Reader Question Round-Up: Crowd Calendar, Crowds, Best Times to Visit, and…Oh…Jedi Training

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Welcome back to our semi-regular feature answering reader questions! Here’s a link to last week’s article if you’re feeling sentimental.

It must be something in the air, because there were many questions about crowds this week. Maybe it’s because we’re coming into the very busiest week of the year at the parks. Or maybe you’re looking forward to Spring Break…. I don’t know, but let’s jump in:

“K.” writes about changes to the crowd calendar for her chosen dates (edited for length):

We’re planning a trip to DW …. But a week or so ago, the crowd calendars went up from 4′s and 5′s during our stay to 7′s and 8′s – which is almost as hefty as spring break!

I’m starting to panic about whether or not we need to study harder on the touring plans.  We used them very successfully when we went in 2009 during spring break – and we certainly can use them again.  …. I know a 7 isn’t a 9, but having never been there in January, I can only imagine that it’s not nearly as wonderful as the 2′s and 3′s I’m seeing for early February.

Do you have any tips for late January traveling that would reassure me that we have, indeed, chosen the right time of year to go?  Or are the crowd levels just going to keep rising as we get closer to the dates of travel?

There’s a lot to take in here! One thing to remember is that our crowd levels are based on a distribution model as opposed to absolute values. An “8″ isn’t twice a crowded as a “4″ on our scale. Our Master Statistician, Fred, tackled this subject and others in a blog post in October. It’s a lot to read, but incredibly valuable for understanding our rankings.

Reader, you’re on the right track – arrive early, follow a touring plan. The truth is, there are no more super slow times. Ask the folks who were at Reunion last week who had attended Mousefest in the past how early December crowds have increased in the last few years. Disney wants to fill rooms and they will use special events, promos (free dining, anyone?) and anything else they can think of to do it. It’s just good business for them and it works.

How about the rest of you guys? Any words of assurance for “K?”

“S” and “J” are remarkably simpatico this week:

How are crowd levels changing year-to-year?  Is Disney packing in more guests over time?  Can you really “see” what’s happening in the economy at large when you look at crowds?  Or are overall crowd levels mostly flat over time?  Disneyland is my park, but I’m interested in the World as well.

and…

Why do crowd levels change more at WDW than at DL? Is it because DL attracts more locals and isn’t prone to wild fluctuations due to holidays, “free” dining, etc?

Crowd levels are going up. No question. Disney doesn’t report its attendance but we have wait times that show this. We believe the increases have been in the single digits of percentage in recent years. As for Disney and the economy, the Mouse has been more resistant to hard times than many other types of entertainment, but despite everything Bob Iger has said in the past, the discounts are still coming regularly. One interesting thing to note is that families are planning their vacation far less in advance than they used to. Like 4-6 weeks out. This makes it very hard for Disney to predict its staffing needs and nail down park hours (which makes predicting crowds none too easy either). Also, as a result of the economy, families are spending less money in the parks while they are here. Just looking at the median cost of a souvenir over the past few years shows how the merchandise department is reacting to this. There are far fewer expensive (yeah, we know that’s relative) souvenirs in the shops and more cheaper items that you can buy with less guilt.

The answer to the second question is easier: Yes.

Planners, how has the economy affected your Disney vacationing style?

And, finally, a question that isn’t about the Crowd Calendar:

How should I tweak my Easter week touring plan for Hollywood Studios to accommodate a Jedi Trainee?  We have enough adults in our party so one group can get Toy Story Mania FPs while another group signs up our two rebel spies to participate in the Jedi Training Academy show.  But then what?  Do you have any tips (other than repeated texting) for making sure that the assigned show time and FP time don’t conflict?  Also, since we will probably want to start out the day on the left side of the park because of the show, and all the touring plans start on the right, which left-side attractions are most important to squeeze in during the morning?

Padawan, resist the force of the FASTPASS. If it conflicts with your assigned Jedi time, go to TSM later than the window. The cast member won’t make you choose between Jedi Training and 3D virtual gaming like a showdown between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. (Yes, I do know the “light” side of the Force is simply “the Force.” Put down your light sabers, kids.)

Any parents out there have advice for our family on Jedi Training now that it is by sign-up and not randomly picked from the crowd?

That’s it for this week. Keep your questions coming to advice@touringplans.com. The question that entertains me the most between now and the next column gets a free 3 month subscription or extension to Walt Disney World AND Disneyland.

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Posted on December 14, 2011

8 Responses to “Reader Question Round-Up: Crowd Calendar, Crowds, Best Times to Visit, and…Oh…Jedi Training”

  • Just got back from the week after Thanksgiving and we asked about the Jedi Training Academy. We had planned to go on our last day and do our best to sign up. The guy at the check-in post said to be there as soon as the gates open and go straight to the line at the sign-in spot. He said all shows are usually filled by the time the park opens.

    Sadly, both kids got sick the night before our last day and we never got to see if his advice worked. I did notice passing by the show a couple times throughout the week that there weren’t as many people watching the show as I have seen in the past.

  • Fascinating! I can’t explain why, but I love reading (and listening to podcasts) about this stuff. Thanks!

  • For Jedi, getting there first in line means getting the first show. Interferes less with the rest of the plan. However, if you want an early show, don’t take a stroller (or wheelchair) with you in the dash from the gate to the signup. The dash wasn’t horrible on foot but maneuvering the wheelchair in the crowd we got further and further behind.

    For us the hardest part of DHS was fitting in all the shows. So we planned Jedi and TSM on a different day from the rest of DHS. Then we headed out for our second AK day. Didn’t work out because of the wheelchair and getting a later show. But I think the plan was sound and I would do it again. Of course, it helps that we stayed on the Boardwalk and could walk to the Studios.

  • We arrived at like 11:55 yesterday and there was one spot left for Jedi Training – at 8pm. Otherwise you could do standby – in case people didn’t turn up.

    Once you have your slot, you are told to arrived 30 minutes early for the show. Doing so will mean that your Jedi Training will likely eat up more than an hour of your day, as you will have walk to and from the Jedi Training to your previous destinations.

    In fact ‘compliance’ is at T-10 minutes. Miss this and you are getting turfed out. You are wasting your time arriving 30 minutes early though, you just sit on the carpet in the Sounds Dangerous lobby area, with no kind of entertainment until T-10 when they walk you over to the Jedi area. I would be there no later than 15 minutes early.

    We had no idea about the training when we got to the Studios, I guess we got lucky….

    • Thanks guys! I was wondering what the return time rules were. And we won’t have any strollers or wheelchairs, but the previous response confirms that the grandparents should split off and we’ll all just meet up after the opening stampede. Now the challenge just becomes fitting it in on a day with a 8+ predicted crowd. (had to get a crowd calendar reference in there)

      • the prospective Jedi must attend both the sign-up and be present at check-in. So you will need the child plus an adult to do this. A park ticket is not required. Any other adults can head off to obtain TSM FPs.

  • Followup to (my) Jedi question:
    With the help of the information posted here, we headed off to Hollywood Studios during Easter / Spring Break week, crowd level about 8.2, ready to do battle with Darth Vader. I had already printed out the show schedule for the week (http://wdwent.com/) and had made a cheat sheet: if second Jedi show, and including 30 min before show for check-in, then TSM FPs times would need to be before or after whatever times.

    We didn’t quite make it to rope drop (the park opened at 8am!) but I was gathering up everyone’s tickets at 8:10. We split up with one group going to the Jedi signup at Sounds Dangerous and I headed to Toy Story Mania, cell phone in hand, ready to find out what FP times I could collect without a conflict. Biggest surprise? Jedi times cycle faster than TSM FP times. I had expected that we would get assigned to the second or third Jedi show of the day. Nope. Fifth, at 12:40! And this was with double-sized Jedi groups (one group battling Darth Maul). Meanwhile, TSM FPs return times were only at 10:25. Since neither the Jedi signup or the TSM FP had collected much of a line — people were being processed at about the same rate as they were walking up — I suspect that the park had unofficially opened a bit earlier than posted. If any of you are interested in being in the Jedi show, definitely arrive at opening and make the show signup your first stop!

    As to our touring plan for the rest of the day, we only had one family member interested in Rockin’ Roller Coaster (single rider line!) and had decided to skip the Tower this trip, so we proceeded to Star Tours (standby 5 min.; TSM was already posted at 40 min.) and road twice. I don’t normally like motion simulators, but even the grandparents liked this ride. We fit in Little Mermaid before heading to the first Indiana Jones show. We could have arrived later for the show and have still gotten good seats. We got to TSM near the end of our FP window; grabbed a quick, early (no lines) lunch; and reported for Jedi training at 12:10. Note that there is a bathroom right next to Sounds Dangerous (one show participant, not ours, needed to run off just before the show started).

    So that was our family’s experience with the Jedi Training Academy. Download show schedules in advance so you can make plans for fitting it all in; sign up for the show first thing; and send an extra adult for FPs.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and with such detail! This helped me plan our family’s fight against the dark side in June.

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