This is what we’re looking at for September 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.
More than usual is unknown about September this year. We don’t know when the first Halloween Party will be scheduled. Last year, those dates became official on February 25th. Ordinarily, the 7pm closures would be a good indicator of when the Parties would be scheduled, but last year Disney released preliminary hours with 7pm closures and then extended the hours earlier in the month and didn’t schedule the first Halloween Party until September 15th. In 2014, the first Halloween Party was scheduled on September 1st. In 2013, it was September 10th. In 2012, it was the 11th. In 2011, it was the 13th. So seeing the first Party on the 2nd wouldn’t be unheard of and Disney may elect to take advantage of slightly heavier crowds over the Labor Day holiday. Historically, the first few Halloween Parties didn’t sell a lot of tickets, but last year, most sold out. But regardless of when the first Party is scheduled, the recommendations shouldn’t shift much over the first couple of weeks.
Another peculiarity is that the Electrical Parade and Wishes at Magic Kingdom aren’t scheduled at all from September 5th through 23rd. As I’ve mentioned liberally over the last couple of weeks, Disney is in cost cutting mode. And we’re not talking about pulling Chip and Dale from Future World. We’re talking about delaying the opening of Mouse Gear until an hour after regular Park open every day. We’re talking about shutting down Agent P World Showcase Adventure at 6:15pm. We’re talking about only one Electrical Parade and Fantasmic over the busy spring break period. And those are only what’s immediately visible by glancing at a Times Guide. These cuts are deep and pervasive across all divisions of all theme parks at a time when domestic theme park attendance, and perhaps more importantly, profits, have never been higher.
I mention this partially because September is far off and as I’ve said a few times recently, “things change.” The last time Wishes and the Electrical Parade weren’t scheduled for an extended period of time was back in late January and early February of 2012, when much of Frontierland was re-paved. With the Halloween Party going on, they couldn’t really do any repaving during that time since Boo to You would run during that event, as would HalloWishes. So if they were to shut those shows down for a couple of weeks, it would likely be just to cut costs when the lowest number of people are around. If I were a betting man, I think we will see at least Wishes scheduled nightly when the Halloween Party isn’t scheduled. Even Disney (hopefully) isn’t cheap enough to skip their most iconic fireworks display. On the other hand, with 8pm and 9pm closures, Disney doesn’t need to offer the nighttime spectaculars to get people to stay in the Park through close, particularly with longer waits with reduced staffing and increased FastPass+ usage.
Another thing relatively up in the air is the start of the Food and Wine Festival. Based on past history, it seems likely that the event would begin on the 23rd with the usual preview the day before. But it’s possible that they kick the event off on the 16th instead as they tried two years ago. If you pull up the supplied operating schedule, you’ll notice that IllumiNations is also not currently scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays beginning on the 16th and 17th. If the Festival were to begin on the 16th, the close would likely change to 10pm with IllumiNations scheduled at 10pm. And again, even if the Park would be similarly crowded with or without the nighttime spectacular, you really can’t imagine Disney would be that cheap. But again, whether or not IllumiNations is scheduled would not affect the recommendations. You’d still want to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays during Food and Wine. But Epcot would not be recommended on the 16th, 17th, or 18th if the Festival kicks off early.
There aren’t even any dates for Night of Joy yet, which thankfully is being moved to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in 2016 and should have less of an impact on daytime crowds, though it depends what their tickets include.
Overall, September sees the lowest crowds of the year for the most part. I would remind readers that this website uses a normal distribution from 1 to 10 with 1 being the lowest crowds of the year and 10 being the highest crowds of the year. The numbers also only include six months before and six months after a given date, with the express purpose of guiding you towards the least crowded time of year or at least letting you know what to expect. You won’t see a “10” unless a Park is likely going to be closed to capacity and “9s” are relegated largely to peak level crowds that are just below that. A “1” is significantly more crowded now than it was five or six years ago and FastPass+ continues to push up wait times at historically secondary attractions. If you are of the mind that “Magic Kingdom is never below a 6,” that’s a really stupid way to think (and I use “think” very loosely here) about it, but you’re more than welcome to add some number between “4” and “6” to every crowd level you see in September to form your own arbitrary scale. But you can’t use my numbers, disregard how they’re intended to be used and what they mean, and then tell me I’m “wrong.” Because this website almost never is.