Winter is no longer the sleepy off-season it once was at Walt Disney World, but wait times have dropped–in some cases, quite dramatically–from their holiday highs. This crowd report shares recent data, thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with attendance levels between now and Spring Break, and which dates will end up being the busiest.
As has been the case since 2018, winter is really a ‘tale of two seasons’ at Walt Disney World. There are peaks and valleys, with really high highs and relatively low lows. Obviously, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are peak weeks–everyone knows that. But it’s not simply slow between then and Spring Break, and hasn’t been for several years.
This year, the holiday highs continued until Central Florida school districts went back into session and the Walt Disney World Marathon ended. This was also predictable, and most fans know that week-plus has gotten bad. However, it was unprecedentedly crowded this year. So, how have crowds been since then? 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 can impact “feels like” crowds, from festivals at EPCOT to weather to guest demographics to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency to time of day or day of the week. And that’s just a partial list! Beyond that, wait times can be manipulated by Walt Disney World. They’re often inflated, or otherwise inaccurate.
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 monthly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.
This is most interesting if you compare this January and February to the same months last year. Notice January was much busier this year and February, thus far, is much less busy? Before drawing any premature conclusions, take a look at the next graph…
If we break this down by week, the differences should be easier to spot. When it comes to this January, the post-NYE winter break crowds were off the charts (well, not literally). By contrast, that first week of January was trending downward as compared to the holidays last year.
As for February, the key difference there is that Presidents’ Day has not yet happened this year. That was the big spike last year, and skewed crowd levels upwards for the entire month. Otherwise, it would’ve been a relatively moderate winter. Just like this year.
Above is a look at the daily numbers over the course of the last 6 months.
This illustrates the degree of the “slowdown,” which is on par with the early December lull. Still not nearly as good as the lows of last September, though. Slowdown receives air quotes because wait times are only slightly below average, and there’s a good chance those visiting this time of year were anticipating even lower numbers.
We’ll start the park-by-park data with Magic Kingdom, where crowd levels have normalized this year after several consecutive months of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party dates.
January 31 is the anomaly, registering a 14 minute average wait time. Whether that was due to a spontaneous grassroots boycott or the 4:30 pm park closing time that day is anyone’s guess. One thing worth pointing out here is that the days before and after had 30+ minute average waits. As we’ve said time and time again, you come out ahead with the shorter hours by virtue of the time saved (not) waiting in line. Counterintuitive as it might sound, take the shorter hours!
Above are attraction wait times for the month to date at Magic Kingdom.
Really not many surprises here. The one wildcard was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and whether it’d spike or fall with the closure of Splash Mountain. In actuality, it has not materially changed. Jungle Cruise is finally returning to reality, at least for now. Lots of meet & greets on this list again, which is nice to see. Even if you don’t do them, they add capacity and help absorb crowds–especially important when a headliner is down for almost 2 years and the next new ride has not yet officially opened.
Continuing to EPCOT, where crowd levels have fallen back to earth after their stratospheric highs over the holiday season. Lots of 3/10 days, but also a scattering of 6/10 and above ones in there, too.
The big thing this illustrates is just how differently tourists and locals “do” EPCOT. Attendance is not low at EPCOT right now–far from it. In fact, the “feels like” crowds are particularly bad at times, owing to the ever-increasing popularity of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts.
However, nothing at EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts has a posted wait time, and that’s what the above graph measures. Meaning that locals showing up, wandering around, grazing the food booths, enjoying art and entertainment, but NOT doing a single attraction contribute to crowds but not to crowd levels. Paradoxically, these people are probably worse for crowdedness, as they’re pretty much always in walkways and not in standby lines. Call it the “EPCOT Effect” or whatever, but it’s noticeable at this park more than any of the others.
When looking at attraction wait times, there are no surprises at EPCOT, either.
The top trio of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, and Test Track are all at or above an hour, but everything else has been mostly manageable. Give this a few more days and Soarin’ Around the World and Mission: Space will join the list of hour-plus average wait times.
Animal Kingdom is also coming off its holiday highs, with more manageable wait times in the last month-plus. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend was also busy, but not nearly as bad as Christmas break.
After a quieter couple of weeks, wait times appear to be trending up again. The last several days have been in the 8/10 range, which is interesting and a bit surprising. These numbers will get worse, but that shouldn’t happen until the end of this week and the weekend.
As with the other parks, individual ride wait times are almost exactly what we’d expect.
Avatar Flight of Passage is almost off the chart, followed not-so-closely by Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris. As always, this is the park where it’s easiest to beat the crowds if you simply arrive early or stay late. Just don’t do what everyone else does, which is roll up late, do rides during the middle of the day when wait times are at their absolute worst, before bouncing early.
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is a pretty similar story to Animal Kingdom, albeit with a more pronounced spike for MLK Day weekend. As with DAK, crowds also have increased and held steady for the last week at DHS.
During that time, average wait times have ranged from 44 to 50 minutes. I wouldn’t expect averages to fall back below 40 minutes until early May. In the next week, averages will likely spike to over 60 minutes again, if not worse.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where the individual attraction wait times are the worst and the averages on the prior daily graph are arguably deceptive. This is because several shows skew the average down thanks to ~10 minute posted wait times. Meanwhile, there are more headliners with 60+ minute waits than any other park.
Speaking of which, Tower of Terror remains high on the list due to one of the elevator shafts being out of service (again). Expect that to change this week, as it’s back to full capacity ahead of the busy break season. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Slinky Dog Dash will both surpass it, and it’s possible that a couple other attractions will, too.
Finally, let’s take a look at how all of this compares to Universal Orlando.
The most striking thing to me about this graph is the degree to which Universal’s parks follow seasonal attendance trends and tourism data. Conventional wisdom is that Universal has gained market share among Floridians as they’ve catered to locals more aggressively and actually sell Annual Passes. This has been the dominant narrative and, frankly, one I bought and advanced in the year following the reopening.
However, the wait time data and trends starting at the beginning of last year no longer support that position. This isn’t to say Universal Orlando is underperforming or anything of the sort, but if you’re expecting Universal to overtake Disney, you might want to adjust your expectations. That is, unless you’re using a Yogi Berra-ism to explain Disney’s downfall: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Aside from that, not a particularly interesting or illuminating wait times and crowd report. Aside from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, things have been pretty uneventful since school went back into session in the second week of January. The last several weeks have mostly been in the slightly below to slightly above average range–meaning pretty moderate crowds across the board.
This has been almost exactly on par with last year. In fact, the average weekly wait times are within a few minutes of last year’s numbers. Again, that likely slightly understates the ‘feels like’ crowd levels, especially at EPCOT. Nevertheless, that is also consistent from year to year, as winter is a time that draws locals to the parks.
This is good news and a ‘nature is healing’ report from the perspective of crowd calendars. After a couple years of unpredictability (or at least less predictability) due to cancellations, reservations, pent-up demand, and other abnormalities, this winter has settled into a very predictable pattern. It’s bad news from the perspective of crowd reports, as there’s very little that’s truly interesting here. (I’ve been putting off writing one of these for the last several weeks because I figured it’d be a dull one based on the data, but figured I should do it before the craziness kicks off…)
Speaking of which, it’s pretty safe to predict that this coming week will be busier than last week. Another not-so-bold prediction is that the upcoming weekend will be busier than the weekend that just concluded…and that the week following that will be really bad, too. As a reminder, this is the confluence of Presidents’ Day, Mardi Gras, Princess Half Marathon, and a couple youth sporting events at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
We recently highlighted just how bad this will be in the Worst Week of Winter is Coming at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, this will be the busiest week of the first quarter and could be one of the 5 worst weeks of 2023–right up there with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and the peak of spring break.
With that said, I am surprised by the Disney Park Pass situation. Currently, the only yellow day is this coming Friday, with only Magic Kingdom being unavailable. I thought for sure more of those days would fill up at MK and DHS by now, if not due to organic demand, as a result of Disney’s desire to redistribute attendance.
That’s one positive that we’ve seen over the last couple months–Walt Disney World has not been utilizing Park Pass to normalize attendance across all 4 parks. This is something we observed even last August and September, when crowd levels were at their lowest. I’m curious what prompted the change. Could be staffing, guest satisfaction, or lost business as a result of trying to “force” people to visit certain parks. Perhaps a combination of the above.
Regardless, this trend should put us one step closer to Walt Disney World retiring reservations for everyone except APs, or perhaps for all dates except peak holiday weeks. If next week stays green–or even yellow–the Park Pass system arguably has served its purpose and is no longer needed for all guests or dates.
Nevertheless, our prediction is that the average wait time exceeds 50 minutes next week, and probably ends up around 52-55 minutes. That would put the overall crowd level at 10/10, and on the higher side of that. To put that into perspective, last week average 39 minutes, which exactly average–5/10 on the crowd calendar.
A difference of +11 minutes may not seem like much, but it’s huge over the course of the entire day. (Those extra minutes also disproportionately impact popular attractions, since shows often don’t increase at all.) For the average guest, that amounts to an extra couple of hours spent standing in lines per day or, more likely, fewer high-profile attractions accomplished.
More so than normal, we highly recommend beating the crowds as best as possible by utilizing Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, rope drop, etc. We cover the best & worst approach for each park in Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World. If you’re only going to read one planning post, make it that. There are great ways to beat the crowds–even on busy days–without buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes.
Ultimately, we are expecting this week to become increasingly busy, but still nothing as compared to the upcoming weekend and week that follows. It’s really not a matter of “if” it’s crowded, but rather, how high the wait times get. Will this surpass winter break as the busiest week of 2023 so far? Will it end up being worse than the peak of spring break? One of the 5 worst weeks of the year?
As a reminder, Presidents’ Day week last year ended up being tied, wait time-wise, with Orange County’s Spring Break. Those weeks were not dethroned as the busiest of the year until Christmas and New Year’s (even Thanksgiving wasn’t as bad). That was without Presidents’ Day coinciding with Mardi Gras, suggesting that this year could be even worse. Whether it ends up being the busiest of the year remains to be seen, but we’re guessing it ends up being in the top 5.
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Predictions on crowds for the rest of February 2023 and Spring Break? If you’ve visited this winter season, what was your perception of “feels like” crowds? Do you think it’s been a return to the off-season of years past, or virtually indistinguishable from busier holiday timeframes? Thoughts on our predictions? Agree or disagree with anything here? If you’ve visited in prior months during the last year, how did crowds compare between then and now? What did you think of the wait times? Any parks or times of day noticeably worse than the others? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our 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!