Before I could make my dining reservations for our Disney vacation, I needed to decide the parks we would be visiting on each specific day. This is an important step because you don't want to book dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table (in the castle) in Magic Kingdom on a day you plan to spend at Epcot. Well, what about Park Hoppers? Yes, if you had Hopper Passes, you could do this. I typically do not recommend the added expense of Park Hopper Passes for families with younger children and we do not add on the Hopper option. One park a day is time and energy consuming enough. We tried Park Hoppers once and quickly realized that it didn't make sense for us at the time. Maybe when the girls are teens, but not now.
I want to reiterate the importance of researching the vacation days you plan to spend at specific parks with a real life example. Our favorite park is Magic Kingdom so it made sense to want to visit MK on our first full day in Orlando. I'm glad I did my research because Magic Kingdom is scheduled to close at 6:00 pm that evening, presumably for a private event or Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. We would have been extremely disappointed if we hadn't realized that until we were in the park on that day.
Does stuff like that happen? I'm sure it does. And this isn't to snark on anyone because I realize that my level of planning is very detailed (although not nearly as detailed as others) but we've witnessed other guests' planning errors. There was the mom who thought Crystal Palace restaurant was in Cinderella's castle and the family looking around Magic Kingdom for a restaurant located at Disney Springs. If mistakes such as these are happening, I think it's safe to assume not every guest is checking park hours in advance.
Your first stop should be to the main source. The WDW website publishes park hours, parade times, special events and attractions closed for refurbishment. This calendar extends for six months. So today, March 12, I can only see information through September 8.
Kenny the Pirate
While the park hours on the Disney website only extend out six months, the crowd calendars on this website go beyond that. I'm linking this website as a resource because the hours for my vacation dates were not yet up on Disney's website when I needed to plan and so this is where I discovered that Magic Kingdom was closing at 6:00 on our first full vacation day. I double checked the Disney website later when it had updated and the times match.
A few thoughts on crowd calendars. . . Disney itself does not publish attendance records. I think the best you can find is a combined total of attendance at all the parks for the entire year. There are many websites offering their predictions on what crowds will be like on specific days. I have mixed feelings on using crowd calendars for a few different reasons. Disney does make public wait times for rides and attractions. Unofficial crowd calendars are created using historical wait times, knowledge of events and Disney special offers. I think it's more important to take into account the time of year your trip is taking place versus obsessing over whether to visit Epcot on a day with an 8/10 rating or Magic Kingdom with a 7/10 rating. Also keep in mind that often parks will be rated more crowded for the very reason you want to visit that day. Extra Magic Hours and night parades/fireworks bring in more crowds.
Interestingly enough, many Disney bloggers believe "slow" times of the year at Disney are disappearing because of 1. the special offers made by Disney to draw in guests during known slower times and 2. all the planning information available on the internet. I disagree. The beginning of September may not be as slow as it used to be but it certainly can't compare to summer crowds.
If crowd calendars are telling you Magic Kingdom is the worst park to visit on a certain day, wouldn't that be the best park to visit because everyone else will be avoiding it? In theory. But we all know not everyone follows crowd calendars and they do vary, depending on the source. Just run a google search for "Disney crowd calendars" and you'll see what I mean.
I've reached the point in planning where I look at our vacation as a whole. What park is most important to us? Right now, it's Magic Kingdom so I look for the days where Magic Kingdom works best. For us, the park closing at 6:00 is not a positive. Some of the crowd calendars show Magic Kingdom as the best park to visit on that day where it's closing at 6:00. Their justification is that crowds will be lower because guests won't want to visit on a day when the park closes at 6:00. Will lower crowds reduce wait times enough to make the park worth visiting that day? No one can say for sure. Is every guest aware of the park's closing time before they reach the park that day? I'm guessing no. Other "negatives" for crowd calendars are Extra Magic Hours and night parades and fireworks. Those are positive for us though. How would we ever see a parade if we always avoid the park on parade days?
Once I figure out the most important dates/parks for us, then I fill in the other days. For our upcoming trip, I have Epcot booked for a day when some of the crowd calendars say Epcot is the worst pick of the day. But other crowd calendars disagree. We'll see what happens!
To see an outline of how I plan out our Disney vacations, please check out my post Plan Your Walt Disney World Vacation in 8 Steps.
You can find links to trip reports from our previous 5 Disney vacations and other planning tips HERE.