Just a heads up for those visiting this weekend: Hollywood Studios will be open until 11pm on March 14th. The previous close was 9:30pm. Hollywood Studios will open at 8am instead of 9am on Sunday March 15th.

We should see the initial release of October 2015′s operating schedule tomorrow or Monday, along with major changes to July’s operating hours and a few changes to April.

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Via a Disney Parks Blog announcement, Disney confirmed the return of the popular 24-hour day over Memorial Day Weekend, beginning at 6am on Friday May 22nd and ending at 6am on Saturday May 23rd. It’s a strange promotion because Memorial Day Weekend is already naturally crowded and the long operating hours stress out cast members that are already looking forward to an excruciatingly hot, busy summer season. This year, Disney’s Tomorrowland movie will open on the 22nd, but the in-Park tie-in remains Olaf and Frozen.

Anyway, the novelty of these events is the late night, with peak crowds from 7pm-1am. Expect daytime crowds from 6am-6pm on Friday to be manageable should you already have plans to visit Magic Kingdom. By 8pm or so, Magic Kingdom’s parking lot should close to capacity with guests sent to Epcot to park and then take the monorail over. I’ve attended the event the last three years and never had any problems before 6pm on Friday. After that, it’s a fun atmosphere that isn’t really replicated any other day of the year. But it is hot, humid, and crowded after 8pm with more people in the Park than the wait times might indicate. This chart shows posted wait times from last year’s event should you have interest: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/24hourparty.xlsx.

The announcement should have a mild impact on the crowd calendar for that weekend. Magic Kingdom will remain recommended on Friday the 22nd through 6pm. After that, it’s going to be crowded and potentially difficult to park. Saturday should remain non-recommended due to the holiday, but you would be able to have a lot of success from 9am-12pm, not unlike any other day. It also looks like Disney is canceling the evening Extra Magic Hours on Saturday the 24th, though that is not yet confirmed.

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Spring Break Walt Disney World Wait Times

by josh on March 10, 2015

Edit: Magic Kingdom chart for 3/10/15 added at the end.

Spring break is upon us as we look toward six solid weeks of above average overall crowds. We’ll take a look at wait times from March 9th, the first Monday of spring break and discuss what you can expect if you’re visiting over the next few weeks. Wait times here will also be similar to the busy summertime period from Memorial Day Weekend in May through the third week in August.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/ak309.jpg

Animal Kingdom was highly recommended with relatively reasonable wait times for most of the day. As usual, you have an hour in the morning and two hours in the evening of low to nonexistent wait times. As things heat up, Kali River Rapids will see higher wait times earlier in the day, though it’s already hitting the highest peak and average waits with highs in the mid-80s.

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This review is sponsored by by DVC Magic Resales at www.dvcmagicresales.com (they used their DVC points to book the room and in exchange will also be posting this review and reviews of the other properties). If you’re looking to buy into the Disney Vacation Club or purchase more points for less than you’d pay Disney directly, they’re a great choice. They also take excellent care of those looking to sell their contracts independently.

The Saratoga Springs review is available here and Old Key West is available here should you have missed them or would like a quick refresher. A Beach Club Villa review is incoming next week.

Our first two Disney Vacation Club (DVC) reviews centered around the two standalone Disney Vacation Club properties, Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Old Key West Resort. The reviews of the properties that follow will focus on the DVC wings of the resorts they’re attached to, in addition to covering the main resorts’ numerous amenities. For example, a map of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge:

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3/18/15 Update: Crowd Calendar updated with the changes listed here.

This is the Free September 2015 Disney World Crowd Calendar that shows the Recommended Parks to Visit, Overall Crowd Level Estimation, Cost, Historic High/Low Temperature, Historic Chance of Precipitation, Extra Magic Hours Schedule, Fantasmic Show Times, Holidays, and Special Events.

Make sure you first read my month-by-month overview of visiting Disney World, located here. The overview will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of cost, crowds, weather, and special events on a broader scale. Once you figure out when you would like to visit, you can move on to this more detailed look.

Here’s a quick explanation of how to read the calendar and what the numbers mean. It may seem like it’s a little long, but you’ll only need to read the explanation once.

  • The first line in each box is the date.
  • The second line shows the cost to book a room at a Disney-owned resort. $ = Value Season, $$ = Regular Season, $$$ = Summer Season, $$$$ = Peak Season, and $$$$$ = Holiday Season. Occasionally there will be a + or – after the $$$ to show that the cost is slightly higher or lower than usual, but not by enough to raise it another $ notch.
  • The third line is the average high and low temperature and the chance of precipitation. All data is based on the last 15 years. I wouldn’t read too much into the precipitation percentages for each day because just one or two additional days of rain in the last 15 years can raise the percentage substantially. I included it so you can look at the precipitation trends throughout the month(s) and take it into consideration when deciding when to book your vacation. For a broader overview of the month, read the month-by-month overview I linked to above.
  • The fourth line is an estimation of the overall crowd level. A “5″ refers to average crowds. Numbers above 5 refer to a larger than average overall crowd level and numbers below 5 refer to lower than average overall crowds. A day with an overall crowd level of “1″ means that the crowds are expected to be the absolute lowest of the year and a “10″ means crowds are expected to be at their largest of the year. In other words, the overall crowd level estimation will give you an idea of how many people are in the entire Disney World complex, including the four major theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, golf courses, resorts, etc. Individual theme parks can have smaller or larger crowds than the overall estimation, which is where the theme park recommendations come in.
  • The fifth line shows the theme parks I recommend visiting in green and the theme parks I recommend avoiding in red. There is also a | sign that splits up the recommended and not recommended Parks for the color blind or those printing in black and white (the Parks to the left of the | sign are recommended). I use the usual abbreviations for the Parks; AK is the Animal Kingdom, EP is Epcot, HS is Hollywood Studios, and MK is the Magic Kingdom. In addition to the colors, the Park on the far left is the most recommended Park to visit that day. The Park second to the left is the second most recommended and so on. For example, if the line reads AK EP | HS MK then the Animal Kingdom is the most recommended and Epcot is the second most recommended. On the other side of the | sign, Hollywood Studios is not recommended and the Magic Kingdom is expressly not recommended even more. If possible, I would strongly recommend you visit the Park that is most recommended each day. Please read below the calendar for an overview of how I’ve selected the recommended Parks and also a day-by-day explanation.
  • The sixth line lists which Parks have Extra Magic Hours and at what time they start. Morning Extra Magic Hour lasts one hour and usually starts at 8am. Evening Extra Magic Hours last two hours from the start time. For example, if you see AK:8am EP:9pm, that means the Animal Kingdom has a morning Extra Magic Hour from 8am-9am and Epcot has evening Extra Magic Hours from 9pm-11pm.
  • The seventh line lists the Fantasmic show times at the Hollywood Studios.
  • The eighth line lists the start time of Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP:) and Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom(W:). For example, if you see, MSEP: 9pm & 11pm W: 10pm, it would mean that Main Street Electrical Parade begins at 9pm and 11pm and Wishes begins at 10pm.

The Calendar is also available in an easy to view and print PDF file, Here.

Click the image to enlarge it.

Tuesday September 1

Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm (Most Recommended)

Epcot: 9am – 9pm (Not Recommended)

Morning Extra Magic Hour: 8am – 9am

Illuminations: 9pm

Hollywood Studios: 9am – 8pm (Recommended)

Fantasmic: 8:30pm

Magic Kingdom: 9am – 10pm (Recommended)

Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3pm, Main Street Electrical Parade: 9pm, Wishes Fireworks: 10pm

Animal Kingdom is the most recommended Park. We don’t have special events, Extra Magic Hours, or anything specific drawing people toward it. Sunday’s and tomorrow’s morning Extra Magic Hours will be more popular with Disney resort guests. It’s early enough in the week that many people on weeklong vacations will be saving Animal Kingdom for later in the week. To have the most success, arrive prior to Park opening and head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest. You’ll have no trouble riding both with very low waits before 10am. Once you get through these two attractions, you have little to worry about other than trying to get to the scheduled shows. Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King do get busy during the afternoon shows, so try to see the first or last show of the day. You’ll also want to get to DinoLand USA before 10:30am to ride Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR because those two attractions are popular. Still, they aren’t necessarily your top morning priorities. You should have no trouble experiencing most everything Animal Kingdom has to offer in one day, provided you arrive early in the morning, tour efficiently, use FastPass+ intelligently, and keep an eye on the time in order to see the scheduled stage shows. Finally, crowds disperse around 4pm. Plan to stay through close because waits will only get shorter as it gets later in the evening. Visit DinoLand after 3pm and Asia after 4pm to find much lower waits than the afternoon.

Epcot is not recommended. Disney is extremely successful at selling the Extra Magic Hours program in its marketing materials. Even people that have no idea what “Soaring” is and think they’ll be riding the monorail from Animal Kingdom to Epcot know about Extra Magic Hours. Even when overall crowds are low, Disney still enjoys 85% occupancy over 25,000 rooms resort-wide. And guess where a lot of those 75,000+ people are going to be headed? Skip it unless you can’t get there any other day or are certain you’ll arrive prior to 8am for the morning Extra Magic Hour and plan to either Park Hop elsewhere or take a break in the afternoon.

Hollywood Studios is recommended. Yesterday’s evening Extra Magic Hours/Fantasmic combo will be a bigger draw and the addition of Fantasmic to every day this week spreads crowds out more evenly. Because of that, your touring plan is more important than which day you decide to visit the Studios. Arrive by 8:15am, head directly to Toy Story Mania, and then visit Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Great Movie Ride. Do this, and you’ll be in great shape for the rest of the day. Don’t arrive until 10am and you’ll end up with a 60+ minute waits at Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and potentially Tower of Terror. After getting through the headliners, focus on the Studios’ stage shows and high capacity attractions like Muppet Vision and Star Tours. Popular characters may also be a morning priority. You may want to take a break in the afternoon from 1pm to 5pm or so when crowds get heavier. Return for dinner, some evening rides, and Fantasmic. Finally, consider the Fantasmic Dining Package that guarantees everyone on the reservation a seat in the reserved section of the Hollywood Hills Theater if you’re planning to see the early show. It will still require you to arrive 20 minutes early (or you run the risk of Disney opening the reserved sections to the general population), but it’s better than the 60 minute wait that may be required to get decent seats without it. The Dining Package makes the most sense if you’re also on the Disney Dining Plan because it costs the same one-table-service credit at Hollywood and Vine or Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano and two-table-service credits that you would use otherwise. It also includes the appetizer, which is a nice bonus. If you’d prefer not to spring for the show or it’s not available, plan to see the later show (which should be added in the future). It’s far less crowded because so many families have to leave early with young kids and there aren’t two large sections reserved for Dining Package users. The best seats are at least half way up in the middle sections. You’ll have a great view of the entire stage, what’s happening on the water, and won’t risk getting wet. Overall, it’s a recommended day because it would be better than yesterday or tomorrow, but what you do is more important than arriving on the “right” day.

Magic Kingdom is recommended. Epcot will be attracting resort guests with the morning Extra Magic Hour. Even with the below average overall crowd level, it’s still important that you arrive no later than 8:20am and head straight to the priorities of your choice, whether it be Fantasyland for Mine Train/Peter Pan’s Flight, Tomorrowland for Space Mountain/Buzz Lightyear, or another priority character/attraction. Use FP+ in the late morning and afternoon when wait times increase substantially. Consider an afternoon break when crowds peak from 1pm to 6pm or so and return in the evening for dinner, some late night attractions, and the nighttime spectaculars.

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Continuing from Part 1, which covered the first five Outdoor Kitchens.

Hanami

Next up is Hanami in front of the Japan Pavilion. Long time readers know this is around the point in our Festival tour that things get a little weird…this marks the first time I’ll forget to take a picture of the menu, which includes:

  • Frushi – Fresh pineapple, strawberry and melon rolled with raspberry coconut rice, sprinkled with toasted coconut and whipped cream on the side – $4.95
  • Teriyaki Curry Bun — Steamed bun filled with chicken, vegetables, curry and sweet sauce – $4.95
  • Salmon Sushi – “Hako-sushi” Box style Sushi with Salmon, topped with Dynamite, Volcano and Eel sauce – $5.50
  • Kirin Draft Beer – $3.95
  • Yuzu Plum Wine Slush – Sweet refreshing taste infused with the tangy flavor of citrus – $6.50
  • Strawberry Nigori – Mild creamy sake infused with sweet-tangy strawberry – $6.95
  • Karat Sake – Honjozo style, sharp, dry taste – $6.95

Frushi returns at a 45 cent premium, the other two food items are new, Kirin is $3.95 for six ounces instead of $6.50 for twelve, and the drinks are new.

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The September crowd calendar is going on three weeks late now. The problem is the operating schedule. Magic Kingdom is still slated to close at 7pm on September 1st, 4th, and 7th even though Disney’s “officially” released dates for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party do not include these dates. According to Disney, the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is September 15th. I’ve talked with over two dozen people with knowledge of the situation and the prevailing opinion is Disney is trying to sell these dates to businesses/organizations for after-hours parties/buy outs. And if they can’t do that, they’ll announce that “due to guest feedback/popularity,” Mickey’s Halloween Party has been added to September 1st, 4th, and 7th. We are strictly in rumor territory with those last two sentences, but the bottom line is that we don’t have anything better to go on than expecting Magic Kingdom to close at 7pm on those three dates in question.

I don’t expect any changes to the recommendations or crowd levels over the first two weeks from the preliminary crowd calendar. Preliminary daily analysis for the first two weeks of the month follows. The first revision for September should be finalized tomorrow – at least as close as we can get with the available information.

Tuesday September 1

Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm (Highly Recommended)

Epcot: 9am – 9pm (Not Recommended)

Morning Extra Magic Hour: 8am – 9am

Illuminations: 9pm

Hollywood Studios: 9am – 8pm (Not Recommended)

Fantasmic: 8:30pm

Magic Kingdom: 9am – 7pm (Most Recommended)

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Private after-hours party

Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3pm, Main Street Electrical Parade: None, Wishes Fireworks: None

Animal Kingdom is highly recommended. We don’t have special events, Extra Magic Hours, or anything specific drawing people toward it. Sunday’s and tomorrow’s morning Extra Magic Hours will be more popular with Disney resort guests. It’s early enough in the week that many people on weeklong vacations will be saving Animal Kingdom for later in the week. To have the most success, arrive prior to Park opening and head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest. You’ll have no trouble riding both with very low waits before 10am. Once you get through these two attractions, you have little to worry about other than trying to get to the scheduled shows. Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King do get busy during the afternoon shows, so try to see the first or last show of the day. You’ll also want to get to DinoLand USA before 10:30am to ride Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR because those two attractions are popular. Still, they aren’t necessarily your top morning priorities. You should have no trouble experiencing most everything Animal Kingdom has to offer in one day, provided you arrive early in the morning, tour efficiently, use FastPass+ intelligently, and keep an eye on the time in order to see the scheduled stage shows. Finally, crowds disperse around 3pm. Plan to stay through close because waits will only get shorter as it gets later in the evening. Visit DinoLand after 3pm and Asia after 4pm to find much lower waits than the afternoon.

Epcot is not recommended. Disney is extremely successful at selling the Extra Magic Hours program in its marketing materials. Even people that have no idea what “Soaring” is and think they’ll be riding the monorail from Animal Kingdom to Epcot know about Extra Magic Hours. Even when overall crowds are low, Disney still enjoys 85% occupancy over 25,000 rooms resort-wide. And guess where a lot of those 75,000+ people are going to be headed? Skip it unless you can’t get there any other day or are certain you’ll arrive prior to 8am for the morning Extra Magic Hour and plan to either Park Hop elsewhere or take a break in the afternoon.

Hollywood Studios is not expressly recommended. The short hours at Magic Kingdom will be a big turn off for many and off-site visitors in particular will be looking toward Fantasmic and Toy Story Mania after spending yesterday at Magic Kingdom. I’m looking towards tomorrow and Thursday as a significantly better days to visit and I would hold off until then if possible. With nothing specific attracting anyone to the Studios and the relatively low overall crowd level, you can still do well with an early arrival and an efficient touring plan, but most people will want to take advantage of one of the best days of the week to visit Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm and doesn’t offer either nighttime spectacular during regular Park hours because it’s hosting Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This will deter the majority of casual vacationers who prefer to visit when the Park is open later and the fireworks are scheduled during regular hours, even if they don’t plan to take advantage of either. Many guests equate longer hours to a better value for their money. Unfortunately, the heavier crowds that show up on those days lead to longer lines at rides, stores, and quick services, in addition to increased congestion in walkways and fuller shows. I can assure you that a 9am – 7pm day at Magic Kingdom is plenty long and you’ll be able to get more done in those 10 hours than you possibly could hope to on a non-recommended day with 9am – 10pm hours because wait times are so much shorter park-wide. If you’re looking to extend your day, consider taking the monorail or boat to one of the Deluxe resorts. The Wave, Kona Café, ‘Ohana, and Whispering Canyon are all fun casual table service restaurants. For a nicer (and more expensive) meal, consider California Grill, Citricos, or Artist Point. Otherwise, stay through 7pm because crowds will only dissipate with few people Park Hopping over in the afternoon. Just about everyone arriving for the Halloween Party will congregate on Main Street waiting for the Party or head to a character to get in line. Save Fantasyland for after 6pm to find lower waits than any part of the day other than the first hour. With only one day at the Park, you’ll need to decide whether putting up with heavier crowds and longer lines is worth seeing the nighttime entertainment.

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Just a heads up in case you were looking, Disney released more FastPass+ for Wishes. More info about the location etc. is available here.

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Part 2 covers the other six Outdoor Kitchens.

We’ll begin coverage of the 2015 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival with a look at the good stuff…a review of the items served at each of the various Outdoor Kitchens sprinkled around World Showcase for the event, which runs from March 5th through May 17th.

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Trattoria al Forno opened in the old Kouzzina by Cat Cora space on the BoardWalk back in December. It becomes the fourth Italian restaurant in the vicinity – there’s Tutto Italia and Via Napoli at Epcot and Il Mulino at the Swan/Dolphin. All of those are operated by third parties, making this the first “Disney” Italian restaurant outside of Tony’s Town Square, which serves primarily frozen food.

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