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 — Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Crowds and Capacity at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Star Wars Opens

I meant what follows on the post-Star Wars opening capacity of and crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the course of a day to be the basis of thinking through how to tour Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the Extra Extra Magic Hours period.

However, combining the two concepts gets a little complicated, so as a precursor to that—and because it has independent interest—let’s first talk about capacity and crowds during this period at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I’ll post about touring later.

During the Extra Extra Magic Hours period (EEMH), park hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios—including EEMH—will be from 6a til 10p, 16 hours a day. During the equivalent periods last year, the Studios were open most commonly from 9a-8a, but a few nights (mostly in September 2018) it was open until 9 or 9.30p. (See this for a September 2018 example, and this for an October one.)  So let’s use 8.15p as the average comparable 2018 close, which yields an average day of 11.15 hours.

So 16 hours is a 42% increase over the equivalent period last year. That means that HS will be able to serve about 44,000 people per average 16 hour operating day, compared to the 30,844 folks it served per average day in 2018 (latest available estimates, from TEA).

The extra 13,00 people per day translate into 4.75 million more people a year—on the order of double what Pandora, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley each saw in their first years. This closely enough matches my prior first year forecast of 4 million extra people in Hollywood Studios because of Galaxy’s Edge that I will go ahead and use it.

Double this number because of the same land opening in California, and you’ve got a nationwide opening of 9.5 million people, ten percent more than what the entire Disney’s Animal Kingdom park saw in its first calendar year. (Data here.)

So we are done, right? There’s enough capacity for any reasonable estimate of full year crowds. Do we really think a land with one ride will open nationally at the scale of an entire theme park?

Well, no, we aren’t quite done yet…

First, while after the first few days I don’t expect the partial open to be quite the draw that a full open would have been, it’s not unreasonable to think that it could be, say, three quarters of the draw.

Second, capacity varies across the day—from the EEMH period to the regular operating period to later at night when we are unlikely to see a full show schedule.

Third, show schedule capacity is harder to expand (and calculate!) than it is to simply add more hours to e.g. Star Tours. There’s no actual good capacity data out there in general, and particularly for shows, where the issue is both auditorium capacity and practical limits on frequency, which come from set turnaround issues and staffing issues.

To calculate show capacity, I have estimated auditorium size, and used current minimum intervals between shows to set frequency, while assuming no shows during EMH or much after 8p. For example, at Indiana Jones, the minimum time between shows next week is 1.25 hours. That means with a 9a first show it could run nine to ten times a day, rather than the five times it is showing next week.

Fourth, even with a sixteen hour day, there may still not be enough capacity to serve the demand for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ride that will be opening on August 29. Note that current practice is to let everyone ride a ride who is in line before official park close, so by current practice there will be more than 16 hours of capacity. Moreover, ride starts before the official opening time (6a, in this case) have been recently common for hot, new, in-demand rides. I expect Disney to limit both of these in some fashion, especially early on, so that there is sufficient time overnight for maintenance, so have modeled a 6a open and a last Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride of 2 hours after official close, getting to 18 hour actual day of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge capacity.

At about 1500 rides an hour, that’s 24,000 rides over 16 hours, and 27,000 over 18 hours. Call it 24,000 over 18 hours to account for inefficiencies in loading, VIP rides, and breakdowns, and you get less than 60% of the folks in the park actually being able to ride Smuggler’s Run.

Fifth, we don’t have a precise list of what will be open during EEMH other than Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. I am assuming that at least Star Tours, Rock ‘n’ Roller, Tower of Terror, and Star Wars Launch Bay will also be open during EEMH—although we may find that some of the last four don’t open right at 6a.

Sixth, I don’t know quite how to think of the new Star Wars land itself—that is, experiencing it beyond the ride—as an independent attraction, and thus an additional source of capacity. This is easy to overcomplicate. Simple math (and other simple assumptions about operations) would say that the land itself is one more attraction.

Seventh, while I have tried to keep my capacity numbers practical, the fact is the for reasons of both crowd flow (especially first thing in the morning) and intrinsic attractiveness not all the capacity will be fully utilized. I will comment on this point below topic by topic.

And finally (and maybe I should have started with this), as I mentioned in the show point above, there’s no authoritative source for practical capacity. I have used various estimates to come up with what follows, but take it as approximate starting points to aid with decision making, rather than gospel.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOURS CAPACITY

I get practical capacity, including all the rides I expect to see open, and treating Galaxy’s Edge itself as an attraction, of about 11,500 per hour during the EEMH hours of 6a-9a. Actual capacity utilized will be less than this, especially in the early part of Extra Extra Magic Hours.

Folks entering the park at 6a will largely rush to Smugglers Run. Smaller subsets not interested in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, but quite interested in avoiding potential later crowds, will head to their targeted other rides, most commonly Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Only the most unusual or most confused will head at 6a to Star Tours or Alien Saucers Spin or Toy Story Mania.

Expect a large group of people ready to enter as soon as EEMH begins, and another substantial group to enter in the next 30 minutes or so who had planned to arrive before 6a, but life happened. After a lull, a steady and increasing stream of EEMH eligible folk—figuring some EEMH is better than none—will continue to enter the park.

Exactly what happens during this period is partly a function of what people believe to be true, and partly a function of their ability to act in response. If many people believe that they will see massive lines for Smuggler’s Run if they arrive after 7a, and are able to arrive by 5.30a, then we will see massive lines within minutes of opening. If they don’t believe the first point, or, more likely, aren’t able to get to the park that early, then Smuggler’s Run lines will build more slowly over the early morning.

Hourly arrival rates greater than hourly capacity increase lines. So if 6,000 of the ~90,000 EEMH eligible people show up for Smugglers Run before 9a, with the large majority of them arriving after 7a, then lines at 8.59a will be around two hours.

The exit from Galaxy’s Edge is expected to be right into Toy Story Land, by Alien Saucers Spin, so as soon as folks start exiting Galaxy’s Edge, Slinky Dog will start building to full capacity, and after that so will the other Toy Story Land rides.

Wiser tourers getting out of Galaxy’s Edge early in the morning will skip Alien Swirling Saucers, use a pre-booked FastPass+ later on Toy Story Mania, and see Slinky Dog Dash immediately upon exiting Galaxy’s Edge. They then will head to Rock ‘n’ Roller or Tower of Terror. If the Slinky Dog line is already too long, then get in line for it close to park close.

How long it will take for these non- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge EEMH rides to build to full practical capacity in the morning is first a function of how many people directly target them at 6a, second how many people balk from the waits for Galaxy’s Edge and head to them instead (some may instead balk to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom, as they will each have 7a EEMH), and finally the rate at which people leave Galaxy’s Edge.

Some folks, more interested in rides and low waits than in rockwork, will head straight from Smugglers Run to rides outside Galaxy’s Edge; others will linger in the immersive Galaxy’s Edge environment. My guess is that we will see an average length of stay in Galaxy’s Edge (excluding wait times in the Smugglers Run queue) of in excess of ninety minutes, but with quite a wide distribution.

My model suggests all these EEMH rides will be at practical capacity in hour three (that is, 8a-9a) but none except the Star Wars option will be at capacity at the end of hour one, although Slinky Dog and the two Sunset Boulevard rides will start seeing people right away. The result is in an overall use of about 60% of available total practical capacity over the three hours.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS 9A TO 8P CAPACITY

At 9a, other attractions—principally shows—come on line, and add by my model on average about 6000 practical opportunities an hour to the park, although this will vary each hour depending on exact show schedules. Thus practical hourly capacity goes up to about 17,500 folks.

At the same time a new group—those not eligible for the Extra Extra Magic Hours—will enter the park. (A full list of hotels eligible for Extra Extra Magic Hours is here).  Many of these new entrants will focus on Galaxy’s Edge, driving waits related to it to the highest levels they will see all day, and some of those will balk from its lines–to the rest of the park, to elsewhere in Disney World, or sulkily off to Gatorland. Others who enter the park at 9a will be aimed at anything but Star Wars—and some of those will be aimed at the thrill rides, some at the more all-comers attractions, some at both.

How entry to Galaxy’s Edge is managed will, for an equal number of park entrants, profoundly affect the rest of the Studios.

My guess right now is that after the first hour or two of EEMH, Disney will be managing entries into Galaxy’s Edge based simply on the hourly throughput of the ride, making people wait in line for their chance to enter the land. Further, I can see a lot of operational reasons why Disney might ration rides on Smugglers Run to one per person entering the land. So assume for the moment that the ride can handle 1,500 people an hour, that Disney has targeted a maximum three hour wait in the ride queue itself, and the sense is that the land can productively hold 6,000 people.

If length of stay is on average two hours after the ride itself, then at some between 9a and 11a point here’s what the land will look like

  • 3,000 people milling about in the land (two hour length of stay on 1,500 people exiting Smugglers Run an hour)*
  • 4,500 people in the Smuggler’s Run ride queue
  • 3,000 or more people (a couple of hours’ worth) waiting to get into the land

The important thing to observe about this is that on this set of assumptions we’ve got 10,500+ people in Hollywood Studios, but “trapped” in Star Wars. That accounts for 80% of the average ~13,000 incremental people I am forecasting to be in the park on an average day after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.

Moreover, what happens to an average someone who enters the line to get in the land at, say, 10a, when perhaps all the numbers above will be hit? Well, they will exit the land at something like 5p—two hours to get into the land, three hours to get on the ride, two hours more on the ride and then in the land wandering.

So what we can expect, I think—at least until Rise of the Resistance opens, and so long as Disney manages Star War waits by making people physically wait in line to enter the land and to get on the ride–is that other than in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge itself, at Slinky Dog, and at Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster,** waits will actually be manageable in the rest of the park. Yes, 1,500 people an hour at some point start exiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and others will have balked out of it entirely—but the rest of the park, too has an effective increase in capacity from the later close and what I expect to be an increased show schedule.

If you don’t care about Star Wars, or see it either at 6a first thing or at the end of the day, and have FastPass+ for Slinky Dog, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller, in the scenario so far—just Smugglers Run open, and waits managed by physical lines–you’ll probably be just fine.

There are other operating concepts as well. In one, people in Galaxy’s Edge already will be permitted to get back in line for re-rides. This reduces the entry rate into the land itself, and increases length of stay, which will have the effect of lengthening how long it takes for equal number of people to enter the land and complete their experience in it. Re-rides will also force entry to the land to be closed well before park close. If the goal is to have no more than 3,000 people in line for Smugglers Run at 10p, then they’d need to stop admitting people to Galaxy’s Edge around 8p to get the numbers to all balance out. As more experience with the actual overnight maintenance needs of the ride (and the land) emerges, these late evening lines (and even the park close time) may be allowed to be longer.

Another operating concept would be to manage entry into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge via a virtual queue, rather than through an actual line. In this framework, you would have something like a reservation to enter Galaxy’s Edge, but would be free to enjoy the rest of Hollywood Studios until your Galaxy’s Edge reservation became timely.

This is the way California is going, but Disneyland is profoundly different than Hollywood Studios—Disneyland has about eight times as many attractions, and an entire additional theme park just 10 minutes away. At the Studios, folks in the virtual queue will simply lengthen waits at the already long-wait Slinky Dog, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller, and start to fill out the waits at the secondary rides and shows, as folk need to do something with their time before they can enter Galaxy’s Edge.

So while I certainly foresee a virtual queue (called FastPass+) eventually–and some use of virtual queues even before then, on lower-crowd days after operations are stable–I don’t expect to see it used much at Disney World during the early period of the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

But, you might ask, could Disney not have enough data from the three months earlier open in California to better manage some of these unknowns (length of stay, proportion of those entering wishing to re-ride, balking rates, maintenance needs)?

Well, the answer is that Disney will learn as much as it can, but what it learns from California will not be conclusive for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The issue is the two very different types of visitors. Disneyland is dominated by locals, and Disney World by out-of-towners.

Simply put, it is much easier for a local in Southern California to come back at another time than it is for someone flying in to Disney World from Baltimore. Analytically, this means that the opportunity cost of not doing something in Galaxy’s Edge is much lower for an average visitor to the California version of Galaxy’s Edge than it is for a visitor to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s easier for Californians to balk when they see waits, to spend less time in the land itself, and to put off a re-ride, in all cases because they can simply come back another time. This lower opportunity cost means that what Disney learns on these matters from California may have little relevance to Florida.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS LATE EVENING CAPACITY

At some point, the shows will wind down, taking about 6,000 experiences an hour out of capacity—but I expect to see at least two showings of Fantasmic to be offered, e.g. at 8 and 9.30p, or half an hour earlier in October, plus the one showing of Star Wars Galactic Spectacular to continue. These evening shows more than add back the capacity lost to the shows shutting down.

I don’t have a strong feeling for what Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be like in the evening—especially weekday evenings. At some point, the lines for Galaxy’s Edge will shrink—they have to, so it can be closed for maintenance. Where will these people be? And folks who have spent hours in Star Wars may be trying to see the rest of the park in this period. Families who don’t care about Star Wars will largely leave after—or even before—the first Fantasmic. On the other hand, on weekdays, locals may flock in once they get off of work.

FASTPASS+ AVAILABILITY DURING THE EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOUR PERIOD

My model suggests about 275,000 units of capacity over the day. If 44,000 people are in the park, there’s a little more than 6 experiences available per person. Among the attractions offering FastPass+, at 70% of capacity about 140,000 FastPass+ bookings will be available, just a tad more than 3 per person. (About a quarter of the FastPass+ opportunities will be in Toy Story Land, a third in the other rides like Rock ‘n’ Roller and Tower of Terror that I expect to open with EEMH, a third in shows and other 9a opening rides, and 10% for Fantasmic.)

The FastPass+ capacity (at 44,000 people, it’s 3.17 per park entrant) is quite low—the Runaway Railway would have been a help here, although as I have written elsewhere as an independent draw of people to the park who might have otherwise avoided Hollywood Studios altogether during the Star Wars mess, it may well have made everything worse.

The extra access that we know some folks will have to Slinky Dog Dash, and likely to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, during EEMH, will in effect help with this issue for those eligible for EEMH. Folks not interested in Star Wars could see these three rides during EMH, setting their FastPass+ for the afternoon for three lower priority attractions, and take a nap in between…

*If this seems low to you, recall that the second ride will double it, getting the land to the 6,000 I’d noted. For any given attendance level, the more people the land itself holds, the better for the rest of the park.

**And maybe Star Tours and the Star Wars Launch Bay, as well

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May 27, 2019   4 Comments

Arriving at Disney’s Animal Kingdom After Extra Extra Magic Hours

ANIMAL KINGDOM ROPE DROP DURING EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOURS

After the partial opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom (and also Magic Kingdom) will have daily Extra Magic Hours from 7a-8a for more than 2 months—from August 29, 2019 until (at least as announced so far) November 2.

This somewhat simplifies planning Animal Kingdom visits during this period, as it makes the presence or absence of morning extra magic hours a non-issue.

But for those not eligible for Extra Magic Hours (all the hotels whose guests are eligible are here), what to do?

Below I have some suggestions on how to approach Animal Kingdom if you are not eligible for Extra Magic Hours. [Read more →]

May 14, 2019   No Comments

Arriving at Magic Kingdom After Extra Extra Magic Hours

MAGIC KINGDOM ROPE DROP DURING EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOURS

After the partial opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Magic Kingdom (and also Disney’s Animal Kingdom) will have daily Extra Magic Hours from 7a-8a for more than 2 months—from August 29, 2019 until (at least as announced so far) November 2.

This somewhat simplifies Magic Kingdom visits during this period, as it makes the presence or absence of morning extra magic hours a non issue (the differences between days with early versus late closes remain critical to planning).

But for those not eligible for Extra Magic Hours (all the hotels whose guests are eligible are here), what to do?

Below I have some suggestions on how to approach Magic Kingdom if you are not eligible for Extra Magic Hours. [Read more →]

May 12, 2019   4 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   50 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

Updated 2019 Disney World Crowd Forecasts and Week Rankings

I’ve just revised my 2019 Disney World Crowd Calendar,  and–because crowds are a big part of it–also my 2019 Disney World week rankings.

These revisions were based on two things—the partial opening of Star Wars on August 29, and my new information on actual 2019 fall breaks.

Weeks affected by forecast crowd level changes were those starting 8/24/19 (the week of the partial opening) through 10/26/19. The opening date for the rest of Galaxy’s Edge, once announced, may require me to revise the later among these, and the later weeks of 2019, yet another time.

The basic approach I take to crowd forecasting is Bayesian:

  • I use my knowledge of how crowds have varied over the course of the year to set my priors—I’ve been doing this for a decade now, so have a pretty good set of priors.
  • I then gather new, relevant, future-oriented information, apply judgment and parallel examples to it, and then as needed revise my priors.

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April 22, 2019   No Comments