How will Disney's latest change affect your strategy for visiting the parks?

April 29, 2018, 2:41 PM · The Walt Disney World Resort is expanding its Extra Magic Hours program, giving its on-site hotel guests additional early-access to visit its theme parks.

Good news, right? Possibly. But if you are not staying on-site at Disney, the move now wrecks a time-honored strategy for getting the most from your day in the parks.

Disney is adding one hour of Extra Magic Hours before opening at Disney's Animal Kingdom every morning between now and June 30, with the exception of five days: May 11, 13, 17, 27, and 29. Then in July and August, Disney is adding Extra Magic Hours every morning at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Ever since Theme Park Insider started, we've been preaching that fans should buy their tickets in advance, then arrive early before park opening, to get on rides before lines get too long. But that strategy doesn't work if the park's already filled with guests when you arrive.

That's why we also have been urging fans visiting the Walt Disney World Resort to visit a park other than the one that has the Extra Magic Hour on a given morning. Unless you are staying on-site at Disney and are willing to arrive early enough to enter the park right at the start of the Extra Magic Hour, you're just putting yourself behind those early visitors by going into an EMH park when it opens to everyone else.

Early admission doesn't seem to cause as much problem at other theme parks, since no other resort in the world hosts the tens of thousands of hotel guests each day that Walt Disney World does. But since Disney typically has limited the EMH to just one park each morning, you always had plenty of other options each day. And no matter which park you most wanted to visit, there would be several days during the week when it wasn't flooded early with EMH guests.

That will no longer be the case at Animal Kingdom — home of the wildly popular Flight of Passage in Pandora: The World of Avatar — for the next couple months. And after Toy Story Land opens in Disney's Hollywood Studios on June 30, non-hotel guests will have no chance at beating the crowds in the morning for that land's attractions for the first two months it is open.

The workaround? As always at Disney World, it's that Fastpass+ lottery. Try to get a FP+ time on one of the high-demand attractions at these parks during the months when they will be open early for hotel guests every day. Or... flip the script and plan to close the parks, instead. One of the best ways to get a relatively low-wait ride on Flight of Passage if to jump into its queue right before park close. Once the park closes, there are no more Fastpass+ arrivals, meaning that the standby queue now gets the entire capacity of the attraction, allowing that line to move much faster. We expect the same will be the case for Toy Story Land's Slinky Dog Dash coaster this summer, too.

Replies (26)

April 29, 2018 at 3:42 PM ·

Sounds like we were lucky we went on Friday. Couldn’t get a fast pass for flight of passage but got on it by 9:20am because we got there early. Incredible ride, just a shame River Journey was down all day.

April 29, 2018 at 5:06 PM ·

A kiddie coaster and a tea cup spinner, lol, i'll go to Universal instead and actually have FUN!

April 29, 2018 at 5:59 PM ·

I wish Disney would offer morning AND evening Magic Hours at all four of their parks Sunday through Thursday (make Friday and Saturday Magic Hour free). It would potentially spread the resort crowd out a bit (at least until Galaxy’s Edge opens and everyone goes to DHS) and provide onsite guests with a bona fide perk for spending top dollar at a Disney resort.

April 29, 2018 at 8:52 PM ·

What a mess. This won’t get better until all the new attractions are open. Then it’ll still be hard.

April 30, 2018 at 5:21 AM ·

Disney Resort guests should get most of the perks and especially if your an annual pass holder or vacation club member. Your basically paying for the extra perks in your memberships .

April 30, 2018 at 7:07 AM ·

or book a pre-park open breakfast - get in early - skip breakfast and pay like the $30 no-show fee and enjoy the rides!

April 30, 2018 at 7:14 AM ·

Clearly Disney needed to do something to give on-site resort guests something to warrant the ever increasing costs to stay at a Disney hotel. However, I don't think expanding the EMH program is the way to go, because it will further frustrate guests who either can't or won't stay on-site. They're essentially "blacking out" parks for months at a time by making EMH permanent at specific parks.

For guests willing and able to stay on-site at WDW (and are morning people) this is great news, but for everyone else, this is just another step towards making WDW a destination for the financially well-off.

April 30, 2018 at 8:04 AM ·

They are now allowing people staying in the preferred hotels in Disney Springs area to book Fast Passes 60 days in advance just like those staying in Disney Hotels. This makes you more dependent on the lottery if you are not staying in one of those properties or an Annual Pass-holder.

April 30, 2018 at 8:10 AM ·

I won't be surprised in the least if Disney has both morning and evening EMH for DHS when Galaxy's Edge opens. Those waits are going to be crazy....

April 30, 2018 at 8:39 AM ·

I do not see this as being anymore of a problem with crowds than it already is. Its already crowded so I do not see this making it "more crowded"

Maybe I am lucky (or crazy), but I have never had a problem getting a Fastpass+ when it was my time to pick it! I have run into the semantics the system exploding on me as being AP, DVC, and obviously staying at a WDW Resort.

I mean if Disney has really changed anything, its that you need to plan to go to their parks. This isn't particularly new and something we have really stressed on this site.

April 30, 2018 at 8:54 AM ·

@Anthony - I agree that this won't make the parks more crowded, but it tilts the advantage even more towards those staying at the on-site resorts. If you want to ride FoP, and weren't lucky enough to grab a FP+ reservation before you showed up (and weren't staying on-site), you at least had the fall back of doing it at "rope drop" (arriving before the park opened and running straight for the attraction when they let guests into Pandora). However, with on-site guests now being allowed into the park a full hour before everyone else virtually EVERY SINGLE DAY, off-site guests now have NO CHANCE of getting a ride on FoP without waiting at least 60 minutes (typical line length after the first 20 minutes of EMH at DAK). What was a huge time-saving strategy to be able to eliminate the longest standby line in the park is now rendered useless unless you're staying on-site. Now your choices if staying off-site are to get lucky to secure a FP+ reservation or deal with the absurd line, which can extend beyond 4 hours. Certainly arriving when the park opens for off-site guests will see shorter lines as well as jumping in line as the park closes (or during Rivers of Light) can save some time, but it's really putting the screws to off-site guests.

As noted by John above, if Disney makes a similar move to allow EMH for every single day at DHS when Galaxy's Edge opens, off-site guests might as well not bother showing up if they're unable to secure a FP+ reservation ahead of time, because the land will be at capacity before they're even allowed through the turnstiles.

April 30, 2018 at 9:25 AM ·

After my first try on My (not so) magic Plus I was sold in not going to WDW ever again. the whole systems kills any form of spontaneity or the change of a relaxing vacation. I have warned many European travelers not going to WDW. They few that did came back and told me I was right. There are better and more fun places to visit then WDW. As soon as Disney killes of that stupid system I'm the first one to get back.

April 30, 2018 at 10:52 AM ·

Russell - agree 100% with everything.

April 30, 2018 at 11:19 AM ·

Basically wdw is making it so you have to stay on property to enjoy it - not a bad business strategy. I am going to CP opening day and staying on property for EMH because I know Steel Vengeance will already have a huge line before the park opens. This is one of the main advantages for parks that build onsite hotels - sometimes you got to play the game.

April 30, 2018 at 12:23 PM ·

The problem that Disney is in is that they have an unsustainable ride reservation system and are unwilling to backtrack off of the FP+ system. The more I look at the lines at WDW on a daily basis and compare it with DL, I realize they can't have a system like Universal due to capacity reasons, but the system they have is beyond broken. There will be people that it works fine for, but those are people that are content with riding a few attractions per day and leaving with not experiencing all that they could. A suggestion above in allowing extra hours in all the parks every day may be a good one, but not at opening as that would eliminate all fast passes, and what about season pass holders? Every time I have used the extra hours, it has been a nightmare anyway. I wonder what the lines would be like if the whole system went down for three days? No fast passes at all? I bet the lines would be better than they are now. They have attractions that were designed to funnel lots of people quickly through it. Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Spaceship Earth, etc. They used to not have FPs. Now everything does and they have long waits. The Mansion used to only have long waits when the riverboat let out. By holding up the constantly moving line, it backs up the wait. Compare it with the comparable time of day with DL. While the Mansion at DL is on the FP system, the overall waits at DL are less than at MK. Not exactly apples and oranges but close. Do a comparison on how many attractions per day you can experience at each and DL comes way out in front. Again, apples and oranges, but WDW needs to fundamentally change the system. Why? It is not fun. That is why we go there. So what should be done? Go back to the old system. You can use the armbands still, but have day and date reservations. The phone app will record the return time. Only have reservations for the attractions that are slow loading like Space, Splash, and Thunder Mountain. Have it for shows to spread it out. Have extra magic hours at the end of the day and at all parks every day.

Look, a WDW vacation is getting to second mortgage level and completely out of the question already for most. For many it is a once in a lifetime thing. It used to have the best customer service experience on earth. I was floored at how Universal blew them away in this department on my last Orlando trip. Now it is about convenience for the people running the park. They need to get it back to what it was. If people are going to give up their life savings to experience Star Wars, they need to be able to go there and not spend $8000 or more and ride an attraction once. An office worker just got back and said their family tried to ride an Avatar ride and couldn't the entire trip. During an off season time. That is unacceptable. They can solve this issue, they just need to hang up their hubris and do it.

April 30, 2018 at 2:06 PM ·

JC VanHouten - agreed!

April 30, 2018 at 10:09 PM ·

I think people are failing to realise the main underlying cause for the long waits. The ride reservation system is not causing the problem, there just aren't that many great passes. The primary issue is crowds. The GFC is over and people around the world are looking at holiday destinations.

There's only two real ways at readucing crowds. Increase supply by increasing the capacity of there ride systems, or reducing demand by increasing prices (which Disney and Universal both do).

This move is simply a way at enticing more people to stay at their hotels, similar to Universal offering express queue jumping to their hotel guests.

May 1, 2018 at 8:13 AM ·

@Grant - There's no doubt that crowds are higher than they've been in the past, but FP+ has had a major effect. This is just my personal observations since the system debuted over 5 years ago, but FP+ has resulted in more guests experiencing rides and attractions through the FP line than through the standby line. What used to be a 4 to 1 ratio (standby to FP) back when FastPass started in the 90's is now probably 2 to 3 (standby to FP). Standby lines have increased significantly because of the increased number of FPs given to guests ahead of time. In an effort to spread crowds out, Disney is forcing guests to take FP+ reservations for less desirable rides that most guests used to just ride through standby (with a 10-15 minute wait). Because FPs are actually being used for rides like Small World, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, and Haunted Mansion, ride ops have to slow the flow of the standby line, which increases the wait times 3-4 fold. The popular rides and attractions with lower capacities (like character meets) will naturally have longer lines, but because of the increase in ratio between the number of FP and standby guests, even high capacity attractions (like FoP) cannot accommodate as many standby guests as they should because FP+s are prioritized more than ever.

At some point, I think the only way to make this work for the most popular attractions is to make them FP+ ONLY. That way guests know ahead of time whether they are going to make it onto certain rides in a given day. Each park probably only has 2 or 3 rides that would be affected by this, so guests not getting a FP+ reservation for a given ride could still enjoy the rest of the park, and they could always take the chance that a FP+ reservation shows up at during the day if the attraction is running at optimal capacity. However, they would know ahead of time whether they were actually going to get on the top ride in the park for that day. Disney would also need to adjust the standby to FP+ ratio so that the standby lines move faster and fewer FP+ reservations are distributed for mid-tier attractions.

If you look at attendance numbers, there has definitely been an increase in the number of guests at WDW, but the standby wait times have far outpaced the increasing attendance. Disney has a powerful tool in FP+, but they still haven't figured out how to best use it, and now they're trying to further capitalize on the systems inadequacies by encouraging guests to stay on-site.

May 1, 2018 at 9:06 AM ·

Russell, those are great points, and after posting my diatribe, I went and read reviews on several third party vacation/travel sites. What I took away from it is that many people had a great time, and a few had a miserable time based on the system. A take away is that they are busting at the seams and while increasing price is one way to handle it, another way is to add a fifth gate. I recall all the hubbub about the shopping area as a theme park, but adding additional venues such as that can be an escape valve as well. They clearly are victims of their own success, but the simple fact is that going to Disneyland is much more enjoyable than going to WDW on a purely attraction experience level. Surely they see that.

May 1, 2018 at 11:13 AM ·

The best plan that we as a group of day guests have come up with is making sure that you visit AK on a day that another park also has morning EMH. That should split up the early risers and (hopefully) not make the AK as crowded as it is now when it is the only park offering morning EMH.

May 1, 2018 at 11:35 AM ·

@twobits - That's a fine strategy when you have no other choice, but this move still puts off-site guests seriously behind the 8-ball with no viable strategy to ride high demand attractions without a FP+ reservation or a significantly long standby line. While going to DAK on a day when another park has EMH is probably the best option, off-site guests are still likely to encounter 60+ minute standby lines for FoP by the time they're allowed into the park. The same will happen to SDD (and possibly TSM) at DHS after June 30th.

If they do the same thing when Galaxy's Edge opens next year, off-site guests (and APs) probably shouldn't even bother visiting DHS, because the new land will be full to capacity every single day before the gates even open for them.

May 1, 2018 at 12:57 PM ·

Russell, is that comparison of the ratio of FP Vs standby before and after the new system based on a source, or just observational? If that's factual, then clearly there's too many, my feeling is that it's just observational.

The reason I don't believe it's due to the fast pass is that the limit of FP to 3 per day is a reduction in the number that most people would be able to use in a day, so the total number of FPs would not increase except for an increase in attendance.

I'm personally not a fan of the new system, although I've never used it. I prefer my visits to be more spontaneous and flexible. I do see it has its qualities though, with forward planning of crowd numbers being chief amongst those.

I personally believe that increase in capacity is the best solution, either through a fifth gate or increasing the capacity of the existing parks.

Ideally I think Disney should open a third resort, somewhere in the south, West of the Mississippi (IE Texas). This could market towards the south American crowds to help ease the crowds in both resorts. Due to the huge capital outlay, I can't see this happening though.

May 1, 2018 at 1:24 PM ·

At Disneyland it's the opposite problem: because any given day could be overrun by local annual passholders, you never know what the crowds are going to be like. My family went last week, and while the hotels were largely vacant, the parks were RAMMED, because it's Pixar Fest and the PHs aren't currently blacked out. What a nightmare!

EXCEPT for the Magic Morning hours, which is why we stay at the Disney Grand Californian. We rode the Guardians Breakout ride three times in the first 30 minutes of MMH; later that day the standby was over two hours.

For us, it's easy: hit MMH, get fastpasses as soon as they become available using the MaxPass App, then go back to the pool at lunch and relax. When we're ready to return, use MaxPass to cue up another fastpass, then another, riding smaller rides in between.

Yes, we spent around $6000 for a family of four on four days at the parks and five nights in the cheapest room at the Grand Californian. But we had a relaxing trip (spent 2 hours at the pool each day), we rode everything 3 or 4 times, and most of all, we didn't stress once.

Disney has seen the future, and if you want to enjoy their fun, you're going to have to pay for it out the nose.

May 1, 2018 at 1:58 PM ·

It is just observational, but it's been pretty noticeable during my visits over the past 10 years, particularly on the attractions with finite pre-show loads like ToT, RnR, Haunted Mansion, Soarin', FoP, and Dinosaur, where you can physically see how many people are loaded into the pre-show from each line. On all of these attractions, ride ops are definitely sending as many, if not more, into pre-show rooms from the FP line as they are from the standby line. That's a distinct change from before FP+, where it was typically 4 to 1 or 3 to 1 ratio of standby to FP.

I think 3 FPs is actually an increase in the utilization from before FP+. I can personally say that FP+ has allowed me to ride more attractions through FP+ than the paper FP system (even when they weren't enforcing return times). I think resourceful, smart guests were getting more than 3 FPs per day using the old paper system, but the average, non-savvy guest was getting maybe 2 per day (honestly, it was a serious work-out to walk back and forth around the park to collect paper FPs). You'd see a lot of people walk in the park an hour after it opened, and grabbed a paper FP for their favorite ride that didn't have a return time until later in the afternoon. They'd then spend most of the day riding through the standby line until their FP time came up, and then maybe grabbed a FP for another lesser attraction if any were available. FP+ lets people be lazy, and guarantee 3 FPs before they even walk through the gate - that's a HUGE number of guests that have to be accommodated, which is why Disney had to put FP+ on so many more attractions to ensure everyone felt like they got something to do via FP.

I think forcing guests to pick their day through their admission purchase (variable pricing) is the only thing they need to do to plan for crowds. FP+ is just a Leviathan of a system that frustrates the average guest, and doesn't really help Disney that much in terms of crowd balancing except for making guests feel good about riding terrible attractions that should have been replaced years ago.

Expanding the parks is a double-edged sword, and the prospect makes me think about highway traffic. Planners expand highways in the hopes of reducing traffic congestion. However, what ends up happening is that when the new lanes open, things move smoothly for a year or so, and then the new lanes fill up and you're right back to gridlock. WDW has the same problem. They open a new attraction, but what ends up happening is that it just increases the number of people they can squeeze in the parks, and the density of guests in the park stays virtually the same. Opening PtWoA did little to the lines for Everest or Kilimanjaro, and Galaxy's Edge will have no effect on the lines at ToT, TSM, or RnR. A 5th park might have a bit of an effect, but what Disney needs to do is to revisit their FP/Standby attraction loading ratios, because the standby lines were relatively manageable until FP+ came online. There's also something to be said for the effect of enforcing the return window, something Disney didn't do with paper FPs until just prior to the conversions to FP+ and MaxPass. You used to be able to hold FPs and return to the ride well after the return window expired, meaning standby lines would move faster during the middle of the day. Now with the return window being enforced, the standby lines move slowly all day.

May 2, 2018 at 11:48 AM ·

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Disney do something like this with DAK last summer?

Just when we think we have all the answers, WDW changes the questions. I’m not really a fan of this either, but ultimately something like this is more of an annoyance than a deal breaker with me. I am with Russell in regards to FP/Standby ratios being off and forcing guests to lock in their day via admission purchasing. I know the latter may not be convenient for everyone, but it may be the best thing to do to control crowds without completely alienating a good portion of visitors.

To me if you’re staying offsite, visiting DAK or DHS during either of these times, and didn’t get the jackpot on the FP+ lottery, you pretty much have three options: get to the park before opening (like normal), keep an eye on wait times on the app, and take a chance on FOP/SDD/TSM; flip the script as Robert suggested; or avoid the new lands, knock out as many of the other attractions as you can, and dig in for a wait on the new(ish) rides later on afternoon or evening. The last one is not ideal, but I’ve done it before (on my WDW trip last year, I did this for FOP because the wait for it had ballooned to 150 minutes first thing in the morning on a day with no EMH. Paid off for me since I only waited 110 minutes later on that afternoon).

May 3, 2018 at 10:50 AM ·

So it seems like a lot of users here are unhappy with the current FP system at WDW, but how do people feel about it in comparison to USF's paid express pass system? Does one system work better than the other in terms of managing crowds and wait times? Is it something that Disney should consider?

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