I updated the December Crowd Calendar today with the operating schedule changes that were released on Monday. Hollywood Studios is now “recommended” on December 2nd. That should be the only recommendation change. I don’t think there was anything on this update that was surprising or out of the ordinary and certainly nothing we weren’t expecting since the original operating schedule came out in the middle of May.
While the recommendations didn’t change much, I did update the “daily analysis” for most days. You’ll see new advice on the Osborne Lights and Candlelight Processional, some reminders on Park Hopping opportunities to the various resorts after the Parks close early, new tips on character meet and greets, and whatever other fluff I deemed to be appropriate at that moment in time. You should pick up on most of the information if you read about a week’s worth of advice. It’s sort of meant to hammer home the fundamentals, while intermittently adding a variety of tips and ideas.
We do have a number of 8am openings at Magic Kingdom throughout the month, even before Christmas Week. This isn’t much of a concern and doesn’t necessarily point to “crazy crowds.” The problem in September, October, November, and December is that the Mickey’s Party schedule severely limits the number of Main Street Electrical Parades and Wishes Fireworks that Disney can schedule during the week. It also forces Disney to close the Magic Kingdom at 7pm on any Mickey’s Party date. Between December 1st and December 18th, Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm ten times. For all of you joining us from TouringPlans.com, that’s 55.5555555556% of the time over that time period! Adding and then dividing. Amazing, right? Actually, they probably would have bothered to find the recurring decimal symbol and stuck it on top of the second five. Anyway, the problem here is that Disney can’t extend Magic Kingdom’s close past 7pm on any of these ten days because the Parties run from 7pm – 12am.
Because we see slightly below average to slightly above average crowds during this time frame, Disney opens the Magic Kingdom one hour earlier on certain Party dates and extends the operating hours significantly on Saturdays. This helps alleviate the crowds in the morning. It allows “us” to arrive at 7:45am, hit the major attractions, collect FASTPASSes, get in line for a major character, and then be on our way to the less popular attractions by the time “everyone else” arrives after 10am and heads to the same popular attractions. Saturdays are also a crowd magnet. The operating hours are probably longer than necessary, but it does keep the people that like to see long operating hours happy. They’ll just be less happy once they arrive. If it weren’t for the Mickey’s Party schedule, Disney would most likely open Magic Kingdom from 9am – 8pm on Mickey’s Party dates and schedule Wishes at 8pm. That’s the same eleven hours as you get in an 8am – 7pm day. It’s a very similar schedule to October and November when Mickey’s Parties dominate the schedule. It’s less of an “issue” in September when crowds are much lower and the 8am openings aren’t at all necessary. For a direct comparison of how Magic Kingdom looks on a recommended Friday/Mickey’s Party Date compared to a non-recommended Saturday last month, see A Tale of Two Magic Kingdoms. If this website was a bad horror movie, the results would be shocking.
Disney is again expecting Christmas Day through New Year’s to be extremely crowded. Last year, it wasn’t. This had a bit to do with the weather in the east, but pricing and “hype” probably also play a bit into it. When you could take a similar vacation one week before Christmas for thousands of dollars less “in this economy,” it just doesn’t make sense to vacation over Christmas unless you absolutely can’t swing a trip at any other time. This Thanksgiving has been busy as expected, but not nearly as many people are in the Parks as 2006 or 2007. Since Disney is again expecting more people over Christmas Week than any other week this year, I have the crowd level at a solid “10.” We may or may not see Magic Kingdom closures as we have in past years. In 2010, Magic Kingdom did see Phase One shutdowns over Christmas Week on two days, but those closures were short lived and may or may not have really been necessary.
Overall, December remains one of the best months to visit, provided we don’t see the freezing temperatures that we battled in 2010. While it’s no longer “dead” like it was in 2003, crowds are more than manageable if you visit the recommended Parks, arrive early, and tour efficiently. No doubt, we’ll see our fair share of people returning from an early December trip swearing off the month for good due to “crazy crowds” and “huge lines.” As usual, you can be sure they visited Epcot on Friday for Evening Extra Magic Hours, Magic Kingdom on Saturday for the long hours and evening entertainment, Hollywood Studios for Fantasmic and evening Extra Magic Hours, Magic Kingdom on Monday for evening Extra Magic Hours, etc. It’s sort of like watching a train wreck, only much, much, much sadder.