Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era – Part 2: Crowds & Discounts

Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era made lemonade out of lemons, looking at the potential upsides of visiting Walt Disney World this year (as well as discussing who probably should not plan a vacation in the near future). In this post, we’ll follow-up with two additional important considerations: discounts and when to visit.

To summarize the core ‘thesis’ of part 1 of this article, we believe there will be upsides to visiting Walt Disney World this year, mainly in the form of somewhat reduced wait times and significantly lower crowds. This is predicated upon reduced demand due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to health & safety concerns, mandatory mask opposition, unemployment levels, economic uncertainty, high heat & humidity, and general travel trepidation.

Rationale for much of this and how it will play out with crowds and discounts at Walt Disney World is further spelled out in our Will Walt Disney World Offer Huge Discounts Once It Opens? and How Bad Will Crowds Be at Walt Disney World After Reopening? posts from the last couple of months. While some of the specifics have changed, we more or less stand by those predictions…

Before delving into the predictions, I want to be abundantly clear that this is all speculative and requires an array of assumptions that may or may not be vindicated. The biggest assumption of all is that there will not be a second wave in the fall.

This is a particular assumption we’re making not because we believe it to be true (that’s beyond our expertise), but because there not being a second wave is a necessary prerequisite to this post. If there is a second wave that causes Walt Disney World to close again, this is all pretty much moot.

These predictions also don’t fully take hurricane season into account. As covered in Tips for Storm & Hurricane Season at Walt Disney World, 14-18 tropical storms, including 7-9 hurricanes and 2-4 major hurricanes are forecast. Suffice to say, it’s expected to be a particularly bad storm season. Because of course it is.

With that said, we’re proceeding as if a slow and steady recovery occurs with incremental improvements and easing of restrictions. The “when” and “how” of this (e.g. when masks won’t be necessary or when character dining will return) are well beyond the scope of this post. No one can credibly make such predictions.

With all of that said, here are some thoughts about when to visit Walt Disney World for the remainder of 2020…

While the first part of this article points out several silver linings, I still wouldn’t immediately book a new trip on this sense of optimism. For one thing, there’s little upside to visiting Walt Disney World in July or August 2020. The first couple weeks the parks reopen will likely see a modest amount of pent-up demand, which will outweigh any ‘early-bird’ advantage it offers.

August should be better from a crowd perspective, but it’s still summer, meaning kids are out of school. Then there’s the weather during both months, which is oppressively hot and humid even without any added safety protocol. July and August are the hottest months of the year in the Orlando area–average highs of above 90º and average lows in the mid-70s.

This isn’t meant to be a downer for those of you who already have trips booked for those months. Low crowds are likely for both months, and levels could bottom out by mid-August. (Blockout dates also throw a monkey wrench into this.) However, we’re taking a more holistic look at things here, and the weather plus safety protocol might make things brutal. Plan on plenty of pool time and a leisurely vacation if you visit those first two months.

Speaking of pools (a common question in part 1), we have reason to believe they will be open. On the DVC Travel Advisory, there’s this note: “Members and Resort Guests are also welcome to enjoy our pools and recreation offerings, which may operate a little differently during this time.” There’s no reason DVC resorts would open pools and regular hotels would not–in many cases, those are the same pools, anyway.

Back on topic, we’d recommend taking a wait and see approach to judge how things go with the July and August guinea pigs, making tentative plans for the end of September or beginning of October at the earliest.

The pools are actually a perfect example of why you might want to do this–you’ll be able to see what “operate a little differently” and other changes announced for the parks mean in practice.

The rationale for choosing September is the same as always–this is organically the lowest demand month of the year, and nothing Disney does will change that. For this reason, we’ve long recommended visiting in the last week of September–which is one of our three favorite weeks of the year.

October, by contrast, has gotten worse in recent years, but that’s in large part due to conventions, events, and school breaks. Some or all of those could be off the table this year, which would make October (once again) one of the most desirable months of the year to travel. For 2020, we’d be inclined to shift from the end of September to recommending the first or third full week in October. (Still avoiding the week of Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which occurs on October 12, 2020.)

The motivations for moving a tad later this year are hurricane season, better weather, and the potential for improvements in the park experience. We are more sensitive to storm season this year than normal, largely because so many of you have already moved your travel dates multiple times. Moving yet again because of a storm would be the ultimate excrement icing on the crap cake. (Sorry for that visual, but the point needed underscoring.)

Better yet, if I were a gambler, I’d be eyeing November through mid-December. In terms of timing, I’d avoid holiday weeks, but otherwise would not be particularly concerned by normal events that occur during these two months.

The advantages in waiting until Christmas-time are better weather, the greater possibility of at least some restrictions being lifted, extended hours, increased capacity, and the chance of some entertainment returning. Plus, Christmas is the best time of year to visit Walt Disney World.

The potential downside is larger crowds. However, some of the normal events that drive attendance during November and December might be cancelled or significantly minimized. It’s doubtful Jersey Week will cause its normal spike, and Pop Warner may not happen at all. (As of a few days ago, a decision about resuming practice/play had yet to be made.) Other events have already been cancelled.

I think the upsides of the early holiday season far outweigh the downsides. This is largely predicated upon my belief that the economy, consumer confidence, and willingness to travel by plane to destinations with reputations for crowds are all going to take longer to recover than most people anticipate.

Personally, I think it’s possible the holiday season could have even larger upsides. These mostly revolve around two forms of lag that go hand-in-hand.

First, there’s a good chance there will be lag in Walt Disney World releasing aggressive discounts, as the company assesses early demand and hotel occupancy.

Within Disney, there’s likely the naive assumption that reduced attendance means they can hold firm on prices even with a partial experience. They’ll probably be disabused of that wishful thinking pretty quickly, but not until it’s already too late for July and August bookings.

Beyond that, some of Disney’s leaders are out of touch, having developed a cocky attitude of invincibility after a decade-plus run of being able to increase prices while also seeing demand increase. If there is an actual new normal to come out of this, it’s that the “seller’s market” run travel providers have enjoyed is over for the foreseeable future.

Walt Disney World and other destinations will have to adjust to this and get more competitive in a hurry. For the travel industry, the coming months have the characteristics of post-9/11 (travel fears) plus a recession (economic woes) plus a diminished guest experience.

It’s patently absurd to think 35% off hotel rooms is going to cut it for Walt Disney World. While we don’t expect direct discounts on park tickets, we do expect much more aggressive deals on vacation packages and resort rooms. Filling those tens of thousands of hotel rooms is going to be a much more difficult task than drawing guests to the reduced-capacity parks.

Nevertheless, there will likely be lag in resort deals until the gravity of the situation and level of necessity is made abundantly clear to Disney. In the near-term, the most aggressive discounts might come at the last minute. Think PIN/Unique Offer Codes and Priceline Express Deals for Walt Disney World Hotels.

Annual Passholders and Florida Residents will also likely be targeted. Vacation package deals might take more time, with the best offers for late 2020 or early 2021.

Same goes for lag in booking and cancelling trips. Right now, Walt Disney World still has a decent slate of reservations for the summer months that were made before this all started. Many of those bookings will be cancelled due to a change in circumstances. Others will not.

Right now, the majority of Americans polled are uncomfortable traveling. If slow and steady improvement occurs (or if things simply do not get worse), Americans will presumably be more comfortable traveling by this fall. They’ll be ready for vacation and will start booking trips. Which could mean this holiday season sees a big spike in attendance, right?

Possibly, but we’re skeptical. The average American family books a vacation 5-6 months before traveling, which means those people who in October become comfortable to travel again will be booking trips for next spring, not the following month or two. Those considering a Christmas-time vacation to Walt Disney World would typically be booking their trip between now and July.

Call me incredulous, but given all of the uncertainty in the air about operations, I just do not see the general public (we’re not talking about diehard Disney fans) rushing out to book holiday trips to Walt Disney World the minute reservations open back up. By and large, people will take a wait and see approach and will book when they’re actually comfortable, not in advance of when they think they might be comfortable. (Hopefully that makes sense.)

Note that Disney Vacation Club is the one exception to all of this. Those resorts will undoubtedly booked to near-capacity, either by owners directly or via renters. DVC occupancy is disconnected from hotel occupancy because of its “use it or lose it” quality.

Disney Vacation Club members and their guests also help backstop park attendance to a certain degree. However, that’s still a pretty low number and that baseline is going to be fairly consistent no matter when you choose to go. Whether it’s the lowest off-season point in September or peak season between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, DVC occupancy levels only vary by a few percent.

Speaking of uncertainty, there’s plenty of that concerning the economy. The obvious issue here is unemployment levels, but consumer confidence is the leading predictor of travel demand and volume.

This is undoubtedly where I’m getting the most speculative, but I think we’re in store for a larger “reality check” than what we’ve seen thus far. Americans want to believe in a V-shaped recovery–that things will bounce back quickly once the economy reopens. I don’t share that optimism, thinking there’s a good chance things get worse once temporary government intervention lapses and stimulus measures run out.

To make a long story short, I think a combination of long-term unemployment levels, consumer confidence, and a recession will depress travel demand for longer than the impact of health safety measures. Brief spurts of pent-up demand may occur in Spring 2021 for school breaks or October 2021 for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, but I’d still expect attendance for both of those periods to be lower than it was last year. In my view, it’s going to take a few years for travel to fully bounce back.

As for the crowd predictions, a lot of this probably sounds familiar to our 2020 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars: When to Visit & Avoid or our 2020 Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World. The latter is probably more useful here, because it uses a more holistic approach in ranking every month of the year, and recommending the 3 very best weeks of the year to visit.

The biggest changes from those posts to now is that we’re less concerned about anything other than holidays and school breaks. Many of the normal events that artificially increase attendance at Walt Disney World above norms for the season either won’t happen this year or won’t be as heavily attended. In short, they won’t have as big of an impact on crowds. We’d expect October to be the biggest beneficiary of this, which could revert to its previous off-season attendance levels. Early to mid-December is another timeframe that we think will return to its past normal.

Ultimately, a lot remains to be seen. As we’ve stressed dozens of times, this is totally unprecedented. We can offer predictions based upon our expectations and past precedent, but nothing is truly comparable to this. Your best option, if at all possible, is to be flexible and able to book a trip on shorter notice than normal.

Right now, you should choose target travel dates for this fall or winter and be ready to pounce if things are looking promising. If they are not, don’t book. What you don’t want to do is wait until fall to even start thinking about travel, find you’re comfortable at that point, and then book a Spring 2021 trip. That’s what “everyone” else will be doing.

Our first resort stay is booked for June, with more every month after that for the rest of the year. In other words, we will have no shortage of firsthand reports between now and then so you can make a truly informed decision to go or not go. Let us be your guinea pigs (we enjoy this stuff!) and make a quick decision based on actual feedback rather than speculation. Don’t rule out 2020 prematurely, but don’t fully lock it in, either–instead be dynamic and lay whatever groundwork is necessary for you personally in order to make a relatively last-minute decision!

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

When do you think the ideal time to visit this year will be? Or, do you think there is no good time to visit Walt Disney World in 2020? Expect more discounts or low crowds for the remainder of the year? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective? A variety of viewpoints are welcomed here, but we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Additionally, please do not debate the efficacy of health safety policies–all such comments (for, against, otherwise) will be deleted. Those arguments are played out and isn’t the appropriate forum for that.


98 Responses to “Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era – Part 2: Crowds & Discounts”
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