If you can visit Walt Disney World between now and the beginning of November 2019, you absolutely should jump on the opportunity. Last minute trips are not easy to pull off, but in this post, we’ll cover the why and how of doing a quick getaway to experience low crowds, sunrise in the parks, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and more.
Prior to the summer starting and Disneyland’s version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuting, Walt Disney World scheduled Extra, Extra Magic Hours between the land’s opening and November 2, 2019 as a way of spreading demand throughout the day and reducing midday crowds. At the time, it seemed possible that Walt Disney World would extended Extra, Extra Magic Hours if necessary. We now strongly believe that will not happen…
To understand our speculative thinking here and also address some questions we’ve received from readers in our ExEMH posts, let’s start with a rambling, scattershot preface (fueled by excitement and too much coffee). When it comes to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge crowds, we got it totally wrong for California.
We predicted a huge turnout just in time for the summer opening, which didn’t happen. This has been an interesting and unexpected phenomenon, and we cover it in our Why Are Star Wars Land Crowds So Low? post. (You’ve probably already read that, as we’ve linked to it in like 758 other blog posts, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning yet again.)
However, we’ve always predicted low crowds for September 2019 at Walt Disney World. As you can see in our 2019 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar Update: When to Visit & Avoid, we chose September as our best remaining month of the year to visit. This is always the least busy month of the year at Walt Disney World, and as you can read in that post, that’s due to factors a new land’s opening cannot really overcome.
Even though it has gotten worse in recent years, we also ranked October fairly highly on that list. This month used to be one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World, but that hasn’t been the case for at least 5 years, probably longer. We do expect October to be better this year, and that’s doubly true if you’re willing to take advantage of Extra, Extra Magic Hours.
In announcing Extra, Extra Magic Hours for Walt Disney World back in early May before either version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened, Disney was essentially expressing a high level of confidence in the new land and the likelihood that it would draw colossal crowds. Obviously, we now know how that went.
If you’ll recall, this was during the same time that Disney had regular blog posts and “Know Before You Go” videos. These were meant to educate guests as to the logistics of everything from parking to merchandise to virtual queues in order to minimize the level of chaos out west. At the time, all of this seemed like the responsible, proactive thing to do. None of it ever proved necessary.
I’m fairly confident that if Disney had waited to announce Extra, Extra Magic Hours until the beginning of July, the offering wouldn’t have been announced at all. This would’ve given Disney the chance to observe over a month of demand for the new land in California, with & without reservations, with & without AP blockouts, and with & without the virtual queue. None of it made any difference. As such, Disney would’ve reduced expectations for crowds in Florida, and done something more conservative.
In theory, ExEMH was a great idea. If the parks are anticipating particularly heavy attendance, the best way to spread that throughout the day and minimize the crush at park opening is to simply open earlier. Fewer people will arrive super early than will stay super late, making it possible to ease into operations.
This is a lesson Walt Disney World learned with Pandora and its huge crowds for evening Extra Magic Hours. When it comes to late nights, crowds don’t really die down until 2 am. (As a reminder, Magic Kingdom used to close at midnight in the summer and those same nights the park had Extra Magic Hours until 3 am–back when evening Extra Magic Hours were 3 hours long.)
In an era of hard ticket events and regular 9 or 10 pm park closures, staying open until 2 am would mean an additional 4-5 operating hours, which isn’t going to happen. It’s arguably the better idea and something more guests will take advantage of, but it’s simply a non-starter. The realistic options are early hours with lower crowds or midnight closings that are packed until the end. But I digress.
The reality of early morning openings coupled with normal fall crowds is that Extra, Extra Magic Hours have been pure bliss. Some speculated that this was due to Hurricane Dorian, but that would no longer be impacting attendance. Lines are still pretty much nonexistent during ExEMH, as are crowds.
The reality is that most families with small children cannot make it out the door this early, and most other guests who could simply don’t want to get up so early on what’s supposed to be a vacation. For those who do drag themselves out of bed early, the result is a sea of walk-on attractions, seeing sunrise in the parks, and virtually no crowds. I absolutely love Extra, Extra Magic Hours, and have become one of its biggest cheerleaders. (Hence this post!)
As we’ve noted countless times, we anticipate crowds getting progressively busier in November and December. Both Toy Story Land and Pandora were actually busier in December of their opening years than the summer months in which they debuted. Expect the same with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a likelihood that’ll only be exacerbated by the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Logically, it would make more sense for Extra, Extra Magic Hours to be offered in December and November than during this month and October. Nevertheless, we do not expect ExEMH to be extended. The “lesson” Disney will learn from the incredibly low crowds during this round of ExEMH is that the early hours are overkill. Even if internal projections show heavier crowds (and they undoubtedly do), a more conservative path is likely to be followed.
Think unannounced early openings or park hours extended at the last minute. Not longer hours or special offerings announced months in advance that cost a lot to operate and cannot be cancelled without backlash. Beyond the possibility of special hours December 5-8, 2019 (the opening weekend for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance), we’d expect park hours to be pretty “normal” for November and December.
Bringing this long-winded explanation back to the point of this post, all of that is why you should visit now. Since we’ve rambled a bit, the selling points are: current low crowds during ExEMH, the likelihood of those crowds staying low even during the busier month of October, and the strong probability that Extra, Extra Magic Hours will not be extended, even though November and December will be significantly busier.
Of course, this “pitch” only works if you’re an early-riser. If you aren’t going to take advantage of Extra, Extra Magic Hours, there is definitely less (or no) urgency. You’re better off waiting out the holiday season, and visiting next January or February. Those months have gotten busier in the last two years, but they’re still better than the holidays crowd-wise, have nicer weather than September/October, and also feature Epcot’s superlative Festival of the Arts.
As for September, regular crowds aren’t too bad right now, either. The surprise exception to this is actually Epcot, which has seen a spike that’s likely attributable to Food & Wine Festival plus the end of IllumiNations. (It’s not just weekends–weeknights have become really crowded–with long lines just to park.) Presumably, this will continue next month as Epcot Forever debuts and locals want to see that for the first time.
Around Walt Disney World, expect crowds to pick up by mid-October, if not slightly sooner. That has become the “new normal” of crowd trends. A slow September followed by a surge in October that gets progressively worse for the remainder of the year, with only a couple of mild reprieves in early November and early December.
Obviously, last minute trips are a non-starter for some people. If you can’t take off work or school, that’s a dealbreaker irrespective of crowds. Airfare and hotel prices can also be prohibitive. Thankfully, it’s the off-season for travel in general, not just Walt Disney World.
In quickly looking at Southwest’s low fare September calendar for Indianapolis and Chicago, I see both cities with numerous dates that have roundtrip flights under $200. (Chicago has some one-way flights for $50!) This is without even consulting ITA Software for the options that are truly cheapest. (I’m sure Spirit or Frontier have cheaper fares if you don’t mind being treated like human cargo.)
For hotels, the best option at this point is checking out our Priceline Express Deals for Walt Disney World Hotels. I haven’t updated that recently with the latest deals, but I know the All Stars were recently available for ~$77/night, and it looks like there are currently a couple of Disney Springs hotels available. Remember, those are eligible for Extra, Extra Magic Hours!
Our preferred options that are often available with last-minute deals are the Swan & Dolphin, which are both within walking distance of Epcot & Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Failing all else, our tight budget/last-minute fallback option in this area is the Best Western Lake Buena Vista Hotel (read our review). It’s not the greatest, but it’s usually $60-70/night and is perfectly serviceable.
Then there’s food. As you might know, we’re in the heart of Free Dining season. Unless you leave like today and are somehow lucky enough to score an elusive reservation, that won’t be an option. However, it’s also Magical Dining Month (which has been extended!), and several exceptional on-site Walt Disney World restaurants at Disney Springs, Swan & Dolphin, and Four Seasons are participating. (Personally, I’d take the Priceline Express Deal plus Magical Dining Month over Free Dining.)
Ultimately, if you’re able to swing a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World this month or October and will take advantage of Extra, Extra Magic Hours, we highly recommend doing it. I’ve gushed about sunrise in the parks being the unique and special experience during ExEMH, but so too are low crowds and looping popular rides without paying for an upcharge event. Barring an economic slowdown or mass boycott of Disney if they do something crazy like kill off national treasure Olaf in Frozen 2, I don’t see there being a better way to experience Walt Disney World anytime soon. We already have more hotel reservations booked, and highly recommend you likewise take advantage if at all possible!
Will you try to take a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World for Extra, Extra Magic Hours? Are you looking forward to ExEMH, or is it too early for you? Envious of the low crowds right now…and hoping they somehow continue for the holiday season? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!