Hey everybody, there’s a new itinerary out for arrivals 8/31 through 10/26/2019. You can find it here.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — n. Approaching Dates at Disney World

Disney World Summer Crowds in 2020

DISNEY WORLD 2020 SUMMER CROWDS: THE PRINCIPLES

Walt Disney World summer crowds recently have been governed by three factors:

  • Public school summer break calendars, which have start and end dates more varied than you might think
  • The block-out dates of the “Silver” annual passes that have a high penetration among locals
  • The beginning of the peak of the hurricane season, in mid-August

BLOCK OUT DATES

Disney changed block out policies on certain annual passes that are highly valued by locals in 2015, in time to affect the summer of 2016.  Since then, summer stand-by waits (which is how we all measure crowds, as there’s no better tool), while still not great, have been down, especially in July.

For 2020 for the first time I am creating this into my forecasts, as it has gone on long enough to be a thing, so some July dates now see “moderate” crowd rankings.

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

Pretty much all kids are on break in July, so traditionally it was the highest crowd month of the summer. But as noted above, the past several years it has been less crowded after the 4th than the later parts of June.

Varied dates for when summer breaks begin means June can start well, and then build to high crowd levels.

August has the opposite pattern, beginning with (recently) moderate 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, although later July is now more attractive than it used to be. [Read more →]

July 15, 2019   No Comments

Disney World Spring Break Crowds in 2020

DISNEY WORLD SPRING BREAK CROWDS IN 2020

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, and into which every year I put a ton of time
  • The demand of snow-belters for a break from winter weather, which peaks in March, but is harder to forecast, 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 2020, on April 12, is a bit late in its possible range. President’s Day 2020 is about in the middle of its possible range on February 17. As a result, my latest analysis suggests heavy crowds March 14 through April 19, 2020–although some weeks are better than others.

More specifically, 2020 spring break crowds at Walt Disney World will be

  • Bad Presidents Day Week
  • Fine the week beginning February 22rd
  • OK the week beginning February 29
  • At the bad end of OK the week beginning March 7th
  • Bad the week beginning March 14th
  • Better than the week of the 14th, but not good the weeks beginning March 21 and March 28
  • Very bad the week beginning April 4
  • Bad the week beginning April 11
  • A little iffy, but probably OK the week beginning April 18
  • Fine after that until Memorial Day weekend

2020 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, sometimes 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 many of the same later March and early April 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 in these districts avoid taking their kids out of school the weeks right after a long President’s Day break.

The effect of the various dates in 2020 is to compress the worst spring break dates into the period from March 14 through April 19.

ACTUAL 2020 SPRING BREAKS

The chart above illuminates this.

It’s based on data from a weighted sample including 270+ 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.

Weekends are in black, except Easter, in red. Mardi Gras and President’s Day are also in red.

My revised 2020 Disney World Crowd Calendar shows the following:

  • The week beginning February 8, 2020 will be crowded at the end 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 2/15, 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 2/22 has hardly any kids off and gets a ranking of 4 (low plus). Mardi Gras (March 25 in 2020) is much talked about but itself has little impact on the parks–as you can see in the chart, few kids get it off.
  • The week beginning February 29 has more kids on break than in recent years and has become increasingly crowded.  It has a ranking of 6/moderate
  • The week beginning March 7 has fewer kids on break than in recent years–half of Texas has moved to the next week. I am giving it a ranking of 7/moderate-plus
  • The week beginning 3/14 will be a mess.  Half of Texas, Ontario, and all the kids in the I-4 corridor are on break.  I am giving it a ranking of 10/higher.
  • The week beginning 3/21 will be a bit better.  I am giving it a ranking of 8/high
  • The week beginning 3/28 is hard to forecast. Fewer kids are on break than most March weeks, but prices are quite high this week (see below). I am giving it an overall ranking of 7/moderate plus–worse on the weekends and better mid-week. But it could be a little better, or a little worse
  • The week before Easter, beginning April 4, 2020, will have the highest crowds yet in 2020, at 11/highest
  • The week following Easter, beginning April 11, has a lot of kids on break, so it gets a 10/higher ranking
  • A lot of kids in New England are off the week beginning April 18, but hardly anyone else, so it gets a 5/moderate-minus ranking, worse earlier in the week and better later.
  • Crowds should then be fine April 22 and following until Memorial Day weekend

Aggregated spring break calendars illuminate times when families with kids can particularly easily be in Disney World, but not their propensity to be there. Propensity factors range from the desire to get away from snow and ice to the willingness that more knowledgeable Disney World visitors may show to simply take their kids out of school—especially if doing so will avoid higher crowds on other dates. They also tell us little about people with no school age kids in their groups.

Can we get a hint of Disney’s own insights into propensity for people to visit from its own pricing patterns? Well, yes, but it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

TICKET PRICES AS A GUIDE TO SPRING BREAK 2020 CROWDS

Disney published 2020 ticket prices by first day of eligible use in late June 2019. Disney World’s current ticket pricing model is intended to a. push people from higher priced periods to lower prices periods to level out demand and improve experiences during what would otherwise be even higher-crowd periods and b. capture some value from increased demand from those people who go during higher priced periods anyway.

Thus in a profound sense ticket prices are a proxy for a crowd calendar.

But for thinking about spring break 2020 today, however, there’s three different reasons why you don’t want to read too much into current comparative ticket price levels.

First, price levels for 2020 published in June went up on average less than 2% compared to the same months in 2019. This tells you not that Disney has moved away from its aggressive price hikes of recent years, but rather that at least one more price increase is coming. Disney’s March 2019 update of the 2019 prices it first released in November 2018 included some profound shifts in pricing patterns and levels, especially for holidays, so you need to take differential 2020 ticket price levels currently present with a bit of a grain of salt.

Second, there’s a mismatch between the blockout dates in the annual passes most commonly bought by Florida residents and their actual spring breaks. Both gold and silver passes block out the weeks before and after Easter, but kids in Florida are largely not much on break then—about half have Good Friday off, a few have the Monday after Easter as well, but that’s their only time off during this blockout period. Rather, kids in Florida are largely on break in 2020 in March—about 10% the week of March 7, 50% the week of March 14, and 40% the week of March 21. In particular, almost all the kids on the I-4 corridor are on break the week of March 14. So folks with these passes are more likely to be in the parks March 14 through March 29—and especially March 14 through March 22–than the prices of regular tickets might imply.

Finally, ticket price differences are meant not just to incent different dates but also to capture value from demand. So you will see higher prices during highly desired dates even if these dates don’t much tie to crowding patterns. Folks who live with snow, ice, and cold have an extra set of reasons to go to Florida in February and March. For example, in 2020, the old pattern of most of Texas being on break the same early week of March is broken—about half the state is on break the week of March 7 (the typical break week for most of the state in that past), and half the state is on break the week of March 14. But ticket prices both weeks are similar, suggesting that either Disney is pricing to capture the slightly lower-crowd attractiveness of the week of March 7—or that it has not yet caught on to the Texas change.

HOTEL PRICES AS A GUIDE TO SPRING BREAK 2020 CROWDS

Disney also varies hotel prices over the year (and much of the year, even over the week), principally by using different levels of rack rates, and also on top of that, discounts for specific dates.

But hotel prices, while being, like ticket prices, broadly correlated with crowds, especially in Disney’s lower-priced hotel offerings, are also not a perfect crowd calendar.

First, hotels have a fixed capacity in a way that parks don’t, and also a very different cost structure (with very few variable costs), so the business goal is different—it’s to maximize prices that also maximize hotel utilization. There is thus much greater payoff to running the hotels, via pricing, at about the same very high occupancy rate year round.

Second, unlike the parks, there is a broad range of substitutes for the Disney hotels—and with the expansion of 60 day FastPass+ and EMH access perks to the rest of the on-property hotels, and two nearby hotels (the complete list is here) some substitutes are much better choices than they used to be. So it is as valuable to compete to fill rooms from guests who would stay at non-Disney resorts as it is to shift demand among the Disney hotels in time. In fact, it may be more valuable to compete for non-Disney property guests, as this keeps money out of the pockets of competitors, and reduces their ability to fund enhancements.

Finally, the different hotel classes see starkly different seasonal competition. The deluxes in particular compete with non-Disney hotels that see a ton of convention and meetings business much of the year. When the convention and meetings business collapses every summer (smart meeting planners don’t book conventions and meetings in the summer in Florida*), many more rooms are available to the tourist trade—and prices at this whole class of hotels collapse. The values, in contrast, don’t compete for this business, and their demand cycle is driven by family vacations. This is why Disney value resort prices in later July 2020 are 30-40% higher than the lowest of the year, while deluxe prices those same dates are just 5-10% higher.

A really big convention—like HIMSS in Orlando March 9- March 13 2020—can drive up prices across the entire market before, after and during the specific event. (This includes even lower priced hotels, as people get forced into booking them by there not being enough business class rooms in town to meet demand. This increased demand lets the lower-priced hotels raise prices as well.) The week of March 7 at Disney World, while not great, will be better than hotel prices imply—Texas is only half there, and HIMSS is driving hotels, but (not much) park visits.

So while Disney World hotel prices are indeed down the week of March 21st compared to the weeks before and after (ticket prices are down a bit as well), I am not seeing that necessarily meaning this will be a great week. This may be just a correction based on weak local convention bookings that week.

The week of 3/28 is an even trickier week. Both hotel and ticket prices are high, but relatively speaking, compared to weeks before and after there aren’t many kids on break—and next to none in Florida. I am going to make the call on it that it’s a moderate plus week in terms of crowds, but this is the forecast I am least comfortable about this period—it could be moderately better or a little worse.

*Groups wanting to do their events on a budget will go to the north in the winter and the south in the summer, to get the best prices—but the reason they can get the best prices is because there is so little competition for meeting space and hotel rooms.

 

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July 14, 2019   6 Comments

December 2019 at Walt Disney World

 August   September   October   November   December    January   February   March

WHAT IS DECEMBER LIKE AT DISNEY WORLD?

Early December, with lower crowds, lower prices, and wonderful Christmas decorations and events, has the best weeks of the year to visit. The December 5, 2019 opening of the second ride at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Disney Hollywood Studios may bump crowds up a bit more than I’ve forecast–especially from locals.

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, and major New Years Eve celebrations.

[Read more →]

June 10, 2019   No Comments

New Year’s Eve 2019 at Walt Disney World

2019 NEW YEAR’S EVE AT DISNEY WORLD

Disney World’s final 2019 New Years Eve calendar is not yet out. Based on what is available and on prior years, here’s what I expect:

New Year’s Eve festivities and fireworks will happen at Disney World on December 31, 2019 at Disney World’s Epcot and Magic Kingdom theme parks, and also at the Magic Kingdom on December 30.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios may do something at midnight as well.

The Animal Kingdom in the past has had no special New Years fireworks events–usually attributed to not troubling the animals. This makes it the best park to visit for those trying to avoid crowds. Everything will be wildly crowded, but the Animal Kingdom will be less so.

The schedule will look like this:

  • Epcot will likely be open until 1a on New Year’s Eve; Disney’s Hollywood Studios likely until at least midnight, and the Magic Kingdom until 1a or later
  • The Magic Kingdom will have special New Year’s Eve fireworks at 6.30p and  11.50p
  • Epcot will have its Epcot Forever fireworks show at 6.30p and at 11.40p, plus DJs in various pavilions
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios may have fireworks at midnight

Magic Kingdom will have the same fireworks at the same times on 12/30/19. This date will likely be a little less crowded than 12/31.

Note that alcohol is not available at the Magic Kingdom (other than at a few restaurants), but is available at the other three parks

DISNEY WORLD PARK CLOSURES ON NEW YEAR’S EVE

Disney closes parks due to crowding often on New Year’s Eve. “Closes” means closed to additional guests–those in the parks do not have to leave.

IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING MY HIGH-CROWD ITINERARY

My recommended itinerary puts you in Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve.  High crowd indeed. From a crowds point of view, the best park choice is Animal Kingdom, so you could swap First Sunday and Tuesday.

If you want to see the fireworks at Magic Kingdom, but on the (slightly) lower crowd 30th, swap instead Monday and Tuesday.

 

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June 10, 2019   No Comments

Basic 2019 December Disney World Itinerary

This  draft Walt Disney World itinerary is designed for the three weeks following Thanksgiving 2019.

The days in the parks, dining, and special events to target are all set.

It is a draft in the sense that I have not yet confirmed (or posted) the daily touring plans and pre-booked FastPass+ selections that support it.  In particular, I am waiting for Hollywood Studios FastPass+ tiers to be confirmed. The daily touring plans will be set well before the 60 day FastPass+ windows open, at the end of September for the earliest date discovered by this itinerary.

If you aren’t going one of those weeks, see Other Itineraries for alternatives the rest of the year, which are published about six months ahead.

A detailed  To-Do List covers all the planning steps you need to undertake now. And by the end of September I will provide detailed daily guidance.

ITINERARY DESIGN GOALS

The basic December itinerary was designed to meet several goals: to ensure that you

  1. See the best that Walt Disney World has to offer, including all of its special Christmas season offerings
  2. See the parks in the order that works best for kids (essentially Epcot first, as it is potentially the most disappointing, and the Magic Kingdom last, as it is likely to be the best loved)
  3. Avoid unnecessary waiting, by using FastPass+ and other tactics…
  4. Given all the evening shows and late nights, have as few early mornings as practical

The 2019 version differs from previous ones in a couple of ways:

  • It shifts the Christmas Party night from Tuesday to Thursday, to create an earlier bedtime on Tuesday
  • The two Hollywood Studios days are re-shaped to account for Galaxy’s Edge, with an early morning plugged in on Wednesday
  • It adds some time to Magic Kingdom, as I suspect that the projection-based new fireworks at the party will trap people in the hub for more of the early evening than past iterations–meaning folks will miss a ride or two that they could have seen during the Christmas Party in past years.

If you can’t do the dates required for the Basic Itinerary, see Other Itineraries for alternatives for both the December week and the rest of the year.

 

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June 9, 2019   2 Comments

November 2019 at Walt Disney World

On March 7, Disney announced that the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land would partially open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on August 29.

Crowds in the new land will be a mess, and likely will spill over into the other thrill-style rides at that park. While I don’t see much impact on the other parks, no one knows for sure.

WHAT IS NOVEMBER LIKE AT DISNEY WORLD?

Mid-November has some of the best times of the year to visit Disney World, with cooler weather, low crowds, low prices, and fun special events.

Other parts of the month are not so good. Jersey Week, beginning 11/2 in 2019, sees moderate crowds and higher prices at the deluxes. Thanksgiving week, beginning 11/23 in 2019, with high crowds and higher prices than the rest of the month, should be avoided.

Note also that picking the right park to visit each day is critical at this time of the year. See this, and use the comment form below to ask me about your specific dates!

[Read more →]

May 1, 2019   35 Comments