In this post, we offer Magic Kingdom rope drop strategy and tips, including what time to leave your hotel, which attractions to prioritize, and anticipated wait times. We also offer some overdue thoughts on changes to the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show.
Rope drop at Magic Kingdom is like Walt Disney World’s running of the bulls, except with strollers instead of bulls. That may sound safer and less grueling if you’re unfamiliar with Disney’s version of the sport. Then again, you’ve probably never seen a parent on a mission to get to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train while it’s still a walk-on pushing a double-wide stroller. Ordinary people transform into Olympians when there’s the prospect of waiting an extra 20 minutes for Fantasyland dark rides.
As usual, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you’re a Walt Disney World first-timer, you might be wondering what rope drop is. It’s simply park opening–when the lands and attractions officially open. In addition to being a time, it’s also a verb, and one that has spread beyond park opening.
We have been known to say, “we’re rope dropping In-N-Out Burger,” which is really just us banging on their door at 10:20 a.m. yelling, “WE WANTS THE DOUBLE DOUBLE!” (Unlike Walt Disney World Olympians, we just like cheeseburgers.)
Depending upon your perspective, that was either done in a cold act of corporate greed or was a way to get back to the park’s rope dropping roots and put to rest all of those “what does rope drop mean?” questions.
In actuality, the Welcome Show at the Main Street USA Train Station was replaced with the current smile & wave character greeting on Cinderella Castle forecourt stage due to overcrowding and security concerns at the front of the park.
Irrespective of that, I think we can all agree that–regardless of why it was replaced–the current show doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. One thing we all cannot on is whether the new procedure is better than the old one.
Personally, even I’m not entirely sure. I have incredibly fond memories of the Welcome Show and racing up Main Street after watching it, but almost all of those are over 5 years old at this point.
More recently, what I remember is the area around the Mickey flower bed being packed with people, and hundreds more guests being stuck outside of the turnstiles once that area filled to capacity. We were in that outside crowd a few times, and there was nothing fun about it.
If anything, Walt Disney World’s changing security policies doomed the Welcome Show a couple of years before Disney officially moved it to Cinderella Castle. I miss that show and don’t at all care for the new one. But I digress.
When you should leave your hotel to arrive at Magic Kingdom for rope drop is a pretty common question. It really depends upon your priorities. Do you want to be among the first to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and undertake an efficient touring plan for the day? Are you just looking to have a cup of coffee and see the Welcome Show before chilling with the Country Bears in Frontierland?
If the latter, be at your hotel bus stop by around 8 a.m. If the former, you need to be at your hotel bus stop by around 7:15 a.m. Earlier if you’re at Walt Disney World during a busy season–later if you’re staying at a Magic Kingdom area resort and don’t have a long commute to the park. Regardless of your hotel, buses are abundant first thing in the morning, so you shouldn’t be waiting long. This gets you to the park and through security–if all goes according to plan–no later than 8:15 a.m.
Main Street in Magic Kingdom turnstiles open to all guests at 8 a.m., with pre-park opening breakfast guests being admitted at around 7:45 a.m. (On busier days, Magic Kingdom might open slightly earlier to regular guests, too.) Security starts screening guests even before that. Nonetheless, 8:15 a.m. is early enough to put you near the front of the sea of humanity that’ll be racing towards Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, if that’s your cup of tea.
Once inside, we like the leisurely stroll up Main Street. Perusing the many gift shops that are open on Main Street without people is a nice experience. Perhaps it’s just me, but the crowds in these cramped stores make me feel a bit claustrophobic later in the day. It’s also nice to grab a cup of Starbucks coffee from the Main Street Bakery as a pick me up.
From there, I like to head to the seating area near the Plaza Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. A wise philosopher once wrote, “it’s never too early for ice cream.” The new-ish doughnut ice cream sundae (pictured above) must be a breakfast food since it has a doughnut somewhere under all that chocolate sauce.
I enjoy having the umbrella-covered Plaza seating area to myself as most guests crowd at the ropes that lead to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Magic Kingdom can be chaotic, but the morning sunshine plus minimal crowds is a wonderful experience I love, even if it means not having an efficient rope drop experience.
Speaking of which, it’s probably a good idea now to transition into actual Magic Kingdom rope drop strategy, instead of just discussing a change that’s now over a year old and what I like to do. There are a few options here, and my habit of just sitting back and soaking up the Main Street ambiance is not the most savvy one (even if it is the most enjoyable one).
You’ll find the largest crowd on the right side of the Hub (Central Plaza) at the entranceway to Fantasyland. The vast majority of these guests will be heading to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. You can join the Mine Train Stampede and be one of the first to ride that attraction with around 30 minute wait, so long as you are no farther back than the middle of the rope drop crowd.
Above is a time lapse of what that line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train looks like 5 minutes after rope drop, with the end of the queue in Storybook Circus. This is a regular thing, and even though this line appears longer than what you’d encounter midday, keep in mind that guests haven’t filled the interior queue yet. It is a long line, but it looks deceptively longer than it really is in this video.
If you choose the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train option, keep in mind that you won’t be able to see the Welcome Show, which will be obscured by trees from your rope drop location. Also keep in mind that the experience of the Mine Train Stampede is not exactly a “magical” way to start out your morning. It’s chaotic and stressful. After doing it a couple of times as research for this post, I’m done. Mine Train is not worth that experience for me. (Your mileage may vary.)
Here is our video of the full show so you can determine whether or not it’s skippable:
If you watch the Welcome Show from directly in front of Cinderella Castle or you stroll up to the Fantasyland rope drop spot at 8:55 a.m., don’t plan on doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. You’re too far back by that point and will end up in the overflowing standby line in Storybook Circus.
Not only will you wait close to an hour from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at that point, but you’ll also forgo an hour of other attractions having no lines (since Elon Musk has yet to release his tech allowing you to be in two places at once!).
Instead, race to Peter Pan’s Flight via Cinderella Castle and find another time to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. (We’d recommend 1 minute before park closing, but that might not be feasible for families.) Note that this option will mean a slight delay in entering Fantasyland, but it’s still the quickest option since it’s the most direct route.
Objectively speaking, starting in Fantasyland is the most efficient approach, which is why we recommend that in our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerary. Knocking out attractions that are popular, short in duration, and will have longer waits later in the day is the savviest approach. Unfortunately, it’s the approach that probably two-thirds of rope drop guests take.
Even on a lightly-crowded day, it’s an unpleasant experience, and you really have to ask yourself if riding the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with a shorter wait is worth starting the day out on a sour note. (Any time a question begins with “Is the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh worth…?” the answer is always no.)
Alternatively, Tomorrowland draws a more modest crowd, which makes sense given the relative FastPass+ availability of these attractions. Nevertheless, Space Mountain will command lengthy waits later in the day, so it’s never a bad idea to do that early on.
Same goes for pretty much everywhere in Magic Kingdom that’s not Fantasyland. It takes until about an hour after park opening before these lands start feeling saturated with crowds, whereas that same feeling is pretty much instantaneous in Fantasyland.
Despite Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad both being popular draws, Frontierland is eerily empty even 30 minutes after park opening. On a recent visit, we headed there are doing some attractions in Fantasyland, and found it was still empty.
After doing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, we saw some of the Country Bears out engaging in shenanigans with guests who had no idea who they are (I always find this to be a hoot). After being the only guest in the area who knew Wendell’s name, Sarah received some attention from him:
This was definitely not the most efficient way to spend the 10 a.m. hour in Magic Kingdom, but it was a fun and more memorable experience than we would’ve had doing attraction 87 of the trip. The magic of the park is not in crossing off as many attractions as possible in a single day.
Rides are fun, but if you focus only on getting as many “done” as possible, you’re going to miss out on the little moments that define Walt Disney World. We know this is an odd thing about which to get preachy in a post devoted to rope drop strategy, but we firmly believe that balance is the name of the game.
Time is a precious commodity the first two hours Magic Kingdom is open, but those moments spent stopping to interact with free-roaming characters or letting your kids inspect some random detail or gag will produce memories that are far more precious. You’re never going to remember whether you did 19 or 21 attractions in a single day at Magic Kingdom. What will be ingrained in your mind, in vivid detail, are the seemingly “little things” you paused to enjoy for no reason in particular. Those moments of pure whimsy are when the magic happens, and what keeps us going back.
What is your Magic Kingdom rope drop strategy? Do you like to savor the low crowds and have a leisurely experience, or are you doing the Mine Train Stampede? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!