This post previews January 2018 at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and will explain why we do not have a crowd calendar for it (yet), and probably will not have one that is even 75% reliable until January starts. What we will do is discuss some variables you should consider with regard to a January 2018 visit, and make a recommendation as to whether you should visit…and what we’d do.
Right now, it’s impossible to make a Disneyland crowd calendar for January through May 2018. Not only are park hours not yet available, but scant details have been released about what will be going on at Disneyland at the beginning of 2018 and no SoCal ticket discount details have been released. With an army of Annual Passholders that can mobilize and descend upon the parks without much notice, these are important things to know before predicting crowds.
To understand some of why this is so important, we need to jump back to this January. If I were tasked with making a crowd calendar for this January at this point last year, I would’ve made one based on historical trends, which were fairly consistent for the last several years. I would’ve been pretty confident in that calendar…
That crowd calendar would’ve been entirely wrong. Not even close to accurate. No one could have predicted what happened over the winter and spring months, which took a normally slow time at Disneyland and turned things chaotic. It was a confluence of circumstances leading to incredibly heavy crowds at a time that’s normally Disneyland’s off-season–a time when the parks focus on refurbishment and upgrades before the summer season.
In a normal year, January and February are the slowest months of the year at Disneyland. It’s a bit of a chilly time in Southern California (our “rainy season” which means like 2 rainy days per month), and also a time when Disneyland focuses on refurbishments. The last two years (before 2017) were slower than normal due to downtime leading up to the kickoff of the Diamond Celebration (2 years ago) followed by the closure of the Rivers of America and large-scale refurbishments (last year).
Even before then, though, January and February were slow. This led to a pronouncedoff-season vibe at Disneyland, one that has been tough to find at Walt Disney World in the last decade. Well, someone in Disney’s management must’ve noticed the low crowd numbers Disneyland has reported the last few years, and decided to do something about it.
Here’s what happened, and the problem with that. They didn’t just do something, they did multiple things. First came the announcement of Main Street Electrical Parade making its homecoming at Disneyland in a limited time engagement before it’d be retired. Then came the nostalgia-drenched, heart-tugging ad for the parade.
In the Los Angeles television market, you could not turn on your television for an hour without seeing this advertisement, which no doubt was effective in persuading locals to make a visit. (It’s a good ad.) For those who don’t own televisions, a variety of print ads and billboards featuring the floats with various Los Angeles landmarks were plastered all over Southern California.
To no one’s surprise, Main Street Electrical Parade debuted to monster crowds, and those remained steady pretty much until the summer months when the Annual Passholder blockout began. Disneyland locals are a nostalgic bunch; many grew up on Main Street Electrical Parade, and wanted to take their kids to the park to experience it. Fan-favorite fireworks ‘Remember… Dreams Come True’ also joined MSEP later in the spring for a double-dose of nostalgia.
As if that wasn’t enough to motivate the famously-nostalgic local audience to visit Disneyland, Disneyland offered a better-than-normal ticket offer for SoCal residents. For the same price as the prior year’s offer, residents received a 3-day ticket instead of a 2-day one. A ton of locals take advantage of this deal in a normal year (in lieu of buying Annual Passes), and Disneyland inexplicably sweetening the deal prompted even more people than normal to do the same.
The end result was seasonal entertainment (and marketing for it) that drew locals in hordes. This was exacerbated by cheaper tickets and a ton of Southern California residents purchased because they were such a good deal. This was especially problematic because this time of year is Disneyland’s refurbishment season, meaning that an inordinate number of attractions in both parks are down, thereby lowering capacity.
The question for 2018 is what (if any) lessons Disneyland learned from this year, and how those are implemented. It’s almost certain that there will be a spring ticket deal for locals–there always is–but it’s possible (probable?) management will look at the colossal crowds that showed up this year, and opt against such a good deal. It’s also possible they won’t learn anything from offering the 3-day tickets (versus 2-day ones), and repeat the same offer.
We simply do not yet know what ticket offer will be released, and this variable alone makes it impossible to offer an accurate prognostication of crowds. The difference in crowds between no ticket deal and a good ticket deal is huge.
Don’t sit on the edge of your seat waiting for this ticket deal to drop–the last two years, it was released the same day it started in January. Absent the specifics of this deal, it’s impossible to make a reliable Disneyland crowd calendar for January, which is why we indicated at the top that we won’t be able to release one until January.
We also do not know what (again, if any) seasonal entertainment or limited time offerings Disneyland and Disney California will introduce. We do know that the Lunar New Year Celebration will return, albeit later this year, because Disneyland has quietly updated its Annual Passholder page to list a Feburary 16, 2018 start date for that (before removing the page).
It’s reasonably safe to say Main Street Electrical Parade won’t make an encore this year. While we have no doubts that it’ll return again at some point (Disney just cannot resist trotting this parade out for “farewell” runs every so often), but it’ll be too soon since the last “farewell” run for another.
If we had to guess–and that’s exactly what all of what follows is–we’d say that Disneyland will bring back the SoCal ticket deal, but revert to the 2-day deal. We also anticipate zero seasonal or limited time entertainment beyond the tail end of Christmas season and Lunar New Year this January and February.
In such a hypothetical, we’d predict a dramatic decrease in year over year crowds, with January and February 2018 once again being the slow season at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (relatively speaking), save for weekends (and holiday weeks). Assuming all of the above, we would anticipate crowd levels and trends akin to what they were in January and February 2016, albeit with about a 10-15% across the board increase (since the general trend has been rising crowds).
It’s important to underscore that these are very much preliminary predictions, and lean heavily on the above assumptions. If any surprise announcements or excellent ticket deals are offered to locals, this could all go out the window. One of the greatest difficulties with forecasting Disneyland crowds is that so much of the audience lives in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, meaning they are not planning their trips to Disneyland months in advance. Many people are visiting on a whim, and can make last-minute trips if enticed by marketing, deals, or special entertainment.
With all of that said, there are a few sure things for January at Disneyland. Already mentioned are the chilly (but pleasant) weather and refurbishments. The other is that it’s still Southern California’s off-season in terms of tourism. Even if Disneyland and Disney California Adventure end up being busy, they’ll be busy with locals.
Overall, there’s a reason January and February remain our #3 and #4 months on our Best and Worst Months to Visit Disneyland. We expect last year to be an anomaly…we just cannot be certain yet. If you’re an out-of-state visitor considering a Disneyland vacation at some point in 2018, and are looking for a low-crowd time of year that will also have cool weather, we would recommend taking a hard look at January 2018 (or February 2018, for that matter). If we were not locals, we would roll the dice and book a trip for one of those months. If you’re a local or can wait longer to book a trip, we’d advise taking a wait-and-see approach. Once Disneyland releases its SoCal ticket offer, we should have a much better idea of what crowds will look like. At that point, we’ll return to this post with an actual crowd calendar.
Have you visited Disneyland in January? Any predictions of your own to offer in terms of crowds in winter/spring 2018 at Disneyland? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!