Get­ting the most out of the Magic King­dom

A tour­ing plan helps you max­i­mize your time with Mickey

Edmonton Journal - - TRAVEL - ROGER COL­LIER

Fred Hazel­ton wants you to de­feat Evil Em­peror Zurg, arch-neme­sis of Buzz Lightyear.

But he doesn’t want you to stand in line for hours, roast­ing in the Florida sun, wait­ing for the bat­tle to be­gin. He wants you to ride Cin­derella’s Golden Carousel, too. But he doesn’t want you to suf­fer a two-hour wait for a twominute spin.

Hazel­ton, who has a math de­gree from the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo, spends much of his time crunch­ing num­bers for Statis­tics Canada. But for 15 hours each week, the 35-yearold statis­ti­cian and fa­ther of two turns his at­ten­tion south­ward, to Or­lando, Fla.

Hazel­ton is the of­fi­cial statis­ti­cian for the Un­of­fi­cial Guide to Walt Dis­ney World, a peren­nial best­seller.

His ex­per­tise: pre­dict­ing crowd lev­els. His mis­sion: help vis­i­tors to the world’s busiest recre­ational re­sort spend more time on their bums, less time on their feet.

“In the case of Dis­ney World,” he says, “the more you see and the less you wait, usu­ally the hap­pier you’re go­ing to be.”

At age four, Hazel­ton vis­ited Dis­ney World for the first time. In 1998, while plan­ning his first visit as an adult, he read an ar­ti­cle about Un­of­fi­cial Guide au­thor Bob Sehlinger, who was looking for a Dis­ney-loving statis­ti­cian. “Well,” Hazel­ton thought. “That’s me.” He con­tacted Sehlinger and was put in touch with Len Testa, an Un­of­fi­cial Guide con­trib­u­tor. Testa, who has a Mickey Mouse tat­too on his right an­kle and co-hosts a thrice-weekly Dis­ney pod­cast, is the brains be­hind a com­puter al­go­rithm that helps peo­ple get around Dis­ney World with min­i­mal de­lays. On a busy day, a Testa tour­ing plan can save you more than four hours of stand­ing in line.

It was a two-hour wait for The Great Movie Ride, in 1994, that mo­ti­vated Testa to be­gin work on his tour­ing-plan soft­ware.

“I thought that there had to be a bet­ter way of do­ing this,” says Testa, a 40-year-old soft­ware de­vel­oper for Amer­i­can Ex­press in Greens­boro, N.C.

The project be­came his mas­ter’s the­sis at North Carolina Agri­cul­tural and Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity. Of course, de­ter­min­ing the best route be­tween mul­ti­ple des­ti­na­tions isn’t a novel pur­suit. It’s a well-known chal­lenge among math­e­ma­ti­cians, who call it the Time De­pen­dent Trav­el­ing Sales­man Prob­lem.

For some or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the pack­age de­liv­ery com­pany FedEx, ef­fi­cient travel is a top pri­or­ity. Testa’s main dif­fi­culty was in­cor­po­rat­ing unique theme park con­straints like hours of op­er­a­tion and at­trac­tion wait times: “Whenyou plan a fam­ily’s day in Dis­ney World, you have to con­sider lunch.”

Testa com­pleted his mas­ter’s in com­puter sci­ence in 2000, and within three years his tour­ing plans were part of the Un­of­fi­cial Guide. But the plans aren’t per­fect. A per­son want­ing to com­plete 21 rides could do it many ways — 51,090,942,171,709,440,000 ways, to be ex­act. The Magic King­dom, Dis­ney’s most pop­u­lar theme park, has nearly 50 at­trac­tions. Eval­u­at­ing all pos­si­ble paths to de­ter­mine the best wouldn’t be prac­ti­cal, no mat­ter how pow­er­ful the com­puter. Testa’s tours — which come in many ver­sions, from a plan for pre­teen girls who don’t like roller-coast­ers to one for se­niors who want to min­i­mize walk­ing — are op­ti­mal to within two per cent.

That was good enough for Ed Waller, a Texas res­i­dent who in 2003 used a tour­ing plan to do what many thought couldn’t be done: visit ev­ery Magic King­dom at­trac­tion in one day.

“I re­mem­ber that day like I re­mem­ber the birth of my daugh­ter,” says Testa. “It was val­i­da­tion.”

Vis­i­tors to the Un­of­fi­cial Guide’s web­site (tour­ing­ can gen­er­ate custom tour­ing plans for any Dis­ney park. Some 20,000 users have cre­ated plans, most of which are free on the web­site. But the soft­ware only works if Testa knows the ap­prox­i­mate wait time at ev­ery at­trac­tion at any time on any day. Get­ting that data re­quires Hazel­ton’s sta­tis­ti­cal know-how. And lots of leg­work.

Testa, Hazel­ton and a team of vol­un­teers spend sev­eral weeks a year col­lect­ing data at Dis­ney World. When in Or­lando, every­one re­peats an as­signed half-hour loop in one theme park un­til it closes, some­times walk­ing nearly 30 kilo­me­tres. Data is recorded in custom note­books that won’t smudge if it rains. (Testa tested them by stand­ing un­der his sprin­kler.)

Once the data is col­lected, Hazel­ton uses it to pre­dict wait times for fu­ture dates, though he must also con­sider many other fac­tors that af­fect crowd sizes, such as the sea­son, spe­cial events, or ex­tended hours. About 80 to 90 per cent of the time, his pre­dic­tions are ac­cu­rate to within eight min­utes. Er­rors usu­ally stem from un­pre­dictable events like a ride break­ing down.

“When we’re wrong, it’s be­cause of some­thing like the weather, which Fred can’t yet con­trol,” says Testa. “But we’re get­ting him to work on that.”


Flowerbeds sur­round Cin­derella Cas­tle in the Magic King­dom at Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort. It is just one of the at­trac­tions de­scribed in Fred Hazel­ton’s Un­of­fi­cial Guide to Walt Dis­ney World.

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