Disney World Warns of High Holiday Crowds

With Thanksgiving one week away, it’s the start of the holiday season crowds at Walt Disney World. Heavy attendance is forecast for the next couple of months and on-site hotels are pretty much sold out. In this post, we’ll share an update on Park Pass availability, a look at crowds plus a warning that Walt Disney World has sent out.

This comes after the Veterans Day weekend saw the highest crowd levels across Walt Disney World since the end of July. That holiday always seems to catch Walt Disney World fans by surprise, presumably because many people don’t have school or work off as a result.

Hopefully it wasn’t a big surprise for any of you. We’ve warned readers repeatedly that Veterans Day would be busy–in our Jersey Week crowd report and also our November 2021 Crowd Calendar, which called for higher crowds over Veterans Day with crowd levels at 8/10 or above for that entire week.

As it turned out, Veterans Day itself was the busiest day of last week, with an average daily wait time at Walt Disney World of 43 minutes. If you were visiting that day and think it’s “too low,” just keep in mind that this is an average of all attractions across the entire day–from rope drop to park close. Things were much worse during the middle of the day, and at headliner attractions.

That 43 minute wait marks the highest daily average since July 29 and makes it the 19th busiest day of the entire year. If anything, this speaks to how slow August through October were, despite the kickoff of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Wait times didn’t let up over the weekend following Veterans Day, with daily averages from 40 to 42 minutes through that Sunday. Crowds have since eased up slightly, but will soon significantly worsen.

If you are visiting for Thanksgiving through New Year’s, we’d highly recommend using our Walt Disney World Park Itineraries to outsmart the masses. We just updated all of those to account for changes resulting from Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and have versions with and without buying paid FastPass.

With that said, you should really consider buying Genie+ if you’re visiting during peak season. Not for every park and every single day of your trip, but at least for Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. See our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ for all of the foundational need-to-know info about this replacement for free FastPass+.

Regardless of whether you’re buying the Genie+ service, you should also arrive to the parks early and leave late–beat and outlast the crowds. To accomplish both, you might need a midday break at one of the resorts (or your own). The Skyliner is great for that from Epcot or Hollywood Studios, while the monorail and boats provide ways to escape Magic Kingdom.

If staying on-site, definitely do Early Entry and Extended Hours if you’re eligible. We’ve found both to be incredibly useful.

If at all possible, avoid Disney buses during peak travel times in the morning and around park closing. While the transportation situation has improved considerably since spring, there’s still a bus driver shortage and delays are possible.

When it comes to Magic Kingdom, we strongly recommend not leaving immediately after Disney Enchantment. On many nights, the fireworks are simultaneous with park closing, which results in pure pandemonium upon exiting. (There’s a reason this isn’t normally done.) Even if it’s a Disney Very Merriest After Hours party night and you don’t have tickets, spend some time shopping on Main Street or just hanging around–you’re literally going to be waiting one way or another, might as well make it inside Magic Kingdom rather than in the sea of humanity outside the turnstiles.

Disney Park Pass reservation availability corroborates our predictions and Walt Disney World’s warning of high crowd levels for the next couple of months. Above is a look at November availability for Walt Disney World on-site resort guests and theme park ticket holders (despite the separate categories, the inventories for each are identical).

If you’re visiting next week and don’t already have reservations, hope you like Epcot! It’s all that’s available November 21-26, 2021.

It’s a similar story for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The week between Christmas and NYE is usually worse than the week leading up to Christmas, which is also reflected here.

The only park that’s unavailable for December 20-22 is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For Christmas Eve and Day, only Magic Kingdom is unavailable. December 27-30, only Epcot is available. On New Year’s Eve, Magic Kingdom and Epcot are unavailable.

Here is a look at the calendar for Annual Passholders. Shown above is the Incredi-Pass; the other APs have pretty much identical availability, plus blockouts.

Most dates that have partial availability are booked up for Magic Kingdom and/or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Epcot and Animal Kingdom are open for most dates, with the most notable exception being New Year’s Eve at Epcot.

In light of the anticipated attendance levels, Walt Disney World has sent out the following message to vacation planners:

Due to high demand this holiday season, theme park reservations for our Walt Disney World theme parks are quickly filling up or are already filled on select dates or parks. For entry to a Disney Park on the day of a visit, all guests must have a valid theme park ticket and have booked a theme park reservation for the park they wish to visit.

You can check current availability on our website and we encourage you to check availability of desired visitation dates before purchasing tickets. If you have already purchased tickets, please make sure to book Disney Park Pass theme park reservations as soon as possible to secure your visit to the parks. We look forward to welcoming you to Walt Disney World Resort!

Across town, Universal Orlando has not sent out any message to Annual Passholders yet (or if they did, we missed it). Normally, they have done this when crowds are forecast to be high and there’s the possibility that the parks would close to capacity.

It’s possible that won’t happen due to higher guest limits, but it is worth noting that Universal Orlando is experiencing the same staffing shortages as Walt Disney World (and pretty much everywhere in Central Florida). This means longer waits even before getting into the parks–whether it be checking into hotels, parking, security, etc–and then for food inside the parks.

Ultimately, all of this is basically just a long-winded reminder that the next couple of months are going to busy at Walt Disney World, with peak weeks being extremely crowded. While capacity is still capped to some degree at Walt Disney World, it’s not to keep crowds low–that ended months ago. At this point, all limits are self-imposed to prevent the parks from buckling under the weight of heavy attendance.

The end result is that “feels like” crowds (and waits for dining, in particular) will almost certainly be on par with or perhaps higher than normal for the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Pack your patience and arm yourself with savvy strategy if you’re visiting Walt Disney World next week or beyond. It is going to be very busy. We’ll have some more updated advice in the next few days, along with some park reports for the start of Christmas season at Walt Disney World.

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

If you’re currently visiting Walt Disney World or experienced Veterans Day weekend in the parks, what was/has been your experience with crowds and wait times? Have you visited Walt Disney World during the holiday season in the past? Thoughts on the attendance levels? Are you visiting this year for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s? Have you had any troubles making Disney Park Pass reservations? 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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