Colossal Christmas Crowds Cap Off Disney World’s Busiest Year Ever!

It has been an insanely busy couple of weeks at Walt Disney World. Wait times and crowds reached their highest levels of the entire year in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. File that under least surprising news ever. 

This crowd report shares data not just from the holiday season, but the entire year at Walt Disney World. Given the predictable nature of peak holiday attendance, it’s not worth fixating on that too much. Still, it’s interesting to look at this year’s holiday highs versus lulls, and this Christmas and New Year’s Eve as compared to the last several. The holiday season hasn’t been this bad in a while, nor has the contrast between the lows and highs been as pronounced.

Of course, there’s also shock value in sharing that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance had nearly a 6-hour posted wait time this morning (January 2, 2023), or that Avatar Flight of Passage clocked in at 4 hours on New Year’s Eve. Or that if you opted to visit during the week of New Year’s, not only would you be paying the highest prices of the year on tickets and hotels–but you’d also be encountering 20+ attractions with wait times over an hour. We’re not surprised by this since it’s happened before…but it’s still a bit startling!

Beyond those eye-popping wait times, there actually is value in pointing out that this holiday season represented the first normal one since 2019 in terms of crowd dynamics. So really, those claiming that it’s “always” like this during Christmas and New Year’s would be wrong if looking at the two most recent years before this one.

In fact, last New Year’s Eve was only a 7/10 on the crowd calendar, easily surpassed by Thanksgiving and the following Presidents Day. Then there’s the New Year’s Eve before that, which is barely worth mentioning because there was no celebration to speak of and operations were heavily modified.

From our perspective, this holiday season being significantly busier than the last two years is not the notable aspect of the story. Rather, it’s the normalization of crowds, which have been falling back into more predictable patterns over the course of the last several months. In a way, this is good news, as it makes our 2023 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars more useful.

This is despite Disney Park Pass reservations remaining in place and being used in an attempt to redistribute crowds among the 4 parks. They also limit attendance to some extent, but that aspect of the reservation system is now largely overblown–it’s more about manipulating crowds and pushing more people to Animal Kingdom and EPCOT than it is limiting overall attendance.

The bad news is that crowd levels normalized at their highest level ever last year. One of the things we’ve been monitoring in our crowd reports for the last few months is whether 2022 would surpass 2019 as the year with the highest posted wait times in the history of Walt Disney World.

Well, it did. As you can see from the graph below (all graphs and stats are courtesy of, 2022 ended up claiming that crown thanks to incredibly heavy crowds to conclude December.

Up until the start of the holiday season, 2022 had been 1 minute behind 2019. It ended up finishing two minutes ahead, with an average wait time of 41 minutes. That’s across all attractions and all days of the year, with perpetual walk-ons at low profile rides offsetting the hour-plus wait times for popular headliners.

(Disregard the towering red bar that represents 2023; the year is only two days old, both of which are part of the peak holiday season. By late January, that bar will be well below last year or 2019. That’s not to say it won’t be another record-setter, just that it’s premature to draw any conclusions on the second day of the year!)

This does not necessarily mean last year was the most-crowded or attended in the history of Walt Disney World–just that it had the highest posted wait times. That’s for several reasons.

First, capacity still has not been fully restored; this may seem like a minor one, and it is now, but that was not the case earlier in the year when meet & greets, stage shows, and Fantasmic were all absent or heavily modified. Second, regular park hours have been reduced by several hours per day in Magic Kingdom; more people are concentrated into fewer operating hours, effectively exacerbating wait times.

Third, maintenance has gotten worse and ride breakdowns have become more frequent; with more attractions not operating, wait times get worse everywhere else. Finally, posted wait times are inflated; this has always been an issue, but it sure seems like it has gotten worse in the era of Lightning Lanes. (Disney is effectively incentivized to inflate them to push paid FastPass.)

As a result of all of this, my bet would be that 2019 still beat last year in terms of raw attendance numbers. There’s absolutely no way of proving that, but the totality of the circumstances and various capacity reductions lead me to believe that it’s probably true. (Walt Disney World also added 3 of its highest wait time rides since 2019, thereby skewing the numbers higher.)

It’ll be interesting to see how crowds continue at Walt Disney World in 2023. For our part, we’ve been expecting a slowdown to some extent, with improving capacity coinciding with decreased demand. There’s a chance this holiday season is the “last hurrah” for travel pent-up demand. As that starts to fizzle out, household savings decrease, inflation stings more, and the economy slows down, it seems increasingly likely that Walt Disney World will experience its own slowdown.

However, that might be an overly optimistic outlook. Admittedly, we really want to see more manageable crowds and better discounts return–or at least for Disney to slow down the unsustainable pace of price increases, which could pose long-term reputational problems.

It’s entirely possible that consumer spending patterns were forever changed by COVID, with more emphasis on experiences than possessions. It’s also possible that recession fears are overblown, and American consumers will be more resilient than economists fear (multiple airline CEOs have said their forward bookings are strong).

Then there’s also the fact that Disney still has levers to pull–bringing back Annual Passes, eliminating park reservations, and better special offers–all of which could sustain or even grow crowds for yet another year in 2023. If there is a slowdown, it’s a foregone conclusion that some or all of those levers will be pulled. What’s less clear is whether that’ll be enough to exceed Walt Disney World’s record-breaking 2022.

It’ll be interesting to follow crowds, special offers, and other announcements throughout 2023 to see how things play out. For now, let’s dig into the data and quickly look at Walt Disney World wait times during the (still ongoing) holiday season…

Above is weekly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.

The final bar is this week, which just started but is nevertheless the worst of the holiday season. New Year’s week was unsurprisingly busier than Christmas, which is typically the case. This year, it was even more pronounced due to both holidays falling on the weekend–pushing people towards trips between Christmas and NYE, rather than more evenly distributed before both weeks.

With that said, Christmas was no slouch. It was still the 3rd busiest week of 2022, surpassing Thanksgiving, Presidents’ Day, and the peak of Spring Break.

Breaking it down by day, and it becomes clear just how bad the last couple of weeks have been.

Another thing that should be obvious is that the entire holiday season is not equally busy. Some fans who visit during the lulls claim that those stretches are now heavily crowded. Relative to the actual peaks, that is not true. Visiting during the non-holiday weeks of November or December would’ve meant encountering average waits of 35-37 minutes, versus 52-67 minutes during the peaks. It should go without saying, but that is a huge difference.

We’ll start the park-by-park data with Magic Kingdom, which has concluded its porcupine impression for party season. The holiday highs were actually not as bad as many non-party days in November or December, but the key distinction is that the Christmas and NYE crowds were sustained. You couldn’t simply beat them by visiting on a MVMCP day.

Some of you have asked about it, and we do not expect that pattern to repeat itself on After Hours at Magic Kingdom dates. If anything, the mix-in hours with event and day guests could actually make those dates slightly worse. It definitely won’t be anything like MNSSHP or MVMCP days, as the park doesn’t close as early for After Hours as for those events.

Continuing to EPCOT, where wait times in the last two weeks of December more than doubled those earlier in the month.

As always, “feels like” crowds at EPCOT–especially in World Showcase–are always worse on weekends, evenings, and holidays. This means that even though the crowd level dropped on New Year’s Eve, congestion did not. That’s because many people visited EPCOT on NYE for the dance parties and fireworks, and not the rides. As always, everything here uses wait times as a proxy for crowds–this demonstrates how that can be an imperfect measure.

Similar story at Animal Kingdom, which had several of its busiest days of the last 4 years in the last two weeks.

Animal Kingdom is always the park with the highest highs and lowest lows, in large part because it has fewer rides than the other parks. That means it can be “overwhelmed” by the highest crowd levels, as there isn’t enough for all of those people to do…except stand in line, apparently. (The good news, as always, is that Animal Kingdom is also the most “beatable” park; simply arrive early or stay late.)

Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Similar story there as to Animal Kingdom, with DHS being even more “top heavy” due to so many headliner rides and so few smaller-scale ones. (At least it also has stage shows, which don’t have posted wait times but are something to do.)

Thus far, today is the busiest day of the holiday season at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Earlier this morning, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance hit a 320 minute posted wait time. It’s “only” 190 minutes right now, though!

For those wondering why Walt Disney World is still so busy, it’s because the holiday season isn’t over yet. Longtime fans might recall when New Year’s Day was the start of the winter off-season. That hasn’t been the case for over a decade.

Wait times will remain elevated for the next week due to the Walt Disney World Marathon, which is the most popular runDisney event of the year, and will really start drawing attendees in the next couple of days. Osceola and Orange County schools are also still on winter break, as are other districts around the country. On top of that, all Walt Disney World Annual Pass tiers are now allowed into the theme parks for the first time in weeks after holiday blockouts expired today for the two lowest levels of two passes.

This is not a new development by any means, but more aggressive AP blockouts have changed the dynamic in the last several years. (We saw the same thing happen in early 2019 and 2020, with crowds growing in the week after New Year’s.)

Looking forward, Disney Park Pass availability is limited throughout the remainder of this week. Interestingly, the weekend is wide open. That could be indicative of WDW Marathon participants not visiting the parks on those days, other holiday travelers heading home, more reservation inventory, or a combination of all three and more.

Regardless, there is not a single date after January 7, 2023 that is yellow or grey on the calendar. It’s a sea of green–at least, for now. 

Ultimately, our expectation is that holiday crowds will not truly relent until next week. In the meantime, expect varying degrees of insanely busy at Walt Disney World until January 9, 2023. Starting that day, we might just see another true stretch of winter off-season for about a month.

In fact, that’s precisely our expectation: that January 9, 2023 through February 16, 2023 will be among the least busy dates of the year (minus the MLK holiday weekend) at Walt Disney World. To be sure, this winter off-season won’t be “dead” by historical standards, but it should be the best time to visit since mid-August through September of last year. Just keep in mind that contemporary crowds are worse than historic ones–so if you’re one of the people who found last winter or fall to be “too crowded,” you will undoubtedly feel the same way about these Winter 2023 dates.

Oh, and all bets are off heading into the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. We keep raising this red flag, and it’s because so many underestimate the crowds that “minor” holiday brings to Walt Disney World. It was the 5th busiest week of last year, and could be even worse in 2023 due to the holiday coinciding with Mardi Gras, which is also a busy week. On the plus side, perhaps Walt Disney World will recognize how bad that week is going to be, and move the “Spring 2023” opening of TRON Lightcycle Run forward to help absorb crowds. We aren’t holding our breath, but it’d be nice!

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!


Predictions on Walt Disney World crowds for the rest of 2023? Surprised that last year ended up having higher wait times than 2019, or is that exactly what you expected based on “feels like” crowds during your trip? Would you guess that raw attendance was also higher or lower? If you’ve visited this holiday season, what was your perception of crowds, congestion, and wait times? Thoughts on our predictions or anecdotal observations? 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!

15 Responses to “Colossal Christmas Crowds Cap Off Disney World’s Busiest Year Ever!”
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