Animal Kingdom’s 2019 Wait Times Are More Wrong Than Usual

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This is a follow-up to our mid-February article describing how posted wait times at Disney’s Animal Kingdom seemed to be unusually inaccurate in 2019.

Shortly before we published that, we hired someone to ride Animal Kingdom rides all day, every day, and time their actual wait in line. Those actual wait times were added to the daily actual wait times we get from our users and staff.

Our analysis indicates that posted wait times – the “This is how long you’re going to wait for this ride” numbers shown out front of most Animal Kingdom rides – have been wrong in 2019 at historically high levels.

Specifically, the 2019 wait-time data seems to show historically high levels of these two things:

  1. Overestimated posted wait times

  2. Posted wait times suggesting crowd behavior that is physically impossible

All of the data and code used for this analysis are available in Github (link). Posted wait times are collected from My Disney Experience, our Lines app users, and our staff.

Overestimated Wait Times

We’ve collected 45,593 pairs of actual and posted wait times at Animal Kingdom attractions since 2012. In almost 75% of them (33,560), the actual time spent in line was less than the posted wait time – these are overestimates.

Here’s an example from February 28, 2019, showing how Expedition Everest’s posted wait times were much higher than the actual wait in line. Green dots are the actual waits; Black dots along the pink line are posted waits:

Actual waits at Everest were about 35 minutes from noon through 2 p.m. The posted wait times went from 70, down to 35, then up to 60 during that time. If Disney was following its historical average of having the actual wait be around 80% of the posted, the posted wait time should have been 40 or 45 minutes.

These inflated posted wait times make it look like the Animal Kingdom was more crowded than it was. In Expedition Everest’s case, the inflated posted wait times indicated a crowd level of 7. If Disney had followed its 80% rule for posted waits, we would’ve reported it as a 5. (We predicted the posted wait times would be a 6.) The actual crowd level at Everest was probably a 3.

Park-Wide Analysis

To get a sense of how widespread the overestimating was at the Animal Kingdom, we calculated the average number of minutes it was wrong, for the 86 months between January, 2012 and February, 2019. Next, we ranked each month from most overestimated to least. Here are the results:

Rank
(86 months)
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Month with Most Overestimated Wait Times
1  April 2018
2  February 2018
3  June 2017
4  March 2018
5  July 2017
6  January 2019
7  August 2017
8  May 2018
9  October 2017
10  January 2018
11  November 2017
12  February 2019

It’s Worse At Headliner Rides

Those park-wide numbers include attractions like It’s Tough to Be a Bug and TriceraTop Spin – secondary attractions that have relatively consistent posted wait times. This makes the Animal Kingdom’s overestimation problem look better than it was.

Posted waits at many headliner attractions were much worse than the park average. Here’s Kilimanjaro Safaris’ rank of worst overestimated wait times by month:

Rank
(86 months)
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Month with Most Overestimated Wait Times
1  December 2018
2  April 2018
3  February 2019
4  November 2018
5  November 2017
6  January 2019

Safari’s average overestimate from 2012 through May, 2017 was around 3 minutes. In 2019, it’s around 11 minutes. That translates to an apparent crowd level increase of 2 to 3 points on our 1-to-10 crowd level scale.

Na’vi River Journey and Avatar: Flight of Passage have only been open for 22 months, but their wait times in 2019 have been overestimated at historic levels already:

Rank
(86 months)
Na’vi River Journey
Month with Most Overestimated Wait Times
1  November 2017
2  February 2018
3  December 2018
4  February 2019
5  October 2017
6  January 2019
Rank
(86 months)
Avatar: Flight of Passage
Month with Most Overestimated Wait Times
1  April 2018
2  January 2018
3  February 2018
4  March 2018
5  January 2019
6  August 2017
6  February 2019

Flight of Passage’s posted wait times in 2019 are inflated by about 11 minutes more than in 2017 and 2018. That translates to an apparent crowd level increase of about 2 points on our Crowd Calendar scale.

January and February 2019 wait times for Expedition Everest were the 16th– and 20th-most overestimated . For Dinosaur they were the 10th and 24th-most overestimated. Posted wait times for Primeval Whirl were pretty good from a historical perspective (52nd and 84th). Kali River Rapids is closed during colder months of the year; we don’t have enough actual wait times from Adventurers Outpost to compare months.

It’s Probably Pandora

The 15 months with the highest overestimated wait times at Animal Kingdom have occurred in the 21 months since Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in May, 2017. I can understand how wait times might be overestimated during the first few weeks Pandora was open, when the Park Operations staff was trying to get used to larger crowds, and trying to figure out how Pandora was changing the flow of guests throughout the park.

But Disney’s had almost two years to figure this out. And it’s worth mentioning that Pandora should not change the way that Disney counts people in line at rides like Kilimanjaro Safaris or Dinosaur. Disney should still be able to say “if the line reaches this point in the show building, the wait is this many minutes.” Nothing in Pandora changed that. But clearly, Disney is estimating its posted waits differently since Pandora opened.

Ride breakdowns may also be contributing to the increased wait times, especially at older rides like Dinosaur. And there’s evidence that Disney cuts ride capacity at some rides (again, Dinosaur) mid-afternoon, when more people are leaving the park than entering. We haven’t yet looked at the effects of these factors.

How This Affects Guests

Artificially high wait times hurt the guests’ experience in at least two ways. First, they make the park seem more crowded than it is. Second, they almost certainly cause some guests to balk at getting in line, when they might have decided to ride if the posted wait time was more accurate.  Having guests think the park is more crowded than it is, and having more guests decide that a ride isn’t worth the wait, is not a good long-term operations strategy. So it’s surprising to see Disney letting this happen for almost two years. There’s always a chance that it’s part of some master plan that we (I) haven’t figured out. But it’s also possible that the problem just hasn’t got the attention of the right people yet.

How This Affects Our Crowd Calendar

As noted above, these overestimated posted wait times make the Animal Kingdom appear to be more crowded than it really is. For some attractions, the apparent crowd level can be as much as 2 or 3 points higher on our 1-to-10 scale. Because there are relatively few attractions in the Animal Kingdom with posted wait times (currently seven), an increase of 2 or 3 points across even a few of them can make the park appear much busier than it really was.

Future Work

In an upcoming blog post, I’ll describe how we’re seeing more frequent swings in wait times at the Animal Kingdom, that appear to suggest crowd behavior that’s physically impossible.

Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

34 thoughts on “Animal Kingdom’s 2019 Wait Times Are More Wrong Than Usual

  • March 14, 2019 at 9:56 am
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    Thanks Len, I love reading updates like these.

    • March 14, 2019 at 10:10 am
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      Could Disney be doing this as a way to control crowds in the park later in the day, as a test for controlling Galaxy’s Edge and HS crowds? If people were done in Epcot, HS, or MK and were looking to park hop and saw huge wait times in their MDE they may decide not to go to AK, and visit another park instead.

      • March 14, 2019 at 10:16 am
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        Dewey, you’re not the first person to suggest this is some sort of test for Galaxy’s Edge crowds.

  • March 14, 2019 at 10:11 am
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    Thank you for all of your very – and uniquely (you can’t find it anywhere else!) – valuable data. Do you suppose that they are trying to “push” people towards the shows (and lesser attractions) for some reason? Is there some greater financial value to Disney to have folks more spread-out throughout the park….like maybe they’d spend more time in the gift shops if they elected to skip a ride? It certainly does not make sense that they would (long-term) allow a strategy that influences people to leave/avoid the park, unless they had someplace else that they wanted them to go where they would be more apt to spend (more) money.

    • March 14, 2019 at 10:18 am
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      Thanks Robin! We’re not sure why it’s happening. Dewey (above) has mentioned a common theory.

      My default assumption for these things is usually that just no one in management is aware of it. That’s the simplest explanation. If something is intentional, we usually find out about it a while later.

  • March 14, 2019 at 10:12 am
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    You hired someone to just ride rides every day? That job sounds awesome!!… Until you realize that the job is actually about intentionally waiting in lines all day. Still, sign me up! I’ll bring a Kindle. 😉

    • March 14, 2019 at 10:17 am
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      I haven’t yet asked our riders how they managed to cope with it. As soon as they’re out of therapy. 😛

      • March 14, 2019 at 11:06 am
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        Don’t they usually require new feet?

    • March 14, 2019 at 2:08 pm
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      One idea – maybe offer a partial discount off the touring plans software for people who log their actual ride wait times? I tried to remember last time I was there but kept forgetting.

  • March 14, 2019 at 10:27 am
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    Len – I loved this article. I’m a sucker for data and analysis and trying to solve a mystery. Question No. 1 – do we know if Disney recently (in last 2 years) anyone in charge of AK? Just wondering if “new blood” had been brought in with “new theories” which may not exactly be working out as intended. Question No. 2 – have you folks done a deep dive into HS, EP, and/or MK (or will you) to find out if there are similar disparities in times posted v. waits? Thanks!

    • March 14, 2019 at 10:28 am
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      “Recently replaced” (sorry for omission)

    • March 14, 2019 at 11:18 am
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      I’ll check about the management change. That’s interesting. I’m pretty sure it started with Pandora.

      As for the other parks, I’m pretty sure it’s happening at DHS and MK, less so at Epcot. I’ll do a follow-up post on each park, assuming there’s interest in this sort of thing.

      • March 14, 2019 at 10:47 pm
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        Yes, please! That was my first question too – whether or not this was unique to AK. Very anecdotally, I can say that we experienced this some on our last trip a couple weeks ago. Wait times were significantly less than what was posted. (Although the park did seem quite busy, in general…)

      • March 15, 2019 at 8:36 am
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        I’m definitely interested!

  • March 14, 2019 at 10:29 am
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    Could they be doing this on purpose to help sell the idea of paid fast passes that are rumored to be coming? If I saw higher wait times I might be more likely to buy a solution, especially if I had seen the high wait times talked about for a while prior to my trip.

    • March 14, 2019 at 11:07 am
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      Wouldn’t that involve more than Animal Kingdom?

      • March 14, 2019 at 11:16 am
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        I think it’s also happening at other parks, based on the data we’ve seen. I’ll do other blog posts to follow up.

    • March 14, 2019 at 11:17 am
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      I’ve heard this rumor too, but I didn’t put it together with the wait times. So yeah, interesting idea, Bill!

    • March 14, 2019 at 11:27 am
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      I could see them doing this especially for Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge. Maybe even creating things like a Mountains Package, where you would get access on Space, Splash, and Big Thunder in MK. They could tier packages and prices for things like the mountains, and then do some family friendly packages that would include Dumbo and/or the Speedway.

      • March 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm
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        Another thing I am forgetting is Disney positioning themselves for the 50th anniversary of WDW. Come 2021, I wouldn’t be surprised to see all the up-charges they come up with.

  • March 14, 2019 at 12:26 pm
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    I was checking wait times on MDE last night during MK EMH and was shocked that the wait times barely dropped compared to the rest of the day until after 11 PM. I wonder if they were inflated to get people to leave.

  • March 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm
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    This is great. Kudos, and thanks.

    You guys know this data better than anyone, but I’d love to bet you guys your crowd calendar updates for party days (i.e. Halloween & Christmas) post Galaxy’s edge are overestimating the crowds at Magic Kingdom (again just the crowds on party days).

  • March 14, 2019 at 1:45 pm
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    Excellent analysis. Thank you. I wonder if this has been affecting the Disney After Hours wait times at Animal Kingdom. People have been complaining that Flight of Passage, in particular, has had really high reported wait times, and not just in the first half hour to hour of the event. Some people have actually waited long and some say it was not a long wait. I guess staffing levels and ride issue could be a culprit in some cases. Have you done any analysis on the after hours events?

  • March 14, 2019 at 6:01 pm
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    Great job looking at all the data. You have to wonder what Disney is up too??? Why such horrible wait times? My guess all along is WDW is trying to get rid of those die hard fans who want/expect their old level of customer service and just have more people who do a huge once and done trip.
    We were there end of February and waits were very disheartening. We’ve never felt the need to take a midday break before, but the parks we’re just to crowded for our liking at midday.

  • March 14, 2019 at 6:48 pm
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    Staunch defender of TP on other boards- praying you guys have it figured out for our “quieter” trip we planned for September 6-12 that could have crowds turning ugly! Thanks for three dead on accurate visits-

  • March 14, 2019 at 8:00 pm
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    I wonder if Disney uses the posted times as a deterrent in some cases. They post high times people look and say no and the actual wait time is lower creating “Magic” for the guests willing to brave the time.

  • March 15, 2019 at 12:31 am
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    I wonder if slightly inflated numbers causing rider balking could be contributing to greater inflation unintentionally?

  • March 15, 2019 at 7:51 am
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    I’ve posted before that I was at AK on Feb 9th and DHS on Feb 10th. After our trip I wrote to Disney about the wait times (and also some positive things about our trip!) and they immediately gave me 2 free 2-day Park-hopper tickets. Is that a standard response to anyone who complains about the wait times? Obviously they know that with just 2 free tix it’s still another investment on another trip somewhere down the road. The only explanation was “sorry, our theme park is the most popular in the world so lines are long.”

  • March 15, 2019 at 8:06 am
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    Len, thank you so much for this type of article. Can you clarify for me how the posted wait times impact the crowd/level calendar. You made references in this article that overestimates in posted wait times can increase the crowd levels by 2-3 points. However, am I incorrect that your crowd levels are determined based on Touring plans predicted wait times vs. Disney’s posted ones?

  • March 15, 2019 at 3:05 pm
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    Did you control this for overall park levels? Since you seem to be measuring overestimations based on minutes and not as a %, then the top overestimated months could just be a list of the most crowded months, assuming a somewhat stable overestimating pattern. Probably the effect you are identifying is still real, but I wonder if the magnitude of that effect would be smaller. I think this would at least mostly explain the comment that 15 of 21 highest overestimations have occurred since Pandora.

  • March 15, 2019 at 7:13 pm
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    We were at MNSSHP in September. The posted wait to meet the princesses was 30 minutes. My daughter and I decided that was doable. Once we walked in, we were surprised that there was basically no wait whatsoever. We walked in and watched a couple of people interact with the character before our turn. I have always thought the wait times are somewhat inflated across the board. If there is a posted wait of say 45 minutes, I think it typically ends up being closer to 30. Just my personal experience at various parks. I have been thinking it is just a way to either make you not get in line or feel better when the wait is shorter than posted.

  • March 15, 2019 at 7:45 pm
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    I love this! Very engaging article!

  • March 17, 2019 at 3:58 pm
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    Posted wait times are not really wait times. They are an attempt at crowd control. Disney posts unusually high wait times at rides, areas and parks that they want to discourage guests from and unusually low wait times where they want to encourage guests towards. This behavior plus FastPass crowd management helps them balance crowds throughout WDW.

  • March 17, 2019 at 4:05 pm
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    Additionally, Disney will alter the chains and routing in the que line to make the line appear longer or shorter than it really is.

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