Fun Friday: RideMax Roulette at the Magic Kingdom

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

If anyone wants to join me, either virtually or in-person, I’ll be in the Magic Kingdom again this coming Friday, May 8th, doing live tweets and Facebook updates as I play another round of RideMax Roulette.

For those not familiar, RideMax Roulette is a game using the RideMax planning tool, where I select a list of attractions at random and plug them into RideMax. RideMax then creates an optimized game plan using those attractions designed to minimize my waiting and walking. I then take the plan to the park to see how it works out. (Just FYI, because I’m biased, I call this a “RideMax plan,” but I know that some would call this a “touring plan” instead, lol).

Playing this “game” helps me keep things real by actually using plans the software produces, as well as having me ride attractions that I might not normally visit, but which customers very well could. (“Business philosophy” note here: There’s nothing quite like putting yourself in the shoes of your customers and actually, you know, *using* your own product, to help you know where the strengths of that product are, as well as learning what could be improved.)

For this week’s test, my only requirement going into the process was that I wanted to at least hit the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride. So I made sure I included that attraction, then added attractions to the list using my handy-dandy random number generator, until I had enough attractions to fill a half-day at the park.

In alphabetical order, here is the complete list of twelve attractions I plan to visit from 9:00am, when the park opens, until noon-ish:

  • Aladdin’s Magic Carpets
  • Astro Orbiter
  • Astro Orbiter (Yes, I’ll be visiting this one twice.)  :-)
  • Barnstormer
  • Barnstormer (Yes, also twice!)
  • Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Splash Mountain

Before creating the plan, I had to decide what I wanted to use my three FastPass+ reservations for. While this can sometimes be a hard choice, this time it seemed obvious: Peter Pan, Splash Mountain, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train probably offer the most opportunity for time-saving with FP+. (And If I couldn’t get a FP+ reservation for 7DMT, I’d probably use it for the Haunted Mansion instead.)

Well, as luck would have it, there was still a FP+ slot available for 7DMT in Disney’s reservation system, so I went with it.

Here is the plan RideMax came up with for Friday, and which I plan to use:

RideMax Touring Plan for Disney World's Magic Kingdom

So, you might be asking yourself, “But what if you weren’t able to get that 7DMT FastPass+ reservation? What would the plan look like in that case?”

Well, since you asked, here is the RideMax plan the software produced when I told RideMax to use FP+ for the Haunted Mansion instead of 7DMT:

RideMax Plan riding Seven Dwarfs Mine Train standby

As you can see, this plan estimates we’d wait 43 minutes longer overall using FP+ for Haunted Mansion and visiting 7DMT using the standby line right at opening time. As I look at this second scenario, the estimates for Astro Orbiter look a bit high to me, but even if the actual combined wait for Astro Orbiter ends up being 15 minutes less than shown on the plan, this second scenario would still involve an extra 30 minutes or so of waiting over the first plan.

The other thing to note about this second scenario is that the 10-minute estimate for 7DMT right at opening time depends on your ability to follow some pretty specific instructions, and to get to the ride right after rope drop. (That note in the plan next to the 7DMT entry to “see tip #1 below” is crucial to the plan’s success.) RideMax subscribers will see various tips like this sprinkled throughout their RideMax plans, and this particular tip is probably the longest and most detailed of any, as you’re trying to stay ahead of a rope-drop crowd that looks like the scene below, with many or even most of the crowd headed to 7DMT:

Magic Kingdom Rope Drop

I guess the moral of this story is that if you can use FP+ for the Mine Train ride, do it, since it can help you avoid this whole rope-drop mess. (And of course the second moral of the story is that RideMax makes plan comparisons like this very simple.)

So, please join me Friday morning for live tweets and Facebook updates as I go along, including pictures of the day as it progresses. And if you want to join me in person, watch for me near the Newsstand outside the Magic Kingdom tunnel just before the rope drop. I’ll be the really tall guy with a large-ish camera hanging around my neck, getting ready to make a beeline to Astro Orbiter as soon as the opening countdown finishes. :-)

Tax Day: RideMax Roulette at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Rope Drop at Magic Kingdom

Similar to last week’s round of RideMax Roulette at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I’ve decided to celebrate tax day, which falls on Wednesday, April 15th, by doing another round of RideMax Roulette, this time at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. If anyone is in the park Wednesday and cares to join me, feel free to look for the really tall guy in the rope drop crowd holding a camera over his head and taking pictures of the crowds (hopefully) behind me. I’ll be making my way to Fantasyland on Wednesday as soon as the park opens.

I’ll be doing another half-day visit, and again, I ran my trusty random number generator to come up with a list of attractions to plug into RideMax. This time, the list doesn’t happen to include any of the big “mountain” rides, but the plan might be suitable for someone with young children who just wants to drop in for the morning.

Here is the randomly-generated attraction list, in alphabetical order:

  • Aladdin’s Magic Carpets
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Dumbo, the Flying Elephant
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Tom Sawyer’s Island
  • Stitch’s Great Escape
  • Swiss Family Treehouse
  • Winnie the Pooh

As far as FP+ selections go, there’s nothing here that would absolutely call for FP+. I first tried using FP+ for Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and Winnie the Pooh, but this close to my visit date Disney’s system didn’t have my needed time selection for ETWB, so I swapped it out for the Teacups. FP+ there isn’t really needed, but the new plan RideMax came up with looks good, at least on paper. (And despite the lack of the more “thrilling” attractions, I know this exercise is good for helping me to “keep RideMax real” for customers. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually visited TSI, for example.)

Here’s a screenshot of the game plan RideMax came up with. Remember, RideMax’s goal is to minimize both waiting and walking time:

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Touring Plan

Like last week, I’ll be posting live updates from the park Wednesday on Facebook and on Twitter.

Follow along there, or if you want some exercise, join me at ETWB right after rope drop, and enjoy tax day in the park!

RideMax Roulette at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tomorrow!

Tiger at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I’m headed to Animal Kingdom tomorrow, April 10th, to test a half-day RideMax plan. You can follow along for live updates from the park:

I’m calling this “RideMax Roulette,” because rather than using a predetermined list of attractions, I decided to plug in a (mostly) random list of shows and attractions into RideMax, then created my half-day plan from there.

I say it was “mostly” random simply because I knew in advance that I wanted to visit both of the trails — Pangani and Maharajah Jungle Trek — and I also wanted to see the Lion King show. (Sorry, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit through the 40-minute-ish Finding Nemo show, and I didn’t want to get soaked on Kali with my DSLR in hand, so I omitted these from the list of possible attractions.)

After adding my three “must-do” attractions to the list, I used a random number generator to come up with five others, and I was left with the following list of eight attractions altogether:

  • Dinosaur (twice)
  • Expedition Everest
  • Festival of the Lion King
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
  • Pangani Forest Exploration Trail
  • TriceraTop Spin

I know this may seem like a pretty wimpy attempt, given that the plan doesn’t include the Safari, but hey, it is what it is. I think it’s also good for me to test RideMax plans that include non-obvious ride selections, as it has sometimes helped me to see and/or fix problems that might come up with various ride choices.

Given this list of attractions, I decided to use FP+ for at least Dinosaur and Expedition Everest. I would normally use the other FP+ for either the Safari or Kali River Rapids, but since neither of these are in my list, I’m using the third FP+ slot for It’s Tough to be a Bug! (Yeah!)

After crunching on this list of attractions, here is what RideMax came up with. Remember, RideMax’s goal is to minimize BOTH waiting AND walking time:

Disney's Animal Kingdom RideMax Plan

Notice the large-ish block of “free time starting just before 9:00am. I think I’m going to use this to go see DiVine near the park entrance.

After creating this plan, I went into Disney’s “My Disney Experience” application and reserved my FP+ time slots to correspond with the times shown in green on the plan. (And yes, I realize that I most likely won’t need those Dinosaur and ITTBAB FP+ tickets that early in the day. If this were a full-day plan, you’d likely see those FP+ slots set up for later in the day.)

I’ll keep you updated on Facebook and Twitter as I progress through the morning. Feel free to comment there or below as I go!

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 – Hyperlapse Video Tour

I expect to post more about Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in a future update, but since the festival just opened yesterday, I thought it would be nice to provide a high-level overview of what’s available this year around the World Showcase. I hope this video gives you a feel for where those food kiosks and topiaries are located in relation to one another.

I also should say that as I shot the video, I tried to pause briefly at each kiosk so you could see the menus, but looking at the video now shows plainly that I didn’t pause long enough. Keep your mouse on the “pause” button if you want to gaze at the menus for more than about a second each, lol:

Note that if you’re using RideMax to plan your visit to Epcot and want to take in the Festival, my advice is take one of two approaches when creating your plan.

The first approach is to simply try creating a plan that begins when the park opens and which closes in the evening, with no scheduled breaks in the plan. This should typically leave you with a large block of “free time” on the plan, which you can use for touring World Showcase, viewing the topiaries, and sampling the food at the various kiosks.

The second approach is to use one of the activities listed in RideMax as “World Showcase, 3 hr Clockwise,” or similar, depending on how much time you want to spend here.

I suggest you experiment with both approaches or play “what if” for a while, until you arrive at plan you’re happy with.

Bon Appetit!

Disneyland and Walt Disney World Spring Break 2015 — Four Tips to Reduce Your Wait

Here we go again — it’s the time of year when people start planning that spring break trip to the theme parks. Whether you plan to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, here are four tips that can help you avoid the crowds and have a successful, fun vacation:

  • Arrive early, well before the park opens for the day
  • Buy your tickets in advance
  • Have a game plan
  • Choose the “right” park for your visit date

Let’s elaborate on these in more detail.

Tip #1: Arrive Early, Before the Park Opens for the Day

When visiting Disney’s theme parks during crowded seasons of the year especially, it’s important to be at the front gates well before the park opens for the day.

Consider the two pictures below, taken a couple of years ago at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-8f7jvBt/0/X2/i-8f7jvBt-X2.jpg

Now, compare this to following picture taken two hours later:

Magic Kingdom Spring Break -- Mid-morning

Arriving early gives you access to the shorter lines right after the park opens, as you can imagine. But another huge advantage of arriving early is that it helps you get the most out of the FastPass-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World, and the FastPass (FP) system at Disneyland.

At Walt Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use (with no paper FPs in use at all anymore), arriving early allows you to use your FP+ reservations earlier in the day, opening up the possibility of obtaining more FP+ slots once you’ve used your first three.

At Disneyland, arriving early is even more critical for efficient FastPass (FP) use. For those who aren’t aware, after you obtain your first FP ticket, you can’t obtain another one until either two hours have elapsed, or until the “ride window” for that first FP ticket has arrived, whichever comes first. Early in the day, those FP windows can be as close as 40 minutes away from the time at which you obtained the FP ticket, allowing you to get your next FP ticket 40 minutes after the first. Contrast this with later in the day, when the return windows for some of the more popular attractions can stretch out to several hours away instead, forcing you to wait the full two hours before you can get your next FP ticket.

The other significant thing to note about the Disneyland FP tickets is that they can “sell out” by midday for some rides (depending on crowd levels), so arriving early helps you to not get “locked out” entirely from getting FPs for certain attractions.

Tip #2: Buy Your Tickets In Advance

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World especially, it’s critical that you buy your tickets well in advance of your trip.

Disney allows you to make your FP+ reservations 60 days in advance if you’re staying onsite in a Disney hotel, and 30 days in advance if you’re staying offsite. And FP+ reservations for popular attractions and time slots can sell out very early, so it’s important to secure those FP+ reservations as far in advance of your trip as you can.

The catch here is that you have to have your actual tickets in hand before you can make those FP+ reservations. Once you have your ticket numbers, you can create an account on Walt Disney World’s My Disney Experience website and “link” these tickets to your account. Once that’s done, you can make your actual FP+ reservations.

Note that if you’re using RideMax to create and optimize your itineraries, the RideMax plan will tell you when it thinks it’s best to actually use those FP+ tickets. So the idea is that once you have your RideMax plans created, you then go into My Disney Experience and adjust your FP+ reservations to match the times shown on your RideMax plans.

The point is that the earlier you make your FP+ reservations, the more likely it is that you can get the time slots you want (or which your RideMax plan specifies). So buying your tickets in advance is critical.

For Disneyland visitors, the same “buy tickets early” advice applies, but it’s not nearly as important as it is for WDW guests. If you buy your Disneyland tickets in advance, it can save you some hassle the first morning of your visit, since you won’t have to wait in line at one of the ticket counters. You can also get access to one of Disneyland’s Magic Morning hours if you’re purchasing a 3-day or higher ticket online. This in itself can be a huge advantage if you wish to take advantage of Magic Morning.

Tip #3: Have a Basic Game Plan

OK, you probably figured this was coming, since I earn my living from the RideMax planning tool. But even if the detailed planning that RideMax allows isn’t quite your thing, you’ll still benefit greatly by mapping out at least a partial game plan in advance of your trip. Give at least give some thought to which attractions you want to start your day with, and then go from there.

Visiting your attractions in an efficient order can literally make or break your day, especially when the park is crowded, so I’d advise spending at least a few minutes before your trip thinking this through. This will help keep you from wandering around the park with your head buried in the park map trying to figure this out on the fly later.

Tip #4: Choose the “Right” Park for Your Visit Date

Radiator Springs Racers

In addition to arriving early, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you choose the “right” park for your visit date.

The example photo above shows absolutely nobody in front of me as I made my way to Radiator Springs Racers. The catch is that for most guests, this is only possible on certain days of the week.

The reason for this is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some an “early entry” program for their hotel guests, which gives these guests access to one of the parks one hour early on specific days of the week. For example, Disney hotel guests are normally allowed early entry to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

If you’re not staying at a Disney-owned hotel and still want to get a jump on the crowds by arriving early, the best way to do this is to simply avoid the park hosting early entry on the day of you visit, and go to another park instead. For example, the picture above was taken on a Tuesday, when Disneyland, and NOT DCA, was hosting early entry. Had I gone straight to Radiator Springs Racers when the park opened to the public on a Monday instead, I would have found a large line for this attraction right at opening time. (And do yourself a favor and steer clear of Peter Pan on an early entry day at Disneyland, unless you have early access yourself!)

You’ll see a similar scene play out at Walt Disney World, which normally hosts “Extra Magic Hours” at one of its theme parks each morning as well. (Walt Disney World RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Walt Disney World website for the early entry schedule also.)

So, do yourself a favor this spring break and avoid the crowds by arriving early, buying your tickets in advance, having a game plan, and choosing the right park for your visit date. I think you’ll be glad you did!

Are you planning a spring break visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear your comments below!