Disney World’s Park Pass: We Were Wrong
As soon as Walt Disney World announced the advance theme park reservation system that would eventually become Park Pass, we began predicting that most days it’d be unnecessary because organic demand would seldom exceed reduced capacity. Our expectation was that pent-up demand would fizzle out after the first couple of weeks, and Park Pass reservations would be easy to score–if not totally unnecessary.
Thus far, both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom remain available to book for their July 11 reopening day. The latter is fully booked for July 12-13, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios has no reservations available for July 15-18, 2020. However, Magic Kingdom and Epcot have full availability every single day–and all four parks have full availability from July 19, 2020 through September 26, 2021. Given that, it would seem our prediction was vindicated rather than contradicted.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Only resort guests with tickets have been able to book, meaning that Annual Passholders, other ticket holders, resort guests without tickets, and anyone wanting to plan a new trip has not been able to book. While Walt Disney World has indicated there’s more availability set aside for those groups, we’ve nonetheless (already) learned the error of our ways. In short, we were wrong and here’s why…
As regular readers are no doubt aware, this blog has a willingness to make bold predictions. While we probably could fairly easily walk this one back or quietly tweak it going forward, there’s no shame in admitting when you’re wrong. That’s especially true here, as it’s not too late to proactively correct our mistake and offer you sound planning advice going forward.
What really stings here is that this was an unforced error. We had all of the information needed to make a correct prediction in past posts on this very blog! It’s a topic that was covered at great and excruciating length last summer. (The best defense we can offer is that last year is like a decade ago in “2020 time.”)
It should’ve been easily foreseeable that Disney’s Hollywood Studios would regularly ‘sell out’ of Disney Park Pass reservations. While it’s only fully booked for a few days right now, we’d expect that to occur with regularity going forward.
For a concise explanation of why that’ll happen, here’s one borrowed from our Huge Hollywood Studios FastPass Changes post from last June:
“Let’s assume that the capacity of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is 50,000 guests (made up number) with perfect distribution amongst all shows, rides, queues, restaurants, gift shops, and so on. Basically, an ideal distribution of guest attendance, filling in all available space.
That 50,000 number (or whatever it is in actuality) is purely theoretical, and will never be achieved in day to day theme park operations. For one thing, guests don’t naturally distribute themselves in an even manner. Most will flock to popular attractions, leaving less popular spots under-utilized. This isn’t a problem in a park with surplus capacity and space, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not such a park.”
“Another example we’ve witnessed recently is with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party—most guests congregate in the hub/Central Plaza for the parade and fireworks, and there are times when these areas feel dangerously congested. Gridlock gets really bad and the areas are barely traversable.
Meanwhile, Adventureland might be almost totally empty at exactly the same time. This is why we’ve seen Walt Disney World increase attraction overlays for these parties. It’s a good way of enticing guests to redistribute their attendance in a more even, safe, and comfortable manner. (It also allows Disney to increase ticket sales while still creating maintaining the impression of lower attendance.)”
This explains why Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party was cancelled, and a very similar idea applies with Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land are the huge draws, with disproportionately large crowds descending upon those lands each morning even before the official park opening time. No one is getting up at 5 a.m. to rope drop Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
The salient point of so many posts written in the lead-up to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is that Disney’s Hollywood Studios does a terrible job of absorbing crowds. The layout, crowd-flow, entertainment, and even little things like the park’s approach to shopping & dining are all not conducive to this temporary abnormal of physical distancing.
The top-heavy distribution of attractions also is a major problem, and something we discussed at length in our DHS: Walt Disney World’s Best Rides & Most Frustrating Park post that was published right before the closure. This was reiterated again in our Full List of Reopening Attractions & Entertainment at Walt Disney World post.
To illustrate, let’s once again assume the theoretical attendance limit of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is 50,000 guests. That’s still a made up number, but for the sake of this exercise let’s just assume it’s the level Walt Disney World would allow attendance to hit back in normal times during the highest phased capacity closure.
Whatever the park’s capacity number is, it would assume Disney’s Hollywood Studios is firing on all cylinders–every show, restaurant, shop, and atmospheric entertainment running–plus temporary offerings to help absorb crowds.
Of course, we know from the aforementioned attraction and entertainment list that Disney’s Hollywood Studios won’t be firing on all cylinders. Most of its shows will be dark, including several thousand-plus seat venues. That’s a huge blow to park capacity.
Not operating those shows, plus several restaurants, shops, and snack stands remaining closed reduces the theoretical attendance cap. Let’s say it’s now down to 40,000 thanks to said closures. (Again, made up number–but probably not too far from reality.)
Disney CEO Bob Chapek previously said that when Walt Disney World’s theme parks reopen, they will operate at 20-30% of capacity. In the case of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, that would be 8,000 to 12,000 guests. (Regardless of precise numbers, it should be roughly half of the crowd levels Magic Kingdom or Epcot can handle at present.)
However, that’s without taking the realities of crowd flow into account. If Walt Disney World is truly concerned with physical distancing, further reducing that number might be the conservative course of action.
While every park has its headliners that draw disproportionate rope drop crowds, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a different beast in that regard. As we saw from December through March, DHS crowds peak in the first hour the park is open (every other park gradually builds in attendance, peaking in early afternoon). Thousands of guests swarm to the entrances of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land before Disney’s Hollywood Studios is even officially open.
The elimination of FastPass and the virtual queue and boarding pass system for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will not obviate that crowd cataclysm. Short of staggered entry times or a lottery throughout the day for standby passes to popular attractions, it’s hard to say what could spread crowds out better at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
One thing that would help is distributing far fewer Disney Park Pass reservations at first, allowing operations to assess crowd flow, implementing changes to help the park redistribute attendance to the extent possible, and scaling up from there. (The savviest move of all might be limiting attendance to the average pre-closure throughput of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.)
Hopefully that’s what Walt Disney World is doing. Hopefully DHS already having no reservations available for several days is not simply a matter of intense demand for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Regardless of what’s happening behind the scenes, the result is the same: Disney Park Pass is going fastest for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’ll continue to be true in the weeks and months to come, and we’d expect DHS to be fully booked many (if not most) dates for the rest of the year.
With that in mind, plan accordingly. If you have to prioritize reservations for some reason, book Disney’s Hollywood Studios first. It’s not far-fetched to think that Disney’s Hollywood Studios could fill up weeks in advance while Epcot never hits capacity.
Another thing to consider is whether you really want to do Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now. That’s sort of where we are at with this. While we are comfortable easing back into public life, we’re still attempting to avoid crowds and focus primarily on doing things outdoors where spread is far less likely.
Although we focused predominantly on Disney’s Hollywood Studios here, the same applies (albeit to a far lesser degree) with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It has low ride count, people-eater shows that will be dark, and popular headliners. However, Animal Kingdom has more physical space and can absorb crowds better, so we do not expect as many ‘sold out’ days as with DHS.
Overall, that’s the revised prediction for Disney Park Pass reservations, our mea culpa, and thoughts on why we got things wrong before. Hopefully, it’s not too late for you to book your Disney Park Pass reservations, and you’ll be able to use this info for Walt Disney World planning purposes going forward. We’re still expecting pretty low crowds and organic demand for this summer and fall at Walt Disney World as a whole, but the unique circumstances of Disney’s Hollywood Studios will make it something of an outlier.
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!
Do you think far fewer Disney Park Pass reservations are being distributed for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or is the park just that much more popular than the other three? Have you booked reservations at DHS yet? Will you avoid or prioritize DHS when making your reservations? Concerned about the morning madness there, even with a low capacity cap? What do you think about the Disney Park Pass reservation system? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until after September 2021 when this (presumably) goes away? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!
I have my reservations in December. I’m hopeful that park hopper will become available and other things too by then! Saying my prayers and wishing on a star!
We are staying 10 days, and it was really hard to pick parks, knowing we normally park-hop a lot! Also hoping that the Christmas party is still on!
Trying to figure out how I should spend my 6 days at Disney World. Normally with Park Hopper, I would have tried to do Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom twice by Park Hopping to another park after rope dropping the big rides in those parks. But now park hopping isn’t possible. Should I just do the traditional 1 day each at HS and AK, and then 2 days at MK and Epcot?
This is why DTB is invaluable. Any mistakes are quickly clarified and corrected. Clear and insightful discussion and advice abound from all participants.
Very much appreciated, Tom.
Thank you Tom so much for your informative and delightful Disney blog. I love reading everything you write. And today you helped me get Disney reservations for August in 5 minutes. I followed your back door trick and it worked magically. I was unable to get my first choice for July 20th but I was happy to get my second choice of August 3rd and 4th. Keep up the good work! I am an annual passholder without Resort reservations.
I’m definitely curious how quickly reservations go now that AP passes are open, and then on the 28th for everyone else. My issue is I have an AP and resort reservations, but we never got tickets for the person I’m going with before all this happened so we can’t make our park reservations until they reopen the ticket sales. Also, as a family that almost exclusively park hops, this one park a day thing is really throwing my normal plans out the window. It feels like being forced to decide how much you love each park.
I am in the exact same predicament as you are. We have one annual pass and were going to spread out the purchases of the others, then everyone shut down. The fact that it won’t cost any less to vacation in a way that doesn’t work for us means postponing our trip to next year, hopefully.
Same here. Made my resort res for december but hadn’t bought my AP’s yet and now I’m stuck in limbo
On Friday 6/26 at 7:00 AM ET I made 3 park pass reservations for 3 people. It went very smoothly and took about 2 minutes grand total. We got AK on 8/23, MK on 8/24 and HS on 8/25.
Take care and be safe everyone
Same here! I made a new reservation on Wednesday morning, waited in a virtual queue for about 20 minutes but was able to get the resort, tickets and park passes all taken care of quickly and easily!
Although Hollywood Studios will continue to be busy and draw crowds (I told my husband today I think it will be the harder to get as dates get closer), I do not think the morning phenomenon will be as marked as before. People will feel with reduced capacity they are more likely to get online. There will be the morning rush for prime attractions as with other parks, but without the need to arrive before opening for boarding passes, morning attendance should regulate.
I’m hoping that live shows begin to open with time. I feel the closure of the libe shows is largely due to the performers needing to practice and modify, rather than a need to keep guests apart. They can do social distancing in those theaters similar to how they will in the movie style attraction theaters. Do you know why the Beauty and the Beast sing along at EPCOT is closed, does it have live performers like Frozen?
Has a lot to do with the actors union too. They aren’t as on board as Disney is, which is why the shows are all not launching with the parks. Until the union decides, they’ll remain dark.
Hi! What are your thoughts on why they won’t use virtual lines? It is absolutely perfect at universal and i thought it worked well for RoR.
I’m so glad you said something. I have a DVC rental at the end of July, and only have one set of tickets held over. We’d reserved Epcot and intended to buy Hollywood studios passes when tickets went on sale again…but after reading this I went into MyDisneyExperience and cancelled those(a scary experience on its own since it makes it look like you’re about to cancel your TICKET) and reserved for Hollywood instead. Seems like a much better chance that I can buy an Epcot ticket later!
As of now, we still plan on going for Jersey week in November. We have the room, passes and park reservations. The main concern now is will we have to self quarantine when we come back from Florida?
My wife has been saying, ‘If anyone can figure this out, its Disney’. We’re willing to take measured risks to help support the economy, (and our sanity) but, it would be a deal breaker if the schools are back in session and the kids have to miss 2 weeks to self quarantine.
Given that Florida does not have an end date for its quarantine for visitors from NY, NJ and CT, perhaps we’ll be calling it Jersey Month?
I have an annual pass and resort reservations. Got park passes for a seven night stay in October and a six night stay in November, even HS. I would expect the first few days the park opens people would be rushing to come. As for HS, it was hard to get in back in March when I was there and even to get on Rise of the Resistance.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You have done a great job the past few months. Thanks for all your insight.
We booked our parks for end of Sept. I had to choose 1 park to spend 2 days in, so I choose Magic Kingdom since it’s the largest and we have 3 kids under the age of 10 going. However, do you think it would be better to do 2 days at DHS to give us a better chance of seeing all of the big attractions?
I thought MK was the _smallest_ of the four. And that combined with its many iconic rides aimed at families means it usually feels the most crowded and chaotic. It certainly felt that way to us every time we went to WDW.
I am wondering the same thing! We also did 2 at Magic and 1 DHS.
Disney has this so messed up that it makes me not want to go. I have to make my final payment tomorrow-and even got an email to remind me-for all stars that is not even going to open. I had called and was told many times that I had to wait until they contacted me. It sounds like if I try again now I’m on hold for hours. I didn’t even get an email about the park reservations. They waited weeks to open after universal and they still can’t get it together. They are more concerned with the MLS and NBA I think than the people.