Walt Disney Touring During COVID-19

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Disney has made several changes to make it safe to visit the parks during a pandemic. Intended or not, the changes have changed the crowd flow and wait times in the parks.

Limited Capacity

Fewer people in the parks are going to mean shorter lines at the attractions. For example, Haunted Mansion on the last Saturday of 2020 is 25% lower than in 2019.

Physical Distancing and Cleaning Attraction

Physical distancing and cleaning reduce the capacity of all attractions. Onimovers attractions like Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan naturally have physical distancing so all ride vehicles can be used. Roller coasters, boat rides, and theater shows are leaving empty rows and/or seats between guests empty.

Attractions are cleaned periodically–it appears they get a heavy cleaning every 2 hours. Typically the ride has to go through a full cycle without guests so all ride vehicles can be cleaned. The longer an attraction lasts, the longer it takes to sanitize.

“it’s a small world” is a good example of how these changes affect wait times. At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. the jump in wait times is due to cleaning. With only two rows per boat being used and cleaning every 2 hours, the queue gets backed up.  Tip: Ride “it’s a small world” before 10:30. 

No FastPass+

When the FastPass+ system is running, the capacity of an attraction has to be split with the standby queue and FastPass+ queue. Now with no FastPass+, all the ride’s capacity goes to the standby queue. So even with the overall capacity being reduced, the capacity for the standby queue has gone up. For attractions that lost capacity due to physical distancing, the net capacity should be close to a wash.

Early Mornings

Before the pandemic, it was easy to arrive 1-2 hours before the parks opened. Without dining reservations before park opening and early morning events no longer available, Disney transportation and parking lots do not start operating so early. With Disney preventing people from early arrival, guests are not gathering outside the parks, and Disney does not need to corral guests in the parks before the attractions open. Now with a more controlled start of the day, the flow-through temperature check, security check, tapstile, and progression to an attraction has no large backups.

No Park Hopping

Now that there is no park hopping, people have to spend all their time in one park. People do not need to rush to get one park done to do another. Now if a family is bored with a park, they do not have the option to go to a different park.

Shorter Park Hours

With shorter park hours, people are less likely to take a midday break. Once they leave the park, they do not return.

No Nighttime Spectaculars

The nighttime spectaculars at the parks were a “must-do” for most guests. Now that they don’t exist it does not force people to stay or return to the parks.

Less To Do

Parades, some entertainment, and select attractions are not currently available. With fewer things to do, and shorter wait times, most people are done by mid-afternoon. The end of the day has some of the lowest wait times.

 

Putting It All Together

The net effect of all the health and safety changes are shorter wait times. Below is a list of all attractions that are currently open, and were open in 2019. Grand Fiesta Tour at EPCOT is the only attraction with a significantly higher wait time.

Old touring strategies can backfire with the current park conditions. Before, we recommended getting to the Animal Kingdom at least an hour early and queue up for Flight of Passage. Before the pandemic, Disney would open Flight of Passage 15-30 minutes before the park opened. Guests who arrived extra early could ride Flight of Passage before the park was officially opened. Now guests cannot arrive extra early, and now the morning wait times for Flight of Passage are some of the highest wait times all day.

Comparing Two Touring Plans

Theoretical models are great, but nothing beats in-park testing. Len and I tested out some different plan strategies on a recent day.

I started my touring at the Animal Kingdom at Flight of Passage, and then did a clockwise tour around the park. The chart below shows my actual wait times from July 12, 2020. Wait times were so low I rode Flight of Passage 3 times, and Expedition Everest 2 times during the course off the day. I was done with my first 5 attractions by 10 am.

I took a 2-hour break, saw the bird show, watched It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, and experienced the animal trails. I was very happy with my day at the Animal Kingdom.

Len Testa let the Personalized TouringPlans software to optimize his plan. He did all the same attractions in less time and left the park at 3 p.m.

Len was able to experience 4 attractions (Na’vi River Journey, DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, and Kali River Rapids) in the same amount of time it took me to experience my first two attractions. (Len and the TouringPlans software wins again!) For my first 5 attractions, I waited 47 minutes. For the same attractions, Len waited 11 minutes. As you can see, having a touring plan can save time in line, even on minimal crowd days.

Have any questions about the impacts that new park procedures have had on touring? Let us know in the comments. 

 

 

Steve Bloom

By helping TouringPlans.com continue to reach the most accurate crowd level predictions, Steve finally found a way to meld his training in statistical analysis with a lifelong passion for Disney. He first visited the Magic Kingdom in 1972, just a few months after it opened. Now he enjoys frequent trips with his two kids. At age four his son insisted on wearing cowboy boots to reach the height requirement for Test Track, and his daughter believes that a smoked turkey leg and Dole Whip make a perfectly balanced meal. Even though she doesn't quite get it, Steve's wife is supportive of his Disney activities.

19 thoughts on “Walt Disney Touring During COVID-19

  • August 18, 2020 at 9:04 am
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    I’m thinking about going to WDW in the first week of October. I noticed on the crowd calendar that levels are 1 for all of the remainder of August and September. They start to jump up in October. Are you all anticipating that the crowds will start coming back in October now that news is getting out about the parks reopening and the measures in place, and drawing people because of the shorter wait times? I’m hesitant to book this trip because I love the idea of the low crowds but am worried that might not be the case in October.

    Reply
  • August 19, 2020 at 9:27 am
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    Great post, Steve. Thanks! Question on my upcoming visit… I can come one of two times this upcoming September (avoiding weekends), the first is September 8-11 and second is September 15-18. I’m a bit worried about any Labor Day crowds “bleeding” into the first week. What do you think?

    Reply
    • August 19, 2020 at 9:55 am
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      Either week will have low crowds. 15-18 might be slightly better. In normal times, the Labor Day crowds die down after Monday.

      Reply
  • August 19, 2020 at 1:54 pm
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    Any advice on touring the rest of the parks during Covid verses using the old touring plans? We are planning on going the last week of October.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2020 at 4:54 pm
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    Any idea what capacity will be for December? Still limited? We have a trip planned as we haven’t been during the Holidays in years due to crowds and the extra cost. I am hoping, even if its busier, it won’t be normal crowds

    Reply
  • August 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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    I don’t think capacity will be much higher in December versus now. For one thing, I don’t think the parks can handle more than, say, 2x their current capacity, because of social distancing.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2020 at 9:55 am
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    There is still a virtual que for Rise of the Resistance. Does it seem like since crowds are so low that everyone who wants to will be able to ride that at some point during the day?

    Reply
    • September 5, 2020 at 11:15 am
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      Sadly no. The Virtual queue fills up just as fast as it did before the pandemic. The capacity of Rise of the Resistance has been reduced. Now each ride vehicle that can hold 8 people, now only holds one party. It does not matter of the party size is 1 or 8.

      Reply
  • September 17, 2020 at 10:07 am
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    Great Blog. Thanks for all the information. Can you suggest a time to get Hollywood Studios since it opens at 10 am? In the past as you stated we would go 90 min. before opening. We’re going on Saturday, Sept. 19 and wanted to make sure to increase our chances for the Rise of the Resistance ride at 10am. We’ve not been able to do that ride yet.

    Reply
    • September 17, 2020 at 12:42 pm
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      The parking lot and transportation will start around 9am. People will be allowed into the park by 9:30. You need to be in the park before 10am to get a boarding group. Have your goal to be at Hollywood Studios Entrance by 9:30.

      Reply
  • September 22, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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    Are there currently “rope drops” or time to stroll on Main Street prior to the official park opening? Typically we would arrive 45min-1 hour early to walk around, have coffee and approach the castle for their opening show (which I assume is cancelled). Just curious!

    Reply
    • September 22, 2020 at 7:15 pm
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      Sara-
      With COVID, there is not a rope drop. Disney is opening the parks 30-45 minutes before the official park opening. Transportation and parking lots open about an hour before park opening. At this time you have free range of the park. Some attractions will be open, and you can get your coffee. No castle show.

      Reply
  • October 2, 2020 at 6:27 am
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    Is there a Covid Touring Plan for each park? Without FP along with social distancing I would imagine the plans are quite different.

    Reply
  • October 5, 2020 at 11:44 am
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    Excellent help Steve. I’ve looked everywhere for a straight answer about entering parks before official opening time. Good to know we can get in 30-45 mins early.

    Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 4:56 am
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    We are thinking about coming to the park 2 days after Thanksgiving. My boys are into Star Wars. Do you see that time being busy? They will want to do everything Star Wars. Also, if you leave the park, can you come back later? I did see you cannot park hop but can you come back to the same park?

    Reply
    • October 9, 2020 at 9:31 am
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      It will be busy, but doable. Take a look at my most recent blog post: https://touringplans.com/blog/2020/10/06/rope-drop-during-covid-19/

      The video in the blog post shows what Hollywood Studios is like in the morning. For your boys, enter the park early and go directly to Millennium Falcon and at 10 am get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. While you are waiting for Rise, you can do Star Tours, and explore the land of Batu.

      You can leave and return to the same park. Taking a break between 11 and 4, and you will avoid the highest crowds.

      Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 9:53 am
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    Thank you for the “rope-drop” replies and new blog post! Super helpful for those of us that don’t mind the early mornings.

    Reply

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