Now in the midst of spring break, we’ll return to our discussion of wait times and crowd levels at Walt Disney World and how what we’ve seen so far in 2019 compares to the last couple of years.
As usual, this is the big chart that we’ll be working with for Magic Kingdom. It shows the average overall posted wait across 17 Magic Kingdom attractions on each day of the year, between January 1st, 2017 and March 15th, 2019. On a given 12-hour day, more than seven thousand wait times are averaged and across this chart, well over six million wait times are recorded and averaged.
Each day is also color-coded based on the price season for a 1-day ticket. For 2017 and 2018, Green indicates a Value day, Yellow is Regular, and Red is Peak. In 2019, a fourth price season was introduced and we have Green as Value, Yellow as Regular, Orange as Peak, and Red as Max. Part of what we’ll be trying to uncover is whether less expensive days see lower crowds and shorter waits or if the cost difference is enough to push people to less expensive days, in turn increasing waits.
The 17 attractions included in the average are:
- The Barnstormer
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Haunted Mansion
- it’s a small world
- Jungle Cruise
- Mad Tea Party
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
The numbers should offer a representative look at how wait times progressed over the course of a given day with each major ride included, along with an assortment of secondary attractions. Often, wait times at rides like Mad Tea Party and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin are better indicators of how busy Magic Kingdom might be than major attractions like Space Mountain or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train because capacity doesn’t come into play. They are not taking tea cups on or off the track and there is only one spinner to operate. And because Tea Party and Aladdin aren’t at the top of most people’s wish lists, most guests only get in line for those rides when wait times at other attractions are intolerable. I’m much more worried when I see a 50-minute wait at Aladdin than I am when I see a 120-minute wait at Mine Train. The former means it’s time to head out. The latter means it’s probably a Tuesday afternoon during “slow season,” whenever we might be able to identify that might be.
Earlier this year, I published, “A Look Back at 2018 Walt Disney World Wait Times and What It Might Mean for the Future:”
There were a couple of main takeaways from that post that are relevant to today’s discussion.
The chart above shows the percent change in posted waits at Magic Kingdom each month from 2017 to 2018. During the first three months of 2018, wait times rose by an incredible amount – over 20% in January and February and 15 percent in March – before seeing slightly lower year-over-year waits in April and May, in part due to a shift in the Easter holiday.
Here’s the same numbers displayed in a different way:
June again saw an increase of 13% before wait times reversed course and actually went down, year-over-year, during five of the next six months. Wait times in November rose by just over 5%, but I would chalk that up to longer wait times over Thanksgiving. During that week, Disney opened Magic Kingdom at 9am instead of 8am and closed it at 11pm instead of 12am each day for the first time since 2011. With a similar number of people trying to squish into two fewer operating hours per day, you’re going to see higher wait times as demand stays relatively constant and supply decreases.
As we saw in A Look Back, operating hours at Magic Kingdom decreased even more during other months of the year. In October 2018, the Park operated, on average, two hours fewer per day than 2017. Wait times still dropped year over year, which seems to indicate a real drop in attendance during that time of year. The above chart shows the number of regular 8am opens at Magic Kingdom in October 2017 and 2018. In 2017, there were nineteen 8am opens. In October 2018, there were zero regular 8am opens. Thus, a phantom column.
The trend is an interesting one with crowds seemingly moving to the cooler months of the year and away from the summer, as discussed in “Walt Disney World Crowds Continue to Shift Away from the Summer:”
We’ve been aware of this phenomenon for a couple of years.
Here’s a chart that shows the average wait at Magic Kingdom by month in 2018:
The first three months see some of the highest wait times of the year. March’s average was actually the highest, beating out December with Christmas and New Year’s Eve by a fair margin. February is typically thought to be a less-crowded month outside of Presidents Day Weekend and the first few weekdays following it, but that month’s average was within a minute of June’s average and much higher than July’s. January is historically thought of to be the second least-crowded month of the year outside of September, but its 40.3-minute average was higher than seven other months, including May, July, and October. Those that stuck to the September advice remained in luck, with wait times considerably lower than any other month of the year.
The following chart shows the wait time averages in January, February, and March in 2017, 2018, and 2019:
Potentially, the good news is that posted wait times are actually down this year as compared to last year in both January and February, though both 2019 numbers are higher than their 2017 counterparts. Although we’re only half way through March, the 2019 number is also lower than 2018. With spring break crowds shifting based on when in March or April Easter falls, that number is a little less important, but it does continue to show a reversal from what we saw from 2017 to 2018. Wait times aren’t continuing to increase and instead, are remaining relatively constant.
Here’s a look at the average daily wait time at Magic Kingdom so far in 2019. It’s worth noting that Tomorrowland Speedway has been closed for most of the year and Peter Pan’s Flight also saw downtime. On the other hand, similarly popular attractions were closed for refurbishment in previous years, too. Pay special attention to the color-coding and see if it looks like Green days typically see lower waits than Orange and Red days:
One of our main hypotheses is that Disney’s own ticket price calendar is the best barometer of wait times with higher-priced days seeing heavier crowds and higher wait times. That was true in 2018:
Back then, there were only three price seasons, but Value days saw the lowest waits. On average, Regular days in 2018 saw wait times that were 11.8% higher. Peak days saw an even bigger jump with wait times 27.7% higher than Regular days and 41.8% higher than Value. That “feels” pretty substantial.
The trend was the same in 2017:
On average, Regular days in 2017 saw wait times that were 20.8% higher than Value. The jump from Regular to Peak was another 12.7% increase.
In late 2018, Disney took variable ticket pricing a step further. For years, they had charged difference prices for 1-day tickets based on expected demand, but a 2+ day ticket cost the same whether you were planning to use it on two less-busy days in September or two busier days around Christmas. On October 16th, 2018, Disney began charging variable prices on multi-day tickets, also based on expected demand. I penned a reaction in this post:
The title tells the whole story: “Disney’s Date-Based Ticket Pricing and Why It Probably Won’t Work.” While one of the major stated goals of the variable ticket pricing initiative was to “better distribute attendance throughout the year,” a small increase in ticket pricing isn’t going to do that. If you missed the post, I go into a lot more detail, but the bottom line is that a $35 difference in ticket price is a drop in the bucket of what a Disney vacation costs. People’s vacation dates are also typically limited to days that are naturally in higher demand, like spring break and Christmas. Demand is high when people are able to go on vacation. Knowing that, Disney figured they could charge higher prices and people would still book their trips.
September has been the least crowded month for 10+ years. You know it. I know it. But you’re probably still not going in September because the weather is horrific and you probably can’t swing the dates with work obligations and the school schedule. That may change this year with a portion of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening August 29th. But that’s probably another post.
Back to wait times based on pricing season. Here’s a look at the chart containing the dates so far in 2019:
As expected, wait times are lower on less expensive days with a 15.7% increase in average posted wait times from Value to Regular days. The bump from Regular to what we’re calling Peak is much lower, though – just 2.8 minutes or 6.7%. When there were three price categories, Disney gave us the Value, Regular, and Peak monikers. As far as I know, they haven’t done that for the current price seasons. So it may be more accurate to change what we’re calling “Peak” to “Regular-Plus” or “Regular-Slightly-Busier.” However, it’s a huge jump from Peak to Max with an increase of 24.1%. That “feels” pretty substantial. Even more impressive, there’s a 53.2% increase in average wait times from Value to Max.
As a reminder, here’s a look at Disney’s own rate chart, which continues to be a good indicator of how busy the Parks are going to be on a given day. Again, Green represents the least expensive Value days. Yellow is Regular. Orange is Peak. Red is Max:
We’ll have to come back to Galaxy’s Edge and its impact on fall crowds. But with Free Dining running through the first month after Star Wars’ opening, in addition to about half of the first 30 operating days falling under the “Value” category, you’d have to think that the August opening date was earlier than anyone had anticipated.
Last month, I published a post titled, “The Curious Case of January Wait Times at Walt Disney World:”
We took considerable interest in off-season wait times a couple of years ago, when crowds really began shifting away from historically-busy times, like the summer, and into what used to be less-crowded times, like January and October. A few years ago, a big part of that shift was due to foreign tour groups, primarily from South America, that visited the Orlando theme parks by the hundreds of thousands during a couple of specific times of year that matched up to their own weather and holidays. With heavier taxes on group travel and contracting economies down South, foreign visitors are a bit less of an issue.
Still, waits continue to increase during the first three months of the year. It’s most pronounced at Animal Kingdom:
This chart looks at the average wait across five Animal Kingdom attractions – DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. If we were to add Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey to the 2018 and 2019 numbers, the wait times would be astronomically higher during those years. Instead, we use the average wait at these five legacy attractions to get an idea about how wait times behaved both before and after Pandora’s opening. In an upcoming chart that compares 2018 and 2019, we’ll include both Pandora rides in the calculations.
In this chart, the 34.6% increase that we see from January 2015 to January 2017 is entirely due to something other than Pandora, since it isn’t yet open. Wait times then increase another 26.9% from January 2017 to January 2018, the first year that Pandora was open, before increasing another 21.8% the following year. From 2015 to 2019, wait times at the five legacy Animal Kingdom rise a 108%, meaning that you’d wait’d wait twice as long to ride TriceraTop Spin in 2019 than you would in 2015. That’s not good.
From The Curious Case, we also learned that the yearly increases at Animal Kingdom are somewhat unique. While Animal Kingdom’s January wait times increased every year, Magic Kingdom’s actually went down twice, both from 2015 to 2016 and most recently, from 2018 to 2019. We do see that big jump from January 2017 to January 2018 though, which is what really started this type of analysis.
From The Curious Case, I blamed rising wait times on several factors, the first of which is increased FastPass+ utilization:
Every day, more people are aware of the existence of FastPass+ and are more likely to book FastPass+ in advance of their vacation. With nearly every FastPass+ experience taken at nearly every attraction nearly every day, standby has never seen fewer people admitted to a ride per hour. And standby waits have gone up because of it.
Our second culprit was the fact that long wait times are the thing that’s causing long wait times…which is a thought that sounds both very obvious and very stupid every time that I type it. But I think if you’ve read the post, it makes sense. You now have thousands upon thousands of people that start their day at Animal Kingdom by waiting 2+ hours for Avatar Flight of Passage. That means they still have the entire Park to experience and they aren’t going to get to it until sometime after 11am, when wait times and crowds have peaked. They then begin to get in these standby lines that are already long and make them even longer.
Third, reduced capacity continues to come into play. A great example of that at Animal Kingdom is DINOSAUR, a ride that Disney still isn’t opening until 9:30am during some of the busiest days of the year. And once it does open, it only operates one of its two loading bays for at least an hour, in turn halving the number of people that can ride and pushing up wait times.
While we’re here, we can compare Animal Kingdom wait times from 2018 to the same months in 2019 so far. During both years, Pandora was open. This chart includes average waits from eight Animal Kingdom attractions – Avatar Flight of Passage, DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Na’vi River Journey, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. You might remember that the previous analysis left out Flight of Passage, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, and Na’vi River Journey. While wait times outside of Pandora continue to increase, waits at Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey actually dropped year-over-year. That makes some sense as some number of returning guests have had the opportunity to experience a 2+ hour wait at Flight of Passage already and may not want to do so again. Flight of Passage’s wait times are down about 4% this year, while waits at River Journey have dropped about 25%. You can read more about that in this post, which also discusses rope dropping the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World (until August 29th when Star Wars opens).
Those drops are enough to mostly-offset the increases at other attractions. From January 2018 to January 2019, the average Animal Kingdom wait, including all eight attractions, is up less than a minute, or 1.7%. From February, the average wait is actually down about six seconds. From March, the wait has risen, but we can ignore that at the moment given the fact that the month is only half over along with the Easter change.
Here’s the Magic Kingdom chart again. It’s interesting that waits are relatively stagnant from 2018 to 2019 there, too, despite the big gains that we saw from 2017 to 2018.
While it’s been a while since the website has commented on our friends at touringplans.com, I couldn’t help but take some interest earlier this year when they pushed out a crowd calendar update with some major changes:
The tweet was sent out the morning of January 4th, when the changes were made, for a guest’s stay that was beginning less than a week later. Imagine being four days away from your vacation, expecting to enjoy one of the ten or twelve least crowded days of the year, only to find out that your visit now falls on one of the busiest days of the year. And paying $15 for the privilege. It seems mean to focus on the biggest change, so we’ll instead look at their prediction on Thursday January 10th, where Animal Kingdom’s crowd level was supposed to be a “3,” but was increased to an “8,” with exactly six days notice. At least you’d be outside of any 5-day cancellation policies.
The following chart shows the average wait at all eight Animal Kingdom attractions that we’ve been discussing, including the two Pandora rides, in January 2018. Since we’re talking about January 10th 2019, I’ve circled the wait time for the same Thursday in 2018, which would have been January 11th:
The Park experienced a 56-minute wait on that date in 2018.
I won’t expand your screen any further than necessary at this point, but here’s a look at Animal Kingdom wait times over the first six months of 2018. If you were going to predict January 2019’s wait times six months in advance, this is the data that you’d have:
The 56-minute wait that we saw on the equivalent date in 2018 is clearly above average. It’s higher than the average for any month. Despite that, TouringPlans is still predicting a crowd level well below average. At least until six days before the date when they let you know that crowds are going to be much heavier than originally predicted.
Things didn’t really improve for the company as time went on. They have an automated system, where at 12:01am each day, they push an update with the original prediction and what “actually” happened:
Here’s a look at their predictions for Friday February 15th, which was the date exactly one month ago when I started writing this post on March 15th. They decided to keep their predictions low, only for a “10” to pop up at Animal Kingdom out of nowhere.
Was it really out of nowhere, though? You certainly wouldn’t think so given the fact that the equivalent day last year was not only a Peak day, but also one that saw a 60-minute average wait. Here’s our chart again with Friday February 16th 2018 circled:
Not only is a 60-minute wait ten minutes above average for the first six months of 2018, but it’s also sandwiched in between two other dates with longer waits. Based on last year’s data, there’s “literally” no reason why you could reasonably expect crowds to be below average in the middle of February.
If you follow touringplans.com, then you’d know that they make a new excuse for why their crowd calendar is so bad every three or four months. Sometimes it’s ride capacity. Sometimes it’s weather. This time around, it’s not that their numbers are bad:
It’s that the Park’s numbers are bad.
According to TouringPlans, Animal Kingdom’s posted wait times are off by an unprecedented amount. Keep in mind that they’re virtually the same as last year:
TouringPlans has always had two main problems:
- They misrepresent the quality of the data they collect.
- They have no idea what to do with the data that they do collect.
Mr. Testa uses exactly one example to “prove” his point that actual waits at Animal Kingdom are somehow much further off than usual. You would have to think that this chart would be one of the best examples that he has, since we’re only looking at the one. Despite its convolutedness, we can hone in on the first of exactly four actual wait times that they managed to collect over an 11-hour day. This is despite the fact that they had to hire someone special to collect the wait times, since TouringPlans has virtually nobody on the ground in Florida anymore. The first green dot, which represents an actual wait, looks pretty close to the little black dots around it, each of which denotes a posted wait.
Zooming in, the actual submitted wait was 45 minutes at 10:30am. The posted wait at 10:24am was 50 minutes. The posted wait at 10:30am was 40 minutes. So 45 minutes seems pretty reasonable to me. It’s right in the middle of the two posted waits around it.
The next actual wait, submitted at 12:04pm, is admittedly much further off. The posted wait is 65 minutes, or 30 minutes longer than the actual. But that kind of behavior isn’t that uncommon given the fact that the posted wait was 60 or more minutes leading up to when the person actually got in line. When there’s a long wait posted for a long time, few people get in the standby line and because of that, the posted wait ends up being shorter if you do manage to get in line before the posted wait has an opportunity to be adjusted. However, Disney is relatively quick to catch up. The 35-minute actual wait was submitted at 12:04pm and the posted wait drops to 45 minutes by 12:30p.
That brings us to our third actual wait time. That green dot represents a 34-minute actual wait when the posted wait was 35 minutes. That means Disney was just one minute away from the actual.
The fourth green dot is off again, with an actual wait of 35 minutes at 1:35pm and a posted wait of 50 minutes. But if you look just slightly to the right of that green dot, you’d see that the posted wait was 35 minutes at 2:03pm, or 28 minutes after the actual wait was recorded.
As most of us know, Disney’s posted wait times are somewhat reactive. You’ve probably seen those red cards they hand to people as they get in line. Once the person holding the red card arrives at the front of the line, they hand it to a cast member, who scans the card and records the actual wait. That actual wait is then typically posted out in front of the attraction. Certainly, in this digital age, you’d think Disney would be better at approximating wait times by using MagicBand technology to count the number of people in line. But even if you know how many people are waiting in standby, that doesn’t protect you from unexpected surges in the number of FastPass+ returners, small delays, or more substantial capacity issues like needing to pull a train on Everest or shutting down a pre-show room at DINOSAUR.
To say with any amount of scientific certainty that actual wait times are wrong at historic levels, it seems like you would need an awful lot of actual wait times. And TouringPlans collects virtually no actual wait times. The ones they do collect are also going to be naturally, and disproportionately, at the best times of day to visit that attraction. On March 2nd, just two days after the example Mr. Testa used, TouringPlans collected exactly two actual wait times at Expedition Everest over the course of the 12-hour day. Both are first thing in the morning when the actual wait was five minutes with either a five- or ten-minute posted wait. There are no actual wait times recorded between 9am and 9pm.
On March 3rd, they collected one actual wait time, which was 29 minutes at 9:25am. At 9:17am, the posted wait was 30 minutes. Again, one minute off doesn’t seem too bad.
At the beginning of the post, Mr. Testa mentions the fact that they’ve collected 45,593 actual wait time “pairs” since 2012. That sounds like a lot, but it’s also over the span of 2,625 days, give or take. That means they’re only collecting 17 actual wait times per day across the entire Park. There’s between seven and ten attractions at Animal Kingdom that post a wait time, depending on the month and year that you’re talking about. So best case scenario, you’re talking about an entire operation that’s collecting 2.5 wait times per attraction per day. And the vast majority of those actual wait times are going to be useless. We know Expedition Everest is going to be posting a short wait at the beginning of the day. And we know the actual wait time is also going to be short.
Since I evidently have a lot of time on my hands, I went through another attraction that Mr. Testa mentions in his post, and the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World, in Avatar Flight of Passage. In the entirety of February, which is the main month that we’re talking about here, TouringPlans only collected 31 actual wait times. That’s 1.1 actual wait time per day. Flight of Passage moves through an average of 1,400 riders per hour and is open an average of about 11 hours a day in February. So out of about 431,200 rides, they’ve collected data on something like 0.000718923% of them. That’s not very many. Worse, the majority of those actual waits are either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, when we already know actual wait times are going to be much lower than posted.
So even if posted waits are historically inaccurate, I’m not sure that they have the data to support that. And if anything, the limited data that they do have seems to follow the same patterns that we’ve seen for years. Even in Mr. Testa’s single example in his blog post, with four actual waits recorded, the actual wait time is within a minute on one occasion and within five minutes on another occasion. There are only two other actual wait times used in the example, but on both occasions, the posted wait reflects reality within a half hour. That’s how you would expect Disney’s reactive system to work. They see somebody got through the line in 35 minutes and post that wait time. But it can take the 35 minutes with that person carrying the red card through the line for that change to happen.
The thing is, the actual wait times aren’t the problem, even if they were wildly lower than what’s currently being posted. TouringPlans’ projections are low because they use old, irrelevant data. Check out this blog post from February 2018:
As recently as last year, TouringPlans was using data stretching back 8+ years in their predictions. And while you might initially think, “the more the merrier,” the fact is that putting any weight whatsoever to wait times before FastPass+ came online in 2014 makes absolutely no sense. Spaceship Earth’s wait times throughout 2013, when it didn’t offer FastPass+, are irrelevant. Yet, TouringPlans was still using that data in their predictions up through April 2018. Using those lower wait times from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 is going to produce predictions that are too low. The same thing is happening with their Animal Kingdom predictions. Even if they only used January 2017 and January 2018 wait times in their wait time predictions for January 2019, that still means 50% of the data used comes from before Pandora opened.
Remember this chart from when you were reading this post 45 minutes ago:
Animal Kingdom’s posted wait times barely changed from January 2018 to January 2019 or from February 2018 to February 2019. If you use data from earlier years, when Pandora wasn’t open and attendance was millions of people lower, you’re going to under-predict wait times. If TouringPlans simply looked at the January 2018 numbers and mirrored them for 2019, they would have been accurate just about every single day. But they didn’t. So they’re not.
Looking forward to predicting Hollywood Studios’ wait times in 2020, TouringPlans will be using data from 2018, before Galaxy’s Edge opened. That means they’ll continue to under-predict wait times. Maybe they’ll be be back in 18 months talking about how the wait times at Muppet Vision 3D are at historically inaccurate levels.
Three paragraphs after coming to the epiphany that using eight-year-old data is probably a bad idea, they go on to announce a new 18-month crowd calendar:
The same people that changed Animal Kingdom from a “1” to a “9” with five days notice are now telling you the future a year and a half in advance.
We’re over 4,500 words, so it’s probably time to call it a day. Remind me to write a post about how there is no special, secret TouringPlans crowd algorithm and the reason they had to make such significant changes to their predictions earlier this year with virtually no notice is due to the fact that somebody forgot to check a box after a TreeNet update.
The good news is that after the numbers change wildly in either direction, TouringPlans will always tell you that they never really mattered in the first place.
I spent all of my money at Jaleo. So this is it.