Magic Kingdom has now been open for over one month and despite the last several months crawling, it really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. Nevertheless, we head back to Walt Disney World’s most popular park on a weekend to see how things are going on what should be the busiest day of the week.
Save for reopening day which had a low capacity cap, this was our first weekend visit to Magic Kingdom since early this year. One of our steadfast pieces of advice is and has been to avoid Magic Kingdom on weekends, which we view as the worst day for ‘feels like’ crowds. In the past, this has been predicated upon operating hours, a lack of hard ticket events, and it being the top pick for locals. (Although Disney’s Hollywood Studios has given it a run for its money since December.)
With all of the post-reopening changes, only one of those things remains true. Nevertheless, Magic Kingdom is the flagship park at Walt Disney World, and the destination a disproportionate number of locals will choose to visit when they have a day off work…which also disproportionately happens on weekends. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how things are going at Magic Kingdom as summer vacation season winds down and locals get in one last weekend hurrah…
There are a few important points here that I don’t want you to gloss over while skimming the rambling paragraphs that follow. First, this was by far the busiest day we’ve experienced at Walt Disney World since reopening. Second, it was also entirely predictable given longstanding crowd trends. Finally, the weekend was still not at all bad compared to year over year numbers and historical averages.
While we generally follow our own advice with regard to weekends at Magic Kingdom, we opted to disregard it here after some scattered reports of elevated crowds. The goal was to see for ourselves whether things were actually bad or if, like reports on the bus service at Caribbean Beach, this was a matter of skewed perspective.
Truthfully, we already had our objective answer even more visiting thanks to Thrill Data. Most days last month and this month, Magic Kingdom wait times have been roughly one-third to half their normal levels. (Keep in mind that the ‘new normal’ for Walt Disney World already was lower summer crowds. Last year, July and August were the second and third least-busy months of the year, after September.)
On recent weekends at Magic Kingdom, those wait times have been trending closer to half their normal levels, with weekdays being around one-third. For example, on the day we visited, the average wait time at Magic Kingdom was 19 minutes, down 47% as compared to the same day of the week last year. By contrast, the average wait time yesterday was 12 minutes. That’s a pretty significant difference.
Nevertheless, posted wait times only tell a partial story and we wanted to see firsthand what crowds were really like, and if the ‘feels like’ conditions were markedly worse than weekdays.
Anyway, let’s take a stroll around Magic Kingdom and see how that looked during our visit…
The posted wait time at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was 45 minutes when I took this photo.
This was likely accurate, as the line stretched around the attraction and back towards Storybook Circus. Keep in mind that this is with physical distancing and without FastPass, which makes all of these lines appear far worse than they actually are.
The other particularly long wait was Splash Mountain, which also had a posted 45 minute wait time and line out its front entrance.
These have been consistently the longest two lines at Magic Kingdom.
If you’re visiting in the near future, consider rope dropping Seven Dwarfs Mine Train followed by Splash Mountain to minimize your waits.
Peter Pan’s Flight and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad also belong in the mix somewhere early on–we haven’t tested out enough ‘temporary abnormal’ rope drop and all-day touring strategy yet.
Other attractions should absolutely be saved until later in the day.
Pirates of the Caribbean is posting longer wait times midday. By 4 pm most days, even on weekends, it’s a walk-on (or close to it).
Same goes for Haunted Mansion, which had a 30 minute midday wait.
Note the Cast Member holding the “end of line” sign, and the switchbacks on the far left of the above photo (under Big Thunder). A few hours later, this would have no line whatsoever.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is yet another example of this.
Above is a thirty minute wait time with outdoor switchbacks during peak crowds. It’s a 5-10 minute wait–all in the air-conditioning–later in the afternoon.
Even Carousel of Progress–Carousel of Progress–has a wait on the weekend. (It’s only a 5-10 minute wait, but still fairly unprecedented.)
This is not because Magic Kingdom guests suddenly have great taste. It’s due to physical distancing in the theater…and the hot weather.
However, the wait times and photos of attraction lines paint a very incomplete picture of what a weekend visit to Magic Kingdom is actually like.
The above photo was taken immediately after the Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Carousel of Progress crowd shots.
This shot was taken a few minutes later.
The below shot shortly after that…
By now, the trend should be obvious: the crowds are low even though wait times are high(er).
None of these are Photoshopped to remove the crowds, nor were they taken at strategic times to minimize people.
One byproduct of FastPass+ is that guests can effectively be in two places at once: in the queue (virtually) and roaming the park in person.
Because of this two places at one time dynamic, FastPass/FastPass+ reduced the overall capacity of each park. In turn, removing FastPass increased the capacity of the park as a whole. (This same move also has a theoretical impact on queue capacity that be problematic down the road, but fortunately that has yet to be tested.)
Stated differently, the Magic Kingdom as a whole feels less crowded because more guests are physically standing in line for attractions.
Being in only one place at a time is an oddly interesting dynamic, and one that’s fairly unique as compared to recent precedent. Basically, it plays out as follows…
On slower days when wait times are short, guests are spending less time in each line…and proportionately more time walking from ride to ride, and elsewhere.
On busier days when wait times are higher, guests are spending more time in each line…and proportionately less walking from ride to ride, and elsewhere.
The net result of that is ‘feels like’ crowds while walking around Magic Kingdom that are more or less the same low levels irrespective of wait times or day of the week. On the other hand, ‘feels like’ crowds are noticeably worse in lines on weekends as compared to weekdays.
This means two guests could have dramatically different perceptions of the same crowd levels in Magic Kingdom depending upon whether they focused on rides or atmosphere.
This is a plus for guests who simply enjoy wandering around uncrowded parks and soaking up the ambiance.
At least, in theory. Part of the reason why guests aren’t lingering in walkways to “soak up the ambiance” is because after about 5 minutes of doing so, your shirt will be soaking up sweat.
The cavalcades, smile & wave character greetings, and live entertainment is great–but those brief offerings are about the only compelling reason to be wandering around right now.
For us, the lack of snacks and atmospheric offerings coupled with the current heat and daytime-only operating hours makes simply enjoying Magic Kingdom a tad difficult.
I know what you might be thinking. That waving at, and selfies with, Country Bears could easily kill half the day. And it could, in theory.
But what no one wants you to know is that these fellas are only out sporadically. It’s not my intention to put Liver Lips or Big Al on blast, so I’ll just say that these boys already have their hibernation game on point. (Perhaps Disney should bring out more Country Bears since these two are so popular?!)
We still have found a couple of occasions to grab some ice cream, a spot in the shade, and enjoy the atmosphere. Definitely not as much as normal, though. Now even more than normal, EPCOT is the atmosphere park.
It’s tough to fully articulate, but right now we definitely feel much more of an emphasis on rides than everything else at Magic Kingdom. I know it won’t fix everything, but Halloween decorations (and hopefully, fall snacks!) can’t come soon enough.
On that note, one really nice touch that we noticed this visit for the first time is characters from Winnie the Pooh on the terrace at Crystal Palace.
With these characters at ground level, they were perfect for some physically-distanced selfies.
Not wanting to “waste” our hotel stay at Caribbean Beach Resort, we didn’t stick around Magic Kingdom until park closing. However, in monitoring wait times via My Disney Experience, the afternoon drop-off was not as pronounced as expected–or as occurs on weekdays.
Our guess is that people stick around longer if they still have more to “accomplish” and leave earlier once they “finish” every attraction.
Finally, it’s worth noting that crowds on Main Street at the end of the day feel moderate (which is to say, higher than the rest of the day) no matter how each individual land felt in the hours before closing. We were in Magic Kingdom yesterday afternoon and evening to assess the weekday situation, and it was a veritable ghost town. Peter Pan’s Flight and Space Mountain were both walk-ons, as were most other attractions. Only Splash Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Trains had waits, and those were relatively modest.
When we arrived to Main Street around 10 minutes after park closing, it felt like every single guest was also up there. Some leaving, some hanging out, some waiting in line to enter the Emporium and check out the newly-released Halloween merchandise. This isn’t a huge surprise given the 7 pm closing time, but it was odd to go from seeing few guests throughout the park to everyone up front. We didn’t stick around long to monitor the bus situation, but there weren’t any noteworthy lines at the bus stops. Around 80% (or more) of guests were heading towards the monorail and boats, leaving us to believe that even on weekdays, crowds are skewing heavily towards locals.
Have you visited Magic Kingdom on a Saturday or Sunday since the park reopened? 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!