Weekend crowds and wait times have been increasing throughout Walt Disney World this fall, so we return to rope drop Magic Kingdom to see how ‘bad’ the park really is on what should be the one of the busiest days of the week. In this photo report, we’ll share our step-by-step morning and afternoon in Magic Kingdom.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been emphasizing the reality that crowds and wait times are increasing at Walt Disney World. That’s been a salient point of countless posts, so we’re not going to belabor that here. We do feel it’s worth mentioning (again) because we’re currently in the heart of what should be the fall off-season, at a time when Walt Disney World’s attendance is historically low. Our own crowd level predictions for this month were way off, and it’s also worth owning that.
However, our concern is that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, with shock-value photos of long lines becoming ubiquitous on social media and higher posted wait times in My Disney Experience scaring away a lot of people who are fearful of encountering chaos and madness in Magic Kingdom. Here we’ll try to present a firsthand walk-through of our day, which does include some crowd woes, but also plenty of silver linings and practical tips for beating those heavier crowds and higher waits…
Going into this morning, our goal was putting our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itineraryto the test. We totally overhauled that last week based upon dramatic changes to the park that undermined a lot of conventional touring wisdom. We had already iterated and refined that plan a few times–but not in light of elevated crowds of Friday through Sunday. In any case, reading that is a great place to start if you’re looking for a plan for an “ideal” day in Magic Kingdom.
The probably many of you will have–and that we had–is that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We entered Magic Kingdom at roughly 8:45 am, which was about 15 minutes after our target. From there, I was “forced” to grab a few photos on Main Street because the light was looking good. Then, it was off to Fantasyland.
In a perfect world, we would’ve beaten the crowd to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Unfortunately, we were a tad late and the posted wait was already 60 minutes. Often, morning waits are ridiculously inflated, but the line was already rounding the mountain, so this was probably an actual wait of over 20 minutes. That would’ve hampered subsequent steps of the plan, so we punted on it.
Instead, we did Peter Pan’s Flight, which was both a 5 minute posted and actual wait.
From there, we would’ve normally bounced to Frontierland to beat the wave of guests to those mountains.
Unfortunately, Splash Mountain was down. That meant every guest heading that direction would be instead opting for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, causing its wait time to be elevated.
We again called an audible, opting for the nearby Haunted Mansion. This isn’t normally a super high priority attraction, but it’ll see a longer wait midday and we were in the vicinity. It thus made sense to do this or ‘it’s a small world.’
Haunted Mansion was a walk-on.
Splash Mountain was still down per My Disney Experience, so we weaved over to Adventureland.
Jungle Cruise already had a line but it could’ve made to do this if we were interested in it. We were not. This is an attraction where the energy of the skipper and guests matters, and we feel that’s significantly hampered by the current protocol. Your mileage may vary.
Instead, we opted for Pirates of the Caribbean. This is another attraction that has been seeing long posted wait times, with its extended queue spilling out into Adventureland.
Our wait was about 5 minutes.
Right as we had gotten into line for Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain began running.
We knew we’d be too late to jump into line and “beat” the crowd for Splash Mountain by the time we were done, but we hoped that it’d start pulling guests away from Big Thunder.
We were correct. In watching guests heading to this corner of the park (albeit for a very limited window of time), about 80% were heading to Splash Mountain and the rest were going to Big Thunder.
Posted wait time was 30 minutes, and our actual wait was about 10 minutes. As a quick aside, this is one of the most pleasant queues at Magic Kingdom–constantly moving, great viewed, largely covered, nice breeze, etc.
By the time we were done with Big Thunder, the line for Splash Mountain stretched nearly to the bridge overlook (see right side of the photo above) so we opted to skip it.
Having not done either of the two longest lines in Magic Kingdom during the first hour of the day was not ideal, but we had already accomplished a lot–and it wasn’t even 10 am.
The moral of the story or key takeaway here is that step-by-step itineraries for Walt Disney World are absolutely great and will save you a ton of time…when everything goes as planned. Even more important is understanding the why behind those itineraries, how to think on the fly, and adapt as circumstances change.
Our morning could’ve been “ruined” if we just thoughtlessly jumped in the long line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train as called for in our plan. We would’ve saved no time there, wasted the best hour of the day, and had long waits thereafter for everything else.
The good news is that the wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had already dropped–it was now “only” 55 minutes. Still too long, as the wait time would hover in this neighborhood for the rest of the day, whereas other attractions would continue to increase.
Accordingly, we started targeting mid-tier attractions at this point. We knocked out the Little Mermaid dark ride with under a 10 minute actual wait. Everything in Fantasyland except Peter Pan’s Flights and Mine Train was still fairly modest at this point.
Bouncing to Tomorrowland, we did the same with Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Even though the outdoor overflow queue was already in use, the wait was still under 10 minutes (and there’s a character selfie spot inside!).
Omnimover attractions haven’t had their capacity reduced as much as some other attractions, which is good for this ride’s wait time.
A couple of other things are worth pointing out with regard to the long lines.
First, they’re physically distanced. That means there’s about double (or more) the spacing as would be the normal case. So there’s really no comparing the length of a current queue to one from before March.
Second, there is no FastPass+, meaning these queues are constantly moving. I know many of you are clamoring for the return of FastPass+ ASAP, and I can understand that…to a degree. However, that would come with the significant downsides of more guests congregating elsewhere and the movement of the standby line to come to a screeching halt.
The point here is that context is everything. Don’t judge photos of lines by your past experiences or pre-closure standards. This is truly easier said than done–I still balk when seeing long lines, and this is even after breezing through numerous “long” lines already. It takes time to unlearn things!
Here’s an example of a long line that actually is long–and this isn’t even the entire thing.
Because of physical distancing in the theater, Carousel of Progress cracked a 30 minute wait during the middle of the day. The reasonable explanation might seem to be that Carousel of Progress is awesome and all of these guests have sophisticated taste and high standards. The more likely scenario is that Space Mountain was down through early afternoon and the TTA PeopleMover is also down, leaving this as a Tomorrowland ‘consolation prize.’
Another example of a deceptively long line.
It might not look terrible, but would take a while because capacity of Gaston’s Tavern is abysmal and each transaction feels like it takes an eternity. Plus it’s in the scorching sun. The Grey Stuff is not that delicious.
The above photo should illustrate how context is everything. This empty bridge between Tomorrowland/Fantasyland and the Central Plaza is a rare sight during busy days, and underscores how it’s still a relatively quiet time at Magic Kingdom, all things considered.
However, what this photo does not show is the huge line to enter Cosmic Ray’s immediately behind me, which literally stretched out onto this bridge. Two very different “stories” in the exact same scene, which together reiterate just how different things are right now. It’s really tough to reconcile everything happening in the parks when viewed through the prism of traditional touring paradigms.
The reason for that long line stretching outside Cosmic Ray’s was that Mobile Order was down.
We had planned on taking a midday break anyway, so we instead opted to do that. Aside from headliners (one of which was still down), we had finished almost everything we wanted to do before lunch, so we figured we’d be fine to leave for the busiest and hottest portion of the day.
Upon returning a few hours later, we were literally the only people entering Magic Kingdom while a steady stream of guests left.
Our thinking is that we could basically enjoy the ambiance, Halloween entertainment, snacks, and a few low profile attractions before the end of the day when wait times would start dropping at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain.
In our recent experience, wait times for Space Mountain have been fairly modest even when Magic Kingdom is busier–likely a byproduct of its capacity not being cut too considerably.
Unfortunately, it had been down most of the day, so when we checked things out in mid-afternoon, the posted wait time and physical line were both still incredibly long.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was only sporting a 35 minute wait around this time, so we could’ve done that–and probably should’ve for the sake of “research.”
However, the Central Plaza was uncrowded and the sky looked nice, so we instead opted to hang out and catch some of the Halloween cavalcades.
Speaking of important research, we stopped for the Pumpkin Spiced Waffle Sundae to confirm it’s still the best fall treat at Magic Kingdom. Don’t worry, it is. (See our Best Halloween Snacks at Walt Disney Worldfor other recommendations.)
It’s probably a good thing that Sleepy Hollow normally has a ridiculous line, otherwise this might be my go-to lunch at Magic Kingdom. Something tells me my doctor would disapprove of that brilliant idea.
Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent in similar fashion, wandering around aimlessly and stopping for the Halloween cavalcades when we saw them.
Magic Kingdom felt much more comfortable for the last several hours of the day, even with waits at headliners still above 20-30 minutes.
One of the cooler character touches (well, not in the literal sense–it must be scorching on that stage) is this selfie platform in Tomorrowland. The best use of that misplaced stage outside of our beloved ‘Totally Tomorrowland Christmas.’
Oh, and we don’t want to alarm anyone, but we never saw the Country Bears out in Frontierland. Now, before you all go canceling your trips, it could just be that they were hibernating for the day–or we might’ve simply missed them. Let’s not all overwhelm the change.org servers just yet–we’ll see whether they’re out this week.
To get our bear fix, we instead opted for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (inadequate substitute, but what are ya gonna do?!). We also did ‘it’s a small world’ before revisiting Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Actual waits for all were minimal.
Unfortunately, we did not do either Space Mountain or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This wasn’t for lack of time–we could’ve knocked both out in the last hour of the day, but decided against it.
Around 15 minutes before park closing, we jumped into line for Splash Mountain. If we were slightly more aggressive, we would’ve done Mine Train first and made it here in the final minutes of the day, but we didn’t want to miss sunset.
The line for Splash Mountain was not spilling out the front, but the entire inner courtyard was full. Despite that and the 75 minute posted time, our actual wait was exactly 23 minutes. That should give you an idea of the wait time inflation going on right now, which is likely happening to discourage guests from lining up for certain attractions. There’s only so much physical queue for Splash Mountain before it goes over the bridge, at which point there’s really nowhere for it to go since the parade route starts on the other side.
Ultimately, a surprisingly good day for us in Magic Kingdom, and even better in retrospect as we contrast it with the following day in EPCOT. There were some hiccups and heavier crowds than we would’ve liked, but not nearly as bad as the “story” told by posted wait times and photos of lines alone. With that said, there’s also the potentially huge asterisk that we simply skipped the middle of the day–but that’s exactly what you should try to do, so that’s not really a cop out.
Don’t try to swim upstream and avoid committing unforced errors and you should still be fine. Crowds peak around noon in Magic Kingdom because most guests arrive late; they then get frustrated by crowds or worn out by the heat and rules, and leave early. If you arrive early and stay late, it’s still fairly easy to beat the crowds. Figure out something else to do during the middle of the day–if you don’t want to leave the park, a long table service meal is a good idea. Oh, and this doesn’t even cover the absolute best portion of our day: sunset and evening in Magic Kingdom during Halloween season. This is already over 2,000 words and I have about two dozen more photos to share, so we’ll do a separate post on that very soon!
Have you visited Magic Kingdom on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday fall started? What was your experience? If you’ve also been on a weekday, how did they compare? Do you think wait times and lines are ‘too long’ given the current capacity limitations and other compromises, or does this all still sound attractive? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!