By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Category — n. Approaching Dates at Disney World

March 2018 at Walt Disney World

OVERVIEW: MARCH 2018 AT DISNEY WORLD

This page reviews March 2018 Walt Disney World crowds, prices, deals and discounts, weather, and operating hours; adds a few other notes; and ends with week by week summaries.

The first week of March can be a great time to go to Disney World, and is so in 2018, up until March 9. The rest of the month will be lousy–with high prices and high crowds.

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October 2, 2017   No Comments

Review: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2017

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2016 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY 2017

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (“MNSSHP”) is a special, separately ticketed party that happens on certain nights every September, October and some years–like 2017– even early November at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

At the party you will find un-crowded rides, a special parade (shown twice, at 8.30 and 11.15p), special fireworks at 10.15p, a Hocus Pocus show, trick-or-treating, a dance party…and a ton of guests in costumes!

I had a chance to see it again in late September 2017, and the scoop follows!

(See this for more on logistics–Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party dates, ticket prices, etc.)

NOT MUCH NEW FOR 2017 AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

The 2017 party pretty much follows the pattern set in 2015 and continued last year. The most important change from 2015 was that the parades and fireworks are more spread out, and later.

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

This isn’t really thinning crowds in front of the Castle, mainly because the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular (photo above, and also at the top of the page), with its showtimes my date of 8.15p, 10.45p and midnight, is packing them in. (Later 2017 party dates have it at 7.40p, 8.35p, 10.45p, and midnight.) There’s more on this show later in this review.

The best approach to the Party remains the same–see rides until the fireworks and watch the second parade rather than the first.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

But because of the crowds remaining after the 9.15 parade, it may be hard to get to the hub to see the fireworks from there. While HalloWishes, like all Magic Kingdom fireworks shows, is best seen from between the Castle and the Main Street railroad station, it does work really well from elsewhere in the park, because of things that happen in the finale that I’m not gonna spoil here.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (9)

So do rides until just before ten, find a good nearby fireworks spot, then see the characters and go trick or treating, see the 11.15p parade, and see the midnight Hocus Pocus show. A late night, but one that avoids the congestion around the Castle hub and Main Street.

COSTUMES AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

Costumes are not required, and not everyone wear them. But even after the increased security that began in December 2015, they are still allowed at the party.

Above is the official Disney lingo (click it to enlarge it). Note that these guidelines are solely for the Halloween Party.  “Regular” attendance is subject to different rules, basically ruling out costumes for those 14 and older.

Guest Costumes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The most common costumes continue to be princess costumes and pirate costumes, and after that Star Wars costumes. Lots of Princess Leia hair, and more Rey than last year.  I also saw more Wilderness Explorers in 2017 than I’d noticed before.

Guest Costumes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

And this group in Tomorrowland proved a Disney princess theme was not required!

THE PARADE, FIREWORKS, DANCE PARTY, HOCUS POCUS SHOW AND TRICK-OR-TREATS AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

 

Besides most rides being open to short (or shorter) waits, MNSSHP has a special set of Halloween-themed activities (see above–click them to enlarge it).

Boo to You Parade at Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net (2) (800x525)

For example, the parade–Mickey’s Boo-to-You Parade–is seen only at MNSSHP.

It begins with a surprise–pay attention when the Cast members start to rope of the crosswalks (dampness on the streets may eliminate this first surprise).

Then a bunch of characters stroll by.

It then shifts to ducks and mice…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (8)

…then some pirates…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (7)

…more pirates…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net
…but then shortly shifts to my favorite part, Haunted-Mansion themed dancing gravediggers and ghouls.

Boo to You Parade at Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net (8) (450x800)

More ghouls.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (6)

The gravedigger dance.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (5)

Soon comes candy…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (4)

…then the parade goes back to scary, ending with Disney villains!

There’s two showings of the parade, at 8.15p and 11.15p, with spectacular Halloween-themed fireworks between at 10.15p.

HalloWishes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

While the fireworks are best seen from in front of the Castle with the Main Street train station behind you, this will lead you into a wildly crowded section of the park.

Because of their spectacular finale the fireworks can be seen from elsewhere in the park–you’ll miss a little but gain a lot of comfort from avoiding the mobs in front of the Castle.

HalloWishes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (3)

 

Dance Party Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

Dance Party Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The Liberty Square and Cosmic Rays dance parties left two years ago but there’s still an outdoor Monsters-themed dance party at the thingy between Astro-Orbiter and Space Mountain.

Something I had not paid enough attention to until 2017 was fun audience interaction with characters from the Haunted Mansion.

It’s just outside the exit, so see it after your required Halloween visit to the ride.

You’ll also find lots of Halloween-themed merchandise.  Some is specific to the party (and may be sold out–see your brochure for locations) and the rest is generally available–including, somewhat jarringly, in the Christmas shop.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (3)

The Hocus Pocus show is quite popular.  The three sisters from the movie return…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (2)

…and call on hordes of Disney villains to help them stay.

The show includes strong songs and dances, the fun characters, and some spectacular effects. Those familiar with the movie need not get close to the stage (thought it can’t hurt), but if you haven’t seen it, the characters of the three sisters are much more apparent if you are closer to the stage.  This is pretty easy at the midnight show, not so easy at the earlier shows.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne

Character meet-n-greets are all over the place–with both common and unusual characters…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.net

…and there’s also a ton of trick or treat locations, marked by lighted columns.

Get your trick-or-treat bag on the pathway that begins at the left of Town Square…

…and your first handful of candy, too.

But both the characters and trick-or-treating raise an issue.

STRATEGY AND RIDES AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

Wait Times Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

All the major rides are open, and many minor rides as well. Most have very short waits–e.g. 10 minutes for Space Mountain. Typically, only Peter Pan and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had annoying waits.

Characters Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The trick-or-treat spots and especially the character greetings, on the other hand, have pretty long lines, and the hub is packed all evening.

So the best approach is to skip the character greetings and trick-or-treats–or delay them until after the fireworks–and spend the first part of the evening on rides.

Do rides until just before the 10.15p fireworks show and watch it.

Now try trick-or-treating or character meets. Then see the second (11.15p) parade and the midnight Hocus Pocus show.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net (2)
I struggle with whether or not this party is worth the money for first-time family visitors who may never return.

It’s quite expensive–more than $200, and even over $300 on some dates for a family of four.  And it’s just a five hour show (7p to midnight)–though Disney unofficially lets you in starting at 4p.

Yet the fireworks are the best Disney World offers, the parade is a hoot, the rides have short lines…and the costumes are fun!

Magic Kingdom 2014 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net

My overall take is that for first-timers this time and money is better spent elsewhere, but that’s a really close call, and for sure I’d recommend it to returning visitors!

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September 28, 2017   6 Comments

Disney World Summer Crowds in 2018

Every year I analyze summer break schedules for the upcoming school year, compare them to what I’d expected, and then don’t change my crowd forecasts for the upcoming summer, because breaks turned out about the way I thought they would, and nothing else is new.

Well, for 2018 breaks did turn out the way I thought they would–but something new emerged in the summer of 2016 that seems to be happening again in the summer of 2017. I thought long and hard about this new stuff, and about changing my crowd forecast for 2018…before deciding to leave the crowd forecast the same.

Here’s the story.

DISNEY WORLD 2018 SUMMER CROWDS: THE PRINCIPLES

Walt Disney World summer crowds historically have been governed by two factors:

  • Public school summer break calendars, which have start and end dates more varied than you’d think
  • The beginning of the peak of the hurricane season, in mid-August

Over the past summer and a half, however, it seems other factors have come into play.

Summer stand-by waits in all of 2016 and so far in 2017 (I write this in mid-July) have been lower–sometimes substantially lower–than we’ve been used to. While there’s no evidence from Disney that attendance is substantially down (in April-June 2016, Disney World attendance compared to 2015 “was down 4% …with most of that decline due to the adverse impact of the shift in the Easter holiday period“; in July-September 2016 compared to 2015 , there were “increases in attendance…on a comparable fiscal period basis“), the feel of the parks in the summer–especially Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom outside of Pandora–is much more comfortable than in years past.

I can’t explain the changed experience.  I have theories, mostly about the effects of Disney’s strategic re-pricing of tickets to make the higher-demand periods like summer less attractive, particularly in the pricing of one day tickets and in Florida resident annual passes with summer block-out dates–distinctions that launched between the 2015 and 2016 summer seasons, so the timing is right.

But this is just speculation, and does not much account for other things we’ve observed in the parks this summer–lower numbers of people in the parks and more easily available FastPass+. My co-author Josh has written on all three points multiple times this summer on easyWDW.com–see this for an example.

So to make a long story short, I don’t know what is going on, nor why it is going on.  Because I don’t, I don’t know if it will happen again next summer.  So I’m not going to re-forecast 2018 summer crowds as “moderate” rather than “high.”  But I also would not argue with someone else who in fact did make such a forecast change…

So if you go in the summer of 2018, you might have a much better crowd and wait experience than  I am predicting.  You will, however, still be in Florida in the summer–and I can’t possibly recommend that…

So…back to the other two drivers of summer crowds–school breaks and the peak of the hurricane season.

Pretty much all kids are off all of July. As a result, July is the busiest summer month, and during it, the week that includes the 4th of July the busiest week.

Varied dates for when summer breaks begin means June can start well, and then build to high crowd levels–although in 2017 the beginning of June–before blockout dates kicked in, and right after Pandora opened–was the busiest part of the month.

August has the opposite pattern, beginning with high crowds, but, through the combination of a trickle turning to a flood of back-to-school dates, and savvy travelers avoiding the peak of the hurricane season, it ends quite un-crowded.

Families that can only visit in the summer (for example, school teachers) should go as early in June or as late in August as their schedules permit. [Read more →]

July 14, 2017   2 Comments

Disney World Spring Break Crowds in 2018

DISNEY WORLD SPRING BREAK CROWDS IN 2018

Walt Disney World Spring Break crowds are typically governed by two and a quarter factors:

  • Public school Spring Break calendars, which are still largely framed around Easter but vary more than you might think
  • The demand of snow-belters for a break from winter weather, which peaks in March, and
  • The quarter factor, the date of President’s day.  Later President’s Days (which can range from February 15 to February 21) tend to make the first part of March better

An early Easter combines the first two factors, making for more than the usual horrible crowds in March but a great April; a late Easter can spread the first two factors out, yielding some good early March and early April weeks.

Easter 2018, on April 1, is early in its possible range. President’s Day 2018, is late, on February 19. As a result, my 2018 crowd calendar shows (mostly) bad March crowds but (mostly) good April crowds.

More specifically, 2018 Spring Break crowds at Walt Disney World will be

  • Bad Presidents Day Week
  • Fine the weeks beginning February 24th and March 3rd
  • Very bad the week beginning March 10th
  • Bad the week beginning March 17
  • Very bad the weeks beginning March 24 and March 31
  • Fine April 7 and later.

2018 PUBLIC SCHOOL SPRING BREAKS AND THEIR EFFECTS ON WALT DISNEY WORLD CROWDS

Although more and more school districts are moving away from an Easter-centered Spring Break, the plurality of kids still have the weeks before Easter or following Easter off.

As a result, the single biggest factor determining better and worse Spring Break weeks at Walt Disney World is the date of Easter–which can range from March 22 to April 25.

A later Easter has a couple of different effects: first, it spreads out the dates of breaks for school districts that don’t frame their breaks around Easter, and second, if particularly late, will push districts that typically take the week after Easter off into the week before Easter instead, to keep from compressing their May academic calendars.  

An earlier Easter has the opposite effects.  Districts that traditionally try to take the week after Easter off will be able to do so, and districts that don’t base their calendars on Easter will be largely compressed into a couple of March weeks.

The date of President’s Day–which can range from February 15 to February 21–also has an effect. Because many northeastern districts both have a spring break and also take the week of President’s Day off, the later President’s Day is, the better early March will be–as parents avoid taking their kids out of school the weeks after a long President’s Day break.

The effect of the various dates in 2018 is to compress most school spring breaks into just four weeks beginning March 10 and continuing until the end of the week beginning March 31.

ACTUAL 2018 SPRING BREAKS

The chart above illuminates this.

It’s based on data from a weighted sample including 280 of the largest relevant US public school districts. 15.3 million kids–about a third of US school kids–are in the database, and they are weighted based on propensity to go to Disney World.

(For how the database is built, see the this. Weekends are in black, except Easter, in red. Holidays (Mardi Gras and President’s Day) are also in red. Click the image to enlarge it.)

My 2018 Disney World crowd calendar shows this:

  • The week beginning February 10, 2018 has a minor bump early from the small number of kids with Mardi Gras off, and a larger bump later as long weekends for Presidents Day begin Thursday February 15. Overall I give it a 5/moderate-minus rating–better earlier, worse later
  • Presidents Day week, the week beginning 2/17, has high crowds through Tuesday and pretty high crowds the rest of the week. Overall it gets a crowd ranking of 8/high-minus, worse earlier in the week and better later
  • The weeks beginning 2/24 and 3/3 have hardly any kids on break and get crowd ratings of 4 (low plus) for the week of the 24th and 3/low for the week of the 3rd
  • The week beginning March 10 both has a ton of kids on break (thanks, Texas!) and is also attractive to snowbirds. It gets a 10/higher crowd rating.
  • The week beginning 3/17 has fewer kids on break than the weeks that surround it, but is still attractive to snowbirds. I’m giving it a rating of 8/high-minus crowds.
  • The week beginning 3/24 is the week before Easter and will be a zoo, as it usually is, and gets a crowd rating of 11/highest.
  • The week after Easter (beginning 3/31/18) has even more kids on break in 2018 than the week before and also gets a crowd rating of 11/highest.
  • The week beginning April 7, 2018, will be much better than I had thought. I’m now giving it a crowd rating of 5/moderate-minus. If I am wrong–it happens–this week will be better than I am forecasting
  • The rest of April will be just fine.

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July 10, 2017   13 Comments

End of Summer 2017 Crowds at Walt Disney World

This site’s Disney World crowd calendars always show crowds dropping off in later August.

For example, in 2017, crowd rankings go from 8/high-minus at the end of July/beginning of August down to 2/lower in early September.

This page both explain how that comes about and also reviews how the site’s crowd calendars are built.

END OF SUMMER 2017 CROWDS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

The highest-crowd periods at Walt Disney World all have one thing in common: they are convenient times for parents to take their kids to Orlando. That is, they are times that kids are out of school and that parents traditionally can take off of work.

What’s not so clear until you do the numbers is that actual school vacation dates are much more varied than you’d think.  And there’s no good source you can go to that explains what all these varied dates are.

So usually every year about this time one of my nieces goes to more hundreds of school district websites and captures all the key vacation dates for the upcoming academic year. This year all of my nieces are distracted by babies, so I did half this data collection myself.

(This time of year because you’d be surprised many districts don’t put their calendars up for the upcoming year until June, even late June–looking at you, Michigan.)

This year I collected data on 280 school districts with 15.3 million kids–about a third of the US school-age population. These include the 100 largest school districts in the U.S., plus 180 more of the next largest school districts mostly in the more highly-populated states east of the Mississippi–that is, the states from which in particular Walt Disney World draws its visitors.

I then create a database that shows based on district enrollment every kid who is off on every date, and weight each district based on that district’s state’s proportion of total US visits to this website (because Disney won’t tell me actual visitation by state!). See the image above for a screenshot example.

Finally, I calculate percentage of total weighted kids on break by date and use that to inform the crowd calendars.

Above are the results of this for when kids go back to school in 2017.

So you can see that

  • Kids don’t start going back to school in real numbers until Tuesday 8/8
  • More than a third are back in school by 8/17
  • About half  are back in school by Friday 8/25 and
  • Almost 70% are back in school before Labor Day (noted in red)

In 2017, pretty much all kids are back in school by the Friday after Labor Day.

Moreover, vacation patterns typically don’t have people returning from their vacation the night before school begins, so the effect of these back-to-school dates is offset into earlier August by around a week.

Thus, in the 2017 crowd calendar, the week of 7/29 is rated 8/high-minus crowds, the week of 8/5 7/moderate-plus crowds, the week of 8/12 6/moderate crowds, the week of 8/19 4/low-plus crowds, and the week of 8/26 3/low crowds.
The 2017 easy Guide

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July 9, 2017   No Comments

December 2017 at Walt Disney World

OVERVIEW: DECEMBER 2017 AT DISNEY WORLD

This page reviews December 2017 Walt Disney World crowds, prices, deals and discounts, weather, and operating hours; adds a few other notes; and ends with week by week summaries.

 

Early December, with lower crowds, lower prices, and wonderful Christmas decorations and events, has the best weeks of the year to visit.

Later December has the highest crowds and prices of the year.

Park closings to additional guests are possible in this later December period, as are 8a openings and more morning Extra Magic Hours than other weeks.

December also has a special party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a special evening event–with its own ticket–that has become a family tradition for many.

[Read more →]

June 13, 2017   10 Comments