I updated the October 2011 Crowd Calendar with the operating schedule changes that were released yesterday and described here. Overall, the Crowd Calendar was more or less “future proofed” going into the updates, so a lot of changes weren’t necessary. The recommendations changed a bit around October 14th due to the addition of two Main Street Electrical Parades at Magic Kingdom along with extended operating hours. Crowd levels were bumped up or down one in a couple of places, but I don’t think any date had to be lifted or dropped more than one and the majority of dates stayed the same. Other than that, there weren’t any surprises.
There are always a lot of questions about whether or not crowds are expected to be heavier because the hours are extended. The answer is, “not necessarily.” First of all, Disney is generally conservative in the initial release of their operating schedule. They intentionally set shorter hours than they are expecting to ultimately need. The extension of operating hours and addition of evening entertainment happens every month of every year. If you stick around for November’s update, you’ll see me doing a very similar set of updates and reminders. Some months have more changes than others. While it might appear that October had a lot of changes, it’s actually pretty average. There are a number of things going on in October specifically that lead to the extended operating hours at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom throughout the month.
First of all, Disney is hamstrung on a lot of dates in October due to the number of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is scheduled on 16 dates in October, which is obviously more than half of the month. Disney can’t extend the operating hours past 7pm on any of these dates or add Wishes or Main Street Electrical Parade. Reasons include the fact that the Party begins at 7pm, it isn’t dark enough to do a nighttime Parade or Fireworks at 7pm, Disney wants you to buy a Halloween Party ticket, etc. Because of that, they extend the hours at Magic Kingdom on non-Party dates. Saturdays throughout the month stick out the most with hours that were extended from 9am – 10pm to 9am – 12am or even 8am – 1am. This might seem out of the ordinary, but it’s actually perfectly in line with past years. Let’s take a look at the changes made to Saturdays in October 2010. A list of all October 2010’s changes is available here.
Saturday October 2: Magic Kingdom hours extended to 12am from 11pm; Main Street Electrical Parade added at 10pm
Saturday October 9: Magic Kingdom hours extended to 12am from 11pm; Main Street Electrical Parade added at 11pm
Saturday October 16: Magic Kingdom hours extended to 12am from 11pm; Main Street Electrical Parade added at 11pm
Saturday October 23: Magic Kingdom hours extended to 12am from 11pm; Main Street Electrical Parade added at 11pm
Saturday October 30: Magic Kingdom hours extended to 12am from 9pm; Main Street Electrical Parade added at 10pm
See? We had the same or very similar operating hours on Saturdays at Magic Kingdom last year. 9am – 12am hours with two Main Street Electrical Parades scheduled every night. Does that mean October 2010 was crazy busy? Not in the least. There’s a big difference between a single 9am – 12am day and five 9am – 12am days in a row. When you see five 9am – 12am days in a row then you know it’s going to be crowded. A single, longer day at Magic Kingdom each week usually means that the hours are shortened on other days during the week because of Mickey’s Parties. We’ll see a similar phenomenon throughout much of November and December. It doesn’t mean that the crowd numbers are going to mysteriously jump to astronomical heights simply because Magic Kingdom is open for an extended period of time compared to other dates surrounding it. Disney extends the hours because it knows a lot of people won’t be visiting on Mickey’s Party dates when Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm. That’s why those Mickey Party dates are so highly recommended. When a non-Party date comes around and a disproportionate number of people will be headed to the Magic Kingdom, Disney extends the hours to help meet demand.
In October, we also have a second Fantasmic and slightly longer hours of operation at Hollywood Studios on days that we were already expecting to be crowded. If you look at the dates with two Fantasmic shows, you’ll notice that almost all of them are also days where the Studios is hosting morning or evening Extra Magic Hours. This is also beneficial because it will only lure more casual Disney resort guests. The fact that Disney didn’t add a second Fantasmic to more dates means that they aren’t expecting above average crowds. You may recall that they added a second Fantasmic on every date in July and most dates in August when crowds were above average.
We didn’t see the extended hours at Animal Kingdom last year like we have this year, but we also had evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom last year. Evening Extra Magic Hours helped attract a lot of Disney resort guests out to the Animal Kingdom because it made them feel special and the 8pm or 9pm close seemed late enough for them to bother with it. Last October, Animal Kingdom saw well below average crowds almost every day, despite slightly below average to average overall crowds for most of the month. It’s hard for a lot of people to justify a day at Animal Kingdom when the hours are 9am – 5pm, when they could spend 9am – 10pm at Epcot or 9am – 12am at Magic Kingdom. Even Hollywood Studios is open until 8pm or later almost every day. The 9am – 7pm hours on dates where operating hours are also extended elsewhere should help increase crowds at Animal Kingdom and lure people on a shorter vacation for the Food/Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
The point is that you shouldn’t be worried about the extended hours and they are not indicative of wildly higher than predicted crowds. We see similar additional hours of operation and evening entertainment every month. October isn’t an “empty” month like September is, but it still sees crowds that are slightly below average to average. You’re most likely more than prepared for manageable crowds if you follow this site. We’ll just let everyone else cram into Magic Kingdom on Saturday.