By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)





Category — p. News and Changes

Review: Epcot Forever

EPCOT FOREVER

Epcot Forever is the current evening show at Epcot, showing most nights at 9p, but at 9.30p during the Festival of the Holidays, at 10p on Fridays and Saturdays during the Food & Wine Festival, and at other times New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.

Epcot Forever replaced the long-running IllumiNations on October 1, 2019, and in turn will be replaced with a new permanent show, HarmonioUS, which I can neither spell nor pronounce, and which I deeply hope will be renamed.

HARMonious is expected to debut in 2020—I have heard October 1, but much depends on the scope and pace of reconstruction needed to support the new show, and also its timely achievement of its technical ambitions.

In the meantime, Epcot Forever is a fireworks, laser, kites and music show on the World Showcase Lagoon that, according to Disney, celebrates “the past, present and future of Epcot through [a] dazzling fireworks and special-effects spectacular.”

This brief description skips the most important part of the show, and elides the other: music and kites. The celebration of Epcot is through new arrangements of music from past and present attractions, introduced or sung in children’s voices, with Walt Disney’s voice here and there, and a surprise finale related to the Morocco Pavilion that sets the stage for Epcot’s future.

The variety and quality of the music is a wonderful reminder of how important music and song is to the Disney World theme parks—a contribution that can get overlooked in their primarily visual environments. There’s a number of standouts, with the Soarin’ theme and Golden Dream (from The American Adventure) serving as particularly apt reminders of the quality of composing behind many of the park’s attractions.

The other distinctive feature of the show is its kites, which are delightful, and need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.  Images and videos don’t capture their full impact.

Lasers and fireworks are part of the program as well. The night I saw it, it was raining so hard that many fireworks were left out—they were shot off later that evening, after park close, to clear the apparatus. And I got no usable photos of the ones I did see–even by my low standards–but I’ll post photos here after my next visit. In the meantime, you can get a flavor for the new fireworks in this Disney video:

IllumiNations was deeply loved by many, and its own great music—not present in Epcot Forever—has had a life of its own, showing up in settings ranging from Olympics coverage to wedding ceremonies. I was astonished the first time I saw Illuminations, but did not find it overly re-watchable, with a limited fireworks color palette and a marvelous globe that after a few experiences did not much bear the amount of time dedicated to it.

Epcot Forever—and especially its surprise ending—are the first stake in the ground of the transformation of Epcot that we will see over the next few years. Epcot started as Walt Disney’s concept for showcasing the best ways in which urban design could contribute to well-being and better communities, a wildly impractical and mildly totalitarian concept whose scope, in the absence of a practical business model, would have led eventually to its early abandonment had he remained alive. Walt Disney was a man whose fertile imagination yielded many more ideas than good ideas, and like most deeply creative people he depended on the passage of time and the voices of others to help sort the best ones out.

Walt’s concept was largely abandoned by the time the park first opened, and in its place came World Showcase, a sort of permanent World’s Fair, and Future World, an architecturally undistinguished place to celebrate human achievement in general and in particular technological innovation.

The initial business driver of Epcot—in contrast to its thematic drivers—was to be as little like Magic Kingdom as possible, both to avoid cannibalization of that park and also to incent longer stays at the resort. So when it opened, Epcot became the least Disney and least child-friendly of the Disney parks, a distinction it still holds today. Poor reaction quickly led to incorporation of some Disney characters and other playful Disney elements that had previously been banned.

Over the years, Epcot’s edutainment offerings stagnated as they became outdated, and as museums—inspired by Epcot—did a much better job at educating while entertaining. The concept was not wrong, as a visit to any good museum targeted at middle school kids will tell you. So will a visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which does a breathtakingly better job of integrating as much education as you would like within the context of a fun theme park. But the ability to keep the Epcot edutainment good, current, and interesting to many was not there.

This version of Epcot—great at neither education nor entertainment—will soon be gone, with a reconceptualization of Epcot as a fun—and Disney—park, especially in Future World. Today, Future World is a sea of construction walls (all the rides remain accessible), and from them will emerge three new lands—Disney calls them neighborhoods—that will join World Showcase: World Discovery, World Nature, and World Celebration. This added set of Worlds, by the way, is the reason for the surprise finale to Epcot Forever, and their promise of increased appeal to children is why the voices of children dominate the narration.

The new Epcot has been emergent for more than a decade, but the new emphasis will start to show soon with the opening of the Ratatouille ride, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, later in 2020. Disney articulates that the reconceptualization of Epcot will “be filled with new experiences rooted in authenticity and innovation that take you to new destinations, where the real is made fantastic in a celebration of curiosity, hands-on wonder and the magic of possibility.” I can’t wait…

In the meantime, Epcot Forever will run for a year or so, celebrating Epcot’s past through 2019, and the music that added so much to it. And kites!!

 

 

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November 13, 2019   No Comments

Review: The Disney Skyliner

THE DISNEY SKYLINER—A SECONDARY TRANSPORTATION OPTION TO EPCOT AND DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

The Disney Skyliner, a new and groundbreaking (at least in theme park resort use) gondola transportation system, opened at Walt Disney World in late September 2019.

From a transfer station at the south end of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, it offers lines to

…A shared station at Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation resorts,

…Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, and,

…via a station that the north end of Caribbean Beach (closest to Aruba) shares with the soon-to-open Disney’s Riviera Resort, to Epcot

At every station except the Riviera/Caribbean Beach north station, guests must get off and re-board. So a trip from Pop Century to Disney’s Hollywood Studios means a trip to the southern Caribbean Beach station, then getting off and getting on the Studios line.

While not for everyone—and I’ll come back to that—for those it is suited to, it presents a fun alternative to the buses that folks would otherwise use to get among these various points, and is in particular a fun and easy way to get

  • From these resorts to Hollywood Studios and Epcot
  • From one to another of the pairs of resorts—e.g. for Pop Century guests to try out the yuca bowls at Caribbean Beach’s Spyglass Grill
  • From Epcot to the Studios and vice versa, if the boats look backed up and you aren’t in the mood to walk.

That said, at the moment I would consider the Disney Skyliner to be for some folks and some circumstances a secondary transportation system, and not the lead way to think about traveling from these resorts to these parks. Others should avoid it entirely.

CONDITIONS THAT SHOULD HAVE YOU AVOID THE DISNEY SKYLINER

The Skyliner cabins, while not tiny, are small, and you likely will share them with other parties.

While moving, the passive ventilation system in the cabins presents a substantial breeze, but if they stop—not uncommon—on a hot and humid day discomfort can build.

The cabins swoop and sway in normal operation, and a breeze will yield even more swaying.

All boarding at the Riviera/Caribbean Beach north station requires entering the narrow door of a moving car—the car is moving very slowly, and the gap between the cabin and the stationary platform is very tight, but it is still a moving target. All other stations have a separate loading area where those who need the extra stability—and all ECV folks—can board a stationary car.

The system may stop, for brief or lengthy periods of time, for any number of reasons. If there is lightning in the area, it will close, with guests being required to exit the gondolas at the station Disney assigns. If this station is Caribbean Beach, Disney will add buses that duplicate the Skyliner routes, but this might not happen immediately, and the various buses may take time to arrive.

Those with claustrophobia, fear of heights, motion sickness, or any medical condition that might be exacerbated by either a lengthy stop with no real clarity as to what’s happening, or the possibility, on hot and humid days, of stop-related heat buildup, especially if combined with a higher degree of anxiety, ought to avoid the Skyliner.

So should those with time-sensitive plans…

CIRCUMSTANCES THAT SHOULD HAVE YOU AVOID THE DISNEY SKYLINER

So far material Skyliner stops have not been common, but have happened—with the most famous being a ~three hour stop shortly after it opened that got a lot of publicity, resulted in a multi-day shutdown,  and at least to some indicated a lack of preparedness on the part of Disney to deal with various contingencies.

As a result, it’s hard for me to recommend the Skyliner for anyone on a time-sensitive schedule. Allowing extra time in your schedule will help, but I still would not take it if you are trying to get to Epcot or the Studios before they open, for a soon-approaching FastPass+ or dining (or other) reservation which is particularly important to you, or at a time when an unexpected delay might get in the way of something else important–for example, your travel plans. In each of these circumstances, take the Disney buses (or Uber/Lyft/Minnie Vans) instead.

I would also suggest taking a bathroom break before boarding (there’s a bathroom at the south Caribbean Beach station, and a new bathroom between the station and the first set of Nemo buildings at Art of Animation), bringing bottles of water, and having a well-charged phone.

There are various sorts of emergency supplies under a seat in each cabin, and also an intercom system, but none has yet proven to be soundly reliable.

My estimates are that of the more than a million folk who have already ridden the Skyliner, fewer than a thousand have suffered a severe stop, and fewer than 5,000 have suffered a material stop. That’s less than 1%. Moreover, from what I have seen the Epcot line seems to be the one most at risk (there’s no central tracking, so take this with a grain of salt). If true, this may be related to the length of the Epcot line (twice as long as any other), its two sharp turns, and/or the absence of a dedicated ECV loading spot in its mid-line Riviera/Caribbean Beach north stop.

Both the inappropriateness of the Skyliner for those with some conditions, and the possibility of stops, perhaps long stops, making it not the best choice for some circumstances, are why you should view it as a secondary system.

That said, over time operating reliability will only get better, which will ameliorate some of the concerns about missing something important because of a delay (though keep your weather eye out for lightning). The cabins won’t be getting bigger though, nor will they sway less, get climate controls, or get lower to the ground.

Those staying at one of the Skyliner resorts concerned about whether their personal conditions might yield a disappointing experience could try (depending on where they are staying) either the Caribbean Beach south to Riviera/Caribbean Beach north route, or the Pop Century/Art of Animation to Caribbean Beach south routes, as a lower risk way to test how they will react to the system.

BUSES AND THE DISNEY SKYLINER

Many folks postulated that once the Skyliner opened, bus service from the relevant resorts to the relevant parks would be reduced. We have not seen this, so far, although once operations become more stable, I could see it happening in a limited fashion. After then, I still expect buses to go on the Epcot and Studios routes on average every 20 minutes, but we will likely see fewer at peak opening and closing times, as the Skyliner has vast potential to pick up much of this travel.

The incremental operating and depreciation expenses presented by the Skyliner won’t be paid back out of bus driver savings—instead, they will be paid back from increases in the prices of the affected resorts. I calculated earlier this year that the “extra” 2020 price increases at these resorts (compared to increases at comparable non-Skyliner resorts) would yield on the order of $60 million annually in incremental revenues.

To get to this number, Disney World will have to resolve most of the reliability concerns this system has so far given rise to.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE DISNEY SKYLINER

Before the Skyliner opened, there was much speculation about future routes—for example, a western version was chatted about, connecting (perhaps) the All-Stars, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Epcot and Hollywood Studios via a Caribbean Beach-like hub at Coronado Springs. An eastern line connecting the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, with Disney Springs has also been talked about.

For now, until Disney proves to itself it can sell rooms at higher rates—and sell the DVC points at Riviera—I would not expect to see much further Skyliner development for a while. And I also note that there’s room at the south Caribbean Beach hub to add one more route, which could easily go east or north…

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly B., can help you book your Disney World vacation in a Skyliner resort or anywhere else–contact her using the form below:

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November 12, 2019   6 Comments

The Immoderate Moderate: Coronado Springs Today

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE CHANGES AT CORONADO SPRINGS

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort has always had—thanks to the demands of its convention and meetings guests—the best amenities among the Disney moderate resorts.

It has been the only moderate with concierge rooms, the only moderate with suites, the only moderate with a spa, the only moderate with workout facilities, the only moderate with a lap pool, and the moderate with the most extensive set of dining options and bars.

Appetizers at Toledo

With the opening in July 2019 of the new Gran Destino tower, its restaurant Toledo and two bars Dahlia Lounge and Barcelona Lounge (both serving appetizers and the Barcelona Lounge also functioning as a coffee shop in the mornings), and, in a different area, the Three Bridges Bar and Grill on Villa Del Lago, Coronado Springs has upped its game even more, and its level of amenities now far outpaces the other moderate options.

Appetizers at Three Bridges/Villa Del Lago

I stayed here in late July. While I will publish more about this stay later—updating my overall review of Coronado Springs, and including a photo tour of a Gran Destino standard room—I can affirm the quality of the new Toledo, Dahlia Lounge, and The Three Bridges/Villa Del Lago at Coronado Springs in particular. The Port Orleans resorts are now substantially outclassed in terms of amenities, and Caribbean Beach–which is closer to the new Coronado Springs than the Port Orleans resorts in dining and bar quality, and will become even better (in the totality of its amenities) after the Skyliner opens—is also behind Coronado Springs.

THE ROOMS AT GRAND DESTINO

I have more mixed feelings about the rooms at Gran Destino—in particular for family visitors.

At about 400 square feet, Gran Destino standard rooms have more square feet than any other traditional moderate rooms—and more, in fact than the majority of the deluxes.

Some of the hall in a Gran Destino room

However, compared to standard rooms elsewhere in Coronado Springs, much of this extra space is wasted from the point of view of livability, in the entry hall—about 76 of the extra 86 square feet.

(I’ve written elsewhere about how you need to incorporate this adjustment to your thinking about square feet when comparing rooms with outside entrances and baths in the back,to rooms with inside entrances and baths at the front—baths at the front require a hall area that baths in the back don’t need.)

The Gran Destino bath is both nicer and about 20 square feet larger than the baths in rooms elsewhere in Coronado Springs.

But it is less livable for families, being divided less well (instead of the tub/shower and toilet in one space, and the sinks in another, it has a glass walled shower and sinks in one space, and the toilet in its own space—leave the sliding barn door to the bath open while showering in the glass-walled shower, and if someone enters the room from outside, all will get a surprise) and offering—so far as I can tell–only showers, not a tub/shower combo that offers folks a choice.

Gran Destino Standard Room

If you are tracking with the math, you can tell that the living area in Gran Destino rooms is about 10 square feet smaller than the living space in regular Coronado Springs rooms—this is mostly not noticeable in livability.

While rooms elsewhere in the resort have a bit of Three-Caballeros-styled Disney theming, these rooms have no Disney theming that I noted. I do quite like the overall look and feel of the complete set of spaces of Gran Destino—but I don’t see much here that visually appeals to kids.

The easy access to Toledo, Dahlia Lounge, and Barcelona Lounge is a win, as is the room access from interior corridors, as is the location—the best at Coronado Springs—and the temperature-controlled enclosed walkway from the tower to the shops and dining at El Centro.

But on balance, for the typical premium of 18% more (on average over 2020, more than $50 a night) than standard rooms elsewhere at Coronado Springs, I’m still noodling over whether these rooms are the best choice for family visitors.

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly, can help you book–or avoid!–one of these Gran Destino rooms. Contact her using the form below.

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July 31, 2019   No Comments

Disney World 2020 Resort Price Seasons

2020 RESORT PRICE SEASONS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

The material below shows Walt Disney World resort hotel price seasons at different times of the year in 2020.

Resort prices can be almost twice as high during some periods as they are at others. The information on this page helps you identify lower and higher cost periods.

Ticket prices for 2020 are also out. There’s still (in my judgment) a ticket price increase for 2020 to come, but they (roughly) follow the patterns of hotel prices.

My comparisons are to prices that are “the lowest of the year,” the value season.

Grouping of dates is based on “price seasons,” a grouping tool Disney World no longer makes public, but which can be identified analytically, and named (sorta) based on past practices. Disney charges based on the actual price of the actual nights, so if your visit straddles price seasons, you’ll pay the prices of each price season.

The charts average prices over the next seven nights, by arrival date.  This eliminates what would be otherwise be incomprehensible bumpiness from Thursday/Sunday and/or Friday/Saturday upcharges. For exact prices by night by room type by date, see MouseSavers.com here.

(For more on 2020 at Disney World, see this. For 2019 price seasons, see this. For the basics on where to stay at Disney World, see this.)

2020 DISNEY WORLD RESORT PRICE SEASONS: VALUE RESORTS

  • The lowest prices of the year–the value season–begin 1/2/2020
  • 20-30% higher prices–Marathon rates–begin 1/9/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/12/20
  • 20-30% higher for the Martin Luther King Jr. long weekend begins 1/17/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/20/20
  • 40-55% higher for the week of Presidents Day begins 2/13/20 (prices are a bit lower 2/17-2/19)
  • 25-30% higher–the regular season–begins 2/23/20
  • 35-50% higher–the peak season–begins 3/6/20
  • 25-30% higher–the regular season–begins 3/22/20
  • 35-50% higher–the peak season–begins 3/29
  • 60-70% higher–the Easter season–begins 4/5/20 (prices are a bit lower 4/11-4/14)
  • 25-30% higher–the regular 2 season–begins 4/19/20
  • 45-55% higher over the Memorial Day long weekend begins 5/22
  • 30-40% higher–the summer season–begins 5/25/20
  • 55-65% higher over the long 4th of July weekend begins 7/2/20
  • 30-40% higher–the summer season–begins 7/5/20

  • 20-30% higher–the summer 2 season–begins 8/9/20
  • 10-15% higher–the fall season–begins 8/23/20
  • 20-30% higher–the regular 3 season–begins 9/13/20
  • 40-55% higher over the long Columbus Day weekend begins 10/9/20
  • 20-30% higher–the regular 3 season–begins 10/12/20
  • 10-15% higher–the fall 2 season– begins 10/25/20
  • 25-35% higher for the long weekend ending Jersey Week begins 11/5/20
  • 10-15% higher–the fall 2 season– begins 11/8/20
  • 35-40% higher over Thanksgiving begins 11/21/20
  • 10-15% higher–the fall 2 season–begins 11/28/20
  • 25-30% higher–the regular 4 season–begins 12/6/20
  • 40-50% higher–the holiday season–begins 12/11/20
  • 65-75% higher–the holiday 2 season–begins 12/18/20
  • 70-80% higher–the holiday 3 season–begins 12/25/20

2020 DISNEY WORLD RESORT PRICE SEASONS: MODERATE RESORTS

  • The lowest prices of the year–the value season–begin 1/2/2020
  • 15% higher prices–Marathon rates–begin 1/9/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/12/20
  • 10-15% higher for the Martin Luther King Jr. long weekend begins 1/17/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/20/20
  • 30% higher for the week of Presidents Day begins 2/13/20 (prices are a bit lower 2/17-2/19)
  • 15-20% higher–the regular season–begins 2/23/20
  • 25-30% higher–the peak season–begins 3/6/20
  • 15-20% higher–the regular season–begins 3/22/20
  • 25-30% higher–the peak season–begins 3/29
  • 45-50% higher–the Easter season–begins 4/5/20 (prices are a bit lower 4/11-4/14)
  • 20% higher–the regular season 2–begins 4/19/20
  • 30-35% higher over the Memorial Day long weekend begins 5/22
  • 15-20% higher–the summer season–begins 5/25/20
  • 25-35% higher over the long 4th of July weekend begins 7/2/20

  • 15-20% higher–the summer season–begins 7/5/20
  • 15-25% higher–the summer 2 season–begins 8/9/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall season–begins 8/23/20
  • 20-25% higher–the regular 3 season–begins 9/13/20
  • 30-40% higher over the long Columbus Day weekend begins 10/9/20
  • 20-25% higher–the regular 3 season–begins 10/12/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall 2 season– begins 10/25/20
  • 25-35% higher for the long weekend ending Jersey Week begins 11/5/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall 2 season– begins 11/8/20
  • 25-30% higher over Thanksgiving begins 11/21/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall 2 season–begins 11/28/20
  • 20-25% higher–the regular 4 season–begins 12/6/20
  • 25-30% higher–the holiday season–begins 12/11/20
  • 50-60% higher–the holiday 2 season–begins 12/18/20
  • 55-65% higher–the holiday 3 season–begins 12/25/20

2020 DISNEY WORLD RESORT PRICE SEASONS: DELUXE RESORTS

  • The lowest prices of the year–the value season–begin 1/2/2020
  • 15-20% higher prices–Marathon rates–begin 1/9/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/12/20
  • 15-20% higher for the Martin Luther King Jr. long weekend begins 1/17/20
  • Lowest prices of year–the value season–begin 1/20/20
  • 30-50% higher for the week of Presidents Day begins 2/13/20 (prices are a bit lower 2/17-2/19)
  • 20-25% higher–the regular season–begins 2/23/20
  • 30-45% higher–the peak season–begins 3/6/20
  • 20-25% higher–the regular season–begins 3/22/20
  • 30-45% higher–the peak season–begins 3/29
  • 50-65% higher–the Easter season–begins 4/5/20 (prices are a bit lower 4/11-4/14)
  • 20-25% higher–the regular season 2–begins 4/19/20
  • 25-40% higher over the Memorial Day long weekend begins 5/22
  • 10-15% higher–the summer season–begins 5/25/20
  • 15-25% higher over the long 4th of July weekend begins 7/2/20
  • 5-10% higher–near-lowest of year–the value season 2–begins 7/5/20

  • Lowest of year–the value season–begins 8/21/20
  • Prices bump up on 9/4/20 to 15% to 20% higher than the lowest of the year for the long Labor Day
    weekend
  • Lowest of the year–the value season–begins 9/7/20
  • 15-25% higher–the regular season 3–begins 9/18/20
  • Prices increase to 25-35% higher than the lowest of the year for the long Columbus Day weekend on 10/9/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall season–begins 10/12/20
  • 20-25% higher–the regular season 4–begins 10/30/20
  • 20-30% higher for the long weekend ending Jersey Week begins 11/5/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall season–begins 11/8/20
  • 25-40% higher during Thanksgiving begins 11/24/20
  • 10-20% higher–the fall season–begins 11/28/20
  • 25-30% higher–the regular 5 season–begins 12/6/20
  • 30-50% higher–the holiday season–begins 12/11/20
  • 55-80% higher–the holiday 2 season–begins 12/18/20
  • 60-85% higher–the holiday 3 season–begins 12/25/20

OTHER KEY PAGES FOR WHERE TO STAY AT DISNEY WORLD

 

Kelly, the long-time travel agent partner of this site, can book your Disney World vacation at any Disney World hotel!  Contact her using the form below.

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July 2, 2019   No Comments

Picking Your Park Days During Extra Extra Magic Hours

On May 3 Walt Disney World announced massive changes to its Extra Magic Hours calendar parallel with the partial opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on August 29, 2019.

The basics are that

  • Two of Disney World’s parks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom, will have daily morning Extra Magic Hours (EMH) from 7a to 8a every morning beginning 8/29 and ending 11/2
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios—where the new land will be found—will have daily EMH from 6a to 9a beginning 9/1, also ending 11/2. (The first three days the new land is open—8/29, 8/30, and 8/31, the Studios will simply open at 6a—there will be no EMH of any sort at that park those three days)
  • Epcot will not have its EMH pattern of Tuesday evening and Thursday mornings changed.

(There’s more on EMH in the link above, including what hotels are eligible for them, etc.)

This turn of events has thrown many folks for a loop, and I am getting millions of questions related to the new dynamic this period, ranging from

  • What days will be best for what parks?
  • What should people who are either not eligible for EMH or not willing or able to get their gang up early enough to take advantage of them do?
  • How should folks think about hopping among the parks?

See for example my exchange with Jennifer:

In the material below, I have the beginnings of answer, particularly to the question of what Disney World park to target what days. The basics follow the universal crowd management principle of Walt Disney World, which is to figure out what most people are going to do, and then to do the opposite.

This requires some understanding (and some guesswork) as to the basics of crowd patterns and of what elements of theme park operating and offerings calendar will attract “most people,” and what elements will repel them, so let’s start there.

THE BASICS OF CROWD PATTERNS IN DISNEY WORLD IN SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2019

Disney World sees more attendance over the weekend, and then on Fridays and Mondays, than it does Tuesdays through Thursdays. The worst weekend during the Extra EMH period after Labor Day will be the weekend of Columbus Day—Friday October 11 through Monday October 14.

  • While Flight of Passage will probably remain the best ride in all of Walt Disney World until Galaxy’s Edge is fully complete with Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has no distinct new draws or distinct operating features for the Extra EMH period. Crowds there on a particular day thus probably will vary as a function of how attractive the other three parks are that day.
  • Epcot will be the only park with EMH that varies by day during this period. So it will have a bit of an extra draw from them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Its later hours on Fridays and Saturdays will also be a bit of an incremental draw; Food & Wine  will be a draw throughout the period, but especially on weekends and evenings; and the end of IllumiNations on 9/30 and introduction of the new Epcot temporary evening show Epcot Forever on 10/1 will draw folks there every evening—either for a last visit with IllumiNations or to see the new show.
  • Early 6p closes at Magic Kingdom three or four nights a week for the Halloween Party (or other reasons) will repel folks those days. On the other hand, on days when it is open late and offers its full evening program, it will have distinctive draws. This will have major spill-over effects on the other parks, as the folks repelled by the early close will go to one of them, and the folks attracted by late closes will not be going to them.
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be worst on weekends, and best on midweek days when Magic Kingdom is open late and closes early the days before and after—typically Wednesdays.

Figuring out what all this means your specific week will be tricky (you can use the comment form below to simply ask) as there are very few “typical” weeks this period. But the basics are to look at the Magic Kingdom operating hours  your dates, and note what days it is open late and what days early. Use that to pattern your weekday visits, and avoid Hollywood Studios and Epcot (and maybe all the parks) over the weekend!

To give you an example of this, I’ve done it for the nine day period beginning Saturday October 5th through Sunday October 13.

The first thing I did was mark up what I thought operating hours would be. For Hollywood Studios and Epcot this was straightforward, and it was also straightforward for Magic Kingdom early close days. For Magic Kingdom closing times on nights it was open late, and for Animal Kingdom hours, I used the same “week before Columbus Day” hours from last year.

(You can find those hours for your week in 2018 by putting “Next Week (September 29 through October 7, 2018) at Walt Disney World” into the search bar near the top left of every page on this site, changing the dates to the Saturday and (week later) Sunday of your week.)

The result of this work is in the image above—you don’t need to go to this trouble, but should know opens and closes for the parks every day of your visit. Note how the graphic illuminates the Magic Kingdom hour variations…

Then I started thinking, following the basic principles outlined above. The answer I got for this week is as follows:

And the specific thoughts I went through for each day are below—note that I do not cover them in date order, as the order I present them shows more quickly some of the principles involved.

DAILY THOUGHTS ON DISNEY WORLD PARK CROWDS

Thursday October 10th. Each of the four parks has morning Extra Magic Hours, none has them in the evening, and Magic Kingdom closes early for the Halloween Party while the other three parks have normal evening operations. No one is distinctively repelled by the EMH schedule itself, and some will be attracted to Epcot by its (relatively speaking) rare morning EMH offering. Many will be repelled by Magic Kingdom’s early closing, going to and crowding the other three parks, and probably relatively speaking crowding Epcot in particular, because of its morning EMH offer. So on this day Magic Kingdom is the best choice, and Epcot and HS probably the worst. AK will probably be OK but not as good as MK.

Wednesday October 9. Magic Kingdom closes early both the day before and the day after, but today Magic Kingdom is open late. Nothing about their calendars makes HS or AK particularly attractive today compared to other days this week. The absence of EMH at Epcot this morning (as will be true most mornings) will add to its attractiveness for folks not eligible for EMH who are sophisticated enough about Disney World to want to see Epcot on a day when rope drop is possible for them, although since this is possible six out of seven days each week, you can’t read too much into it. The late Magic Kingdom close means Magic Kingdom will be slammed, thus drawing crowds away from the other three parks. Today MK will be a bad choice, and HS on this mid-week day will be much better than is it on days MK closes early. Sophisticated locals who don’t have to get up too early the next morning will head to HS this evening knowing how much of a draw the late MK close will be, but even so, midweek days when MK is open late, between days on either side that it closes early, will probably be the best choices for HS. AK and Epcot will probably be good.

Sunday October 6. Weekends I expect to be slammed at HS, and also at Epcot. Weekends will be slammed at HS because crowds are higher over weekends, but operating hours there don’t change; because that’s the easiest time for locals to go; and also because folks on trips aimed specifically at Galaxy’s Edge will largely be in town at least over the weekends. Epcot will be slammed both because of Food & Wine and its new evening show, and also because of how easy it will be for those who balk at Hollywood Studio’s crowds—especially those with hoppers– to get to Epcot: walk, take the boat, or take the eye-candy Skyliner. Magic Kingdom’s early close today between late closes on Saturday and Monday will repel people from that park today, adding to the crowds at Epcot and HS, and perhaps at AK as well. MK will be the best choice, HS the worst, and Epcot may be almost as bad as HS. AK likely will be better than HS and Epcot, but not as good as say it will be on Wednesday.

Monday October 7. Magic Kingdom closes early the day before and the day after, but this day it is open late. Nothing about their calendars makes HS or AK particularly attractive today compared to other days this week. The late close means Magic Kingdom will be slammed, thus drawing crowds from the other three parks. Today MK will be a bad choice, and each of the other parks will be better than they are on days MK closes early. Since more folk will be in Disney World on a typical fall Monday than a typical fall Wednesday, HS won’t be as good as it will be on Wednesday, but it will be better than any other day this week.

Saturday October 5. Saturdays will be slammed at HS as they are the easiest days to visit for both locals and out-of-towners. Epcot will likely also be nasty, as it is an easy day for locals to see Food &Wine, has an extra hour of operations which will work as a bit of a draw, will have the draw of the new evening show (as it will every night this week), and will suffer from balkers from the Studios. MK will be open late on October 5 between two days that it closes early, and will reveal itself once more to be the most popular park in the world. AK may well be tolerable, simply because of the attractiveness of the other three parks today.

Saturday October 12. Saturday the 12th and Sunday the 13th will likely be the busiest days in October, as they mark the heaviest period of the Columbus Day (and Canadian Thanksgiving) holiday weekend. HS and Epcot will be ugly for the same reasons noted for October 5. MK will be relatively less intrinsically attractive than on October 5 because it will also offer its full evening hours and program the next day, Sunday October 13, but the higher overall level of attendance at Disney World this weekend compared to the weekend of the 5th suggests that the 12th will be a day to avoid MK as well. The absence of such a distinctive level of attractiveness at MK on Saturday suggest that AK will not be nearly as good as it will be on Saturday the 5th. So I can’t see any park as a good choice.

Tuesday October 8 will be much like Thursday October 10, except Epcot’s draw will be in the evening. MK again has an early close sandwiched between two late close days, so many will avoid it and head to the other three parks instead. Both Food & Wine and Epcot’s new fireworks show are easier to navigate on days when Epcot has evening EMH, so Epcot will be particularly attractive to those eligible for EMH. Nothing special about AK or HS will make today much better or worse at either than Thursday. So MK will be best, AK ok, and Epcot and HS worst.

Friday October 11th will start the build of crowds for the holiday weekend. MK closes early, so folks will avoid it and head to the other parks. Epcot will be popular in the evening with locals, and its extra hour of opening may make it attractive to some out-of-towners as well. MK will be good, AK may be OK, Epcot not so good, especially in the evening, and HS worst.

Sunday October 13 will be rough at all the parks thanks to the holiday weekend. There’s no special reason to go to or not go to any park today compared to say Saturday the 12th, except Epcot may be a tad less attractive today than Saturday with its shorter hours and the fact that it is a school night, which will keep some locals away in the evening. Folks comparing today to Monday the 14th (not shown in my image) will prefer MK today to MK tomorrow, because Monday the 14th is one of the rare Mondays when MK closes early. AK likely will be best today, and HS and MK likely worst.

OK, that’s it for the example week. Figure all this out for your dates and you will be set—or alternatively, just ping me in the comments form below!

Next, I’ll be thinking about what to do if you can’t, or won’t, arrive well before EMH starts!

 

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May 7, 2019   68 Comments

Massive Changes to EMH and Operating Hours 9/1 Through 11/2/2019

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS FOR YOU, AND FOR YOU, AND FOR YOU, BUT NOT FOR YOU

On May 3 Disney World announced a set of extraordinary changes to its Extra Magic Hours  program for the period from September 1, 2019 through November 2, 2019.

Extra Magic Hours are periods when only folk staying in eligible hotels can participate in the open attractions in a park. During normal times, they happen for each park typically twice per week, and the recent pattern has been as follows:

During September 1, 2019 through November 2, 2019, at three parks morning Extra Magic Hours will be daily, and will be earlier than has been common at this time of the year:

  • At Animal Kingdom they will be every day of the week, from 7a to 8a.
  • At Magic Kingdom, they will be every day of the week, from 7a to 8a.
  • At Hollywood Studios, they will be every day of the week, from 6a to 9a (which I sort of predicted here).
  • Epcot sees no changes to its traditional EMH patterns (at least so far), because Epcot is in fact the weak park that everyone has accused Hollywood Studios of being. The fact that it has escaped such criticism is purely a function of how much alcohol is readily available there.

Here’s how it shapes up graphically:

The effect of this is first to level out to an extent differential daily demand for the parks. For the uninformed, Extra Magic Hours serve as a cue (for those eligible for them) as to which park to go to that day. For the informed without park hoppers, EMH serve as cue as to which park to avoid that day. Having them be equally available removes these cues, and hence will have some effect in spreading crowds out among the parks.

Evening regular operating hours will remain as a powerful set of cues.

During this period, Magic Kingdom routinely closes at 6p three or four nights a week for the Halloween Party. This makes folks tend to avoid Magic Kingdom on days it closes early, and to flock there on days when it is open late. Imagine the effects on the Studios if the Studios were the only park with morning EMH on a day that Magic Kingdom closed early.

The extra EMH at both Magic Kingdom itself and Animal Kingdom will lessen the impact of their early closes on Hollywood Studios.

The three hours of EMH at the Studios every day are a bit of a leveling out of the fact that FastPass+ will not be “initially” available for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, the only ride that will be available during the partial opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

But, as I have written elsewhere, these three hours are not remotely enough EMH capacity to make up for the absence of FastPass+ at Smugglers Run. Only around 5,000 people a day will be able to ride Smugglers Run during EMH, of the 60,000 to 90,000 or so folk who are eligible for EMH each day.

STAGGERED EMH ALLOWS FOR BALKING

No one knows how many folks will show up in September and October.  I’ve written elsewhere that I don’t expect much impact from the partial opening of Galaxy’s Edge on the other three parks.  This conclusion is based on history, not guesswork, but even so it may well be wrong.

Imagine showing up at Hollywood Studios at 5.30a to discover that the line for Galaxy’s Edge is already three hours long.  Many will stick it out, but the presence of EMH at 7a at two other attractive parks creates alternative places for some to spend their mornings. Early morning crowding at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will be profoundly shaped by the degree of balking at Hollywood Studios–people showing up there, rejecting the wait, and going to their next best option.

8A OPENS FOR YOU AND YOU, BUT NOT FOR YOU AND YOU

During this period, Epcot and Hollywood Studios retain their traditional 9a opens to the general public.

However, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom during this period have their standard daily openings shifted from 9a to 8a. Daily 8a openings recently have been seen only during the worst of the holiday weeks.

These operating hours extensions will also increase the attractiveness of these two parks, particularly for those ineligible for or unwilling to get up for anyone’s EMH—an important cue especially on nights that Animal Kingdom closes at 8p or Magic Kingdom at 6p.

The net effect of both of these changes will be to further level out demand for the parks.

ROPE DROP WILL NOT WORK AS WELL AT EXCEPT AT EPCOT

“Rope dropping” is a common strategy for avoiding waits. To rope drop, your group arrives at a park not offering morning Extra Magic Hours well before regular open, and get to and stays near the head of the line of folks who plan to come in.

This puts you ahead of most folk when the park opens, and if you pick your first rides well (and especially if you have FastPass+ for the most popular rides anyway), can save you time all day long.

Well, since there are no days with no morning EMH at three parks during this period, rope dropping will not work out that well, except at Epcot. Rope dropping will in particular not work at Hollywood Studios, where you can expect the park to be quite busy by 9a.

However, the reason rope drop works at all is that many people on vacation—especially, but not only, first timers who don’t know better–are unwilling or unable to get their gang moving early enough in the morning to make it to the park entrances well before 9a. Rope drop is not magic—it just takes advantage of human nature and cussedness.

Well, even fewer people are willing and able to get their posse moving well before 7a. So at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, so long as you have FastPass+ for the very most popular rides, arriving at say 7.30a for an 8a open should still work OK.

That being said, if you are eligible for EMH, at these two parks you should probably arrive at 6.30a and do EMH, and if you aren’t eligible for EMH, you also probably have FastPass+ access only at 30 days before arrival, so may not be able to get FastPass+ for the very most popular rides.

So the best answer during this period is to stay at an EMH-eligible hotel and arrive well before EMH starts. Every hotel on this page  is eligible for EMH—in addition, also eligible for EMH are the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek  and the Waldorf Astoria Orlando.

Or you can just go to Epcot. It’s easy to drink there.

Kelly, the long-time travel agent partner of this site, can help you book an EMH-eligible hotel. Contact her using the form below:

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May 4, 2019   15 Comments