By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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Category — zz. Even Geekier than Usual

The Week of 12/16/17 Will Be Better Than I’d Thought

DISNEY WORLD CROWDS THE WEEK OF 12/16/2017

I messed up my Disney World crowd forecast for the week of December 16, 2017. I’d expected on the order of 30% of us schoolkids to be off by 12/16, like in 2016, but in fact only about 10% are.

As a result, I’ll be revising the crowd forecast for this week from “high” to “moderate-plus.”

Moderate-plus for the week of 12/16/17 represents the overall average of the nine days from 12/16 through 12/24–these dates will be better than that at the beginning, and worse than that at the end.

SHORTER PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR GETTING THE WEEK OF 12/16/17 AT DISNEY WORLD WRONG

For the first time since 2006—well before I began forecasting Disney World crowds—Christmas in 2017 is on a Monday. I didn’t have enough experience with Monday Christmases to get it right…

LONGER PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR GETTING THE WEEK OF 12/16/17 AT DISNEY WORLD WRONG

Every year I publish draft crowd calendar in the fall for the year that begins ~15 months ahead, and then update it the summer before.

The draft is based on experience and judgment, and the later update is based on analysis of actual school breaks for the coming year school year.

My school break analysis is based on the actual schedules of more than 15 million kids in more than 270 school districts, weighted by state based on that state’s proportion of the 12 million visitors to this site (as a proxy for the propensity of families from that state to go to Disney World).

It comes so late in the year because so many districts don’t publish their calendars for the upcoming school year until May or even June. (BTW, because district calendars are largely not out yet, most of Michigan is still missing in detail from my datasets, but required common county calendars let me get Michigan Christmas breaks for this analysis.)

Part of Christmas is easy to forecast, and part is harder.

This is because there are two typical Christmas breaks—short breaks and long breaks.

  • Districts that take short breaks are out as close to December 25 to January 1 + a day or two as the calendar lets them be—a weekend New Year’s Day will put them back in school the Tuesday after it. Depending on the day of New Years, the shortest of the short breakers can have a break as short as 8 days. In 2017, the Monday holidays means the shortest possible break is ten days.
  • Districts that take long breaks are also off during this period—which is the easy part of the forecast, the parks will be mobbed for December 25 though December 31. They typically take at least two full weeks—with three weekends—off, and so are out a minimum of 16 days.

Here’s the distribution of actual break lengths for the 2017/2018 holidays (it’s not weighted):

If you sum, you’ll find about half of districts are long-breakers, and a tad less than half are short breakers. (The rest are in the right-side tail of really long breakers…)

The long breakers are the problem, as the day of Christmas shapes whether their breaks starts well before Christmas or not. A Wednesday Christmas makes forecasting easier—the vast number of long breakers facing a Wednesday Christmas will start their break the weekend before, on 12/21, and end it two weeks later on 1/5. A Saturday Christmas is harder to forecast, but many districts will begin their breaks a week before, on 12/18, and end on January 4 (not the third, as the holiday will be observed then).

Here’s the same point made (well, perhaps it’s made) graphically, with the long-breakers in green:

In 2016, Christmas was a Sunday, and as a result many long breaks went from 12/17/16 to 1/2/17. Thirty percent of kids were off the week beginning 12/17/16.

With the Monday Christmas in 2017, I expected a similar pattern—but as noted above, this is the first Monday Christmas since 2006, so I did not have solid data.

Now I do—and have discovered that only 10% of kids are out on 12/16/17, and the more common long break in 2017-2018 is from 12/21, 12/22 or 12/23 through 1/7.

This shows the distribution of breaks in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018:

OK so now I know better, and promise to do better the next time we have a Monday Christmas, which will be in 2023…
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 29, 2017   No Comments

Copper Creek Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Last week Disney World announced that the new Disney Vacation Club spaces at the Wilderness Lodge would open for booking in later March for visits beginning in mid-July.

Floor plans are available in places like this.

The already existing DVC villas here have been renamed as “Boulder Ridge,” and the new villas are called “Copper Creek.”  The new name

  • Enables different DVC contracts (regular, non-DVC folk can stay here by renting points, or cash like any other room)
  • Signals differences between the new Copper Creek floor plans and the old Boulder Ridge ones, and
  • Will require me to spend hours cleaning up the proper nomenclature on this site (and in our book)

Rather than do all that work now, I thought I’d comment instead on the apparent differences in floor plans for comparable spaces at Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek, and also compare Copper Creek’s Grand Villas and Cascade Cabins to alternatives.

Obviously I haven’t stayed in Copper Creek yet–no one has.  So the following observations come from floor plans.

  • The nice-looking, smaller floor plans are from me and of the older rooms in Boulder Ridge
  • The larger, cartoony ones are from Disney and are of the new rooms in Copper Creek.

Copper Creek is largely a redo of old southeast wing Wilderness Lodge standard rooms, but there is also a new stretch of lakeside cabins along Bay Lake.

STUDIOS, ONE AND TWO BEDROOM VILLAS IN COPPER CREEK

In general,

  • Balconies are better in Copper Creek–larger, and present in every bay.
  • Decorating and art look much better in Boulder Ridge (although I’ll reserve judgment a bit on that until I stay in these rooms in person).

Which Studio you prefer is a function of whether you view the fold-down third bed/fifth sleeping spot in Boulder Ridge that disappears the dining table more as a feature or a bug. For most, if you don’t need the extra sleeping spot or capacity, Copper Creek will be the better choice.

The biggest difference to the One and Two Bedroom Villas is that Copper Creek can seat many more at the dining table, making it a better choice.

Complicating all this for Studios, One and Two Bedroom Villas is the theming differences between the old Boulder Ridge building and the refurbed Wilderness Lodge wing that holds these spaces for Copper Creek.

The glory of the Wilderness Lodge is its lobby; those staying in Copper Creek will see more of its lobby; QED.

However, Boulder Ridge has a real charm of its own, has better decor and colors, is closer to the bus stop (but farther from the Magic Kingdom boat), and will likely be more tranquil than Copper Creek.

GRAND VILLAS AND CASCADE CABINS AT COPPER CREEK

There’s no Grand Villas in Boulder Ridge to compare the Copper Creek Grand Villas to, but compared to other DVC grand Villas those in Copper Creek are astonishing.

The Cascade Cabins also have nothing comparable at Boulder Ridge, but are similar to the Bungalows at the Polynesian, without the theme park view. I am a tad troubled by the potential for people to confuse these with the Cabins at Fort Wilderness (more people than you’d guess mix up the two resorts, or think they are the same thing).

STUDIOS AT COPPER CREEK

Copper Creek Studios have a larger balcony and a smaller closet than those in Boulder Ridge.

They also do not include the fold-down bed that makes the table go away when it is used.

This apparently means that these rooms will sleep 4 on two spots, rather than 5 on three spots…but the strange dashing on the coffee table in front of the sofa makes me wonder if this is an ottoman bed a la All-Star Music Family Suites.

Reactions to the fold down bed in Boulder Ridge have been mixed, with some loving the extra sleeping spot and added capacity, and others resenting that, when used, it takes the table away.

ONE BEDROOM VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

You’ll see varying figures for the size of One Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek.  Since they are built on the bays of two old standard rooms, this is pretty straightforward–they are 680 to 690 square feet, depending on your source for Wilderness Lodge room sizes.

One Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek also have the larger balconies and smaller closets of the Copper Creek Studios.

The king bedroom side and bath have similar amenities and layouts to Boulder Ridge, but with more right angles.

The floor plan of the living/dining/kitchen side–and the only good artist’s rendering that I’ve found of Copper Creek spaces–shows some distinctive changes.

Note that the dining table seats six, a big increase compared to Boulder Ridge, although those chairs look awfully cramped–and also note the unusual “across the hall” positioning of the refrigerator. However, the breakfast bar is gone.

Finally, I am not at all keen on what the rendering shows as the color scheme or the art, but willing to reserve judgment until I see these spaces in person. Other Disney renderings of the Copper Creek spaces I have seen–too small to post here–show equally uninteresting color and art choices.

The living room seats four, the same as Boulder Ridge.

TWO BEDROOM VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

There’s two types of Two Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek.

The “lock-off” (shown) combines a Studio and One Bedroom, and shares the merits of the spaces that make it up.

The dedicated Two Bedroom Villa (not shown) was designed from the start as a Two Bedroom Villa, and has differences in the second bedroom–two queens instead of the queen and sofa bed of a Studio; no microwave or mini-fridge; two bath sinks; no separate entry to the hall; and a shower instead of a tub.

ALTERNATE STUDIOS AND VILLAS

The corners of the wing of the Wilderness Lodge that Copper Creek was built into used to have deluxe rooms with an odd floor plan that included two spaces.

While most of these have been turned over into Grand Villas, a half-dozen or so have been built as “Alternate Studios” with more space and a separate living room.

These can be combined with a fairly standard One Bedroom Villa (the connecting door looks to be in a different spot) into an “Alternate Two Bedroom.”

GRAND VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

There somewhere between 4 and 6 Grand Villas at Copper Creek (I think there’s 4) that combine two old deluxe rooms, three old standard rooms, an alcove, and–I think–some hall space.

Some have reported these to be more than 3,200 square feet, but the two deluxe rooms and three standard rooms sum to just a little over 2,000 square feet, requiring more than a thousand square feet of hall and alcove space, which I don’t believe for a minute.  So I am estimating them as ~2,500 square feet.

Whatever the size, these are glorious spaces, with what looks like the best living rooms, dining rooms, master baths, and suite of balconies among the DVC Grand Villas.

There is some awkwardness among the two two-queen bedrooms, with the more distant one (lower left) having  a private bath and balcony, and the one closer to the Master Bedroom sharing a hall bath and sharing a balcony with the master.

This can lead to much bickering…

The latest Grand Villas to open before these, at the Grand Floridian, have the merit of what is in effect a fourth bedroom, in the media room. But most other DVC Grand Villas have the three bedrooms that you’ll find at Copper Creek Grand Villas, and nothing as nice as its living and dining rooms.

CASCADE CABINS AT COPPER CREEK

The only part of Copper Creek to not be built in the Wilderness Lodge is the lakeside Cascade Cabins.

These cabins are pretty similar to the Bungalows at the Polynesian, with a different kitchen wall and what appears to be a (more comfortable) fold-out chair rather than a fold-down bed in the living room.

Prices for these are not out, so far as I know, but likely will be comparable to that of Copper Creek Grand Villas.

Bungalow-Floor-Plan-Disneys-Polynesian-Villas-and-Bungalows-from-yourfirstvisit.net_

If the prices for these cabins come out to be as high as I think they will be, I don’t know why anyone would stay in one of these…

OK, that’s it for now.  I’ll do a full review after my stay at Copper Creek this summer!
The 2017 easy Guide

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March 8, 2017   4 Comments

Most Relevant Disney World Ticket Prices Increase 8-12%

As expected, on February 12, 2017 Disney World put into place new ticket prices.

There’s a couple of new twists to the ticketing model, too—multi-day tickets now have an expiration date (12/31/2018 at the moment) and those buying three day and longer ticket options will pay an extra $20 if they do not get their tickets in advance and online.

The full set of new multi-day Disney World ticket prices is here.

A couple of observations about this latest price increase:

  • While short non-hopper tickets showed some price stability and even decreases, four day and longer non-hopper tickets—the sort most will buy—went up 8% to 11.5%
  • The biggest driver of this is a major increase in the cost of the fourth ticket day, which for those 10 and older went from $346.13 to $372.75 (up $26.63).
  • On top of this increase to a four day ticket, Disney World increased the cost to add days 5 through 7—from $15.98 a day to $21.30 per day, or an increase of $5.33 per day.

Here’s a chart of the increases in prices compared to the last set of prices by length of ticket in days for non-hopper tickets. Price increases for tickets for those 10 and older are in blue, and kids 3-9 in red.

Disney World 2017 Percentage Ticket Price Increases from yourfirstvisit.net

In addition, Park Hopper prices went up more than $10 for tickets longer than three days, so Park Hopper tickets show as a result an increase in four day and longer tickets of 9% to 12%.

I had expected Disney World to shift to seasonal pricing for multi-day tickets in this round. Instead, the main package change is the new expiration date. This date of course allows it to enforce seasonal multi-day prices later. (The price of totally unused expired tickets can be credited towards the price of new tickets.)

These price increases are quite steep. In business terms, they allow Disney to recapture the value of the investment it is putting into the Animal Kingdom park, with Pandora opening in late May 2017, and into Hollywood Studios, with Toy Story Land there perhaps opening in 2018.

It also creates headroom for when, and if, it changes multi-day tickets to seasonal pricing, allowing “value season” dates to show little increase…at least the first year…

My friends at the Official Ticket Center likely will have tickets at the older price levels available for a bit.

The 2017 easy Guide

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February 14, 2017   No Comments

November Twilights and Rivers of Light

Disney World extended November Animal Kingdom operating hours by a bit in its latest schedule update.

As a result, the park is open between an hour to an hour and a half after civil twilight ends.

This provides plenty of scope for two showings of Rivers of Light, one at the end of civil twilight, and one an hour and a half later. Until November 5th, potential times could be 7 and 8.30p, and after daylight savings ends, 6 and 7.30p.

From an operational point of view, Rivers of Light has been ready to go for a couple of weeks now. Guesswork around when it will actually open seems to fall into 1) late October and 2) next year.  A third camp votes for in between. My money is on the third camp.

Here’s the chart of November 2016 Animal Kingdom closes (dashed red line), sunset (yellow line) and end of civil twilight (gray line):

rivers-of-light-in-november-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

(The blue line is the end of nautical twilight, and the black line the end of astronomical twilight. All this stuff is defined here, but the key point is that the end of civil twilight (the gray line) defines “dark enough.”)

 

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October 17, 2016   5 Comments

October Twilights and Rivers of Light

As predicted, Disney extended the operating hours at the Animal Kingdom in October to 8.30p closes, going deeper into the evening by an hour early in the month and by an hour and a half later in month.

Closes now range from an hour after civil twilight early in the month to an hour and a half after civil twilight later in the month. (For why the end of civil twilight matters to Rivers of Light and other evening shows, and other definitions, see this.)

This gives plenty of scope for two shows of Rivers of Light—apparently nearing dress rehearsal—the first at 7.30 or 7p and second at 9 or 8.30p (an evening show after park close has been common practice at Disney World for years, at the Studios).

See the image.

rivers-of-light-in-october-from-yourfirstvisit-net

  • The top dotted red line is the updated 2016 Animal Kingdom close (average October 2015 close is the bottom dotted green line).
  • The sloped lines are, from the bottom up, sunset (gold), end of civil twilight (red) and the ends of nautical (grey) and astronomical (black) twilight.

As you can see from the distance between the sloping red line and the dotted red line, open hours after civil twilight range from about an hour earlier in the month to an hour and a half later in the month.

The 2017 easy Guide

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September 24, 2016   3 Comments

Bus Spotting

A guidebook that I generally quite respect (except for some of its material on the resorts) recently warned visitors off Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort based on its reader survey results that highlighted “transportation, food court, and distant lobby” as distinct issues.

bus-spotting-from-yourfirstvisit-netThe problem with such survey results, of course, is that they are often used to help choose among alternatives, when those responding to the survey aren’t actually comparing the alternatives, but rather reporting on a singular experience.

Your best bet for help in choosing among alternatives is to pay attention to survey results or reviews from people who have recently stayed in all the relevant choices—but of course, other than the reviews in the book I co-author and on this site, you simply can’t find those.

I’ve stayed at the traditional moderates 27 different times, so here’s my take:

  • It is certainly true that the check-in building at Caribbean Beach is awkwardly distant, especially for those without a car, but it hasn’t moved recently…so there’s no real need for a new warning based on its location.
  • The food court at Caribbean Beach isn’t materially worse than those at the other traditional moderates—and other than the simplification of both the check-out process and the menu at the food court at Coronado Springs (a change this particular guidebook missed, it seems, leaving in a reader comment about the now-disappeared “ticket stamping”), the food courts at the traditional moderates have not changed much recently either. (Port Orleans French Quarter’s food court is currently under refurb—we’ll see if anything interesting comes out of that.)
  • And it is true that the sheer number of bus stops (seven) at Caribbean Beach is an annoyance. In terms of time wasted getting around a resort and stopping at all the stops, Caribbean Beach is the worst of the traditional moderates, with Port Orleans Riverside next worst, then Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans French Quarter best. But something that people sometimes miss in the discussion of the number of bus stops is that more bus stops can mean shorter walks within the resort. At Port Orleans Riverside, the longest walk from a room to a bus stop is more than a quarter mile; at Caribbean Beach the longest walk is less than half of that.

Moreover, it’s always possible that better management, or something, results in one resort of the same price class getting materially better bus service than another.

Demonstrating this requires comparative data, not survey opinions.

To make an illuminative stab at this because I am such an utter geek to help my readers make good choices, I spent four mornings in late August and early September sitting at bus stops in Port Orleans Riverside and Caribbean Beach timing the arrivals of 139 buses. (Sunday the 28th of August through Tuesday the 30th, and again on September 1; each resort was observed one morning from 8-9.30a and another morning from 8.30-10a.)

I then tossed everything but buses to the four theme parks and then calculated the time between arrivals for buses to the same theme parks. I analyzed the resulting data both in traditional ways (mean and standard deviation) and graphically.

The results of this limited sample show that waits for the next bus were largely similar at the two resorts for most guests, but in every way that they were not similar, Port Orleans Riverside had better service. When you add to this that there are fewer stops at Riverside, transportation on the days I sampled was clearly better at Riverside than at Caribbean Beach.

The mean wait between buses to the same theme park at Caribbean Beach was 13 minutes, with a standard deviation of 8.2 minutes. At Riverside, the mean wait was 12 minutes and the standard deviation was 6.6 minutes. As we will see in a minute, the longer mean wait and much larger standard deviation at Caribbean Beach were driven by several excessive waits.

Here’s the graphical depiction of waits at Riverside:

port-orleans-riverside-time-to-next-bus-to-same-park-from-yourfirstvisit-net

And at Caribbean Beach:

caribbean-beach-time-to-next-bus-to-same-park-from-yourfirstvisit-net

In each graphic the dotted line is the average interval between arrival times for buses to the same park, the red line the 50th percentile wait, and the gold line what percent of buses come in at 20 minutes or fewer.

You’ll note that the biggest difference was in the longer waits–at Riverside, almost 90% of arrivals were 20 minutes or fewer, and the longest interval was 25 minutes. Caribbean Beach saw almost twice as many buses with >20 minute waits, and its longest wait was a stinky 34 minutes.

Something I did not adjust for in my analysis was the effect of buses to the same park that came one right after another.

For example, during one period at Port Orleans Riverside, Magic Kingdom buses came by at 9.18, 9.22, 9.23, 9.44 and 9.45a, for intervals of 4 minutes, 1 minute, 21 minutes, and 1 minute. The average wait time among these four intervals was 6.75 minutes.

But practically speaking a bus that comes one minute after another bus to the same park is of next to no value, as the arrival rate of people at the bus stops means that no or next to no incremental guests will be served by the bus arriving a minute later. Treating the two one minute waits as though they did not help any incremental people, we get 12.5 minutes as the average wait—almost twice as long.

Note in the graphics how many buses came by with a five minute wait or less (20% of them at Caribbean Beach, and 25% at Riverside). Guests would be better served if these buses were re-routed before their first stop to whatever park was fourth on the list of most recent buses…

To illuminate the impact of this, I redid the waits showing the exact same arrival times, but a steady progression of buses to the four parks so that none was repeated before all four had been served.

Here’s the results:

port-orleans-riverside-managed-buses-from-yourfirstvisit-net

caribbean-beach-managed-buses-from-yourfirstvisit-net

The effect was to add wait time to the left sides of the curves and remove it from the right sides–essentially moving time from artificial short waits from the left side (artificial because few or none would benefit from them) to reducing waits on the right side where they actually created value for people. (t statistic = “Mister.”)

How about it, Disney?

The traditional moderates are the hardest to distinguish among for recommendations. Each is at the top of some important criteria and at the bottom of others.

This means that either you should not sweat the difference among them, or that you should deeply research them to find which is exactly the best fit for your family.

But one thing that has always been true is that the total Disney transportation experience is worst at Caribbean Beach. If that’s your single concern, then that guidebook is right, and you should avoid Caribbean Beach.

You’ll find a more nuanced discussion of the moderates in my guidebook, and if you want to deeply research them, my reviews of each begin at the following links:

The 2017 easy Guide

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September 12, 2016   11 Comments