“Rope Drop” During COVID-19

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This is part 2 of our series on early mornings at Walt Disney World. See part 1, Current State of Transportation at Walt Disney World, here

Depending on your definition of “Rope Drop”, it is not happing at Walt Disney World at this time. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, all parks would allow people to arrive early and be held behind a rope at the park entrance or just inside (for instance, on Main Street).  At the Magic Kingdom guests were encouraged to arrive at the park 1 hour before the official opening time and explore the shops on Main Street. Each park had their own “Rope Drop” procedures, but people who were at the park for “Rope Drop” were the first people in the park and were able to do their first few rides with extremely low wait times.

Now, Disney has evaluated the flow of guests and changed the morning process. Their strategy is to limit any bottlenecks that cause guests to gather in large groups. Disney is allowing cars to back up at the toll booths until the temperature check stations are open. People sitting in their cars are socially distanced.  Parking lot trams are not being used so people don’t cluster waiting on them. Buses will be held back if there is a backup at the temperature screening. If there is a backup at security, guests will be held at temperature screening. If there is a backup at the touchstiles (touchless turnstiles), guests will be held at security. Once you enter the park, the park is open and many attractions are running. The Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios seem to try to start allowing guests into the park 50 minutes early. EPCOT and the Animal Kingdom are allowing guests in 30 minutes early. What attractions are open early is a bit random. All rides have safety checks that they have to clear in the morning. The most popular attractions will be open when guests are allowed into the park if possible. Restaurants that are open for breakfast will be open and shops will be open. Disney will not miss an opportunity to take your money.

Getting to the entrance of the parks early is a bit harder with Disney’s strategy to prevent bottlenecks. Guests who can walk to a park have the most control when they arrive. I have another blog post covering current transportation options and tips on how to get to the parks early.

10:25 guests waiting at EPCOTS International Gateway
10:25 guests waiting at EPCOT’s International Gateway

For guests wanting to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, they need to arrive at Hollywood Studios before 10 a.m. so they can try and get a spot in the virtual queue. Disney opens the virtual queue a second time, but for a better chance of getting on Rise of the Resistance, guests should try first to get in the virtual queue at 10 a.m., and then 2 p.m. if they were unsuccessful the first time. The other parks do not currently have a virtual queue, but it is still valuable to arrive early. The shortest lines for popular attractions will be before the parks officially open. Now with the later opening times, parks become more crowded early, and the peak wait times happen earlier. At the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, you can get 2-3 rides done before the parks open. At EPCOT and the Animal Kingdom, you can get in 1-2 rides in before the parks open. If you can knock out a few popular attractions on your touring plan you will be well ahead of other guests.

Using a Touring Plan

Currently, it is not possible to use a touring plan before the official park opening time. Predicting what will be open and what the wait times will be before the parks open is not possible, as ride openings are completely at the whim of Disney on any given day. To best use a touring plan, design it for park opening hours, mark the items you do before park opening as done, and then re-optimize the plan at the park opening time.

Is it worth it?

It takes more effort to arrive at the parks early, but it is defiantly worth the effort. Currently, parks have limited hours. Any attractions that you can experience before the parks open will save you hours of waiting in lines in the afternoon. There is a Facebook Live video of  the Magic kingdom when I arrived 50 minutes before the park opened.  In summary, I rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, and Pirates of Caribean between 8:10 and 9:00 am on September 19, 2020. Below is a YouTube video showing my morning at Hollywood Studios when I arrived at 9:00 a.m. on September 24, 2020.

Creating a touring plan, or using one of our specialty created premium plans, can save you hours in line. See more and become a subscriber today here.

Are you a “rope drop” type of person? Do you find the park hours make it easier or harder to arrive early? Let us know your thoughts 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.

29 thoughts on ““Rope Drop” During COVID-19

  • October 6, 2020 at 12:24 pm
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    On Sept 26, We were turned away from the parking tolls at Hollywood Studios until 8:45… wouldn’t even let us queue up until then… and then sat at the toll plaza 15 minutes (until 9am)… from there, we never stopped until we were in line at Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway… right to park, temp screen, bag check, tap styles, and straight in line. We stopped at the restroom on the way in, which was a mistake… wait until after that first ride if you’re in with the parking rush

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  • October 6, 2020 at 12:38 pm
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    Are you finding they are opening this early on weekdays as well or more just busy weekends?

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  • October 6, 2020 at 6:24 pm
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    On my recent trip last month, it took me a few days to realize that the old unofficial guide suggestions of arrive (very) early, take a break late morning, come back mid-afternoon still works wonders (although I didn’t need the come back mid-afternoon at Animal Kingdom). As you said, if you get there as early as possible, the first 45 or so minutes are just like the old early magic hours. At the MK, I did all of tomorrow land twice before there was even 20 people in tomorrowland. At HS, I got a boarding group and did Smuggler’s run in 10 minutes (thought of riding again, but when I got out the wait was 80 minutes!). At Epcot did spaceship earth, the seas, and the Land just about walking onto each ride with little to no wait.
    Is it worth it to arrive that early? Absolutely. No question.

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  • October 6, 2020 at 8:58 pm
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    How far in advance do you suggest arriving at the parks for a weekday? 1 hour? 1.5 hours? Other? Thanks!

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  • October 6, 2020 at 9:48 pm
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    Great video! Thanks. Way different than our July trip. We will be going at Thanksgiving but have been at that time before and our expecting extremely heavy crowds.

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    • October 7, 2020 at 1:32 am
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      Yes, the parks are very different. In July I felt the low crowds were worth giving up everything that was not available. Now, not so much. Be mentally prepared that Thanksgiving is going to be different.

      Reply
  • October 7, 2020 at 9:00 am
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    I’m hoping it’s not NYE level, but if we are uncomfortable, we will leave the park. If we didn’t have a non-refundable DVC rental, we probably wouldn’t go. Thank you and Touring Plans for keeping us informed.

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    • October 7, 2020 at 4:07 pm
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      I never felt uncomfortable, For a relaxed trip, arrive early, leave by 11 and return for the last few hours.

      Reply
  • October 7, 2020 at 12:22 pm
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    Thank you for the video. I don’t understand going ” before the park opens?” How do you ride before the park opens. ? If the park isn’t open How do you get in?
    If we arrive later in the afternoon say after 11 or so How is the crowds. Don’t mind waiting because nothing else is going on..The skyliner? I hear the line is long but it moves? I am sooo confused whether to go or not?..

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    • October 7, 2020 at 4:03 pm
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      Disney post official park hours. Disney opens the parks early, and some attractions are open. Disney does not guarantee early entry. Currently, MK and HS are opening 50 minutes before the posted opening time. 30 minutes for Epcot and AK. Disney opens the parks early so there is not a backup of people waiting at temperature check, or security, or turnstiles.

      If you are not sure on going, I would wait. Shorter park hours and all other adjustments made to operate the parks during the pandemic were worth the low crowds in July. Now that wait times are up, I would wait.

      Reply
  • October 7, 2020 at 1:34 pm
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    I can relate my experience in mid sep last month.
    For Magic Kingdom, park opened officially at 9 AM.
    I was first on the bus from my resort at 7:55 AM.
    Breezed through temperature and security with no wait. Got right through park entrance. Headed to tomorrow land and all the rides were running so I just got in line – first person on Buzz Lightyear, 4th on astro orbiters and no line/no wait on Space Mountain. When I was done still no crowds so I did all 3 again – no wait.

    BUT by 11:00 the crowds really built up; lines were 20-40 minutes or even longer. So I did some less popular indoor things.

    So even though the park officially opened at 9, we got in earlier. This happened all days of my trip for all 4 parks. Granted I was taking Disney Buses, bypassing and holds at the front parking gate.

    Reply
  • October 9, 2020 at 9:49 am
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    Has anyone tried the boats from Ft. Wilderness to get to MK in the am? Debating if self-parking or buses would be a safer bet for maximizing the morning, and using boat transportation later in the day. With the boat capacity being limited, I just wonder how to tune everything!

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    • October 9, 2020 at 9:59 am
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      I did! I stayed at Ft. Wilderness in September before moving over to Pop Century. The internal bus system was running 90 minutes before the Magic Kingdom opened. Boats (and extra boats) were running an hour before the Magic Kingdom opened. The boats were doing a good job keeping up with the demand from Ft. Wilderness.

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  • October 9, 2020 at 11:30 am
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    Is the Int’l Gateway at EPCOT admitting guests 30 mins early just like the front entrance?

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  • October 11, 2020 at 2:38 pm
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    Is Epcot opening the World Showcase prior to official park opening? I’m specifically thinking about Frozen ride?

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    • October 12, 2020 at 9:26 am
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      Yes, it is open! I was able to walk counter-clockwise to Frozen. The International Gateway entrance is almost directly across from Norway. The one benefit is that you don’t have to mix with crowds coming from the main entrance.

      Reply
  • October 11, 2020 at 3:52 pm
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    Following, the answer to this question would be most helpful.

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  • October 11, 2020 at 5:08 pm
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    Kelly, They were in July. The whole park opens at the same time, usually before park opening. There’s no guarantee that Frozen will open before official opening time, but it usually seems to.

    Someone asked about International Gateway opening before official park opening. Yes, it did in July. I assume it opens at the same time as the front. They don’t want people congregating.

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  • October 11, 2020 at 8:37 pm
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    Thank you for your blog! We went to the MK today. We got to the parking lot about 7:45 and we’re in the park by 8. The temp screening and bag check were quick. We headed straight to Seven Dwarfs and the wait at 8:10 was 55 min. The cast member told me they opened at 7:30 so we went to Big Thunder were we had a 15 min wait, next to Haunted Mansion with a 5 min wait, then to Buzz 10-15 min, and on to space mtn 25 min. By the time we did space mtn is was 9:15. Tomorrow we are going to HS and will try your tip again.

    Reply
  • October 14, 2020 at 11:05 am
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    Steve,

    Thanks for your diligent observations/recommendations. Just to be sure – can you spell it out for me a little more? Like –

    9am posted open time
    Plan to arrive at parking/in parking line at: __________

    thanks!

    Reply
    • October 14, 2020 at 11:44 am
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      Currently, it appears that MK and HS starts temperature screening 50 minutes before the parks open. AK and EP temperature screening starts 30 minutes before park opening. Disney Transportation starts 10 minutes before temperature screening, and parking lots open the same time temperature screening opens.

      Disney could change this at any time.

      Reply
  • October 21, 2020 at 9:38 am
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    We did Magic Kingdom Tuesday, Oct 20th. We weren’t able to line up at the turnstiles until 8:00am. They started letting cars through at 8:15. We were 5 cars back, parked and booked it to the park. By the time we got to seven dwarfs mine train it was already a 40 minute wait. Throughout the day it remained at about a 55 minute wait. If you aren’t set on mine train first I would recommend getting in other rides first.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2020 at 11:37 pm
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    I wanted to post an update to my post on Oct 11th. We went to HS on Oct 12th. We stay off property so for the 10:00 HS opening, we were in line in the parking lot gate at 8:30. The parking lot turnstiles opened at 9:00. After a quick temp screening, we were in the park at 9:10 and went to slinky dog dash. Mickey & Minnie’s railway was already over 1 hour wait before the park opened. HS rides started running at 9:30. We got on the ride at 9:50 and was able to get a rise of the resistance boarding group 50. The waits at opening were crazy long so we were glad we got to do one ride. Slinky dog dash went up to 2 hours at 10:00. By the early afternoon, the waits were less for most rides than from 10-1:00. By 5:30 the Star Wars area felt almost deserted. There were a lot more food vendors and attractions closed at HS than we expected. My husband saw a T-shirt in Feb near the rise of the resistance area that he wanted and didn’t get but none of the vendors were open this time. Overall it was a still worth going with a mask on with longer waits than anticipated and getting there before the park opened.

    Reply
  • October 27, 2020 at 2:35 pm
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    If you are staying on resort, are the buses providing early service to HS and MK? Or should you book a ride share service to these parks in order to get in early? Also, do the ride share options have to wait in the parking lot lines, or is there a separate entrance for this and taxi service? We are also going during the week of Thanksgiving.

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    • October 27, 2020 at 4:08 pm
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      Buses start running about an hour before the parks’ scheduled opening time. To be on the first bus, plan on being at the bus stop more than an hour early. For HS, rideshare uses the same entrance and will be held back with other cars. The better option is to be dropped off at the Swan or Dolphin. (Boardwalk is the closest hotel, but the rideshare may not be let in unless you have a dining reservation.)

      Reply
  • October 28, 2020 at 7:18 pm
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    We are staying at CBR and plan to drive to DHS as early as possible. Which ride do recommend we line up for first, Slinky Dog or Smugglers Run, assuming we can get there early and they continue to let guests in about 50 minutes before official park opening? Which ride will benefit us the most to “rope drop” and save more time later? Both rides are on our priority list. Thank you!

    Reply
  • December 17, 2020 at 10:00 pm
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    Hi. We are going right after Christmas and are staying at Caribbean, have also rented a car … what is our best bet to get to gates early … our car, a ride share, the resort bus or skyline.

    Please help if you have time. I’ve been trying to figure this out since we booked the trip 🙂

    Reply

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