Touring Plan Test: Early Theme Park Entry Effect on Off-Site Guests Is About 2 Hours Extra in Line

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To prepare for Disney’s upcoming Early Theme Park Entry program for on-site hotel guests, we tested two versions of the same touring plan on Saturday at the Magic Kingdom.  Both plans had the same 13 attractions, plus time out for lunch.  The On-Site plan started at 8:30 AM to simulate a guest taking advantage of Early Theme Park Entry; the Off-Site plan started at 9 AM to simulate an off-site guest starting at official park opening.  Both plans were re-optimized throughout the day using our Lines app and up-to-the-minute wait times in the Magic Kingdom.

The results were surprising: The On-Site plan finished with almost 2 hours less in line than the Off-Site plan.  Again, that’s with both plans being optimized throughout the day, using the current wait times in the parks.  And the Magic Kingdom wasn’t even crowded – just a 2 on our Crowd Calendar’s 1-to-10 scale.  So even using an optimal touring plan, off-site guests should expect to wait in line significantly more than on-site guests once Disney’s Early Theme Park Entry begins.

On-Site Touring Plan for Magic Kingdom

Here’s the On-Site plan, including our forecasted wait and how long the actual wait was:

ON-SITE PLAN STEP ESTIMATED ARRIVAL TIME ACTUAL ARRIVAL TIME ESTIMATED WAIT IN LINE ACTUAL WAIT IN LINE DIFFERENCE IN WAIT TIME RIDE DURATION
1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 8:32 AM 8:30 AM 10 15 +5 3
2. Peter Pan’s Flight 8:48 AM 8:53 AM 3 1 -2 3
3. “it’s a small world” 9:03 AM 9:00 AM 3 1 -2 14
4. Pirates of the Caribbean 9:28 AM 9:25 AM 3 5 +2 8
5. Dumbo the Flying Elephant 9:50 AM 9:52 AM 7 1 -6 2
6. Journey / Little Mermaid 10:01 AM 10:01 AM 3 1 -2 7
7. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin 10:21 AM 10:13 AM 7 10 +3 5
8. Space Mountain 10:37 AM 10:32 AM 20 22 +2 10
9. Mickey’s PhilharMagic 11:15 AM 11:08 AM 9 22 +13 12
10. Lunch
11. The Haunted Mansion 12:29 PM 12:17 PM 16 11 -5 10
12. Splash Mountain 12:59 PM 12:49 PM 21 28 +7 18
13. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 1:50 PM 1:34 PM 26 22 -4 7
14. Jungle Cruise 2:28 PM 2:08 PM 36 44 +8 8
  TOTALS 164 183 61

The On-Site plan’s average wait in line was 14 minutes per attraction for the 13 attractions.

Off-Site Touring Plan for Magic Kingdom

Here’s the Off-Site plan, with the same attractions and a 9 a.m. start time:

OFF-SITE PLAN STEP ESTIMATED ARRIVAL TIME ACTUAL ARRIVAL TIME ESTIMATED WAIT IN LINE ACTUAL WAIT IN LINE DIFFERENCE IN WAIT TIME RIDE DURATION
1. Pirates of the Caribbean 9:11 AM 9:07 AM 3 1 -2 3
2. “it’s a small world” 9:29 AM 9:24 AM 5 10 5 14
3. The Haunted Mansion 10:19 AM 9:56 AM 6 2 -4 10
4. Jungle Cruise 10:40 AM 10:10 AM 16 35 +19 8
5. Splash Mountain 11:09 AM 11:00 AM 4 20 +16 18
6. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 11:33 AM 11:36 AM 16 23 +7 7
7. Lunch
8. Space Mountain 12:38 PM 12:41 PM 32 27 -5 10
9. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin 1:26 PM 1:17 PM 23 20 -3 5
10. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 1:59 PM 1:48 PM 51 60 +9 3
11. Dumbo the Flying Elephant 2:57 PM 3:04 PM 18 19 +1 2
12. Journey / Little Mermaid 3:32 PM 3:28 PM 10 15 +5 7
13. Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3:53 PM 3:51 PM 22 43 +21 12
14. Peter Pan’s Flight 4:49 PM 4:38 PM 29 36 +7 7
  TOTALS 235 311 104

Analysis

The On-Site plan waited in line 128 minutes – 2 hours and 8 minutes less than the Off-Site plan, for the same attractions on the same day.  The On-Site plan was done by around 3 p.m.  The Off-Site plan started 30 minutes later and finished around 5 p.m.

Both plans underestimated the wait time for Mickey’s PhilharMagic.  That’s almost certainly due to social distancing, not for any newfound popularity of the attraction.  A 43-minute actual wait is a line long enough to hold around three shows’ worth of guests, which is surprising for a day with a crowd level of 2.  We’re updating our models to account for that.

Still, this test demonstrates how much of an advantage Early Theme Park Entry will be for on-site guests, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s almost certainly going to drive more business from off-site properties to the Walt Disney World hotels – families will look at any cost difference and ask themselves whether it’s worth two extra hours of standing in line per day.  And I think many families will decide to stay on-site because of that.

More Touring Plan Tests

For the past six months, we’ve been continuously testing different touring plans and touring plan features in Disney World’s parks.  Some of those features, like Pre-opening touring plans and wait times, have already been announced, and more are coming soon.  If there’s a specific scenario you’d like us to test in the parks, leave a comment below.

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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

19 thoughts on “Touring Plan Test: Early Theme Park Entry Effect on Off-Site Guests Is About 2 Hours Extra in Line

  • February 9, 2021 at 12:29 pm
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    Interesting! Love these kinds of posts.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 3:36 pm
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    Boo, this is exactly what I was worried about!

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  • February 9, 2021 at 3:44 pm
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    Thanks, Len. We will be there for Easter and I’d love to see a report on how Disney transportation is working with social distancing. Are wait times similar to normal or should I rent a car?

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 3:54 pm
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    Where are you staying, Frank? I can look up bus transport times by resort.

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  • February 9, 2021 at 4:02 pm
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    Grand Floridian villas

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  • February 9, 2021 at 4:10 pm
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    Average case is 17-29 minutes to the theme parks (MK is 17, AK is 29). Worst-case scenarios to the theme parks is 44-69 minutes (44 MK, over 60 to all the other parks).

    We’ve only got data on 70,000 bus routes since re-opening, so that’s subject to change.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 4:11 pm
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    Sorry – those times went up slightly versus pre-pandemic.

    I’m not sure I’d rent a car. You’ll probably find an Uber almost as convenient, and you really only need the car to get to EPCOT in time for Remy, and maybe DHS for your boarding group.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 4:47 pm
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    Do we know how they are going to enforce the early morning minutes? (c) lentesta. And if all attractions will be open during them?

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  • February 9, 2021 at 4:50 pm
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    My guess is that they’ll have info on their iPads when you try to tap in. If you don’t have a reservation, they’ll ask you to step aside until official opening.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 4:59 pm
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    Thank you. The MK walking path is a plus. Uber isn’t super convenient with 4 kids including 3 who need child seats. We’ll probably stick to the buses for the other parks.

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  • February 9, 2021 at 5:05 pm
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    Yes, substituting Uber for Magical Express or buses is difficult for families with kids that need car seats. That is who will miss ME the most, I imagine. Our youngest is 4 years old and about 30 pounds (she’s small!); I’m really hoping for a growth spurt before next year.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 11:09 pm
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    How do you think the extra thirty minute opening for on site guests will affect touring plan crowd levels across the four parks? Will it be an even distribution or will certain parks have the most impact? With the previous specific extra magic hours it was easier to see crowd levels adjust but now I am curious what we should expect to see.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2021 at 6:04 am
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      We think the crowds will be fairly well distributed over the four parks – there’s no reason to choose one park on one day over another. That’ll be different when new attractions open, of course.

      Reply
  • February 10, 2021 at 12:23 pm
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    Always love your posts as they are so informative! You touched on Remy in one of your comments….. Any more information on when they might be opening that attraction?

    “We’ve only got data on 70,000 bus routes since re-opening”
    Too funny!

    Reply
  • February 23, 2021 at 1:43 pm
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    Any insights or best guesses as to when Early Entry might start (e.g., by Easter, by summertime, or not until just before the 50th next year)? I know Disney said “soon,” but in Disney-speak, that can mean anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years!

    Reply
  • March 4, 2021 at 4:30 pm
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    We are staying at Boulder Ridge in early May and the boat times state they start 30 minutes prior to opening. Is this prior to the 8am Main Street opening or the official 9am start? If the latter, we’ll explore other options to take advantage of an early start!

    Reply
  • March 4, 2021 at 4:34 pm
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    JW, I’d send someone out to check out the boat situation about 90 minutes before official opening. I’d be surprised if the boats started running later than an hour or so before official opening. When I was there in July, there were very long lines to get on the boats.

    Reply
  • April 9, 2021 at 3:14 pm
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    I love these touring plan test posts!
    Sort of related – Steve did a post on rope dropping a few months ago, and noted what actual park opening times were (relative to scheduled opening times) and the best transportation method to arrive for each. I’d love to see an update now with extra magic minutes at each park

    Reply
  • April 9, 2021 at 3:16 pm
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    There was an emoji at the end of that last sentence. I have to say something or the lack of punctuation will bother me forever.

    Reply

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