After multiple sold out days to end the year, Genie+ has continued that trend in 2024. Lightning Lane prices are bouncing around for Park Hopping, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom as Genie+ sells out. This post covers all of that along with a conversation about why crowds are still so bad.
For starters, let’s talk crowds. We’ve closed the book on last year, so we’re not going to rehash that. If you haven’t, it is worth reading Walt Disney World’s Busiest Week of the Year By Far for a discussion of Christmas to New Year’s Eve, how it contained the 4 worst days in the last 4 years and was, against all odds, much busier than expected. Some of you may think last week’s crowds were “obvious,” but they very much were not. At least, not to the degree of the insanity.
The really ironic thing is that this week’s colossal crowds actually are obvious! We’ve heard from some Walt Disney World fans who have been surprised by the high wait times and ongoing heavy attendance, and there’s been a lot of speculation on social media as to the cause. For our part, we’ve been warning about this on our crowd calendars for the last several years–this week even made our list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2024 & 2025. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t on the best side!)
For those keeping score at home, wait times are down year-over-year for all days during the first week of January 2024. Last year up to this point, January 2-4 had an average wait time (across the entirety of Walt Disney World) of 60-64 minutes. That first week of January ended up being tied for the second busiest week with Easter, and behind only Christmas to New Year’s Eve.
January 2-4, 2024 have had average daily wait times of 55-58 minutes. (January 1 is below that in both years–it always is–but was significantly slower this year.) Those are all still 10/10 crowd levels, for what it’s worth. The current week may not be top 3, but it’ll definitely be one of the 10 worst weeks of the year when all is said and done.
So it’s not like January 2024 is anything remotely resembling “slow” in absolute terms. It’s just slower (relative) than the same dates last year, which was to be expected given general trends since then. It’s somewhat surprising, though, because last week (between Christmas and New Year’s Eve) outperformed.
Longtime fans no doubt remember crowd levels plummeting overnight from New Year’s Eve to Day, and the parks being ‘sleepy’ from then until the lead-up to Marathon Weekend (which was sometimes over a full week away). It was downright blissful, especially if your trip started before NYE and you were subjected to those crowds on the front end, and refreshingly empty parks during the second half.
Fans “no doubt” remember this phenomenon because many of them still attribute crowds in early January 2024 to the runDisney race. To be sure, that is certainly a contributing factor, but it is not the main driver of crowds. We are confident in this assessment because the observed crowd levels this week–surprising as they are to some longtime fans–actually are not a new development.
More significantly, this trend has occurred without much regard for Marathon Weekend. The real drivers for heavy crowds during the first week of January are winter break (especially for Central Florida schools) and lifting of Annual Pass blockouts. We first noticed this happening in 2019 and it got even worse in early 2020.
Granted, January 2020 was the first full month of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance–and Disney’s Hollywood Studios was an absolute nightmare as a result–but the crowds were bad everywhere. It feels like ancient history now, but I remember being shocked by the morning crowds at EPCOT and Magic Kingdom, too.
(I still believe 2020 would’ve been a blockbuster year had the closure not happened, and a lot of what we call pent-up demand now is better categorized just as higher demand, a new normal that would’ve hit as the last development cycle ended, regardless. But I digress.)
As for the first week of January crowds, our strong suspicion has been that Central Florida’s growing population and more locals with Annual Passes that are subject to blockout dates around the peak weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the big drivers. Although there’s still a big gap, Walt Disney World’s guest demographics are resembling Disneyland more with each passing year.
This has been corroborated to at least some degree by runDisney races not having as meaningful of an impact on park attendance since returning as they did in the past. We first really noticed this with Marathon Weekend last year, when crowds dropped on that Saturday and then plummeted on the Sunday of the main event. Most other runDisney events that didn’t coincide with other holidays/breaks were a similar story.
In trying to explain this trend last year, my theories were that fewer out-of-state runDisney participants were still Annual Passholders due to suspended sales (at the time) and rising costs, runners were cutting trips short due to rising travel costs, and fewer were purchasing multi-day tickets (also due to rising costs). Anecdotal reader feedback seemed to suggest some or all of this was true, but obviously, it’s still just a theory.
Regardless, our expectation is that Walt Disney World crowds peak today (January 5, 2024) and then begin trending down on Saturday and really drop off on Sunday, January 7, 2024. It wouldn’t be surprising if there’s a slight spike on Monday due to day of week trends and nothing else, before falling again on January 9, 2024.
That should more or less mark the unofficial start of the winter off-season. Well, to the extent there’s still such a thing. It’s really less an off-season and more an off-weeks in between more holidays and breaks, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!
If you go on January 9, be warned that you’ll be subjected to a bunch of “People from the Internet” who are documenting all of the changes taking effect that day. (Lower crowds starting then is precisely why they’re taking effect that day, for what it’s worth!) There are only a few hundred of us, so we do not materially impact the crowds, but we’re so annoying that sometimes we feel like a small army. Sorta like the difference between crowd levels as measured by wait times versus “feels like” congestion!
As noted above, Genie+ has already sold out on several occasions this week. Here are the dates and parks:
January 2, 2024: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios & Multi-Park
January 3, 2024: Magic Kingdom & Multi-Park
January 4, 2024: Disney’s Hollywood Studios & Multi-Park
January 5, 2024: Multi-Park
I would expect tomorrow to be the final day of (potential) Genie+ sell outs until (maybe) Mardi Gras or Presidents’ Day.
Here are the prices for Genie+ at Walt Disney World for January 5, 2024:
Multiple Parks (valid with Park Hopper tickets): $27
Magic Kingdom: $27
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: $24
Animal Kingdom: $17
Although 2024 is only 5 days old at this point, Genie+ prices have been all over the place. Not only have no two days had exactly the same price points, but I’m also pretty sure that at least 4 days have had a combination of prices never seen before.
The charitable among you will probably say that this is Walt Disney World being savvy, trying to test new pricing to find the sweet spot of supply and demand. The more cynical might point to that as proof that Walt Disney World doesn’t actually know what they’re doing, and isn’t so great at forecasting demand or attendance.
What do you think of Genie+ continuing to sell out in early 2024? What about the high crowd levels so far for the first several days of January 2024? Did this catch you by surprise, or have you experienced these post-NYE crowds in the past? Any other crowd considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? 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!