Ed. Note: We frequently get questions to TouringPlans asking how we make crowd predictions. This article provides insight into one of the metrics used when formulating predictions about park attendance.
It comes as no surprise that many families with school-age children take Disney vacations, and most prefer to take their children on vacations when school isn’t in session. To account for these attendance patterns, we track over 100 public school districts. This includes the 100 largest school districts in the country, the largest school districts in each state, and school districts that are close to Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This covers 12 million students. That is more than 20% of all students enrolled in public education. TouringPlans spends a lot of time collecting the school schedules each fall and summer. We put in the effort because school schedules are one of the best indicators for predicting crowd levels. Collecting more school schedules has diminishing returns, however. We would have to collect 100 more school districts’ calendars to cover 5% more of the public school students.
The first thing to realize about school schedules is that not all school districts follow the same vacation schedule. Even some school districts have different schedules within the district. This is a good thing– even if you are bound to traveling based on your school’s schedule, you can find a time where other schools are in session. Another thing to realize is that there is variation from year to year. The day of the week or week that a holiday falls in can dictate what days a school district will take off. School schedules have geographical norms. The peak of spring break crowds at Disneyland may be different than at Walt Disney World. For example, school schedules in Southern California are going to have little impact on Walt Disney World, but a huge impact on Disneyland crowds.
Maps and More Maps
In this blog post, I have a lot of maps. I am using pie charts in the geographical location of the school districts. For school districts that are within 100 miles of each other, all the schools for all those districts will be lumped into one pie chart. The size of the pie charts is based on the enrollment of all the schools that make up the pie chart. The maroon area is the proportion of students in school for the week, and the gold area is the proportion of students on vacation. A week runs Monday through Friday. A school will contribute to both the maroon and gold area if a school is not on vacation for all five days. If a holiday falls within the week or the weekend before or after the week, it will be listed in the map’s title. The “On Vacation” in the title is an overall proportion of the 12 million students that are on vacation for the week.
We do have data for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. For simplicity, the data is not included on the maps.
I may show multiple years. This is so you can see the change from year to year.
Start of School
Some schools start as early as August 1st. Other schools do not start until after Labor Day. If your school starts late, going on vacation at the end of your summer will mean you will have lower crowds.
A trend in school schedules is to include a fall break. Some schools take a full week, whereas others take a few days. Fall breaks will be halfway between the start of school and Thanksgiving. For most schools, this will be sometime in October. For schools that start early, fall break can start as early as the second week in September.
Veterans Day and Thanksgiving
An alternative to a fall break is a break during Veterans Day week. All schools get Thanksgiving off. Most schools get the Friday after Thanksgiving off. Some schools get the whole week off. Almost no schools get the week after Thanksgiving off. For Thanksgiving week, the crowds will start building the weekend before Thanksgiving and get busier every day until the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Christmas and New Year’s
The most magical time of the year is also the most crowded time of year. Most schools get two weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s. When the holidays fall mid-week, all schools will get those two weeks off. When the holidays fall on the weekend school districts will either give the week before Christmas off or the week after New Year’s off. When the holidays are over a weekend, the holiday crowds are spread across three weeks instead of two. You can see on the maps that 2016 and 2017 had Christmas on the weekend.
Martin Luther King Day
MLK Day is observed by all school districts. Very few schools take the whole week off since school just started after New Year’s.
Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras
Presidents’ Day is always the third Monday in February. Mardi Gras is 47 days before Easter, and Easter can vary greatly. Mardi Gras can fall anywhere between February 3 and March 9. All schools get off for Presidents’ Day. Some schools take the entire week of Presidents’ Day off. These are mostly schools in the Northeast. Mardi Gras is most famous in Louisiana, but it is also celebrated in Texas, Alabama, and Florida. On their own, both Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras brings people to Walt Disney World. When these two holidays occur in the same week, Disney will be very crowded.
Spring Break and Easter
Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. Spring break also moves around because some schools districts schedule their spring break based on when Easter occurs. Other school districts stick to the same week each year. For example, Atlanta area school districts always have their spring break on the first full week of April. Below you can see when students are on vacation varies significantly year by year.
End of the School Year
Starting in late May, the school year starts to come to a close. Those school districts that started earlier will be ending sooner. For those school districts that end early, the end of May can be a good choice for a summer vacation.
The TouringPlans models take in all the school schedule data including their location to build the Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Universal Orlando Crowd Calendars. It would be impractical for us to track the 14,000 school districts in the United States. The sample of school districts that we track is a good representation of all the school districts. If your school district does not follow the general trend, you can take advantage of its quirks and visit the parks while other schools are in session.
Have any additional questions about the Crowd Calendar or how we crunch the numbers for you? Let us know in the comments.