People tend to ask me this right before the big travel holidays such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. Who wants to stand in a long line at a theme park or to share a hotel with a rambunctious crowd?
Like most travelers, I assumed resorts just added more staff during the holidays and hoped for the best. But then, during the hyper-busy Fourth of July week, I checked into Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Orlando. I also visited The Lodge at Gulf State Park, in Gulf Shores, Ala. And I learned that the answer is a little more complicated — and interesting. It turns out hospitality companies put a lot of thought into the high season travel experience, adding extra staff, opening more venues, and carefully planning special events. Knowing about it could make your next vacation run more smoothly.
You can find out in advance if a Disney theme park is crowded. And you don’t even have to ask a company spokesman. But I did.
“Our more robust periods reflect typical public holiday times and days when schools are out of session,” says Disney spokesman Charles Stovall.
Disney doesn’t disclose its attendance numbers. But it doesn’t have to. There are two ways to determine if the theme parks will be more, well, robust.
It comes down to three simple strategies:
Use information for annual pass holders to estimate park attendance.
Refer to Disney’s app to fill in the gaps.
Consult its ticket price calendar, which has recently changed.
One of the best ways is to check the blackout dates for annual pass holders on Disney’s site. Check the silver or weekday select pass, which shows more of the high-volume days. Typically, those are the days to avoid.
The MyDisneyExperience app can also help. It displays monthly park hours, entertainment schedules, and attraction wait times.
“One of the newest tools at Disneyworld.com is an interactive calendar which displays different prices for tickets based on specific dates,” says Stovall. “Guests can conveniently see the prices for the dates they would like to visit and make decisions based on their needs.”
Disney recently changed to a dynamic pricing system, which means ticket costs more — or less — depending on demand. The higher the price, the more crowded the park.
How Disney handles a busy day without you knowing it
How do the Disney parks increase staff for a busy weekend like the Fourth of July?
“As any business prepares for changes in seasonality, we flex our operation in many ways, including expanded park hours, additional seasonal entertainment, additional showtimes of parades and fireworks, and more transportation options,” Stovall explained.
Other ways that Disney helps minimize long lines and crowded conditions:
New ways to get to the park. Disney introduced new transportation options such as the Minnie Van Connected by Lyft system, an on-demand transportation system for Disney World guests. This fall will also open the Disney Skyliner service, a gondola that will shuttle guests between select hotels and Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Extra cast hours. (“Cast” is Disney-speak for employees.) “For our cast, we operate an extra-hours hotline and website, where leaders can list additional shifts needed. Cast members can select the shift that fits their needs and help staff in other areas during peak times,” says Stovall.
Special guest experience teams. Disney has added dedicated guest experience teams to help visitors with a question on its app to focus on new ways of assisting our guests. “Just as cast members throughout the park already do, the guest experience teams also provide recommendations, help guests view attraction wait times and give tips on how to navigate the park best,” says Stovall.
Specifically, during the Fourth of July week, Disney World added a second showing of its Festival of Fantasy daytime parade. It also added new entertainment elements such as DJ dance parties at various times and locations throughout the parks. And it pushed notifications to its guests through its MyDisneyExperience app to alert guests to attractions with minimum wait times and alternate fireworks viewing locations.
Disney also has something else going for it: Over a half-century of operating theme parks. It’s always looking for ways to make the guest experience better. And if you look closely, you can see the additional cast in restaurants or parade venues. But Disney doesn’t want visitors to worry about how it’s done.