Early entry to the theme park is a relatively new advantage offered to all Walt Disney World guests. In this case, on-site includes the WDW resorts, as well as several third-party resorts. You can check the list here or you can book your trip with TouringPlans travel agencies to make sure you get this benefit. It is a descendant of the ancient Magic Hours Extra where guests of the resort could enter a park an hour earlier each day. This, of course, got a little messy with the crowds. So early entry to the theme park allows all site guests the opportunity to enter each park 30 minutes before the official opening of the park. Sounds great, right? And anecdotally we’ve found it great. But we’re TouringPlans and we won’t say anything great until we have the data, okay?
Last week, during the Genie rehearsals, we had a really successful test of a TouringPlan for Hollywood Studios that took advantage of early entry to the theme park. Successful enough that people asked us for the link to the plan. [Side note: Let me clue you in to a little secret – it’s not the initial plan that’s the secret sauce. It’s the combination of arriving early, using a plan, and re-optimizing after each ride. So even if I gave you the plan, it would likely end up looking different than what yours would look like, because you’re touring on a different day in different conditions. You want your plan to take advantage of those conditions.]
Thanks, in part, to this success, we had several users who asked us if the same success could be replicated by dropping “normal” rope instead of early entry. And the answer is … we didn’t know. Therefore, the aim of this test was to collect data on the actual impact of early entry to the theme park and the regular fall of the rope.
Tester 1 received a TouringPlan with 10 attractions and used Early Theme Park Entry. He re-optimized after each step to take advantage of people’s current conditions. Tester 2 was sent to follow in his footsteps (doing the same rides in the same order) once the park was officially opened using the normal rope-throwing procedures. We planned to run the test until noon to judge what a full morning might be like, and we didn’t expect any of the tests to do all 10 attractions, we just wanted to offer the plan enough options to do it and optimize it properly. As such, we chose popular attractions that are usually reached very early or very late in the day to avoid large crowds.
The 10 attractions were:
(If you play at home, that’s when you guess how many attractions each tester could experience!)
How was a morning with early entry to the theme park?
A note on early arrival, because we asked ourselves questions about transportation: our early entry tester at the theme park arrived at the Autoplaza at 7:10 a.m. and the parking booths opened at 7:15. The monorail didn’t work so soon, so the only options were to ferry or walk. After a quick ferry ride, security opened at 7:30, and then ETPE users were able to start playing at 7:50. Remember that the ETPE didn’t officially start until 8:30, so you’re interested in arriving even earlier (if possible) and taking photos or queuing early.
- 8:35 – Peter Pan’s flight – 5 minutes wait posted /10 real waiting minute
- 8:51 – The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 5 minutes wait posted /3 real waiting minute
- 9:01 – it’s a small world – 5 minutes wait posted /0 real waiting minute
- 9:18 – The Haunted Mansion – 5 minute wait posted /6 real waiting minute
- 9:37 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – 5 minute wait posted /2 real waiting minute
- 9:50 – Pirates of the Caribbean – 10 minutes wait posted /14 real waiting minute
- 10:21 – Jungle Cruise – 35 minutes wait posted /52 real waiting minute
- 11:31 – Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – 35 minutes wait posted /10 real waiting minute
- 11:48 – Space Mountain – 20 minutes wait posted /19 real waiting minute
So our ETPE checker completed 9 of his 10 steps before noon! The only step left was the train of the Seven Dwarfs mine. If he had gone there just after Space Mountain, the published wait would have been 60 minutes, but his actual wait would probably have been closer to 40 minutes. Definitely not a bad morning (that’s a lot of headliners in 3.5 hours) and includes an unexpected and unusually long wait at Jungle Cruise. The waiting time posted on Jungle Cruise went from 35 minutes to 55 minutes right after our tester was optimized and put online, something strange was happening.
What was a morning like without an early entry to the theme park?
- 9:05 – The flight of Peter Pan – 50 minutes of waiting published /31 real waiting minute
- 9:43 – The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 20 minutes of waiting posted /15 real waiting minute
- 10:06 – it’s a small world – 10 minutes wait posted /5 real waiting minute
- 10:28 – The Haunted Mansion – 25 minutes wait posted /18 real waiting minute
- 11:01 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – 35 minutes wait posted /27 real waiting minute
- 11:35 – Pirates of the Caribbean – 25 minutes wait posted /24 real waiting minute
Our non-ETPE tester entered the park with the “normal rope” people and arrived at Peter Pan at 9:05. It was already a much longer wait than our ETPE tester experienced. At noon, the “normal rope drop” tester was still in Pirates of the Caribbean, so he couldn’t experience the last four steps of the plan. His next step would have been Jungle Cruise, which had a published wait of 55 minutes.
What was the impact of early entry into the theme park?
- Early entry tester at the theme park:
- Tour for little more 3.5 hours
- With experience 9 attractions
- An average of 12.9 minutes by attraction
- The “regular rope drop” tester:
- Route by 3 hours
- With experience 6 attractions
- An average of 20.0 minutes by attraction
Interestingly, while the ETPE tester experienced 3 more rides, he waited 116 minutes in total compared to the normal rope tester’s 120-minute standby time. I would wear this trade any day.
What does this mean for you?
- If you sign up early and stay on site, be sure to take advantage of early entry to the theme park. It’s an easy win with obvious benefits.
- If you’re staying on site and looking to avoid paying for something like Genie +, ETPE is another great strategy for getting to popular attractions before the crowd goes down, without paying to avoid the waiting line. Basically, you’re avoiding a waiting line … entering it before the others.
- If you stay out of place, you know you will be working against ETPE. You can’t drop a headline without it already having a line. People have been leaking to this line for 30 minutes now.
Have you already experienced early entry to the theme park? Are you planning an upcoming stay at the property when you plan to take advantage of this? Do you have an out-of-place stay nearby and are concerned about this impact on your plan? Let us know in the comments!