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Through a monorail window I saw the sun rise over Seven Seas Lagoon as I headed to Magic Kingdom for the Test a Touring Plan Meet on Saturday, December 10, 2011. I was just the seventh person to pass through security that morning, but by 7:30am approximately 50 daring TouringPlans.com enthusiasts had gathered to try their hands at being TouringPlans.com researchers.
I want to thank everyone who attended. Attendees said they had a good time, and I’m glad that participants found this bit of masochism entertaining.
The task du jour was simple. Groups of 3 to 6 people were provided with different instructions for experiencing 10 Magic Kingdom attractions during the first two hours of park operation. The groups had to record their arrival, boarding, and exit times for each attraction and submit this data at 10:00am.
The attractions were:
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- The Haunted Mansion
- Jungle Cruise
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
- Space Mountain
This list of attractions is based on the Unofficial Guide Selective One-Day Touring Plan for Adults. All attractions are quite popular, and most regularly see high wait times, especially on busy days like the 9.3 out of 10 we predicted for Magic Kingdom on December 10.
There are more than 3.6 million different orders in which one can experience 10 attractions, so our 14 Touring Plans represented just a tiny fraction of the possibilities. The plans were all reasonable (no extensive back-and-forth across each park, and no riding high capacity attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean first), and some of them were based on Touring Plans published in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World or generated from TouringPlans.com software.
Which plans worked best? And what observations can we make about this day?
- Attraction Count. Across all groups, the average attraction wait was about 1 minute, and groups experienced between 7 and 11 attractions (two groups added an an extra attraction), with 9 of the 14 groups completing all 10 attractions.
Rope Drop Matters. All groups were ready to enter the park at rope drop at 7:54am. This let them walk to their first attractions before the park was officially open, effectively extending the operating hours by 6 minutes.
- Some Groups Finished Early and/or Did an Extra Attraction. Prior to the tour date, the beta version of the TouringPlans.com optimization feature predicted that completing these 10 attractions in under 2 hours was not possible.
- The Optimizer Adapted. Despite the above prediction, running the optimizer every couple of steps that morning restructured the Touring Plan so that all attractions were experienced.
- Visiting Big Thunder Mountain Railroad first was a bad idea. Our two plans that had Big Thunder as a first step were the least efficient.
- Visiting Fantasyland Attractions Early Was Wise. Although lines were nearly non-existent across the park, there were slight waits in Fantasyland as 10:00am approached.
- More Walking Didn’t Help. During our time window, those with plans that required the least walking had an easier time completing their tours.
What can we learn from this day of touring? The most obvious conclusion from is that 8-10am on Saturday, December 10, 2011, was a great time to visit Magic Kingdom. Our testers were about a third of the total people at the 7:50am Welcome Show, and lines were negligible once we entered the park.
Why did this happen on such a busy day? Our best guess is with 17 park operating hours (8:00am to 1:00am), folks were happy to stumble in late and stay late rather than be at Magic Kingdom before the sun fully rose. I have seen something similar on multiple July 4 holidays: although the park was packed for fireworks at night, few guest were around before 11:00am. This happens on occasion, and our TouringPlans.com statistical predictions do not account for every conceivable scenario. However, once wait times were submitted that morning, our model adapted and provided useful guidance to the group that was regularly using the Lines optimization feature to adjust its plan while touring.
In retrospect, plans with minimal walking should have worked best during our test window. Two of our groups had to devise their their own Touring Plans, and both of these groups fared well. I talked to members of these groups, and they were well-versed in efficient touring and factors that make some rides develop worse waits faster than others. Equipped with this knowledge, they no doubt mentally optimized their plans based on their perceptions of waits in the park. Our published Touring Plans work well, but they are not customized for a particular day, and our optimization technology did not react as quickly to the dead park as our savvy human researchers. Of course, the optimizer is in beta, and our models are always improving, so this may not be true in the future.
The fact that extra walking was pointless on this day made going to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad first a bad move. Because it is in the back of the park and close to no other attractions, venturing out there for a single ride uses up time that could be better used to experience bunched together attractions like those in Fantasyland. Also, Big Thunder handles a lot of people, so it takes much longer to overwhelm that ride than, say, Dumbo or Peter Pan. As a result, the Big Thunder wait was as low at 8:05am as it was at 9:45am.
All in all, this was a remarkable day of touring. Disney reported in a New York Times article that it had average Magic Kingdom guests experiencing 10 attractions per day in 2010. Our groups accomplished this in just 2 hours. If nothing else, it evidences the importance of showing up at rope drop and having a reasonable Touring Plan. And within the reasonable Touring Plans, some moves (like going to Fantasyland first) were clearly better than others (like going to Big Thunder first).
We will use the data and experiences collected during the meet to improve our software and touring advice. Data collection is at the core of what we do at TouringPlans.com, and we’re glad that others could join in our early morning fun!
Did you attend the Test a Touring Plan meet? What went well? What else would you like to know about our experiences or our data collection practices?