We’ve gotten many variations of a single question (or complaint) recently, and they all go something like this: “I used Lines for my family’s day in the Magic Kingdom. It said that I should expect a 24 minute wait at Big Thunder Mountain, but I got there and the sign said it was going to be 60 minutes! I swear that TouringPlans used to get much closer to those waits, and now I’ve wasted hours of my vacation walking to rides that I expect to have short waits only to be turned off by the high wait times on the signs. I’m giving up.”
So what’s going on here? I’ll walk you through why the predicted time on your app looks so much different than the time on the sign. The reality is that if you can learn the secret behind Disney’s posted times, you can plan your day much more effectively. You can be a smarter WDW visitor, and take full advantage of TouringPlans’ predictions.
Explain the Math!
There are two very different kinds of wait times you’ll experience when you plan for and make a trip to Walt Disney World:
- Posted Wait Times – This is the number you’ll see on a sign at the entrance to an attraction’s queue, or on a lollipop sign at the end of a line of people, or on a sandwich board, or the MDE app … you get the idea. They’re everywhere. They don’t necessarily always agree, but they all come from Disney.
- Actual Wait Times – This is the amount of time you’ll actually be standing in line waiting for an attraction.
Here at TouringPlans, we collect data for and predict both. We’ve collected over 35 million posted wait times, and we use those as part of our predictions of crowd calendar levels. We’ve also collected 2 million actual wait times, and we predict those too. We know they’re going to be different. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t need us – you could just open MDE and trust all of the numbers you see and plan your day around that. But the truth is that Disney has reasons for posting wait times that don’t necessarily match how long you’ll wait in line. What? Why? Some of those reasons could be:
- They need to build in a buffer. If something goes wrong in ride operation, it’s better to aim the wait time high.
- They need to be careful about guest satisfaction. Humans are much more likely to be happy if they wait for less than you tell them they’re going to, compared to if you make them wait longer than if you told them. If I wait 20 minutes more than what you posted, I’m going to be really upset. If I wait 20 minutes less than what you posted … I might actually be pretty pleased that I got lucky or have more time than I thought.
- They need to control crowds. High wait times can discourage guests from entering a line, and send them somewhere else instead.
Our goal at TouringPlans is different – we only want to get those estimated actual waits as accurate as we can. We predict them in advance and even have a model that updates them throughout the day so that we can get as close as possible. Our motivation is different than Disney – we don’t need to control crowds or build in a buffer. We only want you to be able to plan and tour optimally.
We display both of these numbers in the Lines app (available in the Play Store or App Store). The posted time shows the most recent information we have about what is posted on the sign at the entrance, and the expected wait is the most recent prediction we have for what the actual wait will be.
Explore the Data
Let’s look at four example attractions at the Magic Kingdom and see how the different wait times have trended over the past 60 days. For that period of time, I pulled all of the submitted wait times at these attractions. For each submitted wait time, I also pulled the posted wait time when the user entered the line, and the “adjusted” expected actual time from the Lines app at the same time. That adjusted time is what you would see in Lines if you refreshed the attraction list or your plan right as you entered line – it takes into account our mid-day updates. (Spoiler: train yourself to do this!)
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
These graphs all display the average error in the posted or adjusted wait time compared to the actual timed wait submitted by a TouringPlans user. The way this is calculated is by “Posted Wait minus Actual Wait” and “Adjusted Wait minus Actual Wait”. So a positive number means someone over-estimated your wait. And a negative number means that someone under-estimated your wait. Let’s look at 11 am as an example. If you entered the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad queue between 11 am and noon sometime in the last 60 days, the time that Disney posted at the entrance was, on average, 14 minutes longer than you actually waited. But if you had refreshed the Lines app as you entered line, that prediction of your actual wait only averaged 5 minutes longer than your actual wait. So if there was a 20 minute actual wait (which you didn’t know because you just made the decision to get in line), the posted wait time was probably more like 35 minutes, and the TouringPlans estimated wait was probably somewhere around 25 minutes.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Maybe you don’t care about roller-coasters. Let’s go classic WDW with our next example at Pirates of the Caribbean. Hey, this looks pretty similar to that last graph … those average errors for the posted times remain higher than the average errors for the adjusted actuals that TouringPlans predicts. Now let’s use noon as an example. If you enter the line for Pirates of the Caribbean between noon and 1 pm, the posted wait time will likely over-predict your wait by 16 minutes, on average. If you refresh your Lines app as you enter, that estimated wait time will probably be within 3 minutes of your actual wait.
it’s a small world
Our same performance holds true over in Fantasyland at it’s a small world. The difference between posted and adjusted wait times is exaggerated at 1 pm. For users entering between 1 and 2 pm, the posted wait times average 15-16 minutes longer than you’ll actually wait. But the estimated wait time in Lines if you’ve updated recently is just 1 minute longer than your wait on average.
The final example attraction for this post is the Haunted Mansion. Nothing surprising here, but it does show our first example of an under-prediction. If you get in line for Haunted Mansion between 10 pm and 11 pm, you might end up waiting longer than what the Lines App tells you that you will wait. But that one timeframe is an anomaly. For most of the day, the posted wait times average 10-15 minutes longer than you’ll actually wait. And the TouringPlans prediction averages 0-5 minutes longer than you’ll actually wait.
Real-World Test Results
Now, I’m convinced just by data. But I’m weird. Some other people might need more real-world proof. So on Tuesday, July 20th, we sent Chrissy to Magic Kingdom to test out whether real-life mirrors what we’ve seen in the data. She had a 4-step touring plan to visit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, and Haunted Mansion. I’m all about transparency, so I’m going to share the results of each of those four steps.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Chrissy got in line for her first attraction, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at 11:11 am. The posted wait time when she got in line was 45 minutes – that time was on a lollipop sign. She refreshed Lines at the same time and saw the same 45 minute posted wait, and an expected wait time of 28 minutes. She started her timer and only waited 31 minutes before boarding the ride vehicle. That means the posted wait time was 17 minutes longer than her actual wait, and the TouringPlans expected wait was just 3 minutes shorter than her actual wait.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Chrissy’s next attraction, after a quick lunch, was Pirates of the Caribbean. As she got to the entrance at 12:29, Disney’s posted wait time was 60 minutes. When she checked Lines, it showed an expected wait of 25 minutes. So this was a great example of two wait times that seem really far apart. Chrissy ended up only waiting for 23 minutes before she was able to board her boat and stop her timer. So the posted wait was an amazing 37 minutes longer than the actual wait. The TouringPlans expected wait was only 2 minutes longer than what she waited!
it’s a small world
We sent Chrissy over to Fantasyland for her next attraction. She was able to hop into line at 1:14, when the posted wait time showed 55 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting 55 minutes for it’s a small world. It’s a classic, and maybe my 2-year-old’s favorite ride (certainly the one she asks to go on the most), but 55 minutes just isn’t worth it. Thankfully the Lines app was telling Chrissy to expect a 23 minute wait. Much more doable. Chrissy was very excited when, 16 minutes later, she was already stopping the timer and cruising around the world. So if you thought the 37-minute over-estimate at Pirates was crazy, this one was crazier. Disney’s posted time was 39 minutes higher than the actual wait. And our TouringPlans estimate was 7 minutes too high – our biggest miss out of the 4 attractions, but still not terrible.
So far we were 3-for-3 on proving out the realistic differences between Disney’s posted and TouringPlans’ estimated wait times. Can we make it a sweep?! Chrissy made her way to Haunted Mansion through a pretty large crowd of people to the ride entrance where there was a posted wait of 65 minutes at 1:50. She refreshed the Lines app and saw that we were predicting a 37-minute wait. A decent wait, but at least it wasn’t over an hour! I won’t make you hold your breath. In just 35 minutes, Chrissy’s phone over-heated and died (so you’ll have to take our word for it without a screenshot), but she was on her doom buggy. That means Disney’s posted time over-estimated her actual wait by 30 minutes. And the TouringPlans estimate was only 2 minutes off.
Sum It Up!
The numbers in this table speak for themselves. These are just four examples from four different attractions, but the data and the examples keep rolling in reliably no matter which attraction or park we choose.
What Does This Mean For You?
- Knowing the difference between posted, expected, and actual wait times is important and will help inform your touring strategy.
- Disney’s posted times, especially in the post-reopening era, have climbed higher as Disney attempts to control crowds and manage guest expectations.
- The TouringPlans estimated wait is meant to approximate your actual wait, not Disney’s posted wait. The two numbers may be very different, and that’s okay.
- Since we make intra-day adjustments to the estimated wait times based on data we receive, it’s important to refresh your app or optimize/evaluate your TouringPlan regularly to have the most up-to-date information.
Update: Fred and I talked about this same topic in a recent video on the TouringPlans YouTube channel. So feel free to forward that link to others if you think they could benefit from this topic.
Have any questions or comments? Let us know what you think!
First published July 24, 2021. Updated October 7, 2021.