When I’m working on estimating crowds at Disneyland for the RideMax planner, October is one of those months that is always sort of dicey. One day things can be just fine, but other days can have absolutely crazy crowds.
The past few years, in order to help with these October crowd estimates, I’ve researched school fall break calendars, especially for schools in some of California’s neighboring states. And this year, I’m seeing something of a perfect storm of crowds shaping up for Friday, October 17th.
Why October 17th?
Well, first of all, I expect the entire week to see larger crowds than you might expect for the fall. Both Columbus day and Canadian Thanksgiving are on Monday that week, and sometimes the “holdover crowds” from these holidays can spill into the week. There are also schools in Arizona which will be out the entire week on fall break as well.
The real icing on the cake is UEA break, however, when schools in Utah are on break Thursday and Friday (the 16th and 17th), and Utah’s Alpine and Provo school districts are out on Monday, the 20th, as well.
You may discount the idea that a school break in the state of Utah, which doesn’t actually even touch California, could have a large impact on the crowds, but consider this: Utah has the highest percentage in the nation of homes with children. And you can bet that many of those families will be headed to Disneyland for fall break!
Given that the Utah break doesn’t start until Thursday, I don’t expect crowds to be nearly as bad Tuesday and Wednesday (though I expect the AZ break will make even those crowds larger than normal for fall weekdays).
The crowds should peak on Friday, the 17th, with UEA break in full swing. I flat out expect the 17th to be the most crowded day for the entire month of October. Adding to the craziness, Disneyland itself closes early that night, at 6:00pm, in order to make way for the Halloween party that evening. As such, you can expect DCA to be extremely (extremely!) crowded that evening, as all of the local annual passholders come into the park expecting a nice Friday evening visit, likely unaware of the crowds that await them.
As if this weren’t enough, the other thing that could make the crowds seem larger-than-normal is if Disney itself is unprepared for Friday’s madness, and doesn’t bulk up the staff that day. Some attractions that rely on employees for throughput rate (i.e., Jungle Cruise), could see much longer lines if Disney doesn’t anticipate the crowd levels adequately.
Unlike Friday, Saturday is blocked out for both types of Southern California annual passholders, so the crowds should actually be somewhat lower on Saturday than on Friday. And both parks will be open late Saturday, allowing the crowds to spread out more than on Friday. (Add to this the fact that many folks from AZ and UT will also use Saturday as a travel day home.)
OK, so in an effort to not be all gloom-and-doom here, if you are visiting on the 17th, is there anything you can do to help salvage the day?
I’m sure you expect a shameless plug for RideMax here, so let’s get that out of the way first: Yes, by all means, use RideMax. This will at least set you up with a basic game plan for the day, which sure beats wandering around with your head buried in the park map trying to get everyone to agree on where to go next… meanwhile, the precious morning hours just tick away and the crowds continue to build.
The other, significant thing you can do is arrive early Friday morning, well before the park opens for the day. I really can’t stress this enough, so let me say it again with emphasis: ARRIVE EARLY FRIDAY MORNING!
Because the Disneyland park doesn’t host Magic Morning on Friday, you can especially get a jump on the crowds at Disneyland if you arrive well before opening time. (DCA, on the other hand, will have crowds already in the park at opening time, due to Extra Magic Hours on Friday morning for hotel guests. So the early advantage isn’t as great at DCA unless you have access to Extra Magic Hours yourself.)
As an added “early-arrival” bonus, the parks both open at 8:00am on Friday, and given that many folks have a much harder time getting out of bed for an 8:00am opening than a later one, this is a case where the early bird really does get the worm.
I hope this helps you anticipate and plan your week if you’re heading to Disneyland for fall break. There really are a lot of great things about Disneyland in the fall, and some of my favorites include the cooler weather and the holiday makeover of the Haunted Mansion (something I really wish Disney World would also do in Orlando).
So if you are visiting on the 17th, don’t let the crowds discourage you. Anticipate them, do a little advance planning, and arrive early to beat them!