I have posted the first 12 or so touring plans for Hollywood Studios. I also have about 12 more plans to publish for the Studios, but wanted to get these up before I post the July 2011 Disney World Crowd Calendar. I have in mind to do the July Calendar, update the resort and attraction reviews for 2011, and then finish up the Studios’ touring plans. Then I’ll move on to the other Parks.
This is the second photography article written by our resident photography guru, Craig Hood. See his HDR photography tutorial, here.
A question I’m often asked is, “What kind of camera do you use?” It’s usually a question from someone who is looking at a picture I’ve taken in Disney World.
Like this one…
(Click any image for full resolution)
Or this one.
I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you. I’m a Nikon guy, and I use a Nikon D80. I don’t particularly think Nikon is better than any other brand, it’s just what I like. I’m also not implying that my photos are worthy of display in the Smithsonian, but I like them and the camera helps me achieve some pretty decent stuff. Consumer grade dSLR’s (digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras) have exploded onto the market within the last five years. They are becoming more and more affordable and are no longer targeted to “pros only;” Nikon and Ashton Kutcher are making that a priority. Just take notice of how many dSLR’s you see the next time you’re in Disney. With that said, do you have to have a $500.00+ dSLR to take great pictures in Disney World? No. Are there shots that you shouldn’t expect to get with a point and shoot? Yes. It all depends on what YOU want to do and what your expectations are.
Point and shoot cameras have come a long way and are capable of producing images of pretty darn good quality. I think practically everyone who owns a dSLR started with a point and shoot, but soon their desire or ability to take better pictures surpassed the abilities of a point and shoot. You have to ask yourself what you want to do and where you want to go with photography. Are you happy with 4×6 snapshots for scrap booking or sharing online, or do you want to expand your creativity and capture really high quality photos in many different lighting conditions? Do you want to try portraiture that rivals studio portraits? Do you think weddings would be your niche, sporting events, wildlife, dark rides at Disney, night photography? There are all sorts of venues for photography that a point and shoot may or may not suffice for.
One thing to consider, the higher image quality of dSLR’s allows for much higher quality enlargements, if that’s what you’re into. I have photos on my wall that were enlarged to 13×19 that are tack sharp and could go even larger. I also have 8×10’s that were enlarged from point and shoots that look fine, though you would probably be pushing the limits of most point and shoots going much larger than 8×10. However, there are some point and shoots out there boasting enlargements up to 14 x 19, like this one.
All that said, if you’re happy with the results your point and shoot provides you with, you can certainly take great pictures in Disney World as long as you understand the limitations of a point and shoot. Point and shoot cameras are engineered and marketed to be a “do-it-all” camera. Sorry, there is no such camera. There is no “all in one package” camera that can accomplish everything in all conditions and do it well. That’s why dSLR’s have removable lenses.
There are only two considerations that I can come up with for a point and shoot, simplicity and size. They are designed to be compact and incredibly easy to use with little to no input from the user. Practically any point and shoots will fit inside your pocket and you don’t even realize it’s there. The dSLR on the other hand definitely will not. They’re big, they’re bulky and they’re heavy. The weight and bulk can increase dramatically depending on the lens you choose to carry and if you add an auxiliary battery grip. And don’t forget, you’ll want to carry those extra lenses around with you, which is more weight and more bulk. Walking five to seven miles a day in Disney World in the Summer is definitely something to consider. If you’re one who likes to be minimally burdened when touring the parks, you may get tired of a dSLR very quickly. I have to admit there are times when I opt to leave the dSLR in the room at least once during the trip.
One of my biggest pet peeves with a point and shoot camera is the lag time between pressing the shutter release button and the photo being captured. You know what I’m talking about. You frame your shot, press the button and there’s a two to three second delay before it actually captures the image. If you’ve been on Kilimanjaro Safaris, you know how bumpy the ride is and how quickly the scenery changes. This is when point and shoots drove me crazy. They just aren’t fast enough to do what I wanted them to do. A dSLR is much, much faster. When you press the button the photo capture is instant. Also, the dSLR sports the “burst” mode or “continuous” mode. This is where the camera continues to shoot as long as you hold the button down and it does it very quickly. For my old outdated D80, that’s about three frames per second, which is on the slow side compared to some of the newer cameras. This is a great feature to use on rides that have a lot of movement, like Kilimanjaro Safaris. It gives you the opportunity to get at least one good picture, because as we all know the vehicle can not stop for you to take a picture…please sit down, sir.
My favorite feature of the dSLR is the multitude of lenses that are available. This in itself can take your photography to a whole new level. You will be able to capture images that a point and shoot simply does not have the capability to do. Probably the most widely used lens on a dSLR is the zoom lens. The zoom lens lets you get really good pictures from a distance.
This one was taken from across World Showcase Lagoon with a 300 mm zoom lens at 135mm. At full zoom I would have been able to see what those people sitting on the bench were eating. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.
Here’s Primeval Whirl at 300mm of zoom. Not exactly tack sharp, but not too bad for a hand-held shot of a moving object at 300mm.
Here’s a 75mm zoom on Kilimanjaro Safari
(Click any image for full resolution)
I especially like to have a zoom lens in Animal Kingdom and Epcot due to the size of the parks. There are lots of photo opportunities that you can’t get especially close to; Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life, Expedition Everest to name a few. It’s also fun to have when you’re looking for all of those architectural details that make Disney so unique. Yes, there are point and shoots with varying strengths of optical zoom, but typically it’s a digital zoom. The digital zoom simply expands the captured pixels, then the camera “brain” fills the spaces in between with additional pixels that it “thinks” look correct. It never does, it’s terribly pixelated and just looks bad. A true optical zoom lens uses glass lenses in the same way binoculars or a telescope would to enlarge what you see. In other words, all of the pixels are already there. There just isn’t enough room in a point and shoot camera to fit that much glass.
Okay, concerning flash and dark rides, I have to say this – Please, please don’t use flash on dark rides. It’s against the rules and it really spoils the experience for other guests. It drives me crazy to see someone snapping away with a flash on Pirates of the Caribbean, blinding everyone and getting bad shots to boot. The rides are dark for a reason, to convey mood and atmosphere. It also hides things that the Imagineers did not intend for you to see. Believe me guys, using a flash on dark rides will produce nothing more than washed out garish photos that will not resemble what you remember about the ride. Try setting your camera to “night shot”, turn your flash off and just see what happens. You may be surprised.
Pirates of the Caribbean, no flash.
Pirates of the Caribbean. No flash.
If you’ve been in Pixie Hollow, you know how dim the lighting is in there. Taken without flash, the end result is warm even skin tones with no harsh shadows or pasty white faces.
As for a point and shoots on dark rides, its pretty much useless. There are a few point and shoots that tout low-light capability, Canon SD4000IS and Nikon Coolpix P7000, for examples, but I would guess that the image quality is going to be lacking. They simply don’t have the components needed to gather enough light (without flash) to get a good quality image. So, if dark ride photos interest you, then you may need to talk to the big guy in the red suit about a dSLR.
After everything I’ve said, I hope you don’t think the intent here was to bash point and shoot cameras, because it wasn’t. I used a point and shoot for years and enjoyed it. I’m simply offering you, in my opinion, the foremost pros and cons to each. There just happens to be many more pros to a dSLR. T here really are some great point and shoot cameras out there and the technology is constantly advancing. Again, it’s a personal preference. Think about what YOU want to accomplish and what makes you happy, then buy the camera that most closely fits.
Now get out there and capture the Magic!
Josh’s Note: I have invited my good friend Craig Hood to write a series of articles on photography. You may be aware that Disney World’s theme for 2011 is, “Let the Memories Begin.” A big part of the campaign is capturing special moments on film. Craig’s articles will focus on making great photography accessible for those of us who don’t necessarily want to invest thousands of dollars on equipment (though that never hurts). Photography has long been an interest of mine and I’ve always wanted to learn how to achieve some of those effects that seem too complex at first glance. With Craig’s help, we’ll be able to improve our skills and catch those pesky memories with our cameras, nets, or whatever else he tells us we need.
Without further delay, let me turn you over to Craig:
For my very first photography article for easyWDW, Josh asked me to give a how-to for a particular aspect of photography he was interested in, so that’s what I’ll try to do. Let me start by saying that I’m not a professional photographer, so for any “pro’s” who may be reading this, take it easy. I’m just a guy with a little knowledge and a passion for photography and Disney. I know, dangerous combination. I’ve been somewhat interested in photography pretty much since I was a kid. Remember the old Kodak Instamatics? I’ve only been what I guess you would call a serious hobbyist for the last 3 years. I’ve decided that taking up anything as a serious hobby means spending a lot of money on equipment, because I have. Not that you have to, but I’m weak. As anyone who owns a dSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera knows, you absolutely can not have just one lens, oh no. For example, there’s that lens that you need because you absolutely can’t get the picture you want of that grave digger and his freakishly skinny dog in the Haunted Mansion, with that crappy kit lens that came with your camera. That’s what I told my wife. There’s always some little gadget, lens or better camera that will make your pictures infinitely better or allow you to take pictures that you could have never taken before, but that’s a different article. So, here we go.
One of the most talked about topics on photography forums today is HDR imaging, or High Dynamic Range imaging. You absolutely can do HDR and you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment, we’ll talk about what you need later. However, you do need a basic understanding of exposure which consists of shutter speed, aperture and ISO, as well as a little experience with photo editing software. So, if the terms “shutter speed”, “aperture” and “ISO” just made you say “what?” I recommend getting a book on dSLR’s or do some Google-ing before you read any further. I started with a book, Digital SLR Cameras & Photography for Dummies by David D. Busch and did a LOT of Google searches. You can learn this stuff on your own and get results that you’ll be happy with, it just takes time and a little effort. I did it, and if I can do it, anyone can do it. I found that I learned the most simply by reading the owners manual that came with my camera, taking pictures and just playing around with the settings on the camera. Go ahead and push those buttons, change all those settings and see what you get. Remember, it’s digital. It doesn’t cost a dime to press that shutter release. If you don’t like what you see, “delete” and try again.
Most everyone remotely interested in photography has seen an incredibly vivid, tack sharp image and said, “Wow! How did they do that?” I said it too. It’s a picture that seems to jump off the paper. You think to yourself “nothing I have taken has ever looked even remotely as spectacular“. E very part of the image is properly exposed, every detail is visible and clear. No blown out (completely white) areas, no dark or black areas that should be visible. The image looks almost as it would have if you had seen it with your own eyes, right? There you go, that’s the connection between an HDR image and what your eye sees. When you look at something with your naked eye, anything at all, your eye has the ability to properly “expose” every part of the image because your eye has a much higher dynamic range than a camera. From the brightest areas to the darkest areas and everything in between, even in weird lighting conditions, your eye sees a completely perfect image. Cameras aren’t that smart…yet.
Without getting too technical, via a lot of electronic technology, a camera takes in all the available light and tries to properly expose an image for all of those lighting conditions by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO automatically. The camera hopes to achieve a kind of happy medium. This is what all point and shoot cameras do, as well as dSLR’s when set to an “auto” mode. This is where cameras can struggle to take a properly exposed image when there are different levels of light sources and high contrast. Sometimes it gets it right, sometimes it doesn’t. Your main subject may look good, but other things in the image may be too light or too dark. Like the sky in the background that was a very vivid blue, gray, purple or whatever when you looked through the viewfinder, is now almost completely white in your image. Or the sky looks right and everything else in the image is too dark and barely discernible. This is where HDR comes in.
Now, here’s how it works. The most popular true HDR method is multiple image merging. This being a combination of multiple images at different exposures (in this case different shutter speeds) of the same subject that have been merged into one image via HDR software. It’s not just a mega-expensive camera taking those spectacular photo’s. It’s any camera with a “manual” setting, a tripod (or some way to keep the camera perfectly still) and image merging software. So, you will need a dSLR or a point and shoot camera with “manual“ mode, so that you can change the shutter speed manually. We’ll talk about the software in a bit. If you choose not to use a tripod and hand-hold your camera you may not be thrilled with the results. All HDR software aligns the images as part of the merge, but if you moved too much while snapping your pictures, well, the software can only do so much. I prefer the tripod method because it works, but that’s just me. Have you noticed that HDR photo’s are of objects that are not moving? Buildings, landscapes stuff like that. People and animals usually don’t work well as HDR subjects – we tend to move around a lot.
First, find your subject. Maybe that big castle at the end of Main Street that all of those people are staring up at – yeah, that one. Oh, a caveat, if there are people in the frame, your merged picture is going to look really weird. Those people are gonna be a bunch of blurry blobs. Remember the part about everything in your frame being still and how people like to move around? Anyway, mount your camera on your tripod or however you plan to keep it perfectly still and in the exact same position for each shot. You can release the shutter simply by pressing the shutter release button, or using your timer, but ideally it’s better to have a wired or wireless remote release. The less the camera moves the better your results. Now, you’ll want to take at least 3 images with each image having a different level of exposure. This is called “bracketing“. Three images is about the minimum. You can certainly take more and you may actually need to depending on the complexity of light in the subject you are trying to capture. More images = higher dynamic range; this is a good thing. If you do choose to take more exposures, just continue to increase your stops of under/over exposure with each shot. This is where you have to have some understanding of exposure and what a “stop” is. I could fill another article just on exposure, but here’s a quick explanation of a “stop”; if you’re shooting at a shutter speed of 1/50”, one full stop of under exposure would give you a shutter speed of 1/100”, two full stops would be 1/200” and so on. One full stop of over exposure would give you a shutter speed of 1/25”, two full stops would be 1/13” and so on. A “stop” is simply doubling the shutter speed for under exposure (less light), or cutting it in half for over exposure (more light).
OK, lets start shooting. You’ve got your camera on a tripod, or something stable and you’re ready to take your first shot.
1. Set for correct exposure of the main subject, take the picture, “click”.
2. Change your shutter speed by two full stops of over-exposure, take the picture, “click”.
3. Change your shutter speed again to two full stops of under-exposure, “click”.
That’s it, you’re done with the camera part of it, unless you choose to take more pictures. What you now have are 3 pictures – one that is exposed correctly, one that is underexposed, and one that is over exposed. By the way, changing each shot by 2 stops of exposure (shutter speed) is not a hard fast rule, it’s just what I usually do and it works for me. If you take more shots, you can certainly decrease each stop level. You can try more or less and see how it works. A lot of dSLR cameras have an auto-bracketing feature. This simply allows you to set your level of exposure and number of shots you want to take, in-camera. That way each time you press the shutter release, the camera makes the exposure change on each shot automatically. This keeps you from having to change settings manually between each shot. These are the 3 images I’ve just taken.
This photo is at 2 stops of under exposure (Click for full resolution)
This next photo is at correct exposure (Click for full resolution)
This last photo is at 2 stops of over exposure (Click for full resolution)
Now, you’ll need to have some type of photo editing software to merge those images into one after you upload them to your computer. Most photo editing bundles that you buy will have some type of HDR merging software. I personally use Corel Paintshop Pro X2 for photo editing, which they have recently upgraded to Paintshop Photo Pro X3. I haven’t bought the upgrade simply because the version I have does what I want it to do…for now. My version (X2) has a basic HDR merge function, that works okay for me. You simply drag and drop your bracketed exposures, the software does the merging and voila! If you don’t want to invest in software, most all photo editors have a free trial that you can download. There is also an HDR stand alone software out there called Photomatix. It’s designed specifically for HDR and has all sorts of bells and whistles. I’ve never used it so I can’t comment on it, but it seems to be the most popular. It’s not free, but there is a free trial version on their website. Even after merging the images, you still may want to play around with it to get the end result you want. Again, this is done through photo editing software.
Those spectacular photos almost never come straight out of the camera looking that way. They are always “enhanced” through the use of software. Just be careful with the “enhancing”. If you read much at all about HDR and look at a lot of HDR pictures, you’ll start seeing the word “cartoon-ish”. This is the word that’s used to describe HDR images that have a LOT of software enhancement. The images are so incredibly over the top with the saturation of colors that the crazy high contrasts take on a strange un-real look, kind of like…well, a cartoon. I personally don’t care for it, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Here is the final product. The three images above are merged into one with some minor editing. Notice how the areas that were dark are now much more visible and detailed, as well as the areas that were completely white and devoid of color.
The Final Image (Click for full resolution)
So there you have it. Not saying it’s the end all be all right way, or the only way. It’s simply the way I do HDR and it works for me. Now get out there and capture the Magic!
When Does Disney Release Operating Hours?
Disney releases operating hours about six months (seven months depending on how you count) in advance. For example, they released June’s operating hours on November 20th.
Approximately When Does Disney Make Updates to Operating Hours?
Usually, Disney makes changes to the schedule on a Monday about two weeks before a month is set to start. For example, they will make a substantial update to January’s operating schedule on or about Monday December 13th. You’ll notice that at the bottom of each of the Travel Agent Calendar pages is the date that the Calendar was last updated. Disney usually dates the calendar on the Friday before the Monday that the calendars are uploaded to the Internet. For example, January’s updated hours will probably be dated December 10th, even though they aren’t available online until the 13th. Of course, changes can and do happen “randomly” as well.
What Does Disney Usually Change?
Most months, substantial changes aren’t necessary. December was one exception because the original schedule was extremely conservative, meaning the operating hours over Christmas Week were much shorter than they had been in previous years. In the months and weeks leading up to December, Disney extended the hours at all of the four major theme parks. Significant changes are also common around other popular holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. Since the “economic downturn” began, Disney has scheduled less and less of the “evening spectaculars” like Fantasmic and the Main Street Electrical Parade because they are expensive to produce. They generally schedule them when the Parks will naturally be crowded so that the most guests can enjoy the evening entertainment and Disney can save money by not showing the Parade or Fantasmic on several nights during the week. Over the last year, Disney has been adding a second Fantasmic on nights that previously had a Fantasmic scheduled and a second Main Street Electrical Parade on nights that previously had one scheduled. This is cheaper than adding shows on separate nights. It’s also the most common change that Disney makes about two weeks before a month begins. For example, at the moment, we have just one Fantasmic scheduled on certain dates in January. In a couple of weeks, Disney will likely add additional Fantasmic shows. Obviously, such short notice can make planning a hassle and it’s why we rely on the more up-to-date Travel Agent Calendar rather than the Disney website. They will also occasionally add Fantasmic or the Main Street Electrical Parade on nights that didn’t previously have one scheduled, but that’s much rarer. Disney did add Fantasmic on three nights that didn’t previously have a show scheduled in December, but I can only think of two other instances where they have done that throughout the rest of 2010.
Park operating hours may also be extended on certain days. Magic Kingdom’s hours on Saturdays and Mondays are often extended because of the popularity of those days. Hours at the Animal Kingdom are often extended by one hour as well. Finally, it’s not uncommon for Hollywood Studios’ operating hours to be extended to accommodate the second Fantasmic, which usually begins 90 minutes after the first show starts.
Disney also makes changes as they schedule private Parties or officially announce the dates of special events. For example, the Celebrate A Dream Parade at Magic Kingdom moved from 3pm to 5pm on December 2nd, 3rd, and 4th to make it easier to film the Christmas Parade. Other Parks may close earlier than originally announced for private parties. For example, the Magic Kingdom closes at 6pm on January 18th for a Private Party, even thought the original schedule had it open later.
How Do Operating Hours Changes Affect the Extra Magic Hours Schedule?
Extra Magic Hours “move” with the changes to the normal operating hours. Morning Extra Magic Hour is always one hour long and begins one hour before the theme park opens to the general public. Evening Extra Magic Hours are officially “up to three hours long,” but in practice they are always three hours long. The “up to” is just lawyer-speak for “we don’t owe you anything if something happens.” If the Magic Kingdom has a morning Extra Magic Hour and the original hours of operation are 9am to 10pm, then the morning Extra Magic Hour occurs from 8am to 9am. If Disney changes the schedule so that the Magic Kingdom is now open from 8am to 11pm, the morning Extra Magic Hour will occur from 7am to 8am. The same is true for evening Extra Magic Hours. If Hollywood Studios originally closes at 7pm, the evening Extra Magic Hours are scheduled for 7pm to 10pm. If the hours are extended and Hollywood Studios closes at 10pm, the evening Extra Magic Hours will run from 10pm to 1am.
Are Restaurants Also Open Earlier or Later When the Hours Change?
There are several restaurants in the major theme parks that open one hour prior to the Park opening to the general public (when morning Extra Magic Hour isn’t scheduled). Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, Akershus Banquet Hall in Epcot, Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood & Vine inside of Hollywood Studios open at 8am, even when the Parks don’t officially open until 9am. This gives those with early reservations (between 8am and 9am) an opportunity to enter the Park when virtually no one else is around and take some pictures without anyone getting in the way. Keep in mind that none of the rides will be open and most of the Park will be roped off so that you can’t wander the Park unsupervised. Nonetheless, you’ll have Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard, the World Showcase Lagoon, or the Tree of Life almost all to yourself. However, if the Park hours change so that the Park opens at 8am instead of 9am, you will most likely lose that opportunity because everyone will be allowed to enter the theme park at 8am, not just those with early morning reservations. When the hours shift like that, the restaurants do not open any earlier than 8am. Other than holiday weekends and Christmas/Easter weeks, it’s rare for Disney to open a Park to the general public at 8am. The Magic Kingdom does open at 8am on Sundays through December because it closes at 7pm so often for Mickey’s Christmas Party, but that isn’t a huge concern most of the year. To minimize the chances of the hours changing on your breakfast date, make your reservation on a weekday as far away from the holiday or holiday weekend as possible. Overall, 8am opens are extremely rare and shouldn’t be a concern outside of President’s Day Weekend, Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and December. I make updates as soon as new hours are announced so that you will have the best chance of rescheduling.
When hours are extended, the restaurants may also be open later, depending on how late the theme park is open. At Hollywood Studios, the hours are usually extended just one or two hours to 9pm or 10pm and the Studios’ restaurants will accept reservations and walk-ups until about ten minutes before the Park is scheduled to close. At the Magic Kingdom, the hours might be extended from 10pm all the way to 1am. Generally speaking, the restaurants will accept reservations and walk-ups until around 10pm, even though the Park may be open much later. The same is true for nights with evening Extra Magic Hours. The table service restaurants usually accept new guests until around 10pm, even if the Park is open much later.
Don’t be worried about Disney transportation after the Park closes or Disney closing the Park while you’re still eating inside. Disney does not shut the Parks down immediately after the stated closing time. In fact, many of the stores stay open for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, and the restaurants stay open long enough for everyone to finish eating. They take reservations up until ten minutes before the Park is “scheduled to close,” knowing full well that you will take some time to eat. Disney runs buses for at least 90 minutes after the operating hours indicate the Park will close and they are very accommodating if you exit later than that. They will either call a bus or a van to transport you back to your resort.
Are Extended Hours an Indication That Crowds Are Larger Than Previously Expected?
No, not necessarily. Because of the downturn in the economy, Disney has been very conservative with theme park hours and scheduling expensive “extras” like Fantasmic and Main Street Electrical Parade. They also often list much shorter operating hours than we’ve seen in past years. For example, the original calendar had the Magic Kingdom open from just 9am to 10pm during Christmas Week. This was never going to be the final operating schedule because Disney World is absolutely packed from December 21st through January 1st. Disney decided to extend the hours that week to 8am – 12am and 8am to 1am, just like the schedule has looked in past years. We can assume they do this because people are happier to see extended hours rather than shortened hours. After all, if Disney released a calendar that had the Magic Kingdom’s hours as 9am to 12am every day of the year and then shortened them to 9am to 8pm or 9am to 9pm as necessary, people would be much sadder. In other words, I don’t rely on Disney’s purported hours to make my crowd predictions on the Crowd Calendars, which is why I don’t have to keep upping my estimate as we get closer to the actual date. One common complaint you might hear about the crowd calendars on other websites is the fact that they’re constantly changing crowd level predictions and recommended theme parks to visit based on operating hours. I haven’t run into that problem because I have a pretty good idea about how, why, and when Disney is going to change their schedule.
What Does Change Crowd Predictions and Best Theme Parks?
There are several things that may change the crowd prediction or best theme parks to visit. The first is the addition of a Fantasmic or Main Street Electrical Parade on a day that didn’t originally have one. Fantasmic is a huge draw and Hollywood Studios is routinely at its busiest when it has Fantasmic scheduled in the evening. Because the operating hours at Hollywood Studios are usually also longer when Fantasmic is scheduled, people who tend to visit Parks when they are open longer will also tend to visit. Most weeks, Hollywood Studios will be open from 9am to 7pm when it doesn’t have Fantasmic and 9am to 8pm or 9am to 9pm when it does have Fantasmic. Common sense would indicate that longer operating hours would allow a greater opportunity to accomplish more during the day. Unfortunately, the longer operating hours often lead to increased crowds and longer lines, resulting in the ability to do much less than you could if you simply visited when the theme park was less busy. If Disney decides to add Fantasmic when it doesn’t previously have one, Hollywood Studios will be much less desirable because of how much more crowded it will be. I would update the Crowd Calendar to indicate this and give some tips about how to beat the larger crowds if you’re locked into visiting on that date due to a dining reservation or other circumstance. Luckily, this is somewhat rare and other than December, I can only think of two or three times when Disney has added a Fantasmic on a night that didn’t previously have one scheduled. Nonetheless, we always need to be aware that it can happen and we may need to adjust our plans accordingly. One other note – Disney does not usually offer the Fantasmic Dining Package when it adds Fantasmics on additional nights because those restaurants are likely booked solid by the time Disney does make the addition.
The same is true for Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom if it’s during a week with limited Electrical Parades. Most months throughout the year, Main Street Electrical Parade is only scheduled on three or four days per week. For example, for the week of January 9th to 15th, Main Street Electrical Parade is scheduled on just three nights – Monday night, Thursday night, and Saturday night. As we know from reading the crowd calendars, these days are naturally the busiest anyway. Mondays are busy because so many people travel over the weekend and visit the Magic Kingdom on their first full day. Thursday are busy because of the morning Extra Magic Hour that is so attractive to Disney resort guests and Saturdays are busy because of visiting locals, long hours, and people revisiting the Magic Kingdom before leaving on Sunday. Disney schedules the Main Street Parade on these days because it gives the most people the opportunity to see the Parade without the masses having to do anything differently. Disney saves money because they don’t have to run the Parade on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and the majority of people will have an opportunity to see the Parade. If Disney were to add the Main Street Electrical Parade on Wednesday and extend the hours to accommodate it, the Magic Kingdom would be busier because people who pay attention to details like this will take advantage of the additional show. You might be surprised with how many people arrive at their resort with absolutely no idea what they’re going to do on any particular day. When they sit down with the Times Guide, they’ll schedule the Magic Kingdom when the hours are longer and the Main Street Electrical Parade is running. Disney rarely adds Main Street Electrical Parades, but it’s always a concern for those of us who want to visit the theme parks when crowds are at their lowest.
“Unforeseen” events may also change the recommended Parks. For example, I wrote about the Expedition Everest Challenge just the other day. Last year, the Challenge occurred on June 12th. This year, it’s happening on May 7th. It’s not a huge event and it won’t affect the overall crowd level, but it’s worth noting that a few thousand unexpected people will be at the Animal Kingdom on May 7th. Other events like this can have a substantial impact on crowd level and the best theme parks to visit. If the dates for Star Wars Weekends aren’t as expected, the May and June calendar will change. There’s simply no way around unforeseeable changes like this. The trick is to identify these inaccuracies as early as possible and make the necessary changes so that you can stay ahead of other people trying to change their own reservations and plans.
And the Crowd Level? What If All the Disney Resorts are Sold Out?
One thing to keep in mind is that Disney owns more than 25,000 “hotel” rooms on Disney property. According to Disney’s latest financial report, their average occupancy rate is 83%, which comes out to about 21,000 rooms full of Disney vacationers on any given day. During Peak or Holiday seasons, that number is closer to 100%, and during extremely slow seasons, occupancy might dip to around 75%. Even with a 20% swing in occupancy, we’re only talking about 5,000 rooms. That’s not enough to make a substantial impact on the overall crowd level. When the crowd level jumps from a 2 to a 7, it means that a lot of people are coming from hotels, motels, resorts, campgrounds, timeshares, rental properties etc. from outside of Disney World. This is why Disney World is so much more crowded during school vacations, summer, and holidays. Higher occupancy outside of Disney World is what makes a difference in crowd levels. It has very little to do with occupancy of Disney-owned resorts. Disney will find a way to fill their rooms, whether it be with lower prices or additional “freebies.” In other words, we can expect Disney-owned resorts to be somewhere between mostly-full and completely-full throughout the entire year.
Make Sure the Disney Resorts are Actually Sold Out, Not Just “Sold Out” For A Particular Promotion
In a similar vein as the last point, make sure you check resort availability by checking dates without a promotion attached. To do this, simply go to DisneyWorld.com and enter your dates and resort preference on the left side of the homepage, without clicking into any promotion banners or links. Certain resorts may become unavailable with the Free Dining Promotion or other percent-off promotions because Disney designates a certain number of rooms as being eligible. Once that quota is filled, the resort will show up as “unavailable,” even though there could be hundreds of rooms available at full cost or with other discounts.
Disney resorts are also commonly “sold out” during events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex or during large conventions. For example, Pop Warner pretty much sells out all of the All-Star Value Resorts and Port Orleans Moderate Resort. A large convention may also sell out all of the Epcot area Deluxe resorts. Because many of these event participants will be focused on activities outside of the theme parks, it actually means crowds will be lower, not higher.
Dining Reservation Availability is an Even Worse Indicator of Crowd Levels
Now that dining reservations can be easily made online and the Free Dining promotion has been extended to numerous dates throughout 2011, fully booked restaurants are more common than ever. It’s not uncommon for people to make multiple dining reservations at different theme parks for the same time either, which further skews the “data.” For example, someone might make a 5pm reservation at Tony’s Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, ‘Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, and La Hacienda de San Angel at Epcot so that they have “plenty of options” depending on where they end up that day. This past September, when the Free Dining promotion was in full swing, just about every restaurant was booked solid for the entire month. However, crowds were extremely low. There is simply no definitive relationship between dining reservations and crowd level. There will be few dining reservations available at the end of August and during Christmas Week, but the crowd levels will be radically different.
The Importance of Being on Top of Things
Overall, Disney’s scheduling changes are more annoying than anything else. It requires tweaks and modifications to itineraries that were previously “perfect,” but are now less so. Luckily, the news is usually good, whether it be additional Parades or extended operating hours. By staying on top of new operating schedules, you can make modifications to your dining reservations and itineraries before other people even realize Disney makes changes to operating schedules. This will put you in the best possible position to have a wonderful, well planned vacation.
I am finishing up the June 2011 Disney World Crowd Calendar. A preview of the calendar portion can be found below. If you are unsure of how to read the crowd calendar or what to expect from it in the future, please see the December 2010 Crowd Calendar, which explains what each line means and has some examples of what the daily analysis looks like. There is also a post here explaining how to interpret the green and red theme park recommendations. It’s not very complicated, but it’s important that we’re all on the same page. I will make a formal June 2011 post with the daily analysis in the next few days. If you would like a preview, please send me an email at email@example.com with your vacation dates and I will forward the rough draft. Typos are at your own risk.
Click the Calendar Thumbnail Below and The Image Will Expand to Fit the Screen. You May Also Click Here and the Calendar Will Open in a New Window. If it is blurry, click it again and it will expand to its full size or see the PDF file below.
The Calendar is also available in an easy to view and print PDF file, Here
June is a relatively easy month to plan because crowds are average to above average for the entire month, the Extra Magic Hours schedule is mostly uniform, the operating hours are mostly the same, and the Magic Kingdom features a Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes every night. The biggest problem with June is trying to plan a day at the Hollywood Studios during the first two weeks. Star Wars Weekends complicate things quite a bit and makes a “most recommended” day at the Studios harder to pin down. Because Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be busy for the Star Wars activities and Fantasmic and evening Extra Magic Hours are such big draws, we’re left with Wednesday as the least crowded day, despite the morning Extra Magic Hour.
If you’ve been following the crowd calendars throughout the year, you would know that the Magic Kingdom is usually not recommended on Mondays or Saturdays. This is due to a number of reasons. First, Mondays are usually one of only a few days during the week with a Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled at night. Because a lot of people want to see the evening Parade and don’t have Park Hopper, they have to spend the entire day at the Magic Kingdom in order to see the Parade at night. Second, a lot of people travel over the weekend and visit the Magic Kingdom first thing on Monday. In June, we have the Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled every night, which makes it much less of a concern than it is during other months. We also have a morning Extra Magic Hour added on Tuesdays. Coupled with the evening Extra Magic Hours on Sunday nights, Disney resort guests will be much more likely to visit on Sunday or Tuesday for Extra Magic Hours, leaving Monday relatively free.
Saturdays are popular because they usually have the longest operating hours and also feature a Main Street Electrical Parade in the evening. For example, it’s not uncommon for the Magic Kingdom to be open from 9am to 8pm most days during the week and then be open from 9am to 12am on Saturday. This makes the Magic Kingdom extremely attractive to anyone who sees long hours and thinks it’s their best opportunity to get the most done. Unfortunately, larger crowds lead to longer lines, more congestion in common areas, and an overall less pleasant touring experience. We would actually be better off visiting during a day with 9am to 8pm operating hours because crowds will be lower and lines will be significantly shorter. In June, the hours of operation on Saturdays aren’t any longer than other days during the week. To help draw crowds away from Saturday, Disney also changes the Extra Magic Hour schedule in June so that the Magic Kingdom has evening Extra Magic Hours on both Friday and Sunday nights, leaving Saturday less attractive to the majority of Disney resort guests who visit whichever Park has Extra Magic Hours. Because most local kids have the summer off, families can more easily visit the Magic Kingdom during the week. They aren’t limited to just Saturdays and Sundays.
While the high temperatures in May and June are similar, June is much more uncomfortable because of the higher chance of precipitation and thus, higher humidity. You will want to consider an afternoon break most days if the heat becomes a problem. Early morning and late night touring also become preferable, both for the lower crowds and cooler temperatures. Note that a high chance of precipitation does not mean it will rain most of the day. Precipitation is common in short bursts during the afternoon.
June is a relatively crowded month because of summer break. Both June and July are busy all the way through. June gets busier later in the month as more and more schools are off for summer. July is even busier.
One other thing to note in June is the fact that the Value, Moderate, and Deluxe resorts are in different “seasons,” which is evident in the “$$ / $$$” line for each day from June 3rd on. The Value and Moderate resorts are in Regular Season for June 1st and 2nd, but move to the slightly more expensive Summer Season for the rest of the month. Value and Moderate Resort rooms cost between $10 and $20 more per night in Summer Season than they do in Regular Season. See the “Resort Room Rate Calendar” category to your right for pricing. The Deluxe Resorts don’t have a Summer Season and they will have Regular Season pricing for the entire month.