How Posted Wait Times Compare To Your Actual Wait In Line

by Fred Hazelton, contributing writer
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Most Walt Disney World attractions have a sign posted near the entrance to give the guest an idea of how long to expect to wait in line. But if you are like me and my other collegues at TouringPlans.com, you wonder:

"Does that sign really represent how long I can expect to wait? Maybe it will be less than that—or could it be longer?"

Disney park veterans will tell you that the posted time is likely to be an overestimate of how long you will actually wait—and we agree. However, you may be surprised to learn how much of an overestimate that posted wait time can be.

Since 2009, we have collected about 2 million pairs of wait times, with each pair representing a posted time and the actual time it took to get to the front of the line. It turns out that on average, the time you are likely to wait will be a little less than two-thirds (65 percent) of the time posted outside the attraction. So if the posted wait time is 15 minutes, chances are, your actual wait will about 10.


Comparing the posted time to the actual time you spend waiting in line. [Click on the infographic to view a larger size.]

The ratio between posted wait time and actual wait time can change depending on the value of the posted time itself. That is, the higher the posted time, the more likely you will wait much less than two-thirds. So if the posted wait time says "180 minutes," chances are you will only wait about 100, which works out to 55 percent. In fact, we have seen on certain occasions when the posted time reached 260 minutes but it actually only took 50 minutes!

It makes sense that the posted wait time would be an overestimate. We can think of several reasons to do this:

  • The posted time includes a buffer in case the ride is delayed for maintenance or safety
  • Guests are less likely to be dissatisfied if the wait is shorter than they expected
  • Longer wait times encourage guests to experience other attractions and return later or to use Fastpass+
  • Near the end of the day, a high posted time may discourage guests from entering, thus helping with a quicker shut down at park closing

Knowing that the posted wait time may be inflated will help when planning out your day or choosing what to experience when walking the parks.


The difference between the posted time and how long you actually wait also depends on the attraction. [Click on the infographic to view a larger size.]

Also, know that the difference between the actual time you will wait and what is posted on the sign may depend on the attraction. "Cycle rides" like Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and Triceratop Spin tend to have posted wait times higher than you can expect to actually wait. So do attractions with high average wait times like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Meet Tinker Bell. Meanwhile, continuous show-type attractions like Country Bear Jamboree, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and Muppetvision 3D have very predictable wait times so the sign out front is more likely to be accurate. You can see estimates of how long you can expect to wait any time of day over the next year on Touringplans.com wait time pages.

Did you notice how the two versions of Mission: Space appear at the extreme ends of our comparison? Mission: Space Orange (the more intense version) tends to post a large overestimate of the wait time, while Mission: Space Green actually has a longer wait than its posted time, on average. I think this is to discourage guests from choosing the more intense option just because the wait is shorter. Or as one guest put it:

I'd rather lose a bit of time out of my day than to lose my lunch—so to speak.

Comments

  1. By heidica

    Would you say this is also true for Disneyland? Not necessarily the same percentage difference in posted vs real wait times as WDW, but in general real wait times are shorter than posted times at Disneyland?

  2. By olegc

    the data charts are neat - but in my experience over the last 2 years or so Disneyland's wait times are actually accurate - or sometimes even longer. Indy, Autopia, and Big Thunder (my most recent known comparison) have been quite on point with their times. For whatever reason.

  3. By indyjones

    I believe that the wait time takes into consideration all the Fastpass riders. That is if for any given 5 minute window there are 500 Fastpass tickets that are valid, then the posted wait time has to assume that ALL 500 of those Fastpass people show up at once and want to ride. Of course this is not really the reality of how the FPs work but that would account for a buffer. That said the posted time is more accurate if the CMs are handing out the timing cards to guests at regular intervals with the assumption that the FP returns will be spread evenly over the hour window.

  4. By BrandonH

    My experience has been that the time posted is accurate only if the line of people reaches the sign that tells the estimated wait. Otherwise, it does tend to be a shorter wait.

  5. By GusMan

    I think in many cases, the wait time estimate is reasonably accurate........until a large touring group enters the line all at the same time.

    If the line gets a large influx of guests at the same time, the wait time indicated will get quickly skewed.

  6. By davidgra

    I tend to agree with several other commenters that the posted wait times in recent years have been more accurate. Back before 2010, it always seemed like the wait time was less than the posted wait time, but these days they really seem to have a good grasp on exactly how long it will take.

    Of course, it varies a bit from attraction to attraction. For the "people eater" rides -- it's a small world, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. -- it usually seems to take a few minutes less. For slow-loaders like the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Test Track, it almost always seems to be right on.

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