Disney World Crowds Up 40% Last Month
Historically, September is the least-busy month at Walt Disney World in terms of crowd levels and average wait times. Even as other off-season months have spiked in recent years, September has held strong as being a reliably quiet and good month to visit for those seeking low crowds.
On that basis, we predicted early-on in the process of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening that July and August would see the worst of pent-up demand and visitors seeking a last-minute escape before school went back into session. Following that, our expectation was a slow September–likely with the lowest crowd levels since post-9/11.
If going by raw attendance, you could say we were right. Of course, that’s only because of limits imposed by the Disney Park Pass system, and wouldn’t account for reduced capacity rides, or shows, restaurants, and stores that were closed. In actuality, September 2020 was the worst in recent memory, especially when crowds are judged on the basis of posted wait times…
By way of recap, September started out on a good note, with our Labor Day “Crowdpocalypse” Walt Disney World Crowd Report ended up not showing the extreme crowd levels predicted. Things quickly went downhill from there, as we returned with Crowds Continue Rising at Walt Disney World, which revealed concerning trends in what should’ve been the off-season.
Judging by our review of average waits (per Thrill-Data), things only got worse from there. Let’s take a park by park look at the increases in month over month wait time increases at Walt Disney World, followed by some commentary to explain the cause of these spikes and the degree to which you should be concerned…
First up is Magic Kingdom. Here, the green line is September, with red being August and blue being July.
Even a cursory glance reveals that crowds were up substantially last month, with a larger increase than the one from August to July. Here, wait times were up 41% as compared to August and nearly 70% as compared to July.
Next, we head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has been our pick for the worst park (subjectively speaking) on the most consistent basis since the beginning of the phased reopening.
September wait times at DHS were up 39% as compared to August, and 58% as compared to July.
Over at Animal Kingdom each of those lines are even farther apart, with crowds almost exactly doubling each month since reopening
Wait times were up 45% last month as compared to August, and 103% since July.
Finally, EPCOT. Here, there really was not much of a difference between July and August, but a sharp increase in September crowds.
All told, we’re looking at an increase of 33% as compared to August at EPCOT.
When averaged across all four parks, wait times were up 40% in September 2020 as compared to August. (If averaging across all attractions, that number would likely be slightly different, as we’re giving equal weight to parks with different numbers of rides.)
Let’s take a look at some of the likely causes for this…
First, Walt Disney World reduced operating hours across all four theme parks beginning after Labor Day weekend, with Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios seeing an hour eliminated while EPCOT and Animal Kingdom saw 2 hours cut.
It thus makes sense for wait times to increase, as more guests are concentrated during a shorter window of time rather than being spread throughout the day. However, those reductions are only 10-20% and some hours were extended on weekends. So that’s a partial explanation, at best.
Walt Disney World increasing and/or better allocating Disney Park Pass availability is the better explanation. In July and even August, Annual Passholders saw mostly “unavailable” dates despite a sea of green on the reservation calendars for theme park ticket holders and resort guests. In late August, Walt Disney World was more proactive in reallocating availability, allowing more APs to visit the parks.
Additionally, there have been many dates that were totally unavailable across all three calendars that suddenly became available. Walt Disney World denies having increased park capacity, but that’s flatly contradicted by their own reservations system.
Quite simply, Walt Disney World offered more Park Pass reservations in September 2020 than the months before. This is especially true for Annual Passholders and Cast Members, who had significantly more opportunities to visit the parks than July or August.
In our estimation, Floridians accounted for the vast majority of the increase and the spike is due almost entirely to more Disney Park Pass availability. This is also why there’s such a disparity between weekdays versus weekends, except at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
There are other viable contributing explanations. First, Florida’s declining case numbers and the relaxation/removal of some quarantines for Walt Disney World travelers made visiting viable and more attractive for some out of state tourists.
Second, the rise of virtual learning and working made visiting during the off-season more attractive. Finally, that reports of low crowds in July and August prompted many to book trips to take advantage of those.
There’s probably a sliver of truth and credibility to each of these theories. However, I am skeptical that each moved the needle much, if at all. We did several resort stays and visits in September, and our anecdotal experiences during those suggested to us that occupancy was flat or even down as compared to summer. Compulsive checking of the Disney Vacation Club booking engine corroborates this–with way more availability available for September 2020 than a normal year.
Unfortunately, I have not heard any credible rumors or insight into hotel occupancy numbers at Walt Disney World or nearby off-site hotels–I’m simply going off of my own observations here. Nevertheless, I’d be downright shocked if out of state visitors accounted for more than a few percentage points of the attendance increase.
While this 40% increase in wait times at Walt Disney World is obviously not good news, it’s also probably not as bad as the eye-popping headline might suggest. Our recent EPCOT Photo Report: Stay Away on Weekends and Magic Kingdom Weekend Report: Beating Heavier Crowds & Higher Waits offer insight into the disparity between posted wait times and actual wait times.
In short, posted wait times are heavily inflated at Walt Disney World. This is almost always the case, but it’s especially pronounced right now. We’ve personally experienced this on a consistent and repeated basis. There have been instances where the posted wait time is 40 minutes and our actual wait is 5 minutes. Inflation of 50% or more is pretty much the norm right now.
There are likely a couple reasons why this is happening. A cynic might suggest that it’s to give Wall Street an inflated impression of performance–that things are back to normal and business is booming. Perhaps there’s some degree of truth to that.
More likely, it’s to discourage more guests from getting into certain lines. Due to physical distancing and almost every guest being in the standby line (as opposed to FastPass+ inflating wait times and thus reducing the size of the standby line), these lines are filling up. Extended queues are in use, and often overflowing from those and spilling out into walkways. Even then, the actual wait often isn’t that bad.
That presents a problem, as posting the actual wait time would encourage more guests to queue up–to the point where some of these lines would become totally unmanageable and have literally nowhere to go. It’s feasible for the Frozen Ever After queue to extended into the China pavilion since that’s mostly unused. It cannot, however, extend all the way to Italy without impeding operations.
Inflating the wait times discourages lines from getting longer. Locals, Cast Members, and Annual Passholders–many of whom have done every attraction countless times, often balk at any posted wait time over 30 minutes. Since this trio disproportionately makes up Walt Disney World’s guest-base right now, this strategy is particularly effective.
Wait times were unreliable in July and August, but not inflated to the degree we experienced in September. Accordingly, the percentage growth of wait times almost certainly does not reflect the percentage increase in attendance.
With that said, attendance was unquestionably higher in September 2020 than the two months that came before it. We’re not trying to explain all of this away. Crowds were heavier, actual waits were longer, and congestion was noticeable in some spots. In short, there were definitely more guests each of the parks every single day. There is no getting around that.
In some cases (EPCOT on weekends and Disney’s Hollywood Studios before 2 pm every day), our view is that it ‘feels like’ crowds were worse than the story told by posted wait times. In other cases (the other two parks or other days/times at those two), the ‘feels like’ crowds were not nearly as bad as the wait times suggested.
Ultimately, this should be both concerning and reassuring. It’s troubling that wait times and crowds are growing, but we should expect that to continue. Walt Disney World’s goal is to gradually increase attendance and capacity, which is something that has also played out at other parks that have also reopened.
The silver lining even there, though, is it means more restaurants, stores, entertainment, and longer hours will return with those crowds. Another reassuring thing is that actual wait times are not as bad as those graphs indicate, as inflation is pretty rampant and extreme right now. Additionally, in many cases there isn’t anywhere for more crowds to go without opening more or increasing ride capacity. Quite simply, actual wait time increases should decelerate.
In normal years, October through December get progressively busier. There’s simply no way for 40% increases each month through the end of this year. Something’s gotta give. Walt Disney World has several available tools for achieving that, from decreasing Disney Park Pass availability for Annual Passholders and Cast Members to reducing empty seats or adding dividers on ride vehicles. Walt Disney World’s ‘ghost town’ crowds of the summer are definitely a thing of the past, but the future outlook is better–especially for those who want to see things get back to normal.
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Did you visit Walt Disney World in September 2020? 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 Septembers, how do you feel this compared? Any theories as to why this happened? Are you okay with longer waits if it means a greater return to normalcy—or will you just wait to visit Walt Disney World? 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 were there September 18-21 and September 25-28. We were supposed to go on a Disney cruise in between but went to Vero Beach since the cruise was canceled. We go to WDW every year at this time. I thought the wait times were definitely inflated and guessed for the same reason you stated, to keep people out of the queue line. We thought it was probably more crowded than the summer but still not the crowds we usually encounter this time of year. I will disagree with you about September being less crowded than other times. We’ve seen the September crowds steadily increase over the last 5 or 6 years to where we’ve had conversations with Cast Members about how some days it was as crowded as a summer day. With schools starting earlier some of them have earlier fall breaks, they go to Disney. We’ve had times where our fastpass wait time ended up being 30 minutes or more. This past trip we were ok with no fastpasses but really missed park hopping – which is big for us. Although I think everyone could have been given 3 fastpasses to use and that would be it. We had a great time, enjoyed the Character Cavalcades, and had Dinner at Minnie’s Halloween Dine. Disney is doing a great job coming up with ways to see characters.
Hi tom, what would you recomend between going end october/early november or planing the trip for late february/march?
Fyi we al getting there from south america and planing a 1 week trip. Thanks for your advice
Good morning. Where can we get Tom’s day touring plans as mentioned in one of the posts. I’ve been going to WDW a lot since 1973 but with this C-19 closures and restrictions could use ad ice on how to best plan. We’re coming this week so HELP! Please!
Also, the Suay mask, what is it and where are they available?
Coming to celebrate grandson’s 10th birthday so fingers crossed it goes smoothly SND that we get passes to the new Star War rides. He’ll be devastated if he can’t ride. (We’ve been but my heart will break if his does!) Thank you!
You might not be able to get them in time.
I hope you can get park reservations! Short notice… The MOST important thing is that you are all inside the park before opening if you want to have any chance at getting on Rise of the Resistance. Boarding group slots are usually gone in about 50 seconds. No, that’s not a typo! Good luck and have a great trip.
We bought our Park tickets in August, soooooo
this past Friday we were at DHS…..from 11:00am to 7:15pm.
We went on a total of 3 rides.
We were at HS last Tuesday. Got there at 9:45AM rode every ride in the park except did not get a pass for Ride Resistance. Actually rode RockNRoller coaster twice. We went to all four parks Monday thru Thursday. Rode every ride in every park. I think those are the best days to go if you can.
I really hope people don’t get the idea it’s ok to cut in line. It’s rude anytime, but depending on where in the queue the first person is standing, squeezing by people and invading personal space right now could be really upsetting to those already in line.
Ugh all these wait times are scaring me! I hope it’s not too hot/humid when we go too
Thank you so much for your review. It really helped our recent trip. Just some observations on our trip 9/27-10/1.
1) Weekends in general are just busier but it was still doable. Went to MK on 9/27 Sunday and followed Tom’s exact morning itinerary. Entered the park around 8:50am and went straight for Peter pan (5min wait), then Haunted Mansion (5 min wait). Mine train was posted at 50 min so my hubs got on line and i took the kids to tea cups and winnie the pooh which were both 5 and 10 min waits. By the time we were done, we joined my husband at mine train and kids only had to wait 15 min.
Cast members are very kind to let us meet up with your party who are already on line. We did this several times for other rides like slinky and big thunder.
2) AK is not busy during the weekdays. We went on Monday 9/28 and we were able to get on FOP 3 times with 30-45 min wait at most.
3) you definitely need to rope drop HS. Arrive on the parking line before 9. Get into the park and head straight for MMRT or Skinky. It’s a 5-10 min wait when they start the ride at 9:30. We went to HS twice and tried it both ways. We made it out the ride at 9:40. Went to Toy Story Mania (5 min wait) and came out by 9:55 in time to join virtual line for ROTR. We left early afternoon after the kids rode mania 3x in a row (15-20 min wait). Came back 1 hr before closing and went on Slinky and MMRT one more time.
“By the time we were done, we joined my husband at mine train and kids only had to wait 15 min.
Cast members are very kind to let us meet up with your party who are already on line. We did this several times for other rides like slinky and big thunder.”
I thought line cutting wasn’t permitted. I’m sure the people behind you didn’t care for you cutting ahead of them while they waited patiently in line.
Agreed. This should not be allowed. The only time I think this acceptable is waiting for the skyliner b/c that is one party per cabin, but actual rides they should not be allowed to line hold for others while they ride other rides.
Sorry to offend. We actually got the idea from the cast member standing in the back of the line and 2 families in back of us who did the same thing. We were not aware it was not allowed.
WOW. Not ok. Unbelievable. Folks, please don’t do this.
As of right now Oct 31- Nov6
Sat- we land at 2.. Do a parkIf they extended hours. Maybe Epcot or HS since staying close???
Mon – MK
Anything I should change???
Tom I just have to say thank you for telling us about the Suay mask. I got one for my husband who is always swearing about the masks, well complaining a lot, and he actually said it is great. Last week when we left a store and I said you can take your mask off now he had forgotten he had it on. I knew then that I had hit a homerun. I then ordered several more for our November trip. Anybody who can not stand a mask should definitely try this one. Again thank you Tom.
What is the suay mask and where can I get one 🙂
Totally understand an inflated wait time especially to accommodate the necessary “cleaning and sanitizing” breaks for the ride equipment and railings.
We enjoyed a week in each of August and September. Definitely saw an increase in September. Had a great time both times – in all four parks multiple times each and staying at Pop Century.
Hi. I was at MK ( Oct 1 ) and HS ( Oct 2 ). They do not clean the rides between riders, at least any ride that I went on, Instead there are hand sanitizing stations at the end of each ride. They do use the 6ft distancing lines and make sure everyone has their masks on. HS was a nightmare with the line waits 90 min + for most rides. I did score a rise of the resistance pass at 10am, all were gone per the announcement at 10:02. Honestly if you a avoid this park I would do so. Was a nightmare if you wanted to do the rides.
What do you think a Thursday towards the end of month in MK might look like and would following the weekend tour plan be best?
I went with my husband and two boys in mid-September for a week. The crowds on a Tuesday at Hollywood Studios were bad enough that I felt uncomfortable (not in a normal Disney sense, but it felt impossible to social distance). We left early, and switched our second HS day for another MK. The other three parks were more crowded than I would have liked, but most of the measures they had in place seemed to be more effective. We brought some of our own food, which I NEVER do on vacation. I’m so glad we did! Since we’re not doing indoor dining, the choices were very limited, with the exception of EPCOT. Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience, but I feel like Disney is beginning to surpass the number of people they can accommodate without sacrificing guest experience, or changing some safety restrictions, which would be a deal breaker for us right now.
Gloria, we’re in the same place. I’m glad that we were able to go in August when the crowds were lower, but even then, they were high enough to not allow for current social distancing at all times. Crowd levels when we were there over LD weekend were enough to make most people uncomfortable in the current pandemic and they’ve apparently increased since then. Tom hits everything so we’ll and objectively, but I disagree with the inflated wait times. Our Aug trip was off because Disney clearly didn’t know how to gauge the new spaced out lines, but by LD weekend, every single line we waited in (all 4 parks) were accurate within a +/- 5 min – and yes, there were some that ended up being 5 min. longer than the posted wait time. Crowds are still lower than normal, but not comfortable safety wise. Add that to further increasing crowds and longer wait times with no FP offered – we’re going back once more while our APs are still valid, but not after that until Disney changes something for the better.
That’s funny. We were there for Labor Day weekend and it wasn’t bad at all except for the heat making masks irritating. The beer was cold, the food was good, and lines weren’t bad. I didn’t worry about the distancing anywhere I can recall. The big disappointment was lack of pyro, of course.
Spouse & I (both 70 plus) visited MK on 9/29 and were very disappointed that SOOO many food venues were closed, including the kiosks. We planned on having lunch at Pecos Bill but told we needed to mobile order. I stated we would rather just order at counter but told sorry only mobile orders taken. Just not for us anymore if can’t enjoy a meal without ordering on a new phone..
I agree that wait times are generally inflated, but not always. Splash Mountain 60 min posted, 25 min actual) and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (90 min posted,, 50 min actual) were the two most extreme I observed on a trip last week.
That said there were also some attractions like the carousel where I waited longer than the posted wait (posted at 20 min, actual was closer to 30 for me… way too long). There were also numerous attractions where the wait was only slightly inflated compared to my actual wait (7 Dwarfs, Space Mountain)
Our flight in from Detroit to Orlando was packed full with passengers last Sunday, Sept 27.
Pop Century has opened the Computer Pool.
Parking lot has cars from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas.
All cast members have been very kind and sweet to us.
EPCOT was really nice Tuesday.
The Magic Kingdom was a bit crowded today. Some rides broke down for a while.
We saw what looked like some people being let into Fast Pass lanes for some long wait rides.
Cavalcades were adorable. So were the characters that serenaded us at closing.
FP+ lines (or in some cases, another form of modified line) are still being used for rider swap.
Tom long time fan of your writing, love your posts. I can only wonder what Thanksgiving week will be like! But I guess it’s always crazy during that time of year. Btw, what is that dessert in the last picture the cookie sandwich thing?
Double-Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Sandwich at Dino-Bite Treats in Animal Kingdom (it’s from last Christmas).
It’s all your fault Tom–you told the internet that September would be a good time to go and the internet listened (I’m being tongue in cheek here, hopefully obviously).
I do think Disney adding the Halloween treats and cavalcades is probably a factor, as that brings out locals wanting to see something new. I also think “remote learning” is a big deal too–parents feel less guilty pulling kids out of school when “school” is a pointless torture session for kids and parents alike. Plus, I expect people who cancelled vacations earlier in the year now find themselves needing to squeeze one in before year end if their employers, like mine, have “use it or lose it” policies.
We went in August, and while we love Disney, we did miss the dining and evening entertainment. That plus crowds made me come very close to backing down on plans for an October trip. In the end, we decided today we are still going in October since I do really need to use my vacation and want to get out of the cold somewhere warm and sunny, but this time we are splitting the trip between the parks and an airbnb on the beach, which we’ve never done before. We also will skip HS altogether and only go to parks on weekdays.
Now just praying a hurricane doesn’t come through while we are there because that would be so typically 2020…. *sigh*
“…this time we are splitting the trip between the parks and an airbnb on the beach, which we’ve never done before. We also will skip HS altogether and only go to parks on weekdays.”
Three smart decisions there, IMO.