Disney World Crowds Down Over 40%
Walt Disney World’s crowd levels have dropped significantly in the last two weeks of January 2021, down by 40% to over 50% as compared to their Christmas and New Year’s highs–even the recent holiday weekend was not particularly busy. In this post, we’ll take a look at recent wait time data and offer some predictions for trends going forward.
This may not seem like a huge surprise; after all, winter is off-season at Walt Disney World. However, that’s only true historically if you ignore the last two years. Last January and February actually had longer average wait times than the November and December before them.
There was thus ample reason for trepidation heading into the new year, although (as discussed in our Will Crowds Keep Skyrocketing at Walt Disney World in 2021?) there were plenty of reasons why we expected Winter 2021 to be more “historically normal” and follow established trends due to a lack of new attractions, athletic events, group bookings, and international travel. Thus far, that’s precisely how January 2021 has played out…
There was a temporary blip of elevated crowds the first week of January 2021 due to holiday holdovers, local school breaks, and runDisney regulars who didn’t cancel trips even though the Marathon went virtual. Average wait times have dropped in the subsequent weeks, including over the Martin Luther King Day Jr. holiday weekend.
During that time, average daily per park wait times at Walt Disney World have ranged from 13 to 43 minutes, with the bulk of average times 30 minutes and above occurring on Saturdays or Sundays. Weekday averages, especially during the middle of the week, are routinely in the neighborhood of 20 minutes or less.
As we underscored in last week’s Magic Kingdom Park Report, this doesn’t mean everything is a walk-on. During our midweek visit, we observed the Magic Kingdom mountain range attractions with 40+ minute waits (save for Space Mountain), but that was offset by several other attractions with 5 to 10 minute waits.
Of particular anecdotal note to us were Peter Pan’s Flight and Haunted Mansion, neither of which were using their extended queues. In general, we didn’t see much of any overflow queues in use; certainly not to the extent as was the case during the holiday season.
It’s easy to quibble with observations. No one can be everywhere, everyday and there’s also the element of luck, both good and bad. Accordingly, let’s look at the data, which paints a pretty definitive picture of current trends at Walt Disney World.
Judging by our review of average waits (per Thrill-Data), crowds have improved dramatically in the last few weeks. Let’s take a park by park look at the decreases in wait time at Walt Disney World, followed by some commentary…
First up is Magic Kingdom. In case you can’t read the legend, the blue line is last week and the red line is the previous week. The yellow and purple are Christmas and New Year’s, respectively. (That’s true for the graphs of all four parks.)
Even a cursory glance reveals that crowds the last two weeks have dropped precipitously. Average wait times are down by 43% since their holiday peaks.
Over at Animal Kingdom, the decline might not appear as significant at first blush since there’s less of a spread among the blue through yellow lines. (Additionally, I’m guessing the red spike is due to a data scraping error.)
However, the purple and blue lines are even further apart. That’s a 56% drop between the week of New Year’s and last week.
The contrast is most stark at EPCOT, with a 63% fall-off between New Year’s and last week.
Of course, that’s always the busiest week of the year for EPCOT, making it something of an anomaly. Even still, wait times were down 39% last week as compared to the week starting December 14.
Finally, we head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (apologies for the garbled legend). As you can see, there wasn’t nearly as pronounced of a difference at DHS throughout the holiday season. This is because the park was hitting capacity many/most days, so there wasn’t room for attendance to increase further.
This has similarly been the basis for our past advice to do Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a weekend; just as there wasn’t much week to week difference, there wasn’t as much of a weekday v. weekend disparity. As you can probably surmise from the red and blue lines above, that’s not true in the last two weeks. This makes planning advice trickier for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it’s a good problem to have. (See our “Star Wars Spike” discussion from the weekend update for more thoughts on that.)
We don’t want to overwhelm you with data, but we’ll conclude with what we think is an interesting look at the third week of each month starting with January 2021 and going back to last summer’s reopening.
The grey and pink lines are July and August, when the parks were ‘ghost towns.’ Just above that in blue is last week. While still higher than the summer lows, we ware now seeing the lowest average wait times since last September. (It’s notable that hours are currently longer and weather is nicer, making January a qualitatively better time to visit, too.)
Looking forward, we still believe the next couple of months will probably be the sweet spot this year to visit if your primary consideration is attendance levels and wait times. Consult our January 2021 Crowd Calendar, February 2021 Crowd Calendar, and March 2021 Crowd Calendar for specific best and worst dates to visit Walt Disney World.
There could be good dates beyond that, but the remainder of the year is way less predictable due to myriad unknowns; that’s why our 2021 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars are pretty vague for the summer, fall, and holiday season. In the more immediate future, our main concern when it comes to Walt Disney World attendance trends is that we’ll see a repeat of last September.
By way of recap, last September saw elevated crowd levels as compared to the months before it. There are a number of factors for this, but two big ones are that travelers were enticed by the empty park photos from summer, and that visitors were postponing travel until Florida’s case numbers started falling.
The set-up today parallels that. Low crowds during the winter off-season are likely to entice people to plan trips, as are falling case numbers throughout the United States (we won’t fixate on the latter, having already covered that at length in our new Quarantines for Walt Disney World Travelers Update).
The biggest potential difference is that instead of those postponed trips being moved to September, they’ll be moved to April. In a normal year, crowds would drop sharply between August and September, with the latter being the slowest month of the year at Walt Disney World. Last year, the opposite happened.
By contrast, crowds would normally increase between March and April. If this pattern plays out again, April would go from high to higher attendance instead of low to moderate. We’re not necessarily predicting a huge spike in crowds come April 2021–there are still way too many unknowns and a lot of people might postpone travel until summer–but that’s a legitimate concern.
Ultimately, we view this as both good and bad news. For anyone visiting in the next couple of months, it’ll likely be a great experience more reminiscent of winters of the past. For locals or those in a position to take a last minute getaway to Walt Disney World, that’s great.
However, seeing reports of low crowds now could create unrealistic expectations and entice visits later in the spring or summer, when attendance numbers could be dramatically higher. (Hence these words of caution rather than us just hyping up the low crowds without further commentary!) Our view on Revenge Travel in 2021 at Walt Disney World remains unchanged–it’s just more likely people are delaying those trips until later in the year, leaving fewer months on the calendar to “absorb” a growing number of guests.
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!
Have you visit Walt Disney World in January 2021? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably worse than the others? Did you notice a significant difference between posted and actual wait times? If you’ve been in past winters (specifically last year), how do you feel this compared? Any theories as to why this happened? Are you okay with longer waits later in 2021 if it means a greater return to normalcy at Walt Disney World—or would you prefer the lower crowds now? 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!
We are planning our first Disney trip for September 2021 and really hoping the crowds will be low. It seems to be a cheaper month to travel and we hope that vaccines will have been administered widely by then. We also have a 2 year old and are hoping to take the trip before our family of 5 has to upgrade to a more expensive room and pay for the little ones ticket. Looking forward to hearing more thoughts and predictions.
I don’t think crowds will be low any longer by then, and it will be hot. However, with any sanity at all, masks will be gone or totally voluntary by then as well. You’ll have the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, which is always awesome.
September will be great-just hurricane season
We went in September last year. The heat and humidity were unbelievable.
You make some very valid points as to the crowd levels, thanks for the well written article. My reason for not coming is the lack of fireworks and having to wear a mask. I would assume there’s a large portion of the Disney community is waiting until we have some semblance of normalcy. When that happens, I’ll be back at the parks
We have a vacation planned for 2 weeks in November 2021. We are waiting to see if fireworks and parades are back if not we may cancel. We were hoping Disney Dining would return as well, but its not a deal breaker if it doesn’t. The masks don’t bother me anymore. I work retail and it just normal to me now.
Mexico has it right. And as stated, general post-holiday lows mixed with restrictions on capacities, a general fear of travel and disdain for the lower offerings at the parks…
You mean the actual riots over the last year-plus might suddenly cause an issue? Come on, man! Good grief…
The change for low crowds right now is general uncertainty and large lack of foreign visitors. We saw and talked with some foreigners last week, but nothing like normal. As Tom pointed out, South Americans are almost totally absent right now. Many folks are concerned about how much their taxes are about to jump, affecting their discretionary income in the future. If the threatened minimum wage spike goes through, many already-struggling small businesses will be shutting down, adversely affecting more of the population’s ability to spend on a Disney trip.
We went to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom last Tuesday (day after MLK day). We only had one day, and I wanted to do AK first, since they close early, but husband and son really wanted to check out RotR and the only way to do that was schedule HS first.
We got there at 8:30 (9 am opening) and they were letting everyone in. We did not have any waits at Galaxy’s Edge, and our boarding group was the first one called, so we were done with everything Star Wars by 9:30 am and the park was filling up. Slinky Dog Dash was at 55 min then, where it would stay for most of the day (around 11 it ballooned to 70 min). We did Toy Story Mania and the posted time was 25 min and it probably took us 15, entirely in motion the whole wait. By 11 the park was pretty crowded (nowhere NEAR as crowded as 2019 levels), but to the point where it was getting annoying and hard to stay in your bubble). Tower of Terror had 45 min wait times and that seemed pretty accurate. The Mickey Minnie RR had posted times of 45 min the entire day.
We went over to AK right at 2 pm and it was DEAD. Minimal people anywhere. Granted, they had a 5 oclock closing time and it was not practical to use AK as your second park but I have never seen it so quiet. Flight of Passage had a posted 5 min wait time (this was not accurate- actual time was 25-35 min but you were moving most of the time). What got me really sore was Dinosaur had a posted wait of 5 min and it was more like 30 min. There is no way we would have waited that long if the posted time had been accurate. Waiting in line for that ride cost us the chance to ride Expedition Everest, as the ride broke down at 3:45 and never came back up. We walked on to Safari.
It was a beautiful day and it was AMAZING to walk through the park when it was so empty (except of course for the people who inexplicably were in line to see Dinosaur). It was soured only by being so rushed. AK is not a park that can be conquered in 3 hours under the best of circumstances (which we almost had- only the inaccurate Dinosaur time tripped us up). No one’s fault but ours, but I really wish AK would have stayed open at least until 6 pm.
Thank you for all the great information, updates and sharing your thoughts on all things Disney!
My family and I visited Disney World this week in Jan 2017. It was the first trip we took with our kids, who were 6 and 2.5 at the time. It was a wonderful trip, low crowds and wait times definitely helped Seeing your pictures and report makes me want to go right now! But financially, we needed to book for early June. So we are booked for June 3-10 (doing a split stay at All Star Movies and Art of Animation) and super excited! I’m hoping some of the mask restrictions will be lifted by then and hopeful that crowds will still be low-moderate. Thoughts on that particular week? How about what to expect weather wise? We’ve never been there in June. I appreciate your thoughts!
We visited Magic Kingdom today, and also the Wednesday after Labor Day of 2020. Although wait times were only slightly elevated today compared to September, the “feels like” crowd level was _remarkably_ different. We felt like we had the park to ourselves in September, and today even though we were able to walk on to a lot of rides (especially in the morning – getting there at park open still seems key), we felt like we were constantly in a sea of people. I know it’s still a drop from normal, but it felt jarring given our most recent experience. Mask compliance is still good, and even a sea of people is a fleeting interaction outside and masked, so risk didn’t feel much higher. We were just spoiled in September 🙂
Interesting! We felt the opposite last week. Way less crowded feel than in September, even the food kiosk lines at Epcot were minimal.
We just visited from January 10-15. This was probably our 12th time visiting and we really just wanted to experience low crowds and since we have seen all the shows, we were aware of what we would be missing due to closures. As it turned out it was one of the best trips ever! Here’s what we loved:
We were concerned about no Fast passes but in actuality it was exactly as Tom predicted. Without the fast pass line to stop the standby line , the lines never stopped moving and we walked right on almost every ride. (That means if the wait time was 20 minutes, it took 20 minutes to walk through the line).
We loved how considerate the crowds were and everyone stayed apart in line and followed the “please wait here “ line stickers.
But our favorite thing and major hack is getting in to the parks early. We rented a car and paid to park every day to avoid the buses and just to be on our own schedule. If the park opened at 9, we were at the parking gates an hour before and they usually opened them an hour before park opens. (Cars would just line up and sit there until they opened). Being the first in the gates we got great parking and not only did we walk right through security (after temperature check but NO bag checks), we walked right through the ticket gates and there was no rope drop areas that they were holding the crowds. The park was open and we went straight to the first ride that was also open! That means that this was almost 30-35 minutes before announced park opening and gave us a huge jump on the day!!!
Crowds were great and we rode Pandora twice on AK day, had two HS days and got Rise boarding passes both days (thanks to the adult kids)… boarding groups 25 and 6 and no breakdowns! WHAT A RIDE! We followed Tom’s 1-day MK itinerary and it was perfect but since we had 2 days in MK we basically did everything twice plus time to do lesser things like Country Bears and Tiki Room.
Again, we thought it was a great trip and it’ll be hard to go back to big crowds in the future!
Thanks for all your tips!
NICE!! now THAT’s the way to hit a disney world trip!
Yep! I don’t know if I am remembering right but I thought in the very beginning they had done that
I thought it was weird Disney sent me an email asking me to reserve dining for next week. That explains it.
Tom, it really bothers me when people comment they rode on ROTR twice in one day. Since It’s such a challenge to even get on once: why doesn’t Disney flag tickets allowing only one ride per day?
For the 2pm you have to be in the park. If there aren’t enough people in the park it makes sense that they would leave the virtual queue open for a second ride on low crowd days.
They do flag it when they are crowded though.
I think the only folks who might be able to ride twice are cast members working the attractions to check effects, etc for show quality. As far as I know, the system will not allow you to join the VQ again. We should’ve tried that last week though as it was not busy at all!