Musings on Crowd Levels and their effect on Touring Plans

tl;dr summary:

  • Just because one day has a lower CL than another does not necessarily mean that your plan for that day will have a shorter In Line time, especially on CL1 and CL2 days
  • In general, the longer the park hours, the lower the In Line time and the greater the Free time on days with the same CL
  • Just because two days have the same hours and CLs does not mean that your plan will have the same In Line times for those days
  • mEMH makes a huge difference on a plan; however, going to a park on a mEMH day but only during regular hours does not have as bad of an effect as expected
  • When deciding what day to go to a given park, the best thing to do is to make a Personalized Touring Plan and run it against the days in question

Forum posters frequently ask questions about what effect changing CLs will have on their plans, or whether they should shuffle their park schedule to take advantage of potentially lower CLs. To get some better information about this, I decided to run a Personalized Touring Plan at the different CLs to see what the effect would be. For this purpose I used the standard Magic Kingdom Unofficial Guide Adult One-Day Touring Plan, but I removed the fireworks show because having a set-time step at the end of a plan can skew the results. I chose this plan as it is pretty comprehensive (22 attractions, plus lunch and dinner breaks), and it covers all the main attractions that most people want to do.

General constraints:

  • Days chosen must not have EMH or EMM
  • Park hours should be 9:00 - 9:00 if possible
  • Must arrive at last attraction before park closes
  • No FPP reservations
  • Plans optimized until results are stable

Results per the Optimizer:

Note that there are two sets of results – Unconstrained and Minimized Free Time. Given its druthers, the Optimizer will utilize the entire park hours to find the best plan – this can result in gaps in the plan where you are doing nothing (Free time). I don’t like to have these gaps, so I forced the Optimizer to reduce them by changing the plan end time. This also results in plans that are easier to compare as you don’t have to account for all the Free time, which might not actually be at a useful time slot in the first place.

Looking at the Minimized Free Time results, the biggest thing that jumps out is that the In Line times for CLs 1 and 2 are significantly higher than CL3, and CL2 is even higher than CL4. This is because on lower attendance days WDW cuts back on staffing and ride capacity on many attractions. These cutbacks probably do not affect the attractions that are used to determine the CL, but they do have a big effect on the remaining lower tier attractions, making the plan as a whole suffer. Note that this is not something new - many of you will remember the fiasco last year when WDW got too aggressive with the cutbacks, but I saw this same pattern when I did a similar analysis back in 2013.

Working our way down the chart, from CLs 3 to 6, we see a steady progress with In Line times increasing by about 20 minutes per level. CL7 is where the wheels start to fall off the bus, with an increase of nearly 50 minutes. We see less of an increase going up to CL8 (about 30 minutes), but then things get weird at CL9 where the In Line time goes down by 10 minutes - my thinking here is that at around CL9 WDW throws out all the stops with maximum staffing and ride capacity. However, for CL10 things continue as expected with an increase of about 20 minutes.

Comparing the results for the Unconstrained plans versus the Minimized Free Time plans, you can see that there is a significant benefit to taking advantage of the lower crowds during the end of the park day – you get lower In Line time and more Free time which could be used for more attractions or breaks. This led me to wonder what the range of longer park hours looks like for a given CL, in this case CL5:

In general you see a marked decrease in In Line times and increase in Free time as you extend the park hours. January 12 looks particularly good, with an amazingly low 133 minutes of In Line time and well over 4 hours of Free time – this is definitely the day for the ‘hit the parks early, have a mid-day resort break, and then back until close’ strategy! However, something weird seems to be happening on April 23, which just goes to show you that you can’t rely on general trends when making decisions about park days.

EDIT: The April 23 data was really bugging me, so I decided to take a comprehensive look at CL5 daye with park hours from 9:00 to 10:00:

As you can see, the results are all over the place, with In Line times ranging from 168 to 286, none of which are in line with the general progression seen when comparing CL5 days with different closing times. Must be something odd about 10:00 closings for CL5 days, but the other takeaway here is that just because 2 days have the same hours and CLs does not mean that your plan will come out the same for each of them.

Next, I decided to look at what effect mEMH has on a CL5 day:

As you can see, taking advantage of mEMH really pays off! We see a decrease in In Line time of about 30 minutes and an increase in Free time of about 100 minutes, all for getting to the park 60 minutes earlier. The big reason for this is that we will have completed Pooh, 7DMT, and Buzz and will be arriving at Space when the hordes are let in. However, the most interesting thing was looking at what happens when you go to the park during normal hours on an mEMH day. According to conventional wisdom this is a no-no, but in this case there is a minimal increase in In Line time over the non-mEMH day.

Taking all this into account, my biggest conclusion is that things might not work out as you would expect when considering CLs, park hours, and mEMH when choosing park days. Therefore, the best strategy is to make a personalized Touring Plan and run it against each of the days in question – this way you will have a better idea of how your list of desired attractions will do under the different conditions. Also, bear in mind that what you specifically want to do will have a big effect on how the plans work out – a plan that focuses on doing headliners multiple times will most likely behave very differently from a balanced plan like a TP Standard Plan.


Did I tell you how much I missed you?

1 Like

Wow!! What a thorough write-up. Thanks for taking the time to do this. It really eliminates fretting over every tiny detail that may change between the time you initially book your trip and the time you are in the parks.


This is really interesting. Gives me something to do while I’m sitting around waiting for the next few months.

I imagine these CL differences will be further minimized as time goes on and Disney gets better at flexing their labor. I heard the guys on Backside of Magic say they didn’t think Disney would send CMs home or call them in at the last minute- and I thought, “Oh yes they will, give it time.”


They won’t need to call them in at the last minute. With a combination of FP reservations, hotel occupancy, and date-based ticketing, plus a little statistical modeling, Disney will have a pretty good picture of attendance on any given day well in advance.

1 Like

Edited to add an in-depth look at how the plan works out for days with the same CL and park hours (CL5, 9:00 to 10:00).

1 Like

While I agree, there are always unforeseeables like weather and breakdowns.

Yep, those are our known unknowns. But you have to start somewhere…

1 Like

The very things you mention (let’s not forget magic band data) will drive them to ever more micromanagement of labor costs.

Labor is the number one operating cost of service-oriented American businesses, and Disney is no exception. If they can go from a pretty good picture of attendance to a more accurate & detailed one with day-of-info from magic bands, I fully expect them to use that info. They’ll be able to decide who goes & who stays on any given shift, or even dispatched to other areas within a shift.

Other industries do, they will, too. Because they can.