We head back to Magic Kingdom for a Thanksgiving week visit. In this Walt Disney World park report, we’ll share our experience with heavy crowds, high holiday wait times, and long lines. We’ll also discuss how Magic Kingdom feels fully booked to 35% capacity, which it’ll likely hit again during Christmas and New Year’s Eve weeks.
To our knowledge, this was the first day that Magic Kingdom had no availability across all three buckets of Disney Park Pass theme park reservations since Walt Disney World increased capacity. There were a couple of fully booked dates in September and October, but it’s unlikely Magic Kingdom was at 35% given what we observed and the wait times.
During the last quarterly earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that Walt Disney World increased capacity from 25% to 35% while still adhering to health guidance. This was attributed to efficiency gains such as increased ride capacity, which have allowed park operators to increase attendance levels while staying within CDC guidelines. Basically, our goal with this visit to Magic Kingdom was to see how that played out in practice…
Also during Disney’s quarterly earnings call, Chapek indicated that the increased capacity could occur while maintaining physical distancing based upon Disney’s industrial engineering estimates. I’ll admit to chuckling a bit when I heard this.
No offense to Walt Disney World’s industrial engineers, but we’ve been down this road before. The basis for our skepticism in Disney’s theoretical capacity caps is laid out in last year’s Is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Too Crowded?
The main point there is that guests do not naturally distribute themselves to uncrowded areas of the parks, which is what’s assumed in setting those attendance caps. Instead, people disproportionately flock to areas of the park that are already congested.
While this might be happening to the chagrin of industrial engineering estimates, it’s perfectly rational human behavior. There’s plenty of empty physical space in the parks that is simply less appealing or useful to guests than the congested areas.
It should come as no surprise that people are packed into the pinch-points of Adventureland or Fantasyland–tight corridors that are dense with attractions–whereas random restrooms in far-flung areas of Magic Kingdom are devoid of guests.
We’d give Walt Disney World’s industrial engineering estimates the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’ve taken human behavior and guest demand into account, had we not seen ample examples in the past to prove that is not the case. It would seem their calculations assume a lot of optimal space utilization, and fail to account for practical, in-park realities.
As noted above, Adventureland and Fantasyland are the biggest problem points that we observed. The corridors leading through the heart of these two lands are already narrow, but this is exacerbated by physically-distanced extended queues spilling out of those attractions and restaurants.
In Adventureland, the line for Pirates of the Caribbean is so long that there are multiple switchbacks encompassing nearly half the width of the walkway. On top of that, increased attendance means more strollers and guests lingering outside restaurants for Mobile Order pick-up. That further shrinks the walkable space through the land.
The result is that it’s literally impossible to physically distance from other guests while passing through this thoroughfare, which essentially extends from the edge of Frontierland near Splash Mountain to past Jingle Cruise. These areas are uncomfortably congested.
It shouldn’t take an industrial engineer to tell Walt Disney World decision-makers that there’s simply not enough available space in this and other stretches of Magic Kingdom.
This Splash Mountain end of line photo illustrates just how odd and unpredictable guest distribution can be in the parks right now.
The entirety of that bridge is queue for the attraction–you can’t even go back there without getting into a line. To the left around the corner, there’s congestion caused by guests waiting for Golden Oak Outpost and Pecos Bill (pictured a few photos above). Yet the main corridor in Frontierland is pretty relaxed.
Similar scenes are visible again and again throughout Magic Kingdom.
Above, a large crowd trying to find available tables and/or waiting to enter Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe.
Around the corner, it’s also crowded.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but on the right is the “line” to enter Cosmic Ray’s for Mobile Order pick-up. On the left is the end of line for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Yet looking the opposite direction, the scene on the bridge to Main Street is pretty quiet.
These are repeating crowd-flow patterns that are readily observable. I could “predict” with near-certainty that this bridge will look much different when the Cinderella Castle Christmas projections start…because I’ve seen that scenario play out repeatedly. How is this accounted for in the numbers Walt Disney World arrives at for its attendance caps?
The silver lining is that there are still some reprieves from the crowds in Magic Kingdom, but fewer and fewer.
This peaceful pathway is one of my favorite spots in the park, but only a few minutes after I took this photo, the line for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh extended to the Wishing Well.
Most lines were just flat-out long.
Above is Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin with a posted 45 minute wait. That’s actually not too much longer than what we’ve seen recent Fridays through Sundays.
However, the difference is that the extended queue went in both directions, filling up the normally-used area by attraction exit (to the left of the marquee) and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor queue.
Also, another instance of a pocket of low crowds in the walkway of the photo above.
Speaking of “one attraction using the queue of another,” here’s a look at the line for Astro Orbiter.
Often, it was difficult to tell where the lines ended or started.
Of everything we saw, Space Mountain took the cake for the most “ingenious” line routing. The entrance started out a lot like it does most days.
Then it snaked behind the Joffrey’s Revive stand, in front of the restrooms, and around front of the Tomorrowland Stage, where Santa Buzz Lightyear was out waving to guests in line. (A nice touch!)
One game we played during our visit is “where do these please wait here markers lead?” It wasn’t a very good game, but sure beats standing in line 45 minutes for Tomorrowland Speedway.
The answer to the question when it comes to the above photo is Space Mountain.
Pretty much the entirety of Storybook Circus was a queue for Barnstormer.
The line stretched out the front entrance, all around the Walt Disney World Railroad loading area, and out into the Casey Junior Play Area. Despite this, the posted wait was only 30 minutes.
As we’ve stressed before, photos of long lines don’t tell the full story.
Last year the week before Thanksgiving, the wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train peaked at over 200 minutes. This year, it’s hitting ~100 minute highs.
The length of the line is really long here (the Cast Member with the sign is right under Cinderella Castle in the photo above), and that queue wraps all the way around the mountain.
However, that’s with a posted 80 minute wait time. Last year, the exact same time sported a 185 minute posted wait.
The point is that context matters–there’s good and bad with visiting Magic Kingdom right now, it’s all a matter of perspective.
You might see only or mostly the positives or negatives. Someone else might view things entirely differently. How the scales tip is ultimately a mix of priorities, expectations, past experience, and comfort level (among other things).
Here’s the line for the next showing of Country Bear Jamboree, extending outside Grizzly Hall and around the corner leading towards Pecos Bill.
Talk about guests with impeccable taste wanting to do only the most distinguished attractions in Magic Kingdom.
Aside from applauding those with the sophistication to see Country Bear Jamboree, we’re not making a value judgment about guests visiting during the busy holiday season. We obviously went to Magic Kingdom despite having a pretty good idea about heavy crowd levels, so we’re “part of the problem” as it were.
To the extent we have an issue with this, it’s that Walt Disney World continually touts its health protocol, temporary rules, physical distancing, etc. Marketing and public statements emphasize health safety practices and the track record of theme parks.
In reality, Disney wants to have its cake and eat it, too. High crowd levels and health safety.
To Walt Disney World’s credit, that balance is being struck in various locations throughout the park. But definitely not everywhere. Again, we noticed significant lapses in Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Main Street during entertainment and the evening is another issue.
For our part, we’ve effusively praised Walt Disney World how the parks have handled the phased reopening. That’s not accurate for Thanksgiving week, and probably won’t be for Christmas, New Year’s, or any other time Magic Kingdom is at the “full” 35% capacity.
Our aim here is to simply point all of that out and set realistic expectations for those of you visiting this upcoming holiday weekend, or during the peak weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. If you’re concerned about crowds and congestion, you might want to rethink your visit.
If you are not concerned about congestion, it is worth reiterating that overall attendance levels this Thanksgiving week pale in comparison to last year’s. The same will also be true for Christmas and New Year’s.
These are weeks that are normally close to full capacity, and now they’re at 35%. Even taking physical distancing in queues, stores, and on rides into account, the wait times and “feels like” crowds are still nowhere near what they’d normally be this week.
Those who visit Magic Kingdom during these holiday weeks and arrive for rope drop, take a midday break, and return for closing will be rewarded. (See our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerary for step-by-step strategy.)
Even without FastPass, it should still be fairly easy to knock out every attraction, enjoy the entertainment, and even potentially do a table service meal. Speaking of which, we checked the Walk-Up Waitlist and could’ve done Be Our Guest Restaurant at several points throughout the day.
Ultimately, we fall into the “still concerned about congestion” category, so we didn’t stick around Magic Kingdom for the entire day. Then again, we also fall into the “we can visit next week when attendance falls by 50%” category. Although we didn’t report on our visit last week, that’s not a stretch–Magic Kingdom wait times are up 49.2% as compared to last week.
It would seem that many visitors to Magic Kingdom shared this sentiment. We overheard several families discussing crowds, and some specifically stated that they should leave to go back to swim in the hotel pool. (Which makes us curious how busy the pools are this week.) We likewise called an audible and left Magic Kingdom, but went in the exact opposite direction of exercise. More on that in tonight’s post…
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If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom during the week of Thanksgiving 2020, what has been your experience with crowds and wait times? Issues with congestion, breakdowns in physical distancing, finding spots to eat, or quiet corners away from the masses? If you’ve done Thanksgiving in prior years, how do you think this year compares? Thoughts about anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this Christmas, or are you sitting this year out? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!