Crowd Calendar Review For April 2019

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We’re more than halfway through April, so let’s take a glance at the Walt Disney World crowds since our last mid-month update.

Park Predicted Crowd Level Observed Crowd Level
Magic Kingdom 7.9 6.6 (-1.3)
Epcot 7.8 6.9 (-0.9)
Hollywood Studios 6.7 6.3 (-0.4)
Animal Kingdom 8.1 6.6 (-1.5)

Before we get excited about the possibility of low crowds for our upcoming trips, let’s break down these numbers. The crowd calendar did poorly over the last 30 days. We saw higher crowd levels than expected at the end of March and very low crowd levels in the first 15 days of April. On April 8, 9 and 10 at Animal Kingdom we observed a crowd level ‘2’. In the past four years we have only seen two days in April hit a crowd level that low, and both of those were affected by rainy weather. Orlando has seen some hot and humid days in early April, but not so hot that it would keep crowd levels that low on our scale. Instead, we think the low crowds were caused by a gap in the school schedule between spring break and Easter. The last time Easter occurred this late was in 2014, but our wait time models don’t give a lot of weight to data that old in our database.

We have already seen crowd levels increase this week as we head into the Easter holiday. As I write this, Test Track shows a posted time of 150 minutes, a sure indication that peak crowds have arrived. Today, the crowd calendar predicted a ’10’ for Epcot.

Crowd Calendar Updates in May

There is a small chance that the lighter crowds we have observed in early April are an indication that travelers are postponing trips until all the new attractions arrive in late summer. There is some anecdotal evidence that people are adjusting trip plans. However, we still feel that the lower crowds in early April were driven primarily by this gap in school schedules. Either way, we have to be careful when we publish our next Crowd Calendar update in May to make sure that we predict wait times using the most accurate models possible.

We do that by going back in time to see if we can better predict what we saw in March and early April. It is a difficult exercise because there aren’t great indicators for the highs and lows we saw (if there were, the predictions would have been better). Disney, itself, assigned “peak” 1-day ticket pricing to those ‘2’ days at Animal Kingdom on April 8, 9, and 10.

Here’s a partial list of things we’ve modeled so far this month to see if they would’ve helped predict the slowdown we observed in the first half of April:

  1. Separated the largest 125 school systems into individual tracts, to see if any of them show up as significant predictors of crowds. (Inconclusive so far, but there’s a lot to try.)
  2. Re-ran older models to see if any of them would’ve done better. (They didn’t.)
  3. Training models by month instead of by year. (Inconclusive so far.)
  4. Changing weights to allow those old posted times from 2014 more influence when Easter fell later in the month.

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Train

Our current models assume that Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Train will be open and operating at full capacity by the time Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opens on August 29, 2019. What if it isn’t open? Until we hear different, we are going to flip our assumption and place the opening of Runaway Train after the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. This means that Hollywood Studios predicted wait times will go up on the May update. Once we hear an official opening date, we can make appropriate adjustments.

2020 and Beyond

We have new estimates for the Crowd Calendar dates in 2020 and beyond that will be published in our May update. They are already in the queue, waiting for a final review by our stats team before we publish them on the site. Remember that the likelihood of these predictions changing between now and then is very high. We have a lot to observe this summer and in the fall that could impact the forecasts for dates in 2020 and beyond. What we see at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge coupled with what we saw at Pandora will help get even more reliable estimates for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy when they open at Epcot.

Got any questions for the number gurus? Theories about what will happen at the Studios in the fall? Let us know in the comments.

Fred Hazelton

Fred Hazelton maintains the crowd calendar, theme park wait time models and does hotel rate analysis for the Unofficial Guides. He's also done the models for the new mobile wait times product Lines. Fred Hazelton is a professional statistician living in Ontario, Canada. His email address is fred@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @DisneyStatsWhiz.

7 thoughts on “Crowd Calendar Review For April 2019

  • April 17, 2019 at 12:50 pm
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    So if you’re planning a trip for March 30 to April 5, 2020…..how confident should you feel about the crowd levels seen during that period this year? As you stated they were pretty low. Easter is on the 12th next year. Would you (as a planner) put more weight in the projections of 2020 for that time period or the observed levels of this year?

    Reply
  • April 17, 2019 at 1:54 pm
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    How many of the big school districts had spring break in March vs April? 5 biggest in FL (Miami-dade, Broward, hillsborough, Orange, and palm beach) all had March spring breaks. Wouldn’t you want to weigh them – number of students on spring break? Miami-dade has 350k students or almost 10x the 125th biggest district.

    Reply
  • April 17, 2019 at 2:51 pm
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    “Disney, itself, assigned “peak” 1-day ticket pricing to those ‘2’ days at Animal Kingdom on April 8, 9, and 10.”

    Maybe the pricing is having the desired effect of reducing attendance. Fred, I envy your job to correctly model crowds! Not because it is easy, but because it is hard. 😉

    Disney is turning a different type of knob. Historically, there were two types of knobs they turned–seasonal and fine-tuning. The first were the value and holiday types of seasonal resort pricing based on seasonally anticipated demand. Then there were knobs Disney would turn in reaction to their actual bookings. The obvious ones were hotel discounts (lower than anticipated bookings) and extended park hours (higher than anticipated bookings.)

    The latest knob, the price of a park ticket based on the day impacts not only the on-site guests, but the off-site guests, equally. If the intent of this action was to balance attendance, it requires solid metrics and analytics to ACCURATELY PREDICT demand. Unless I personally knew what kind of chops their model builders had, I’d guess the accuracy is suspect. Since we are talking predictive analytics vs. reactive marketing tactics, how often does WDW adjust the ticket pricing? Is it truly yield pricing? I don’t think so. I think they are using it to drive behavior. I think they are still learning how to use it as a new tool. So, if I were building the models–I would still be using the ticket pricing as part of a “B” alternative as a comparison to my “A” alternative while publishing the “A” values. Maybe publish both, but then it looks more like a scientific paper–which I would love to read!!!!! But, sadly, I realize eyes would glaze over and we would understand why a Marvel-themed rollercoaster has ultimately replaced what was a fabulous day-one attraction–Universe of Energy.

    Keep up the great work! I always rely on the Touring Plans crowd calendar before scheduling a trip to the World!

    Reply
  • April 17, 2019 at 6:38 pm
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    Do we still think week April 28-mid May will be low crowds as usual?

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  • April 18, 2019 at 9:18 am
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    I love that you offer such frank assessments of how the model(s) performed.

    It sounds like one of your hypotheses is the later date for April. Do you think Thanksgiving happening later in November (a week later than last year if memory serves) may have an impact on fall crowds as well?

    Happy hunting, hope you all figure it out, and continue to improve. Love the product!

    Reply
  • April 19, 2019 at 11:59 am
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    We visited 4/5-4/13 and we were all prepared for some very busy days. But sure enough, just as you described above, the crowd levels were in the lowest we have ever seen in 7 years of visiting in April. It was a happy surprise. We also noticed that posted wait times at the attractions were consistently 15 min higher than actual waiting times. Whatever caused your predictions to be off, we didn’t mind, and enjoyed the happy surprise. Thanks for the wonderful product you have!

    Reply
  • April 20, 2019 at 9:56 am
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    I’m doing some quick calculations here, so I might be off a bit. By my count, there were 42 park predictions in the last month in which touring plans either got it right or were off by only one prediction level. But there were 54 park predictions that missed the mark by 3 or more levels. Even worse, there were 28 park predictions that missed the mark by 4 or more levels. That’s a week’s worth of park predictions that were off by 4, 5, or even 6 levels. I get that predicting is difficult, but at what point do you think that your data isn’t helpful anymore and you need to think about eliminating crowd calendars from the services you provide? You offer a lot of really great services with the subscription. But this is becoming a black eye, and SWGE is gonna make it even harder to get right.

    Reply

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