How Will Disney's New Early Entry Benefit Affect Wait Times?

January 11, 2021, 1:32 PM · Disney's news that it will stop its Disney's Magical Express airport bus shuttle was big news. But it's the second half of today's announcement from Walt Disney World that will affect more theme park guests.

Starting later this year, Disney's hotel guests will get 30 minutes of Early Theme Park Entry to all four theme parks, every day. That could leave Walt Disney World visitors who do not stay at one of Disney's hotels facing longer lines and fewer ways to avoid them.

Our traditional advice to visitors of any theme park is to arrive before opening so that they can get on popular attractions before other visitors fill their queues. But Disney World's Early Theme Park Entry will give hotel guests a 30-minute head start that could drive popular attractions' wait times over an hour before other guests even enter the parks.

The big question is... will Early Theme Park Entry give Disney's hotel guests access to all of a park's attractions or only to a limited number, as has been the case with the old Extra Magic Hours? And if the access is limited, which attractions will be included? Those details will affect what strategies that non-hotel guests may be able to employ to minimize wait times during their visit.

Disney for years has been offering its hotel guests early admission to the parks through the now-discontinued Extra Magic Hours program. But that program only targeted one or two parks per day, allowing us to recommend that non-hotel visitors go to the other theme parks on any given day. That way, they could enter a truly empty theme park at opening. But when Early Theme Park Entry, no park will be empty of guests when non-hotel visitors enter.

That's the glass-half-empty view. The optimistic view is that Disney's hotel guests will be spread among all four parks instead of overloading one park in the morning. But without Fastpass+ allowing day guests a shot at claiming low-wait admission to top rides, early access has been the best way for people to avoid long mid-day lines. If hotel guests fill the queues for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Frozen Ever After, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, and Flight of Passage each morning, visitors who did not pay up for one of Disney's hotel rooms are going to be looking at getting fewer rides overall during their trip as they must wait longer for those "tough gets" at each park.

Ideally for non-hotel guests, Disney will continue to open the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to all scheduled park guests at 7am each day, so those visitors have the same chance as hotel guests for getting the toughest get at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Obviously, Disney is using this new benefit to drive more of its visitors to book its hotel rooms. With park attendance expected to continue to lag normal levels due to the pandemic, Disney would like to get as high a percentage of its visitors staying on site as possible. If Disney cannot maximize theme park attendance at this time due to the pandemic, it definitely needs to maximize the revenue it earns from each person who does visit. And the best way to do that means converting them to on-site hotel stays.

* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that — and our approach to covering theme park news — please sign up for our free, twice-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.

Replies (28)

January 11, 2021 at 1:54 PM

For me the biggest impact of this will be the inability to predict individual park crowd levels. EMH helped guests to decide which park to visit on a given day. Even if you were an on-site guest, you might want to avoid an EMH park based on anticipated crowd levels driven by the extra hours and entertainment schedule, or if you simply didn't want to wake up before dawn during EMH. However, with all four parks essentially equal on every day, there's no way to know how crowded a park will be until you're actually inside the park.

If anything, this might increase the value of park hoppers (assuming WDW eventually removes current COVID-19 park hopping restrictions) than it will increase the value of staying on-site.

Honestly, this change seems to have come out of left field, and I wonder if WDW did any study to see what impact the old EMH program had on crowd levels. I fear that Disney has no idea what will happen once these new hours go into effect.

January 11, 2021 at 1:55 PM

I read this earlier this morning, and it has been troubling me since. As a person who does not stay onsite to save money, I have been wondering how this will effect our next trip.

We have not been in a couple of years, but the last time we went was when there was extra morning magic everyday at Animal Kingdom. Without staying onsite it was next to impossible to get a fastpass for Flight of Passage. So on our last day we stood in line for an hour to get into the park, then another two hours in the FoP queue. This is just the reality of it all.

At the same time, I am hoping that I am overreacting to the news. We use touring plans at both Disney and Universal, and Universal also has given their resort guests early entry into their parks every morning in the past. There are touring plans for those who can and cannot use this perk, and the plans worked very well for us despite not getting early entry. One of the things the plan said about riding Forbidden Journey was to not get in line in the morning if the line was more than 30 minutes long. When we were let in, it was already an hour line, but sure enough, by mid-morning the posted wait time shrunk to 30 minutes.

So here is hoping that adjustments to the plans I use will be made in the next year so we can use them just as successfully as we have used them in past.

January 11, 2021 at 3:44 PM

Isn't the problem Fastpass+? Because all the fastpasses are taken before you get there, you're forced to stand in line, and now, with this change, the lines will be clogged even before you start?

I ask because Magic Morning Hours work like a charm at Disneyland. They make the price of a hotel completely worth it (because you can bang out half the park before lunch then go take a break at the pool), and while I guess it makes life a little less fun for the plebes, it's not like it destroys their day.

Bottom line: if you're rich, Disney is great; if not, increasingly less so.

January 11, 2021 at 4:47 PM

Maybe I'm selfish here but is half an hour all that great? Yes you'll get on two (possibly three?) attractions, but that half hour is gonna go by really quickly. Going in for a whole hour to explore with fewer crowds always feels like a really great perk. It's enough time to be able to just enjoy the experience. With half an hour you're going to feel about as stressed out as all the people waiting at the gate.

January 11, 2021 at 5:34 PM

The way I see this going, if you're looking to get on the newest attraction at the resort, you'll pretty much need to stay on site or be prepared to wait several hours. Other than that, I don't see it significantly impacting the parks other than off-property guests having to wait a bit more in the morning. A half-hour may allow resort guests to get first dibs on their attraction of choice, but by the time they get out they'll likely be joined by everyone else, so I doubt many will put in extra effort to do this except for the most popular attractions. Plus, it should also make trip planning much easier for all involved. Yes, this may be seen as an unfair system to those who won't benefit from it, but let's be honest...Disney has always and will always give preferential treatment to those willing to spend more at their resort by staying on property. Despite the downsides of this system, I think this is a better setup than the old way of opening one park early each day.

January 11, 2021 at 5:34 PM

Wow, Disney just loves to stick it to their off-site guests.

Has it been confirmed that rides will be open 30 min before the parks open? Because it sounds to me like this is just giving hotel guests the opportunity to be the first ones in the queue.

January 11, 2021 at 6:43 PM

JT - Disney isn’t sticking it to off-site guests. Universal has been doing the same for years. Universal only offers it to high-dollar hotels where Disney is offering to all their hotels, even the lowest priced. There have always been perks for staying onsite and now the perks just changed.

January 11, 2021 at 7:58 PM

Not correct Joseph, Universal offers to ALL their hotel properties, even their partner hotels that are not owned by Lowes or Universal.
The perk reserved for their High-Dollar hotels are Express Passes.

January 11, 2021 at 9:43 PM

Which is really just a paid version of fastpass.

January 12, 2021 at 8:17 AM

@AJ - I was actually talking to my wife about it last night, and she thinks that these moves actually even further decrease the value of staying at an on-site property. I honestly think the head start on acquiring FP+ reservations is a worthless perk, because if you're only staying a few nights, you're still picking FP+ attractions well after guests that have longer on-site stays. I don't know how many message board rants I've read from guests that start making FP+ reservations the moment they're able only to find out that top attractions/times are no longer available because guests with longer stays have taken them all. Those same boards are going crazy from frequent visitors that can't believe Disney has done this, and is further reducing the value of staying at on-site resorts.

As you noted, this new 30 minutes of early entry will give guests a chance to ride one top attraction before off-site guests are allowed to enter, but that's probably it, unless they're on and off really fast. While on-site guests will have more flexibility in deciding which park to start in each day by no longer being beholden to the EMH schedule, the amount of time on-site guests will have the parks to themselves will be cut in half. Consider that Disney is now taking away free airport transportation while still charging guests to park at resorts, pretty much every advantage of staying at a WDW resort has either been eliminated or minimized. All the while, prices for on-site rooms are still 30-50% more expensive than comparable off-site hotel rooms.

January 12, 2021 at 8:25 AM

@Twobits - Universal Express is nothing like FP+. UE requires ZERO planning or reliance on technology, and grants front-of-the-line access to virtually every attraction at the UO parks. You literally walk up to an attraction, flash your room key, and you walk up to the attraction's loading platform/pre-show room. You can use the UE benefit as many times as you want, and can even use it for the same attraction over and over and over again (we've ridden MIB over 20 times in a row over the course of 2 hours using UE - you can do it through the single rider line/baby swap also). UE and FP+ are completely different systems, and the on-site advantage guests have for FP+ pales in comparison to the perk of free UE given to guests at Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, and Portofino Bay.

January 12, 2021 at 10:11 AM

Our family was just at Disney last week, and I don't know that this coming change will much affect the way things already are. We stayed off-property for this trip, and we are a get-there-early and get-er-done kind of family, so we were at the park over an hour before shceduled opening. We were held at the parking lot entrance, until a certain time. Meanwhile we could see on-property guests streaming into the entrance as we waited. When they finally let us in the parking lot, the park had opened (both days about 45 minutes before scheduled opening) and we joined the throngs that were already there. So, in a way, they are already giving this early admission advantage to on-property guests. I still think it's valuable to get there early. We were able to get on the Millennium Falcon ride with little wait, and same with Flight of Passage at AK. But the parks already felt full.

January 12, 2021 at 10:43 AM

Still need a reservation for the theme park regardless of early entry, still can park hop after 2 if have admissions media valid for park hopping and that reservation for the first theme park you visit that day. So definitely still have crowd control and capacity limits regardless of whether on site Guest or not and still can check capacity and availability after 2pm for park hopping. So how is having resort Guests gain an exclusive 30 minute head start at 1 park really making capacity and crowds harder overall? Every morning Disney theme park Guest still has a reservation for that entry.

January 12, 2021 at 11:11 AM

@Russell: I meant for my point to be that UE is a "paid advantage" type of service, and we may need to prepare for WDW to start doing more of the same. I doubt WDW will ever do front of the line passes like Universal, Six Flags, and most regional parks do beyond the high dollar personal tour guides they have now, but they may do some sort of paid advantage. Disneyland has their paid advantage system with Maxpass, so it's not beyond what Disney management do.

January 12, 2021 at 1:14 PM

@TwoBits - I actually think WDW should offer a MaxPass type system for an upcharge. In my mind, MaxPass works the way FP+ should have always been set up to do. However, it works so well at Disneyland/DCA because FPs are not available for virtually every attraction in the parks. That's why FP+ is such a debacle, and why you see 60+ minute lines for low tier rides like It's a Small World, The Land, Dinosaur, and Alien Swirling Saucers. If people could not bypass those attractions with FP+, the standby lines would be far more manageable. However, what has happened is that because all of the FP+ reservations for the best attractions are gone 30+ days in advance, WDW needed to have something for perspective guests to reserve, so they had to install FP+ on lesser attraction to make those guests feel like they were going to avoid at least a few lines.

In my mind, the MaxPass upcharge is worth it because it not only saves you time, but it also saves energy. However, those that don't pay for the upcharge can still get the same benefit by walking to each attraction and retrieving a paper FP. It puts the haves and have-nots on relatively equal footing and those that want to work for it (walk further), can get pretty much the same benefit as those who pay for MaxPass. There's simply no analog in the FP+ system until they eliminate the ridiculousness of having to plan out your FP+ reservations weeks in advance.

January 12, 2021 at 1:45 PM

@Bourneomama - I'm not sure what you're talking about. Parking lots at WDW typically open 2+ hours prior to official park opening, so I don't understand how you could have been "held" at the parking lot entrance while on-site guests were streaming into the park. I'm calling shenanigans on your claim here, but it's possible I'm misunderstanding what you're describing. When we were at WDW last January, we were arriving at DHS by bus @ 45 minutes prior to the official park opening, and there were already thousands of cars in the parking lot. On EMH days, we saw plenty of cars at the TTC and DAK parking lots even before parks opened for on-site guests. When we visited WDW in 2017, the year PtWoA opened, we arrived @2.5 hours prior to DAK opening, and were one of the first cars in the parking lot (and didn't have to pay for parking because no one was at the booths, but the gates were up).

The only controlled access Disney uses to differentiate between on-site and off-site guests is at the main park gates where lanes are opened specifically for on-site guests during EMH (also for early morning hard ticket events that Disney has not done over the past year because of the pandemic). That's the only place where off-site guests have to wait while on-site guests can enter (not at parking lot gates/entrances).

January 12, 2021 at 1:07 PM

@Dave - I think the expectation is that the park reservation system will eventually go away as well as the current restrictions on park hopping. Frankly, I wouldn't use my non-expiring park hoppers given the current park hopping rules since having to commit to a park and not being able to leave until 2 PM kind of defeats the purpose of purchasing the park hopping benefit (at least for the way we tour WDW). Disney hasn't officially announced when the changes to EMH will go into affect, but it's not likely to occur until at least another 3 months (and more likely not until after the busy summer months based on most predictions). By that time, it's probable that Disney will no longer be limiting attendance, and will no longer need to require park reservations or prohibit park hopping before 2 PM.

January 12, 2021 at 8:00 PM

WDW AP , snowbird,
In Nov WDW NOT allowing people in cars through parking plaza until 45 minutes before park opens.
No trams so after parking and walking to gate, gates open so no lineup at gate but scan pass and go right into park.
Suspect parking lot changes due COVID 19 and desire for no crowds waiting at gate. Still pass through Security with little wait

January 12, 2021 at 10:13 PM


You're calling "shenanigans" on my first-hand report from last week? I'm not sure when you were last at Disney World, but there is nothing "typical" about the current Disney experience. Yes, we were held at the entrance to the parking lot. This is different from the typical experience, but this is what we experienced at Animal Kingdom on Jan. 4 and at Hollywood Studios on Jan. 5. We figured it was being done to ensure no crowding at the gate. Whatever the reason, it does give an advantage to the on-site guests who were arriving by Disney transportation.

I do wonder if Disney is taking something that is already a current reality (WDW resort guests entering parks earlier than off-site guests) and calling it a perk.

January 13, 2021 at 1:55 AM

Everything that concerns overcrowding at WDW (and all corporate constructions to give visitors the impression they are served better with exclusive deals...) , are caused by the customers themselves : the combination of too much money to spend + complete lack of fantasy to plan a real "Florida vacation".
My suggestion is :
return to the relaxing REAL vacation style of the past. Go on a week long self composed road trip in Southern Florida, in the Everglades and all the old, little quaint attractions around there, with not even a pinch of crowding around. Then have a one or 2 day WDW visit to conclude the trip. No pressure, just enjoy. Go home with 100 times more and better Florida memories then your twice as expensive 5 day WDW "time-hunting battle". (With complaints piling up from under the seats to the top of the trees...)
It all starts with YOU, and YOU yourself, the visitor...

January 13, 2021 at 8:26 AM

Exactly Herwig ! I can’t imagine wanting to spend a week waiting in lines etc. when you can relax and enjoy the beach, boating and real resort living. The early Disney hours afforded Disney hotel guests was the only reason I stayed on property - 1/2 hour is not worth it by the time you navigate to the park, go through security and so forth, you’ll have enough time to get in line for one ride - why bother, really.

January 13, 2021 at 8:49 AM

I don't mean to be insulting @Bournemama, but there are occasionally posters here, especially those that create a new TPI account just before making their comment as you have done, that spread inaccurate accounts of experiences in order to disparage various parks/companies. The experience you have described is not consistent with any accounts I have read regarding parking lot procedures currently in effect at WDW. I cannot provide personal experience of current procedures (my most recent visit was last January before pandemic procedures went into effect), but I do frequent some pretty reliable message boards (some that provide photo/video accounts/travel logs), and have not seen any posts or observations that verify what you describe.

IF what you detail is actually true, I would agree that it is pretty ridiculous. All of the reports I have read (including some from the past couple of weeks), have stated that Disney is managing parking lot crowds by staggering where people park their cars (instead of having cars pull into every space, they are directing guests to park in every other space or every 3rd space). While some guests have reported longer than usual lines at the parking lot booths, most have attributed that to fewer booths being open, and slower transactions due to CMs asking guests to don masks before handing over payment. I've not read any accounts of guests seeing booths closed specifically to off-site guests until just before official park opening time.

Perhaps you could offer some additional details like the time you arrived, how many gates appeared to be open, what specific signage was present, and what time you actually were able to access the parking lot. Also, while the park gates were open prior to official opening time, were attractions actually open? Disney often opens the gates and starts allowing guests into the parks 30-45 minutes prior to official opening time, but guests are unable to access attraction areas, and rides in the entrance areas don't start operating until official opening time. From reading numerous trip reports and observations from WDW guests, a lot of people tend to exaggerate conditions, especially when it appears things are not proceeding the way they think they should (like someone "cutting" in line by stepping up to the other side of a register at a counter service restaurant and immediately placing their order), and what you experience is not a change in procedure, just different in the way that you are perceiving operations.

Again, I'm not saying your accounts are false, just that they are not consistent with any other recent reports from WDW. If what you say is true (and that on-site guests are being given earlier access to parking lots than off-site guests), it's important news for guests preparing to visit WDW, and perhaps something Disney needs to explain, because it definitely changes the equation and expectations for on-site and off-site guests.

January 13, 2021 at 12:30 PM

I have been a reader of TPI for several years, but never commented because I was wary of jumping into the fray for this very reason. I am a big Disney fan, and have no axe to grind or wish to disparage the company. I merely commented in an effort to provide insight as someone who was just at Disney. My account is not exaggerated or inaccurate. I don't know the exact times we entered the park, but here are the details as I remember them and according to time stamps on photos:

We arrived at Animal Kingdom at 7 a.m. - park was scheduled to open at 8 a.m. We were the fourth car in our lane. Cars were lining up at every booth. At approximately 8:15 the pay booths opened. Cars were being parked every other space. It took us approximately 15 minutes to walk up to the front gate and make it through the health check and bag screen (which is touchless) and ticket scan. We continued walking through the park and were in line for Flight of Passage at approximately 8:35. Rides were already running.

The next day we were at the parking gate for Hollywood Studios at 8 a.m. - park was scheduled to open at 9 a.m. We were third in line at the second from the left booth. Parking booths opened at approximately 8:15. We had a longer walk from our parking spot here, so it was about 8:45 by the time we got on the Millenium Falcon ride. Again, no idea when the rides started running, but judging by how long the line was already, I am guessing right at 8:15.

The only signage that seemed different was one at Hollywood Studios that stated all reservations for that park were filled for the day.

@stephen bell ^^ confirms that cars are held until 45 minutes before official park opening.

As a side note - we were able to ride everything at each park at least once, with time left over to stroll around and enjoy the ambience.

January 13, 2021 at 1:09 PM

OK...That's very strange that they were not letting cars into the parking lot until AFTER the posted park opening time (you state that the booths didn't open until 8:15 AM for a DAK opening time of 8 AM). I haven't heard of any similar reports anywhere that I can find, so you have to concede that your account is pretty farfetched from my POV. If I was lined up at the parking gates, and they didn't open until 15 minutes AFTER the park was schedule to open, I'd be pretty perturbed, and would have immediately complained to Disney for short changing off-site guests (and on-site guests who chose to drive to the park) of park time.

As I said, it's pretty common for Disney to open the park gates well before park opening time (usually 30-45 minutes) to avoid long lines and crowds at the gates, especially given COVID protocols. However, guests are still held at strategic points throughout the parks before the official opening time. For instance, guests wanting to ride MFSR are held just before the entrance to Star Tours, those wanting to ride 7DMT are held near the Teacups, and FoP guests are held at the bridge near Tiffins. FoP is a rare exception where Disney tries to get that attraction running early to accommodate as many people in the day as possible, and that attraction will occasionally start taking riders 20-30 minutes before official park opening time. However, aside from days when there are EMH, there are no other attractions that start running significantly before the official park opening time.

January 13, 2021 at 2:02 PM


Correction to lnformation posted here

The parking lot plaza booths open 45 minutes Before scheduled parking official open times.

Example EPCOT 10:15 for 11:00 AM park opening

January 13, 2021 at 2:27 PM

And just to be fair, buses from on-site resorts don't start running until @45-60 minutes prior to scheduled park opening times.

January 13, 2021 at 5:38 PM

To add more support to the current operational claims, here is what I experienced on my trip in October...

First day was DHS on a Sunday. The park opened at 10 A.M., but I was running late and didn't get there until about 9:30. The parking gates were open, but there was a huge line of cars, which to me indicates that they hadn't been open for that long. Parking was every other stall as has been mentioned, and there were no trams running so everyone had to walk to the gate. Once there, the park was open to entry for all. I don't know if rides were running early or not, since I went to meet my friends and we were focused on getting boarding passes for ROTR.

Second day was Magic Kingdom on a Tuesday. The park opened at 9 A.M., but in anticipation of long waits for the ferry we arrived at 8 A.M. This ended up not making much of a difference, as the parking lot didn't open until 8:15-8:20 and the flow through the tollbooths was limited to prevent a large line at security and for the ferries. We got to the park about 8:40, at which point the gates were open and you could go anywhere inside the park. The rides didn't open until 9 A.M., but lines were being formed outside the entrances and once the park opened guests were permitted into the actual queues.

I don't know if the procedures are still identical to this, but that is what I experienced. I also wouldn't count on procedures necessarily being the same every single day as parks may vary them based on crowds and staffing. For instance, we visited Universal three days during the trip and got different opening procedures each day (Day 1, gates open at opening; Day 2, rope drop; Day 3, go anywhere inside once admitted).

January 14, 2021 at 10:07 AM

@Russell Meyer- I think the above from Borneomama was a typo. The park opened at 9:00. If you read the context they say they say rides were already running at 8:35.

I'm not sure what boards you are reading but literally every report I have read details this. Parking booths are opening about 45 minutes before the park open. They are holding guests til then. If you arrive very early they are often making cars loop around instead of lining up. Parks are unofficially opening up to 45 minutes early with some rides open. It is not the same as your last visit in January. Believe people who have actually been. There is a Here & Just Back WDW thread on disboards that recounts this from hundreds of posters. I think you need to read things more carefully before calling out people.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive