We’ll take an overarching dive into wait time trends at Walt Disney World as we look towards September and reduced operating hours. With a lot of people still on the fence about whether they’re going to go ahead with a fall trip, and those looking further into the future for when a visit is “more safe,” crowds and wait times will likely play a major role in that decision. We’ve been discussing future plans in the forum for the last couple of days. You may elect to register or log in if you haven’t in some time to join in on the excitement. It’s a pretty zippy platform on XenForo.
We’ll begin at what is likely still the most popular theme park in the world in Magic Kingdom. The chart below shows the overall average daily wait across 17 attractions since the Park reopened on July 11th. I’ll overlay this on an actual calendar for the next round of updates. That first Saturday is July 11th and then we work our way down from there:
We then have the average wait for each week on the far right and the average wait for each day of the week going along the bottom.
Wednesday remains the best day of the week to visit Magic Kingdom from a wait time and crowd perspective. Tuesdays and Thursdays are within a minute of Wednesday’s average, with Monday looking better than you might expect. The one major demographic that Disney is trying to pull in is Florida residents by offering discounts on tickets and resort rooms. Add local passholders visiting on the weekends and Saturdays are reliably the busiest day. The 18.2-minute average is 32% higher than the overall average. It’s also 53% higher than Wednesday’s low. That would turn a 20-minute wait on Wednesday into a 30ish minute wait on Saturday, multiplied by a lot of lines.
Sundays look to be getting increasingly worse, but that may be a trend that doesn’t extend into September. The vast majority of local schools are back in session as of this week. It’s possible that the last couple of weeks were one last hurrah before falling back into the usual routine of taking Sundays to rest up for the week. It’s also possible that weekend “staycatations” are up, with Friday’s wait times now the second-highest of the week. Disney also recently unblocked cast members and their guests from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom up until Labor Day Weekend. That adds the potential for about 60,000 cast members and their guests to visit, based on availability. Disney also continues to shift Disney Park Pass availability to Annual Passholders after they’re not taken by Disney Resort Guests or Theme Park Tickets Guests.
All of that potentially increases the number of people in the Park, even if the overall capacities of the Parks haven’t changed.
One piece of good news is that wait times are not increasing at a fervent pace from week to week. This past week, overall waits were lower than the week before. The 14.7-minute average from last week is also shorter than three weeks ago and within a minute of the average from two weeks ago. The fact that wait times aren’t going up steadily is good indication that demand is not exponentially increasing. It also means Disney is not yet pulling back on staffing or attraction capacity.
We may or may not receive a punch to the gut on September 8th, when Disney reduces the operating hours at each of its theme parks. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see some pretty major cutbacks to the limited amount of entertainment options available and a reduction in staffing and capacity at that time.
Here’s a look at Magic Kingdom hours over the next couple weeks:
Those 6pm closes continue every day through November 7th, which is as far out as Disney has currently published operating hours. Despite some days being very obviously busier, with much higher wait times, we don’t currently see any Park Hour extensions on the weekends or other busier days. Historically, we’d be in the middle of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party season, with Magic Kingdom closing at 6pm on three or four nights each week from now through the end of October. During past years, Saturdays typically saw much longer hours to help accommodate far more people. Over the last couple of years, those extensions have been much shorter. Five years ago, Magic Kingdom would have been open from 8am to 12am on a Saturday in October. Last year, it would have been 9am to 10pm if you were lucky.
With attendance caps in place, it’s possible that Saturdays won’t get out of control, even if waits are longer than other days. On recommended weekdays, wait times are about a third of what they were last year. On more recent weekends, they’re about half. So even if you need to visit on a Saturday, as a lot of people do, you’re still doing a lot better for yourself than past years, even with the shorter operating hours.
Here’s a look at the wait time distribution for this past Saturday for the 17 attractions that we use to base our average on:
The distribution is a departure from what we’ve been focusing on at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where the Rise of Resistance boarding group signup at 10am creates peak crowds and wait times virtually from Park open. Magic Kingdom sees a much slower burn with peak waits from 12:15pm to 3:15pm. Waits are shortest in the early morning and then begin to go down significantly at 3:30pm, perhaps after people realize there is no 3pm Parade. More realistically, they’ve been in a sweltering theme park outdoors in Florida in face coverings for six hours and they want to go home. Like with the other Parks, those last two hours are again a great time to tour with waits that only go down as Park close approaches.
One other thing we’ve been interested in is how much wait times have changed at the various attractions given wildly-different loading procedures for physical distancing and without FastPass+. Here are Magic Kingdom’s rides ordered by average wait from this past Saturday:
The top two rides aren’t a big surprise. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has seen Magic Kingdom’s longest average wait for years and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is as accessible as it is timeless. Several of the next attractions may be more surprising.
Seeing Pirates of the Caribbean with the third-longest wait is not what you would expect from a ride that can theoretically move about 2,500 people per hour. Before it added FastPass+, seeing a 30-minute wait meant that the Park was probably slammed and it was probably Christmas. With cast now potentially loading just the first and last rows of each boat – which could be as few as three people, we see a big drop in hourly capacity. About 90 minutes of downtime in the afternoon on this particular Saturday didn’t help, but the longtime fan favorite hit an hour wait well before the downtime. It’s possible that they were only loading one side due to technical trouble.
Seeing Peter Pan’s Flight and it’s a small world with the same average wait is also about as mind-blowing as wait time analysis gets. You’ll remember that the capacity at Peter Pan’s Flight has not been impacted by physical-distancing with no changes to the loading procedures. The pirate ships have always sat about three across with parties never sharing the same odyssey. At Pirates, it’s two empty rows between parties and no row sharing. Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and Astro Orbiter all come in over Space Mountain. The “green” attractions, with averages under 20 minutes, are about what you would expect. Buzz has seen a dramatic decrease in posted waits without FastPass+ bogging it down. It still almost hits 20 minutes.
The list from the 22nd isn’t much different than the one we put together based on an aggregation of Magic Kingdom’s first few weeks of operation:
Pulling back up our weekly chart:
It’s also worth noting that wait times have risen significantly since that first full week. Unfortunately, a lot of people see that first rush of information and then assume that will be the reality forever. I’ll be posting about how there’s nobody there in September and someone will inevitably comment that they hope it’s still like that in Thanksgiving 2022. “Probably not.” During the first week of operation, the average wait was 10.1 minutes. The average jumped 30% the following week and then another 18% after that before falling to a number that’s still above-average. During the fifth full week of operation, waits were over 60% higher than the first full week.
Percents obviously don’t tell the whole story. After all, if the average wait for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train went from one minute to two minutes it would be a 100% increase. “WAIT TIMES AT MAGIC KINGDOM DOUBLE OVERNIGHT” might be an appropriate headline. But we’re also talking about a wait that’s one minute longer at an attraction that historically hit triple digit waits most days. So we do see an increase in waits of about 60%, but it’s also “only” about six minutes per attraction. Over the course of ten attractions, you could expect to wait an extra hour in line. That’s obviously not ideal, but if you stuck to a less-crowded weekday, you’d run into lower waits. And it’s worth keeping in mind that overall waits are down 50- to 70-percent year over year.
You have probably been steaming mad that we have ignored Splash Mountain up until now. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I’ve long kept it out of the average because the time of year has such a significant impact on the wait. With the Princess and the Frog overlay coming at some point, we also see an uptick in popularity as people get in line for one last ride. Downtime for lightning is also common, which historically pushes wait times up disproportionately on those days, primarily during the summer. With no FastPass+ to bog things down, weather downtime doesn’t have as big of an impact on standby waits. But it still typically pushes them up with similar demand and less supply given fewer operating hours.
Here’s Splash this month:
You’ll want to get over to Splash before 9:45am or make it your last ride of the day. If you’re devoting two days to Magic Kingdom, I’d start one of them in Frontierland with Splash and Big Thunder, followed by Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. That would get you through four of the current highest priorities without much waiting. On a second rope drop, start with Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight before moving on to Winnie the Pooh, Space Mountain, and the rest of Tomorrowland.
Before we move on to Animal Kingdom, we’ll pull back up Saturday’s chart, where the average wait was the second-longest since Magic Kingdom reopened:
And let’s compare it to the Wednesday of that same week when the average wait was almost ten minutes shorter:
The color-coding along the bottom shows a significant difference right off the bat. On the best day of the week, the average wait is never longer than 15 minutes. Over the course of the worst day, it’s over 15 minutes by 10:45am and doesn’t return to being under 15 minutes until an hour before close. On the Wednesday, the wait for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is never longer than 35 minutes. Space Mountain is never longer than ten minutes. The ride with the longest average wait is Jungle Cruise at 21 minutes. The average for Peter Pan’s Flight is 13 minutes and never longer than 25 minutes. On Saturday, Mine Train’s average wait of 39 minutes is longer than Wednesday’s peak.
Here’s one last chart:
With Saturdays in orange and Wednesdays in green. We’ll continue to monitor whether Sundays get any better moving forward. Before the extended closure, Sundays were usually the second best day to visit with so many people traveling. With so many things changing over the last six weeks, it’s not surprising that crowd patterns also change.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays remain your best bets. With Magic Kingdom offering the most attractions, you may want to prioritize the best days of the week there. If you’re going to wait ten minutes longer per attraction, it will make a bigger difference when you’re waiting for 20 rides at Magic Kingdom than when you’re waiting for nine at Hollywood Studios.
For more on the many operational changes at Magic Kingdom, see “Magic Kingdom Wait Times Since Disney World Reopened” from earlier this month.
We’ve enjoyed some great days at Animal Kingdom since it reopened, thanks in large part to the 8am opens. Of all the Parks that will see reduced hours come September 8th, we should see the biggest impact on wait times there with the new 9am to 5pm hours. A lot more people can make it out to a Park by 9am than 8am. And there’s exactly one priority attraction that makes sense to visit first – Avatar Flight of Passage. We’ll also be losing an hour at the end of the day with the 5pm close, which basically negates any opportunity to enjoy dinner.
I would remind you that Disney Springs is still busy from 7pm to 9pm most nights. That won’t get better with the earlier closes starting next month. You would think they would let anyone who wanted to visit Epcot and try to funnel people there instead. If I were Disney, I’d send everyone trying to get back to their resorts through the International Gateway entrance at Epcot and then have the buses up there actually return guests to the resort. “Try to run the gauntlet without spending any more money.” That may be less successful with so much of World Showcase closed.
Here’s our look at average waits by the day of week since Animal Kingdom reopened in July:
The trends look nearly identical to what we saw at Magic Kingdom. You can see wait times blast off on Saturdays compared to weekdays. We also don’t see as big of a falloff on Sundays in August as we did in July. This past weekend, Sunday’s average was just two minutes shorter than Saturday. The week before, Sunday was actually the worst day to visit with waits almost dropping in half the following day.
Here’s the chart from Saturday, August 22nd, 2020:
Again, with an average wait that’s a full half hour shorter than last year, the Park is still more than doable, in large part because of those extra hours at the beginning and end of the day. We’ll be removing a full hour of green wait times on both ends on September 8th.
Here’s a look at waits from just one day earlier, when the average was less than half, and still longer than three other days that week:
The average wait for Flight of Passage is “literally” 11 minutes with it peaking at 20 minutes. That’s a full two hours less than the same day last year. If you need any further proof that we are living in the darkest timeline, just look at River Journey’s average wait for the day, which is nearly twice that of Flight. You can thank capacity reductions for that one. It’s one party per boat there, whether you are forever alone or a party of eight. At Flight of Passage, you’ll have one empty seat on each side of your party with three rows per theater.
Here’s Animal Kingdom’s operating hours:
Come September 8th, it’s possible that we’ll see Disney begin operating fewer theaters at the likes of Flight of Passage given the low wait times. We may not see longer operating hours on the weekends, but if staffing is increased on Saturdays and Sunday, then we may see wait times go up during the week and stay around the same on weekends. It’s hard to imagine Animal Kingdom is operating at much of a profit when you take dinner and nighttime drinks out of the picture, in addition to the incredibly low crowds. I’ve been on Flight of Passage when there were more cast members working than guests on the ride.
Here’s a chart of wait times for Flight of Passage in August with weekend averages in red:
We start the month with the same big drop-off on Sunday before wait times are basically the same on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the rest of the month. The 8-minute average for Monday, August 24th, is also the lowest that we’ve seen since the first couple of days since the Park reopened. The 20-minute overall average for the time period is about 100 minutes lower than the average for the same time period last year.
Here’s Na’vi River Journey:
We may need no further proof that the simulation has been corrupted that Na’vi now sees longer posted waits than Flight of Passage. This past Monday didn’t quite fare as well with the 16-minute average proving to be longer than four other days during the month, but it’s still down there. It’s also 100% higher than Flight of Passage. This is not the 2020 I was prepared for.
I’d expect low weekday crowds for the foreseeable future with similar bumps on weekends moving forward. We’ll see how much staffing comes into play in a couple of weeks. Schools back in session should keep crowds low throughout much of September, which is also now the hottest month of the year.
We’ve spent a lot of time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, since touring that Park requires a little more strategy than the others.
You can follow along with my recommended morning touring plan in case you missed it:
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop and Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Return
- Backlot Express Hummus and Afternoon Touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Reopening
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land Touring After Reopening
And with the afternoon arrival plan:
- Introduction to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Late Arrival Touring
- Afternoon Touring Strategy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land Evening Touring
Then two weeks ago, I also published Disney’s Hollywood Studios Wait Times Since Reopening.
Here’s a look at the Studios’ average waits since the Park reopened:
It looks like the trends continue for the most part, though this past Saturday’s number is a little troublesome. Our longtime hypothesis is that choosing the Studios on a Saturday is the “best worst choice” because we don’t typically see a big bump in wait times compared to other days during the week. During the first full week, three other days were busier than Saturday. During the second full week, all six other days saw longer waits. The following week, Friday saw longer waits. This past week, Saturday’s average was the highest of the week. So much for that hypothesis?
Let’s look at the chart for the day to see if we can identify any peculiarities:
Nothing specific jumps out here, other than wait times are above-average virtually across the board. It looks like the Runaway Railway is pulling things up overall.
Here’s a look at wait times at Disney’s newest attraction in August:
The 65- minute average on the Saturday is the longest yet, but not by a tremendous amount compared to the following two days.
Likely, the reason for the longer waits this past Saturday was due to Rise of the Resistance not coming online until about 2pm, or four hours after the Park opened. As we know, crowds are never higher than they are first thing in the morning with so many people arriving prior to Park opening for the Rise signup. With Rise down during the busiest time of the day, a couple thousand people have to find something else to do. That’s likely getting in line for another attraction, in turn pushing wait times up. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of bad luck that you can run into any day. It may also be why you want to prioritize a backup day at the Studios over the other Parks.
Disney is officially not increasing the Parks’ overall capacities, but they do continue to tinker with the allocation of Disney Park Pass reservations. With that recent reallocation, I can actually book any Park over the next couple of days:
But the Studios does remain entirely unavailable for Passholders to book for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. That’s true on weekends all the way out to November 7th.
Here’s what availability looks like for Disney Resort Guests:
Theme Park Tickets Guests are also out of luck on Saturday and Sunday, while Disney Resort Guests can still book any Park for any date for the remainder of the month. I would take this opportunity to feign jealousy at those staying at All-Star Sports, but it’s hard to poke fun when the resort isn’t even open.
The Park Pass reallocation allows more Annual Passholders, who are actually in the area and able to go, access to the Park. When Disney kept those spots for potential resort guests that never materialized, those spots simply went unfilled. With Disney adding a couple of interim shows to the Studios, it’s possible that they quietly did increase the Park’s overall capacity. Semantics may also come into play.
Here’s a look at the change in Studios’ hours:
With Rise’s downtime the likely culprit for the longer wait times this past Saturday, I think we can safely say that the Studios is still your best bet on a Saturday if you need to visit a Park. Saturday would also be the best choice for a restful day at the resort or a daytime visit to Disney Springs. You can also join me at the neighborhood Ale House, where I now have an office. Or at least a booth with a laptop.
We’ll reassess things in a couple of weeks and then again after the shorter hours take over. My estimation is that the next two weeks will see some of the shortest waits of the year with the slightly longer hours and schools back in session. September should be a great month for wait times and overall attraction access, even with some cuts. How much of a bounceback we see in October and beyond will come down to how much discounting Disney is willing to do, the overall state of the economy, and if Florida’s numbers continue to improve, potentially making it “feel” more safe. With Disney pushing back resort reopenings, Universal closing resorts and attractions, SeaWorld and Volcano Bay shuttering on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and more cutbacks, it doesn’t appear like there will be a sudden influx of demand.
It seems like most of those who have visited since Disney World reopened have reported positive overall experiences. Those positive reports are probably part of what’s fueling the weekend crowds. We certainly don’t have to embrace the Current Normal, but this is our reality for at least a few more months, if not more.
Here’s our overall chart of wait times by date in case you’re keeping track:
If you’d like a local copy, you can download the spreadsheet here.
It may be interesting that Magic Kingdom’s average wait went down day-over-day 18 times, while Animal Kingdom’s went down 19 times, and the Studios went down 22 times. That seems to indicate that there isn’t a strong overall push upwards in attendance or waits. With last week seeing lower waits than the week before, that’s not particularly surprising. It may also be of interest that overall, there’s little wait time variance from day to day, on average. The weekends do see bumps, but then those waits come back down during the week, largely washing away the increases.
I’m confident that the next couple of weeks will be great for wait times. Labor Day Weekend is coming up from September 4th through 7th. We may see a slightly bigger jump in weekend wait times then, but there doesn’t seem to be a tremendous amount of chatter about people planning trips over the holiday. With recent reports of how bad Universal has been on weekends in particular, local visitors may begin reevaluating their potential visits. The potential for low wait times is what Walt Disney World currently has to offer with so many shows, entertainment offerings, character meets, stores, restaurants, resorts, nighttime spectaculars, etc. closed.
With reduced operating hours and potential staffing reductions starting on September 8th, we’ll have to see if there’s a demonstrable increase in wait times, even if attendance heads south. September is reliably the least crowded month of the year at Walt Disney World and that should be particularly true this year. As we’ve learned over the years, that doesn’t necessarily translate to lower wait times given capacity reductions. We may feel that even more than usual without the many shows that help absorb the crowds.
We’ll see what’s next.