EDITORIAL: Five Fixes for Magic Kingdom (Over) Crowding

PHOTO REPORT: The Magic Kingdom 10/13/17 (Alien Encounter, Passholder Lines, Splash Mountain Closure, Etc.)
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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.

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4. Adventureland

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Final Thoughts

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.

About the author

Nathan Hartman

A sunshine state resident, Nathan is an avid Disney parks wonk as well as a university film professor.

Twitter: @somestuffisaid

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Rich
Guest
Rich

While I cant disagree with the Swiss Family Treehouse being obsolete. Kids still REALLY enjoy Tom Sawyer Island and Speedway. They gotta stay. Aladdin is repetitive and an eyesore but I’m sure Disney needs it for capacity. Same for the Haus….sucks but necessary. I think the best idea for No.1 is to “theme” the spillway alley behind the east side of Main Street. Put up some DHS Streets of America-like facades and no bulldozing necessary. If you want to get crazy the build backdoors to the those shops currently on Main Street and actual shops on east side of the… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

Yes, this! They added that walkway for crowd control when leaving the fireworks, creating a 2nd main street with back doors to the shops, maybe another small street and more shops back there would be great.

Paul C
Guest
Paul C

Rich I agree… Main Street must be dealt with… it’s so bad I think the west side spillway, although more difficult, will also be needed as Disney (and it’s bean counters) have lost their minds with the huge hotel room capacity increase that is coming in just a few years… It’s almost as if they can’t do arithmetic… you think it’s bad now, just wait a year or two… As far as the other “solutions”… as you said, it’ll just create more lines elsewhere… and even if it didn’t, the cost benefit ratio would be less than zero as this… Read more »

Johnny Disney
Guest
Johnny Disney

Good ideas here. Although, a lot of them are a bit too radical. Main Street, for example, has some easy fixes (well, relatively easy). If they were to do like Disneyland Paris’ Main Street and add what they call “Arcades” on the back sides of the shops, they would then have 3 walkways for traffic (down the middle, behind the right side shops where the theater was going to be, and behind the left side shops…moving backstage items here and there). Heck, they could even bring back the Edison Square idea of Walt’s from way back and connect the side… Read more »

Paul C
Guest
Paul C

Always thought that would be a solution to Main Street… the problem is I don’t know if they can move or redirect the logistics that serve those shops and restaurants… I’m sure they could find a way to do it before they would ever consider moving entire blocks of buildings further back…

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

I think you’re bonkers (in a good way), but thinking outside the box sometimes is a good thing. Only one I completely agree with would be Aladdin’s ride. Unfortunately, as we are now seeing within Disneyland, most planters and trees are being removed from the walkways to alleviate bottlenecks. Some new attractions should be placed to the left of the Tron attraction where a bigger path from the Circus can happen. I do think that additional Exit Only areas at the front of the park could be done, especially where people can exit closer to the buses. Disney should expand… Read more »

Hilly
Guest
Hilly

2-5 are actually really great ideas. #1 is obviously insane. But there are certainly a few rides in the park that can and should be removed to add to the space of the park and possibly open up for new development.

Gehrig
Guest
Gehrig

None of this alleviates the main problem, incredible standby wait times. I can handle the bottle necks and the shoulder to shoulder crowds on occasion but not queuing for 90 minutes for a 4 minute attraction. Making foot traffic flow more readily is fine but it does nothing to enhance the ride/attraction experience.

Brad W
Guest
Brad W

The only way to relieve that is to add more attractions or speed up rides to cater to more guests per minute. The more attractions will only relieve the lines if the park cannot hold more guests. Plus, there are very few places left to add new attractions without serious rework of the queues of current attractions or even getting rid of some of the major attractions everyone loves.

Melanie B.
Guest
Melanie B.

Add me to the list of agreeing that Flying Carpets needs to go. The space is needed and it’s a throwaway ride. The “bridges to Tom Sawyer Island” idea is one I hadn’t thought of, and am intrigued by. The chore of having to take the raft over must detour thousands from bothering with it each year. The Riverboat ride is a classic, but would not be missed by that many. I’d miss the treehouse much more than the riverboat.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Thank God you’re not in charge! All of these ideas are terrible because they remove iconic attractions and/or charm.

Progressive Music Lover
Guest
Progressive Music Lover

The one thing that should be implemented immediately, is for Disney to stop allowing various television variety shows to film episodes at the beginning of Main Street. Last year that no talent hack from the United Kingdom was filming an episode of his crummy show on Main Street and the congestion was unbearable. We were trapped in the park until the twerps that were standing in the little space that was remaining finally decided to move along.

Kenny
Guest
Kenny

I think less attractions should never be a solution. Maybe a one for one, like replacing the Speedway with the Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. I get the size concerns, but having just a few attractions didn’t go over to well with many at Hollywood Studios.

Jason
Guest
Jason

In my opinion they just need to make the park bigger and more spread out. You need to push back all the lands and add another layer of stuff.

JP
Guest
JP

I agree with the Tom Sawyer Island and the dead end at BTM. The bridge idea would work but why not some type of draw bridge so the Empress Lilly could still travel through the Rivers of America. I probably only been to Tom Sawyer’s Island twice in 15 years. My kids have never been over there and my oldest is 15. Agree about the speedway it old and obsolete and Aladdin should have never been put there.

AM
Guest
AM

Maybe the answer is to get creative with ticket prices. Go ahead and find the price point that makes sense from a supply, demand and capacity standpoint. MK is no longer enjoyable. It’s too crowded, and if you have not planned your day correctly, you get packed in, long lines and 2-4 attractions. At this point, bring the prices up, or limit attendance in a way that allows for pure enjoyment. Use the proposed variable pricing models to let you choose when you want to go. Price the days and show you how many people are being let in, and… Read more »

Mike Fox
Guest
Mike Fox

Instead of adjusting the Magic Kingdom, I think it’s time for a whole new park! Designed with today’s crowds in mind, and incorporating the latest technology and advancements in storytelling.

Somewhere in Texas? Where would you put it?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I believe removing the treehouse is sufficient and Aladdin could remain. Kids love it and it could be spruced up. Turn Tom Sawyer’s island into a swamp themed to Princess and Frog with some pathways and anamatronics and add the bridges. The voodoo magic would be a nice tie to the Haunted House. Dock the riverboat on the island side and make it a New Orleans themed counter service restaurant. At Main Street, use the path where the now dead theater project was to go as an exit only path which would be more convenient to the buses and cut… Read more »

Rob Herndon
Guest
Rob Herndon

What about simply control access? You need a FastPass to get IN at all…

Fred
Guest
Fred

“And who would lament the loss of Village Haus?” Well, the many hundreds of people who eat at one of the largest quickservice eateries in the MK every day, I’d say. Getting rid of it would be a terrible idea.

And gutting Main Street to move all stores outwards? Um.

DJ
Guest
DJ

Here are my five suggestions to deal with over crowding in general, but mostly at MK: 1. Increase ticket prices across the board by 50%, even more in peak times. Right now, the price is such that too many guests are going through the entrance, and not enough of a profit margin is being made. Disney can make just as much money on half as many people, and it will require less to maintain. 2. Build a 5th gate. Guests will spread out more if there is more to do. 3. Refurb EPCOT. Again, guests will spread out more if… Read more »

Kathleen Chappina
Guest
Kathleen Chappina

As a former WDW entertainer and frequent visitor I agree with alot of what you are saying, back in the day they only let a set amount of people in the park as the realization was that the park would not be safe by the overload, now all bets off and there are many areas ( especially at night fireworks time) on Main St that eventually someone is going to die…this almost happened a couple of years ago ” off season” when paramedics were impeded by crowds and almost didn’t get to the ice cream shop on time ( I… Read more »

Jim
Guest
Jim

While I think the intent is there, the ideas for fixing an over crowded MK are just not good. Get rid of attractions (no matter the capacity) just puts more people in the streets. And the ideas just aren’t feasible and the author is really just throwing darts at a wall. A crazy wall to boot. Why not use the Tomorrowland stage and schedule an actual decent show, not just a dance party, that people would want to see? That’s a huge area of dead space back there. Take the Casey Jr. Water play area and actually make a place… Read more »

Joe Shmo
Guest
Joe Shmo

So your “fixes” consist of getting rid of Speedway, the Carpets, the Village Haus, the Riverboat ride, and make Tom Sawyer Island… not an island. In return, we’d get more space to walk from ride to restaurant to ride, all of which will be more crowded and have longer lines because you’ve removed choices of things to do from the same amount of people. Got it. What drug were you on when you decided this was a plan that improved the experience? And for the people responding positively to this half-baked scheme, learn some basic math and logic skills. We’re… Read more »

Agreed
Guest
Agreed

Ditto. The ideas given here are not good. The only thing I’d recommend is to add a path bridge at the BTMRR’s dead end area to get people to cross back over to the other side of the park (without getting in the way of the riverboat, and some of us do still like the riverboat being able to MOVE, sheesh). And limit capacity – they must have some kind of maximum capacity noted somewhere due to the fact that we’ve seen them close the park to new people entering at certain times (holidays mostly), when they actually “reach capacity.”… Read more »

Jane
Guest
Jane

I agree.

Paul C
Guest
Paul C

BUILD ANOTHER “MAGIC KINGDOM” IMO, they reached critical mass years ago! While I don’t disagree with some of those ideas, most are impractical, expensive and nothing more than a band aid on a hemorrhaging wound… You can’t eliminate long standing popular attractions and the ambiance they give off (Robinson tree house, TS Island, ect…) and still be dealing with the overcrowding in the near future… The one choke point I do think MUST be dealt with is Main Street U.S.A (It’s far too dangerous during the night fireworks to ignore)… To me the only solution is, barring making MK an… Read more »

Scott K
Guest
Scott K

This misses one of the biggest problems of the park, the way too large strollers. Reducing the size of the strollers and maybe not letting kids use them when they are too old to need them. Smaller and less strollers would open up many of the current pathways.

SJames
Guest
SJames

My two cents, they missed an opportunity for building a “5th gate” buy putting Galaxy’s edge at HS. I 100% agree they needed to refurbish HS, but Star Wars is so epic, it could have handled an entire park on it’s own. I like it when DLR and WDW differ slightly in attractions anyway, so having an “outer space” park would have still worked, with its own connecting themed hotel. And you could have brought in guardians and even Pandora for a real trip to other galaxies, almost a nod to lost in space. Then bring in Avengers to HS,… Read more »