Actual versus posted wait times for rides at Walt Disney World has been an “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.”
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?
This post will attempt to answer that question, discussing why Walt Disney World has historically inflated wait times and the company’s new “buyer beware” warning in Genie+. We’ll also some strategy, tips, and info for using the wait time disparity to your advantage…
Let’s start with some background into actual versus posted wait times at Walt Disney World. For starters, this is absolutely nothing new. 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.
During the physical distancing “era” of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, this practice became even more pronounced. We discussed this many times (see here and here, plus pretty much any park reports). There were some unique wrinkles post-reopening, with a lack of queue space, less predictability, and the unprecedented nature of it all making wait time forecasting more challenging for Disney. The point is that from last July through around this May, posted wait times were the least accurate we had ever seen them–but they’re never anywhere close to 100% accurate.
During normal times, 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. A great example of this can be found at the end of our post, Tom’s Day in Magic Kingdom Without Genie+. We got in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train shortly before official park closing when the posted wait time was 50 minutes–our actual wait ended up being ~4 minutes. This wasn’t some big goof up; it was by design to discourage day guests from jumping in line at the end of the night so Magic Kingdom could be cleared quicker for the start of Disney After Hours Boo Bash.
In general, we’ve found that posted wait times are most accurate first thing in the morning (presumably in part because posted times are lower and crowds are growing) and least accurate in late morning and then towards the end of the night. Beyond that, more popular rides tend to be bigger culprits–the higher the wait, the less likely it’s accurate.
Fantasyland-style dark rides also tend to see more bloat, which could be because under-promising and over-delivering is especially important to parents with small children? (That’s just a guess.)
One specific example is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is often way off. This could be because it’s brand new, so there’s less historical data, but we’re skeptical.
More likely, it’s because the attraction is prone to breakdowns and delays, so the company is building in a buffer. It’s also worth noting that Rise of the Resistance can be way off in both directions–if there’s a full reset while you’re in line, that otherwise inflated wait could be much lower than what you actually wait.
Over the course of the last 18 months, 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 last year 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–but particularly anyone aware that posted wait times are exaggerated. 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.
The perspective among some fans has been that Walt Disney World just started inflating wait times this fall ahead of the launch of 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. That one, very big reason is sufficient for resenting the new system. 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?
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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!