It's well known the holidays can be a crazy time for a Disney park trip. But even Disney veterans are feeling overwhelmed by the insane crowds for this year.
On January 1st, 2024, as folks ringed in the New Year, Walt Disney World's times were pretty jarring. At its height, wait times for the likes of Tron Light Cycle, Avatar: Flights of Passage, Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, and other top attractions were a minimum of two hours. Lightning Lane and Genie+ were sold out at various times and the point where an 85-minute wait for Rise of the Resistance was considered low. At one point, the wait time for Flights of Passage was a stunning 450 minutes.
Disneyland in California wasn't so bad on New Year's Day, but New Year's Eve saw the parks packed with wait times for Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Radiator Springs Racers, and Spider-Man Webslingers cracking the two-hour plus mark.
Obviously, this is because families are free over the holiday break. In fact, California parks can be packed longer with California schools not back in session until next week. It is good news for Disney as it shows attendance is returning to levels not seen since before the Covid-19 pandemic began and helps the company. However, it's still astounding how long these lines can be, and the question for so many theme park fans is: How long is too long?
The old days of wait times
Older theme park fans will remember the days before you had an app on your phone (or, for that matter, your own phone) where you had to take your chances on how long a line could be at a Disney park. Sure, there were the boards at the main intersections on times, but so many will recall showing up to see a 60-minute wait time and figure on taking chances or coming back later.
This is why Disney created the FastPass system in 1999. It wasn't just to cut down on time, but because every minute someone spent in line was a minute they weren't at the gift shops or buying food. Its success led to other theme parks following suit, with Disney adjusting it over the years.
Yet, despite that, there are still so many rides that have frankly insane wait times. When I visited Disneyland in mid-March 2023, not even that busy a time, my first stop when California Adventure opened in the morning was Radiator Spring Racers. I wasn't alone as a huge crowd had gathered before the official opening time. Within ten minutes of the park opening, the set standby wait time was already two hours.
This is no secret for Disney park fans. For years, captains on the Jungle Cruise would crack about "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Four-Hour Line." Fans are expectant of long times, but again, how long is too long for the Disney experience?
What is the "best" Disney wait time?
Some attractions are actually not too bad to wait in line for. In some cases, like Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, the queue area is part of the ride experience, setting up the storyline. There are also some interactive exhibits in some lines and Imagineers are great in making some areas work.
See how Mickey's Runaway Railway has mock props of Mickey's long "film career." Or the details in Rise of the Resistance and Star Tours. Those are good ways to entertain guests, and Disney is used to adding in such things to make the long lines more manageable. It's certainly better than the drab hallways of the past, like the older Space Mountain or some EPCOT Center attractions.
Yet waiting over an hour in line is something a lot of people aren't ready to handle. It was like that in older times and more in today's fast-paced world. Personally, I can handle it as I'm used to taking a book in my bag for lines, but others aren't as capable. That's without having to handle kids, who are, of course, more prone to losing it, having to stand around for a long time for anything not involving meeting a princess. I've had first-hand experience on how even the most well-mannered kids can feel antsy shuffling in a line for more than 20 minutes.
It can be decided by the ride itself as things like Rise of the Resistance, Cars Land, Pandora and others are worth waiting an hour or so. Others may vary as, while the Fantasyland rides are classics, wait times of 90 minutes for them seem a bit extreme. In many ways, it comes down to someone's patience level and the party size as a few families can handle the wait longer than some solo traveler.
For a lot of folks, 45 minutes can often be the breaking point depending on some rides while others can wait longer. But it's tricky as guests hate the idea of wasting that much time in a line when there are so many other attractions around, not to mention dining reservations. That's without the additional spanner of a ride suddenly breaking down when you're in the middle of the line.
Again, an hour wait for the various E-ticket rides is logical and often worth the payoff. Yet there's a good reason why folks prefer to visit a Disney park in the off-season and why LL and Genie+ are still popular as folks are willing to pay more to avoid these wait times.
It is interesting to note that no matter the changes to Disney over the years, fans can always count on long wait times at the parks and prepare for them. It also shows that the holidays, as lovely as they can be, are also the worst time to hit the parks. Yet folks can be thrown by how insanely long the wait times are and always a key factor to planning a Disney park trip at the right period.