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When we began our research on Disneyland, we were very interested in traffic patterns throughout the park, specifically these issues:
What attractions and which sections of the park do visitors head for when they first arrive?
When guests are admitted to the various lands, the flow of people to Tomorrowland (Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage) is heaviest. the next most crowded land is Fantasyland, though the crowds are distributed over a large number of attractions. Critter Country is likewise crowded with its small area and only two attractions (Splash Mountain and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Adventureland, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square fill more slowly, with Mickey’s Toontown not really coming alive until later in the morning. As the park fills, visitors appear to head for specific favored attractions that they wish to ride before the lines get long. This, more than any other factor, determines traffic patterns in the mornings and accounts for the relatively equal distribution of visitors throughout Disneyland.
How long does it take for the park to reach peak capacity for a given day? How are the visitors dispersed throughout the park?
A surge of early birds arrives before or around opening time but is quickly dispersed throughout the empty park. After the initial onslaught is absorbed, there is a bit of a lull that lasts until about an hour after opening. Following the lull, the park is inundated with arriving guests for about 2 hours, peaking 10–11 a.m. Guests continue to arrive in a steady but diminishing stream until around 2 p.m.
Sampled lines reached their longest length noon–3 p.m., indicating more arrivals than departures in the early afternoon. For general touring purposes, most attractions develop substantial lines 9:30–11 a.m. In the early morning, Tomorrowland, Critter Country, and Fantasyland fill up first. By late morning and into early afternoon, attendance is fairly equally distributed throughout all of the “lands.” Mickey’s Toontown, because it is comparatively small, stays mobbed from about 11:30 a.m. on. By midafternoon, however, we noted a concentration of visitors in Fantasyland, New Orleans Square, and Adventureland, and a slight decrease of visitors in Tomorrowland.
In the late afternoon and early evening, attendance continues to be more heavily distributed in Tomorrowland, Critter Country, and Fantasyland. Though Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Splash Mountain, and Star Tours remain inundated throughout the day, most of the other attractions in Tomorrowland and Critter Country have reasonable lines. In New Orleans Square, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the multitudes returning from nearby Critter Country keep traffic brisk. Frontierland (except Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and Adventureland (except Indiana Jones Adventure) become less congested as the afternoon and evening progress.
How do most visitors go about touring the park? Is there a difference in the touring behavior of first-time visitors and repeat visitors?
Many first-time visitors accompany friends or relatives who are familiar with Disneyland and who guide their tour. These tours sometimes do and sometimes do not proceed in an orderly (clockwise or counterclockwise) touring sequence. First-time visitors without personal touring guidance tend to be more orderly in their touring. Many first-time visitors, however, are drawn to Sleeping Beauty Castle on entering the park and thus commence their rotation from Fantasyland. Repeat visitors usually proceed directly to their favorite attractions or to whatever is new.
What effect do special events such as parades, fireworks, and Fantasmic! have on traffic patterns?
Special events such as parades, fireworks, and Fantasmic! pull substantial numbers of visitors from the lines for rides. Unfortunately, however, the left hand taketh what the right hand giveth. A parade or Fantasmic! snarls traffic flow throughout Disneyland so much that guests find themselves captive wherever they are. Attraction lines in Tomorrowland, Mickey’s Toontown, Adventureland, and Fantasyland (behind the castle) diminish dramatically, making Space Mountain, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Star Tours, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures particularly good choices during the evening festivities. The remainder of the park (Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Main Street, and Small World Plaza in Fantasyland) is so congested with guests viewing the parade or Fantasmic! that it’s almost impossible to move. Conversely, when Fantasmic! is on hiatus (as it will be through early 2017), the crowds that would otherwise be watching it must go elsewhere, chiefly toward the parade route and attraction queues.
What are the traffic patterns near to and at closing time?
On our sample days, which were recorded in and out of season, park departures outnumbered arrivals beginning in midafternoon, with a substantial number of guests leaving after the afternoon parade. Additional numbers of visitors departed during the late afternoon as the dinner hour approached. When the park closed early, there were steady departures during the 2 hours preceding closing, with a mass exodus of remaining visitors at closing time.
When the park closed late, departures were distributed throughout the evening hours, with waves of departures following the evening parade(s), fireworks, and Fantasmic! Though departures increased exponentially as closing time approached, a huge throng was still on hand when the park finally shut down. The balloon effect of this last throng at the end of the day generally overwhelmed the shops on Main Street, the parking lot, trams, and the hotel shuttles, as well as the exits onto adjoining Anaheim streets. In the hour before closing in the lands other than Main Street, touring conditions were normally uncrowded except at Indiana Jones Adventure in Adventureland and Splash Mountain in Critter Country.
Get Current and Future Wait Times with Lines
To get a complete view of the actual traffic patterns while you're in the park, use our mobile application, Lines. The app gives you current wait times and future estimates in half-hour increments for today and tomorrow. A quick glance shows how traffic patterns affect wait times throughout the day.