June 24, 2024

Spring Break Crowds Have Sprung at Disney World

With much of Central Florida and other school districts being off last week, it is now officially Spring Break 2023 at Walt Disney World. This crowd report shares wait times data, our on-the-ground anecdotal experiences, thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with attendance levels, and more.

As covered in our crowd report for early March at Walt Disney World, this month has historically been a ‘tale of two seasons’ at Walt Disney World, with peaks and valleys–high highs and low lows. The first half of the month started out surprisingly slow, reinforcing that as one of our favorite times to visit in our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World.

That dynamic will be even more evident as we contrast wait times from last week with those from the first week-plus of the month. With Osceola and Orange County both out of session for their spring breaks, wait times were unsurprisingly high last week. That’s not to say crowds didn’t throw us any curveballs–they did. Let’s take a look…

As always, what’s covered in these “crowd” reports is actually posted wait time data that’s pulled from My Disney Experience and compiled into graphs for tracking and comparing various days, weeks, months, and years. A lot can be gleaned from posted wait times, but it’s not necessarily conclusive of in-park congestion or crowds.

There are several other variables that impact “feels like” crowds, from the EPCOT festivals to weather to guest demographics to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency to time of day or day of the week. That’s just a partial list, and all of these were major factors in first week of the 2023 spring break season.

In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s raw attendance or crowds–which have increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus. With that out of the way, let’s dig into the data and look at Walt Disney World wait times. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:

We’ll start with the weekly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.

The peak in early January was not New Year’s, but rather winter break and Marathon weekend. Following that, crowds mostly moderated until Presidents’ Day, before falling to their lowest levels of the year thus far in late February through the first 12 days or so of March 2023. Then spring break season arrived.

From one week to the next, crowd levels jumped from 3/10 to 9/10, with the average wait time increasing from 35 minutes to 48 minutes. With that said, this chart actually doesn’t tell the full story, as many of those weeks encompass busy and slow dates. So let’s look at the dailies…

This is a bit more useful, and it shows that wait times actually started falling in the second half of Central Florida’s spring break week and into the weekend. By Sunday (March 19, 2023), wait times had bottomed out at 31 minutes on average, for a 2/10 crowd level. That’s quite the contrast to the middle of the week, when crowd levels were 10/10 and 54-60 minutes on average.

What it is not quite the contrast to is Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras, when (literally) this exact same dynamic played out. At the time, we speculated that the Princess Half Marathon might’ve been playing a part, with runners less likely to visit the parks on the days of the big race. Now, we’re starting to wonder if a new trend is emerging. More on that in the commentary towards the end…

It’s mostly the same story at Magic Kingdom, which went from 9/10 or 10/10 crowd levels earlier in the week to 2/10 on Sunday. Worth noting that Tomorrowland closed early on 3/14, likely explaining the bulk of the one-day drop in the middle of the week.

I’d add that “feels like” crowds were mostly on par with these high numbers throughout the week. As with the wait times data, Saturday night into Sunday was the big exception, and that’s at least in part because “feels like” (and actual) temperatures plummeted. That alone can’t explain it all, though.

The daily data for EPCOT is particularly fascinating, with average wait times doubling and then being cut in half all in the span of a single week.

As always, EPCOT is the one park where what you see is not what you get. I was in the park for portions of a 9/10 and 10/10 day last week, also doing both Extended Evening Hours and Early Entry at EPCOT. My biggest takeaway? This isn’t so bad! 

However, that was my impression based on crowds and congestion, and not wait times. While clearly busy, EPCOT did not “feel” 9/10 or 10/10 levels of busy. That’s because EPCOT is the “local’s park” at Walt Disney World, with Floridians and Annual Passholders tending to do the park differently than tourists. (Meaning more wandering, and fewer attractions.) Many of the “wanderers” were blocked out last week, resulting in a lot less congestion–but higher wait times.

As is often the case during peak tourist times, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the worst park last week. It averaged 9/10 or 10/10 crowd levels for 5 straight days, with average wait times at or above 59 minutes each of those days. As with the other parks, DHS plummeted over the weekend.

My main takeaway with Disney’s Hollywood Studios was also this isn’t so bad! However, that was for a very different reason than EPCOT. Middle of the day, congestion and wait times were both awful at DHS. Despite that, crowds were still perfectly manageable in both the morning during Early Entry and after 6 pm. I keep expecting the latter to change, but this seems to be the new normal for DHS, even now that Fantasmic has returned. I’ll take it!

It’s a similar story at Animal Kingdom, with crowd levels surging in the middle of last week only to drop sharply over the weekend. With the fewest attractions that post wait times, Animal Kingdom is prone to the most pronounced swings in crowd levels. Colder weather over the weekend would’ve exaggerated this, as Kali River Rapids would’ve been posting a low wait time.

I spent the least time (by far) in Animal Kingdom last week. In part because it’s no longer open after dark (thanks a lot, DST!) and in part because it’s the least interesting or difficult from a crowds and strategy perspective. I was able to do every single ride in the park even on a busy day by 10 am, which actually isn’t that impressive of a feat.

Now let’s turn to the average attraction wait times for the month of March 2023 thus far:

Nothing all that surprising in terms of attraction wait times.

Slinky Dog dashed past Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but that’s happened before. Space Mountain also rocketed up the rankings, but that could be propelled by its downtime woes, leading to Lightning Lane logjams. Meet & greets in Magic Kingdom continued to fall into average territory, which is actually somewhat of a surprise for a busy tourist week–but it reinforces our approach to giving these lower priority in our Magic Kingdom Lightning Lane Rankings.

For those wondering how Walt Disney World’s wait times compare to Universal Orlando, the trend is about the same for mid-March 2023.

With that said, Orange County’s spring break outperformed other peak weeks this year at Universal Orlando, which is probably attributable to Universal Orlando’s Florida resident ticket deal not having blockout dates, meaning that more locals could choose Universal as a staycation option. That was our expectation going in, and is precisely how things played out.

Looking backwards, we’re actually slightly surprised that last week wasn’t even busier. The week as a whole was about on par with Orange County’s spring break last year, but I still expected another 10/10 day or two.

The bigger story is the way crowds fell off on Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps even this shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s the third straight time this has happened in 2023 following a busy week. The difference is that this is the first time it’s happened outside of a runDisney event. With those, it was easier to explain away or attribute the trend to the races themselves, or runners no longer having Annual Passes.

Three times is a trend, but even now, there are other externalities that could account for the drop. There were youth sporting events over the weekend, and it’s possible those participants did their park days disproportionately during the week rather than weekend.

It’s also possible that colder weather is a cause, as temperatures dropped sharply late Saturday and overnight into Sunday. Still, that would not explain the lower wait times during the day on Saturday, when the weather was warm and relatively mild. More frigid weather also typically does not dissuade tourists, only locals. The many scantily-clothed guests waiting alongside me for the bus from A.S.S. to MK yesterday morning are a testament to this.

Another big explanation is pricing. Airfare is up significantly, and those costs plus higher hotel rates for the weekend could’ve pushed tourists visiting for spring break to arrive on Sunday and leave on Friday or Saturday.

Obviously, Walt Disney World prices are up across the board, too, and it’s possible people are purchasing shorter-duration tickets as a result. (This is something we’ve been “investigating” for the last few weeks, and I have reason to believe this might be a growing factor.)

In all likelihood, all of these variables likely played parts in crowd levels being lower over the weekend. There’s likely even more that I’m failing to take into account, too. Sunday slowdowns following holidays are not uncommon, but the same hasn’t been the case for Saturdays in the past–nor are the drops usually this pronounced.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this continues to happen during upcoming holiday weeks and busier travel times. We might need to start updating our crowd calendars if this becomes the ‘new normal’ of attendance dynamics at Walt Disney World.

Looking forward, park reservations are green for the remainder of March 2023. This reinforces our prediction that the next two weeks would be a bit of a ‘sweet spot’ in the season in between the peak weeks of Orange County’s spring break and Easter.

Following that, both Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are fully booked for lead up to Easter. Reservations are booking up faster (and to a greater degree) than last week, so it’s entirely possible that Easter will end up being busier than Orange County’s spring break. That wasn’t our expectation going into this season, and it still may not be the case (park reservations are hardly conclusive), but it’s looking increasingly likely–especially after last week wasn’t quite as bad as anticipated.

Ultimately, it was a busy week in the parks, but not quite as bad as we expected–or at least, not for the full duration of the week. Our Spring Break 2023 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World predicted that this past week would be the worst of spring break, and I’m now willing to bet that our prediction will end up being wrong. The week leading up to Easter should surpass last week, but who knows–maybe there will be a similar decline in weekend crowds.

The next couple of weeks between now and then shouldn’t be too terrible, at least, not by spring break standards. It’ll still be nothing like early March, all of May, or September, but it won’t be peak season bad, either. Our expectation is wait time levels in the 7/10 to 8/10 range most days, which might sound (and look!) bad, but those are very much “beatable” crowds if you’re up early, out late, and utilize savvy strategy.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you visited Walt Disney World in March 2023? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably worse than the others? Did you find the past few days to be noticeably busier than the first half of the week or previous weekend? If you’ve visited in past weeks before spring break, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our crowd report? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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