Historic Slow Stretch For Disney World Crowds

Over a month has passed since the spring break season at Walt Disney World concluded. We are now a week away from the unofficial beginning of Summer 2023. In this article, we will delve into the latest data on wait times. Likewise, we provide insights on crowd patterns, speculate on upcoming visitor numbers, and more.

This article essentially builds on the post-spring break visitor trends that we previously discussed in our articles, “Walt Disney World: The Deceleration After Spring Break” and “Lower Crowd Numbers Before Summer at Walt Disney World.” Since then, there have been several updates. Notably, sales of new Annual Passes have resumed without interruption. Likewise, more discount options, such as the recent Florida resident ticket offer, have been made available.

During their recent earnings call, CFO Christine McCarthy gave a heads-up about an expected slowdown at Walt Disney World. We would see this in the following quarters, preparing investors for potential impact. The company also announced five significant enhancements at Walt Disney World for 2024 to attract bookings for the coming year. So, the trajectory should already be quite evident.

As always, the “crowd” reports we present are based on posted wait time data collected from My Disney Experience. We have it in graph form for easy tracking and comparison across various days, weeks, months, and years. Posted wait times can offer valuable insights, but they don’t necessarily indicate in-park congestion or crowds. Moreover, wait times do not reflect the “feel” of crowds or congestion.

In essence, wait times are an imperfect gauge of the crowd sizes at Walt Disney World, especially when comparing current conditions to previous years. Over the last decade or so, Walt Disney World has seen an increase in attendance by several million people. Hence, the majority of days in 2023 are likely to be busier than their counterparts in 2015 or 2017.

With that said, let’s delve into the data on Walt Disney World wait times.

All statistics and graphs are provided by Thrill-Data.com:

Let’s first examine the monthly data for Walt Disney World as a whole. With an average wait time of 30 minutes, May 2023 is this year’s least busy month – indeed, it’s the quietest month since October 2021!

While the month isn’t yet complete, it’s presently tracking 10 minutes lower on average than the previous month. Bear in mind that wait times dropped dramatically halfway through April (the average was 47 minutes until Easter), so the actual difference between spring break and the shoulder seasons is closer to an average of ~15 minutes. This equates to about an hour saved for every four attractions – a substantial difference.

(Considering the current upward trend in crowds and the expected slight surge for Memorial Day, we predict May 2023 will surpass last September by 1 minute – or perhaps they’ll tie. Regardless, it’s significantly lower than we had anticipated for this shoulder season!)

The graph above offers a look at weekly wait times. So far, this week’s rating is 2/10, with the five preceding weeks at 1/10. This 6-week period is slower than the “slow season” last August and September, which is almost inconceivable.

Now that we’ve showcased a couple of illustrative graphs, it’s time for a deeper dive into the ‘crowd context.’ Let’s examine the monthly graph for the post-reopening period:

The graph above may be slightly challenging to decipher, but it covers the period from July 2020 through October 2021. We’ve chosen this timeframe for two reasons. Firstly, it represents the last time Walt Disney World experienced crowd sizes as small as those seen from mid-April through May 2023.

Secondly, it helps to demonstrate how crowd sizes are relative. Note that the next month at Walt Disney World signals the unofficial beginning of Summer 2023. In this report, we’ll delve into recent data on wait times, contextualize crowd trends, and forecast probable visitor count fluctuations.

This analysis is a sequel to previous reports which noted post-spring break visitor trends and pre-summer crowds at Walt Disney World. Since those earlier articles, some developments have taken place. Notably, annual pass sales have resumed and remain ongoing, and additional discounts are now available, including a new ticket deal exclusive to Florida residents.

During a recent financial earnings call, Christine McCarthy, CFO of Disney, cautioned investors about a likely downturn in Walt Disney World, visitors in upcoming quarters. Simultaneously, the company unveiled plans for five significant enhancements to Walt Disney World, targeted for 2024, to attract future bookings. Given these updates, you may already understand where this narrative is headed.

The so-called “crowd” reports focus mainly on the wait time data collected from the My Disney Experience platform. We graphically represent this data for easy comparison across various periods. Though valuable, wait times aren’t the perfect representation of park congestion or crowd density. They also don’t reflect the “feel” of the crowds or crowdedness.

It’s important to note that comparing current crowd conditions to past years using wait times can be misleading. Over the past decade, Walt Disney World has seen an influx of several million visitors. Therefore, even on a day-to-day basis, 2023 is likely to be more crowded than equivalent days in 2015 or 2017.

Moving on, let’s analyze Walt Disney World’s wait times. As always, all statistics and visuals are provided by Thrill-Data.com:

Let’s begin by assessing the monthly figures for Walt Disney World. With an average wait time of 30 minutes, May 2023 is currently the least busy month of this year—indeed, it’s the quietest since October 2021.

As May draws to a close, it’s averaging 10 minutes less in wait times compared to April. Remember, wait times nosedived mid-April, with an average of 47 minutes till Easter. This highlights a stark contrast between the spring break and shoulder seasons, saving around an hour for every four attractions visited.

Considering the upward trend in crowds and a probable bump for Memorial Day, we forecast May 2023 will slightly edge out last September in wait times, which is lower than our shoulder season expectation!

The above chart presents weekly wait times. The current week scores 2/10, preceded by five weeks rating 1/10. This six-week stretch is slower than the previous year’s “slow season” in August and September, a surprisingly quiet period.

With these graphical presentations in place, it’s time to add some ‘crowd context.’ Let’s examine the monthly graph for the post reopening period:

The above graph may appear a bit complicated, but it encompasses the period from July 2020 through October 2021. We chose this timeframe for two reasons. First, it’s the last instance when Walt Disney World experienced such low crowds as witnessed from mid-April to May 2023.

Second, to highlight that crowd levels are relative. It’s worth noting that the scales in the two graphs differ. Crowd calendars are essentially rolling, comparing to the adjacent dates, not to the conditions in 1971 or 1993 or 2008. Such an approach would be impractical from a planning standpoint. Using older baselines, almost every single day in 2023 would be 10/10.

The crux is, if your last visit to Walt Disney World was in the post-reopening period or during the Great Recession or even 2017, your expectations and experiences would be significantly different from current conditions. What feels crowded now might have seemed desolate during the high season a few years ago, while a 5/10 day now could have rated a 9/10 back then.

On a positive note, despite the increased visitor count and wait times, Walt Disney World has also ramped up operations and efficiency, meaning you can still make the most of your visit. FastPass+ was replaced by the Disney Genie+ service, which allows for better ride scheduling and reduces time spent in lines. Similarly, mobile food ordering and check-in services help save precious time.

Besides, Disney’s calendar is full of various festivals, parades, and special events that add more entertainment and experiences to your visit, apart from the rides. The newly launched Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser offers an immersive two-night adventure that is unique and spectacular, though it does come with a hefty price tag.

As per our forecast for June 2023, it’s likely to be a moderately crowded month, with more visitors arriving as schools break for summer vacations. Typically, June has an average crowd level of 6/10, which might bump up to 7/10 this year, given the increasing travel trend post-pandemic. We recommend planning your visit during weekdays to avoid the weekend rush and leveraging Disney Genie+ to make the most of your time.

So, even though the visitor count has increased compared to the past, with good planning and utilization of Disney’s services, you can still have a magical experience at Walt Disney World. You can use these tools in the future.

In conclusion, it’s worth repeating: crowd levels and wait times are relative. And so are experiences. The key is to manage expectations, make good use of the resources available. Above all, enjoy the magic that is Walt Disney World. No matter how crowded it is, the charm and allure of this wonderland remain as enchanting as ever.

We will continue monitoring trends and will be back with a mid-summer report to provide further insights. Until then, enjoy your visit to Walt Disney World.

Learn more by subscribing to the Parks Academy podcast. Thanks for reading!

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