Happy New Year! In 2019 we’ll be posting regular, middle-of-the-month looks at how our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar is performing. We’ll also talk about how future adjustments to the calendar are shaping up, and other calendar-related projects we’re working on.
As a reminder, our crowd calendar uses a 1-to-10 scale that represents posted wait times – the numbers you see on the signs outside of the rides at Walt Disney World. As you know, those posted wait times aren’t perfectly accurate. Still, they’re useful for two reasons: They allow us to talk about crowds using numbers instead of words like “busy”, that mean different things to different people. And numbers are easy to check – they’re available for free in the My Disney Experience app. Finally, our goal for the crowd calendar’s accuracy is for the predictions to be within +/-1 point of actual crowds, on average, over the course of a year.
January 2019 So Far
The crowd calendar’s average error for January 1 to 8 was -0.5; we under-predicted crowds by half a point. We over-estimated crowds by 2.9 points for Marathon Weekend (January 9 to 13). We’ve slightly over-estimated crowds the following week, by about 0.7 points.
A couple of things may have caused the over-prediction for Marathon Weekend. First, the number of runners who finished races in 2019 dropped by around 12,000, or roughly 21% from 2018. A drop that big should’ve been noticeable in advance. We could’ve tried to find the number of registered runners throughout the fall to see how that was keeping pace with 2018, for example. We’ll see if we can do that for next year’s event.
The Rest of 2019
For now, we think our over-predictions for January 9-13 were due to lower attendance for the races, not a trend of significantly lower crowds in general. The big thing that may change that is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Galaxy’s Edge is the most anticipated new theme park land since Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade Village opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 2010. Disney’s put an opening date of “Fall 2019” on Galaxy’s Edge, and Fall 2019 ends on December 21.
Given the cost and time commitment of a Disney vacation, it’s possible that guests will postpone their vacations until Star Wars: Galaxy Edge opens. It’s also possible that dedicated Disney/Star Wars fans will go to Disneyland, since their version of Galaxy’s Edge opens six months earlier – in June, 2019, with the exact same rides.
There’s some evidence that Disney is worried about this, too. Disney has offered more discounts than normal, especially via Priceline. And the early release of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party dates may be a sign of lower vacation bookings. We expect to see more discounts and other offers to entice guests to visit Walt Disney World in 2019.
Spring break crowds will be lower than the past few years. In 2019, Easter is late (April 21) and will spread out the spring break crowds over 6 weeks. Summer crowds were moderate in 2017 and 2018. We expect this trend will continue in 2019. Fall is going to be interesting. Early fall will have the normally low crowds. Fall break has become popular for many school districts. Fall break crowds are surpassing summer crowds, and approaching spring break crowd levels. The later it gets in the fall, more people will gamble on getting into Star Wars: Galaxy Edge. Christmas/New Year’s is going to be crazy. High attendance will continue into 2020; this will be the first time locals will have access to Galaxy Edge.
Look at Past Performance
Looking at the past two years, our predictions, the monthly average of the Crowd Calendar error was within 1 point. Four of the months we underpredicted by 1-1.5 points.
What We Learned in 2018
In early 2018, Disney Operations were adjusting ride capacity and staffing. Some of the testings caused wait times to be extremely high with low attendance. It appears that Disney is continuing to adjust ride capacity and staffing, but are being less aggressive. In the fall of 2018, we observed attractions running at less than 100% capacity but maintaining low wait times. (Star Tours running 4 of the 6 simulators. Soarin’ running 2 of 3 theaters.)
During the summer of 2018, Disney offered Extra Magic Hours every morning for Toy Story Land. This gave all on-site guests an opportunity to experience the new land with lower crowds. It also helped spread out the crowds. Expect to see the same strategy used for Star Wars: Galaxy Edge.
Early and late hard ticket events will continue. Early Morning Magic and Disney After Hours gives guest access to the parks before or after day guests. Expect to see this to continue and expand in 2019. Star Wars: Galaxy Edge will have its share of hard ticket events.
February Crowd Calendar Update
The statistical models are showing moderation in crowd levels. There should be no dramatic changes in the next Crowd Calendar update. February is showing a decrease of 1 point on average. The early release of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party gives us confirmation on when parties will occur and is a driver of crowd flow during the fall.