September has always been the least crowded month of the year at Disney World although a quick look at Magic Kingdom in 2015 shows that crowds have been much more substantial than usual. Historically, the average daily crowd level in September is ‘3’ but this year so far only five days have hit that level or below. In August, our crowd level predictions were accurate within one index point 75% of the time so it appears to be a specific issue with September. [you can see weekly reports of how the crowd calendar did here]
Interestingly the Crowd Calendar actually over-predicted the crowds leading up to the first weekend in September, likely due to higher wait times recorded during the same period last year (Labor Day Weekend, 2014). During the week before Labor Day in 2015 we saw low crowd levels as predicted. In May we responded to several questions about our Labor Day predictions and it turns out we were right. However Labor Day itself was much more crowded than usual and we under-predicted the wait times that weekend.
We also under-predicted the crowd levels during Rosh Hashanah (September 13 – 15, 2015). The last time that Rosh Hashanah occurred over a Monday was 2012 and the Magic Kingdom crowd levels that weekend were as follows:
- Friday, September 14, 2012 was a ‘1’
- Saturday, September 15, 2012 was a ‘4’
- Sunday, September 16, 2012 was a ‘3’
- Monday, September 17, 2012 was a ‘3’
- Tuesday, September 18, 2012 was a ‘2’
Before that, the last time Rosh Hashanah was over a Monday was 2008 and the crowds were similarly low. It is interesting to note that in both 2012 and 2008 the U.S. economy was struggling. Clearly, we have not seen Rosh Hashanah crowds like this before.
The Crowd Calendar predicted the Magic Kingdom crowd levels well on September 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 so the what happened between September 16 and September 24, 2015?
We know from our wait time modelling techniques that the increase cannot be due to anything that we know about, otherwise the Crowd Calendar would have predicted crowd levels much higher. School schedules in 2015 are about the same as previous years, park schedules are pretty much the same, Free Dining has been around for years and the weather in September has been normal. So, it’s not that.
It doesn’t seem to be an issue unique to Magic Kingdom either. We see a similar upward trend in other parks although to a lesser extent at Epcot. Throughout September our average miss at Epcot is one index level and we have over-predicted as much as under-predicted, so Epcot looks relatively normal. It also may not be an exclusive issue to September although it has been much more noticeable this month, when we usually see lots of ‘1’s and ‘2’s, not ‘6’s and ‘7’s. But as mentioned, we didn’t see as many misses in August as we did in September so if wait times are up overall in 2015 then the impact has been greater in September for some reason.
It does seem to be unique to Walt Disney World however since we do not see an equivalent increase in crowds at Universal Orlando Resort. One could argue that comparing Universal crowds in 2015 to those in 2014 may not be an apples to apples comparison given the influx of Harry Potter fans to Diagon Alley last year but the lack of a strong upward trend there is interesting none-the-less.
So we know :
- Crowds are up at Walt Disney World but not as significantly at Epcot and not at all at Universal
- The upward trend was greatest between September 16 to 24 at Magic Kingdom
- The trend is likely not due to normal factors that we know about like park schedules, weather or holidays
We also know that Visit Orlando reports hotel occupancy is up in 2015 (January – July) across all regions of Orlando, and in some cases is up significantly (11.9% in Kissimmee West). Orlando International Airport also shows an increase in the number of passengers processed in 2015, up 7.4% compared to 2014. Both of these statistics point to an overall increase in the number of people visiting Central Florida but that doesn’t help explain why the impact has not been felt at Epcot nor at Universal Orlando.
Notice that the Crowd Calendar has correctly predicted (within one index point) two of the previous three days on the chart at the top of this article. Perhaps crowds will begin to flatten out to normal historical levels now that October is approaching. We will certainly be watching closely to see what happens next.