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.
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.
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.
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.