Disney World News: Christmas Crowds, Project Progress, Sunrise Series

It’s time for another Walt Disney World news round-up! This one begins with a Disney+ programming update, Christmas crowd trends and wait time data, plus updates on construction at EPCOT, BoardWalk Inn, and Flamingo Crossings Town Center.

Let’s start with a new addition to Disney+ called the Disney Parks Sunrise Series. Here’s the programming description: “At daybreak, the first rays of sunlight gleam through the spires of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, beam between the remarkable branches of The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and shimmer onto the brilliant sphere of Spaceship Earth at EPCOT. It’s a view of Disney Parks not often enough enjoyed — Walt Disney World Resort, The Most Magical Place on Earth, at sunrise.”

I’ll admit that promoting the Disney Parks Sunrise Series here is entirely selfish. We are huge fans of atmospheric videos, and have watched these previous recordings of the sunrise at EPCOT and Magic Kingdom dozens of times on YouTube. My hope is that these will prove popular on Disney+ and result in Disney throwing that sweet direct-to-consumer budget towards producing a ton more of them. So please, once Christmas is over, watch these on Disney+ every day. In the meantime, watch the Arendelle Castle Yule Log daily, as I’d also like to see several (better) versions of videos like that made.

Now let’s turn to some coverage of Christmas crowds at Walt Disney World. Because we’re nerds, we’ve been closely watching wait time data to see if our theory that once the two-week Annual Pass blockouts hit, crowds would drop at Walt Disney World.

The answer to that is yes and no…

If we look only at weekend wait times at EPCOT, our theory would be vindicated. A drop of 31% on Friday, 37% on Saturday, and 28% on Sunday. (Numbers courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.) It’s an open and shut case–we were right!

Not so fast. Stopping the analysis at EPCOT and patting ourselves on the back would be disingenuous, since we knew going in that EPCOT would see the biggest drop. It’s the “local’s park” at Walt Disney World and also the consolation prize for Annual Passholders who can’t score Park Pass reservations anywhere else. It’s totally unsurprising that the blockouts would result in these drops.

The story is similar at Animal Kingdom. There, week over week Friday through Sunday drops ranged from 23% to 28%.

This speaks to Animal Kingdom’s Park Pass availability, guest demand, and higher overall capacity (something EPCOT also has going for it).

The wheels wobble on this theory once we get to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which are both up and down depending upon the day. Changes at DHS were more or less nominal, but Magic Kingdom had more pronounced trends.

We didn’t expect to see any drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–as we’ve discussed repeatedly, it’s close to fully booked almost every single day, which is a function of high demand and by far the lowest capacity of any park at Walt Disney World.

We had hoped to see a drop at Magic Kingdom.

The weekend started promising, with a 10% slide on Friday. However, crowds inched up on Saturday and spiked on Sunday. The obvious conclusion here is that more Christmas week visitors arrived as the weekend wore on, and top priority was Magic Kingdom.

In perusing the Disney Park Pass availability calendar, we should expect this trend to continue throughout the coming week. Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are fully booked for resort guests and ticket holders various days throughout this week.

Conversely, the Annual Passholder bucket has plenty of availability, with only DHS unavailable the next two days and only Magic Kingdom unavailable on Christmas. The trends were similar over this past weekend, with multiple options in all three buckets–a stark contrast to the totally sold out prior two weekends.

Anecdotally, our experiences this weekend more or less reflect that. If anything, EPCOT felt less busy than even the data indicates–not a huge surprise as many of the blocked-out locals simply visit EPCOT to hang out, whereas the tourists who were still visiting the park prioritize rides. (Even then, we saw Frozen Ever After with its queue within Norway and only a 25-40 minute posted wait throughout the day.)

Magic Kingdom didn’t feel much different than the last time we visited; the week after Thanksgiving was definitely the ‘sweet spot’ for Magic Kingdom. With that said, if comparing year over year instead of week over week, Magic Kingdom was downright slow for the weekend before Christmas.

Normally, there would be Cast Members holding one-way signs in Fantasyland, waits for the restrooms, and we’d find ourselves escaping to Tom Sawyer Island to eat at Aunt Polly’s by 11 am. (Slightly bummed we couldn’t do the last thing.) Wasn’t even remotely that busy this year.

Nevertheless, crowd levels at Magic Kingdom were higher than we expected, and will only likely get worse as the week continues and more holiday tourists arrive. Between wait times and other observations discussed below, we’ve been mildly surprised.

Walt Disney World is clearly anticipating heavy holiday crowds. Numerous restaurants have temporarily reopened for the remainder of the year. Many others that have been operating the last couple of months will be re-closing again in January and February after the holiday rush.

It’s a fool’s errand to try forecasting Walt Disney World crowds right now…but I’m a fool. In looking forward, my expectation is another crowd spike when AP blockouts are lifted while Orange and Osceola County schools are out of session, with another drop following that. That’s exactly what happened this year, which caught a lot of people by surprise.

Beyond that, 2021 is anyone’s guess. The a few factors that have driven attendance surges the last several winters will be non-existent, but that doesn’t mean locals starved of alternative entertainment or things to do won’t make up that shortfall. Regardless, we’d expect crowds returning in full force come Easter and Spring Break.

Back in the here and now, we noticed more guests at the Seven Seas Lagoon and Crescent Lake resorts this weekend than at any point since reopening. We were at all of those hotels this weekend, and they were significantly busier than what we experienced during our stays the previous week.

It was the same story at Flamingo Crossings. We drive past these hotels literally every day, and have not seen that many cars in the parking lots since we started paying attention to how many cars were in the parking lot (so, since April–it wasn’t really an “interesting” thing to check out prior to then).

In related news, the new Home2 Suites by Hilton opened at Flamingo Crossings last week, suggesting that the management company operating these hotels is seeing more demand. There’s also a new Homewood Suites by Hilton that looks like it could be ready to open any day now, plus a Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Hampton Inn that are probably a few months away.

Construction on the whole Flamingo Crossings Town Center has continued at a brisk pace throughout this entire year (unlike in the parks, it never stopped). Just last week, Walt Disney World released the above concept art and announced nine more tenants lined up for the 200,000-square-foot shopping, dining, and hotel complex.

Target will serve as the anchor store, with PDQ, Five Guys, Ben & Jerry’s, Dunkin, Wendy’s, Five Below, Domino’s, Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ, Firehouse Sub, Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., Pieology Pizzeria, Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, and UPS store also announced by Disney as tenants.

This is all technically on-property at Walt Disney World, despite being outside the Western Way entranceway to Walt Disney World. For those unfamiliar with the area, it’s about a 7-minute drive from Coronado Springs.

If you want to stay on a budget but also have some semblance of the Disney “bubble,” it’s worth noting that the stretch between the parks and Flamingo Crossings is almost entirely undeveloped. Most of the stretch is actually Animal Kingdom backstage and Reedy Creek Environmental Services. There’s wildlife throughout the area, and we see armadillos on occasion along the road, much to Sarah’s elation.

Finally, a couple of construction updates. The first is the Luna Park Pool at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. We’ve been covering the roller coaster saga of the Keister Coaster slide (click here to be brought up to speed) and now we have the conclusion of that, as the result has been unveiled.

We are incredibly disappointed. Even if you’re scared of clowns and found the previous version of the slide creepy, there’s no excusing an uninspired and cheap redo that quite literally amounts to stickers on flat panels. This is about as ambitious as a themed construction scrim.

Above is what we could’ve had, except with Mickey Mouse instead of Woody. A less creepy design, but one also inspired by Luna Park that maintains the character, quality, and dimensionality of its predecessor. Instead, we got stickers of Mickey and friends. (It also seems like a really ill-advised idea that’ll age terribly given exposure to the elements.)

There’s no excuse for this at a Deluxe Resort charging rates starting at $500 per night. Sadly, given the positive reception to the similarly lazy design and corner-cutting of Disney’s Riviera Resort, there’s no end in sight to stuff like this. As long as guests find ways to continue to excuse it, Disney will continue to do it. You might not care this time because you hate clowns, but it won’t be a clown next time.

Next, we have a look at the first of five floating platforms for “Harmonious” that have been installed in World Showcase Lagoon. This marks a milestone in the development of “Harmonious” as testing of the onboard show equipment has now begun for the upcoming nighttime spectacular.

Now, you could say this looks like some Waterworld-inspired post-apocalyptic ramshackle floating community (it does appear to have its own lifeguard shack)…and you’d be right. Social media has tore into these, understandably so. Rather than piling on here, I’m going to take a “wait and see” position.

I’ll admit that we were both taken aback upon seeing this dystopian war barge in World Showcase Lagoon. I’ll also admit that I still miss IllumiNations.

However, I’m also withholding judgment on its eventual replacement, how it fits into the park, and even these barges. They’re going to function as fountains during the day, and so long as they’re constantly running and cycling large amounts of water, they could look good.

In fact, from that perspective, the bigger the barges…the bigger the fountains. The views across World Showcase Lagoon are nice, but it’s also a huge and empty expanse, and colossal fountains during the day could add a good bit of kinetic energy to the park.

EPCOT undeniably needs help in numerous ways, and it feels counterproductive for the fandom to drag our collective feet at every change. This could end up being bad when it’s finished, but it could also add tremendous energy to the park. Why not wait and see how it pans out when finished?

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Thoughts on any of this Walt Disney World news? If you were in the parks over the weekend, what did you think of crowds? Excited about the Disney+ Sunrise Series? What do you think of Luna Park Pool’s new look? Lazy and uninspired or cute and better than its predecessor? Thoughts on the Harmonious barges–are they huge eyesores or do you share our wait and see outlook? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

22 Responses to “Disney World News: Christmas Crowds, Project Progress, Sunrise Series”
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