The last couple of days have been big for planning Summer 2016 Walt Disney World vacations, as firm opening dates and schedules have finally been given to many new attractions and entertainment, most notably Frozen Ever After and The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic.
FastPass+ now is available for both, plus Soarin’ Around the World. If you’ve finally scored your FastPass+ for these attractions (we have!), take a break and cool down by reading some of our preliminary thoughts when it comes to summer touring. Nothing lowers your blood pressure (and possibility puts you to sleep) like some theme park geekery! 😉
First, let’s cover all of the details. If you read the flurry of activity on the Disney Parks Blog yesterday, this is all redundant to that, so you can safely skip the next 3 paragraphs. In Epcot, the original Soarin’ (Over California) returns May 27 through June 16, 2016, with FastPass+ now available. It’s nice to see the original get a few ‘final flights’ as a send-off. It’s definitely a new classic worthy of goodbyes.
Also in Epcot, Frozen Ever After and the Royal Sommerhus Meet and Greet will open June 21, 2016. There’s a strong possibility of soft openings prior to this, likely around June 17. FastPass+ bookings are now open for Frozen Ever After. No FP+ for the meet & greet.
Over at Animal Kingdom, Tiffins opens and the new nighttime entertainment begins May 27, 2016, followed on May 28 by The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic (don’t be surprised to see it soft open the day before). Dining Packages for Jungle Book: Alive with Magic are available at Tiffins and Tusker House.
Finally, there are firm dates for Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ and Magic Kingdom’s new entertainment. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular debuts on June 17, 2016. This new show will utilize projections and other technology, making it akin to Disneyland Forever, the fireworks show for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary. The same day, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire opens in Magic Kingdom. There’s no FastPass+ for either of these things.
In light of this, there are some fairly significant touring strategy changes for Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Much of what follows is based upon speculation and educated guesswork…which should be obvious since none of this is open yet. Rather than incorporating these untested theories into our Daily Park Itineraries and other planning guides, we thought it might make more sense to post them here, and incorporate them into other posts if against all odds and by virtue of a small miracle, we turn out to be right.
So, what are the implications of this news? Let’s start with Epcot, and what’s sure to be a chaotic summer with both Soarin’ Around the World and Frozen Ever After opening within days of one another. I can already see the comments coming. “Frozen Ever After has a 180 minute wait? Guess that proves Disney made the right decision in putting it in Epcot!”
Or…it proves that new things are popular, kids still love Frozen, and low capacity rides tend to have long waits. To my knowledge, Arendelle hasn’t ceased being a fictional country, so its inclusion in World Showcase remains a suspect decision. But, the reality is that it’s here and isn’t going anywhere, so I’m at least hopeful that the attraction will be good and worth those long waits.
It should come as no surprise that the Norway pavilion will be opening with Future World, and that Frozen Ever After is a Tier 1 FastPass+. Unless Disney harnessed the magic of those rock troll things, Frozen Ever After will be a really low capacity attraction–just as Maelstrom was. For those of you who have better things to do with your lives than pore over operational details of theme parks (I envy you), the capacity of Maelstrom was around 900-1,800 guests per hour.
That’s a huge range, and it’s accounted for by the difference between theoretical hourly ride capacity (THRC), which is how many guests could be cycled through assuming 100% efficiency. THRC is like a magical rock troll: not something that exists in reality. Nothing operates at 100% efficiency, as guests can unload slowly, pauses have to be made for accessibility reasons, etc. Because of this, there’s also operational hourly ride capacity (OHRC), which is the “real world” number a ride can expect to achieve thanks to humans being human, and all of that.
Best case scenario: Frozen Ever After can cycle ~1,500 guests per hour (and even that is pretty ambitious, I think). For comparison, the OHRC of Pirates of the Caribbean is above 2,500; ditto Haunted Mansion. On the other hand, many traditional Fantasyland dark rides are under 1,000. With an OHRC of around 1,100, Test Track is probably fairly close to where Frozen Ever After will fall, even though they’re totally different ride systems.
Why does all of this geekery matter? Because capacity has a really big impact on wait times. When you consider the continued Frozen frenzy, plus the initial demand for anything new, plus the dearth of things for kids to do in World Showcase, plus the low capacity of the attraction, you have a recipe for really, really long waits.
With all of this in mind, our revised strategy for Epcot would be to score a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After (if you’re lucky), Spaceship Earth, and Mission Space (the last two don’t matter nearly as much, so don’t worry about them). We’d recommend doing FastPass+ from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., and then checking immediately to see what’s available (we’re guessing those IllumiNations FP+s are going to start having more same-day availability). We cover all of this strategy in our Guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.
Assuming you score a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After, we’d recommend doing Soarin’ Around the World at rope drop if you are willing to do Test Track via the Single Rider line. If you are not willing to do that, reverse the order there. Even though Soarin’ Around the World has that new (orange?) smell, it’s also going to have an additional theater, which means significantly higher capacity than Test Track. Still, you’re looking at a lengthy wait for whichever you do second (which might having you rethink the Single Rider line on Test Track.)
If you’re unable to obtain a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After and aren’t keen on spending half of your day in its standby line, we’d strongly recommend an ~8 a.m. Advance Dining Reservation for Akershus if doing so is within your budget. If it is, and you’re not yet eligible to book FastPass+ for your trip, you might hedge your bets by booking that ADR now and canceling it if and when you secure a Frozen Ever After FastPass+.
Having this ADR for Akershus will give you a theoretical headstart on rope drop crowds, as you’ll be able to wait in a ‘holding corral’ for Frozen Ever After near the attraction as soon as you’re done with breakfast (before 9 a.m.). Once the park opens, you’re significantly closer to the attraction than those guests coming from the front of the park. While I’m pretty confident about the other “theoretical” advice here, there are more question marks with this strategy than the rest. The good news is that–unless you’re booking for June 20, 2016–there are plenty of guinea pigs who will go before you. If the strategy doesn’t work for them, you can cancel your ADRs. For now, think of them as a sound insurance policy.
Failing a Frozen Ever After FastPass+ or Akershus pre-opening breakfast ADRs…well…uh…pack your running shoes? This is the perfect spot for a “Winter is Coming” or “There Will be Blood” meme. That rope drop dash from Epcot’s front entrance to Norway will make the old Toy Story Mania dash look like a leisurely frolic through a field of Bergfrue.
June 25, 2016 UPDATE: For its first week of operation, Frozen Ever After wait times have ranged from around 120 minutes to 300 minutes. We expect 2+ hour waits to be the norm for a long time with this new attraction, and would highly recommend following the strategies above.
By contrast, wait times have actually fallen at Soarin’ Around the World thanks to the new theater, to the point where it’s not half bad via standby later in the day. While we’d still recommend Soarin first, then single rider for Test Track, if you are not willing to do single rider for Test Track, consider waiting until late in the day for Soarin. Its wait times peak by lunch, and tail off later in the day.
Okay, that covers Epcot. Animal Kingdom is on Page 2.