Actual vs. Posted Wait Times at Disney World
Actual versus posted wait times for rides at Walt Disney World has been a known issue for years. Many fans have reported significant disparities during their days in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom–and wondering why inaccuracies persist despite this being a known “problem.” (Updated April 25, 2023.)
Let’s start with some background into actual versus posted wait times at Walt Disney World. For starters, this is absolutely nothing new. Walt Disney World has been doing this for as long as I can remember, which is at least the last couple of decades. Anyone who has ever visited the parks and used standby lines to a significant degree for a few days can tell you that posted wait times are higher than actual ones more often than not.
There’s really no debating whether this is happening. The better questions are: why does Walt Disney World inflate posted wait times? and to what extent does Walt Disney World overstate wait times? This post will attempt to answer those questions plus a few others, discussing why Walt Disney World has historically inflated wait times, biggest offenders, and the company’s “buyer beware” warning in Genie+. We’ll also some strategy, tips, and info for using the wait time disparity to your advantage…
There are several reasons why Walt Disney World deliberately inflates wait times. First, it’s good for guest satisfaction–an extension of the ole “underpromise and overdeliver” mantra. It’s surprisingly simple: guests will be happy if they wait less time than is advertised, but unhappy if they wait longer. Since it’s tough to make predictions that are 100% accurate, it’s better to err on the side of inflation.
This kind of consumer manipulation is incredibly common. We’ve often “joked” that Disney follows the Kohl’s school of pricing–the store where everything is always on sale. Although this year has been an odd outlier, Disney never lowers sticker prices, instead offering aggressive and sometimes illusory discounts for their psychological appeal. Free Dining isn’t really free–it comes with an opportunity cost–but nothing sells better than FREE. Similar idea here. People love it when they think they’re coming out ahead.
Second, wait times themselves are a form of crowd control. This is not a big revelation, but some attractions are more popular than others. If you give 100 guests the choice between Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Country Bear Jamboree without any other constraints, 99 of them are going to make the wrong decision and pick the roller coaster.
Sometimes, we all just need a gentle little nudge to do the right thing. That can come in the form of inflated wait times at popular attractions, which push people towards less popular ones. Everyone has a balking point–a wait that is simply too high to justify the time spent waiting in line–even for their favorite rides. Higher wait times on headliners increase utilization of less popular attractions, making the park more efficient and better able to absorb crowds.
Finally, pumped up wait times offer a variety of other operational advantages. One of these is discouraging abuse of DAS, as those who have sufficient knowledge to abuse that system are also likely aware of inflated wait times. (It’s not a perfect solution and there’s an obvious downside, but there is no perfect solution here.)
Another is clearing the park at the end of the night. Our go-to example for this is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is so consistently inflated that our Ride Guide for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train highly recommends doing that attraction after the fireworks and ignoring the posted wait time. This is consistently and predictably overstated, and that’s entirely by design. It’s to discourage guests from jumping in line at the end of the night so Magic Kingdom can be cleared quicker.
To that point, we’ve found that wait times are least accurate and most inflated at the end of the night. This is particularly true among headliners in any of the 4 theme parks. Usually, the more popular the attraction, the more the wait time is inflated. Prime examples here are (again) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, and Test Track.
Oh, and literally every single attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Those parks are home to some of the biggest offenders, with Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, Avatar Flight of Passage, and Na’vi River Journey being among the worst. Na’vi River Journey is probably the biggest red flag, as we had countless experiences with it having a posted wait time of 50-75 minutes and an actual wait time of 15 minutes or less.
Another specific example is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is often way off. That’s not listed above because it’s frequently inaccurate in both directions. We’ve had actual waits that are less than half the posted time (quite often, in fact) but also actual waits that are nearly double the posted wait time.
The wild fluctuations with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are because the attraction is prone to breakdowns and delays, so the company is building in a buffer. If you get lucky and it’s not having any issues on the day of your visit, that 75 minute posted wait time at 7:45 pm might be an actual wait time of 20 minutes. By contrast, if it’s been up-and-down all day and there’s a backlog of Lightning Lane guests, it might be an actual wait of 70-80 minutes. Worse yet, it could break down while you’re in line and end up being a triple-digit wait.
At the other end of the operating day is the morning, which also can be inaccurate. Since the debut of Early Entry and Lightning Lanes, we’re finding that wait times are typically abnormally inflated during the first 60-90 minutes of the day (including Early Entry) before settling into normal patterns. They’re still inflated, to be sure, but not as bad as at the beginning of the day or end of the evening.
Then there’s the heart of the day, from about 10 am until 6 pm (or around 4 pm at both DHS and Animal Kingdom). That’s when wait times have the lowest amount of inflation. Again, they’re still usually overstated, but not to the extreme degrees as earlier and later in the day.
Turning back to attractions, other big offenders are actually the least popular attractions. At least, in percentage terms.
The reason for this is actually quite simple–it’s because the least popular attractions often have minimal waits or are walk-ons, making just about any posted wait time inflated by a significant degree. For example, if the posted wait time for Journey into Imagination is 15 minutes, but the actual wait time is however long it takes to walk through an empty queue (3-4 minutes), the posted wait time is 5 times the actual wait.
On paper, that’s really bad. It’s objectively worse than the aforementioned headliners in pure percentage terms. However, subjectively or as a matter of perception, that’s probably not the case. Most reasonable guests–and especially seasoned Walt Disney World visitors–view 15 minutes or less as shorthand for “basically no wait.” So it thus comes as little surprise that the actual wait time is essentially nothing. It would come as a bigger shock to see a 5-15 minute posted wait time and actually wait 20 minutes.
Over the course of the last 2 years, our experience across all of Walt Disney World has been that actual wait times average about two-thirds to 75% of posted wait times most of the day. That drops to around 50% at night, if not lower. These are averages; we’ve waited significantly less and even sometimes more than posted wait times, too.
Moreover, this is entirely anecdotal and based on our first-hand experiences, but they’re pretty extensive at this point. We’d love to hear generalizations from other regular Walt Disney World visitors about posted v. actual wait times in the 2 years and beyond in the comments.
This background info is just good knowledge to have that can help you plan and build itineraries. It should also illustrate how inflated posted wait times are actually mutually beneficial for the company and guests. Well, at least they are to anyone who is aware that posted wait times are exaggerated (and who doesn’t use DAS).
This is knowledge you can leverage to your strategic advantage–see the above Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at park closing, for example. We mention this because in the last few weeks we’ve received a ton of reader complaints about inflated posted wait times. It’s not uncommon to get comments about these, but usually it’s in a matter-of-fact or even positive way. More recently, it’s been cynical and negative.
Lightning Lanes have added a new wrinkle to this conversation about posted v. actual wait times at Walt Disney World. (As always, if you’re new to paid FastPass, start by reading our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ.) After all, if guests are paying for Genie+ or ILL to skip a line, don’t they deserve to know how long that wait actually is?
The perspective among some fans has been that Walt Disney World just started inflating wait times with Genie+ to encourage guests to buy that and Individual Lightning Lanes. People have indicated they’d be mad if they paid to skip the line and then found out the actual wait time was half what was posted. Others have questioned whether Disney had a duty to eliminate inflated wait times or risk claims of fraud, consumer deception, false advertising, etc.
I understand that many of you hate Genie+ and Lightning Lanes–going from free to paid FastPass sucks. But it’s enough to dislike it on principle, and not try and concoct other reasons to loathe Lightning Lanes. There’s no need to pile on, I promise. Especially in the case of posted v. actual wait times where it sorta feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Nevertheless, it would seem that Walt Disney World has heard this complaint, as the following is included in the terms & conditions of Genie+ that guests can read before buying:
Of course, no one is going to actually read all of this legalese besides bloggers and other dorks. (No offense, my fellow dorks.) That’s exactly the point, and arguably the goal of “effective” terms & conditions–bog them down with boring boilerplate language and make them tedious to read…so no one does!
This should answer the questions about Walt Disney World’s intentions to continue inflating wait times. Quite simply, the practice is too important operationally and integral to guest satisfaction to stop doing it now. The increased transparency to prospective buyers of Genie+ doesn’t move the needle. And frankly, it shouldn’t.
Ultimately, this is simply CYA language from Disney and is not intended to be brought to the attention of average guests. There’s really no need to do so, since the majority of people purchasing Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes will never have any clue as to the posted wait time that they bypassed. The whole goal in buying is to save time; people aren’t going to undercut that by standing outside the ride exit and polling others as they leave about how long they waited.
Overanalyzing the differences between actual and posted wait times is solely the domain of dorks on the internet. Regular park guests do not care beyond the happiness in saving time, whether that result from spending money to bypass the line or “beating” the system by not splurging and still not waiting as long as advertised. On the plus side, us dorks have a strategic advantage in understanding how all of this actually works, leveraging it to our advantage, and continuing to visit Walt Disney World more efficiently. Let’s not get too vocally negative about a practice that benefits us, capisce?
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What do you think about Walt Disney World’s practice of inflating wait times? Think they should be more accurate to actual waits, or do you understand the rationales for inflating them–and appreciate the strategic advantage it confers on knowledgeable guests? What has been your experience with actual v. posted wait times at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
If wait times are wildly inaccurate, then don’t post them. Let everybody just take their chances
Increasing guest satisfaction as a motivation makes sense for very conservative posted time estimates. I don’t like it but understand why they do it. Same attraction with two scenarios. “The posted time said 50 minutes and we were on the ride in 30 minutes!” vs. “The posted time said 10 minutes and we were on the ride in 30 minutes!” In each case it took the same time to actually get on the ride, but I’m guessing there would be two very different perceptions of that same 30-minute wait.
I agree with that there isn’t a dark motivation to steer guests to buying Lightning Lane. But companies should not misrepresent information to their customers in order to manipulate customer behavior. When a guest sees “estimated wait times” they have a reasonable expectation that these are informed estimates of wait times, not a crowd control measure.
Is it a big deal? No. But I always imagine that the next step for even more efficient crowd control would be showing different wait times to different guests on the app. First time visitors will see artificially shorter wait times for unpopular attractions. Wouldn’t that be in the same spirit as the current system?
Fudging the wait times to this degree is also bad form that isn’t good business in the long term. Uninformed guests will consider this either another instance of “stuff going wrong in the parks,” while those in the know will see this as just one more example of cynical Disney pushing (unknowing) guests around. Why waste customer trust for this?
I take your point, especially about it being a potential slippery slope–and I’d certainly object to the type of segmentation and manipulation that would lead to showing different guests different wait times.
With that said, I’d hazard a guess that 2% of all guests are aware of and understand the motivations for this. Another 33% to 50% are probably simply happy that they “beat” or “outperformed” the average wait times. Whatever the actual percentages, I think the latter is far higher than the former, so it’s probably a win for overall guest satisfaction.
You’ve convinced me! I feel a little tinge of “winning” when the wait times are shorter than expected, even though I know the score… so it’s probably good business. But still shady to me (and don’t get me started on the Genie recommendations you wrote about a while back to ride the Carousel at rope drop).
We were at MK Sunday Apr 16 and definitely experienced inflated wait times after fireworks. Space Mountain dropped to 25 min posted. We rode TWICE and we’re off the second time within 25 min. Then around 20 minutes before closing, Mine train posted 45 but would have been <10 if not for the ride breaking down for the night just as we were about to climb on board. We left and ended up walking on Peter Pan right before closing instead (and kudos to the CMs who left the PP queue open past park close fort people who got stuck at Mine Train. We got to ride Mine Train three times in 30 min toward the end on Extended Evening Hours a few days later so it all worked out!
So in short it’s all fraudulent.
We’ve been to 4 rides at 2 Disney parks. Wait times have far exceeded the posted Wait time.
55min posted at Millennium Falcon, actual 100 min
Others, Animal kingdom, posted 65 min. Actual 105 min.
Mostly nearly twice the posted Wait time. March 9th, 11th
Could only get on 2 rides a day
We were at WDW for two weeks in late January and early February. Have been coming same time for years. Massive crowds this trip. In almost all instances wait times were much longer than posted wait times. It was a frustrating two weeks and we’re not eager to return.
There has always been wait time inflation. I’ve been a regular visitor to WDW since 1973. When MK was the only park, and every attraction required a ticket, wait times were usually at least 1/2 more than actual wait time (i.e. a 60 minute posted time was actually 40 minutes) This was pretty much the rule, and we always figured it was done for the uneducated masses to make them happier. The “formula” seems to have been followed at EPCOT Center, and to a degree at Disney-MGM. When FastPass was introduced it really gummed up the whole system and that’s when queue destruction started to occur. (Nothing like unhappy guests in a line that doesn’t move-let’s let our kids destroy the wall decals or carve initials in the wall.) While this may be an unpopular view, I personally hate any system that features a “fast lane” of any type. Disney used to be the place where it didn’t matter what side of the tracks you lived on….if you could afford to pay the price to get in (or the attraction ticket), you were treated exactly the same as the next guest when it came to queuing for an attraction. (Of course there was the occasional VIP that would sneak in through the exit, but you really didn’t notice them). Back before FP, queues were constantly in motion (with the exception of theater presentations) and the only occasion that would cause a line to stop, was an attraction breakdown. If you were lucky enough to visit before pay-one-price was the norm and A-E tickets were in use, you were treated to the best operations in Disney park history. Ride operatives were encouraged to fill EVERY seat, and keep vehicle dispatches or attraction load periods, as short as possible. The more guests per hour, the more tickets the company sold. It also incentivized park management to update attractions that weren’t pulling their weight, or replace them all together. Hell, I’d love to pay 10 bucks to get into a park, and then $100 for a book of tickets that provided an A-E tiered experience, rather than the P.O.P system that most parks moved to years ago.
So in conclusion, I would agree in your assessments of wait time inflation. Whether the reasons for doing it are the same or different from practices in the past, I don’t know. What I do know, is that the minute FP was introduced, Disney took what they thought was a problem and made it worse. The true fix is to create at least five more “people eating” attractions in each park (without closing anything already open).
This last week the posted wait time has been spot on for me, so I guess more anecdotal evidence to add…although I have found at headline rides, they tend to hold the queue for the last hour of closing and let as many LL people through before emptying the main queue at park close.
Disagree that manipulating guests by actively misleading them is good business practice to benefit the consumer. Seems a strange conclusion, particularly when that misinformation can be leveraged to juice those guests for more money. I understand this practice predates Genie+ and offers other advantages to corporate, but don’t act like Chapek isn’t fully aware that inflated wait times can and will contribute to increased spending on LL.
I’ve got 99 problems, but Country Bears ain’t one…haha! I won’t get to experience Genie, Genie+, and ILS until mid November. Looking forward to deciding for myself if its worth the cost or not. Appreciate this article!
I’ve seen a couple of videos showing the Lightning Lane backed up for what has to be at least an hour, with hardly anyone in the standby lanes. I think Disney can expect to hear a whole lot about that, no matter what they put in their Terms and Conditions.
I completely agree. I was highly discouraged reading this. Why overlook this inflation as a good thing when people needing DAS for very real reasons are greatly impacted? I am beginning to lose faith in any “magic” Disney provided for the disabled community. Spending 3 days, 12 hours per day in a que attempting to get a virtual DAS and then the policy of having to call back each day for another selection showed me they’re not as preferred as once.
Disabled guests aren’t supposed to be preferred. And there is no rule that you have to get the DAS in advance – you can get it when you arrive in the park, just like always.
Agree with the post. However. The problem will occur if/when Disney starts showing different guests different wait times, in order to take advantage of varying behavioral responses. This, too, would spread guests out more efficiently and is the natural extension of data tracking/algorithms.
Would you feel the same way then?
Would you say Genie+ is worth it this December? I’ll buy it if it seems like it’s packed, but I only used MaxPass at Disneyland when we were passholders when it was real busy and I found it worth it. Genie+ I don’t know. We’ll be there Dec 16-21.
I’ve known of line manipulation for a long time. I went to college near Disneyland so lots of friends were cast members! It was a thing then for sure.
Also I timed the wait and it was about 28 minutes.
A couple weeks ago, for the first time ever in all my many years going to Disneyland, a Cast Member acknowledged wait time manipulation to me. Guardians: Monsters After Dark had a posted wait of 60 minutes, but looked longer, extending way outside of the entryway. I asked the Cast Member at the back of the line if the wait time was really only 60, and he replied “Actually it’s more like 30-35. We have to post a longer wait because otherwise this line would extend too far back into Hollywood Land. There’s just nowhere for the line to go.” I couldn’t believe it – I assumed he must be relatively new because I can’t imagine management condones such acknowledgments to guests. Appreciated his honesty though.
@troy. Genie or genie+? Genie + is not. Genie might be but is not necessary ever. Busy, slow, early hours or after hours, I think it’s been established that genie is a complete non event.
Do you know if Genie is available during after hours events?
Are you saying they have begun inflating wait times even more than before? For those of us who have family members with legitimate disabilities that actually NEED DAS, that is way unfair and just plain wrong, as the DAS return times correspond directly to Disney’s posted wait times. If they decide to post a wait time of 2 hours when it is actually 30 minutes, they are ensuring that people with disabilities will enjoy way less of Disney World than the typical guest. While I realize Disney won their first round in the disability lawsuits against them and perhaps that has emboldened them, it seems like poor public relations at the very least to take actions that will specifically affect this group, not to mention that the case is under appeal (Ct of Appeals decision due any day).