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2023 Crowd Calendar Retrospective for Universal Orlando

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Welcome to the third week of 2024, when we’re finally getting around to reviewing how our crowd calendar predictions performed for the Universal Orlando parks. Because we need to be fair to Universal! We already reviewed Walt Disney World predictions extensively. And Universal is just as important, or so some of my good friends tell me. So let’s put on our Sorting Hats, eat a giant donut, drink a ridiculously-adorned chocolate milkshake and crunch those Universal numbers.

Explain the Math!

If you take a peek at the Universal Orlando crowd calendar, you’ll notice that each park-day is given a predicted crowd level on a scale from 1 to 10. Crowd level 1 days are the least crowded of the year, and crowd level 10 days are wall-to-wall humans everywhere you look. These are the predicted crowd levels.

Then, after a park day happens, we can measure all of the wait times at every attraction in every park and determine what the actual crowd level was for that day. By subtracting the difference between the actual and the predicted crowd level, we can get an easy measure of how accurate our predictions were.

In this case, I’ll subtract the predicted crowd level from the actual crowd level. For example, if we predict a crowd level 10 at Islands of Adventure, but the day ends up being a crowd level 8, the difference is -2. We overpredicted the crowds by 2. But if we predict a crowd level 4 at Universal Studios Florida and the day ends up being a crowd level 7, the difference is 3. We underpredicted the crowds by 3.

In general, you’re not going to feel any difference in your park day if predictions are off by just one crowd level. Within 1 crowd level is the goal. Really anything within 2 crowd levels I’ll call “fine”. Missing by 3 or more crowd levels is a big miss, and that’s the type of thing it’s best to avoid.

2023 Performance Compared to Previous Years

Overall Crowd Calendar Performance compared to previous years

In a perfect world, that green bar would be 100% every year. Touring Plans would have ideal predictions that perfectly matched reality, everyone would use them reliably, and we’d all be best friends forever. The problem is … this isn’t a perfect world. Humans are unpredictable. And humans make the operational decisions for Universal Orlando, and humans are the ones that decide whether to visit Universal Orlando or not. Plus, Touring Plans tries to not change the predicted crowd levels constantly so that people planning have some stability. So there’s a lot working against perfect predictions. Even still, we all want that green bar in the graph to be as big as possible. And we especially want the red and pink bars (missed by 3 or more crowd levels) to be as small as possible.

What about the other bars? Well, in general, people are pleasantly surprised if the parks are less crowded than they expect (aka, Touring Plans overpredicted). And they’re unpleasantly surprised if the parks are more crowded than they expect (aka, Touring Plans underpredicted). But Touring Plans is full of math nerds, and nerds want distributions to be centered (aka, just as many underpredictions as overpredictions). Still, during a retrospective, I’m going to recognize and acknowledge that all of our lovely customers are going to be less full of rage if the stats folks can keep those underpredictions to a minimum.

2023 looks really exceptionally good if we’re paying attention to the size of that green bar in the middle. Predictions were within one crowd level 72% of the time. That’s 10% higher than any of the previous 4 years. And things are less skewed than last year. Bonus – they’re skewed in the “good” way. This year there were twice as many overpredictions as there were underpredictions.

2023 Performance Compared Across Parks

Park-by-Park Crowd Calendar Performance for 2023

In order to understand what went right (or wrong) in 2023, we need a little more information. Let’s go down one level and look at how predictions performed at each park rather than the resort as a whole. This is significantly easier at Universal, compared to Disney, since there are only two parks (I’m excluding water parks from the conversation).

We can very easily see that the majority of the problems with prediction results come from Universal Studios Florida instead of Islands of Adventure … which is exactly the opposite of last year’s results. Not only is its green bar smaller (58% within 1 crowd level compared to 72%), but it’s also much more “skewed”. At Islands of Adventure, Touring Plans overpredicted by 2 or more crowd levels 15% of the time, and underpredicted by 2 or more crowd levels 13% of the time. Not perfect, but pretty even. At Universal Studios Florida, Touring Plans only underpredicted by 2 or more crowd levels 11% of the time. On the other hand, we overpredicted by 2 or more crowd levels 31% of the time. Almost 3x as many overpredictions as underpredictions.

Calendar Retrospective of Crowd Calendars

What better way to review calendars than with more calendars?! I know I love making and coloring calendars in Excel. So so much. One of the biggest joys of my life. So that probably means you love the results. We’ll go with that.

I’ll start here with Universal Studios Florida, where predictions had the lowest accuracy, provide my commentary, and then move to Islands of Adventure. We can discuss park-specific issues, as well as trends that I notice affecting both parks.

Universal Studios Florida

Differences between predicted and actual crowd levels at Universal Studios Florida during 2023

If we rewind back to the beginning of 2023, we see quite different behavior than what we saw over at Walt Disney World. Instead of almost all purple, the first week of January was more crowded than expected. The rest of the month was a big rollercoaster with plenty of overpredicted and underpredicted crowds. That trend continued all of the way through March.

At that point, things swung around to a bunch of overpredictions through April and most of May. Then June was on average port crowded than expected, but July and August were less crowded than expected. Fall was a big mix, and early December things emptied out again.

This continues a trend we saw last year – Universal crowds are just less predictable than Walt Disney World. Fewer overall trends and more pendulums back and forth.

Islands of Adventure

Differences between predicted and actual crowd levels at Islands of Adventure during 2023

The results at Islands of Adventure are much different, as we should have expected based on the bar graphs earlier in this article. Lots more white. In fact, all of that white makes the waves of severe underpredictions or overpredictions stand out even more.

The beginning of the year looks a lot like Universal Studios Florida – all over the place. From an overprediction of 7 crowd levels on February 2nd to underpredictions of 4 crowd levels on January 28th and February 22nd. Then things calm down and even out in March through May.

June and July are downright predictable with barely a blip in the white, before cycling back and forth again through the end of the year. Yet out of all of the parks in Florida that we’ve reviewed, Islands of Adventure has the least skewed results.


Did any of the results of this retrospective surprise you? Were you at Universal Orlando for any of the significant overpredictions or underpredictions? Let me know in the comments!

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: or instagram @raisingminniemes

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