Mickey’s Party season has begun in earnest with the first Halloween Party selling out. Typically, the event starts about a week earlier in the month and the first few Halloween Parties are some of the least crowded of the year. That’s historically different than the Christmas Party, which typically sells out its first few Parties due to the Veterans Day holiday and marathon crowds.
I used to cover the event in a lot of detail. You can check out 2013’s 5000+ word/100+ picture look at strategizing your evening. But it’s such a nightmare to cover with the crowds and humidity that it’s just not worth it. And I don’t think I recommend going to the Mickey’s Parties at all anymore. The Party is a great opportunity to visit the major attractions with short waits, but the character lines are endless and there aren’t nearly enough of them, the parade route is congested, trick or treat lines are stupid long, and the iPads and shoulder kids make seeing the shows and fireworks frustrating. My advice to those considering attending a Party is to don’t, unless you’re looking at September 20th or 22nd, which should be relatively manageable. Or if you do, be aware of what you’re getting yourself into and plan accordingly.
The fact is that “crowds” or “the number of people in the Park” is significantly lower than just about any other day of the year. But with so few people interested in the usual rides and so much going on around Cinderella Castle that it “feels” much more crowded. And I think this year it’s gotten to the point where it’s not enjoyable if your priorities are the Hocus Pocus show, Boo to You Parade, HalloWishes, trick or treating, and special characters. That’s really what you’re paying the $75 for, I think.
This is a look at wait times during the day on Tuesday September 15th, which was the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. 4pm is highlighted because that’s the time Party goers can enter the Park with their Party tickets. 7pm is highlighted because that’s when the Party starts. As you can see, wait times for the majority of the attractions are short or nonexistent after 7pm. Peter Pan’s Flight and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are the two exceptions. You’re best served putting either off until about 11:15pm if you’re planning to see the 12am Hocus Pocus show or saving Peter Pan for around 11:30pm and then getting in line for Mine Train at 11:59pm if you’re not.
Daytime wait times are manageable for the most part, though high FastPass+ distribution rates continue to push wait times up higher at historically secondary attractions.
September is usually peak “Disney World was busier than my visit in 2009!! And because of that the crowd calendar was wrong!!!” season. The thing about September is that it’s the least crowded time of year regardless of how crowded it is. It’s the one time of year when most families with kids can’t get away from school and extracurricular activities and international attendance is also modest. Remember that the easyWDW crowd calendar only compares crowds to the six months before and the six months after a given date. So when we discuss a day with a crowd level of “1,” we’re not comparing it to the recession economy of 2010, the pre-FP+ era of 2012, or your first visit in 1987. I’ll occasionally see somebody say something like, “We haven’t seen the Parks less than a ‘5’ in the last three years!” As I’ve mentioned countless times in the past, this is sort of a dumb way of looking at it as there’s not much use in starting your scale at a “5” and going up to a “10.” Because then what you really have is a scale that could just as easily be a “1” to a “5.” And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to start your scale at a “5” and go up to a “15” because then you have a scale that basically goes from “1” to “10.” But I guess if it makes you feel better, you might print the crowd calendar for your visit, cross out all the numbers, and add six to everything. Then early September here becomes a “7” and Christmas is a “16.” But regardless of what number you attribute to a given day, the fact remains that September, for the most part, sees the lowest wait times and fewest number of people in the Parks of the entire year (barring economic or natural disaster). This is not a debatable position.
As far as going back and looking over what crowds were like compared to what was predicted, we can actually do that. The Cheat Sheets include expected wait times based on crowd level. For a Mickey’s Party date, the next chart illustrates the expected waits. The “Lavg” on the right is the average wait from the chart below where the “L” stands for “Lowest.” The “Havg” wait is the average wait for the next chart, where the “H” stands for “heavy:”
Compare that 9am-7pm Party date to what you can expect from much heavier crowds with much longer operating hours:
A few things probably stick out. First, average waits over the course of the day don’t always skyrocket under heavy crowds. There are a few reasons for this, but it’s largely due to the fact that heavier crowds come with longer operating hours, and the typically short waits after 9pm help bring the day’s averages down. Maximum FastPass+ distribution rates also come into play. That means an attraction like Haunted Mansion or Peter Pan’s Flight is going to have a similar number of people arriving with FP+ on the least crowded days as the most crowded days. And as we know, FP+ users are typically prioritized over standby riders at a ratio that nears 4 to 1. That means 60-70% of a ride’s capacity goes to FastPass+ or for every 10 people admitted onto a ride, seven will be FP+ users and three will be standby riders. In other words, so much of an attraction’s capacity goes to FP+ that standby waits suffer even given far few people in the Park.
Otherwise, peak afternoon waits are typically 50% to 100% higher on the more heavily crowded day. Ariel’s Grotto peaks at 60 instead of 30, even if it goes back down to 10 and 5 at the very end of the night. Astro Orbiter hits 40 minutes instead of 30. Barnstormer maxes out at 40 minutes on more-heavily-crowded days instead of 20 on the least crowded days. Big Thunder hits 75 instead of 40 before going down to 20 and 10 at the end of the night.
Back to comparing what was expected versus what actually happened, let’s take a look at the chart:
This is probably not the best way to visualize the data, but if you take a look at what this website looks like, you shouldn’t be surprised. What I’ve done is charted the actual posted waits throughout the day on top in “white” and the expected wait times from the Cheat Sheets in “green” underneath.
The first thing you should notice is that the expected wait times from the Cheat Sheet are longer than the actual posted wait times. This is due mostly to the fact that there’s only one Cheat Sheet wait times chart for Party days and these days in September are some of the least crowded of the year. If we were looking at a Party date in October with average crowds, the posted waits from the day in question would be a little higher and more in line with what was expected. The rest of the chart:
Or the original Excel file, which may be easier to work with: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/mkseptemberpartywaits.xlsx
Looking over the expected vs actual posted waits, it’s pretty clear that the average, peak, and exact waits throughout the day are even lower here in September than what the website predicted with just a few exceptions. And those exceptions aren’t off by more than five or so minutes.
So what have we learned? If past history is any indication…probably nothing…But as far as, “Will easyWDW adjust crowd levels based on this year?” The answer is “No.” Because they don’t need to be. September is the least crowded time of the year. It’s not debatable. Adjust your expectations accordingly. But I will remind you of the bet I made with you all back in January:
I’m happy to announce a new game we’re playing on the website. If you visit during a “crowd level 1 or 2 day” and think the wait times and attendance were much higher than predicted, you get to pick another date during the year outside of September that you think will have lower waits and lower attendance. And then when that date actually has higher attendance and higher wait times because you actually did visit on one of the least crowded days of the year with the lowest wait times, you get to pay me $100. It’s fun because I always win.
If you want to go Full Kira™, you’re more than welcome to forward me a date along with a check.
Moving on to the other Parks, the overall crowd level on September 17th was a “1” with Animal Kingdom as the third most recommended Park. The expected wait times hold up pretty well here. Downtime at DINOSAUR pushes up the 5pm wait time – otherwise the average would be within a minute. Everest is within three minutes. Kilimanjaro Safaris stands out as being off, but again, it looks like downtime was a problem with 30 minutes worth in the afternoon. Capacity may have been an issue earlier in the day.
This is on Tuesday of last week – a most recommended day and a day after Labor Day. Kali River Rapids sees waits a little higher given weather that might have been a little nicer. Safaris continues to see higher peak waits from 11am-12pm before dropping down to walk-on status from 2:30pm on out.
For the seven or eight of you still with me, we move on to Epcot. Again, the overall crowd level on September 17th was predicted to be a “1” with Epcot as the most recommended Park. Ellen’s Energy Adventure is apparently posted at ten minutes according to the app, even if it’s a walk-on. The average Journey into Imagination comes out spot on, though the ride does post a peak wait of 25 minutes from 11am-11:30am before dropping back down to 5 minutes by noon. Mission: SPACE’s average is within a minute of expected. Soarin’ is within three minutes – the expected average is higher than the actual posted. Spaceship Earth’s expected wait according to the cheat sheet is also higher as Earth was at five minutes as early as 12:45pm. Usually the longer posted waits last longer into the afternoon. Test Track was down at Park open for about three hours and was then closed for another two hours after that, resulting in higher standby waits due to more FastPass+ users returning in a small window of time. Disney has a 10-minute posted wait at Nemo all day, but it’s likely a walk-on all day. Overall, waits are in line with exactly what you should expect from a “1” day.
Subtracting a day, Test Track doesn’t go down until 4:30pm, which is better than usual. That still pushes up posted standby waits (which are likely exaggerated) at the end of the night, but the afternoon sees 15-minute posted waits, indicating very low crowds. You’d be lucky to see anything under 60 over the summer. Soarin’ waits are lower than expected as well, though you could complain that both Ellen and The Seas with Nemo are TWICE AS HIGH as the Cheat Sheet says.
Subtract a week to the Monday over Labor Day Weekend with a higher overall crowd level and you see higher wait times, but things are still more than manageable.
Hollywood Studios was highly recommended on the 17th. Muppet Vision waits are your standard five minutes. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster follows what’s expected pretty well. According to the Cheat Sheet:
Finally, the last few pages are wait times charts. They assume that the Park specified is recommended that day. The Park hours and crowd level are in the upper left hand corner. The attractions are down the left and the time of day goes across the top. This is not an exact science. I’ve stood in front of Tower of Terror and watched the wait go from 90 minutes to 30 minutes to 50 minutes over the course of just a minute or two. But this will give you an idea about what to expect over the course of the day depending on the crowd level. Make sure to note the Park hours and crowd level at the top of each chart.
Disney doesn’t always post accurate wait times, which can make making generalizations problematic. Star Tours goes from 20 minutes at 12pm to 50 minutes at 12:15pm and is then back down again to 10 minutes just 45 minutes later at 1pm. But for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the average wait comes in exactly right. Star Tours sees its average higher than expected, thanks to what are probably some inaccurately high wait times or surges after Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular concludes next door. Still, there are 21 instances of a ten-minute wait, which means the attraction would basically be a walk-on for at least five hours. Great Movie Ride wait times need to be adjusted higher for all crowd levels. Over the summer, it was routinely peaking at 60 minutes for an extended period of time. Tower of Terror’s waits are lower than expected with an average of just 20 minutes. It can see much higher waits given the same number of people in the Park if it’s having capacity problems. Toy Story Mania’s posted waits take off faster than the Cheat Sheet states, but there isn’t necessarily a big difference between a 61-minute average and a 51-minute average, practically speaking.
Subtract exactly one week and you have basically the same wait times as the 17th given the same crowd level and the recommendation. Wait times from the 11th are even on a Night of Joy day with a 7pm close at Magic Kingdom, which typically makes the other Parks busier.
Crowd perception is largely based on experience and expectations. Walt Disney World is made up of four of the most visited theme parks in the world, with Magic Kingdom far and away #1. To a point, you could say that it’s always “crowded.” But crowd levels are based on “how crowded” it is compared to the six months before and the six months after a given date. Crowd levels are also distributed along what is commonly called a “bell curve,” so you have a lot more 4s, 5s, and 6s than you do 1s and 10s. In fact, the only time you’ll see a crowd level “10” is when one of the Parks is liable to close to capacity and that’s almost always Magic Kingdom.
September is the least crowded time of year by a significant margin. That doesn’t mean Mine Train is going to be a walk-on or Toy Story Mania isn’t going to see 70 minute waits or it isn’t going to “feel” congested when you’re standing in front of Expedition Everest surrounded by walls or as you head towards Tower of Terror as a Beauty and the Beast show just lets out, but it remains the best time of year to visit as far as crowds are concerned. And if you are still under the impression that September is exactly like July, I would invite you to change your dates next year and visit me in the heart of the summer. I have a feeling your trip the year after will be back to September.