Due to the many requests from the members and readers of the Disney World websites I used prior to my vacation, I will pass on the favor and write about the wait times and lines I experienced in Disney World during my trip in October.
I went to Disney World during October, 2008, from October 25th until November 1st. We did NOT get the tickets to any of the Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Parties, though we did meet many people that went on them. The consensus was that the experience is a must for all small children, but there were a number of rides that were shut down during the time which were promised to be open--Splash, Space and The Haunted Mansion being the most prominent and surprising of these. It is definitely geared towards little kids, so don't go into one expecting it to be like an extra Extra Magic Hour evening at the Magic Kingdom, but approach it as a chance to get A LOT of food (not all candy), be part of a very eerie and exciting ambiance, and to ride SOME of the most popular rides after the park closes. The predetermined ticket amounts definitely keep the crowds out and the ride lines short, so that's a big plus if you do decide to go.
Each morning we arrived at the park with the Extra Magic hour in the morning prior to the rope drops, and during two mornings (one Disney Studios, the other Epcot), spent the mornings going to a resort other than the one that had the early morning Extra Magic Hour. We found this to be our best weapon to beating the crowds. The Disney World crowds in October are nothing compared to those during February, April and mid-summer, and are 1/4-1/5 what you will find during the Christmas vacation week (December 19th-January 3rd), which is rated as the worst time to visit Disney World. If you want to go for the ambiance of winter and holidays in Disney World, aim for the first week during December which is traditionally the third or fourth sparsest week for crowds in Disney World.
For the first 90 minutes to 2 hours that each park is open, the crowds are far below their sizes and heights of mid-day, when it is also the hottest. (Makes perfect sense to return to the resort for some time out at the pool and to grab a big bite to eat before heading to another park during the evening.) Which brings me to a crucial point that must not be overlooked--get the Park Hopper passes for any vacation you do at Disney. There is no better value or better idea you can have. This is crucial to visiting your favorite rides, and sneaking in your fastpasses simultaneously. You can get another fastpass exactly when your current hour time frame occurs on your ticket. A hint: you do not have to use your fastpasses during the hour they give you on your ticket--they are good up to an additional 2 hours or so after the time 'expires.'
I used the website Touringplans.com to really get a good sense of the wait times we'd be experiencing and the best parks to visit--they were pretty on target with both, but were completely incorrect in several very crucial areas.
The first thing I must warn anyone about, regardless of when you are traveling to Disney World, is that there will be an exorbitant wait for two rides in Disney World, and basically only those two, though waits could be minuscule or non-existent at others.
Soarin', Disney's answer to the California Adventure's ride of the same name, is located at Epcot and REALLY attracts the crowds. When I say really, it is in no way an exaggeration; in fact, hyperbole would do no good in this situation--only actual facts and figures can truly demonstrate the wait times. Within 45 minutes of the park opening, the wait is that long. Within two hours, the wait time approaches that. Now the ride itself is exciting, but it is NOT worth two hours out of my Disney World experience to wait in line for it. 1/2 hour to 45 minutes is OK, but any longer is completely unacceptable. The shortest wait time for the ride was within the first 15 minutes of the park opening and it was 15-20 minutes. The longest wait time I saw for the ride was 205 minutes, which is just under 3 1/2 hours!
And this was in October!--one of the 'recommended' times to visit Disney World because of the sparse crowds and low prices. Now, don't be scared by assuming that this is the standard wait time for all the rides.
We walked onto Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space (which goes through periods of hour waits and then dissipates to 5 minutes because it is a ride that you cannot stomach to ride more than once without a good deal of time in between), Nemo, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and the Maelstrom (never any Fastpasses needed for it). Walked on--we never observed any waits longer than 5-10 minutes for these during any of the three days that we visited the park.
The wait times for Test Track were higher, of course, and averaged between 45-60 at their peaks and between 10-15 during the first two hours the park was open. The Fastpasses for Test Track and Soarin' should keep your park tickets sufficiently busy, but don't neglect the opportunity to wait in the lines during the first two hours the park is open in order to maximize your amount of rides.
In the Disney Hollywood Studios, Rock N' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror never had wait times longer than 45 minutes at any time--peak hours, extended hours, etc. The average time observed was 25-30 minutes. (Tower of Terror likes to post "13" as the wait time if the actual wait time is less than 20 minutes--very funny!).
The Great Movie Ride and Star Tours were usually walk-on, with the highest wait times at 15 minutes. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and the Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show are must-sees and didn't usually have wait times more than the 10-15 minutes of time it takes for the show to begin. The show times are always posted during the day and are usually available at your resort hotel--so look them up ahead of time and plan accordingly!
Now here's the ride that takes the cake at the Hollywood Studios--Toy Story Midway Mania! The ride opened in May, 2008, so it was still nearly brand new and was still malfunctioning here and there, so sometimes the ride would be broken down for 10-15 minutes or it would open an hour or so later because it needed some maintenance. No big deal, as all new Disney rides usually experience this. The big deal about the ride was the wait times though.
Within the first hour that the park was open, the wait times ballooned from walk-on (first 10-15 minutes) to 90+ minutes and remained at least at that level for the entire day. The longest wait time I observed was 135 minutes--just a smidgen over two hours.
Toy Story Midway Mania! and Soarin' at definitively the two rides with the longest wait times and seriously throw-off the average or mean wait times at their respective parks. The wait times are ridiculous, especially since Fastpasses SOLD OUT by noon for both rides, despite it being October!
In The Magic Kingdom many of the rides were constant walk-ons: Jungle Cruise, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White, Tomorrowland Orbiter, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, and the Walt Disney World Railroad. All of which are must-rides!
It's a Small World, Peter Pan, and The Tea Party were the most-packed rides in Fantasyland and all had waits of 45 minutes or more at times, with Small World having the shortest wait times of 30 minutes or so at maximum. Most of these were great bets for the late evening within the final hour of the park's hours because most of the small children had left for the night.
The most crowded areas were around Splash/Big Thunder, Space Mountain and ALL of Fantasyland. The amount of young children (younger than school-age or elementary-middle) was overwhelming and was the main reason for the huge surge in lines in this area.
Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion all had waits of walk-on to 15 minutes on average, with the highest wait time being 1/2 hour.
The big 3 had the highest wait times in the park: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain. Each one had wait times of 1 hour or so at their peaks, but were mostly around 30 minutes.
Note: I did not get to experience The Hall of Presidents due to the upcoming presidential election. It was shut down for a nine month period beginning the week before we arrived.
All in all, the wait times were almost in-line with TouringPlans' expectations for most of the parks. However, they grossly underestimated and did not make special mention of the extreme wait times of Toy Story and Soarin'. Everyone MUST know how long these wait times are in order to make proper plans during your visit to the parks. I would say that most days were, on average, a 4 out of 10 in terms of crowds (10 being wall-to-wall people and HUGE lines), with certain times and parks having spurts of 3s and 5s. But 4s are definitely a plus for visiting Disney in October! I witnessed a Magic Kingdom morning of a 2, not crowding until around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and even then it was only a 4. All morning nearly every ride was walk-on, with Space and Big Thunder Mountains having waits of 5-10 at most.
At the Animal Kingdom, It's Tough to be a Bug, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the live-action stage shows were all walk-on for the most part.
Dinosaur, Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids all had wait times of approximately 45 minutes at their peak, with Everest having nearly 1 hour waits at times.
Expedition Everest is NOT TO BE MISSED. The ambiance of the ride, the pre-ride visuals and smells, and the overall vibe of walking through the amazing 'town' surrounding the ride are unmatchable. Disney is able to transport you back into late 19th century India/Nepal when the British were still the rulers of the land. There is a large amount of memorabilia, and a lot of authenticity to each of the pieces (especially in the museum-esque areas of the pre-ride) of the ride. It was definitely the best addition to Disney World--better than Toy Story, Soarin' and Mission: Space.
We never went to the water parks when we were there, as most days the temperatures were perfect: around 75 and sunny. The one day there was supposed to be rain it was quick, heavy, and was over before it interrupted anyone's plans.
Downtown Disney is still transforming and promises to be doing so for years to come, but the one thing not to be missed is La Nouba, Cirque Du Soleil's amazing acrobatic circus of fun.
A crucial tip: Skip all the parades if you are able to. The wait times for ALL rides decrease by at least half and, in some cases, disappear almost completely. I witnessed a 60 minute wait at Splash Mountain reduce to walk-on during the parade--in a 10 minute period. Now that's progress!
October was a wonderful time to visit Disney World, but, as always, a plan was necessary to maximize the potential of the vacation. We left having gotten to do nearly everything we wanted to do with very few line waits exceeding 15-20 minutes. The two mistakes we made were to fall for Soarin' 's advertised wait time of 40 minutes (actual 1 hour 10 minutes), and to wait in line during Toy Story Mania on our first night there, where we read it was 50 minutes (but heard it was more like 20), and ended up waiting 55 minutes for the ride. The learned lesson: Always expect the wait times for the most popular rides to be LONGER than the advertised wait by at least 5 or 10 minutes. If they aren't, you will be pleasantly surprised. In my experience though, we were right on the money in predicting an additional 5-10 minutes onto the wait times (which were generally advertised as 0-15 anyway).
The Magic Kingdom was beautifully decorated for Halloween (see previous posts and look for more in forthcoming posts). The crowds were manageable, the weather was gorgeous, the food was amazing, and the experience was one to cherish for a lifetime.
More, of course, on the wait times, ride descriptions, pictures, etc. to come in the following few weeks as I have an opportunity to finally upload everything.