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Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

The days of a crowd-free Magic Kingdom might be behind us…

2020 marked the year where everything we thought we knew about Disney parks was thrown out the window. Theme parks were forced to close across the globe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Walt Disney World reopening in July 2020 to low capacity and slow attendance. We’ve been living in a peculiar world where Disney’s Hollywood Studios rather than Disney’s Magic Kingdom has proven the most popular park with guests, and other than some spikes of activity around major holidays, Walt Disney World’s flagship park has felt surprisingly quiet heading into 2021.

We may have reached the tipping point though…

I usually make it a point to avoid Disney parks on holiday weeks to avoid crowds. I think it was a lapse of memory that convinced me to make a Disney parks pass reservation for Magic Kingdom for Friday, February 12th—the kickoff of President’s Day weekend. I’ve been meaning to make it back to Magic Kingdom since reopening, but things just never aligned to make it happen—the lack of park hopping throughout 2020 meant every trip to Walt Disney World needed to be carefully considered. I was able to write multiple updates on Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, as well as examinations into current trends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom but not Magic Kingdom.


Video: YouTube, Jett Farrell-Vega (My Kingdom For a Mouse)

Most of these “What to Expect” updates in the past have used the example of quieter days at Walt Disney World. This particular report is the opposite: this is a glimpse into what Walt Disney World’s flagship park looks like on a day when capacity is maxed out at 35%. It’s basically a worst-case scenario in the midst of a global pandemic. If you choose to visit during a less busy time like a non-holiday weekday, you can expect some level of reduction in crowds.

Here’s what we found…

1. What to expect at the Transportation & Ticket Center

Monorail entrance at Magic Kingdom Transportation & Ticket Center
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

If nothing else, at least one thing has stayed the same since the pandemic hit—The Transportation & Ticket Center is still the least magical place at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

For those unfamiliar, the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC) is the off-site hub for parking and transportation to and from Magic Kingdom and its resorts. While guests who ride Disney resort busses get dropped off at the front of the park, guests who drive personal vehicles or use other shuttles all end up at the TTC about a mile away from the park.

The first thing we noticed was that you can expect to wait in a line for parking on busy days. Even an hour or so after opening gate, the parking booths still had lines. While the wait wasn’t significant, you will want to plan for delays like this any time you travel to Magic Kingdom via the TTC.

At most Disney parks, we advise against paying for Preferred Parking—it’s just not worth it usually, except at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom on particularly busy days. That situation has changed since reopening, however… Parking lots trams are currently not operating at any of Disney’s parks. You can expect some level of a walk from your car no matter what, and on a busy day, this may be a little bit of a hike. If avoiding long walks is a major priority for your visit to Magic Kingdom, you may want to spend extra for Preferred Parking. While this option won’t eliminate walking, it will shorten your walk to security / ferry / monorail gates significantly.

Lines at Transportation and Ticket Center
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

We’ve covered previously that Disney has made some amazing strides streamlining security since reopening—we usually zip through bag check with no issues at all or just a short search.

This visit did result in one unusual situation I’ve never encountered before. Knowing I would be writing this update, I took a few pictures of the ticket booths at the TTC, just to give an idea of crowds to expect. I was not in particularly close proximity to security (about 40-50 feet away), and I did a few wide pan videos of the TTC as a whole.

On my way through security, I was pulled aside by a security officer who asked me if I had been taking photos of security. I respect Disney security and the efforts they make to keep guests safe, so I stayed courteous and answered honestly that I’d taken photos of the TTC overall. It turns out, Disney has a strict no photography / video policy regarding any of their security stations—even if you only catch security on the edge of a photo or video. I was asked to delete the photos and footage that included anything with security.

While I complied without argument, I did ask why—in short, Disney doesn’t want their security teams, protocols, or set-ups ending up on the internet. I assume the reasons for this are twofold. On one hand, it makes sense Disney doesn’t want photos or videos floating around online that people with ill-intent can use to try to circumvent security. I also suspect there are probably PR reasons related to not wanting to invite further criticism related to pandemic policies.

The short of it? Don’t take photos near security, even if you aren’t aiming that way—you’ll avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

Magic Kingdom Ferry
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

One last point related to the TTC… Normally, experts suggest taking either the Express or Resort Monorail to get from the TTC to Magic Kingdom as quickly as possible. Under normal circumstances, even if there is a line, the monorail is almost always faster than the ferry.

With social distancing measures in effect, this may not always be the case these days. When I arrived, the line for the Express Monorail was of significant length, and after my security snafu, I didn’t want to risk issues trying to get on the Resort Monorail. I opted for the Ferry instead for once, and I must say, it has some real advantages during the season we’re in.

If social distancing is particularly important to you, the Ferry is the best way to get to Magic KingdomWhile the monorail has added cubicle-like dividers to separate parties inside cars, distancing in the queue itself is something of a mixed bag depending on guests. The Ferry on the other hand had zero line, and guests had plenty of room to distance—in the end, for once, the Ferry was actually faster! If you want to get off the Ferry more quickly, stay on the lower floor—they get to disembark first.

2. Max capacity definitely feels BUSY!

Max Capacity (35%) crowds outside of Cinderella Castle
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

There’s no getting around it—it was a busy day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Disney is currently capping park capacity at 35%--you can tell if a park is at that capacity if all Disney Parks Pass reservations (for all categories) are gone the day you visit.

35% certainly doesn’t feel like Disney’s previous benchmarks for ultra-busy days. You won’t necessarily find yourself swept away and panicking in mob-like crowds without room to breathe. However, crowd levels were just on the edge of uncomfortable, where social distancing was challenging at times and we saw a lot more people bending the rules (more on that later)

If you are used to peak Magic Kingdom crowds, 35% likely won’t phase you, but for those who avoid peak days, you’ll definitely notice the difference on a capacity day. On one hand, I never ran into any issues where I couldn’t navigate through a crowd or felt like people were smotheringly close. On the flip side, there were still a lot of people to stay aware of.

Stand-by lines for rides are playing a huge factor in this as socially-distanced queues tend to spill far out into their respective lands. Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, had an unusually-winding queue that meandered far into Adventureland, adding to the sensation of busyness. Lines grow quickly for rides, shops, and dining experiences, and you may have to make some effort to find where queues end and crowds begin.

3. Expect longer waits

60 Minute wait sign for Pirates of the Caribbean
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

This day marked some of the longest waits people have seen at the Magic Kingdom in some time—not only that, but the pattern of crowds throughout the day looked more similar to what we saw previous to the pandemic than we’ve seen at any other park.

Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean held the longest waits we observed for the day at 80 minutes—Splash Mountain hit this peak at 2:00 PM with Pirates catching up by 3:15. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train came in close behind with waits hanging around 75 minutes most of the day, with the exception of the late evening. Strangely enough, the Jungle Cruise held unusually long waits too, with some guests observing a peak wait of 70 minutes around 8:00 PM.

Other high demand attractions included Space Mountain, It’s a Small World, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Most of Disney’s major attractions were busy on some level all day. Popular mainstays like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Astro Orbiter had spikes of long waiting with moderate queue lengths most of the day. Surprisingly, the Haunted Mansion had some of the most reasonable queues all day, probably thanks to the fact the cars are perfect for social distancing, so capacity hasn’t been as affected.

Here’s some specific times we gathered (Friday, February 12th):

 

9:15

10:00

11:00

11:30

12:15

1:15

2:00

3:15

4:30

5:15

6:00

6:30

8:00~

9:30~

Seven Dwarfs

75

60

75

75

75

75

75

75

75

75

75

65

50

45

Splash Mtn.

X

50

55

75

75

75

80

70

70

65

65

65

 

 

Big Thunder

35

70

55

55

40

60

40

65

55

45

50

55

25

20

Space Mtn.

25

40

50

55

55

50

40

55

50

40

40

40

35

30

Small World

20

30

40

40

35

45

50

60

50

55

25

40

 

 

Mickey’s Ph.

10

10

25

25

45

30

30

30

30

25

25

 

 

 

Haunted Mansion

10

10

15

25

40

25

30

40

55

20

20

15

10

30

Buzz Lightyear

 

45

65

25

50

55

45

45

35

40

40

30

5

10

Pirates

 

45

60

50

50

50

50

80

65

55

55

40

30

35

Astro Orbit.

15

35

55

45

45

30

40

35

35

35

35

35

20

20

Dumbo

 

10

35

35

20

30

30

30

30

30

20

 

15

30

Peter Pan

X

X

35

45

30

30

40

40

30

45

35

40

60

40

Barnstormer

 

10

40

40

25

40

40

25

40

40

20

20

5

15

Jungle Cruise

30

45

35

65

35

50

50

55

50

45

45

45

70

 

Tom Sawyer

 

 

 

 

35

40

40

40

 

 

 

25

 

 

*Bold marks the longest wait for a given time

**Blank cells are times we are not sure about

~These last two sets of times are based on data from TouringPlans.com

The biggest takeaway is that arriving at opening gate is a good idea at Magic Kingdom on busy days—we heard one family at Epcot later remark how they got onto most of the rides at Magic Kingdom they wanted to visit first thing in the morning before significant crowds arrived. Wait times are peaking for E-ticket attractions by lunch time, with times staying long until the last hour or so of the day. We also noticed that wait times for some rides fluctuated in wildly unpredictable ways—if you see what looks like an unusually short wait for a popular attraction, you may want to jump on it!

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