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?
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.
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:
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- The Haunted Mansion
- it’s a small world
- Jungle Cruise
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Space Mountain
(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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!