An Optimist's Commentary on Fall Crowds at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney Worldby Fred Hazelton, contributing writer
Wait times at Disney parks are up this fall—way up. We have seen wait times that rival those during Thanksgiving, Easter, and July 4, all during a period when crowds have historically been light to moderate.
Theories about what has caused the increased wait times are plentiful but it is difficult to know the real cause. Here are some of the theories we have heard from readers at Touringplans.com.
- Changes to school schedules
- An increased percentage of home schooled children
- Jewish holidays
- Cheaper gas and airfare
- Lower unemployment
- The “cat out of the bag” theory – fall has been recommended as a great time to go, and now people are listening
There is an interesting fault with all of these theories however. They all rely on the premise that more people are in the parks. The increase in standby wait times this fall translates to an increase in park attendance in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 people per day, which is a huge number—too huge to be true.
We know that attendance is certainly up but it is more in the range of a single digit percentage (six to seven percent increase), not the 25 percent increase needed to explain the lengthening wait times. Furthermore, we know that hotel occupancy has remained comparable to what we see every fall. If ten thousand more people than usual were in a park, hotel occupancy would be higher. Also, we don't see the same increase in wait times at other properties like Universal.
Some feel that Fastpass+ may be the culprit, but that doesn't explain the increase in wait times we have seen at Disneyland.
When you compile all the information it seems to lead us to the rides themselves. Could the increase in standby times be attributable to a change in the capacity of the attractions? It is possible that the number of people processed per hour at Disney attractions has gone down. If that were the case, it would explain why we have seen dramatic increases in standby wait time without seeing dramatic increases in attendance.
There is some precedence for tinkering with park operations during the off-season. In 2009, Disney's Hollywood Studios changed its Fantasmic! schedule from daily to semi-daily. That brought an influx of guests on Fantasmic days and kept the parks near empty on off days. Then in 2010 we saw Toy Story Midway Mania change its Fastpass distribution rate, which caused a surge in wait times throughout much of October.
So here comes the good news…
If the increase in wait times we have seen in Fall 2015 is due to some operational changes at Disney attractions, then it is likely that the increase will be short-lived. If you are running a theme park and need to test new procedures it makes sense to do so in the off-season when the impact will be minimized. That is what we have seen before with other experiments but when they end the wait times return to normal.
Let's hope that our theory is correct and the experiment will end as we approach the end of fall season. But, it is just a theory…