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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

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!

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