If you’ve been to the parks last month or read about our recent tests at the park, you know the parks have been real ghost towns. The typical September calm with schools starting, plus an increase in COVID cases across the country and especially in Orange County, plus people expecting to visit up to 50th the anniversary celebration has added to a notable lack of crowds in late August and early September.
But early September is always the sweet spot for low-income people, right? (Yes, shh, don’t tell anyone, that’s why my family always visits the week after Labor Day.) So how does this year compare to last September? Was it really very low? Or did the continued operational closure of meetings and greetings and most shows mean that waiting times were not so different? Now that the first fortnight of September is complete, we can explore this question.
Explain the math!
Every day we collect the actual waiting times of Lines App users in the park. 2021 has been a particularly fantastic year for the presentation of waiting times – thanks to everyone who has scheduled your waits. As you can see below, in early September this year was no exception.
For this post, we will analyze the waiting times submitted between September 1stc and on September 15thth each year, from 2011 to 2021. And we will only include standby waits, so single-pilot and FastPass wait times are excluded. In this way we compare apples to apples. Magic Kingdom is a good example of increased waiting time. From 2015 to 2020, in early September, we got between 600 and 1000 shipments. But in 2021, we had over 1600 waiting waits filed in that same time period. As a data nerd, this is like Christmas coming soon. All this data makes my heart very happy.
To compare this year with previous years, we will analyze the average waiting times. We can see Walt Disney World in general as well as individual parks and even individual attractions. In this way we get an image at each level of timeout trends. We will find out the average time sent as well as the average time posted when the sender entered the line. This way we can get information not only about timeout trends, but also about how Disney reflects the changes (or not).
The gray line here is the average of all timeouts submitted after September 1stc until September 15thth every year. The good news is that there has been a steady decline since the 2018 high. But obviously 2020 was a weird year and we have discussed how 2021 is also abnormal. What really stands out to me is the remarkably steady increase from 2012 to 2018. There is a big difference in an average wait of less than 10 minutes per attraction and an average of almost 20 minutes per attraction.
It should also be noted that the published average time increased faster than the average time sent between 2012 and 2018, so the published times were relatively more inflated in those years. And while shipping times have decreased since 2018, published times have not decreased as much. But this overview has many asterisks. What if Disney has opened more new attractions waiting longer? What if one park has brought more waits than any of the others? Let’s go a layer deeper.
Park to park trends
Animal Kingdom is an interesting example. Remember when Expedition Everest was the longest wait there? Then Pandora opened up and average waiting times more than doubled. Almost entirely thanks to the most anticipated attraction at Walt Disney World, Flight of Passage. Interestingly, expectations in early September 2021 were slightly higher than in early September 2020.
EPCOT is the park most influenced by the multitude of festivals and venues, and none of this tends to drastically increase waiting times, but rather the number of people moving or eating / drinking around the world. Waiting times in early September have been declining somewhat randomly since the high point of 2016. The extension of Food and Wine to cover early September has not meant an increase in population this year. 2021 has seen the lowest average waits since 2014.
Like the overall average, wait times in early September at Hollywood studios peaked in 2018 before starting to go down. In 2020 it registered a slight increase compared to 2019, but in 2021 it fell again. Considering that many of the attractions of Hollywood studios are considered headlines with long-awaited waits (Tower of Terror, Roller Coaster Rock ‘n’, Millennium Falcon, Toy Story Mania, Slinky Dog Dash, etc.), an average 20-minute global wait in 2021 really isn’t too terrible.
Magic Kingdom has a different shape to the rest of the parks. The averages of early September 2020 were much higher than other early September before. Eh ?! In fact, I was in the Magic Kingdom in early September 2020 (remember, the week after Labor Day is totally my confusion) and I have some assumptions about why. He came back when, yes, people’s levels were quite limited. But the operational capacity was also VERY low. Staffing had not recovered, the lines were very well spaced and the load was very spaced. This means that there are fewer people traveling every hour and this leads to longer waits. Now, it was still 9 hours in the Magic Kingdom with two grandparents and two children under the age of 5, and we did over 20 attractions (not including rider exchanges) plus a table service meal and a counter service meal. Yes, maybe the waits were high, but they were definitely manageable.
The additional good news is that in Magic Kingdom, operational capacity increases appear to have outpaced crowd increases. Average wait times in early September 2021 returned to more similar levels than in 2015 and 2016.
Individual travel trends
We will complete it by going up one more layer and seeing the trends of the specific attractions. I won’t offer any additional analysis here, but we can see an attraction for each park to see how these change over time.
Flight of Passage is the big waiting driver, with an average of 70 minutes of waiting in early September 2017. Yikes. We were there that September: Hurricane Irma scared the rest of the humans in the park the day we visited, so we didn’t wait 70 minutes. Lucky for us? Flight of Passage and Toy Story Mania experienced an increase in average waits in 2021 compared to 2020, while the Soarin and Seven Dwarfs Mine mine train decreased.
What does this mean for you?
- The great takeaway here is that Disney continues to fill the posted waiting times significantly. With the Genie / Genie + release just around the corner, don’t assume that what they tell you about the wait is true.
- Crowds continue to rise (usually) at Disney. It seems that the pandemic was just a “blip” in this trend. So while in early September 2021 not everything was roads, it was statistically the best start to September for low waits since 2017, at least (which had a crowd depressed by the hurricane that kept people away for a few days).
- Global figures can also be misleading, so it’s always good to understand trends at specific parks, or even specific attractions, if possible. When Rise of the Resistance becomes a regular queue next week, the overall average wait at the park will increase. But it’s not because there are more people, but because there’s a new long line that will probably have a lot of data sent.
Do you have any fantastic stories about the visit in early September? Are you a post-work day fan like me? Let us know in the comments.