3/24 Update – Crowd Calendar image updated to version 2 (sorry it’s low quality – I don’t have Photoshop on this computer yet. The PDF looks better). I’m about half way through the daily analysis.
Here is a preview of the October 2011 calendar image. It’s not yet finalized, but it will give you an idea about where we’re headed. The analysis and “final” crowd calendar image should be ready in a few days. If you’re unfamiliar with the crowd calendars and the daily analysis, check out the September 2011 crowd calendar here: https://www.easywdw.com/category/calendar/september2011/ for an explanation of what each line means.
Click the image to expand it. The calendar is also available in an easy to view print PDF file here: https://www.easywdw.com/october2011.pdf.
The operating schedule is somewhat different from what we’ve seen in recent years. For one, Epcot’s Extra Magic Hours switch, so that Tuesday is Extra Magic Hours’ evening and Friday is Extra Magic Hours’ morning. In past years, Epcot had Extra Magic Hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the International Food and Wine Festival and we had evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom on Fridays. Now that evening Extra Magic Hours are no longer scheduled at Animal Kingdom, Disney has switched the system up a bit. I used to be able to tentatively recommend Epcot on Fridays in October, but that won’t be possible with morning Extra Magic Hour scheduled. Coupled with the guaranteed heavier crowd level in the evening for the Food and Wine Festival, we can expect Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to be much busier than they would be otherwise. We’ll plan to avoid Epcot on weekends in October because of the International Food and Wine Festival’s effect on crowds, particularly in the World Showcase. While it’s true that Future World isn’t affected as much, attraction wait times will still be considerably longer than they would be otherwise. There’s simply no reason to visit Epcot on the weekend unless you’re planning to attend one of the special Food and Wine events or simply can’t visit any other day.
We also continue the trend of extremely limited availability of Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios. Even with the below average crowds for most of the month, Hollywood Studios will still be extremely busy on any Fantasmic date. For some reason, Disney has decided that they will also add evening Extra Magic Hours to three of the nine Fantasmic dates in October, which will increase the crowd level even more. Other than cost cutting, I can’t think of a reason why Disney would want to make the Studios even busier on Fantasmic dates by attracting the majority of Disney resort guests with Extra Magic Hours. Perhaps they simply want to increase staffing at the Studios on fewer days during the month. Either way, we’ll absolutely want to avoid the Studios when it’s hosting both evening Extra Magic Hours and Fantasmic. It’s going to be a total zoo.
As previously mentioned, we continue the no-evening-Extra-Magic-Hours-trend at Animal Kingdom. We have two morning Extra Magic Hours each week instead (there’s a typo on October 10th, there should be morning Extra Magic Hour at Animal Kingdom listed). We’ll generally want to visit Animal Kingdom on Saturdays, though other days during the week will be recommended.
We have sixteen Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party dates scheduled in October. Crowds are low on these days because the Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm and doesn’t offer any special evening entertainment during regular Park hours. Most Disney vacationers will prefer to visit the Magic Kingdom when it’s open later and offers the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes. However, the flip side of so many low crowd days is the fact that few Wishes fireworks shows are scheduled and even fewer Main Street Electrical Parades are scheduled. Dates with both evening shows will be considerably busier than other dates during the month and there will definitely be a tradeoff between visiting the Magic Kingdom when it features no evening entertainment/low crowds and when it does feature evening entertainment, but crowds are substantially higher. Most weeks, Wednesdays are your best day for Main Street Electrical Parade viewing. Saturdays should be avoided if at all possible and Mondays with the Parade scheduled will also be substantially busier.
All in all, October is looking to be a relatively easy month to plan. Like every month, there are some quirks and some challenges, but you should be able to schedule everything you want to schedule. Getting to see Fantasmic, Main Street Electrical Parade, and Wishes will be more of a hassle than other months, but the low crowds and lower temperatures should make up for it.
I’ve completed the update of the April 2011 Crowd Calendar. You can find a list of the changes to the operating schedule here, along with some additional thoughts on April crowd levels. As always, the April Crowd Calendar is available here. There aren’t a lot of changes to the recommended Parks this month because most of the schedule changes were extended hours or additional Parades/Fantasmic shows on days that previously had one scheduled. The extended hours at the Magic Kingdom on Wednesdays will cause those Wednesdays to be slightly more crowded than they would be with the original shorter hours of operation, but Wednesday will still be your best day to tour the Magic Kingdom. The 8am openings to the general public are helpful for those of us who are aware that arriving at the Park prior to opening is the most important thing you can do to guarantee short lines. When the Magic Kingdom opens at 9am, we usually have about 90 minutes to tour before crowds begin to noticeably pick up. With the 8am openings, we’ll have 150 minutes to tour before crowds begin to pick up. We can assume that Disney opens the Parks at 8am so the touring mavens (read: you and me) can get through the headlining attractions earlier in the morning, which will subsequently keep us out of line for Splash and Space Mountain once the “less-seasoned (to put it nicely)” vacationers arrive at 11am.
We also have extended hours at Animal Kingdom which will cause that Park to be marginally more crowded on recommended days than it would be without the longer hours, but not so much that the recommendation needs to be changed. You’re best served to visit the Animal Kingdom early in the week when it doesn’t have Extra Magic Hours. As always, what you do once you arrive at the Parks is more important than what Park you pick, especially when crowd levels are elevated like they are for much of April. Touringplans.com is currently touting the fact that choosing proper touring technique is “5 times more effective than picking the right day” and I think we’re smart enough not to question whatever their computer algorithm spits out. I would put it closer to 4.812 times more effective, but I’m known for using decimal points to make it at least appear like I’m more accurate.
Overall, it shouldn’t be necessary to alter your plans if you’ve already made them. You may need to cancel 8am breakfast reservations if the Park is opening at 8am, but that’s about it. If you have questions about your itinerary, you can join us over in this thread at the easyWDW forums.
This guest review was written by our easyWDW itinerary forum moderator and owner of Help Around The Mouse, a comprehensive Disney World vacation planning service. If you are feeling overwhelmed as you try to plan your dream Disney vacation, you may want to give Judy a ring. Along with her team of planning experts, Judy will listen to what you have in mind and help you plan a vacation tailored to your individual needs. If that sounds like it might be of interest, check them out over at http://helparoundthemouse.com/.
Before Christmas last year, Richard Petty offered discounted prices on Ride Along vouchers. Since we had a trip coming up in February, I thought it a fine idea for my husband and our soon to be 16 year old daughter — so I purchased two vouchers. I think the price was around $60 for each one. A little pricey, but everything I had read said that this was quite a memory for the participants, and I thought it was a unique experience they could share. You don’t need reservations if all you want to do is the Ride Along. But– they don’t run every day, so do call before your vacation and check to see the days and hours they are running. And, if you have your heart set on doing it, don’t save the experience for the end of your trip. If it rains — you’ll be out of luck.
Luckily, we rented a car for the trip, so getting to the track was easy. If you have ever driven to the Magic Kingdom and parked in the Ticket and Transportation Center parking lot, you may have driven by the entrance to the track on your way out of the parking lot. If you don’t have a car, I hear you get to the Ticket and Transportation Center, and they have shuttles that take you to the track. Personally, I am glad we had a car.
Entering the track is kinda cool.
Enter by driving under the track….
…And back up the other side.
From there, the folks at the front desk will sign you in and get you started. You suit up in coveralls, and then, within a few minutes, head out to the track. Jamie took a little while to find the one that would fit her. The small was not a men’s small– just small!
Another employee will finish suiting you up, ask you to sign your life away, and then pose for pictures.
Jon went first. A quick hop in the car, an official photo, and then, bam– he was off. Three laps later, it was Jamie’s turn.
The time on the track was over in minutes. After the ride, you go back inside, leave your gear behind, and they have a plaque waiting for you complete with your picture to commemorate the trip. We passed.
The entire event, from entering to exiting the Richard Petty Experience, easily took less than 30 minutes.
I am glad we did this in February when the weather was perfect. I can’t imagine this in August. The heat and humidity, fumes and noise would not be a pleasant combination for families on a summer vacation. There is no air conditioning under the tent while you wait outside. And did you note the coveralls and helmet? Not fun if your already hot!
Was it worth it? Yeah. It was a different experience. I don’t think I would have been happy if I had paid full price (starting at $99 per person for the Ride Along and going all the way up to $2,099 per person for the Speedyway Challenge). But, for $120 total, they had a once in a lifetime experience.
At last I hope it’s once in a life time. Jamie gets her license soon….. !!
This is the seventh in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood. See his other work in the Photography section.
“When we consider a project, we really study it–not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right. And we work hard to do the best possible job.”
– Walt Disney
Some of you looking out of your window right now may disagree, but Spring is right around the corner and that means the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival (F&G Festival) will soon be in full swing – or Spring. The 2011 Flower and Garden Festival begins March 2nd and continues through May 15th. 2011 marks the 18th year of the festival, which will be sponsored by HGTV for the first time. Along with the HGTV sponsorship comes appearances each weekend by some of their top on-air talent. And of course, back this year is the Flower Power Concert series featuring music acts from the 60’s and 70’s. Check out the full Flower and Garden Guide here.
We have somehow managed to be in Disney World many times during the F&G Festival not on purpose, but by chance and we’ve always enjoyed it. If you’re worried about crowd levels, don’t be. With the exceptions of Spring break and Easter, the times we’ve been in Epcot during the F&G Festival never “felt” more or less crowded than any other non-festival time. But, keep in mind the whole HGTV thing may have some effect on crowd levels this year on weekends, but don’t go by me – that’s Josh’s area of expertise.
Oh, and a word about the weather. While Spring in most other areas of the country means cool comfortable temperatures, this isn’t always the case for central Florida. Be prepared for some hot sticky afternoons, especially towards the latter end of the festival.
Now, on to the pictures –
We were in Disney World over the Valentines Day week and Disney Horticulture/Imagineering was in full swing getting Epcot decked out for the festival. The first 3 photo’s are from Feb 13th and 14th 2011. The remaining pictures are from Festivals Past.
Bambi’s Butterfly House, I think.
This construction was going on near the Mouse Gear store in Future World, which was the location of the butterfly house in years past. This year, Bambi’s Butterfly House will be over twice as large. I overheard a cast members tell another guest that this area was being prepped for the “new butterfly house”. Probably no coincidence that the Blu Ray Diamond Edition of Bambi is about to be released as well.
Vending booths already set up.
Looks like the same playground equipment from last year. Those black arches in the center of the picture are a jungle gym type play structure.
If topiaries are your thing, prepare for sensory overload.
A dominating theme of the festival over the last couple of years has been Tinker Bell and the fairies. I’m sure this will continue as the fairy meet and greet has been relocated to Epcot with the closure of Toon Town in the Magic Kingdom.
The nice thing about the Epcot festivals for someone who enjoys photography is that it gives something you may have already photographed a new perspective. During the F&G Festival, there is a lot of additional theming throughout the park that you won’t see during any other time of year.
Some Flower and Garden Streetmosphere. I don’t remember her name, but she was funny.
More topiaries around World Showcase
The Flower and Garden Festival is even more reason to take your camera along to Disney this Spring. This is one photo safari where a point and shoot will work perfectly fine because all of your subjects are outside, usually in full sun. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to visit Epcot for the festival, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a totally different experience without the massive crowds to deal with.
Let The Memories Begin!
Josh’s note: Make sure to take a look at Disney’s Festival page over at: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/epcot/special-events/epcot-international-flower-and-garden-festival/. You’ll find a lot more information about the event and find out a little more about some of the unique experiences that go on during the Festival.
One of the most common questions you’ll see on any Disney discussion board is, “Who can you trust for Disney World theme park hours?” The confusion over the operating schedule stems from the fact that many different “fan sites” try to keep an accurate schedule and many of them don’t agree with each other. See, Disney doesn’t operate like a common mall or store. Theme parks can have radically different schedules from one day to the next and from one week to the next. The Magic Kingdom can be open anywhere from 8am to 1am to 9am to 6pm, not including Extra Magic Hours. Animal Kingdom can be open anywhere from 8am – 9pm to 9am – 5pm. On top of that, Disney tinkers with Park hours throughout the year (more on this later). In some cases, the schedule Disney initially releases doesn’t even resemble the final copy.
Introduction to the Primary Sources
There are basically two “primary sources” for Disney World theme park hours that are available to the public. There is a third “internal calendar” available to those who have access to “The Hub,” a website for Disney theme park employees. The first source is DisneyWorld.com, often referred to as “the official site.” The calendar is available in two places on DisneyWorld.com. Mouse over the Parks tab at the top and click on Park Hours for a list of the opening/closing times at each theme park over a ten day period of your choosing. Alternatively (and preferably in most cases), you can mouse over the Parks tab and select one of the theme parks from the dropdown menu. From here, click on “Calendar” on the left hand side. Just above the calendar is another dropdown menu to select the month. Here, you can see the Park hours for any day of the month and you can also click on an individual day and it will tell you the times of various activities and events like the Parades, Fantasmic, etc.
The second “primary source” is the Travel Agents Calendar. This calendar is often misunderstood. The Travel Agents Calendar is prepared by the Walt Disney Company for the use of its many independent travel agents (and anyone else who knows the links). It is not prepared by a travel agent nor is it based off of what you would find at DisneyWorld.com. The Travel Agents Calendar is accessible only via direct links. Here’s a link to each month:
Note the year in the top right corner. The link stays the same every year, but the new documents are uploaded as they become available. This means that the link may take you to last year’s calendar rather than this year’s. Also note that each calendar is dated with the time it was updated. You can find this information on the lower left hand corner of each page. This makes it much more obvious if anything has changed since you last checked. When you click these links, always hit the “refresh” button on your browser. Some browsers won’t load new versions of documents with the same name automatically.
The obvious benefit to the Travel Agents Calendar is that it’s much easier to see all of the pertinent information. What might take you 35 clicks on DisneyWorld.com is accessible in just one document, with the popular Parade and show times clearly laid out. It’s also a great way to get a lot of information on easily printable pages.
When Does Disney Release Park Hours?
Disney usually releases the operating schedule about six and a half months before the start of a given month. For example, October’s schedule will be available on or around March 14th. The operating schedule is almost always available on the Disney Travel Agent Calendar/Web Content site before DisneyWorld.com. It’s not uncommon for the coming month’s schedule to be available on the Travel Agent site two weeks prior to the same information appearing at DisneyWorld.com. The Travel Agent Calendar is usually updated on Fridays or Mondays.
When Does Disney Make Updates to the Calendar? When is the Schedule Finalized?
Disney usually makes one large update to each month’s schedule. This is made about two weeks prior to the start of the month. A new month’s Park schedule is also released at the same time. For example, we can expect a major update to April’s operating schedule on or around Monday March 14th (when October’s schedule will also be released). In almost all cases, the updated schedule will be available on the Travel Agent site before it will be available at DisneyWorld.com. This is the major source of confusion over which site can be “trusted” for accurate hours. The Travel Agent site is updated first, which means the hours you see there are usually the most current. The calendar on DisneyWorld.com is updated later and will eventually match what you find on the Travel Agent site. It usually takes Disney about a week to update their site with the new changes.
However (and here’s where it gets really confusing), the Travel Agent site is not usually updated with “last minute” changes to the schedule. While Disney makes one major update about two weeks prior to the start of a month, they may also make minor changes all the way up to the date in question. These changes are usually made to DisneyWorld.com, but not updated on the Travel Agent Calendar. Last minute changes are much more common when the overall crowd level is high for holidays. For example, on December 23rd, Disney may decide to open Epcot at 8am rather than 9am on December 24th. This change would most likely appear at DisneyWorld.com, but would not be updated at DisneyWebContent.com
In short, the Travel Agent site is the most up to date calendar in most scenarios. However, DisneyWorld.com does get its act together sooner or later and is generally the most accurate calendar once your vacation is about a week away.
What’s Usually Updated?
It’s fairly easy to guess what updates Disney will make for a particular month, but there are always surprises too. Disney has been very conservative with theme park hours in their initial schedule release. For example, Disney had the Magic Kingdom open from just 9am to 11pm over Christmas Week, the single busiest week of the year when they first announced the schedule. By the time they were ultimately done making changes, the Magic Kingdom was open from 8am to 12am or 8am to 1am on numerous days. We can assume Disney does this so that they don’t have to take anything away. People are much happier to see Fantasmic and Parades added than they are to see them removed. Being able to accurately predict the final operating schedule has allowed me to be more accurate with my crowd predictions, rather than relying on Disney to make their schedule updates. It’s very rare that I’ll need to change the crowd predictions by any more than one number either way.
At Hollywood Studios, the most common addition is a second Fantasmic on nights that currently have one Fantasmic scheduled and Hollywood Studios is expected to be busier. Now that Fantasmic is scheduled most nights, Disney has been adding a second Fantasmic when overall crowds are high or Hollywood Studios in particular is expected to be busy. Typically, a second Fantasmic is added when morning or evening extra magic hours are scheduled, even when overall crowds are low.
Magic Kingdom operating hours are also commonly extended and a second Main Street Electrical Parade is sometimes added when crowds are expected to be heavier. The addition of a second Mainstreet Electrical Parade is more common on Monday and Saturday nights. Like Fantasmic, the Main Street Electrical Parade can be added on nights that did not originally have one scheduled. Occasionally, the Magic Kingdom will open at 8am to all guests, but that only happens when crowds are expected to be very heavy or there is something else going on that closes the Magic Kingdom early on other days. You might see 8am openings in early December due to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party closing the Magic Kingdom at 7pm on multiple days.
Epcot’s hours are almost always 9am to 9pm (or 9:30pm when the Candlelight Processional is scheduled in November and December). Only during extremely busy times will you see 8am to 9pm (or 9:30pm) hours. Changes to Epcot’s operating schedule are the most rare because IllumiNations is scheduled every night and the operating hours almost never change.
Animal Kingdom’s hours are also commonly extended, usually by just one hour in the evening. You might see the hours change from 9am – 6pm to 9am – 7pm. 8am openings for the general public also occur at Animal Kingdom, but they are reserved for extremely busy times like Christmas.
Changes to the Extra Magic Hours Schedule
The Extra Magic Hours schedule does not usually change. Over the past year, I can only think of two instances where Extra Magic Hour days were changed. The starting time can certainly change, but the days that they are scheduled rarely do. For example, evening Extra Magic Hours might change from 10pm – 1am to 11pm – 2am if the Magic Kingdom’s regular hours of operation change, but evening Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom won’t be moved from Sunday to Tuesday.
What About Fan Sites? What About the Schedule I See Here?
There is really no reason to rely on a calendar that you see anywhere other than DisneyWebContent.com or DisneyWorld.com. All of these websites simply take what they see from one of the primary sources and copy it to host on their own site. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but the information can’t be any more accurate than what you would find at one of the primary sources. The only exception is Steve Soares’ site, http://www.wdwent.com. Here, you’ll find the operating schedule and entertainment schedule that is printed on Disney’s own Times Guide. However, you will only find the upcoming week’s schedule because that’s the only schedule that is printed and available.
The Park hours you see on this site are taken primarily from the Travel Agent website. As explained, this is the most up to date calendar available. I also use DisneyWorld.com for updates as it gets closer to a given date to make sure there haven’t been any last minute changes. .
Yes, It’s A Hassle
Unfortunately, deciphering the correct Disney World operating schedule is more difficult than it should be. Changes can also affect a vacation and it is extremely annoying that Disney waits so long to make changes. For example, that 8am breakfast at Crystal Palace isn’t so ideal if Disney decides that the Magic Kingdom will open at 8am. The Fantasmic Dining Package may not be necessary after Disney adds a second Fantasmic. The Magic Kingdom may end up being busier due to an added Main Street Electrical Parade. All of these things can affect vacation planning.
Luckily, this site is on top of these sorts of changes. Check back to make sure there aren’t any changes to the schedule as your vacation dates approach.