We’re back with what will probably be our last look at low off-season attendance at Walt Disney World. In this crowd report, we’ll analyze wait time data from the last few weeks, along with thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with numbers at Walt Disney World in October 2021 and beyond.
As we’ve been reporting for the last month-plus, the fall off-season arrived earlier and has seen a sharper drop in wait times than normal at Walt Disney World. Everyone has their theories for why attendance and wait times are so low, including the lack of international visitors, conventions, and group events that would normally sustain the fall months after school goes back into session.
All of the above has played a contributing role, but the two primary causes of the bigger downturn were Florida’s run of record case numbers and Walt Disney World’s reinstated indoor mask rule. Florida’s latest wave peaked in late August and has dramatically decreased since–the state is now decidedly average with the 27th most new cases per capita as of September 24, 2021–but the perception persists that it’s a hotspot. For its part, the mask rule is considerably less onerous than last year at this time. Nevertheless, both of these things triggered a flood of cancellations rippling through the remainder of the year, and will impact attendance and crowds for months to come.
Regardless of what we’ve been experiencing in the parks for the last 7 weeks, that’s all likely coming to an end…as soon as today. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is exactly one week away, and tourists visiting for the momentous occasion will start arriving throughout the coming week.
Before that, locals appear poised to make this one of the busier weekends in the last couple months, with Disney Park Pass reservations fully booked among Annual Passholders for both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Currently, this weekend’s weather forecast is relatively dry, with high temperatures under 90 degrees and lows under 70 degrees. This is some of the best weather Central Florida has seen since June, and that could cause more Floridians to get out of the house.
But this is a crowd forecast and report, not a weather one. In terms of wait times, here’s what’s happening in your Walt Disney World’s neck of the woods…
Let’s start with Magic Kingdom, which has seen its wait times fall following Labor Day. The highest single day average for Magic Kingdom since our last report has been 25 minutes (on September 20), with several days bottoming out at 14-16 minutes. No repeat of the single digits seen on September 1, but that was almost certainly an anomaly we won’t see again anytime soon.
Daily numbers bounce up and down with no good explanation as to why beyond attraction closures and weather. It thus likely makes more sense to smooth out the charts by looking at weekly averages. (All graphs and wait time stats courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.)
With this, we see Magic Kingdom’s average wait times are relatively flat for the last 6 weeks. The range is 18 to 21 minutes, which is fairly insignificant. These are lower numbers than normal in August/September, which is particularly noteworthy when considering that there’s less to do right now–meaning attendance is even (comparatively) lower than the data alone suggests.
To put this into context, these August and September wait times would garner a 1/10 or 2/10 on almost any Walt Disney World crowd calendar scale. Moreover, this run of weeks is all less than half the average wait times of Walt Disney World’s peak summer dates in late July.
Going attraction by attraction this week, the wait times at even the Magic Kingdom headliners aren’t bad.
Top averages are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 50 minutes, Jungle Cruise at 50 minutes, Peter Pan’s Flight at 40 minutes, Haunted Mansion at 32 minutes, Astro Orbiter at 29 minutes, Splash Mountain at 28 minutes, Space Mountain at 24 minutes, Pirates of the Caribbean at 18 minutes, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at 14 minutes. Pretty rare to see all of the classic Magic Kingdom Mountain Range under 30 minutes!
Continuing to Epcot, where the average wait time has ranged from 11 to 18 minutes. Since Labor Day, Epcot has yet to break 20 minutes on average. For that period, the average weekly wait time has been 15 minutes (every single week).
Attractions with the longest wait times were Test Track and Frozen Ever After, each at 37 minutes. Nothing else has been above 30 minutes on average. Soarin’ Around the World is hitting 15 minutes and Mission: Space is exceeding that number, with a 22 minute wait. Perhaps that’s fueled by high demand for Space 220 Restaurant?!
Over at Animal Kingdom, it’s a similar story but with a far larger range in posted wait times. Post-Labor Day, the lowest average has been 11 minutes and the highest has been 24 minutes. The latter number is an outlier, with most days under 20 minutes.
Weekly averages have been 16-19 minutes at Animal Kingdom in the last month. Unsurprisingly, the two Pandora attractions are the only rides with non-negligible waits: Avatar Flight of Passage averaging 39 minutes and Na’vi River Journey averaging 34 minutes. Even those can be near walk-ons later in the day.
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This continues to be the “busiest” park at Walt Disney World, with average daily wait times between 25 and 33 minutes.
With one notable exception, Slinky Dog Dash continues to have the longest wait time at 56 minutes. Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run is averaging 45 minutes, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is averaging 43 minutes, both Toy Story Mania and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster are averaging 33 minutes.
The aforementioned notable exception is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which just opened its standby line yesterday. We were not on hand for the fanfare, instead rope dropping Epcot for a third day this week (more on that in a minute). That was probably a mistake given all of the buzz, anger and excitement, but we’ll be giving it a try this weekend.
Right now, the “narrative” around Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s standby line is whatever you want it to be. The attraction peaked at 180 or 220 minutes (there was a discrepancy between the My Disney Experience wait and the posted wait at the attraction entrance) before settling around 80 minutes most of the day, with guests reporting actual wait times that were considerably lower–sometimes less than half of that.
You could say that a 220 minute posted time is ridiculous and far longer than you’d wait with boarding groups. You could say that an 85 minute daily average is pretty short and proof that a virtual queue was never necessary. You could say circumstances are very different in terms of ride reliability and demand than at any point since December 2019. You could say that it’s a weekday in September, check back in mid-October. You could say it’ll never be this low when paid Lightning Lanes debut and some of the capacity is reallocated to that upcharge.
I’m not going to say any of these things since it has been literally one day. I’m old enough to remember how opinions on the virtual queue soured back in December 2019 as word got out and circumstances changed. That happened very quickly–it went from being awesome to awful in less than a week. There’s no point in rendering a premature opinion on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s standby queue, as the scene will be dramatically different one week from now–let alone in a month.
Turning to Epcot, where we have spent the bulk of our week. This has been to experience Space 220 multiple times as a walk-up before it moves to reservations and becomes the most popular ADR at Walt Disney World for the next 5 years and we’re never able to do it again during that time. (Not a joke–that’s more or less what happened to us with Be Our Guest Restaurant!)
It’s been interesting observing multiple consecutive rope drops, as well as middays and evenings at Epcot–something we haven’t done in a while. My core takeaway has been “it’s pointless to rope drop Epcot” since lines are longest right when the park opens. (Test Track pictured above shortly after park opening v. mid-afternoon on the same day below.)
However, Epcot doesn’t open until 11 am right now, so what else are you going to do–sleep until noon? Another anecdotal observation has been that feels like crowds are highly variable, and you are far better off starting your day in World Showcase before moving to Future World. (As ‘advice’, this info has a shelf life of a week, at best.)
Speaking of which, the lack of shows, atmospheric entertainment, and ongoing dining constraints (among other things) can result in “feels like” crowds that are probably worse than what’s reflected in the wait time data. It’s also likely that with physical distancing gone and “please fill in all available space” back, guest perception of “comfortable congestion levels” is highly variable–especially among those who have largely avoided crowds for the last year-plus.
In terms of our perception as frequent visitors for the last year, late September crowds are already starting to noticeably increase. While beyond the scope of this post, we’re also seeing the same trend at Universal Orlando, where we’ve been spending a lot of time this month for hotel stays and Halloween Horror Nights.
Ultimately, we’ve been incredibly pleased by what we’ve seen from crowds at Walt Disney World over the last 7-8 weeks. This has been a great “calm before the storm” window for visiting, which is precisely why we ranked September as the #1 time to visit in our Best & Worst Months at Walt Disney World in 2021-2022. That was before Florida’s surge and the reinstated mask rule, so crowds have been even lower than anticipated.
With that said, we are far less confident in our forecast for October through December 2021. Our expectation has been that those months would extremely busy as a whole, but still subjectively good times to visit due to the festivities, new offerings, Halloween and Christmas. The subjective side of that should hold true. It’s also pretty safe to say that October 2021 will be busier than August or this month, which is a low bar to clear.
The question is whether truly heavy crowds will actually materialize beyond the obvious opening of the 50th and holiday weeks. Those stretches will undoubtedly be slammed, but what about a random week in late October, early November, or early December that doesn’t coincide with any holidays? We’re in unprecedented territory with a number of countervailing factors, and I don’t think anyone can predict with a high degree of certainty what happens next. It’ll be interesting to watch unfold, and we’ll keep you posted with more regular crowd reports!
Predictions for where crowds go from here in the last week of September, October, or the holiday season? Did you visit Walt Disney World in August or September? If you’ve visited in prior months during the last year, how did crowds compare between then and now? What did you think of the wait times? Any parks or times of day noticeably worse than the others? 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!