Touring Plans Mythbusters: Rope Drop and Lines at the Magic Kingdom Part 2

Share This!

Hello again! In yesterday’s post, we set up an experiment. For those of us who think sleeping in on vacation is relaxing, I wanted to know how much extra time you’d have to spend in line if you get to the parks well past rope drop.  The answer turned out to be: not as much as you might think!  To wrap it up, today we’re going to do a deep dive into the results and then take a brief look at how these results might hold up in the future.

Previously …

Let’s quickly recap what we did yesterday:

Chose two plans similar to those from the Unofficial Guide, and two dates to test with.

A table showing the different combination of plans and dates
The short names are just the first letter of the plan plus the crowd level of the day.

Made nine copies of each plan on each date, creating sets of three to start at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:00 a.m.

Used different methods to optimize within each set of three.

  • Paper reflected what would happen if you just printed the plan and took it to the park.
  • One-Click was the minimum of optimization effort, loading the plan into the Personalized Plan part of the Lines app and letting it go wild.
  • The Three-Click method allowed for a few extra adjustments.

Deep Dive Hot Takes

Paper Plans

As it happens, everything did better than the paper plans when you looked at the amount of time spent in lines.

A clustered column chart showing the paper, one-click, and three-click line times for each plan and date
It’s pretty easy to see that the blue line for paper is the tallest in every group.

At first glance this might seem surprising, but it turns out to have a simple explanation. These plans are compromises, and in most compromises nobody gets their ideal outcome.  When you adapt a plan to work better on March 13th, you run the risk of making it less perfect for August 10th. That’s exactly what the data show us, that when you take that average plan and spend a few clicks tailoring it for a specific date, you do better.

One-Click Plans

As you can also see above, the one-click plans beat the pants off everything else by a wide margin when it came to minimizing time in lines. What isn’t obvious until you look at the total time is that these plans are also the longest from start to finish.

When you dig down, it turns out that these plans all have a large block of free time in the mid-afternoon and then have you in the parks until closing.  This is easily explained if you look at what’s happening in the parks – the chart below shows the predicted distribution of crowds for our test dates based on the time of day.

Heatmaps showing the distribution of crowds over the day
The optimizer is putting those huge blocks of free time right where the red is.

The message we’re hearing from the data here is: if you want to spend the least time in lines, spend your time in lines when they are shorter. Take a break in the middle of the day, go back to your hotel, and have a nap or a swim.

Three-Click Plans

The three-click plans were the winners when you looked at the time from start to finish.

Clustered column chart comparing the total time for paper vs three-click plans
The three-click method (orange) had the least total time.

The plans in this group were mostly generated by looking at the one-click plan, then adjusting the end time of the day to eliminate the mid-day free time. After using the second click to change the time, I used my third click to Optimize again.  I only adjusted the order of attractions in 2 of the 12 plans that used this method — and that was just to eliminate a few minutes of walking.

I found that every single three-click plan takes at least 50 minutes less time than its matching paper plan; in many cases closer to an hour and a half.  Since these plans had minimal free time, that translates to the same difference in line-waiting time.

So what’s the take-home here?

Lesson #1

First off, a morning routine that focuses on leaving your resort with drill sergeant efficiency may not be necessary. Ten minutes on your sofa the night before could win you an extra hour in bed. It might even win you two — one pattern I saw repeatedly was that if there was a big bump between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. that I couldn’t smooth away, it was usually gone if I started even later at 11:00 a.m.

A chart showing only the three-click line minutes
Three-click data: most sets rise from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and then fall off again.

One thing that can really make a difference is how busy your plan is. The Parent plan didn’t have as many attractions as the Adult plan, and you can see how the 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. plans didn’t stretch far enough to get the boost from those sweet evening hours of shorter lines — even at 11:00 a.m., it was still 50 minutes more in line than arriving at rope drop.  When I added a version with a noon start time, the difference dropped back to under half an hour.

This pattern of really late starts sometimes being better than sort-of-late starts is consistent with real world data from testing teams in the parks. And the optimizer knows it: in many cases, the one-click plans told me not to start touring until 1:00 p.m. even though I was arriving at the parks much earlier!

Picture of a bed at Saratoga Springs
Perfect for a nap …

Lesson #2

A second takeaway is that if you really want to spend less time in lines, taking a mid-day siesta can cut your wait times significantly.  This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, since wanting to sleep in is not the same as wanting to stay late in the parks, but maybe it is yours?

Lesson #3

The last big lesson is that the 5-10 minutes you spend on your sofa the night before matter more than what time you arrive at the parks. It needs to be said that there were plenty of times when a later start did cost 20 more minutes in line.  Personally, I consider this a fair trade for extra sleep, although you might not.  But the average time saved by the simple three-click optimization was just about 70 minutes. In an extreme example, the Adult paper plan on a crowd level 8 day couldn’t be finished unless you started at park opening, but for the three-click method even the latest start time had you out of the park half an hour before closing.

The data is really talking to us loud and clear here: if you spend a little time the night before, you can pick a late arrival time that is the best balance between when you want to start touring and when you want to leave the parks. But even if you hit the Optimize button on the bus on the way to the park entrance, it can give you an extra hour to spend at the pool.

Picture of the Grand Floridian pool
I love extra time at the pool, but not as much as my kids do.

What are we missing?

We all know that the past year has been unusual.  If we took a time machine to the past and ran this same experiment when the parks still had FastPass+, nighttime fireworks, and many of the shows that are currently closed, it’s very hard to say how it would affect the results. Nighttime entertainment might keep people in the parks longer and cut into those evening hours where the waits are shorter right now.  But advice to ride during the fireworks has been around for a long time, and if FastPass+ comes back that might make up for this by letting people skip some of the really long lines in the middle of the day. We’ll definitely need to revisit this in the future when the parks are more “back to normal”.

We also don’t know about the effects of Disney’s planned Early Entry program, which is not yet available.  It may be that Early Entry confers an unbeatable benefit that is worth waking up for if you’re staying on site, but we’ll just have to wait and see.  Only the future will tell what awaits, but if you’re visiting today and you’re not a morning person, take heart — the data here shows that you probably don’t have to choose between sleeping in and getting a lot done in the parks.

So what do you think?  Is an extra hour in bed worth 20 extra minutes in line? Are you in camp split-day with a break in the middle? Do you think this will hold up when fireworks and FastPass return?  Let us know in the comments!


You May Also Like...

Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer Heymont has a background in math and biology, but since she couldn't pick between the two she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

16 thoughts on “Touring Plans Mythbusters: Rope Drop and Lines at the Magic Kingdom Part 2

  • April 16, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    I suspect what we will see is an always changing optimal start time. Years ago that was at rope drop. Now that the word has gotten out about rope drop, it’s now not the best time (Unless you get there super early and are at the front of the rope drop crowds). So late morning is now the optimal time. But eventually that strategy will become the norm, and then rope drop will become optimal again. It’s going to be a matter of staying ahead of the game and using the most current data in your touring strategy.

    • April 16, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      I think you are correct. It’s not just news about what is optimal, it’s also changes in policy (Early Entry will cause different dynamics than EMH, for instance), changes in Disney’s operational decisions about staffing/ride capacity vs. crowd levels, and even cultural factors.

      It isn’t even necessarily the same in each park. I’ve already started pulling data for the same experiment in the other three parks — I haven’t gotten into all of it yet, but even a brief overview of the Epcot data shows that there are some very noticeable differences.

      • April 16, 2021 at 4:04 pm

        That is true as well. I know a test was conducted a while back simulating the 30 minute advantage resort guests would receive, and turned into 2 hours less of waiting time in queues.

  • April 16, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Not making it to rope drop but still taking a break for a nap and/or swim in the middle of the day has been our standard procedure for dealing with the Florida heat for a few years now. Glad to know that it has not cost us extra time in lines.

    • April 16, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      Our visits are usually in August and we have similarly taken breaks in the middle of the day. Opinions are actually split in our family about how important rope drop arrival is, but it’s not as much about the lines, it’s about missing those cooler hours in the early-mid morning. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that any touring plan that has an 11 AM park arrival had better have a table-service lunch with air conditioning to go along with it.

      • April 16, 2021 at 5:59 pm

        Good article . As stated by others it depends on the type of family you have. Couples with kids have to weigh the option of taking a afternoon break at the pools. Time of year affects this as well. Heat of the summer forces you to take breaks. Couples with no kids can really move about quite freely.

        On the other end of the spectrum is a guy like me . Both wife and Grandson hate Disney so I go by myself in late fall and dates when the parks are not so crowded .

        For me it’s an all out blitz from rope drop to when they kick me out of the park at closing. For me Rope drop can’t be beat. I live in New England and don’t get down there as much as I would like and if I pay 100 bucks for a ticket you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll get every last time out of that ticket . Rode Space Mountain at rope drop 3 times before any line formed . Same with Splash Mountain and Mine Train.

        Don’t care about food so much and Disney has very good selections. Still I eat well and despite that don’t lose one pound on vacation.

        Now that said you can’t maintain that pace for four plus days straight . A rest day must be taken. That’s where the selection of resort comes in. I’ll relax at Volcano Bay thank you.

        Frankly I think Universal has got them beat in rides and nightime shows . Their nightime back in 2018 spectacular was just that. Blew disney’s Imagination right out of the water.

        Hope this helps

  • April 16, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    “This pattern of really late starts sometimes being better than sort-of-late starts is consistent with real world data from testing teams in the parks. ”

    So true. I agree with @twobits. People were told rope drop, now rope drop is too late. and then usually by 1130 the croweds (before covid) would swell, meaning time to head out of the park for a later return, minimizing standing in line. What will the future hold? I don’t know but, I do know that touring plans will keep us informed!

    • April 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      “What will the future hold? I don’t know but, I do know that touring plans will keep us informed!”

      Spot on!

  • April 16, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    I’ve been running plans for end of June 2021 and noticed that arriving at rope drop didn’t seem to help avoid wait time much at all. I was wondering if this is due to the loss of Fast Pass. Normally, many folks have FP for popular rides and can wait until later to ride them, but now EVERYBODY is heading toward their favorite rides right at park opening and the wait times skyrocket very quickly in a way they didn’t use to.

    I don’t think it’s a problem of too many people doing rope drop. We have to remember that we Touring Plan fans are not the majority of people that attend the parks.

    • April 17, 2021 at 8:48 am

      I think it’s really hard to put a firm reason to any differences between current times and older plans. Fastpass could certainly be a factor, but for 6/29 I compared the 9 AM wait times of my runs with the waits at 9 AM on the same day in 2019, and they were only a couple minutes different. I only compared two rides because there were only two that were ever at the front of the list, but there are so many things that are different between the two years that this could be nothing more than a coincidence. Also, as other commenters have mentioned, the parks are routinely opening 45 minutes to an hour before the stated time.

  • April 17, 2021 at 9:48 am

    Oh, man, this is throwing me for a loop! We are going mid-May (three more weeks!). I am a militant rope drop mom, but normally we go to Disneyland. With Disneyworld, there is a 2 hour time difference so rope drop is EARLY! My husband wants us to sleep in, but that goes against the core of my Lines being.

    I’m trying to think of a compromise. Maybe arriving at 9, doing what we can until 12 or 1, going back to the pool (3 kids who will love a break at the pool), going back to the park around 3 or 4 and closing the parks.

    Is 9 better than getting there at 10 or 11? Does it matter that much if we keep optimizing?

    AGHHH!!! My whole world is being rocked right now and I can’t take it!

    • April 17, 2021 at 11:46 am

      A couple of things to note:

      1. As a few commenters have pointed out, it might have been better to title these “official opening time and lines” since the parks have been routinely opening 45 minutes to an hour before the stated time and it’s not possible to account for that using these methods (because you can’t optimize a plan for a before-opening start time in advance, even though you can once you are in the parks). The team did a test of arriving at “true” park opening a little while ago, and it does show some shorter waits for popular rides right at park opening — you can check it out here to get an idea and compare to how these rides are being marked in your plans.

      That said, that will be *even earlier* for you, and it does look like the advantage may evaporate fairly quickly — 10 years ago, my experience of rope drop was that the lines were slow for at least an hour or so after getting into the park. Today these lines are solidifying by “opening time” which may be as little as half an hour after actual opening, so you might or might not get as much return on your effort in terms of slack time.

      2. If you don’t normally take a break I would actually really recommend checking out what would happen if you plan to close the parks instead of opening them. I definitely saw wait times for Space Mountain and 7 Dwarfs near closing time that were similar to the early-entry times recorded in the test I linked to above. It sounds like you are pretty familiar with making touring plans, so try out a few late-ending plans and see what happens — remember you can always activate a previous result if you really don’t like something. My only advice here is to set your end time for 15 minutes before actual park close, because it will highlight any rides that you would be arriving at very close to actual close where there is a higher probability of missing the timing on the actual day-of.

      Have a great vacation!

  • April 17, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Does the parade trick still work? We used to come back for the parade, but only because it gave about a 45 minute window where it sucked people out of Frontierland, Adventureland, Haunted Mansion, and to some extent a little bit of Fantasyland, and radically reduced the size of the lines. Just curious.

  • April 17, 2021 at 9:53 am

    Let me correct that – did the parade trick work up until February 2020? My mistake.

    • April 17, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      The Main Street Electrical Parade closed at Disney in 2016 and wasn’t replaced before all parades and nighttime entertainment closed due to COVID. The only data that we have on ride time during an evening parade since then is from Halloween and Christmas parties, and it’s not sufficiently comparable to give an answer to your question.

      I took a quick look at the Festival of Fantasy parade (3 PM) in June of 2019. There is a general drop off starting mid-afternoon (2-ish) in some ride times, but there’s no recovery bounce when the parade is finished. Unfortunately that means for these rides it’s not possible to separate the effects of the parade from the general pattern of visitors leaving for a mid-afternoon break. Other rides, especially those in Fantasyland, do appear at first glance to show a small dip around the time of the parade. So I guess my answer here, in the absence of a real analysis over an extended period of time, would be that there might be some effect but it probably isn’t as noticeable as what used to happen with the evening parade.

      • April 24, 2021 at 4:16 pm

        Interesting. Thanks for the reply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.