The Effects of Early Theme Park Entry

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Early Theme Park Entry is a relatively new perk offered to all on-site guests at Walt Disney World. In this case, on-site includes WDW resorts as well as several third-party owned resorts. You can check the list here, or you can book your travel with the TouringPlans Travel Agents to make sure you get this perk. It’s a descendant of the old Extra Magic Hours where resort guests could get into one park one hour early each day. That, of course, messed with crowds a bit. So Early Theme Park Entry allows all on-site guests the opportunity to get into every park 30 minutes before official park opening. Sounds great, right? And anecdotally we’ve found that it’s great. But we’re TouringPlans, and we won’t call something great until we have the data, okay?

Adventure is out there
Look at that beautiful morning view from the ferry! Who wouldn’t want to see that at 7:20 in the morning?

Last week during Genie testing, we had one really successful test of a TouringPlan for Hollywood Studios that took advantage of Early Theme Park Entry. Enough success that people actually asked us for the link to the plan. [Side note: Let me clue you in to a little secret – it’s not the initial plan that’s the secret sauce. It’s the combination of arriving early, using a plan, and re-optimizing after each ride. So even if I gave you the plan, it would likely end up looking different than what yours would look like, because you’re touring on a different day in different conditions. You want your plan to take advantage of those conditions.]

Thanks in part to that success, we had several users ask if the same success would be replicated using “regular” rope drop instead of early entry. And the answer is … we didn’t know. So the purpose of this test was to gather data on the real impact of Early Theme Park Entry vs Regular Rope Drop.

The Set-Up

Tester 1 was given a TouringPlan with 10 attractions on it, and she used Early Theme Park Entry. She re-optimized after every step to take advantage of current crowd conditions. Tester 2 was sent to follow in her footsteps (doing the same attractions in the same order) once the park officially opened via the normal rope drop procedures. We planned on running the test until noon to judge what a full morning might look like, and didn’t expect either tester to actually do all 10 attractions, we just wanted to give the plan enough options to go through and optimize appropriately. As such, we chose popular rides that typically get pushed to very early or very late in the day to avoid big crowds.

The 10 attractions were:

(If you’re playing along at home, this is when you guess how many attractions each tester was able to experience!)

What Did A Morning with Early Theme Park Entry Look Like?

A note on early arrival, because we’ve been getting questions about transportation: our Early Theme Park Entry tester arrived at the Autoplaza at 7:10, and the parking booths opened at 7:15. The monorail wasn’t running that early, so the only options were the ferry or walking. After a quick ferry ride, security opened at 7:30, and then ETPE users were allowed to start tapping in at 7:50. Remember, ETPE didn’t officially start until 8:30, so it’s to your advantage to get there even earlier (if possible) and take pictures or line up early.

If you want to ride Peter Pan’s Flight, it’s usually a good choice for rope drop. Otherwise, save it for the evening.
  • 8:35 – Peter Pan’s Flight – 5 minute posted wait/10 minute actual wait
  • 8:51 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 5 minute posted wait/3 minute actual wait
  • 9:01 – it’s a small world – 5 minute posted wait/0 minute actual wait
  • 9:18 – The Haunted Mansion – 5 minute posted wait/6 minute actual wait
  • 9:37 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – 5 minute posted wait/2 minute actual wait
  • 9:50 – Pirates of the Caribbean – 10 minute posted wait/14 minute actual wait
  • 10:21 – Jungle Cruise – 35 minute posted wait/52 minute actual wait
  • 11:31 – Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – 35 minute posted wait/10 minute actual wait
  • 11:48 – Space Mountain – 20 minute posted wait/19 minute actual wait

So, our ETPE tester got 9 out of her 10 steps completed before noon! The only step left out was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Had she headed there right after Space Mountain, the posted wait would’ve been 60 minutes, but her actual wait probably would’ve been closer to 40 minutes. Definitely not a bad morning – that’s a lot of headliners in 3.5 hours – and it includes an unexpected and unusually long wait at Jungle Cruise. The posted wait time at Jungle Cruise jumped from 35 minutes to 55 minutes just after our tester optimized and got in line – something weird was going on.

What Did a Morning without Early Theme Park Entry Look Like?

Bonus, if you ride it’s a small world early in the morning, the song is stuck in your head for a whole day!
  • 9:05 – Peter Pan’s Flight – 50 minute posted wait/31 minute actual wait
  • 9:43 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 20 minute posted wait/15 minute actual wait
  • 10:06 – it’s a small world – 10 minute posted wait/5 minute actual wait
  • 10:28 – The Haunted Mansion – 25 minute posted wait/18 minute actual wait
  • 11:01 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – 35 minute posted wait/27 minute actual wait
  • 11:35 – Pirates of the Caribbean – 25 minute posted wait/24 minute actual wait

Our non-ETPE tester entered the park with the “regular rope drop” crowd and made it to Peter Pan by 9:05. Already that was a much longer wait than our ETPE tester experienced. By noon, the “regular rope drop” tester was still on Pirates of the Caribbean, so she didn’t get to experience the last four steps of the plan. Her next step would’ve been Jungle Cruise, which had a 55 minute posted wait.

What Was the Impact of Early Theme Park Entry?

  • The Early Theme Park Entry tester:
    • Toured for just over 3.5 hours
    • Experienced 9 attractions
    • Waited for an average of 12.9 minutes per attraction
  • The “Regular Rope Drop” tester:
    • Toured for 3 hours
    • Experienced 6 attractions
    • Waited for an average of 20.0 minutes per attraction

It’s interesting to note that while the ETPE tester experienced 3 more attractions, she waited for 116 minutes total compared to the regular rope drop tester’s 120 minutes of overall wait. I’d take that trade any day.

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. If you’re an early riser anyway, and staying on-site, make sure you take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry. It’s an easy win with obvious benefits.
  2. If you’re staying on-site and looking to avoid paying for something like Genie+, ETPE is another great strategy to hit popular rides before the crowds descend, without paying to bypass the standby line. You’re essentially bypassing a standby line … by entering it earlier than everyone else.
  3. If you’re staying off-site, know that you’ll be working against ETPE. You can’t rope drop a headliner without it already having a line. People will have been filtering into that line for 30 minutes already.

Have you experienced Early Theme Park Entry already? Do you have an upcoming on-site stay planned when you’re planning to take advantage of this perk? Do you have an upcoming off-site stay and you’re worried about this impact on your plan? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

26 thoughts on “The Effects of Early Theme Park Entry

  • October 28, 2021 at 11:34 am
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    We just came back from a trip (10/20-25) and found Early Entry absolutely essential. We were traveling with two small children who were up early anyway. We basically were able to complete all of our plans by 1 or 2 pm, around the time the little ones were beginning to tire out. Definitely a strong reason to stay on property for our family.

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    • October 28, 2021 at 3:11 pm
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      Yes!! My kids are similar to you. When they’re excited, they’re up and moving early. But then they wear out. We love early park openings!

      Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 12:30 pm
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    As a person who stays offsite, thus was exactly the test I was looking for. Thanks!

    Had the non-ETPE person optimized after each step instead of just following the ETPE tester’s steps, what do you think the results would have been?

    Next test request: ETPE without Genie+ vs. non-ETPE with Genie+!

    Reply
    • October 28, 2021 at 2:44 pm
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      I was hoping someone would ask that! Gold star!

      We didn’t have our tester optimize, but I “cheated” at home and optimized a ghost plan from home by deleting steps and re-optimizing each time that tester exited a ride. It would’ve have had her try to hit Buzz Lightyear before entering the Fantasyland mess, but otherwise would’ve followed a very similar plan. Buzz -> Winnie -> Pan -> Small World -> Haunted Mansion -> Big Thunder, etc

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      • October 28, 2021 at 3:37 pm
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        Great test! What struck me on the early entry plan was how the actual waits were almost all longer than the Disney posted waits. That rarely happens! What was that about do you think?

      • October 28, 2021 at 4:51 pm
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        I think Disney is still adjusting to what ETPE crowds look like and how they impact what happens later in the day. This is 100% just the Becky interpretation, by the way, but what I notice is:
        1) The posted wait times don’t catch up with the ETPE rope drop crowds until about 10 or 15 minutes into ETPE, then they’re ok
        2) Then, once ~10 am hits, things get wonky again with posted times underestimating crowds. On this example day, Pirates and Jungle Cruise both had HUGE jumps in posted waits right around 10-10:30. Maybe the non-ETPE crowd is sleeping in because rope drop for them doesn’t have as much of an advantage. Maybe touring strategies have changed with Genie/Genie+. Or maybe it’s an anomaly this week.

      • October 28, 2021 at 6:38 pm
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        This was great. Thanks. Now that Mickey and princesses are back will they be part of ETPE? Also if walking from Contemporary what time should you leave trying to get there early enough? Is getting there at 8:15 too late?

      • October 28, 2021 at 9:08 pm
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        Hi Jenny! Great questions.
        1) Currently, the character sightings don’t appear on the list of early entry attractions. So I wouldn’t count on those being available early.
        2) I don’t think there’s a “too late”, but there will be people tapping in before 8:15, likely as early as 7:45 or 7:50. If it matters to you to be in front of the hoard, then earlier is better. If you just want to get in in time to experience attractions by 8:30, then 8:15 is fine.

    • October 29, 2021 at 11:14 pm
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      “Next test request: ETPE without Genie+ vs. non-ETPE with Genie+!”

      This 1000%. I can’t wait to see that test.

      I suspect with the combination of ETPE and the amazingness that is having an optimized touring plan, Genie+ might prove to be superfluous. Though it would allow you to ride some popular rides twice without waiting, and build up some reservations for the evening, including possibly another park.

      Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 3:40 pm
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    My family will be there in February staying on site. What time do the buses start running from the resorts?

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    • October 28, 2021 at 4:52 pm
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      Good question, Jane! This is something that we’ve heard varied responses about. Some people have said they’ve gotten to the parks sufficiently early using Disney busses, and others say that they barely get there in time to beat the “regular rope drop” crowd. It’s not something we’ve been able to test yet.

      Reply
    • October 28, 2021 at 9:34 pm
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      Jane, TP users have been keeping track of bus times and times parks let people tap in. Join us at the Chat feature of touring plans app for access to the spreadsheet we’ve been keeping.

      Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 5:38 pm
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    Thank you! I don’t know what I would do without the TP expertise 🙂

    Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 7:51 pm
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    “The posted wait time at Jungle Cruise jumped from 35 minutes to 55 minutes just after our tester optimized and got in line – something weird was going on.”

    Jungle Cruise is a pretty hot ticket these days from what I hear.

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    • October 28, 2021 at 9:09 pm
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      It is definitely a hot ticket. But it’s weird for any posted time to jump by 20 minutes – we typically see slower increases, unless it’s the very beginning of the day. A jump that big that late in the day is a little weird.

      Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 8:32 pm
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    I had the same experience yesterday (Oct 27, 2021). I arrived shortly after 8:30am and managed to get through all 3 mountains, Haunted Mansion, people mover, carousel of progress, jungle cruise and SDMT (used an individual lighting lane for this one) and eat breakfast at Sleepy hollow, lunch at Casey’s and park hopped to Epcot before 3 pm. My only bad wait was Jungle Cruise where the posted wait was 55 minutes and I waited almost 90. I should have followed my TP advice for that and gone to Pirates instead.

    Reply
  • October 28, 2021 at 8:38 pm
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    We are looking forward to our trip in March! I’ll be closely watching all of your posts about early hours vs Genie+\LL as the parks get busier!
    Last trip I loosely followed your plans bc I have control issues. I’m really trying to get myself to trust you completely for this trip! 🙂

    Reply
  • October 29, 2021 at 6:52 am
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    I am still at Disney World. I haven’t using early entry entering plans. My one issue is where to go first. Because touring plans assumes that I will not get to the park until the minute early entry starts. It often recommends an odd first choice. It had me rope drop the TTC at Magic Kingdom. I got to MK 40 min before EE. But when I reoptimized it’s still told me to go to the TTC first. If you don’t think we should follow Touringplans for the first step please give us advice of what we should do until you fix this. I went to Winnie the Pooh I wasn’t going to Peter Pan that day.

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    • October 29, 2021 at 11:13 am
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      The TTC is the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot. Do you mean the peoplemover, or something else?

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      • October 29, 2021 at 3:19 pm
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        Sorry. Lol. Peoplemover! Oy! Then it had carrousel of progress as my second ride

    • October 29, 2021 at 11:10 pm
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      Generally if you’re at the front of the rope-drop pack, you’ll want to pick a ride to rope drop (7DMT, or possibly PPF), and just do that “off-plan”. Reoptimize as you’re about to leave and continue from there.

      You can try to make the initial plan more accurate by adding a “break” at the start estimating when you’ll be done rope-dropping your first ride, but it can be hard to predict this accurately.

      Reply
      • October 30, 2021 at 9:31 am
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        Thanks. I did that and to some extent and it worked. 5 min walk on winnie 1st then buzz the TTA instead of TTA CoP then Buzz as TP had it. So the exchange was doing CofP later instead of Winnie. No brainer for me. Sorry for the difficulty for TP. The touring plans with optimizing worked brilliantly in AK and DS.

  • October 29, 2021 at 11:22 am
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    Hey Becky! Two thoughts:

    -The effects of ETPE should be different at Magic Kingdom, where only half of the park is actually open during ETPE (as opposed to the other 3 parks, where all areas are open). I find it odd that the non-ETPE tester’s optimized touring plan would send them to three fantasyland attractions first, and not to west side attractions first (where the ETPE folks hold no advantage). If you are a non-ETPE rope-dropper, the last place you want to start your day is in fantasyland.

    -Has there been discussion of removing the ETPE icon indicator from the home page of the Touringplans app? The little yellow sun icon and text was helpful back in the extra magic hours era, when it was in different parks on different days, but now that ETPE is in every park every day, it’s a little pointless to display that on the app home page. It’s also misleading, as it shows a yellow opening time 1 hour before park opening (as EMH was), not the 30 minutes of ETPE.

    Reply
  • October 29, 2021 at 2:25 pm
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    My children wake up at 5 AM on the weekends sometimes ::stares blankly:: therefore that extra half an hour is super beneficial to us!

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  • October 29, 2021 at 8:31 pm
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    I know you were trying to replicate the same path, but I would be interested in seeing how many rides you can do starting in Adventureland. I went Wednesday and did Big Thunder twice, Splash, Pirates, and Haunted Mansion within the first two hours with the longest wait of 10-15 minutes. You can still get some short wait times at “rope drop” without staying on-site. At least at Magic Kingdom.

    Reply
  • October 29, 2021 at 11:14 pm
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    Loving all the tests. Very interesting. Thanks for all your hard work 🙂

    Reply

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