When Hurricane Irma rolled toward central Florida last year, something very rare transpired – an almost-empty Magic Kingdom. Though we don’t ever hope for a hurricane to hit, it was an odd moment where the resort’s flagship park lacked the wall-to-wall crowds it normally hosts, and it put into stark contrast the difference between what Disney considers acceptable crowd levels and what, in reality, the kingdom can comfortably hold (at least comfortably for the park patrons).
But it’s not like you didn’t already know that. We’ve all zigged and zagged past strollers and crowds or found ourselves herded onto a ferry post-fireworks like cattle to slaughter. The Magic Kingdom is the busiest park in the world and it is going to only get worse when the Tron Lightcycle Power Run opens sometime in 2021. I’ve identified five very problematic areas in the Magic Kingdom that are near their breaking point now, and to alleviate the overcrowding Disney must do something soon. And that something may be rather drastic, and surely will be expensive.
5. Tea Cups to Tomorrowland
The Problem: The pathway connecting Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, between Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and the Tomorrowland Speedway, has two parallel paths separated by trees. From a traffic flow standpoint, the separation leads to efficiency due to the natural tendency of people to walk on the right hand side. However, the space available simply isn’t enough to match the traffic coming in and out of Cosmic Ray’s at meal times, plus the entrance and exit of the Speedway. With the Tron coaster under construction, you can bet crowds will only grow along this route.
The Solution: When the Tron concept art emerged, some in the fan community assumed this meant the end of the Tomorrowland Speedway, but alas, it seems that it’s staying. That smelly and hardly-futuristic attraction should still be bulldozed. Not only would they be able to significantly expand this pathway, but also open up a huge plot of real estate for future development.
The Problem: Perhaps the theming is supposed to make you feel you’re in some sort of crowded marketplace. It sure works well. Maybe too well. With three entry points, Adventureland can be hit on all sides with crowds, but the worst of it is in the direct center and the east side (towards the Hub).
The Solution: The issue with congestion in the center is easy: take out The Flying Carpets of Aladdin. It’s an eyesore to the rest of the theming and eats up a terrible amount of space. It’s not like it’s an opening day attraction, and we’ve already got Dumbo and Astro Orbiter anyway.
The eastern path toward the castle hub calls for a more controversial change. To really open up that area, the Swiss Family Treehouse should be removed and the waterway around it diverted. It’s a beautiful attraction to be sure, but its inaccessibility to some guests along with a lack of general appeal (how many 10 year-olds have seen Swiss Family Robinson?) makes it a regrettable target that, with it’s removal, would open up the land around it.
3. Fantasyland West
The Problem: Possibly the worst bottleneck in all of Walt Disney World, the popularity of both it’s a small world and Peter Pan’s Flight, along with its proximity to the Haunted Mansion, makes this area almost unbearable.
The Solution: Back in 2013, when the Tangled Toilets opened on the old Skyway site, the additional pathway behind Yankee Trader directly to the entrance of the Haunted Mansion alleviated one bottleneck on this side of Fantasyland. But they left the worse bottleneck in place, likely because there’s nothing easy about fixing this problem. You’ve got two very popular attractions with their entrances situated across a narrow path, way too close to each other.
Without removing either of the rides, the only real way to solve the problem is to move or reduce one of the queues. As Pan just recently saw a queue refurbishment, Small World is the more likely of the two and it would be a doozy – gut Pinocchio Village Haus replace it with a new Small World entrance and queue. Instead of turning left as your boat enters the ride, you now go in from the right. The ride itself doesn’t need to even change with this configuration and, once you demolish the old queue, you’re left with much more traveling space. And who would lament the loss of Village Haus?
2. Frontierland / Liberty Square
The Problem: The crescent moon shaped pathway, traveling around the Rivers of America from Big Thunder Mountain all the way to Haunted Mansion, is thick with rides and eateries. Add midday Country Bear dance parties and parades and things get crowded quick. A few spots, such as Liberty Square Market, clog quickly, but major issues stem from Big Thunder dead ending the trail and leaving guests no choice but to double back. Add another influx of people from the train station near Splash Mountain and things can get pretty hairy.
The Solution: While Disney could simply widen out the worst areas, the dead end at Big Thunder is the main issue. The easiest fix is to use a large chunk of space left pretty much abandoned – Tom Sawyer Island. Here again, like the Speedway, is a huge plot of real estate just begging to be redeveloped. By adding two bridges, one connecting at Big Thunder and another at the current Riverboat dock or just north of it, you would create a straight shot from Thunder all the way to the Hub via Liberty Square.
This would mean a complete redo of the island, but it needs it. Level the thing and start over. It can still be an interactive area, but adding the bridges would completely change the island’s traffic flow. Yes, the Liberty Belle Riverboat could no longer run, but it could sit near Liberty Square and make a rather nice resting spot or even a small snack shop. In the process, this eliminates the need for the slow and crowded rafts to access Tom Sawyer Island, meaning the new awesome attraction they build there would be much easier to access.
Although more expensive, if one was intent on keeping the Liberty Belle running: drawbridges. This would slightly reduce the efficiency of travel across the bridges, but not significantly since the riverboat runs only limited hours anyway.
1. Main Street USA
The Problem: The Magic Kingdom’s main thoroughfare was never designed for the capacity and flow that is currently demanded of it. This is the main artery of the entire park it’s can’t handle the crowds, with all the strollers, ECVs, and PhotoPass photographers in the middle of the road. And that’s just mid-morning. Once early afternoon rolls around and people start staking out spots for the parade, you’re basically guaranteed a shoulder-to-shoulder struggle, especially on the sidewalks. And then the nighttime spectaculars jam up the whole thoroughfare, sidewalks, street, and all. From an hour or more before the fireworks, to an hour after, it’s really in your best interest (for safety reasons, as well as your sanity and your ankles) not to make the dangerous trek from the Hub to Town Square.
The Solution: One could suggest a second entrance to the park, but nobody wants a different experience entering Main Street than to see the castle as they come out from under the train station (except maybe those staying at the rumored Volcano Hotel behind Adventureland). So what can be done? The solution is an exhaustive one, involving lots of bulldozers. You’d make the space by pushing back both sides of shops to match the setback of City Hall and Town Square Theater.
It’s a bonkers solution, but it allows you to quadruple the width, and have plenty of room down the middle for PhotoPass and selfies. It also means major overhauls (if not complete demolitions) of The Crystal Palace and Tomorrowland Terrace, not to mention much less backstage space all around, but something’s gotta give somewhere.
None of these solutions fully take into account the architectural and aesthetic demands of the park (but these unfortunately seem to get way more relaxed as time goes on). It is also likely that there are building codes and safety laws that I haven’t addressed, not to mention issues with drainage, wildlife, and other naturally-occurring obstacles. There would be hundreds if not thousands of issues that could come up, but if Walt Disney World continues to grow, then demand for the Magic Kingdom will rise right along with it. No matter what Jedi or Guardian shows up elsewhere, people will always make a day for Walt’s last park and it must meet the demands to come. If Disney doesn’t make plans to accommodate larger crowds at the Magic Kingdom, then the only alternative is to reduce demand by raising prices, blocking out passholders, giving priority access to those staying at Disney hotels, and other such methods. Otherwise the Magic Kingdom will literally burst at the seams.
Read more from Nathan Hartman.