Trends in Disney Theme Park Wait Timesby Fred Hazelton, contributing writer
Touringplans.com has a database of theme park wait times dating back to 2006. Over the years, we have seen those wait times flucuate up and down with the seasons but still remain fairly stable from year to year. Yes, wait times are different between busier times like Thanksgiving week and less busy times like early January but when you compare the same period from one year to the next the times are comparable—until this year. Wait times in 2015 are up, big time.
Determining whether wait times are up or down is not as easy as it might seem. Having a few million wait times stored away is a good start but we can't just look at one year to the next and compare. We have to take into account that a difference between one year and the next might be attributed to something other than a year-over-year trend. For example, if we compare June 1, 2014 to June 1, 2015 we must take into account that the former was a Sunday while the latter was a Monday. Sundays and Mondays can be different in ways that have nothing to do with a year-over-year trend. Adjusting for day of the week is easy but what about other factors. The number of school districts in session might change from year to year for a certain period of time, for example. Throw in other important predictors like attraction closures, proximity to holidays, weather, special events, et cetera and suddenly the adjusting becomes very complicated. Luckily, the statisticians step in and give us some math-magic called partial dependence. With partial dependence plots we can see how a particular factor varies over time when we hold constant everything else we know about. In our example, let's look at the partial dependence plot of date and hold everything else constant. In other words, show me how wait times have changed over time without letting that other stuff get in the way.
With all else equal, wait times in 2015 are increasing at Walt Disney World. Image by TouringPlans.com.
We can see that starting sometime in 2014 wait times start increasing relative to previous years. It also shows some shortlived trends from the past. The trend that began in 2014 is strong and seems intent on continuing for the near future. What is interesting about a graphic like this is that it gives us a fair assessment of whether wait times are increasing or decreasing. It accounts for all the things that we know impact wait times and gives us the trend of what is left behind. Often we hear people say something like "Wait times are up because school holidays started sooner this year," or "The parks are open later than they were so crowds are larger," but this chart already adjusts for that. It doesn't do a good job telling how much the wait times are increasing but it does give evidence that they are indeed increasing—something that many guests have noted in 2015.
As for what we do this information, that is another question. Certainly, guests planning to visit in 2016 or later may have to prepare a little differently. It may be that "busy" is the new normal.
This one's pretty easy to explain. The full introduction of FastPass + at almost the exact time as the trend started going upward has had a dramatic effect on lines in the parks. Less popular rides that rarely had lines during slow times of the year in the past now have lines all year as the regular line is held up waiting for those with FastPasses. An example of this that we observed on recent trips during slow times of year is SpaceShip Earth. Used to be pretty much a walk-on during slow periods, but is now normally a 10-15 minute wait even on a slow day for those without FastPasses. Our observation has been that FastPass+ for less popular rides has created waits where none existed before, which is probably what is showing up on this chart.
For rides that were operating at capacity in the past, the increase in number of FastPasses under FastPass + has also made the lines longer. The positive side for these rides is that those with FastPass + for a ride have very limited waits for those rides. Without knowing how the chart accounts for this, my suspicion (and observation) is that this is probably a wash - the overall increase shown is probably mostly for the less popular rides.
I agree that this trend is in exact allignment with the rollout of FP+. Which is sad because it is the exact opposite of what Disney promised the public when it was rolled out. One of the major talking points for FP+
during its launch was more time for fun and less waiting on lines. Wonder how this correlates to park attendance as well. Seems like attendance for all of the parks is up during this timeframe also.
Here is what is REALLY happening. Operation at the attractions, by management direction, are posting longer wait times than they actually are.
I have noticed first hand a several times. One specific example was a fairly busy day a month or so ago, still in the summer busy season. The Jungle Cruise had a posted standby wait time of 30 minutes. I glanced into the que area wjile walking up to the attraction and as a local annual pass holder and former cast member I surmised by what i saw that it could not possibly be that long. I went into the standby line, even though the posted time was 30 minutes and actual wait was well under 10 min, closer to 5-7.
This happened exactly the same way with Pirates of the Caribbean a few weekend earlier, still the busy time of year, where the posted wait time was also 30 min for the standby line, but there was literally no wait and we walked onto the ride.
Is it the staff is lazy and don't want to change the sign or maybe don't know that the line is that short? No, on both. Operations does wait time tags 3-4 times an hour. They know exactly the wait time and it only takes a second to change the time. They are being told to leave it at the much higher time. Here is why:
First, as a former operations cast member in the 80's, we did our wait times with small sheets of paper and synchronized watches. Not down to the second like today but very accurate. We were told even then to post the wait times at least 20-30% or more longer than it actually was. Why? Guest complaints. A guest seeing a wait time of 45 minutes and only waited 30 minutes would not complain. They would be happy. But post a wait time of 30 minutes and the wait was 35 minutes, you WILL get a guest complaint. Lots of them. That is one reason they are still doing that today.
BUT, there is a SECOND reason and why they are sometimes posting 200-300% longer is because of the fastpass + system and the alternative selections it does for the guests.
Image you are a guest and you just used fastpass+ for your plans for the day. And lets use my real world example of the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean for the times i went that I actually experienced. If you waited all day to go to go to the Jungle Cruise at your selected time and when you get there you saw there is only a 10 minute wait in the stand by line you would feel ripped off and be upset and feel that you waisted that fast pass, and justifiably so. Then you go to Pirates of the Caribbean and the same thing happens again. Now you are really upset and your day has been waisted waiting to go on something that you didn't need to be waiting for!
Well that is exactly what was happening. There were TONS of complaints from guests about the fast pass system doing that to them, some so bad that they were giving free extra park admissions. (I have close friends in guest relations)
But posting a time of 30 minutes, even though it might br 5 minutes, guest are not upset because they DON'T KNOW. They just see the wait time and think that they saved that 30 minutes and the fast pass system did it's job. Since they never waited in the standby line, they assume that 30 min was the actual time, even though it wasn't.
The longer wait times aren't actually there. It's just to keep guest happier. That is why is the main reason the POSTED wait times have increased. The ACTUAL wait times have not changed and in some cases gone down by spreading out guest flow into the attraction throughout the day.
This is happening all over all parks with rides that are high capacity that have lower wait times than the more popular attractions.
The good part is that if you are experienced in the park, you can take advantage of these longer posted wait times that are actually shorter and only get the fastpass's for the ones you know are the actual wait times like Peter Pan's flight, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc.
I tend to think it's FastPass related as well. A posted time that is greater than TRUE wait time does not account for waits on attractions where there previously were none(Spaceship Earth - we noticed the same thing on our last trip). In General the original FastPass increased stand-by time by nearly double. The addition of FP+, in my limited experience with it, seems to have increased wait times both WITH and WITHOUT the FastPass. Also you have to realize that the POSTED wait time is likely to include a guess-timate at how many people with FPs for that time window are going to show up.If there is a parade and very few FP holders arrive while you are in line it will likely go much faster. When the parade ends and everyone with a FP for a given window shows up, suddenly the standby line crawls to a halt.
TouringPlans' data does not come from the parks' posted wait times. It is also crowd sourced and collected by their own statisticians.
I often wonder about the accuracy, since I usually wait until I'm off a ride to post the time. Sometimes I can tell that the line isn't where it was when I got in it 15 or 20 minutes ago. When people submit and the line going or shrinking have to contribute to the inaccuracies fairly often.