This also contains information on what I’m expecting from the various additions coming to the Parks. Scroll down to the bold if you have no interest in this fall.
This is what we’re looking at for November 2016. Click to enlarge or view as a prettier PDF. And if you don’t know what the numbers/letters mean, read the top of this post. The full operating schedule is available here.
While it might not look like it, I’ve spent more than 12 hours (edit: now 15) over the last two days going over this. Most of that time was spent taking a hard look at wait times charts from the last few months to see if crowd flow patterns have changed significantly with the new Extra Magic Hours schedule. But even those patterns are unlikely to continue into the fall with so many changes on the horizon, in addition to the Mickey’s Party schedule and the 7pm closes that come with it throwing everything else for a loop. I also took a long look at what happened last year to see if any improvements could be made in the recommendations or crowd levels.
We are headed into uncharted waters with the strong possibility that the Star Wars Fireworks and Rivers of Light will play on “select nights” during the off-season. We don’t know what Animal Kingdom’s nighttime enhancements will do to crowd flow. We don’t know which nights Rivers of Light will be scheduled or how late Animal Kingdom will stay open. We don’t know what effect Frozen Ever After at Epcot will have on theme park touring or how many guests will head there on their first day. We don’t know what the third theater will do to wait times at Soarin’ or if FastPass+ and renewed interest in a reboot will actually increase wait times. For November, Disney has not even released which nights will feature the Electrical Parade and Wishes. And Fantasmic is currently not scheduled on any night. All three shows will assuredly be added, but when, where, and how often remains to be seen.
As far as crowd levels, it’s always important to keep in mind that wait times are up significantly under FastPass+ at the majority of attractions. This post from last year discusses October, but it should also provide a realistic look at what a “4” or “5” or “6” on the calendar really means. It is not 2009 anymore and won’t be again anytime soon.
Here is another example with the image below representing the wait times chart I made for Mickey’s Party dates two years ago:
This is a manageable day at the vast majority of attractions. 30 minutes might be longer than you want to wait in the middle of the afternoon for Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain, but it’s not the end of the world. 15 minute peak wait at Pirates…15 at small world…etc.
Now here is the wait times chart from this past year:
Wait times are 50%-100% higher. That 30 minute wait at Big Thunder is now 45. 30 minutes at Space Mountain is now 50. 15 minutes at Pirates is now 35. 15 minutes at small world is now 25. And these numbers likely need to be revised up again. And as I have discussed endlessly for years now, this is not an attendance thing. The reason the wait for Pirates has more than doubled is not because attendance has more than doubled. It’s 93.5% related to FastPass+ and how ratios work. Very little capacity is given to standby and those waiting wait much longer when so many more arrive later with priority. It’s science.
With the Food and Wine Festival continuing through November 14th, it’s important to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays through that date unless you want to participate in the “festivities.” World Showcase is otherwise busier every single day during the Festival than it would be otherwise and it’s more important to head up beginning as close to 11am as possible if you want to enjoy the lowest crowds and the fewest drunks as possible. Most of the higher crowd levels on the weekends are directly attributable to the Festival, in addition to the cooler weather increasing the number of local visitors returning to the Parks. The first weekend of the year sees higher attendance and some complications with the waitforthebusbacktoyourcarDisney races.
The second week is a bit busier for Veterans Day and Jersey Week.
The week before Thanksgiving is one of my favorites of the year with the cooling temperatures and no special events to increase crowds.
Thanksgiving is busy, but extended hours and additional nighttime entertainment help mitigate that fact and you don’t have to deal with 7pm closes at Magic Kingdom on three or four nights each year. I certainly wouldn’t seek Thanksgiving out over other possibilities, but you’re not dead on the water if that’s when your family can visit.
The last week headed into December is looking great again.
If you are planning a trip this fall, from the beginning of September through the middle of December, I think these are the things you’re going to need to consider:
The big “what ifs” are obviously whether or not Rivers of Light will replace the interim Jungle-Book-themed show and perhaps more importantly, on how many nights each week Animal Kingdom will close well after dark. Using the old Hollywood Studios template when Fantasmic was only offered on two or three nights each week, we can assume that crowds will head to AK when they can stay until 10pm and see the nighttime shows. And crowds will be lower on days when it closes earlier and doesn’t offer nighttime entertainment. But what makes Animal Kingdom potentially unique is that the Park is going to have to stay open so much later for Rivers of Light. In September, the Park would likely close at 5pm on days without nighttime entertainment and would have to stay open until 9pm or 10pm when Rivers of Light is scheduled. Those three, four, or five extra hours potentially help spread crowds out and open up a lot more FastPass+ availability over the course of the day. So it really remains to be seen how popular AK’s enhancements end up being, how many people show up, and how easy it is to ride rides during the early hours of the evening and then catch the last Rivers of Light show of the night. Of course, #DAKatnight may also be scheduled every night. You never know.
Frozen Ever After and the Anna/Elsa Meet and Greets are set to shift Epcot’s touring patterns for the first time in 10+ years. You’ve taken Disney’s third or fourth most popular property in Frozen and shoehorned it into a relatively low capacity boat ride in a Park that doesn’t have a tremendous amount for kids to do. 1,200 riders per hour seems generous and puts its capacity about 20% higher than Toy Story Mania’s current capacity. And we all know what wait times look like there, in addition to how FastPass+ experiences are completely unavailable for weeks in front of a given date. I would expect both the ride and the meet and greet to be Tier 1. If Frozen Ever After starts operating at 9am, which you would think that it must, that means there are 14,400 total rides per day (12 hour operating day times 1,200 rides per hours). If Epcot attendance is 40,000 guests/day including park hoppers, that means 36% of the people that visit Epcot on a given day will be able to experience it. The meet and greet will have an hourly capacity in the low hundreds. It seems guests will be unlikely to schedule both the ride and the meet and greet on the same day – at least in advance. And as you might be able to imagine, that’s exactly what Disney wants.
So the morning at Epcot is going to get pretty interesting as people will have to choose one attraction to head to first – Frozen Ever After, the meet and greet, Joy and Sadness, Soarin’, or Test Track. With some number of the adult population and those with older kids having little interest in Frozen, it will be interesting to see how many ignore the new attractions and head to Test Track or Soarin’ first thing. And if the answer is not a lot, how viable it will be to do Frozen Ever After first followed by Test Track, Sum of All Thrills, and Mission: SPACE in standby without much trouble. FastPass+ could then be used at Soarin’ or a repeat ride elsewhere. With Soarin’ down, 85% of the people in the Park first thing are headed to Test Track and by 9:15am, you’re looking at a 45+ minute wait.
The third theater at Soarin’, in addition to the Around the World overlay, will have an impact on wait times and FastPass+ availability. How much impact does remain to be seen. We can assume that there will be renewed interest in the new film. And adding capacity does not necessarily mean a reduction in wait times by the same amount. If the wait for Soarin’ is 100 minutes today and you double the capacity tomorrow with the same number of people visiting, the wait could easily be 75 minutes instead of 50 as there are some number of people that will get in a 50-minute line that won’t get in a 100-minute line. FastPass+ complicates things further as we don’t know how many more experiences will be distributed or how long it will take for Disney to fine tune the ratios. For the first few months that Mine Train operated, Disney released a couple hundred additional FP+ experiences for the attraction in monthly allotments as it worked to figure out what the right distribution should be so standby riders wait 90 minutes and FastPass+ riders wait six.
The good news is that these questions should be answered in a matter of a few days as the website tracks wait times at all attractions that post and tries a variety of different touring plans to figure out which works best.
I don’t think the enhancements to the current fireworks show will have a substantial impact on crowd levels or how you go about your day. And most nights, it’s surprisingly easy to find spots on Hollywood Boulevard to see the show front and center. My favorite spot remains outside 50’s Prime Time Cafe across Echo Lake from the Great Movie Ride and where the fireworks are shot. It remains to be seen how good that view is come June and how much more popular the fireworks are with all the hype surrounding them from commercials, billboards, etc.
The addition of a third track at Toy Story Mania should have a similar effect as Soarin’. The best news is probably that the number of FastPass+ experiences available will be increased, which will make it easier to book in advance and also open up more 4th FastPass+ opportunities elsewhere.
Otherwise, Hollywood Studios attendance is looking at going up headed into the summer as the Disney marketing machine continues churning along.
While the only overt addition at the most popular theme park in the world is relatively minute (my-noot) in the new stage show, the other additions should have a substantial impact on Magic Kingdom attendance and wait times. So far this year, Magic Kingdom attendance is up more than 10%, thanks to a similar drop at Epcot with Soarin’ down and the usual attendance increases overall. This has put a tremendous amount of strain on a Park that was not built to withstand crowds of this magnitude. It was “bad” a couple of years ago and it’s been decidedly worse with Soarin’ closed. Animal Kingdom open late in particular should help alleviate nighttime crowds.
I have been operating this website for more than six years now and I can’t remember a time where there were so many more questions than answers. What is ______ going to do to __________. When is __________ going to debut? What time is ___________? What will the wait be for ________? Will I be able to get a FastPass+ for _______ The questions are never ending and very few of them can be answered with any amount of certainty with the facts we have at our disposal. It certainly doesn’t help that Disney is now releasing entire months worth of operating hours with literally no nighttime entertainment noted outside of IllumiNations.
But with so much opening Memorial Day and then Soarin’ reopening in mid-June, the answers are not so far off. And I am confident that we will come out on top.
We always have before.