Just a heads up that Disney changed the Fantasmic schedule throughout the rest of 2011 and into 2012. You may recall that in the middle of June, Disney added Fantasmic to just about every night in July, August, and September. At that time, there was some question as to whether that patten would continue past September. Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios is now scheduled most nights in October, November, and December 2011. It’s also scheduled every night from January 1st through January 8th. Fantasmic is not scheduled from January 9th through February 12th. During this five week span, it is expected that minor work will be completed on the show’s stage, props, and theater. Major changes to content are not expected at this time. On February 13th, Fantasmic returns to a nightly engagement with few exceptions through the end of March.
The Good News
Obviously, visitors will have more opportunities to see Fantasmic when it’s offered more often. During the “off-season,” Fantasmic has only been scheduled two or three nights during the week, making it difficult to fit into most schedules. Hollywood Studios was also significantly busier whenever Fantasmic was scheduled, due to the number of people who naturally visited whenever the show was offered. Generally speaking, Fantasmic also comes with extended operating hours. When Fantasmic wasn’t scheduled, the Studios closed at 7pm. Because Fantasmic needs to be performed in the dark, it has to be scheduled later at night. This makes 9pm (or later) closes more common in the spring and summer when the sun doesn’t go down until after 8pm. The extended operating hours, coupled with the more standardized crowd levels, should translate to increased FASTPASS availability, more opportunity to see stage shows, and lower crowds on days when Fantasmic is offered.
The Bad News
Fantasmic is so popular (especially when it’s combined with longer hours of operation), that it always draws significant crowds when it’s scheduled on limited nights. People naturally flock to it. This pulls more people away from the “recommended Parks” and makes it easier to visit the Studios on a day that it will be significantly less crowded. For example, when we have Hollywood Studios with 9am – 7pm operating hours and no Fantasmic, Epcot with evening Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Kingdom with a rare Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes, the Studios will be significantly less crowded than when it’s hosting Fantasmic and and we don’t have as much going on elsewhere. The addition of Fantasmic to most nights blurs the lines between a “recommended day” and a “not recommended day” because crowds are distributed more evenly during the week. In other words, it’s easier to schedule the Studios and other theme parks when Fantasmic is scheduled less often because it’s such a crowd magnet, making the recommended Parks less busy and Hollywood Studios much less busy when Fantasmic isn’t scheduled. Days that don’t feature Fantasmic are much less crowded and the Studios begins to empty around 4pm as people finish up their itineraries and head elsewhere for dinner. We also see fewer people returning from a break in the afternoon and very few people Park Hopping over in the evening because the Studios’ restaurants aren’t particularly good and there’s nothing special to see at night. When Fantasmic is scheduled, people are more likely to take afternoon breaks and return in the evening, more likely to Park Hop to see the show, more likely to stay through close to see Fantasmic, more likely to stay later because lines are longer and they’re unable to get what they want done earlier in the day.
What We Saw This Summer
There isn’t as much variability in crowd levels at specific theme parks when the operating hours are similarly long every day, nighttime entertainment is plentiful, and crowd levels are well above average, like they are during summer. We see much more variability in the fall and winter, when Magic Kingdom’s nighttime entertainment is limited and it closes at 7pm several times each week for a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween/Very Merry Christmas Party, Extra Magic Hours are scheduled less often, and crowd levels are lower overall. It’s not uncommon for someone to come back from an October trip swearing off the month for good and stating that it was “crazy busy.” This person most likely visited Hollywood Studios on Thursday for Fantasmic and longer hours of operation, Epcot on Friday for evening Extra Magic Hours, Magic Kingdom on Saturday for longer hours of operation, Main Street Electrical Parade, and Wishes, etc. Had they simply altered their schedule, they would have experienced a much different vacation with significantly lower crowds. During summer, you aren’t necessarily “dead” if you visit Magic Kingdom on a “non-recommended day,” because the crowd level is so high that Magic Kingdom is going to be busy every day. In September, October, November (other than Thanksgiving Week), and December (up until December 19th), we see Magic Kingdom’s “non-recommended days” become much, much busier because the longer hours, nighttime parades, and fireworks are so popular.
This summer, Hollywood Studios was similarly crowded every day. We saw lower crowds on Tuesdays and Fridays, but not the dramatic drop that we see on non-Fantasmic days when Fantasmic is scheduled less often. That means 70 minute waits at Toy Story Mania instead of 90 minute waits, FASTPASSes at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster that have a return time of 5:30pm rather than 7:45pm, Indiana Jones shows that fill up five minutes before the show begins rather than ten minutes, and so forth. While “recommended days” are indeed less crowded, it’s not the night and day difference that we see when Fantasmic is scheduled less often.
What We Should See This Fall
We can expect Hollywood Studios to be busier when it’s hosting Fantasmic and Magic Kingdom is closing early for a Mickey’s Party. Magic Kingdom should continue to be less crowded when it closes at 7pm and doesn’t offer evening entertainment during regular Park hours. In that respect, Fantasmic will only help pull people away from Magic Kingdom on Party nights. However, crowds at the Studios will be more standardized with less of a dropoff in crowds during recommended days. As any half-decent Disney crowd calendar website will tell you, planning what to do during your day, arriving early, hitting the headliners first thing, and collecting FASTPASSes diligently is 4.79 times more important than choosing the “right day” to visit Hollywood Studios. In other words, you can still have a successful day if you visit Hollywood Studios when it’s “not recommended” provided you arrive prior to Park opening and tour efficiently. We can still expect days with Extra Magic Hours and days when there is more going on at the other Parks to be less busy.
Will This Affect the Crowd Calendar Recommendations?
Yes, unfortunately. Disney is fairly predictable in most of the operating schedule changes that they make and this website takes those expected changes into account when putting together the Crowd Calendar. That’s one of the reasons why the crowd levels and recommended Parks don’t change much as your dates approach. When the schedule changes come out, it only reaffirms the choices we’ve made. However, the Fantasmic schedule is the wild card in all of this and the addition of the show to so many nights will alter crowd patterns enough that those changes will need to be reflected in the recommended Parks.
As I pointed out when Disney added Fantasmic to every night in July, August, and September, the addition of Fantasmic is not due to a sudden and unexpected surge in crowds this fall and winter. It’s simply economics – Fantasmic is the single most expensive show for Disney to perform, with more than 50 cast members, complicated pyrotechnics, and expensive effects. In addition, Disney commonly keeps the Studios open one or two hours later than it would otherwise to accommodate the show, which is incredibly expensive as well. However, Disney is happy to do it if the costs are offset by additional revenue from guests staying in the Park longer and purchasing more stuff. The recent June ticket price increase, which normally happens in August, may also be related to covering the cost of the show. That’s mere speculation though.
I’ll be going over the Crowd Calendars and updating them as necessary. I would imagine it will take a couple of days.