When we research the Magic Kingdom, we study its traffic patterns, asking:
Which sections of the park and what attractions do guests visit first?
During the school year, when fewer young people are in the park, early-morning traffic is more evenly distributed but remains heaviest in Tomorrowland, Frontierland, and Fantasyland. Our researchers tested the frequent claim that most people turn right into Tomorrowland and tour the Magic Kingdom in a counterclockwise sequence. We found it to be baseless. As the park fills, visitors head for the top attractions before lines get long. This, more than any other factor, determines morning traffic patterns.
How long does it take for the park to fill up? How are the visitors dispersed in the park?
A surge of "early birds" arrives before or around opening time but is quickly dispersed throughout the empty park. After the initial wave is absorbed, there's a lull lasting about an hour after opening. Then the park is inundated for about two hours, peaking between 10 a.m. and noon. Arrivals continue in a steady but diminishing stream until around 2 p.m. The lines we sampled were longest between 1 and 2 p.m., indicating more arrivals than departures into the early afternoon. For touring purposes, most attractions develop long lines between 10 and 11:30 a.m.
From late morning through early afternoon, guests are equally distributed through all of the lands. We found, however, that guests concentrate in Fantasyland, Liberty Square, and Frontierland in late afternoon, with a decrease of visitors in Adventureland and Tomorrowland. Adventureland's Jungle Cruise and Tomorrowland's Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain continue to be crowded, but most other attractions in those lands are readily accessible.
How do most visitors tour the park?
Do first-time visitors tour differently from repeat guests? Many first-time visitors are guided by friends or relatives familiar with the Magic Kingdom . These tours may or may not follow an orderly sequence. First-time visitors without personal guides tend to be more orderly in their touring. Many first-time visitors, however, are drawn to Cinderella Castle upon entering the park and thus begin their rotation from Fantasyland. Repeat visitors usually go directly to their favorite attractions.
How does FASTPASS affect crowd distributions?
The effect is subtle and depends somewhat on the time interval between when the FASTPASS is obtained and the FASTPASS return period. For example, guests who receive a FASTPASS for Splash Mountain at 10 a.m. with an 11:05 a.m.–12:05 p.m. return window tend to tour near Splash Mountain during the interim to minimize the inconvenience of backtracking when it's time to use the pass. However, when the return period is several hours distant, guests don't feel compelled to stay in the immediate area. In general, you won't notice much difference in crowd concentrations because of FASTPASS, but empirically speaking, it increases crowds within proximity of the two anchor attractions, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, throughout the day.
How do special events, such as parades and live shows, affect traffic patterns?
Parades pull huge numbers of guests away from attractions and provide a window of opportunity for experiencing the more popular attractions with less of a wait. Castle Forecourt Stage shows also attract crowds but only slightly affect lines.
What are the traffic patterns near to and at closing time?
On our sample days, in busy times and off-season at the park, departures outnumbered arrivals beginning in midafternoon. Many visitors left in late afternoon as the dinner hour approached. When the park closed early, guests departed steadily during the two hours before closing, with a huge exodus at closing time. When the park closed late, a huge exodus began immediately after the early-evening parade and fireworks, with a second mass departure after the late parade, continuing until closing. Because Main Street and the transportation services remain open after the other six lands close, crowds leaving at closing mainly affect conditions on Main Street and at the monorail, ferry, and bus boarding areas. In the hour before closing, the other six lands normally are uncrowded.
When there are two or more lines, is the shortest wait always in the left line?
We don't recommend the "left-line strategy" because, with the occasional exception of food lines, it doesn't hold up. Disney has techniques for both internal and external crowd control that distribute traffic nearly equally. Placing researchers at the same time in each available line, we could discern no consistent pattern of who was served first. Further, researchers entering the same attraction by different lines almost always would exit the attraction within 30 to 90 seconds of each other.
Occasionally guests ignore a second line that has just opened and stay in the established line. As a rule, if you encounter a waiting area with two lines and no barrier to entry for either, and one line is empty or conspicuously shorter than the other, get in the short line.
Get Current and Future Wait Times with Lines
To get a complete view of the actual traffic patterns while you're in the park, use our mobile application, Lines. The app gives you current wait times and future estimates in half-hour increments for today and tomorrow. A quick glance shows how traffic patterns affect wait times throughout the day.