Questions about the best time to visit Walt Disney World are among the most common we receive. As construction has increased in recent years, those questions have revolved around years as much as months or weeks. Is 2018 a good year, or should people wait until 2019, 2020, or beyond?
This is such a regular inquiry that we’ve added a section to our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide focusing on the upside of visiting next year as opposed to waiting. The first section of that post highlights everything opening in the near future, and more or less advocates going sooner rather than later.
In fairness, there are some definite upsides to waiting. Walt Disney World is in an unprecedented era of expansion, much of which follows a period of stagnation that occurred in the aughts. Frankly, this is playing catch-up, and will dramatically transform both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. This huge expansion is the obvious reason to wait, and we probably don’t need to fixate on it–if you’re considering waiting, this is probably the reason why. However, there are also significant downsides to waiting…
Personally, I’m never a fan of postponing anything for something better. From that perspective, now is never the best time. (“Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”) For many people, waiting several years is not much of an option anyway, as kids grow up quickly, and taking them sooner rather than later is always the best course of action.
If you do have the luxury of being able to wait, you could always wait until 2019 (or more realistically, 2020) when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens…but then why not wait until 2021 when crowds die down? At that point, why not wait until 2022 when the crowds die down from the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021? Or wait until 2023 when the next big thing opens. And so on.
The point is that there’s always something new on the horizon, or a reason to postpone a visit. As Walt Disney World regulars, we find ourselves far more often faced with “something new” as an excuse to visit, which is why we go so often. Procrastination is the least of our problems!
We’d hazard a guess that people reading this are going to fall squarely into two camps: those like us who visit annually or more, and those who are planning a first-time (and depending upon how that goes, only time) visit, and wanting to choose the best time.
Rather than posing a question in the post title and not answering it, we will provide two very specific times when those of you in the latter group should visit: the last week of November 2018 and mid-January 2022. Obviously, these are not the only times we’d recommend visiting (to the contrary, we ourselves will take countless trips between those times), but if we had to pick only two times to visit between now and then, those timeframes would be it.
November 2018 (specifically, the week after Thanksgiving) represents the calm before the Star Wars storm, but after whatever surge Toy Story Land brings. Mid-January 2022 is a time during the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration when all of the big additions will be open (but after the anticipated grand openings); it’s also at a point when the ‘new land smell’ will have worn off Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and during a season when the crowds should generally be lighter.
The most obvious downside to waiting beyond 2018 is the crowds. It’s no secret that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been hobbling along for the last few years, likely being overtaken by Animal Kingdom in attendance as of this year. The level of crowding at DHS will be dramatically different next year than what it’ll be come Star Wars land.
In terms of the precise attendance impact Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will have on DHS, it’s difficult to say. Since Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, the attendance at Islands of Adventure has more than doubled. Following the debut of Cars Land, Disney California Adventure has seen its attendance swell by a more conservative 3 million guests per year.
On the franchise popularity spectrum, Star Wars is undoubtedly closer to Harry Potter than it is Cars. Like Harry Potter, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon that will draw hordes of fans to the park. Despite that, it’s highly unlikely that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will have the same impact as Wizarding World of Harry Potter on attendance.
For starters, there’s really not that much room for growth. Annual attendance for Disney’s Hollywood Studios is around 10 million guests, and even with the additions of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the park does not have the physical space for another 10 million guests. Islands of Adventure had more room for attendance growth (as a percentage) because its attendance was so low.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect a first (full) year bump of 2 to 3 million guests. In raw numbers, this is about equivalent to the gain from Hogsmeade (which is difficult to track since it opened mid-year, so its first full year encompasses two calendar years).
That’s a huge increase, and even with the expansion, Disney’s Hollywood Studios lacks the rides to absorb these crowds. (The total expansion of DHS amounts to a net addition of 4 attractions. That’s counting everything.) If you thought the scene around Pandora – World of Avatar this summer was chaotic, imagine that…but with a franchise with a colossal global following. That’s what you can expect for a solid year to 18 months after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.
As noted, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will draw new visitors to Orlando. Just as WWoHP did, there will be a ton of new visitors who would not otherwise visit the parks. These Star Wars fans are not just going to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and leave. Some of them might, and others might only do DHS and Magic Kingdom, or DHS, Epcot, and the Universal parks, but a good chunk will visit all of these parks. “A rising tide lifts all ships” and all of that.
The good news is that Walt Disney World is anticipating these huge crowds and has projects in both Epcot and Magic Kingdom to help absorb those crowds, and pull guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The bad news is that the earliest of those large-scale projects will open a year after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Another potential, significant downside to waiting is cost. While Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge construction is the largest, most noteworthy project at Walt Disney World right now, it should be noted that there are numerous infrastructure projects, the construction of a slick, new gondola system, and hotel improvements occurring around Walt Disney World.
These projects are occurring for numerous reasons, and we’ve already covered the first reason: capacity. In addition to increasing the capacity of the theme parks, a concerted effort is being made to enable Walt Disney World to accommodate more guests on-property. This is occurring via improvements to the transportation network and expansion and upgrades at the resorts. Part of the goal with the hotels is to improve the quality of those offerings, thereby helping to justify a higher price. On Page 2, we’ll cover the economic ramifications of waiting to visit Walt Disney World. Click here to continue reading.