It’s been about three months since the first Walt Disney World theme parks reopened to guests on July 11th, 2020. A lot has changed since then, as crowds and wait times have steadily increased, so I thought we would take a look back at what used to be true along with the current climate.
Our chart of daily average wait times at each Park’s key attractions offers insight into what crowds and wait times are like from day to day and week to week. Here’s the chart for Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
The chart provides a daily average in each box, a weekly average in the far right column, and shows us how long waits are on average for each day of the week along the bottom row. That can help us identify specific days of the week that are routinely less crowded.
Here’s the same information in a line chart, which may make the weekly increases more obvious:
Animal Kingdom’s average wait went from 7.2 minutes during its first full week of operation in July to 27.9 minutes last week, which is an increase of 287.5% in three months. That turns a relatively reasonable 20-minute wait into a 77.5 minute wait. It would also turn what was a 10-minute wait into a wait of almost 40 minutes. That’s over the course of just three months.
Here’s the chart of posted wait times from the most recent Saturday, which was also the busiest day at the Animal Kingdom since it reopened:
It’s the Saturday of a holiday weekend, so the longer wait times make sense given increased demand, but Disney’s Park Pass availability system and the supposed Park capacity should limit crowds and waits to more reasonable numbers. In addition to the long waits, there isn’t a whole lot to do at Animal Kingdom with Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, all of the meet and greets, virtually all of the live entertainment, and the nighttime spectacular all closed.
You can see how long Flight of Passage waits are out of the gate, even with the 8am open. The wait actually goes up from there with a 77-minute average for the day – not far off from what we saw earlier this year without the supposed attendance cap and FastPass+ priority in play. Other attractions don’t fare much better with Everest posting 30 minutes+ from 9am onward. Even It’s Tough To Be A Bug shows 40 minutes in the afternoon, which isn’t something that I think we’ve seen outside of potentially Christmas. With physical-distancing, even what were once high-capacity shows only offer about a third of the seats to current guests with every other row kept empty and three empty seats left in between each party of up to four people. At least we can get on TriceraTop Spin most of the day with a five minute wait. Except for when it’s posted at 30 minutes.
To compare, here’s the wait time chart from Saturday, August 1st, which was three weeks after the Park opened:
Wait times were almost a third as long, with Flight of Passage posting 20 and 30 minutes to start the day, rather than 90 minutes, 120 minutes, and 110 minutes. The average for the banshee simulator is 52 minutes shorter. DINOSAUR only posts a wait longer than five minutes after some brief downtime before returning back to five minutes within an hour. Everest averages 17 minutes, or less than half of this past Saturday. Safaris is under 15 minutes. Na’vi River Journey’s average is also over a half hour shorter, at 23 minutes in August versus 55 minutes in October.
Here’s this past Saturday again with 10:30am highlighted. That’s just 90 minutes into the day and you’re looking at a 42-minute average across the Park. Even if you take 30% off the posted waits to account for cleaning, Disney’s standard level of wait exaggeration, etc., it’s still a half hour wait in the line of your choice. Except for TriceraTop Spin. 5 minutes.
Here’s our chart of daily averages again as we focus on the bottom row, which shows the overall average wait for that day of the week:
People often want to know what the “best” day to visit a Park is based on the chances of lower wait times. With the exception of the Studios, the answer is basically going to be the same – any day but a Saturday or Sunday is good. We’ll cut the chart down to just the past six weeks, since they’re the most relevant:
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are clearly the best days to visit Animal Kingdom with the lowest waits. The average on Saturday is almost double that of Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday are basically the same and comparable to Tuesday. Monday, for the most part, is probably also fine, as the higher holiday wait time is in there for Labor Day, pulling up the average a bit. With Disney moving Animal Kingdom’s opening to 8am on most Fridays and extending the close to 6pm, lower waits early and late help bring the average down, even if peak waits are higher. Saturdays and Sundays are rough, as they will be at the other Parks.
This past Sunday, Animal Kingdom even opened at 7am, which was its earliest start to the day since the Park reopened in July, and potentially this entire calendar year. Here’s the chart for that:
Even with the move to a 7am open, the overall average for the day is just a minute shy of Saturday. Flight of Passage hits 90+ minutes by 8:30am, and doesn’t drop below 80 minutes until 4:45pm, or about an hour before the Park closes. In other words, longer operating hours seem to come with higher attendance caps, and thus, not much of a break from high waits. The 7am to 8am hour would allow you to get more done should you need to visit on that day. Wait times and crowd feel would have been considerably worse with an 8am or 9am open because you have fewer hours to spread out the crowds. Peak average waits persist for much of the day with 35+ minutes from 9:15am to 4pm.
We’ll move on to Epcot, which looked like this on Saturday, October 10th:
These are the longest waits that we’ve seen at virtually every attraction.
Compare the above to the third Saturday after reopening:
Wait times are now more than twice as long.
Of course, we are comparing a holiday weekend to a non-holiday weekend, so it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. So here is Epcot from two weeks ago, when there wouldn’t be anything specific driving crowds:
You’ve still got wait times that are over twice as long as what we saw back at the beginning of August. And the overall average is only two minutes less than the holiday. Like Animal Kingdom, the average waits for the day aren’t far off what we saw back before the Park closures. You’re looking at a 27-minute average wait for Figment, 34 minutes for Spaceship Earth, 85 minutes for Test Track, 35+ for Mission: SPACE, nearly an hour for Soarin’, and 75+ minutes for Frozen. That’s all on a Saturday in late September with nothing specific drawing crowds to the Park.
Here’s the Studios with the chart of daily averages first:
This past week was the busiest on record. The Studios is somewhat unique in that if you need to go to a Park on a Saturday or Sunday, it might as well be Hollywood. You can see the day-of-the-week averages along the bottom, which are all within about two minutes of each other. This past week, Saturday’s average was lower than three other days during that same week, and Sunday actually saw the lowest average waits.
Here’s the chart for this past Friday:
Obviously, this isn’t good with the likes of Muppet*Vision hitting 60 minutes at one point, along with peak waits of at least an hour at six other attractions.
Muppet*Vision only hits 35 minutes. What more proof do you need that Saturday is a solid option? The average overall wait is nearly identical with both days rounding down to 46 minutes. Obviously, if you can swing a Monday – Friday trip, or sit Saturday and/or Sunday out at the pool or with a variety of other activities, you’ll be best off, but most people’s trips will include at least one weekend day that they want to visit a theme park. The Studios is your best choice because it’s the most likely to sell out of Park Passes other days as well, meaning attendance won’t be staggeringly higher like it will at the other Parks. You’d have a tough time convincing me that Thursday is the best day to visit because the average wait is a few seconds shorter than Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday.
Here’s the chart of the Studios’ average wait over the last six weeks, since that’s when we’ve seen so much of the spike in crowds:
From here, it looks like Thursdays and Sundays are your best bets with Mondays seeing the highest waits. But the averages are still within about five minutes of each other, with the likelihood that the longer waits on a particular day are due more to bad luck than a discernible difference in crowd levels. Rise of the Resistance going down leads to significantly longer waits as people who would be riding look for something else to do. Tower of Terror’s famous capacity struggles also cause waits to double there on occasion when only one elevator is in use. With the rare exception – that Thursday from a couple of weeks ago stands out as seeing low wait times for no identifiable reason – most days at the Studios are as
miserable magical as any other.
Here’s a look at the chart showing how much waits at the Studios have risen from week to week since the Park reopened on July 15th:
You can really see where things took off there on the week of September 6th, which was probably not coincidentally the same week that Disney reduced the operating hours across the board. They have since extended the hours again for many dates, but we haven’t seen any extensions at the Studios, despite the Park seeing the longest waits and the biggest morning rush. During the Studios’ first full week of operation, the average wait was 19.2 minutes. It’s been over 100% longer each of the last four weeks, which means you can now expect to wait more than twice as long in each line than you would have back in July. That turns a 40-minute wait for Slinky Dog into an 80+ minute wait or a 20-minute wait for Star Tours into a 40-minute wait. Just in the last six weeks, average waits have risen over 20 minutes. Still, we don’t see extensions at a theme park that currently opens at 10am and closes before the sun goes down.
Here’s Magic Kingdom with the daily average first:
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this past week was the busiest since the Park reopened on July 11th, though each of the last three weeks have been similarly crowded.
Looking at the average for each day across the bottom, Wednesday sees the lowest waits. That’s been true for years, even without Extra Magic Hours, special events, or nighttime entertainment driving crowds in one direction or another. Tuesday and Thursday are about the same, while Fridays. Saturdays, and Sundays all reliably see longer waits. This past week, Friday was actually the busiest day of the week as far as average wait times are concerned. People may have been trying to get in before the holiday, only for that plan to backfire. On that first Friday after reopening, average waits were about 25 minutes shorter. Considering that’s the average wait per attraction, you could have expected to wait a little more than an hour and a half total for ten rides on that first Friday. This past Friday, your wait would be just shy of six hours, or about 4.5 hours longer, for those same ten rides. That’s a sizable increase.
Here’s the chart showing how much waits have increased since the Park opened:
It’s possible that we can see Disney’s capacity increases most clearly in this chart, where we see a 50-percent-plus increase in waits from July 12th through July 26th. Wait times then stagnate for about five weeks before we see another big jump. Then it’s another flat week before waits go up from the 20.8-minute average for the week of September 13th to almost 27 minutes, or an increase of 29%, just one week later. The weekly averages have been about 26 minutes each of the last six weeks.
Since reopening, Magic Kingdom waits are up 166.3% from the first full week to the most recent week. While we spend most of our time complaining about Studios’ wait times, they’re up a mere 131.3% in the last three months, which is the lowest of any of the Parks. So in that respect, I guess you could argue that the Studios is now always your best bet, since it’s seen the least drastic increase. Of course, wait times weren’t too great there to start with.
Here’s the chart for Magic Kingdom on Saturday:
That’s a lot of 40s, 50s, and 60s.
I’ve highlighted 10:45am here, or less than two hours after the Park opened, to show how long standby waits have already climbed at the majority of the attractions. Without FastPass+ available to most guests, your only reprieve from the long waits is the various high-capacity/low priority shows. But with physical-distancing, even those aren’t a sure thing anymore. Early in the afternoon on a much less crowded weekday, I didn’t make it into the next County Bear Jamboree show, which meant my wait to see it would be about 20 minutes as I waited outside for about 1.5 shows to finish. I’ve also stood out in the rain waiting for Enchanted Tiki Room, stood closer to Cinderella Castle than the entrance to Mickey’s PhilharMagic for that show to start, and been queued in the old Buzz Lightyear meet and greet line for Carousel of Progress. So there aren’t too many gimmies these days.
Considering we’ve been keeping a close eye on waits since the Parks reopened, what we see here shouldn’t be shocking, but it does offer a glimpse into just how much waits have risen over the first three months that the Parks have been open. 287% at Animal Kingdom. 182% at Epcot. 131% at Hollywood Studios. 166% at Magic Kingdom. That means you’ll wait at least twice as long now as you would have seven or eight weeks ago. In places, waits have tripled in just a few weeks.
It will be interesting to see what Disney decides to do moving forward. Waits have gotten to the point where they rival what we saw before the closure, even with the Park Pass system supposedly limiting capacity and FastPass+ out of the picture. While there may be fewer people in the Park now than there were at the beginning of March, there’s also far less for people to do with so many things closed. The major attractions are basically it. With physical-distancing causing a number of attractions to operate at 30- to 50-percent capacity, we still see long waits even with fewer people in the Park. Just look at the 52-minute average wait for Pirates.
After the Parks reopened, I said time and time again that the one thing Walt Disney World potentially had going for it is short waits. That was true for a while, but it hasn’t been recently, with waits rising each of the last four to six weeks depending on the Park.
As far as which Parks to pick on which days, the trick is to avoid Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom on Saturdays in particular. The Studios remains your “best worst choice” on weekends given the fact that waits are comparable to weekdays and sometimes even shorter. Epcot is typically best on Mondays. Animal Kingdom is typically best on Tuesdays. Magic Kingdom is typically best on Wednesdays.
I usually recommend people on weeklong vacations to book two days at the Studios in advance to double your chances at getting a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. With a second day at the Studios, you’ll also feel less pressure to get in some of those long lines in the morning, or stay later than you’re comfortable to try to take advantage of the possibility of lower waits during the last hour. Since the Studios is the hardest Park Pass to get, booking it far in advance makes the most sense. If you’re able to accomplish what you want to get done at the Studios on your first day, or don’t want to face the morning wrath a second time, then you can switch your second day to another Park.
My generic 7-day itinerary would be:
- Sunday: Hollywood Studios
- Monday: Epcot
- Tuesday: Animal Kingdom
- Wednesday: Magic Kingdom
- Thursday: Magic Kingdom
- Friday: Your Choice – Epcot makes sense
- Saturday: Hollywood Studios
If you don’t want to do two days in a row at Magic Kingdom, then you could do Tuesday and Thursday at Magic Kingdom with Animal Kingdom on Wednesday. There aren’t really any great choices on Saturday or Sunday, but you can always grin and bear something if you don’t want to face the Studios.
We’ll get back to some Park stuff.