait at 1:15pm at Safaris jumps out and the posted wait curiously drops to just 10-minutes by 1:45pm. Otherwise, the afternoon sees relatively high waits before things drop considerably after 5pm. Safaris is a walk-on from 4:15pm to when it ceases operation at 6:30pm. Everest has a zero minute posted wait in the last hour. Arriving late at Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite things. If you get there at 4pm with a 7pm close, you’ll see hundreds of people that waited 45+ minutes for Everest and 90+ minutes for Kali River Rapids streaming out. And I want to tell them, “you know if you just go back you can ride with no wait.” Stay through close, folks.
FastPass+ continues to make things batty at Epcot, which probably deserves its own post full of charts. Granted, a couple of hours of downtime at Journey into Imagination is pushing up wait times later in the day..but 50 minutes? Likewise, 30-minute waits at Living with the Land were virtually unheard of prior to FP+. 40 minutes at Nemo…45 at Spaceship Earth…and Soarin’ wait times that are already hitting 90+ minutes within a half hour of opening. I used to call this the “new normal.” But it’s not so new anymore. It’s just “normal.”
Subtract a day and things are basically the same. 45 minutes at Figment with no downtime. 30 at Living with the Land. 40 at Spaceship Earth. 45 at Nemo. And if you’re still wondering why, I would refer you to our Pirates example above. Historically, it doesn’t make any sense to use FP+ at a ride like Figment. But with so few options and FastPass+ at the priority attractions becoming unavailable early in the morning, people don’t have any choice. And when you’re looking at a FP+ screen and your options are Living with the Land, Journey into Imagination, and The Seas with Nemo, then that’s what you take. Most people that come away with Living with the Land would probably prefer Test Track. Most people that select Journey into Imagination would probably prefer Mission: SPACE. But when those aren’t available, people choose other attractions, and in turn fill up the FP+ queues full nearly every day.
I’ve been to grocery stores that have more rides outside of them than Hollywood Studios does inside of its gates, so it isn’t surprising that it’s suffering given what remains record attendance. You’ve probably heard that the noise group, “Mulch, Sweat, and Shears” is no longer performing. Their purpose, combined with the Sorcerer’s Hat, was always to get people to enter the Park and immediately leave. People were supposed to see the Hat in the distance and conclude that there was nothing to do at the Studios (a fair assessment), and once the “music” hit…well…it was a quick, “So….I’ve heard good things about the BoardWalk?” and then a quick about-face out of there. It’s a similar thing with Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Just No Show. People would arrive in the Streets of America thinking “Mulch, Sweat, and Shears is at least something to do and something to do is better than not-something to do.” Inevitably, people would then hear half of a song and start walking in the opposite direction, at which point Mulch would hop in their truck and follow them down the Streets of America, ultimately cornering them at the end of the road and roping them into Lights, Motors. Nobody willingly sees Lights, Motors.
Subtract a day and it doesn’t make much of a difference.
I’m not trying to ignore October 14th here – it’s just that due to a glitch out of the website’s control, I didn’t capture the first 90 minutes worth of wait times. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was also down for about seven hours, in addition to an hour of downtime at Great Movie Ride. Tower of Terror continues to see capacity issues, resulting in those 100+ minute waits some days and 20 minute waits on others depending on how many elevators are running.
That’s the reality of a Walt Disney World vacation these days. Much of the rest of October, November, and December sees slightly below average to slightly above average crowds just like this. Adjust your expectations accordingly.