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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Winter Crowds Warmth Up at Disney World as Worst Weeks Arrive


It’s been a busy winter at Walt Disney World–a development that’ll solely worsen with the arrival of what’s more likely to be the 2 most crowded weeks. This wait occasions report shares information for January and February 2024, our observations, plus surprises we’re seeing to date and the way this compares with the final two years.

As lined in final month’s crowd report, Winter (Nonetheless) Is Not Off-Season at Walt Disney World, it’s been a surprisingly busy begin to the yr. Since round 2018, winter has had actually excessive highs and comparatively low lows. The busier dates have been pushed by college breaks, runDisney races, youth sporting occasions at ESPN Vast World of Sports activities, and only a basic improve of holiday makers fleeing to Florida to flee chilly climate at residence.

The sluggish dates have been resulting from kind of the alternative of that. College going again into session (and proximity to different breaks, making mother and father much less more likely to pull youngsters out of faculty), total decrease inbound traveler numbers to Florida versus milder months, lulls within the occasion schedule, and many others. At the same time as Walt Disney World crowd ranges had elevated as a complete for winter, there have been nonetheless candy spots for visiting.

Accordingly, we anticipated there to be some nice dates to go to in January and February 2024. As long as planners didn’t go in anticipating completely ‘lifeless’ parks with crowd ranges on par with what they was once previous to Winter 2018 (or 2021, which was an anomaly), it’d be a superb time to go to.

Between regular traits and the expectation that the exhaustion of pent-up demand would push crowds even decrease year-over-year as in comparison with January and February 2023, there appeared like just a few good to nice weeks to go to this winter. It’s now secure to say that was some extent of incorrect. Crowds have been heating up over the course of the final month-plus, and that development is just more likely to worsen with what are traditionally two of the worst occasions to go to now arriving.

As all the time, what’s lined in these “crowd” studies is definitely posted wait time information that’s pulled from My Disney Expertise and compiled into graphs for monitoring and evaluating varied days, weeks, months, and years. Rather a lot will be gleaned from posted wait occasions, nevertheless it’s not essentially conclusive of in-park congestion or crowds.

There are a number of different variables that may affect “appears like” crowds, from festivals at EPCOT to climate to visitor demographics to journey breakdowns to operational effectivity to time of day or day of the week. (Actually all the things on that listing can be related in Winter 2024 to this point!) Yada yada yada…that’s only a partial listing! Past that, wait occasions are sometimes inflated, inaccurate, or in any other case manipulated by Walt Disney World.

In brief, wait occasions are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s uncooked attendance or crowds–which have elevated by a number of million folks over the course of the final decade-plus. With that out of the way in which, let’s dig into the info and have a look at Walt Disney World wait occasions. As all the time, all graphs and stats are courtesy of thrill-data.com:

We’ll begin with a high-level have a look at the month-to-month numbers for Walt Disney World as a complete.

The final three months don’t look horrible for those who’re wanting on the first half of the graph, which has numerous purple. These months are “solely” orange. Nevertheless, that first half is the guts of “revenge journey” and ended up being the worst yr ever for Walt Disney World when it comes to wait occasions.

If you happen to look as an alternative at now versus final Could by way of November, you may see a pointy distinction–the parks have been a lot busier within the final 3 months. (Actually extra like 2.5 months, since December 2023 began sluggish however the final two weeks greater than made up for that.)

The weekly crowd degree view makes  the variations simpler to identify. The week between Christmas Eve and New Yr’s Eve was off the charts–barely busier than the identical week year-over-year. The next week that encompasses winter break was nonetheless actually dangerous, however not fairly as dangerous as final yr. That’s partly a matter of timing, although; this yr’s vacation breaks ended earlier.

If you happen to have a look at the weeks since then, there was actually just one sluggish week and one reasonable week. The final three weeks have been above-average. Actually, the final 5 weeks of January and February 2024 have all been busier than the identical weeks final yr.

Which may not seem to be a giant deal, nevertheless it actually is. Pent-up demand was nonetheless going sturdy final yr by way of Spring Break, after which level it fell off a cliff. The wait occasions weren’t as dangerous as 2022, however they had been nonetheless elevated. After Spring Break, each week was slower year-over-year in 2023.

That’s why we anticipated barely decrease ranges in early 2024–as a result of these dates had been likewise “lapping” the pent-up demand interval. As an alternative, they’ve been busier. (We anticipated January 28 to February 3, 2024 to be among the best weeks of the yr. Even for those who hit Magic Kingdom on January 29 and the opposite parks on their optimum days, that also would not have been true!)

Above is a have a look at the every day numbers over the course of the final yr.

Though no days the previous few weeks have been even remotely on par with the weeks of Christmas, New Yr’s, and even the ultimate week of vacation break–however that’s by no means the case. These are off-the-charts dangerous, to the purpose that they distort crowd ranges for extra regular occasions of the yr.

A greater comparability is to final yr’s summer season trip or fall break. The final three weeks have been busier than any time in the course of the summer season vacationer season, with many dates on par with the briefer however dangerous fall break window. Winter has additionally been a lot busier than the lulls throughout November or December. In brief, it’s been busier than we’d count on this time of yr to be–and that’s earlier than the mid-winter break crowds actually begin to arrive in full power.

We’ll begin the park-by-park information with Magic Kingdom, the place crowd ranges have largely normalized after a number of consecutive months of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Social gathering and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Social gathering dates throughout which there’s a “porcupine sample” to attendance and wait occasions. Nonetheless, there have been a few half-dozen dates this yr which were fairly quiet.

A few of these are usually not straightforward to clarify–and are probably a matter of journey refurbishments & breakdowns, climate, and the adjustments to park reservations and hopping guidelines. This was my expertise with Magic Kingdom final month, with plenty of downtime (each deliberate and unplanned) plus climate inflicting much more unpredictability than regular.

On a constructive word, not less than for anybody who heeded our recommendation, January 29, 2024 was uncrowded. That was the day that the park closed at 4:30 p.m. for a Forged Member recognition occasion. This occurs each January, and normally is among the 5 least-busy days of the yr in consequence. And to this point, that’s correct–nevertheless it was busier than the identical date final yr and there’s a decent-enough likelihood that Social gathering Season dates in August and September might be even slower. So even January 29, sluggish because it was, really exceeded expectations.

Predictably, it additionally precipitated a ripple impact for adjoining dates and different parks. So for those who had been at Walt Disney World that week and didn’t do Magic Kingdom on January 29, the diploma to which the sooner closing displaced crowds negatively impacted you.

Animal Kingdom is coming off its vacation highs, when wait occasions had been completely off-the-charts. If crowd ranges weren’t capped at 10/10, these dates between Christmas and New Yr’s Eve would’ve been like 15/10–they had been that a lot larger than the conventional 10/10 vary.

Wait occasions had been manageable post-winter break, however there was a spike for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day vacation weekend and several other different dates have hit 9/10 or 10/10 crowd ranges. This consists of the aforementioned crowd displacement on January 29, in addition to February 3, which was a really terrible day for DAK.

I used to be in Animal Kingdom for 2 of these 9/10 days final month, and so they had been dangerous. Shockingly so, to the purpose that I used to be shocked they had been “solely” 9/10. If my expertise was consultant, I’d count on 7/10 and eight/10 crowd ranges there to be fairly depressing, too. This included lengthy waits for points of interest that always are simpler to perform, such because the stage exhibits having precise strains and Lightning Lanes being precious at them. Ditto Dinosaur and Kilimanjaro Safaris, which had overflow queues spilling far out their attraction entrances together with triple-digit waits. (Kilimanjaro having 90+ minute waits is just not essentially irregular, however that being an all-day factor isn’t.)

Then there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After colossal crowds all through the vacation season, it’s now averaging low-to-moderate crowd ranges (within the 3/10 to six/10 vary).

It’s uncertain that any first-timers to the park would “agree” with the info. Hollywood Studios is disagreeable when wait occasions are “solely” reasonable–it’s downright depressing at 10/10. DHS merely can’t take up elevated attendance, and “appears like” crowds will be fairly dangerous as soon as the gang degree is at 6/10 or above.

Additionally, the baseline is larger. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is averaging 44 minutes per attraction for 4/10 crowd ranges the previous few weeks. That’s nonetheless a lot worse than Magic Kingdom’s ~31 minute vary, which is because of a disproportionate variety of headliners at DHS and never sufficient ‘small stuff’ that doesn’t draw as lengthy of waits.

It additionally doesn’t assist that Rock ‘n’ Curler Coaster is closed for refurbishment and it appears like a number of breakdowns happen at different points of interest all through the day. Early Entry or nighttime stay the best methods to “beat” DHS, adopted by (or alongside) Lightning Lanes.

Persevering with to EPCOT, the place crowd ranges are formally excessive with weekly common crowd ranges of seven/10 to eight/10 for the final 3 weeks.

That will not appear terrible, however exterior of Christmas and New Yr’s, this has been the worst 3-week stretch at EPCOT since final Spring Break season. Not solely that, nevertheless it’s necessary to emphasise that that is competition season, and there’s a niche between crowd ranges as represented by journey wait occasions and crowd ranges as represented by congestion or, say, the common size of a line for a Meals Studio at Competition of the Arts.

As a reminder, nothing at EPCOT’s festivals has a posted wait time, so this congestion is just not “picked up” by crowd ranges. That means that locals displaying up, wandering round, grazing the meals cubicles, having fun with artwork and leisure, however NOT doing a single attraction contribute to congestion however not to crowd ranges.

Locals and Annual Passholders at EPCOT are worse for crowdedness, as they’re just about all the time in walkways and never in standby strains. Name it the “EPCOT Impact” or no matter, nevertheless it’s noticeable at this park greater than any of the others. Anyway, it was an objectively dangerous 3-week stretch at EPCOT, however subjectively, I’m certain it felt even worse. (There must be a secondary crowd calendar for EPCOT that merely counts automobiles within the parking zone–a number of days in the previous few weeks concerned grass parking, which might mainly be a ten/10 on that scale.)

Finally, how dangerous this winter has been to date at Walt Disney World relies upon upon just a few elements: whether or not you went instantly after Marathon Weekend within the one (1) lull, which days you probably did every park, and expectations–had been you anticipating low season or above-average crowds, or one thing in between. Whereas there have been alternatives to beat the crowds and luxuriate in a close to low season (extra like shoulder season) expertise, these choices have been restricted.

On stability and as a complete, our view is that this winter has been worse than anticipated. As an alternative of continuous the development of pent-up demand dying down additional, January and February 2024 have largely reversed course. Probably the most noteworthy a part of this crowd report is that the final 5 weeks of January and February 2024 have all been busier than the identical weeks final yr. Whenever you mix that with our expectation that crowds would drop barely this winter as in comparison with final, there’s a major predictions vs. actuality hole.

Whereas it’s nonetheless too early to name this a development that’ll proceed for the remainder of the yr, it’s worrisome. As mentioned just lately in Why Are Walt Disney World Resorts Bought Out in 2024?, Go to Orlando has reported that resort bookings for 2024 are already outpacing final yr by over 5%, and advance airline ticket gross sales into Orlando are additionally up within the first quarter of 2024 by roughly 10%.

These numbers are usually not conclusive of upper attendance at Walt Disney World, however they definitely aren’t constructive indicators for anybody hoping for decrease crowd ranges. (Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that Disney itself didn’t focus on forward-looking occupancy or attendance for Walt Disney World on final week’s earnings name; silence normally means it’s not constructive–if it had been, they’d brag about it.)

In any case, what we is likely to be seeing is a normalization or slight ‘reverberation’ after the pent-up demand of 2022. That 2023 was the ‘off’ yr for households that go to semi-frequently, and so they’re returning in 2024. Fears of a recession are diminishing, client confidence is bettering, reductions are getting higher, and insurance policies are returning nearer to pre-closure norms.

All of this might lead to a bounce-back yr for Walt Disney World. Or that the corporate is doing what’s essential to incentivize followers to return, pulling the proper “levers,” and many others. That might all imply that Walt Disney World’s numbers are usually not “boast-worthy” on the corporate’s earnings calls, however are trending again upwards after a sluggish ~8 months from mid-April by way of mid-December of final yr.

No matter occurs within the medium time period over the course of 2024, we’re fairly assured that, within the close to time period, February 2024 solely will get worse from right here. As we’ve warned earlier than, all bets are off as soon as Mardi Gras, Presidents’ Day, and Princess Half Marathon Weekend roll round. (See Mardi Gras Crowds at Disney World and Keep away from Ski Week Crowds at Disney for extra.)

Mardi Gras is right here now, and there isn’t a lot of a reprieve till round February 26, 2024 in any case of these different breaks and occasions finish. Genie+ costs have already shot up, with the Magic Kingdom and Park Hopper choices each priced at $29 since Friday, which is the very best they’ve been since January 4. We count on these costs to extend additional subsequent week, together with crowd ranges.

That quantities to over 2 weeks of elevated attendance, which may very well be sufficient to push common wait occasions for February 2024 as a complete excessive sufficient that this finally ends up being the worst month since 2022. (It’s solely 2 minutes away proper now.) Suffice to say, we aren’t predicting the second half of February to be the low season at Walt Disney World…however then once more, we by no means had been. The subsequent two weeks had been all the time anticipated to be dangerous–the one actual query was and is: how dangerous?!

Planning a Walt Disney World journey? Find out about resorts on our Walt Disney World Motels Evaluations web page. For the place to eat, learn our Walt Disney World Restaurant Evaluations. To save cash on tickets or decide which kind to purchase, learn our Suggestions for Saving Cash on Walt Disney World Tickets put up. Our What to Pack for Disney Journeys put up takes a novel have a look at intelligent objects to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Journey Guides will assist. For complete recommendation, the perfect place to begin is our Walt Disney World Journey Planning Information for all the things it’s worthwhile to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What has your expertise been with crowds at Walt Disney World to this point in Winter 2024? Have you ever been shocked by the wait occasions or congestion in January or February? Have you ever encountered ‘lifeless’ days throughout this time? Do you agree or disagree with our tackle the crowds? If you happen to visited WDW throughout January or February 2018-2020, what was your expertise with wait occasions then (versus now)? Any questions we may help you reply? Listening to suggestions about your experiences is each attention-grabbing to us and useful to different readers, so please share your ideas under within the feedback!



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