I’ve never participated in the running of the bulls in Spain, nor rung in the New Year in New York’s Times Square, because I don’t need to: I’ve been engulfed by the Christmas week crowd in Orlando’s theme parks. In the spirit of “taking one for the team,” I took on the challenge of visiting Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure on two of the busiest days of the year — Christmas Eve (December 24, 2013) and the Friday after Christmas (December 27, 2013) — to give you idea of what guests face during 8 to 10 days on our crowd index.
We maintain our Crowd Calendar to help you avoid days like these, and Tourimg Plans to help you navigate should you be meshuggenah enough to ignore the following photos. These Islands of Adventure Christmas week crowd photos should also serve as great advertisement for the unlimited Universal Express access included with an on-site hotel room. And remember, these mob scenes are just a hint of hordes certain to swarm when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley opens at Universal Studios Florida next summer.
Christmas Eve (12/24/2013)
We’ll start with my mid-afternoon stroll around Islands of Adventure on Christmas Eve:
Wait times are substantial with Forbidden Journey posted at 100 minutes.
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Today we’re launching a new version of our Disney World Crowd Calendar.
The new Crowd Calendar is still based on attraction wait times and still uses a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 means small crowds and 10 means large crowds.
Most of the changes are behind the scenes to improve the accuracy of our analysis of past crowds and of future crowd level predictions.
The changes you’ll see will make the calendar easier to use and understand:
- Each park’s crowd level on the same page. You’ll see the crowd levels for all of Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all on the same page, along with each park’s schedule and Extra Magic Hours. We’ve reduced the number of clicks needed to find information.
- Explanations of how holidays and special events affect crowds. We’ve always listed important special events and holidays on the crowd calendar and now we’ve added descriptions of how they affect the parks. You can see those descriptions on our Crowd Levels page.
- More 4′s, 5′s, and 6′s; Fewer 1′s and 10′s. The previous crowd calendar took all the days in our database and assigned a crowd level of 1 to the least-busy 10%, a crowd level of 2 to the next-slowest 10%, 3 to the next-slowest 10%, and so on. The busiest 10% got a crowd level of 10. This relative ranking idea is great for comparing days, but it means that minor bumps in waits sometimes meant big jumps in crowd levels. For example, the difference between a crowd level of 2 and a 9 at The Barnstormer was about 10 minutes in line. Instead, with the new calendar, a minor bump in wait times will mean a minor bump in the crowd level too.
- No decimal points. Based on reader feedback, the calendar now uses only whole numbers. Thus, you’ll see Magic Kingdom crowd level predictions of 1, 5, or 7, but not 1.4, 5.3 or 7.8. It’s simpler and easier to read.
- No “7-Day Rule.” Since the very first crowd calendar, we’ve always tried to recommend each park at least one day per week, so that families visiting during that week would know the best day to visit each park. Unfortunately, there were times where special events and holidays forced us to recommend a park when it wasn’t the best day for everyone. Feedback from readers showed that some folks found the 7-day rule more confusing than helpful, so we designed a new calendar that doesn’t require it.
- An attraction’s average posted wait between 10 am and 5 pm now corresponds to its crowd level. The old crowd calendar used the attraction’s highest wait time at any point in the day. Using the average wait time during the busiest hours of the day will tend to smooth out the ups and downs to give a fairer look at crowds at that attraction throughout the day.
- “Best Park” and “Park to Avoid” labels are not needed. It’s easy to see which park to pick, so the labels aren’t needed. The best park to visit on any one day is the park with lowest crowd level number. Avoid the park with the highest crowd level number. Our Park Recommendations page has been updated to help you decide which park to visit using the new calendar.
One happy side effect of these new changes is that the new Crowd Calendar’s predicted crowd levels don’t change as often as the old calendar’s. Thus, if you’re using our popular Crowd Tracker tool to keep an eye on crowds for your vacation dates, you’ll receive far fewer emails.
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