Planning with – Part 1 – The Crowd Calendar

by on May 16, 2011 17 Comments

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Having just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World for the D23 Scavenger Hunt and other activities, I immediately went into my post trip sadness.  Fortunately, there is one way to fix that – plan another trip!  Yes, the best way to get over your post-Disney blues is to begin work on planning another trip, which is what we are here to help you do at 

The way I start planning is by first looking at the Crowd Calendar.  In case you haven’t used it, the Crowd Calendar is based a decade’s worth of wait time data, and ranks the crowds each day based on how they rank in the overall scheme of things.  So, for example, July 15 is a 7 out of 10, meaning it is a

Epcot is a park to avoid on July 15

high, but not too high day for crowds.   The Crowd Calendar is updated weekly by master statistician Fred Hazelton, using wait time data and tons of other information. 

I use the Crowd Calendar mainly to pick where I will go each day on my trip.  For example, on July 15, the calendar says that Epcot is a park to avoid, so I will plan to be in one of the other three parks that day.  If you click on the day in the calendar, it will give individual rankings for each park, which I use to plan out my Advanced Dining Reservations.  Since Disney expanded the window to 6 months out to book dining, I usually will look at the crowd calendar 6 months out from my trip, and plan dining accordingly. 

The great thing about Disney’s system is that you do not have to put a credit card down to guarantee most dining reservations, so you can make the reservations 6 months out, then change or cancel if they don’t fit your plans.  So, I look at the individual parks ratings and pick my dining plans based on that.  By clicking on the day on the calendar, each park’s crowd levels are listed, as well as parade and show times. 

If you’re like me, parades and shows are an important part of your touring schedule.  I made one evening of this last trip all about the evening events at the Magic Kingdom, so I had to plan around that.  By using the crowd levels and the parade/fireworks schedules, I can pick the right place and park to eat.   

Perhaps a late ADR at Chef Mickey's?

For July 15, it looks like Magic Kingdom is a good bet, including Extra Magic Hours until 2 a.m., so I would book a late dinner at one of the monorail resorts, then make it over to the park by 9 p.m. to see the Main Street Electrical Parade, Wishes and Magic, Memories and You.  Then I would have the attractions to myself.   If you want to get super detailed, you can even click on the park itself and see the wait times forecast for that day.  I usually use this a little later in the process.

I use the Crowd Calendar in that way, for long range planning and helping me plan which parks I will be at each day, therefore helping me to make dining and recreation reservations.  Next week, I’ll talk about the next step in my planning process, using the Touring Plans.   

What about you?  How do you use the Crowd Calendar when planning your trips?

Posted on May 16, 2011

17 Responses to “Planning with – Part 1 – The Crowd Calendar”

  • I love the crowd calendar! The only thing to keep in mind is that usually the ‘park to avoid’ is the park that features the nighttime show that day….at least that’s the case for Disney Studios (Fantasmic) or Magic Kingdom (Wishes/MSEP). If you want to do these shows during your trip, review each day that the show/parade is offered and pick the day with the lower traffic. Also, parks with lower crowds might be ranked that way because of shortened hours. For example, if MNSSHP is happening at the Magic Kingdom, the park will close at, say, 7pm, so many people will not go that day. If you stick to the touring plan, you can ride more in those hours than you would on a day with the MK is open til 9pm or 1am. But, keep in mind that your day will end earlier, so take advantage of the nightime activities elsewhere in the World.

    • Glad you like it! It definitely helps to click on the days and look at the individual data. Like you said, the calendar ranks things based on lots of factors, but shows are definitely one of them.

  • This is super helpful… thanks!

  • This is exactly how I planned our upcoming trip. I went to first, checked the crowd calendar (I even built a spreadsheet with the park hours, showtimes, and park rankings so I could see all the numbers in one glance) and then booked my dining 180 days out based on my decisions for each day. What a huge help the crowd calendar has been in helping me plan!

  • I was going to be in Sarasota for my March spring break this year, and I knew I wanted to do a day in Epcot either Wednesday or Thursday of that week. I used the crowd calender to make the final call, and went to Epcot the day that it was the recommended park (Thursday, March 24th). The day was fabulous and felt nothing like the resort-wide 10s (I think Epcot was only an 8 that day). I was able to see everything I wanted to at Epcot, and even had time to pop over to the Studios for a few attractions in the afternoon! Thanks, Fred 🙂

  • I have been using the TouringPlans crowd calendar for years to actually decide when to visit. Once I narrow that down, I check airfares. Oddly enough, the crowd calendar is a fairly reliable predictor of airfares–lower crowd levels equate to lower airfares, from NJ at least. If there is a day or two with higher crowd levels than I am interested in dealing with, those are the days we go to Kennedy Space Center or the beach.

    In true to form nerd fashion, over this past weekend I pulled down the year’s crowd calendar, smacked it into an excel spreadsheet and started running analysis of 5 day periods with the lowest average crowd ratings over a running 5 day average. If anyone cares, the lowest 5 day run has a value of 1.2. The best run of dates for the next 12 months is September 20-28, 2011. Let’s see how that looks again in three months and we’ll see how much my posting this information here skews the data overtime. Oh, and I received a PIN code for that week. How crazy is that?

  • Before my oldest started kindergarten, we used to go to WDW the week after Thanksgiving — usually one of the least crowded weeks of the year. When he started school, we knew it would be a summer visit for us. I checked the crowd calendar and discovered that the week before Labor Day is a good week to visit, crowds-wise. Our school district is one of those holdouts that doesn’t start school until the day after Labor Day, so we found our new week for visiting WDW. I use the crowd calendar every year to plan out which park(s) for which day(s). When we’ve booked the free dining deal, I’ve relied heavily on the crowd calendar before selecting which restaurants for which days. And yeah, I use Excel for my planning too. 🙂

    • More Excel planning. I love it. We also use the calendar to pick weeks to go for summer. Now that our kids are in school, it’s difficult to find good weeks, but using the calendar we can avoid going on the WORST weeks.

  • by Meredith Koeval on May 23, 2011, at 7:23 pm EST

    I study the crowd calendar and per-park calendars on a regular basis. We used it to plan our trip last November and visited EPCOT on a “1” crowd level day. It turned out to be the MOST crowded I have ever seen EPCOT. I found out after we arrived at the park that it was the last weekend of the Food and Wine festival. What could explain such a difference in the ranking for the day and the actual crowdedness. I really want to trust the numbers for our next trip, but I’m a little worried.

    • We are going during F&W Fest. On my crowd tracker for the week we are there, it actually says “NOTE: These estimates only based on wait times. The crowd estimates do NOT factor in the Food & Wine Festival”. The crowd level is estimated at 1.8 the day we are going, but could be more crowded based on attendees to the festival.

      • We’ve been going to F&W since about 2002. My recommendation is to avoid Epcot on the weekends during F&W–period. So, we’ll head down for our usual week, and just avoid Epcot from Friday evening until Monday morning. The rest of the time it is OK, but World Showcase is always more crowded during F&W, even mid-week. This year, too, there are park-by-park crowd calendars. We’ll see if that helps.

    • In general, weekends at Food and Wine can be deceptive. I was there last year on a Saturday, and the World Showcase pavilions and food booths were slammed, but Future World was a ghost town. I got on Soarin’ with a 15 minute wait!

      The other thing is that the Crowd Calendar changes depending on what information Disney releases leading up to festivals and events. I would generally advise to check the calendar around a month out to be sure nothing has changed. Park hours, new special event info and other things can make the numbers change.

      Hopefully that helps. We don’t ever want you to miss park touring time because of a change in plans. I’d also make sure to use Lines if you have a smartphone, as that will give you the most up to date information while you are at Disney.