We head to Magic Kingdom bright and early before park opening to see how much we can get done in the first hour of morning. In this Walt Disney World rope drop report, we do the busiest day of the year so far (July 28, 2021), with a step-by-step look at what we accomplished, strategy & tips, and our new “Magic Kingdom Moneyball” approach.
For this visit to Magic Kingdom, we stayed at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (lots coming soon on the new rooms, construction, and dining!) and left our room in Fiji by 7:47 am. Our room was relatively close to the dock…but it was also pretty close to the walking path to Grand Floridian and Magic Kingdom.
Given that the feels like temperature was already “dunes of Tatooine” and the humidity stickiness was “Club Cool floors,” we decided to walk. Naturally. Complaints about the heat and humidity aside, it actually was not too bad. A pleasant breeze off the water and complete control over our own arrival fate made this the right choice for us, but your mileage may vary. We arrived to Magic Kingdom at 8:07 am. (We walk very quickly and know the route well–that’s longer than a 20 minute walk for most people.)
We breezed through security and were about 10 people back at the far left turnstiles. Both the monorail and ferries were already in service at this time; the boat that arrived at the Poly right as we were leaving beat us to Magic Kingdom by a few minutes.
Magic Kingdom opened the turnstiles at 8:13 am and we arrived onto Main Street USA by 8:16 am. After a few photos, Sarah made her first stop Starbucks, which didn’t have a line out the door yet and was only a 10 minute wait. I wandered around taking photos of the crowds gathered for each land’s rope drop.
We regrouped in front of Cinderella Castle around 8:30 am, or 30 minutes before official park opening.
This is actually a great time for photos on Main Street, the Hub, and directly in front of Cinderella Castle. While these areas will be less crowded later in the day, it’s always nice to get some family photos before the Florida heat and humidity wreaks havoc on everyone.
Backtracking a bit, here’s a look at the rope drop crowd for Tomorrowland at approximately 8:20 am.
It’s hard to tell, but this is already a pretty big crowd. This is also the rope drop area that is entirely in direct sunlight.
Liberty Square at 8:22 am.
This is far and away the smallest crowd of the rope drop locations and it’s the only one entirely in the shade. This is a distinction that is very notable if you’re going to be standing elbow to elbow for 30-45 minutes.
Adventureland at 8:23 am.
This crowd is slightly larger than Liberty Square, but significantly smaller than Fantasyland or Tomorrowland.
Here’s Fantasyland at 8:26 am.
This may not look too bad, but the crowd size is probably triple that of the lands on the left side of the Central Plaza.
Same crowd at 8:35 am.
The gatherings for Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are starting to back into one another.
The Fantasyland rope drop crowd at 8:40 am.
In addition to the crowd growing here, Main Street is getting significantly busier by the minute as more guests arrive by buses, car, etc.
Here’s a side view of the Tomorrowland crowd, also at 8:40 am.
The vast majority of guests on the right side of the Central Plaza will head to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain.
Bouncing to the other side, we have a look at Liberty Square and the Cinderella Castle walkway at 8:42 am. Note that the latter will not open until shortly after rope drop–something Cast Members are frequently telling guests–so there is absolutely no point of lining up there.
Keen eyes might also spot a hidden Sarah in the middle of this photo. She joined the Liberty Square crowd at around 8:45 am.
Jumping forward, here’s the Fantasyland and Tomorrowland side at 8:55 am.
With both rope drop crowds stretching back into the Central Plaza, there’s essentially no distinction between the two groups at this point. It’s just one mass of people that stretches back to the Plaza Gardens or Hub Grass. To relieve some of the congestion, it appeared that some front-of-the-pack guests for each of these two lands were allowed to enter at 8:56 am or so. There was significant crowd movement, but it was difficult to ascertain exactly what was happening from so far back.
The above video starts at 8:59 am and runs until shortly after all lands do their rope drops. (My apologies for the quality–I’m holding my camera in the other hand and am already beat from the heat.)
It should give you a decent idea of the respective crowd sizes on each side of the Central Plaza. Just keep in mind that Tomorrowland and Fantasyland had already released a portion of their crowds at this point.
Sarah and I took a divide and conquer approach to rope dropping Magic Kingdom, with the idea that I’d assess real time crowd patterns and actual wait times (which, as a reminder, can differ dramatically from posted times) to come up with some strategy on the fly.
She started at Peter Pan’s Flight, entering its line at 9:03 am. She was on Peter Pan’s Flight by 9:11 am and off by 9:16 am. Peter Pan’s Flight averaged a 70 minute wait throughout yesterday at Magic Kingdom.
Sarah was in line for Haunted Mansion at 9:17 am. She was on the attraction by 9:32 am and off by 9:41 am.
This was a very solid second choice, as Haunted Mansion averaged a 69 minute wait over the course of the day.
Meanwhile, I made a beeline to Frontierland after finishing my video and grabbing the above photos of Fantasyland.
This was the line I encountered for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at 9:08 am.
Splash Mountain is already using its overflow queue and is not yet operational.
One of the big risks with rope dropping Splash Mountain or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the dreaded delayed opening. It seems like one of the two doesn’t open with Magic Kingdom almost every other day. That makes both a big gamble.
Here’s the line for Peter Pan’s Flight at 9:20.
It’s already posting a 55 minute wait, which would jump to 65 minutes almost as soon as I left this area.
At 9:25 am, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is already posting a 90 minute wait time.
Its wait time generally peaks early, as almost all of the Fantasyland rope drop crowd heads to it first. It’s fascinating to me that so few people see the line and opt to cut their losses. I guess it’s the sunk costs fallacy.
Due to video processing errors, it took me several tries to get the above time lapse video. You’d think multiple takes would result in a refined and higher quality video, but you’d be wrong. During those attempts, the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train actually got shorter. It would continue to decrease in length even as other lines ballooned during the first hour of operation.
Anyway, if you’re arriving in Magic Kingdom even 10 minutes before park opening, you’re already too late to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first thing–call an audible!!!
Meanwhile, Space Mountain is sporting an hour wait with its line extending behind the Joffrey’s coffee stand (far right) and past the restrooms.
Space Mountain would average an 84 minute wait time yesterday.
Around this same time, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin has a 5 minute posted wait time.
The actual wait is probably slightly longer than that, but not by too much. Don’t let the line out front fool you–the extended queue isn’t in use and it’s constantly loading. Given the 54 minute wait this would average, it’s a good choice towards the end of Magic Kingdom’s first hour.
Sarah’s next stop is the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
She entered the line at 9:44 am and was off by around 10:03 am. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh averaged a 51 minute wait for the day.
Given that we were over Magic Kingdom’s one hour mark by this point, we regrouped and did the Little Mermaid dark ride together. I forgot to write down our on/off times, but it was a near walk-on, with the bulk of our time spent walking through the constantly-moving queue.
If we were sticking to pure strategy, our better move might’ve been doing Pirates of the Caribbean immediately after Haunted Mansion, and then sticking with this itinerary. However, that’s a lot of backtracking and crisscrossing Magic Kingdom, which may not appeal to everyone. (I was drenched in sweat by the time we got to Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid.)
Given the crowds, accomplishing 4 attractions in Magic Kingdom’s first hour (or so) is what I’d consider a win. Especially when accounting for the fact that Sarah didn’t get into the rope drop crowd for Liberty Square until 15 minutes before park opening. That makes this not just efficient, but also practical for those who get slowed down by bus delays or whatever.
In watching crowd dynamics, rope dropping Liberty Square and cutting over to Fantasyland by the Tangled Toilets is absolutely the way to go. Rope dropping Seven Dwarfs Mine Train increasingly feels like a fool’s errand–a gamble that is unlikely to pay off. Save that attraction for either midday when every line is bad or the very end of the night.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train sucking up the Fantasyland crowds leaves the other dark rides with shorter (by comparison) lines, and several of those can be knocked out in decently quick succession.
Big crowds will also be heading to the Magic Kingdom Mountain Range attractions, making those tough sells at rope drop for me. You’re basically going to be able to do one of them with a relatively short wait, and that’s it. We’ve now done rope drop at Magic Kingdom 3 times in the last 3 weeks, and I’m reasonably convinced avoiding the mountains is the way to go.
Knocking out 4 attractions that averaged 45 minute waits or greater in the course of an hour is huge, with cumulative time savings far greater than what we would’ve saved doing one of the mountains plus one or two lower profile rides.
Heading directly to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Splash Mountain–the park’s two longest waits of the day–along with the masses might be the “sexy” choice, but it’s not necessarily the savviest strategy. Think of this like Moneyball, but for theme park attractions. Sometimes it’s better to simply find a way to get on base/attractions quickly and easily!
(With our “Magic Kingdom Moneyball” strategy in mind, I’ll be updating our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerarylater today. That’s currently very overzealous and doesn’t account for current crowd levels. Wait time data and graphics courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.)
Speaking of which, we want to reiterate that our visit was on the busiest day of the year (so far) at Magic Kingdom! It has been a couple weeks of “busiest days,” with new annual highs breaking ones set days before. You might recall last week’s Magic Kingdom Crowd Report: Busiest Week of the Year. Well, that title should now be Second-Busiest, as this week has surpassed it.
These record-setting days and weeks cannot continue indefinitely. First, because we’re nearing the end of summer season, so the next couple of weeks are pretty much the last hurrah for vacations before school starts. Second, Magic Kingdom moves to 8 am opening times next week, a change that cannot come soon enough (and one that’ll really help with rope drop efficiency).
Finally, there’s also a decent chance that “current events” (Florida’s rising cases and Walt Disney World reinstating the indoor face mask rule) will put a non-negligible dent in crowds. While both of these things are likely to fall off and be non-issues by mid-August, their impact will likely reverberate far beyond that, resulting in cancellations in September, October, and perhaps beyond. We’ve seen the same thing with past waves, and this one-two punch of news will probably be even more significant. Regardless of how things play out, the damage is done.
Ultimately, this is all to say that if you’re rope dropping Magic Kingdom in the coming days or weeks, you should adjust your expectations downward as compared to even earlier this summer. However, what we experienced will hopefully be the peak (or close to it) of current crowds, with things getting progressively better in August and September 2021. Of course, all bets are off come October 1, 2021…but that’s a whole different ball game, anyway. Regardless, hopefully our “Magic Kingdom Moneyball” rope drop strategy gives you some ideas for the next time you visit Walt Disney World!
Thoughts on morning in Magic Kingdom? Have you experienced rope drop recently in Magic Kingdom? Do you agree with our “Magic Kingdom Moneyball” approach, or do you prefer knocking out the mountain range? 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!