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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

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!


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