Thinking of visiting Walt Disney World this year over fall break? The parks are in such a unique state right now that I thought I’d rundown my top five tips for a 2020 visit.
Let’s dig in!
Tip #1: Come with Reasonable Crowd Expectations
The Animal Kingdom picture above was taken August 25, 2020, and indicates how uncrowded some sections of the parks were for several weeks after the they reopened in July, when Disney was severely limiting capacity each day.
During those first weeks, the posted wait for Avatar, Flight of Passage would peak at something like ten minutes, when it wasn’t uncommon to find a two- or three-hour wait during the summer of 2019.
Fast forward to now, and just as an example, the posted wait for Avatar yesterday — a Tuesday in September — peaked at 35 minutes. This is still pretty amazing when compared to last year, but if you’ve heard of “empty parks” from other visitors who came right after the re-opening, you may want to tame your expectations just a bit.
As they’ve become more skilled at handling things operationally, Disney has gradually been increasing the number of guests allowed into the parks each day, and we’d expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
Also realize that Disney is NOT offering FastPass+ or Single Rider queues right now, so if you had relied on these in the past to get ahead of the crowds on some attractions, you’ll know that these are off the table currently.
Tip #2: Make Your Park Reservations in Advance of Your Visit
If you weren’t aware, in addition to a theme park ticket, Disney REQUIRES a reservation to enter a given park on any specific date. So if you’re thinking you’ll be able to show up at the front gate of Hollywood Studios on October 14th, buy your ticket, and head on into the park, you’ll be mistaken!
My advice here is simple: If you haven’t yet purchased your tickets, do so NOW through Disney’s app, and get your park reservations lined up ASAP!
Tip #3: Don’t Count on Seeing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a spectacular attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and as such, it’s incredibly popular. So popular, in fact, that Disney is using a “virtual queue” to manage the crowds.
If you’re not familiar with the process, you join the virtual queue through Disney’s app, and if you’re successful, you’ll be assigned a “boarding group” to come back and ride later in the day.
Disney opens the virtual queue twice a day, at 10:00am and 2:00pm. But because boarding groups fill up so quickly, they typically sell out WITHIN SECONDS of opening. So if you miss the 10:ooam window by 30 seconds, you’re likely out of luck. And if they’re having technical trouble with the attraction, as they have been lately, you may not find much availability with the 2:00pm attempt either.
I emphasize this because Liesle and I ran into a family earlier this week while we were in line for another attraction prior to park opening at Hollywood Studios. This family was all the way from San Diego (Disneyland is still closed!), and had come to Orlando with some high expectations around the Star Wars attractions. The two kids were probably about 9- or 10-years old, and seemed excited about RoR in particular.
Because we could see how important this ride was to them, I told the dad that he’d need to use the app right at 10:00am to get a reservation, and I pointed out to him the location in the app where he’d need to do this.
We then went our separate ways, but saw them later that morning. I asked him if he had secured a boarding group, and he told me he had not. We felt incredibly bad for them, and could see the disappointment in their faces. Disney had offered them a “FastPass” for the Millennium Falcon ride as a sort of compensation, but this hardly made up for coming all the way across the country and missing out on what they had expected would be a highlight of their trip!
I say all of this so that you don’t get your hopes up too much (or your kids’ hopes) that you’ll be able to visit this ride.
(I should also say that for RideMax members, we do give more detailed advice for securing a boarding group in your Hollywood Studios RideMax plans. Just review the “arrival tips” at the top of the plan. Even with that advice, there’s still no guarantee of riding though.)
Regardless of how well prepared you are, I recommend considering it a “bonus” if you end up securing a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. Anything else might just lead to a big letdown if it doesn’t work out.
Tip #4: Get Your Face Masks Ready
Disney requires all guests two-years-old and over to wear a face mask while in the park. The only exceptions are if you’re eating or drinking, or if you’re in a designated “relaxation zone,” where you may take off your mask temporarily.
I’d recommend that you make sure everyone in your group has a mask that they feel comfortable wearing for long periods of time, as you’ll need to do this during your visit.
Tip #5: Don’t Obsess Over Rope-Drop
I’ve been doing RideMax for nearly 20(!) years now, and in that time I’ve ALWAYS been a proponent of arriving early at the parks. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessive about this!
Obsessive, that is, until now.
It used to be that if you ran a RideMax plan that started at opening time and compared it to a RideMax plan containing the same attractions but which started just 30 minutes later, the “opening time plan” had a huge advantage in terms of overall estimated wait.
Looking at RideMax plans tailored for this new environment, however, leads me to conclude that this is simply no longer the case. In fact, if you’re just looking for the shortest overall waits for your day, I’d argue that arriving at noon or 1:00pm and staying until the park closes would give you shorter waits overall than arriving when the park opens and leaving mid-afternoon.
To illustrate, take a look at the graph above, which displays the posted wait times for Avatar Flight of Passage from this past Tuesday, as shown in Disney’s app.
Sure, you could get a jump on things by arriving first thing and waiting just 5 minutes, but the posted wait also hovered between 15 and 25 minutes for much of the afternoon (and the actual wait was likely lower than this). So would it have really been worth the trouble to get out of bed early and fight the opening rush just to shave 10 or 15 minutes off your wait? And then run into that mid-morning crowd bump on your next attraction?
The point here is that many of the wait times follow this general pattern: they start low but climb quickly, peaking by mid-morning or early afternoon, then dropping from there. If you arrive late enough to miss that peak, you’ll be ahead of the game overall. (Of course the exception is if you’re trying to get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, when you really have no choice but to arrive early. Just be sure to ALSO stay late enough to take advantage of the lower crowds near closing time.)
If you’re a RideMax subscriber, I highly recommend playing some “what if?” with the software, experimenting with both early and later arrival times before committing to a plan. You might be surprised at the results!
Only you can make the decision on whether to visit the parks right now in the middle of the pandemic craziness, but it’s a unique time to be in the parks. If you’re comfortable with your own personal risk regarding Covid-19 (and Disney IS doing a good job with all of the physical-distancing measures in my opinion), I hope you’ll find these tips useful.