Test a Touring Plan Meet Debrief

by on December 17, 2011 23 Comments

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Test a Touring Plan Group Photo

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

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:

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?


  1. 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.
  2. Researchers Waiting for Tomorrowland Rope Drop

    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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. More Walking Didn’t Help. During our time window, those with plans that required the least walking had an easier time completing their tours.


The Researchers Were Ready to Go!

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?

Posted on December 17, 2011

23 Responses to “Test a Touring Plan Meet Debrief”

  • dave,

    I still have yet to use touring plans in the way that this was done, I guess still have not figured out how. I do though use it in deciding on what parks we plan on visiting based on the crowd calendar. Also my family is just AM folks we prefer the later part of the day.


    • The plans available on this site and in the Unofficial Guide are pretty easy to follow. Just choose one that suits your group and visit attractions in the listed order. We do have some complex functionality that allows you to pick your own attractions, but it’s not necessary to use that.

      Our research has found that having a good Touring Plan matters about five times more than choosing which park to visit. That said, showing up prior to park opening is always a good idea, and that’s the first step in most of our Touring Plans. If you do that, you’ll be ahead of the crowds early in the day.

      Disney World is a popular place, so even on “slow” days, showing up early is necessary to experience certain attractions (like Toy Story Mania) without grueling waits.

  • I am so happy that I got to be apart of this meet! Thanks for letting me grab the “no tools” plan! In retrospect, we shouldn’t of done the TTA as our 11th attraction as it’s 10 minutes long. We should’ve done aladdin magic carpets and something else short. Though we did almost get a meet and greet with Stitch 3 minutes before the the deadline. But Stitch had to go away just as we walked up.

    Again, thanks for this opportunity!

    • I’m glad you had fun. Keep in mind, of course, that this meet was not a competition (no matter what Bricker’s blog post says!). The fact that you got through these 10 attractions in about 105 minutes was more interesting to me than that you could cram in extra attractions.

      Of course, you’re totally correct that you could have thrown in Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Mad Tea Party, Snow White, and other quick attractions to up your count. On this day, we could easily have completed attractions with the worst lines at Magic Kingdom by 11:00am, leaving us to watch high capacity shows and eat turkey legs the rest of the day..

  • It was a fun morning. My touring partner HildyP and I have been doing research/timing runs in preparation to do some Ultimate Plans (did AK with a group 9/24/2011). The conclusions stated that Fantasyland first is extremely valuable. As part of a team that formulated our own plans, we used our experiences and we were able to complete our 10 tasks with little stress. Starting with a formulated plan is very important, but flexibility is critical – who knows when an attraction will be down. The formulated plans seemed to match the plans our experienced team. This seems to be a vivid endoresement for recommending Touring Plans to the newer or less frequent visitor. We are planning on going to Disneyland next year and you cna bet we’ll be consulting Touring Plans for Disneyland.

  • I really enjoyed testing the touring plans. It was great to see how you guys track those times and have worked out the best plans. I don’t know anyone that likes to wait in line all day. I can officially confirm what we all already knew that ridding dumbo 7th out of 10 is a bad idea. I’ll keep it as the first or second stop going forward on personal touring. I can also confirm that ridding dumbo with two rather large 6+ foot guys in the same elephant is doable but not recommended. 🙂

  • This meet was an absolute blast. I couldn’t resist approaching it like a game . . . but it’s also very interesting to read the results of the overall test, and to know that our Fantasyland-first strategy was in fact a good one.

    I think I’m developing an appetite for the Ultimate Touring Plan. One of these days, perhaps!

  • Loved being a part of this. We were one of the groups that visited BTMRR first. We did have a lot of walking in our plan, and were not able to accomplish all 10 attractions. There was a lot of time lost crossing the park back and forth.
    Also…why is Tom Bricker never in any of the pictures???

    • You’ll need to talk to Tom Bricker’s agent to find out why he never makes appearances on camera. 🙂

      Crossing the park can help if you find sufficiently better wait times after doing so. It just didn’t help from 8-10am on 12/10/2011.

      • It’s tough to be in the photos when you’re the one taking them all. However, in the interest of giving the people what they want, here’s one of me from the previous night at Epcot, when I was the last person out of the park.


        Note that I left Epcot at 1:40 am and arrived at the Magic Kingdom prior to 7 am in the next morning. Add in travel time on both ends, plus getting ready, and I slept only about 4 hours that night. Suffice to say, I was not too pleased with David (he scheduled the meet) that morning!

  • This was really fascinating to read! Would it be possible for you to tell us specifically which TouringPlan order was the most efficient on this day?

  • so what was the order of the most efficient group as the optimizer for these 10 attractions on christmas day still shows big thunder as step one. thanks russ

    • The plan that should have finished all 10 attractions quickest was:

      Get Space Mountain FASTPASS
      Dumbo the Flying Elephant
      Peter Pan
      The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
      Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
      Pirates of the Caribbean
      Jungle Cruise
      Haunted Mansion
      Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel
      Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
      Space Mountain (using FASTPASS)

      (The group that did this actually threw in a restroom break and a ride on the PeopleMover, too, but it would have finished fastest had it done the above in order.)

      Note that the crowd dynamic on 12/10 is not necessarily what you’ll find on Christmas. The hours are similar, but Christmas has a morning EMH that opens the park at 7am, and I suspect there will be far more people in Magic Kingdom on 12/25/2011 than there were on 12/10/2011. Remember that our crowd levels are rankings, so although 10 is worse than 9.3, the wait times on a day with a crowd level of a 10 day (top 1% of all days) could be MUCH WORSE than those on a day with a 9.3 crowd level (top 7% of all days). See this blog post for crowd calendar details.

      I cannot speak specifically to the plan you’re trying to optimize. However, if you doubt the optimizer, there are some holiday Touring Plans on the site that you could instead use (like the Adult One-Day Holiday Touring Plan).

      • thanks that is some great info, it just seems to me that would be the ideal order for the first two hours anytime level is 7+.

        How do you predict the closing of big thunder will impact touring plans for the for the saturday of memorial day weekend?

        Wondering if impact low enough that best to just skip to next step in all the published plans, including the order you just poseted.

        Thanks Again!

        • I could guess about Big Thunder’s impact, but TouringPlans.com is more about data-driven estimates than guessing; that’s not my area of expertise, so I forwarded your question to advice@touringplans.com. I think it’s the sort of thing that a lot of folks would like to know. Perhaps it will be answered in a future blog post.

          Although everyone is welcome to use the plan listed above, I want to be clear that I am not advocating it as an ideal attraction order on all busy days. The fact that it worked well on 12/10 is just a single data point, and other attraction orders were almost as good on that day. We’d need more testing to prove the strength of a given plan. The plans that are in the Unofficial Guide have gone through this sort of testing.

          Also, you probably want to visit something other than the 10 attractions on this list (like Splash Mountain or Snow White) during your day in the park, and odds are you’ll want to stay longer than 2 hours in Magic Kingdom. There’s probably a better attraction order if you have more time and/or want to visit more attractions.

  • Took our first trip to Walt Disney World with a group of 10 including toddlers and grandparents. We utilized the touring plans daily (with lots of modifications) and ended at Magic Kingdom on the 10th. Since we always arrived before rope drop we would have loved to have met some of you. Arriving early seemed to be the best takeaway out of everything we learned. Thanks for all the great tips. We loved minimizing time spent standing in lines.

    • Kudos to you for getting both toddlers and grandparents to the parks prior to opening. That’s a struggle for nearly all families, and the fact that it is a struggle is exactly why it helps so much to be there!

      I’m sorry we missed you on December 10, and I apologize if we got in your way!

  • We were at Epcot that day, and chosen as The Family of the Day. I would have loved to participate in this meet up. Not sure how I missed it! It was our first trip to WDW. Our first day at MK was on the 9th. We did a modified version of Dumbo or Die with a 9 year old with special needs and a 6 year. We did 6 rides in less than an hour. All of our days in the park were slow enough we did not have to fallow plans to the details but we took LOTS of your advice. Of the 8 days in the parks only our last day were we not on the first rotation of whatever ride we were going on. I count our trip a huge success thanks to you. Just a fun aside. One day our goal was to get Rapunzel’s autograph. She comes out at 9:15. My husband hoofed it with the girls to Dumbo and I ran to Rapunzel. My husband was first on Dumbo, I was second in line at Rapuzel and my girls rode Dumbo and made it back to Rapunzel before she came out. A photopass photographer took some great shots of us running-I mean walking very fast down main street. Thanks again. We had a blast. Next time we go I hope you are having a meet up!

  • My wife and I did this two hour trek on Dec. 21st (8am opening time). We arrived 5 minutes before the opening. We had a below average pace of walking with two bathroom breaks
    -Space mountain FP
    -Pooh (was not working, came back to this ride)
    -Snow White
    -Pooh (back tracking)
    -Regal Carrousel
    -Small World
    -Big Thunder
    -Magic Carpets
    -Jungle Cruise

    Headed back to Tommorrow Land about 10:10am. It was packed with a 40 minute wait for Buzz. We gave up our FP to a couple…that was fun! I think during the hoildays, that plan can work even with the slow pace we had. If Dumbo is a big priority, go there first or have a high pace or getting there earlier than we did. It was 15 minute wait 10-15 minutes after opening. The 7am opening could be huge, you could to do these attractions or even more. The general plan of counter clock-wise is the best way to go at RD. Clock wise if you get to the park late at night IMO.