With peak season spring break 2022 crowds starting to descend upon Walt Disney World, we tested out Early Theme Park Entry again. This photo report offers a look at morning in Magic Kingdom on a 10/10 wait times day, how packed the park is for this on-site perk, what we accomplished, strategy & tips so you can get more done, and more.
On this day at MK, the park opened to the general public at 9 am, meaning Early Entry began at 8:30 am. We arrived at ~8 am, breezing through bag check and the turnstiles in minutes. The first guests heading towards Seven Dwarfs Mine Train likely arrived at least 30 minutes before us–that’s typically when the turnstiles open.
In our experience thus far, getting to the parks for Early Entry is surprisingly easy. Bus transportation starts running early, and most guests simply are not up and out the door by 7 am. Monorails and boats are departing every few minutes, and usually are not full at this hour. We’ve found it to be a far more pleasant transportation experience than leaving an hour or two later.
Our normal recommendation is to arrive “at least” 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry, but consider adjusting that upwards to 45 minutes. Probably more like a full hour if your plan is to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Upon reaching the end of Main Street, you’ll see Cast Members with signs direction guests to the left for breakfast reservations and to the right for Early Theme Park Entry. This works exactly the same as morning Extra Magic Hours, if you remember those.
On-site guests head to the right of the East Plaza Garden. There’s a row of Cast Members stationed here to scan MagicBands, resort room keys, or whatever appropriate identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels.
You can’t access Tomorrowland or Fantasyland without scanning here. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go for the morning–unlike Extended Evening Hours, you aren’t scanned at each individual attraction.
From there, you proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.
The crowd issmaller for Tomorrowland. There’s more breathing room here and it’s definitely the more laid back option. By contrast, the Fantasyland Bridge is packed with people.
The mood is also more tense. Guests are revving up their double-wide strollers on the Fantasyland Bridge, preparing to do some serious damage to the ankles of anyone walking too gingerly. The sprint to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a high stakes, eat-or-be-eaten game.
Not really, but the atmosphere does feel tense before the crowd starts moving. Once it does, it’s more like a slow trudge in a sea of humanity. No one is doing anything even resembling running. We call it the “SDMT Shuffle.”
Most guests are rolling up around 15 minutes before the start of Early Entry. The line for Fantasyland really filled up fast around 8:15 to 8:20 am. Approximately 90% of those people are planning to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
There were significantly more guests waiting here than at the Tomorrowland bridge, but the disparity was lower than last time we did this. It would seem that word has gotten out about the trials and tribulations of starting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the comparative upside of Tomorrowland.
I’ve said this many times, but I cannot stand doing the SDMT Shuffle. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, and I cannot imagine this sets the tone for a good day in Magic Kingdom for anyone. I’d much rather just wait until evening to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but maybe that’s just me.
Regardless, this is the best route for getting to Peter Pan’s Flight, which is our recommended way to start Early Entry at Magic Kingdom.
Since we’ve already tested and covered that approach, this Early Entry report will instead start in Tomorrowland.
The vast majority of the crowd was heading to Space Mountain, an understandable move given its Magic Kingdom mountain range status. The overflow queue immediately filled with people, and this was even after the initial rush went into the attraction building.
Space Mountain’s posted wait time was 30 minutes by 8:35 am, as compared 75 minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and 5 minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight.
The overflow queue extended back to Astro Orbiter, suggesting that 30 minute wait was probably accurate. One thing to keep in mind is that Lightning Lane wouldn’t be in use at this hour, so Space Mountain would be pulling 100% standby guests.
On a tangentially related note, recently Space Mountain has been using the overflow queue less than it did pre-Lightning Lanes (above is an afternoon photo). This is not indicative of shorter waits. There are far fewer guests in the standby line because the ratio of standby-to-LL is low. With both FastPass and Lightning Lane, less physical queue space is used.
Back to the topic at hand, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin Tomorrowland Speedway, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover were all walk-ons at this point. Astro Orbiter had a small crowd, but couldn’t have been more than a 10 minute wait.
Heading back into Fantasyland at 8:45 am, the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train already wrapped around the mountain and was back by the Little Mermaid dark ride.
Its posted wait time for SDMT was 85 minutes at this point. It’s really difficult to assess the degree to which that was inflated, if at all. Lightning Lane guests would slow the pace of the line dramatically once official park opening rolled around.
Peter Pan’s Flight was already posting a 60 minute wait.
As this ballooned around 8:40, it was undoubtedly driven by guests who intended upon starting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but reassessed upon seeing or getting into that lengthy line.
Done documenting the lines, I did the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The posted and actual wait were both 10 minutes. (It was a walk-on during my first pass-through of Fantasyland.)
This obviously wouldn’t have been my top priority were I doing this “for real,” but it’s not a bad pick, either. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh averages a 50+ minute wait time on 10/10 crowd level days, with lines that are sometimes longer than Space Mountain.
By the time I got off the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, it was 9:05 am.
Haunted Mansion already had a 30 minute wait (and long line spilling back into the rest of Liberty Square).
It was a similar story at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, where the wait time was also 30 minutes and the line extended back to the Frontierland bridge.
This queue was moving quickly, but again, that would be short-lived. Lightning Lane guests would soon clog things up and slow down the standby speed.
Splash Mountain was only posting a 20 minute wait. This was probably understated by a bit given how much of the queue outside was in use. (It was also a bit chilly out–temperatures dropped overnight.)
Wait times at Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise had already shot up, too. All within only a few minutes of 9 am.
Waits only continued to build from there, with rope drop quickly transitioning to normal crowds.
Were I doing this as an actual guest, the best approach to Early Entry and rope drop at Magic Kingdom would’ve been:
Peter Pan’s Flight
“it’s a small world”
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Pirates of the Caribbean
Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean likely would have rather lengthy wait times by then, but still better than what they’d be posting later in the day. This would be a very solid start to the day, and position you well for a full day in Magic Kingdom, even amidst 10/10 crowd levels.
Alternatively, starting in Tomorrowland and knocking out Space Mountain, Astro Orbiter, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before bouncing across the hub to Frontierland and Adventureland is all theoretically possible during Early Theme Park Entry plus the first hour or so of Magic Kingdom’s regular operations.
In both cases, the aggregate time savings would’ve been better than starting with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Unless you’re at the very front of the pack, the opportunity cost of doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first is too great. In the time it takes to do that one ride, you could knock out 3-4 smaller ones with shorter waits. Later in the day, those rides will have long lines, too.
On a totally off-topic note, my favorite moment of the morning was watching this custodial Cast Member using his broom to brush water art of Minnie and Mickey Mouse. Even in the hustle and bustle of rope drop, a small crowd gathered to watch him work his magic.
Obviously, people visit Walt Disney World for the theme parks and I don’t want to diminish rides as integral to the experience. With that said, I’d hazard a guess that this type of thing leaves an equally lasting impression on guests, and is probably a big reason so many of you reading this became fans in the first place.
Don’t put too much weight or pressure on riding X or Y as make-or-break to your vacation experience. Sometimes, these unexpected moments form better memories than the headliner attractions you’re hyping up in your head. I’d love to see Walt Disney World get back to the basics, nailing the “little things” like this that are actually so significant to the guest experience. Kudos to this Cast Member and the many, many others who continue to make the parks special.
Ultimately, we recommend taking advantage of Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom. If you follow savvy strategy and pair that with traditional rope drop for Frontierland or Adventureland, you can have a solid start to your morning at Magic Kingdom–even with 10/10 crowd levels, as was the case for this day in MK. Even during peak season, it is possible to accomplish a lot and beat the crowds if you simply start early, pace yourself, and stay late.
What you encounter might appear intimidating at first, but just remember: most of those lines aren’t getting any shorter later in the day. Whatever you’re seeing at 8:45 am, triple it and that’ll be the wait time in 2 hours (with the exception of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which often peaks at 9 am and falls by 10 am). If you want additional strategy for the starting your day at the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day at Magic Kingdom? What’s your preferred approach to early entry? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? 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!