This has been simmering lately and I almost didn’t post about it because there are not really “concrete” numbers for me to look at. However, there are a bunch of anecdotal pieces of evidence that certainly make it look like my conclusions are at least reasonable.
For at least the past decade Disney has been breaking their pricing into seasons. The seasons were Holiday, Peak, Regular, Value. The fall (from the last two weeks in August until the week before Christmas) has always been touted as the least crowded and least expensive time to go visit Disney. However, over the last few years the fall has become more crowded and although the deepest discounts have still been offered for the fall the number of available discounts has shrunk (and requirements for the packages have increased).
So, let’s talk about the fall.
-Fall at Disney is still one of the least crowded times to visit Disney. However, when I say “fall” I really mean the last two weeks in August and the month of September. The crowds’ predictions are still predicting crowds of 2’s,3’s and 4’s for the month of September. However, the last week in September from September 26, 2017 on has resorts completely sold out and almost no availability on property.
---October has now been shifted to regular season.
---For the past three fall seasons November crowds have increased. I have had families booked the week of Veteran’s Day for the past three/four Novembers. They have all come back with reports of larger than expected crowds and the desire to avoid that week in the future.
----Travel Agents have been lamenting the lack of availability at resorts and dining for the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving (and Veterans Day) for months.
I can give you three anecdotal stories about this upcoming fall.
- We have a personal reservation for the week of November 26, 2017. We are planning on being in Florida from Thanksgiving Day until the Sunday after. We are staying off property the first few nights to avoid crowds and moving onto Disney property later in the weekend. I was up at 5:55 am to make dining reservations for the week we are on property. I (literally) could not get a single reservation I wanted for the entire week. We are a party of five, so not a huge party. We have also done this trip three other times. I have never had any trouble making dining for the week after Thanksgiving. I actually ended up emailing Guest Services about it. They were helpful, but bottom line, things are booked solid.
- Free Dining bookings at Disney: This year Disney once again released their free dining offer for weeks in September, November and December. The promotion was extremely limited. On the morning it opened I was online at 4:00 to make reservations for people. There was almost nothing available. (French Quarter was excluded, Riverside was only included for September, Coronado Springs has major renovations going on and buildings are closed, they have knocked down two villages at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Pop Century was almost entirely blacked out)
- We have a summer trip planned and we originally planned to go in August. I had trouble finding dining for the last week in August. (Disney is now starting Food and Wine Festival the days leading up to Labor Day) We had trouble booking a DVC Resort for the last week in August, in the Epcot Resort Area. We could only find partial availability at both Saratoga Springs and Bay Lake Tower. One day while my mother and I were discussing the trip we noted that on the DVC Calendar while August showed unavailable nights July was almost entirely open. And I mean entirely. (Studios, One Bedrooms etc.) With DVC studio units usually book the fastest because people use less points toward their stay. We changed our plans in MAY from August to July. We got exactly what we wanted for July. In addition, because we were switching in May we had to switch all of our dining. We always book the Deluxe Dining Plan so we can eat a character breakfast in the morning. I was able to book every single character meal for almost any morning within about 60 days for July. Not for August.
I subscribe to Tom Bricker’s newsletter. Last week the headline of his newsletter was something about Summer crowds being noticeably lower than normal. He discussed his own theory about summer and fall and how fall is no longer the quiet time it was supposed to be.
I have a Touring Plans account. It tracks park crowd predictions for my trips. I got a notification last week that every single day of my July trip was being downgraded from 7’s, 8’s to 5’s and 4’s. My Thanksgiving tracker had increased park crowds.
Disney raised some eyebrows last year when they discussed, with shareholders, their plans to redistribute guests with ticket pricing. They basically said that their goal was less people, more profit. And this proved to be true for 2016. Disney saw fewer guests but made more money. In other words, Disney has started seasonal ticket pricing and the tickets now cost more and this is keeping some people away. But the people who are going are paying more and therefore offsetting the fewer number of people.
One of the biggest complaints Disney gets from people are the large crowds and long lines. Hence, the desire to redistribute guests more evenly throughout the year. When they introduced seasonal ticket prices and seasonal/nightly hotel room rates they were hoping that people would ease off some of the peak times and visit during the less crowded times. This seems to be working. The summer crowds have diminished while fall crowds have increased.
The elephant in the room: Free Dining
I mentioned the Free Dining promotion earlier but I want to discuss it a little more now. Disney has, for the last seven or eight years offered guests who book packages with full price hotel and full price tickets, a free Disney Dining Plan. Many, many people have commented on how this was to fill empty fall hotel rooms (and I think it was originally). However, over the last few years this has become less of a “great deal” and other promotions throughout the year compete with this. I also believe this promotion is offered to redistribute guest from the busier times of the year to the fall. I no longer believe this promotion is offered solely to fill empty hotel rooms. If hotel rooms were truly empty there would be a lot more availability for free dining, Disney wouldn’t be excluding entire resorts and the weeks in October and November would not be blacked out. I think it’s part of Disney’s strategy to draw people away from other “peakier” times of year.
And before I get angry email from people about summer crowds: I am not suggesting summer is not crowded. I am suggesting it’s not as crowded as it used to be. I am suggesting that Disney is working hard to redistribute crowds more evenly throughout the year. I am also suggesting that fall at Disney is no longer the dead season, that we should expect to see steady crowds all year long.