We’re back with another update on Magic Kingdom construction, crowds, and changes. In this Walt Disney World park report, we’ll take a look at wait times, problem points, and congestion (or lack thereof) over Memorial Day weekend, which is the traditional kickoff to the summer tourist season in the parks.
The big topic today is crowds and congestion at Magic Kingdom. For the past two-plus weeks and for the better part of the month, Magic Kingdom has been fully booked across all three buckets of Disney Park Pass reservations. So at least in theory, every single day should be equally busy, without much regard for weekends or holidays.
The real wildcard is capacity. Both the park itself and individual attractions. During the most recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek indicated that Walt Disney World was in the process of started to raise capacity caps based on past guidance from the state and CDC. So current crowds are really a matter of how much the attendance cap has increased from 35% v. how much attraction efficiency has improved.
Cynically, we expected some growing pains during this process, with park capacity being bumped up first and attractions catching up with that later, as resources and staffing allowed. Based upon both our observations and wait time data, the opposite appears to be true.
Since early April, average daily wait times in Magic Kingdom have decreased from 35 minutes to 23 minutes this weekend (per Thrill-Data). This has been a pretty consistent weekly decline. Our theory is that increased attraction capacity/efficiency is outpacing any increases in the attendance limit.
This isn’t to say some attractions don’t still have long wait times.
During our visit, both Splash Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train never dropped below 45 minutes. However, when you consider that this was over a holiday weekend and the kickoff of a big summer travel season, that’s not too bad.
That’s especially true when other headliners like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain are both sporting 25-30 minute lines.
In fact, pretty much every major attraction aside from the mountains had a wait time at or under 20 minutes at some point during our day in Magic Kingdom. (And we did not arrive for rope drop–these are midday or later waits!)
In particular, Pirates of the Caribbean has seen its wait time collapse, going from regularly filling an overflow queue to being entirely inside the building. (Expect the “Please Wait Here” markers pictured above to disappear by the end of the week.)
This isn’t because swashbuckling is no longer trendy with the youth, but because the attraction is operating more efficiently. This should underscore what a difference it makes to load more guests in each boat. (And why that 35% number was always, largely, meaningless.)
Same deal with Carousel of Progress, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Country Bear Jamboree. All of these previously had measurable wait times due to in-theater physical distancing. Personally, I suspect that visible lines are also something of a self-fulfilling prophecy; more people line up for something when they see a line and vice-versa.
Now, seat spacing has been relaxed and the wait time is typically however long it is until the next show. This is a pretty big deal for us, as these Magic Kingdom masterpieces are among our favorite things to do. They’re also a great midday break. (Time for us to update itineraries yet again as scheduling shows has become easier!)
It’s a similar scenario for Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Among longtime fans, this has a reputation as a no wait ride, but that hasn’t been true in years. Prior to the closure of Walt Disney World, its extended queue was routinely overflowing, with actual wait times of 20 minutes.
We did the PeopleMover as a walk-on for the first time in ages. There was a time when we measured “success” by whether or not we could loop the TTA PeopleMover (seriously, we wrote at length about this fine art a couple years ago). We have not looped the PeopleMover since September 2019, but could have during this visit. It’s been so long that I need to practice my finger twirl before giving it a try, though. (Plus, I wonder if Cast Members still recognize that as the universal TTA looping request signal.)
Despite travel roaring back, work has slowed to a crawl on the coaster. It could still open in 2022, but not at the current pace of construction. We’re starting to wonder if the new plan is to stagger the openings of major in-progress attractions between now and 2023.
While the return of FastPass+ is the biggest concern among readers right now, dining–not long attraction wait times–is the biggest problem-point.
We checked the walk-up waitlist repeatedly, and never saw anything available for a party of 2. I doubt we would’ve been more successful as a party of 4 or more.
During peak meal hours, you’re going to have a wait to place a Mobile Order and then another to pick up your food. Depending upon the park and where you want to eat, this could be a pretty significant source of frustration. If you submit a Mobile Order at noon, you might not be eating until 2 pm.
Aside from the dining situation, “feels like” crowds are really not too bad. You never would’ve known this was a holiday weekend by walking around Magic Kingdom. There are countless reports of this weekend kicking off a booming summer for travel, but Walt Disney World simply does not reflect this surge.
We’re still expecting this to change in the very near future, but for now, this holiday weekend felt pretty similar to last summer or this winter. Definitely more people, but not noticeably so, and with pretty low wait times.
Keep in mind that current crowd levels are not due to a lack of demand. Disney Park Passes are, and have been, fully booked for weeks. When Walt Disney World releases more reservations (and it’s really a matter of when, not if), that’s going to change the equation.
Frankly, we wonder why this hasn’t already happened. There could be other constraints at play–such as the lack of dining, transportation, or other woes due to staffing. Regardless, we’ll be closely watching the Disney Park Pass calendar this week, as we suspect another big refill could occur on June 2.
As always, we’d caution against looking at photos and assuming they tell the full story. We’ve stressed this repeatedly in our post-reopening park reports, but it bears repeating.
The above photo was taken at park closing with a telephoto lens. This is literally the busiest time of day on Main Street; three hours earlier, I could’ve taken an empty shot of this scene. While this is definitely more crowded than it was in January or last July, this is about par for the course at park closing–and has been for several months.
The elephant in the room with all of this is the recently-relaxed health safety protocol. As you can probably surmise from the photos, most guests are not wearing masks outdoors at Magic Kingdom. As mentioned in our EPCOT Update, we’re going cover that divisive topic in a separate report (just didn’t want you to think we’re intentionally glossing over it).
Rather than reopening that unpleasant can of worms, we’ll leave you with more ‘pleasant’ photos from what was an incredibly enjoyable and surprisingly serene visit to Magic Kingdom:
That’s a wrap on another great visit to Magic Kingdom. Aside from the rule relaxations, not really any profound updates this month. We view that as pretty much the best case scenario, as there’s really only one direction for crowds and wait times to go at this point. For now, it’s still a great time to visit Walt Disney World with short waits, fast-moving lines, and relatively low crowds. Of course, that does entail compromises like missing parades, nighttime spectaculars, meet & greets, etc.
We’re still concerned that June is going to be the “growing pains” month, with attendance limits increasing to catch up with the improved attraction efficiency, but without more entertainment, dining, and other temporarily suspended offerings. Hopefully these worries are unfounded, but it seems unlikely that Disney will keep crowds artificially low as demand soars. Now that our break is over, we’ll be visiting Magic Kingdom regularly throughout the next several weeks and will let you know if/when the scales tip.
Thoughts on anything covered in this Magic Kingdom park report? If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom recently, what has been your experience with crowds and wait times? Do you expect Walt Disney World to ramp up attendance caps as soon as the holiday weekend is in the rearview mirror, or do you think staffing and/or other constraints will preclude that? Have you been able to loop the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover? 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!