As we noted on the News page, our crowd level predictions for the second half of April underpredicted crowds by about 1.0 on our 10 point scale. We’re looking at three possible causes:

1) More visitors than usual for this time of year.

2) The effect that shortened Magic Kingdom hours for Grad Nights and Pirates and Princess Parties have on our crowd prediction algorithm.

3) Warmer than usual weather.

We’re looking at hotel occupancy rates to determine whether #1 had any effect. Occupancy was up around 4.6% for all of Orlando for the week of April 20 versus last year, but that alone doesn’t explain the gap. And the effects of weather is easy enough to determine.

The effect of Grad Nights and Pirates and Princess may be more interesting. Two of the things that we use to measure crowd levels are the number of hours the Magic Kingdom is open on a given day and in a given week. For April 2008, the Magic Kingdom was open a total of 371 hours, and closed early ten times (4 grad nights and 6 PnPPs). The Magic Kingdom was open significantly more in past years – 437 hours in April 2007 and 430 hours in April 2006. Granted, Easter was in April in 2007 and 2006, but the extra hours for Easter don’t account for the difference: there were only two Grad Nights in April 2006 and no Pirates and Princess Parties. So for now we’re thinking that the early closings for these hard ticket events caused the crowd prediction algorithm to underpredict the actual crowds. We’re still looking at this.

A couple of other notes:

1) We’re forecasting a 12% crowd increase for Free Dining in late August and September 2008, and the crowd calendar takes that in to account.

2) We’re still not sure of the economy’s effects on summer crowds. As far as we can tell, demand for WDW hotels remains strong. We’re continuing to look at this.

3) We’re going to start providing wait time forecasts for the other parks, using the Magic Kingdom as a guide. That is, we’re going to provide a chart that says a 5 at the Magic Kingdom is equal to X at Epcot, Y at the Studios and Z at the Animal Kingdom. We’re going to need some time to adjust the chart, so consider it “beta” advice for now. Also, we’re only going to use the Magic Kingdom to determine whether the crowd calendar is correct.

Thanks for your patience while we sort through all this.