Crowds vs Crowd Levels: WDW’s 50th as an Example

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October 1st was an incredibly special and historic day. I mean, yeah, sure, WDW celebrated its 50th birthday. But I’m talking about something different. On October 1st … we at TouringPlans broke our own rules. What rules? Generally, we hold very fast to our rules about crowd levels. Crowd levels:

  • Do not necessarily represent crowds. For you coding folk out there, Crowd Levels ≠ Attendance
  • Do represent groupings of approximate wait times
  • Do not represent the number of people milling about eating and drinking at Food & Wine
  • Do help you understand how much time you might spend in line if you’re focused on attractions
  • Do not account for the behavior of influencers or eBay pirates spending hours queueing up to buy exclusive merch or drink a bright drink with some pop rocks attached via clothespin

As we all know, though, rules are meant to be broken. And on a day as crazy as the 50th anniversary, we know that if we post a crowd level that represents wait times, we’ll be misleading anyone that doesn’t fully understand the definition of a crowd level. And we’d be misleading them by A LOT. So we broke the rules at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT on October 1st. We posted the crowd levels as 10 at both parks (but not Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom). But now we have the observations about crowds and data about crowd levels. So what actually happened on October 1st? Was breaking our rules the right thing to do?

Crowds on October 1st

EPCOT

Rope drop crowd at EPCOT, just for Creations Shop. Everyone else kept moving along.

EPCOT was pretty crowded. There were lines of people waiting to get in, and long queues for things like Space 220 and the Creations Shop throughout the day for those so-hot-right-now food and merch items. Remy distributed all of its first set of boarding passes within seconds.

But then … meh. EPCOT absorbs crowds well. When boarding groups reopened for Remy at 1 pm, they stayed available until 4 pm. Crowds ebbed and flowed in the afternoon at the popular spots. Huge amounts of crowds didn’t even really materialize.

Magic Kingdom

Crowds at Magic Kingdom started crazy and stayed crazy, all of the way through Enchantment and after.

If you followed any social media on the 1st, you know how packed it was at Magic Kingdom. Before the sun rose, there were seas of people waiting to get into the park. Gift shops were madhouses. The Wi-Fi was useless for a time (and at some points legitimately non-functional). The park ran out of FuelRods as everyone tried to recharge their devices to keep streaming for their followers. In fact, in the afternoon, one TouringPlans team member ordered food at Cosmic Ray’s, and it took over 75 minutes from the time they arrived and pressed “prepare my order” to when the food was ready. Ouch. Eventually, things got so crowded that the park reached capacity and no one was allowed to park hop over. Magic Kingdom attendance was literally as high as it could possibly be.

Crowd Levels on October 1st

EPCOT

So what if we hadn’t cheated the number up at EPCOT on October 1st? Based on wait times alone (which is what the crowd levels represent), what would the crowd level have been?

Actual wait times at Soarin’ didn’t go over 10 minutes. And actual wait times at Test Track and Frozen Ever After (the two attractions with the longest waits on average) both peaked at 31 minutes. The peak posted waits at all three of those attractions, and all of the other attractions in EPCOT, were well within the range to be deemed a crowd level 1 for October 1st.

Magic Kingdom

And what about Magic Kingdom? Surely all of those people had to go somewhere. What were wait times like throughout the day, and what would the crowd level have been? Let’s look at a few attractions.

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – Longest submitted actual wait time was 45 minutes. Posted wait time never went above 65. Squarely in crowd level 1 or 2.
  • Big Thunder Mountain – Longest submitted actual wait time was 16 minutes. Posted wait time never went above 25. Easily a crowd level 1.
  • Buzz Lightyear – Longest submitted actual wait time was 5 minutes. Yeah, 5. Posted wait time never went above 20. Crowd level 1 for sure.
  • What about something a little more “classic”? Jungle Cruise – Longest submitted actual wait time was 47 minutes. Higher than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Curious. Posted wait time topped out at 60 minutes, which bumps it up to crowd level … 2 or 3.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Longest submitted actual wait time was 11 minutes, and that was before 9 am. Posted wait time also peaked around 9, at 50 minutes. But then settled around 20 minutes during normal “peak” hours. Crowd level 1. Maybe 2, if we’re being nice.
  • Space Mountain – Longest submitted actual wait time was 14 minutes, and it was recorded at 7:14 am. Posted wait time peaked early at 25 minutes. Below crowd level 1, if that’s a thing. For most of the day, the posted wait time for the PeopleMover was longer than Space Mountain. Speaking of …
  • PeopleMover – Longest submitted actual wait time was 16 minutes. Posted wait time peaked and held steady at 35 minutes for most of the afternoon and evening. You know the drill by now, right? Wrong! That sets it in crowd level 9 or 10 territory. Wow!

What Have We Learned Here?

  1. Sometimes breaking the rules is fun. But don’t you worry, we’re still paying attention to the data.
  2. There were many, many, many humans at Magic Kingdom on October 1st. Many. And the Wi-Fi infrastructure isn’t built to handle them if they’re live-streaming their entire day. And neither are the food locations, apparently.
  3. None of those many, many, many humans actually cared about experiencing attractions on October 1st. If we didn’t care about “crowds”, the crowd level would’ve been a 1.
  4. Influencers and WDW50 enthusiasts love them some PeopleMover.

Bonus content: This hot take on Magic Kingdom attendance from our own Steve Bloom

How would you have classified the crowds yesterday at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT — a 1 based on wait times for attractions or a 10 based on the sea of humanity standing around? Let us know what you think 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: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

26 thoughts on “Crowds vs Crowd Levels: WDW’s 50th as an Example

  • October 2, 2021 at 3:50 pm
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    I would rate it a 10 at MK. Yes, the ride times were relatively short and we got many rides in, but the park felt crowded, food was insane, and by fireworks time was absolutely full insanity. That alone needed an “11”. I look at your crowd level numbers as just that: how crowded will the park feel.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 12:16 pm
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      Ha! If any day, the “feels like” crowd was cranked up to 11, it was definitely October 1st.

      Reply
  • October 2, 2021 at 4:15 pm
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    Lesson Learned #5: Len wishes he had just called them Line Levels instead and avoided a lot of confusion/complaints. 😉

    One thing I’d be interested to know: what would the model have originally predicted without the manual adjustment?

    Reply
    • October 2, 2021 at 6:32 pm
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      Original predictions still would’ve been a 3 or a 4. We planned on transitioning back to pre-pandemic data for the last three months of the year, but that may be premature at this point.

      Reply
  • October 2, 2021 at 4:50 pm
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    For most people (and especially TP subscribers) crowd level does equate to wait time because that is what they are there for: to experience attractions. Yesterday it looks like the eBay pirates were out in full force (I saw the popcorn buckets already listed for $60 by mid-morning). Lines longer to get into shops than 7DMT is likely just be an anomaly. I have to admit I chuckled this morning on the “the how we did yesterday” article that showed the CL at all four parks was a ‘1’.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2021 at 5:10 pm
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    We’re there items for sale at WDW that were solely for sale on 1st October? If they will be on sale for the next 18 months when WDW celebrates its 50th anniversary who is going to buy things at a ridiculous overpriced amount from the eBay pirates?

    Reply
  • October 2, 2021 at 7:13 pm
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    Aside from the merch resellers, the food problems were probably the most annoying thing:
    1) mobile orders were often taking tens of minutes *after* the “your order is ready” popped up. We had mobile orders at Cosmic Rays that it was actually faster to cancel and just walk up to the in-person line to order.
    2) Table service tables weren’t being vacated in a timely manner. If at all. I know feeling like you’re being forced to move on isn’t magical, but we had 5:30 Liberty Tree reservations.. and when we checked in were told that it was more like 7:30 or later, as they had plenty of food, people just weren’t leaving the tables. Again, cancelled the reservation, saved an hour and a half (and probably a hundred bucks) by ducking over to Pecos Bill’s instead – by which point the computer systems had recovered.
    On the upside – if you wanted to ride rides, as described above, the waits were minimal, the CMs did a fantastic job keeping their cools (even if the Guests didn’t, and it was quite possible to have a fun day in the park.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2021 at 9:27 pm
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    I don’t know if it’s a function of the ongoing 50th or of the window to reserve dining now being only 60 days, or both, or what, but I’ve been unable to snag a single one of our desired restaurants for a trip the first week of December. This despite trying immediately when daily windows open, and many times a day thereafter. Not just desired times are not available; nothing is available for our entire days at any planned park.

    The Rose & Crown Fireworks Dining Package is even greyed out after Nov. 24, whereas up until then you can at least see the 9pm slot you can’t actually get when you ask.

    Am trying the Touring Plans Reservation Finder for the first time; no luck since our windows opened for my two searches.

    If this is the magical new WDW, forget it! Can’t wait to see what happens when Genie+ and all that shizz is implemented before we arrive, as it supposedly will be. Planning each day at 7am, gee how magically relaxing.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 9:21 pm
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      We have a LOT of reservation requests in our system right now, Mike. Unfortunately, capacity is limited and everyone is trying to make reservations at the same time.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 10:19 am
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    This is great! Especially the graph and comment at the end. LOL my only issue with “crowds” versus “crowd levels” (having never understood the terminology even after years as a subscriber) is that masses of people can actually prevent you from getting to an attraction with a low wait time. How do you calculate for the forty minute walk from Splash to Pirates on a jam packed day when it should have taken less than ten? Do we guesstimate the volume of people there for experiences, food and shopping and inflate our walk time by sliding the bar all the way to slow? I once went to MK on a day that was rated a 3, only to discover they were filming something and thousands of people showed up just to watch the filming. I never made it past the Castle hub. I, for one, truly appreciate that you combined experience and judgement with data when determining crowd levels for Oct 1. I mean, worst case someone went to EPCOT and was pleasantly surprised. No one is going to complain about that

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 12:17 pm
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      I’m right there with you, Salz. My worst touring day I’ve had was going to EPCOT on a marathon day. Lines were short, but there was a 20-30 minute wait to cross Future World to get anywhere. Frustrating. It’s certainly to consider moving forward, how we can better differentiate between attendance and expected waits, since they don’t always correlate directly.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 10:49 am
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    Becky, I love your articles. You always do a superb job of explaining the logic behind the numbers. Excellent work always!

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 12:18 pm
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      Thank you, Andy! I love sharing the data, and your positive feedback always makes me smile.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 11:17 am
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    Does this impact the expected wait times for the rest of October? The week we are going has been ticking up to 5 & 6. Thanks.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 12:20 pm
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      Excellent question, Tony. We’re planning a crowd calendar update this week. We had originally expected October 1st and the kickoff of the 50th anniversary to initiate a “return to normal” – so we switched back to projections that look more like pre-pandemic patterns for October, which is what you’re seeing now. But it’s increasingly apparent that we’re not back to those patterns. So be prepared for actuals to not live up to current predictions until we make that switch later this week.

      Reply
      • October 4, 2021 at 9:44 am
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        I look forward to your updated calendar later this week. We arrive on Saturday, and I have been losing sleep over how bad the crowds might be next week. I have my Touring Plans ready to go, but the anxiety of organizing a WDW trip for 7 people is real!!!

  • October 3, 2021 at 12:31 pm
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    I wonder if the crowds will increase significantly from November when people from abroad can go to the US and WDW.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 1:21 pm
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      Just because they can doesn’t mean they will. The U.S. could go back under those country’s travel advisories again.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm
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    You say that Magic Kingdom was at capacity. But are they open to prepandemic full capacity? Or is capacity still limited due to the pandemic? Trying to decide whether to keep our Dec 3-7 trip or postpone (for the 4th time since pandemic started).

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 9:22 pm
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      We believe that capacity it still limited, Amy, but obviously we have no crystal ball regarding whether and when capacity might be increased further.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 7:04 pm
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    How did touring plans change when comparing optimized plans before and during 10/1? In other words, was the software able to figure out this ‘snafu’?

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 9:28 pm
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      As with every day, our wait time predictions were updated every 5-10 minutes based on new data received. So anything optimized during the day would’ve had that information and estimated accurate (and therefore low) wait times.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2021 at 7:56 pm
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    By the way, your pic shows the line for attractions, not Creations. How do I know? I’m in that picture

    Reply
    • October 3, 2021 at 9:29 pm
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      No WAY! Very cool.

      Reply
  • October 5, 2021 at 9:07 pm
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    I made a reservation to go Magic Kingdom on Halloween for myself and family. Looks like Halloween is not available for advanced reservations anymore. This makes me nervous. Should I expect crowds like 10/1?

    Reply

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