Archive for May, 2012

Disney World Park Hours: What To Expect For July

by on May 22, 2012

Here at we spend a lot of time honing our predictions to make our Crowd Calendar the most accurate available. One of the many methods we employ is projecting park hours for all of Disney’s Florida theme parks. You may be wondering why we bother since Disney World publishes its park hours for all to see. Well, Disney does not always make things easy (as outlined here).

The published hours are available for the next six months (currently through December), but they are simply preliminary hours. Disney doesn’t create an operational schedule for its employees that far in advance. Using things like hotel occupancy rates and dining reservations, Disney reviews all hours for a given month approximately two weeks prior to the start of a that month (for instance, July’s adjusted hours should be released on or around June 15) and makes changes to its park hours.

How often are park hours changed about two week before the start of a month? This post will give you idea of what to expect when July hours are adjusted. And the chart below shows what the final park hours were for Walt Disney World in July 2011.

The numbers in red are July 2011 dates that changed when park hours were adjusted in mid-June last year. Yes, there were many changes.

There are a few things you should notice about this chart:

  • As mentioned above, these are the final park hours from last year (I want to make that very clear); final hours for this July (2012) have not yet been released.
  • The opening times for all parks change very, very rarely (once, for the Magic Kingdom, out of 124 park openings in July).
  • Epcot times change very, very rarely (which is why they are not listed).
  • Wishes is performed once per night, and changes in July are very rare.  We’ve not listed Wishes because of this, although Wishes technically is not shown on July 3rd and 4th since a special holiday fireworks take its place.
  • The days that have Extra Magic Hours almost never change.
  • Closing times for the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as the number of performances of the Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasmic!are highly variable at peak times (such as July), which is why there is so much red on that chart.

So the real question is what you should expect for this year. Since we started actively tracking park hour changes, we have noticed that the previous year is quite a good predictor of the upcoming changes. We do make some adjustments for our internal calculations, but the chart above should give you a good idea for planning purposes.

One thing to remember is to compare days of the week rather than numerical dates. For instance, if you are traveling from Sunday, July 8, through Saturday, July 15, 2012 you would look at the second Sunday through the third Saturday from last year (July 10-16, 2011). Please also keep in mind that this chart is one of many references for you to use in planning your trip and is not necessarily the exact operating times.

I hope you find this information useful. I am planning to make this a regular feature as hours are released, so other months are coming. Please let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you would like to see on a regular basis.



We’re Hiring: Disneyland Researcher / Blogger / Social Media Role (4-month assignment)

by on May 22, 2012 is the official Web site of the best-selling Unofficial Guide travel series and the most popular paid subscription Disney theme park-related site on the Web.  The site provides Web- and mobile-based trip planning tools and receives more than 1.3 million unique visitors per year.

We are hiring a Disneyland researcher whose primary responsibility will be to collect posted and actual wait times from various attractions throughout Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.  Secondary responsibilities include blogging about park-related developments and hosting in-park “meet and greet” events for the TouringPlans community.

This is a four-month, hourly assignment with a possibility to convert to a permanent, full-time role in 2013.  During this temporary assignment we expect that you’ll work 40 hours per week.  That includes being in the parks between 25 and 30 hours per week, with the remainder of your time spent blogging, coordinating events or in staff meetings.

Candidates should have:

  • An enthusiasm for Disney’s theme parks
  • Experience with our website (including Lines)
  • An Android mobile phone or iPhone
  • Excellent writing and blogging skills
  • Reliable transportation to the parks
  • Familiarity with online collaboration tools such as Skype
  • The ability to network within the Disney community, both in person and online

Compensation and benefits for this position include:

  • Pay of $12.50 per hour
  • Company-paid meals while you’re in the parks
  • Company-paid Disneyland annual pass
  • A flexible work schedule

Send your resume and best writing samples for this temporary position to with the subject line “Disneyland Researcher.”  In addition to us interviewing you, I’d encourage you to talk to our staff about what it’s like to work for us.

Last Week at Disneyland Resort (5/13/2012 – 5/19/2012)

by on May 21, 2012

Greetings, and welcome to the latest edition of Last Week at Disneyland Resort. The resort is rapidly gearing up for the debut of Buena Vista Street and Carsland in less than a month, so there is plenty of activity all around!

Crowd Calendar

Look for the light May attendance to give way to Memorial Day crowds, which will then stick around most of the summer.

  • Quietest Day: Resort attendance was lowest on May 15 (predicted 3 out of 10, actual 2)
  • Busiest Day: Resort attendance was highest on May 13 (predicted 6 out of 10, actual 8 )

Subscribe to the Disneyland Crowd Calendar for full details on projected attendance for the next 30 days.

Special Events

  • After-hours parties were held on May 14 & 15 for annual passholders to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Fantasmic. Two more parties will be held on May 21 & 22.
  • The sweepstakes for annual passholders to win a preview of Cars Land continues through May 24.
  • Grad Nights were held for high school seniors on the 16-18, and will continue on 23-25 and 30&31.
  • In anticipation of Cars Land’s opening, “faces” have been applied to the monorails at Disneyland Resort. Look for Mandy, Mona, and Manny Monorail circling the beam all summer.
  • A Cars Land walking tour “meet up” was announced on May 16 for readers of the Disney Parks blog. All 33 slots On the May 39 tour were quickly claimed.
  • Annual Passholders, D23, and Club 33 members were also invited to purchase admission to special preview events on June 8 & 9, including VIP World of Color viewing and dinner at the new Carthay Circle.
  • On May 18, Disney gave two days notice of a major price increase for Disneyland Resort admission tickets, effective May 20. Among the notable changes: 6-day park hoppers have been discontinued, and Premiere Passes have jumped an astronomical $100 to $850. Read all the details here.
  • It was announced that Annual Passholders will have the opportunity to attend “early entry” events at both parks this summer (June 18 though September 13). Availability will be limited and advance registration is required.

Openings, Closings, and Refurbishments

Disneyland Park
Disney California Adventure
  • Goofy’s Sky School had a brief refurbishment May 7-17.
  • Construction on Buena Vista Street and Cars Land continues though June 15. Details of new Red Trolley Car-themed merchandise were announced.
  • Pixar’s upcoming film Brave will join the World of Color show in a new segment starting June 15.
  • More details were released about the Mad T Party evening street festival that begins in June.
  • The Cove Bar at Ariel’s Grotto was closed for refurbishment, and is scheduled to reopen this weekend.
Downtown Disney
  • The former home of Island Charter is being converted into the WonderGround Art gallery, to reopen on June 9.
  • The former Compass Books is being turned into an Earl of Sandwich, opening date TBA.
  • The UVA Bar is being renovated and will return in early June.

All photos copyright Disney.

Star Wars Weekends – A Few More Tips

by on May 21, 2012

Last week, I wrote about my experiences from previous Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and told you what to look out for, things you had to see and things you ought be able to skip.  Now that I have attended the first weekend of this annual event, let me go back and fill in the gaps, because this year’s event has some interesting things to offer and new ways to navigate.

Crowds – I said before that if you are in the Studios for only Star Wars events you will face heavy crowds, but if you are touring the regular park attractions you won’t notice the crowds.  That’s been my experience for several years and was definitely that way on Friday, the first day of the event.  That morning I was able to walk on to Rock and Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror with no problems, and use Fastpass to ride Star Tours.  Even the wait at Toy Story Mania on Friday was low, less than 45 minutes in the standby line.

The crowd was this busy 90 minutes before Hyperspace Hoopla on Saturday

Saturday was a different story.  Crowds were so heavy that cars were being turned away from the parking lot and forced to park at Epcot.  Our bus from the Magic Kingdom sat for 25 minutes trying to turn into the Studios gate.  Attraction lines were very long, and waits for Star Wars shows were very long.  If you plan to attend one of the upcoming weekends, I’d advise getting to the park early on Saturdays, and concentrating on only a few things you really want to do.  Crowds were very intense.

Shows – There are really two show locations for Star Wars Weekends, the Premiere Theatre at the end of the Streets of America and the main stage in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat.  As before, I still think the best plan of attack is to look for the shows that interest you and make time for those.  However, I will caveat that by saying that after attending all but one show this past weekend, I must say they are all rather enjoyable.

The Premiere Theatre hosted four shows throughout the day.  The first show runs twice, and is called Legends of the Force, and features stars of the Clone Wars cartoon series talking through how an episode is created, plus a sneak peek at Season 5.  I don’t watch the show, but the actors were very enthusiastic, and made the show a lot of fun.

Crowds to get into the Premiere Theatre shows routinely stretched out onto the Streets of America, but still made it in.

The second show was Stars of the Saga, a talk show style format featuring the weekend’s celebrity guests.  The best part of this show, however, is the cadre of Stormtroopers who invade the first 15 minutes.  This is some of the most hilarious stuff you will ever see, and well worth catching.

The final show I caught was Obi-Wan and Beyond, where voice actor James Arnold Taylor, voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Clone Wars, shows you how a voice actor works and runs through hundreds of voices he has done.  This is one not to be missed.  It’s funny, endearing and uplifting all at once.

I did not catch the final show in the Premiere Theatre, which was a martial arts demo by Ray Park (Darth Maul), because I had to make my way to the main stage for the Hyperspace Hoopla, the last show of the night.  I lined up for a spot for the 8:00 pm show at 6:20.  If you will remember, last week I said you could linepup about an hour ahead of time.  At least on this past Saturday, that was not enough.  Disney will have to rethink things if the crowds keepgrowing, because it was a miserable, hot and uncomfortable experience waiting for the show.  However, seeing the StarWars characters dancing to modern tunes was well worth it.  Just make sure you plan on grabbing your spot at least 90 minutes ahead of time if you want a good view.

Merchandise – As expected the lines for merchandise at Darth’s Mall, located behind Rock and Roller Coaster, were very long in the morning on Friday as fans rushed to get limited edition merchandise.  However, by mid-afternoon they had died down and things were a little calmer.

The hottest items I saw aside from the limited editions were the all new line of clothes from Her Universe, the female clothing line by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano on the Clone Wars.  She debuted hoodies that let women and girls dress up like Ahsoka or Princess Leia along with several other shirts.  Aside from that, the R2D2 buckets with snacks or drinks inside were also big items and caused long lines at the locations that served them.   Over at Tatooine Traders, the all new Droid Factory was the big hot ticket, as kids lined up to build their own droid toys.

Lines for characters in spots like this were long all weekend.

Characters – As expected, there were an abundance of characters in the park, and it seemed as though they were everywhere.  On Saturday, with the record crowds, it definitely appeared as though Disney was putting more characters on the streets outside of assigned locations to bleed off some of the crowds.  But no matter who you wanted to find, from Anakin to Zam Wessell, they were there.  Lines were very long, so if you have a character you want to see, make sure to locate them on the guide map or ask a cast member and get it taken care of early.

So that was my experience at the first Star Wars Weekends of 2012.  Basically, I spent most of my day on Saturday going in and out of the Premiere Theatre and had a very enjoyable afternoon, but I know not everyone will want to do that.  What about you?  Did Ny of you experience thfirst weekend, and what tips would you have?

Wait Time Showdown Meet at Animal Kingdom on Thursday

by on May 21, 2012

Our amazing developer Sarah is coming to town and we decided to have a super fun contest to celebrate! On May 24th, we are challenging you to enter as many posted and actual wait times in Disney World as possible. Then, come to the meet at Animal Kingdom’s Dawa Bar at 5pm and we will tally up your points…posted wait times will be worth 1 point, while actual wait times are worth 3 points.

The prizes include a 2012 ebook version of the Unofficial Guide, as well as Tom Bricker’s ebook Disneyland: Sunrise to Sunrise.

Even if you don’t compete, still stop by the Dawa Bar to say hi to Sarah and other staff and bloggers!

If you plan to join us, RSVP on PlanCast! Hope to see you there!

Top 5 Freebies at Disneyland Resort

by on May 21, 2012

Disneyland Resort is beloved for many reasons, but being a big source of bargains isn’t generally considered one of them. Like the recent Modern Family episode snarked, the Happiest Place on Earth (fairly or not) is synonymous in many TV-watchers’ minds with the “most expensive churros on Earth.”

Sure, most of the Mickey merchandise costs much more in-park than at your local mall, and you can expect a counter service meal to cost about twice what its off-property fast-food equivalent does. But there are actually quite a few freebies to be found around Disneyland, if you only know where to look.

While we can’t teach you how to get in the gates gratis (attempting to catapult from a moving car across I-5 onto the Matterhorn is not recommended), here are a handful of my favorite no-extra-cost niceities available to visitors in the know. Maybe they’ll save you a few cents on snack and souvenirs during your next stop at the resort.


5. Buttons

This is the most commonly-known freebie, but it bears repeating. If you are celebrating your birthday, honeymoon, first visit to Disneyland, or just being an “honorary citizen,” stop inside City Hall and ask for a free commemorative button.

There is an ever-changing selection for any occasion, all available at no cost. If you’re wearing one, you’ll get warm greetings from cast members, and maybe even a “magical” moment or two. Collect them all!

4. Sourdough Bread

When winding through Pacific Wharf at Disney California Adventure on your way past Cars Land, be sure to visit the Boudin Bakery Tour for a savory sample of hearty sourdough bread. The tasting, though small, is mouth-wateringly redolent of the unique yeast the Boudin family have been cultivating for generations.

Ok, the bread making history hosted by Rosie O’Donnell and Ryan Stilles is a bit stilted and silly. But the mechanics of the bakery are mesmerizing, and you get a crusty morsel to munch on while you watch. The tortilla factory that was next door formerly dispensed free samples, and we expect the under-construction Ghirardelli chocolate shop that is replacing it to sweetly sustain that status quo when it opens in June.

3. Coffee Refills

This one isn’t strictly free, because a modest purchase is required, but it’s such a great deal I have to include it. Buy a cup of coffee – regular, decaffinated, or flavor of the day – at the Market House on Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. and hold on to your receipt. Show it at the same location later and you’ll get a free fresh cup of joe!

You can get as many complimentary refills as you want in the same operating day (a real boon to those who attended the Leap Day all-nighter) and you don’t even have to reuse your cup. It doesn’t hurt that the Market House brews the best cup of coffee at Disneyland (I personally prefer it to the ballyhooed but often burnt-tasting Starbucks) and charges under $3 for it.

2. Character Photos

This freebie requires a little advance legwork, but features a valuable potential payoff. As you stroll through Downtown Disney, you’ll notice kiosks offering Disney Visa cards. As long as your credit is solid, stop for a moment and check out their current offers. Often you can get a new card approved on the spot with little more than your drivers license. Make sure the terms you select feature no annual fee; you may also be offered a gift card valid at Disney-owned shops and restaurants.

The card’s high interest rate might make it unattractive for everyday purchases, but it comes with one great built-in bonus feature. Flash it at the private cardholder meet & greet held daily before noon in DCA’s Hollywood Land backlot, and you’ll be escorted to an exclusive encounter with a couple of costumed characters. Better yet, you’ll receive a voucher valid for a free 5×7 Photopass print. It isn’t only valid for the photo from your Visa VIP visit; you can actually redeem it for any image on your Photopass of a Disney character (on-ride photos excluded). Each cardholder is eligible to get one voucher worth about $10 each day; over the course of a vacation, the value can quickly add up!

1. Art of the Craft Tour

Disneyland offers a variety of guided tours around their attractions, but all cost a pretty penny on top of already-pricey park admission. But did you know that you can take an in-depth tour of on of the resort’s architectural jewels, and it won’t cost you a dime?

The Grand Californian Hotel is nearly as spectacular as as its Orlando siblings (WDW’s Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge) and has just as intricate a backstory. Several times each week, a walking tour of the property is offered that probes the exquisite artistry that went into building this inspiring edifice. You don’t need to be a hotel guest or have a park ticket to take the tour, but you do need to make advance reservations through the hotel guest services desk. This is one of my favorite unheralded experiences at Disneyland, and I hope bring you a more extensive blog on this excursion in the future.

What did we miss? Put your picks for the top free things at Disneyland Resort in the comments below!


Things We’re Looking At: Monday Edition

by on May 21, 2012

Couple of quick things:

1. The latest Unofficial Guide podcast is out, with Sam Gennawey and me walking through the design of Adventureland.  Get it here. 

2. A big Thank You to the Lines folks who’ve been entering actual wait times into the app this weekend.  We’ve received hundreds of these over the weekend.  They’re really helping other Lines users in the parks, and us with our modeling.

3. Along the same lines, the posted wait times at Epcot on Sunday, May 20 seemed excessively high compared to the actual waits, especially during the busier middle part of the day:

  • The Seas’ posted wait of 45 minutes at 12:15 pm was, in reality, 17 minutes.
  • The Seas’ posted wait of 45 minutes at 1:30 pm was really a 13-minute wait if you got in line.
  • Living with the Land’s posted wait of 40 minutes at 10:25 am was 14 and 18 minutes by 10:30 am.
  • Malestrom’s 35- to 45-minute posted waits throughout much of the afternoon turned out to be actual waits of around 15 minutes, according to several users.
  • Living with the Land’s posted wait of 20 minutes at 3 pm was really 6.
  • Spaceship Earth’s 20 minute posted wait at 3:20 pm turned out to be an 8-minute actual wait.

A normal range for these is something like an actual wait of 70 to 90% of the posted time, so these were off considerably.  I suspect this makes the park seem more crowded than it actually is.  The stats team is looking into this further, including what happened at the other parks.  More to come.




Disneyland to Increase Ticket Prices

by on May 18, 2012

With the upcoming additions to Disney California Adventure nearing completion, Disney has announced that they will be increasing ticket prices for Disneyland Resort.  On May 20th, prices are rising from $80 for a one day, one park ticket to $87 for the same ticket.  This increase comes before what should be one of the busiest years for Disneyland Resort in recent history with the highly anticipated Carsland opening at California Adventure.

Tickets have increased across the board for every option.  This includes regular tickets and park hoppers, as well as annual passports.  It would also appear that Disney has decided to remove the 6 Day Ticket Option, as it does not appear in the new pricing structure.

Here is a look at the new pricing according to Disney:

Disneyland Resort Ticket Options
Ticket                                      Ages 10+            Ages 3-9
5-Day Park Hopper                   $290                   $270
5-Day 1-Park Per Day               $260                   $240
4-Day Park Hopper                   $275                   $255
4-Day 1-Park Per Day               $245                   $225
3-Day Park Hopper                   $250                   $235
3-Day 1-Park Per Day               $220                   $205
2-Day Park Hopper                   $200                   $188
2-Day 1-Park Per Day               $170                   $158
1-Day Park Hopper                   $125                   $119
1-Day 1-Park                            $87                     $81

The One Park Per Day option allows guests to experience only one park per each day’s use.  The Park Hopper option allows guests the opportunity to visit both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure on the same day.

Disneyland Resort Annual Passports
Premium     $649
Deluxe       $469
Southern California*       $329
Southern California Select*     $269


Deluxe, Southern California and Select Passport holders can add parking for an additional $129 per year.
*Valid proof of Southern California residency required for purchase and use.

It also appears that the Premier Passport allowing guests to visit all the parks at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is increasing in price by $100 from $749 to $849.

For those of you who are making the trip to Disneyland this year, I would suggest purchasing your tickets before this Sunday, May 20th.

Memorial Day At The Magic Kingdom

by on May 18, 2012

Every year in May the Stats Team reviews the crowd level predictions for Memorial Day weekend with great scrutiny. We do this because the wait time data that we collect from our fabulous Lines users and hard-working staffers tells us that Memorial Day Monday is a great day to visit the Magic Kingdom.

How can that be? Holidays are usually super crowded at the Magic Kingdom, right?

Well yes, that is why it always catches us off-guard. But Memorial Day seems to be a perennial exception to that rule because of the Extra Magic Hour at the Magic Kingdom on the Sunday evening. Guests seem to get their fill and save the holiday Monday for another park.

Due to a decrease in closing hour to 10pm, today’s crowd calendar update has lowered the estimated crowd level at the Magic Kingdom to 5.9, down from 8.6 and labelled it as the best park*. This is a little lower than what we have seen in years past on Memorial Day at the Magic Kingdom. Check out these wait time examples from last year.

Space Mountain (peak posted time was 50 minutes, actual peak was more like 40)

Buzz Lightyear (peak posted time was 40 minutes, actual peak was more like 15)

Big Thunder Mountain (peak posted time was 40 minutes, actual peak was more like 30)

Last year, these wait times translated to a level 6.8 at the Magic Kingdom, not bad for a holiday. If you find yourself in The Magic Kingdom on Sunday and Memorial Day Monday, let us know how it was. Were we right?

*Epcot was the park previously listed as the Best Park but is still a good option and listed as neutral. If you took our advice and booked dining reservations for Epcot for this day I wouldn’t change them, Epcot handles larger crowds well. If you have the option to visit the Magic Kingdom in the morning then hop to Epcot, that might be a good plan.

10 of the Best Offsite Hotels at Disneyland for Big Families

by on May 18, 2012

It’s always been a little difficult for big families to vacation with Disney without spending a lot of money. At Walt Disney World, only one of the four current value resorts have some rooms that allow more than four people (plus a child under 3), and those rooms cost more than twice what a standard room does. Three of the five moderate resorts don’t have any rooms that sleep more than four (plus a child under three). On the Disney Cruise Line, the classic cruise ships, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, don’t have any inside or oceanview staterooms that sleep more than four. A family of five has to pay a good deal more for a larger verandah stateroom or get two staterooms in the less expensive categories.

At Disneyland, however, there are a lot of good options for larger families. First, all three of the Disneyland Resort hotels have standard rooms that will sleep five. If you are interested in staying on property, check out the blogs I’ve written on Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. Second, as I’ve said in a previous blog, there are many excellent offsite resorts at Disneyland as well. They are known as the Good Neighbor Hotels, and I’ll concentrate on these offsite options in this blog.

Because they are so awesomely close to Disneyland, I’ll stick to Harbor Boulevard(or just off Harbor) hotels for this list. I’m going to sort these by distance to the parks with number 1 being the closest. Some of the hotels are a little too far to walk so they either run their own shuttles or they participate in ART, otherwise known as the Anaheim Resort Transportation system, which provides transportation back and forth to Disneyland for just a few dollars a person. I also avoided hotels where you had to take a significant upgrade in price to get to a room that allows more than four guests.

Now some hotels are a little sneaky when they say a room accommodates five guests. You have to take that literally. They don’t have beds for five people, but they will allow five people. Your options are normally to pay a small additional fee for a rollaway bed, put an extra person in one of the beds, or put someone on the floor with extra pillows and blankets. I know some people would rather do that then pay more for a bigger room, so I included some of these hotels in the list. You’ll notice that at times I say a room will “allow” five people, and sometimes I say it will “sleep” five people. Take that literally.

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