Our Walt Disney World wait time analysis shows that waits are up in the last 8 to 12 months compared to what have seen historically during the same time period. Until recently, we didn’t exactly know why. Take a look at this graph – but it takes some explaining to interpret.
When you hold all factors constant, you see the true trend in Walt Disney World Wait times.
In data analysis we attempt to explain the ups and downs of a variable we are interested in by looking at all the other factors that can affect the variable. Sometimes it can be helpful to isolate one of the variables to see how it (and only it) contributes to the ups and downs. But isolating a factor is difficult because the factors all interact with each other. One can not isolate the ups and downs of wait times that are due to the day of the week without also accounting for days with bad weather, for example.
Anyway, our modelling of wait times at Disney parks allows us to do this – it is called a partial dependence plot. We plot the impact of a particular factor while controlling for all the other factors. When we do this using DATE as the isolated factor what we get is a picture of the unexplained noise in the data that relates only to the date that we collected the wait times. In other words, isolating DATE gets us a picture of the long term trend of wait times.
In normal circumstances, we would expect to see something close to a flat line. According to the graph, we see wait times going up in the last few years across all four parks but especially at Magic Kingdom. So, we asked around. Turns out that Magic Kingdom implemented a hiring freeze in September 2016. That could be an explanation for the spike that we see at the end of the Magic Kingdom trend. Less staff means lower attraction capacity and higher wait times. I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar hiring freeze took place at the other parks as well.
Remember, this is not a plot of the trend of average wait times, this is a plot of the trend of wait times when you hold all important factors constant. So, the trend we see can’t be due to new attractions, good weather, extended park hours, changes in school schedules or a strong economy. We also know that attendance is relatively flat since 2015 so it can’t be that. When we do the same analysis at Universal Orlando Resort we don’t see the same trend. So, it must be something operational at the Disney parks and understaffing seems like the most plausible explanation.
Note: This analysis is for information purposes only, it is not meant to be conclusive, just some observations from the data.
When looking at April Crowds at Walt Disney World it all starts with Easter. This year Easter Sunday falls on April 16. Historically, Sunday is not the busiest day of the Easter season although you can expect to see very large crowds every day around the holiday. The Christmas peak season that we see every year happens between December 27 and January 1, a few days after the holiday itself. For Easter, the busiest days at the Disney World parks happen before the holiday. Guests of the Disney parks can expect to see peak Easter crowds on the Tuesday through Thursday before Easter (April 11 – April 13).
Easter is very busy but not as extreme as Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Easter is not the only date of interest on the April calendar. In fact, April is chock-full of special events. Here is a breakdown of what’s happening in April and how it might impact crowds in the parks.
Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot
Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival continues throughout all of April. Guests can expect the parks to be extra busy on weekends, especially in the afternoon. The festival includes temporary food kiosks all around the park which bring in curious locals who come for the food but don’t ride the rides. This is why you might see very crowded parks with manageable wait times at the attractions. Avoid weekends unless you have no choice or if you are visiting for a specific concert.
Grad Nights are back but now they are at Typhoon Lagoon. We don’t think those grads will spill over to the other parks in great numbers but beware if they do. There may be a premium on arriving early at the parks on days around Grad Nights – they tend to sleep in.
The Disney World Crowd Calendar is predicting very busy parks during the second week of April (April 10 – April 17). Two-thirds of the largest school districts are off at least one day that week and that means large crowds at Disney World. The good news is that park hours are extended to accommodate the influx of guests so the savvy planner can take advantage and arrive as early as possible. Do that and you will be ahead of the game. After the Easter break, 95% of school districts are back in class so we expect to see the parks return to moderate crowd levels fairly quickly after Easter Monday.
2017 has been crowded but especially the last three weeks!
The last update to the Disneyland Crowd Calendar was March 16, 2017 and we published a blog article about the changes, which you can read here. We mentioned that there were some signs that Disneyland crowds were beginning to return to normal but after a few weeks of observing crowds, that does not appear to be the case. In fact, it may even be getting worse.
So, we need to adjust the crowd levels to reflect the new reality for crowds at Disneyland Resort. That means we have to shift down the 1 to 10 scale to have more days in the middle and fewer days at the top. What it means for you is that you may see some changes to the crowd levels for your travel dates. What used to be ‘6’s and ‘7’s may now be ‘4’s and ‘5’s. What used to be ‘9’s and ’10’s will now be ‘7’s and ‘8’s. The good news is that your touring plans probably won’t change that much. The scale we use for the crowd calendar is based on what we have observed at Disney parks for the previous 6 months. Usually, we do not see a big change. This year is different.
Why is it different? That is the big question. There are no economic factors that indicate travel is trending up. In fact, there is evidence that international travel has dropped significantly. Disneyland Resort continues to offer a juicy buy-one-get-three ticket promotion which is likely a factor but that doesn’t explain the ridiculous crowds at a time of year that should be moderate to busy. Operational cut-backs are likely a large factor as well. Whenever park operations are understaffed, wait times go up.
We monitor the wait times at every Disneyland Resort attraction daily. Check the blog in a few weeks to see if the trend has continued. As for planning your trip to Disneyland Resort, a touring plan is your best friend! It will work wonders to save you time in line, no matter how crowded it is.
The weather in Southern California is wreaking havoc on crowd patterns at Disneyland Resort. Rain has been so heavy in the first quarter of 2017 that the parks have closed early on some days. The effect on crowds is significant because is reduces the crowds on the poor weather days but creates a big, disproportionate bounce-back effect when the sun comes out. So, it is time to update the Disneyland Crowd Calendar.
Hidden under all the volatility due to weather is an overall increase in wait times. The increase has been evident in recent months, especially at Disneyland Park.
The first 50 days of 2017 are unique in the history of Disneyland Crowds
Here is a look at the first 50 days of 2017 compared to what we usually see at Disneyland Resort. Wait times are significantly up but only on certain days. Overall the volatility (range of average daily wait times) is way up too. There are some recent signs that the crowds are returning to normal so we will be watching closely. In the meantime, these latest trends necessitate an update.
What Leads to Updates in the Disneyland Crowd Calendar?
Our crowd calendar models look at hundreds of factors when considering how busy Disneyland Resort will be on any day. Some factors are based on how the economy is doing – things like the U.S. unemployment rate, the Consumer Price Index, and so on. Other factors track the operating schedule. Of those, here’s a list of the things that change often and tend to influence the crowd calendar numbers:
Pandora: The World of Avatar opens May 27, 2017 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We don’t know all the details yet, but our experience tells us some basic things about how crowds will interact with Animal Kingdom after the new land opens. Since we hear that pictures are better than words, Brian put together a video to explain. If you would like to see more things like this, please give us some suggestions in the comments. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss anything!
Pandora: The World of Avatar opens officially at Animal Kingdom on May 27, 2017 and crowds will flock to the park to take in the new attractions. Expect to wait 200 minutes or more to experience the new attractions during the first week of operation. We also expect wait times at other Animal Kingdom attractions to increase 15% when the new Pandora attractions open, and we expect that increase to last throughout most of the summer.
The last major addition to a Disney Park was New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. The expansion ended with the opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on May 28, 2014, two days after Memorial Day. Wait times at Magic Kingdom rose dramatically after the headliner opened, not just at nearby Fantasyland attractions but across the park. Animal Kingdom doesn’t draw the same crowds that Magic Kingdom does, and Pandora likely won’t have the same draw that New Fantasyland did, but it is reasonable to expect a significant bump in attendance. The new Pandora attractions will see extreme wait times throughout the summer, but we expect rides like Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris to see wait times go up, as well.
As a result, we are updating the Crowd Calendar to reflect the announcement of Pandora’s official opening date. In addition, we are making a few minor updates to other dates and parks in line with our most recent analysis.
Other New Developments That May Affect Crowds
Disney announced an increase to Walt Disney World ticket prices, with costs going up as much as 10% for certain multi-day tickets. A price increase can lead to a small dip in attendance, either through shorter or fewer trips. What we don’t yet know is how much this price increase will affect crowds, given the opening of Pandora and other developments.
We expect Disney’s Hollywood Studios to drop its evening Extra Magic Hours program. We also expect the Animal Kingdom to add evening Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Kingdom not to replace its evening parade (at least with anything new or notable) for the next few months. The net effect of those changes should be to push evening crowds to the Animal Kingdom. We’ve never seen this situation before, though, and we don’t know how much the price increase in park hopper tickets will discourage people from visiting a second park per day.
Is Pandora Animal Kingdom’s New Fantasyland?
It may take our models up to 30 days to recognize the impact of these changes. We’ll adjust each park’s crowd predictions based on that and post something to the blog explaining the changes as we get them.
What’s Behind These Crowd Calendar Updates
Here is a brief description of what you will see on the latest crowd calendar. As always, the crowd levels are subject to change as they are based on the information available to us at the time we make the predictions. We always encourage you use a touring plan as the best defense against any size crowd – they work, so use ’em!
The rest of February will see some minor changes that reflect dips in wait times we have seen in late January and early February, mostly at Hollywood Studios. The calendar is currently not predicting a large boost in wait times at Animal Kingdom when Rivers of Light begins regular performances but that may have to be revised once we see what happens after February 17. Unless you are visiting specifically to see the show, try to avoid that park, especially in the evening.
I’m preparing for a talk with UCF data science students later this month on the statistical and machine learning tools we use for our Disney World wait time predictions.
After covering the basics – how we collect wait times, the hundreds of things we consider (everything from Extra Magic Hours to public school holidays, to the state of Brazil’s economy six months ago) – I wanted to say a little about how to handle the situation where you know in advance that Disney’s posted wait times will be wrong.
I’m comparing Buzz Lightyear’s actual wait times and posted wait times using the graph below. If the time you actually spent in line was exactly the posted wait time, every red dot shown below would fall on the black diagonal line.
As you can see, the red dots do not all fall on the diagonal. Some aren’t even close. The dot in the lower right that I highlighted is an example of someone waiting 5 minutes to ride Buzz Lightyear when the posted wait time said they’d wait 70 minutes.
The other dot I highlighted, in the upper left, represents someone actually waiting 65 minutes when the posted wait said they’d be there for 30 minutes.
The average difference between the actual wait time and the posted wait time at Buzz Lightyear is around 40% – roughly 8 minutes, plus or minus – out of 20 minutes (the average posted wait at Buzz). But as you can see, it varies. A lot.
Back in June and July, we mentioned that there will be tweaks to the Crowd Calendar in 2017. The changes are minor and are intended to better differentiate the crowd levels on different days. Looking back at the 2016 data, the crowd levels were skewed. We want the distribution to be a “normal” or bell-shaped curve. Having half the days in a year a 8, 9, or 10, is not good. We are not re-writing history; we are re-defining what the crowd levels mean. For example, an average wait time of 100 minutes at Space Mountain was a “10,” but with the 2017 adjustment it will be an “8.” It will now take an average wait time at Space Mountain to be above 127 minutes to be considered a 10. Wait times have increased, so an adjustment is needed.
Another New Year is arriving and while the champagne is chilling let’s take our annual look at the crowds in 2016 and what to expect in 2017. Here is last year’s post. 2016 was a year with highly variable crowds at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios while Magic Kingdom and Epcot remained predictable. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom saw the most significant changes take place in 2016. The Studios saw many of its attractions affected by the construction of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land while its most popular attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania increased its capacity per hour by 50%. Animal Kingdom saw major construction as well for Pandora and the park saw closing hours after sunset for the first time in the parks history.
Walt Disney World Crowds Since 2011
In 2016, for only the second time since 2005, Christmas fell on a Sunday. This led us to suggest that Christmas crowds in 2016 might be the lowest in recent memory since school boards spread their scheduled holidays over more weeks than usual. That seems to be coming true as we have yet to see any park reach capacity during this year’s holiday rush. It is very likely that Magic Kingdom will end that streak on New Year’s Eve but in most years we see many park closings due to capacity before December 31st.
Thanksgiving crowds in 2016 were similar to what we see most years and the rest of the fall continued the pattern of larger crowds than what we have seen before 2015. Summer was busy but had pockets of lower than usual crowds. May ended up being a good time to visit, partially due to the lack of Star Wars Weekends at Disney Hollywood Studios. The period between mid-March and Easter week saw some of the largest crowds we have ever seen during that period. Presidents Week was busy as usual and January was similar to what we saw in 2015.
If the crowd levels have changed for your travel dates, don’t panic. A touring plan is still, by far, your best defence against a crowded Universal park. Follow it and you won’t notice a difference between a crowd level ‘5’ and a crowd level ‘8’. If you want to be notified when a crowd level has changed, check out the Crowd Tracker. For a description of how we come up with the numbers, see our Crowd Levels page.
Here is a quick look at how this new update affects the crowd level predictions over the past twelve months.