Following the peak winter week last month, Walt Disney World visitors have enjoyed some good times thus far in March 2023. This crowd report shares recent data, thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with attendance levels during and after Spring Break, and just how slow the last couple weeks have been in the parks.
Historically, March has been a ‘tale of two seasons’ at Walt Disney World, with peaks and valleys–high highs and low lows. That’s why we’ve identified early March as one of our favorite times to visit (it’s routinely one of the top 4 weeks of the year) in our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World. In the last two years, this dynamic hasn’t been quite as pronounced, but a lot of normal trends haven’t played out during that time.
There were the typical roller coaster crowd levels as recently as March 2020, and I don’t mean before and after the parks closed. Although, obviously, there were fewer people in them starting March 16 of that year. Maybe 2019 is a better example, when the month started out slow (like 2020) but then spiked for spring break. So, how have crowds been in March 2023 so far? Let’s take a look…
As always, what’s covered in these “crowd” reports is actually posted wait time data that’s pulled from My Disney Experience and compiled into graphs for tracking and comparing various days, weeks, months, and years. A lot can be gleaned from posted wait times, but it’s not necessarily conclusive of in-park congestion or crowds.
There are several other variables that impact “feels like” crowds, from the start of the 2023 EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival to weather to guest demographics to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency to time of day or day of the week. And that’s just a partial list! Beyond that, wait times are often inflated–but at least there’s usually consistency in the inaccuracy, if that makes sense.
In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s raw attendance or crowds–which have increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus. With that out of the way, let’s dig into the data and look at Walt Disney World wait times. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:
We’ll start with the monthly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.
While I love to overanalyze wait times data, this pretty much tells the whole story. I won’t bury the lede: 90% of this post boils down to this one chart. Through the first 11 days of the month, March 2023 is only 1 minute busier than September 2021, which was far and away the slowest month of last year. Early fall off-season crowds but with early spring weather?! Sign me up.
If we break it down by week, it shows pretty much the same thing. For the most part, the first two weeks of March have been significantly slower than the last 3 weeks of February.
The beginning of this month has also been better than the slow weeks of January, which is interesting. With that said, this chart actually doesn’t tell the full story, as many of those weeks encompass busy and slow dates. So let’s look at the dailies…
This is a bit more useful, and it shows that wait times actually started falling in the second half of Mardi Gras week and into the Princess Half Marathon Weekend. By that Sunday, wait times had bottomed out at 28 minutes on average, for a 1/10 crowd level.
Average wait times have been around that since, only increasing in the last few days. Still, most days have had averages at or under 30 minutes, and the highest crowd level has been 5/10. It has been a remarkably good stretch for visiting Walt Disney World!
These graphs look very similar to those from 2019 or 2020. I know I joked above about the second half of March 2020 falling further than this, but obviously, that is not how things would’ve played out in the absence of the closure. That winter had been busier than ever before the early March reprieve, and spring break would’ve likely been even worse. Suffice to say, you might want to file these charts away for when you start thinking about the timing of your 2024 Walt Disney World vacation. The last two weeks are probably not an anomaly, but rather, a return to normal.
When crowd levels are this consistently low, the individual parks don’t really add anything, so I won’t waste your time with needless commentary. Nevertheless, here are those numbers for those who want them:
For the most part, what you see is what you get with the per park crowd levels. Wait times spiked leading into and out of Presidents’ Day, but fizzled out toward the end of that week, falling from moderately high on Thursday and Friday to flat-out light levels on Sunday. They’ve stayed in that range ever since, only increasing in the last few days.
As always, EPCOT is the one park where what you see is probably not what you get. If you visited on February 21, you would’ve encountered wait time levels that amounted to a 9/10 crowd level, but you also would’ve missed the end of Festival of the Arts by one day. If you visited on March 1, you would’ve been there for 2/10 crowd levels according to wait times, but also the start of the 2023 EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival.
I would be willing to bet that if you asked 100 people to walk around EPCOT on both of those two days, and never had them do attractions or look at wait times, the majority would say March 1 was busier. More than any other park, EPCOT is the locals’ park, and that’s evident in scenarios like this.
If you’re a tourist focusing on attractions, you still would’ve enjoyed low wait times, to be sure, but you would’ve felt much more congestion than the crowd level suggests. There’s no good solution to this discrepancy, other than pointing it out. This does happens at the other parks to some extent, but not to nearly the same degree as EPCOT.
Now let’s turn to the average attraction wait times for the month of March 2023 thus far:
A few things worth calling to your attention here. First, we now have more wait times data for both Enchanted Tales with Belle and the Ariel’s Grotto meet & greet. The latter has been a Lightning Lane that books up fastest most days, and that might lead you to conclude that it’s high priority. The average wait times say otherwise. That’s reflected in our updated Magic Kingdom Genie+ Rankings.
Similarly, the Adventurers Outpost Minnie & Mickey Mouse meet & greet at Animal Kingdom (#3 on the list above) continues to be popular, and now ranks above everything outside Pandora. Remember, these are averages over the course of the entire day. Do this before 11 am and there’s a very good chance your wait time is under 15 minutes. (I’ve seen it as a totally empty queue on multiple occasions.)
Finally, the Tower of Terror stealth refurbishment is over, so that attraction’s average wait time is in freefall. This is also reflected in our updated Disney’s Hollywood Studios Lightning Lane Rankings. In general, we’ve noticed Genie+ getting much easier to use at DHS. It’s difficult to tell whether this is a temporary phenomenon due to current crowd levels, or the supply/demand dynamic has changed. We have some testing to do there this week…
For those wondering how Walt Disney World’s wait times compare to Universal Orlando, the trend is about the same for late February through mid-March 2023.
I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if there’s a divergence during this upcoming week. Universal Orlando’s Florida resident ticket deal doesn’t have blockout dates for Central Florida spring break, meaning that more locals could choose Universal as a staycation option. But in all likelihood, both theme park complexes will hit high crowd levels.
Looking forward, I’ve gotta admit that I’m slightly surprised by the park reservations situation. Right now, Magic Kingdom and DHS are unavailable for Monday and Tuesday, but that’s it. The rest of the week is wide open. Equally as significant, the Annual Passes that aren’t blocked out have full availability after today. A similar scenario played out around Presidents’ Day, so it’s not a complete shock.
It’s nevertheless a positive that Walt Disney World has not been utilizing Park Pass to redistribute or normalize attendance across all 4 parks. This is something we observed even last August and September, when crowd levels were at their lowest. I’m really curious what prompted the change. Could be staffing, guest satisfaction, or lost business as a result of trying to “force” people to visit certain parks. Perhaps a combination of the above.
Regardless, this trend should put us one step closer to Walt Disney World retiring reservations for everyone except APs, or perhaps for all dates except peak holiday weeks. If next week stays green–or even yellow–the Park Pass system arguably has served its purpose and is no longer needed for all guests or dates. If Bob Iger wants to claim another big win on the “listening to feedback from our guests” front, the door is now open for a big rollback of Park Pass.
This coming week is spring break for Osceola and Orange County, among other less significant (from an attendance perspective) school districts around Central Florida. Even with the resident ticket deal blocked out, Orlando-area school districts out on spring break should have a huge impact on attendance since so many locals are Annual Passholders, and reservation availability is currently ample.
Ultimately, it’s been an excellent two-week run at Walt Disney World. It’s nice to see this “valley” once again after a couple years during which they only dipped a little between late February and early March. In all likelihood, this is a return to normal rather than an outlier.
Again, if you’re planning for a 2024 Walt Disney World vacation, we’d highly recommend keeping these dates in mind. This is a top tier time to visit thanks to the mild weather, EPCOT in bloom, and low crowds. It’s the calm before (and after) the storm, and there are only a handful of weeks that we’d rank higher from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective.
Now comes an interesting test. Our Spring Break 2023 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World predicted that this coming week would be the worst of spring break. That should have started to materialize yesterday, with locals causing crowd levels to rise before the tourists arrived in full force. It’s starting to happen today (March 12, 2023) with higher wait times already and Genie+ returning to its record-high price. That suggests that Walt Disney World’s internal attendance forecast is at its highest level, and crowds will only get worse from here.
Maybe not, though. Wait times have gone up, but not nearly as much as would normally be the case on a 10/10 peak season day. It’s entirely possible that our (and Disney’s own!) forecast will be wrong. Walt Disney World aggressively blocked out resident tickets and hasn’t sold new APs in a long, long time. Disney’s prices are high and airfare also isn’t cheap. Even though there ended up being some 10/10 days and Genie+ sold out for the first two times ever, we overshot our predictions for Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras.
While predicting colossal crowds for spring break, we’ve also been saying there are signs pent-up demand is fizzling and that last Christmas might’ve been the last hurrah for that. That has been evident from Walt Disney World’s increased discounting alone, but is also suggested by leadership making positive changes to improve guest satisfaction. It’ll be interesting to see how the next few weeks end up playing out, but I’m already starting to think that our expectations for spring break were too high.
That’s the good news–the bad news is that it’ll still probably feel very busy. Even if our crowd predictions were incorrect for the coming week, it’s not going to be anything like the last two. Being “way wrong” here means 8/10 or 9/10 levels instead of 10/10+ crowds, with over a dozen attractions seeing triple digit averages and more sold out Genie+ days. It’s still going to be bad–that’s pretty much a given. Rather, it’s a question of just how busy it ends up being, and how long the high crowds stick around. Regardless, these lower levels for late February through mid-March bode extremely well for late April and May 2023. So there’s that to look forward to!
Did you visit Walt Disney World at the end of February or first half of March 2023? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably worse than the others? Did you find the past few days to be noticeably busier than the first half of the week or previous weekend? If you’ve visited in past weeks before spring break, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our crowd 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!