I have completed the August 2011 Disney World Crowd Calendar by adding the final two weeks or so. Sorry again for the delay. Hopefully Disney will be more up to date with their operation schedule for September, which should be released on or around February 18th. I will be back later with some additional thoughts on August and a new section to the Calendar, appropriately titled, “Expected Changes to the Month’s Operation Schedule.” This will be a list of the changes I’m expecting Disney to make as we get closer to August. As you may be aware, Disney significantly changes the operation schedule of each month about two weeks before the month begins. For example, we can expect a significant change to March’s operation schedule on or around February 18th, at the same time that September’s schedule comes out. This new section should help you plan for those second Fantasmic shows, extended hours, and additional Main Street Electrical Parades in advance. Of course, there is no guarantee that Disney will continue to operate in the same way that they have in the past. Nonetheless, the expected changes won’t affect the crowd levels or the recommended Parks (because they are already built into the predictions), but it may benefit you to know that there is a 97% chance that a second Fantasmic will be added on each night that currently has one Fantasmic scheduled and the Hollywood Studios’ operating hours will be extended 60 to 90 minutes to accommodate that show.
I have published the first five Epcot touring plans for adults. I have an assortment of two-day plans, plans specifically aimed at touring with younger kids, and an “Epcot Touring Overview” similar to the Animal Kingdom Overview and the Hollywood Studios Overview on the way. My intention is not to simply load you up with a laundry list of rides to visit and then send you out on a military drill through the Parks. It will be much easier to tour the Disney theme parks effectively when you understand why we do the things that we do. This will make it much easier to adapt to changing conditions and unexpected surprises that will undoubtedly show up during the day. Not that a surprise visit by Mickey Mouse or a 5-minute wait at Space Mountain is necessarily a bad thing, but understanding things like why we”re visiting Spaceship Earth in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning will make it easier to have not only an efficient day, but a fun day – even if the buses are late, the monorail breaks down, Suzy wakes up late, you forgot your tickets, or whatever else.
The rest of the touring plans will be published over the next week or so. I’m a little behind because my touring plan format takes a while to put together and I’ve been busy with “work” over the last couple of days. If you “knew me,” you would know that I moonlight as one of the larger sellers of video games (among other things) on eBay and Amazon and we received an unexpected shipment of several tons (literally) of games over the weekend. Most of the last two days has been full of doing what we truly love to do – putting video games into video game consoles for two seconds to make sure they work, cataloging them, and taking a picture of the game and case. Yes, it is as fun as it sounds, times about 30,000.
Now that my excuses are out of the way (please forgive me), let me quickly tell you what you’re looking at in case you missed a post about it last month.
Each touring plan is available in two formats. You can view each plan as a PDF with Adobe Acrobat Reader. It should make it easier to view and print. Depending on your computer and printer, you may need to select “Fit to Printable Area” or “Shrink to Printable Area” if the map page is cut off when you print. The map is usually in “landscape” mode and the rest of the document is in “portrait” mode. I also recommend printing “back to back” to cut down on the amount of paper required. Ideally, you would print the map on one side and the list of attractions on the other and be able to quickly flip back and forth between the two.
The first page is the map with the attraction names and the order to visit them in red numbers. Attractions without a red number are skipped, but I explain how to fit those attractions into the plan if you’d like to replace them with another planned attraction at the very end of the touring plan.
In the PDF, the second (and third if necessary) page lists the attractions in dropdown menus. This allows you to easily switch attractions around if you wish to and also see all of the available attractions. On the website, the attractions will just be listed in order. The first number after the name of the attraction is the length of the attraction. In parentheses, you’ll find the expected peak afternoon wait, plus or minus a certain number of minutes. For example, if you see:
Test Track – 5 Minutes (50 +/- 20)
It means that Test Track is five minutes long and you can expect an afternoon wait of 50 minutes, plus or minus 20 minutes (for a range of 30 to 70 minutes). When the overall crowd level is lower, the wait will be closer to the lower end of the spectrum. When the crowd level is higher, the wait will be closer to the higher end of the spectrum. This will give you an idea of which attractions are the most popular and what wait times will look like in the afternoon. The wait time range covers crowds between a “3” and a “7.” When the crowd level is an 8 or above, the peak afternoon wait could very easily exceed 70 minutes. At Test Track, waits got up to 120 minutes and more over Christmas Week and New Year’s Eve. For shows, the expected show times will be in parentheses.
From there, I quickly outline the purpose of the specific touring plan and who it is intended for. From there, you’ll find a short explanation of how to get from attraction to attraction and occasionally extra information about where to sit, how early to arrive for a show, what to expect from the attraction, and other bits of information that I have deemed at least moderately beneficial.
After that, you’ll find a list of the attractions that the touring plan has chosen to skip and ways to fit them into the touring plan if you’d like to visit them. It usually means substituting the attraction for something else that doesn’t sound as interesting. It will make it easier to customize your plan to fit your needs and remind you of what you may need to return to on a subsequent visit. On the one-day plans, it’s usually impossible to fit every attraction in, even if there were zero waits.
So there you have it. If you’re new to the site, I recommend taking a look up at the “Best Of” section at the very top of the category list to your right. You’ll find direct comparisons of the various Disney resorts and restaurants as well as a nice month-by-month overview of what to expect from Disney World. I cover weather, costs, Park hours and entertainment, refurbishments, special events, discounts, and more. It’s the single best article on this site.
If you have some ideas about what touring plans you’d like to see in the future or specific questions about anything else, you’re welcome to email me at email@example.com.
Take care and happy planning,
This is the fifth in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood. See his other works in the Photography section.
“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” – Walt Disney
As somewhat of a change in direction from my previous articles, I thought I would start to focus more on specific areas of Disney. In other words, instead of trying to cover such a wide array of subjects geographically in one article, I will keep the focus on one subject and cover it as well as I can without getting too long and drawn out. Be it a ride, a show, a restaurant, a resort or even a restroom, pretty much anything on Disney property is likely to be covered. Hence the title of this series of articles, “Walt Disney World In Focus – insert subject here”. I’ll show what I think are unique aspects, or maybe not so unique. I’ll tell a little about the photo technically or just give some general overview. I’ll try to show you more than you might see on other WDW websites. At heart, I think we all just want to enjoy good Disney photos while dreaming about the next trip.
I think one of the most unique and beautiful resorts on Disney property is the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Animal Kingdom Lodge opened in April 2001 as the latest addition to Disney’s line of “Deluxe” accommodations. In May 2009, it expanded to include Kidani Village, the “Vacation Club” side of Animal Kingdom Lodge. With the opening of Kidani Village, the main lodge building was renamed “Jambo House.“ For this article, we’re going to focus on Jambo House property. I always look forward to wandering this resort inside and out with my camera. Also not to be overlooked is the expansive collection of African art and architecture of the main buildings.
(Click any image to expand)
Walking into the main building of Jambo House is always inspiring. Such a grand space!
The Jambo House suspension bridge – but not so obvious. Different angle, different perspective.
There are so many items worth a look in the main Jambo House lobby that you’ll just have to explore them for yourself. There are side rooms and quiet spots scattered throughout the space that are filled with African art work and artifacts. You could literally fill a book using just the lobby as a subject.
Jambo House has one of the coolest Gift shops on Disney property, Zawadi Marketplace. The décor is heavily themed in African/Disney style. They also have items specific to Animal Kingdom that are not available at other resort gift shops. Lot’s of neat things here to photograph.
Sometimes the lighting can be a challenge even in a gift shop. This is one of those with very low lighting that required wide open aperture + high ISO to maintain a usable shutter speed for a handheld shot. In a space this big with a shot this wide, on-camera flash is ineffective and won‘t produce good results, in my opinion. The natural lighting is much more pleasing to the eye.
The grounds of Animal Kingdom Lodge are quite possibly the most beautiful on Disney property. Every single plant and tree looks as if it has always been there. Nothing looks out of place or freshly planted. It’s obvious Disney’s intent was for Animal Kingdom Lodge grounds to look as authentically rustic and natural as any lodge would on the real African Savanna. There are just as many photo opportunities outside the building as inside and there is so much of it to explore.
If wildlife photography is your thing, there is an abundance on Animal Kingdom Lodge property, even mice. Look closely…
Framing your subject with something in the foreground can give your shot more depth and interest.
Where else on Disney property can you have a view like this right outside your room? This is facing the main building of Kidani Village. I took this shot from our balcony at night, obviously. This was a 20 second exposure at F7.1, tripod mounted. The 3 Elands were good sports and remained perfectly still for the entire 20 seconds.
I didn’t know water was so plentiful on the African Savanna, but it does make a beautiful subject. Must be the rainy season.
So there’s a very small sampling of the megapixel delights that await you at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you’re staying on Disney property, or can take a day to visit, it’s definitely worth a photographic “safari.”
Josh’s Note: As most of us are aware, Animal Kingdom (the theme park) regularly closes at 5pm, 6pm, or 7pm. One of my favorite things to do is to stay right up until Animal Kingdom closes and then ride the resort bus from the Animal Kingdom over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Crowds thin significantly in the final hour of Park operation and it’s a great time to return to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and whatever you may have have skipped over during the day. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll find great table service restaurants in the form of Jiko – The Cooking Place (signature restaurant), Boma (Africa/India inspired buffet), and Sanaa (Africa/India inspired table service restaurant). Even Mara, the Lodge’s quick service, serves excellent food that is different from what you might find at your own resort. There are also public savanna “overlooks” throughout the resort where anyone visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge can enjoy the animals on the savannas. The Arusha Rock Overlook is not to be missed. If you’re looking to save money and forgo the Park Hopper upgrade, but still want to have fun after the Animal Kingdom closes, then a visit to the Animal Kingdom Lodge might be just the ticket.
Jiko is my personal favorite “date night” restaurant on Disney property. Its understated elegance, extensive wine selection, and quiet atmosphere combine to make a memorable night that is as far away as you’ll get from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks (without returning home, that is).
One of the more common questions I receive is, “What exactly does a ‘1’ on the Crowd Calendar mean?” Since today was our first day of 2011 with a “1” rating, let’s have a look at today’s wait times.
These are the posted wait times taken between 4:00pm and 4:15pm on January 25th.
Animal Kingdom (#1 Park to Visit):
Dinosaur: 5 minutes
Expedition Everest: 10 minutes
Kilimanjaro Safaris: 15 minutes
Epcot (Park to Avoid):
Maelstrom: 15 minutes
Soarin’: 35 minutes
Spaceship Earth: 5 minutes
Test Track: 25 minutes
Hollywood Studios (#2 Best Park):
Great Movie Ride: 10 minutes
Tower of Terror: 10 minutes
Toy Story Mania: 30 minutes
Magic Kingdom (#3 Best Park):
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 20 minutes
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin: 10 minutes
Haunted Mansion: 10 minutes
Pirates of the Caribbean: 5 minutes
Space Mountain: 15 minutes
Now let’s compare this with Saturday January 15th, a “6” on the Crowd Calendar.
Animal Kingdom (#1 Best Park):
Dinosaur: 15 minutes
Expedition Everest: 25 minutes
Kilimanjaro Safaris: 35 minutes
Epcot (#2 Best Park):
Maelstrom: 20 minutes
Soarin’: 50 minutes
Spaceship Earth: 5 minutes
Test Track: 45 minutes
Hollywood Studios (#3 Best Park):
Great Movie Ride: 15 minutes
Tower of Terror: 30 minutes
Toy Story Mania: 70 minutes
Magic Kingdom (Park to Avoid):
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 80 minutes
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin: 30 minutes
Haunted Mansion: 25 minutes
Pirates of the Caribbean: 30 minutes
Space Mountain: 90 minutes
As you can see, there is a substantial difference in wait times between today and Saturday over Martin Luther King weekend. Even the Park to avoid when the crowd level is a “1” isn’t so bad, although today’s morning Extra Magic Hour at Epcot isn’t a substantial crowd magnet. However, we can expect decently long peak waits at Animal Kingdom tomorrow (for evening Extra Magic Hours), Magic Kingdom (morning Extra Magic Hour and Main Street Electrical Parade) and Hollywood Studios (Fantasmic) on Thursday, and Epcot (evening Extra Magic Hours) on Friday, despite the low overall crowds. This is due to the number of Disney resort guests who visit whichever Park has Extra Magic Hours and the general public that chases nighttime entertainment like Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasmic. Even when the overall crowd level is low, individual theme parks can still be relatively busy if most Disney resort guests head in one direction.
To put it another way, let’s say you have a fairly standard 2,500 square foot home with four bedrooms on two floors. If you have ten people in that home and they are evenly dispersed around the house, it’s unlikely that the house will feel crowded. Now let’s say Dad is giving away free money in the kitchen and eight people are clamoring about trying to wrestle away $1 bills, while the other two would prefer to play video games. That kitchen is going to feel pretty crowded, even though there are still just ten people in the house. On the other hand, if we fill that same house with 100 people for Christmas, it’s going to feel busy all around the house. While this is a somewhat rudimentary/stupid analogy/metaphor, it might help shine some light on why one theme park can be much busier than the others, even when the overall crowd level is low. It’s because certain events at each theme park attract heavier crowds. Disney World crowds are very rarely dispersed evenly among the four major theme parks.
Another common question is, “Are there really any dead times to visit Disney World? I consider a crowd level of ‘1’ to be ‘walk-ons’ at every theme park all day.” The answer to this question is “yes and no.” Disney controls upwards of 25,000 hotel rooms on Disney property and they are mostly filled throughout the year. According to Disney financial releases, last quarter’s occupancy rate was 86%, or about 21,500 rooms full of Disney vacationers on any given day. When crowds are low, it means that there are few people traveling from resorts/condos/rental homes off-property. At this point in January, very few people are coming in from outside of Disney World, even if Disney’s resorts are 85% full. If you’re looking for zero minute waits at Soarin’, Toy Story Mania, and Space Mountain at 4pm, I have bad news for you. It’s not going to happen. However, you could have very easily ridden Toy Story Mania five times today with short waits, which is virtually unheard of during most of the rest of the year. You could have ridden Space Mountain in the standby line six or seven times between 3:30pm and 4:30pm, which is also virtually unheard of. Just look at January 15th when the standby wait at Space Mountain was 90 minutes. While a “1” means you’ll find the lowest crowds of the year, it doesn’t mean every theme park is going to be empty for the entire day. If you visit Hollywood Studios when it has Fantasmic, Magic Kingdom on a Saturday when it has Main Street Electrical Parade, or Epcot on a Friday with evening Extra Magic Hours, you’re going to run into a lot of people, no matter what time of year you’re traveling. This website is designed to help you identify the least crowded times to visit, but also prepare you to have a successful day no matter the touring conditions.
I’m still working on the Epcot touring plans. I hope to have them up by the end of the weekend. Since football season is basically over, work should increase 500x. I’m sure the boss will be happy.
We had predicted yesterday would be the busiest day of the month at Hollywood Studios, other than January 1st and 2nd. This was due to the scheduling of both evening Extra Magic Hours and Fantasmic, the two events that suction the most people away from the other Parks. To quote myself for January 23rd, “You won’t want to be anywhere near the Hollywood Studios during the day today if you can help it. The evening Extra Magic Hours will lure the majority of Disney resort guests and Fantasmic will bring most everyone else. Combined, today will be the busiest day at the Hollywood Studios of the entire month of January, other than the 1st and 2nd when the overall crowd level is so much higher due to the holiday.” Lo and behold, the crowds prompted one poor soul to create a topic over on the DIS boards about the crowd level at Hollywood Studios yesterday. Let’s compare wait times from yesterday, when Hollywood Studios was rated as an “avoid at all costs” and today, when it’s the most recommended Park. The difference is just one day.
The first wait time is from January 23rd and the second wait time is from January 24th. I’ll update the rest of the wait times for today as they become available.
Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster
10am: 40 15
12pm: 50 10
2pm: 70 10
4pm: 70 15
6pm: 60 15
8pm (evening EMH): 50 n/a
10pm (evening EMH) : 40 n/a
Toy Story Mania
10am: 50 30
12pm: 90 50
2pm: 110 70
4pm: 90 70
6pm: 70 50
8pm (evening EMH) : 80 n/a
10pm (evening EMH): 70 n/a
Tower of Terror
10am: 30 10
12pm: 40 20
2pm: 50 10
4pm: 40 15
6pm: 35 15
8pm (evening EMH): 25 n/a
10pm (evening EMH): 25 n/a