Christmas is officially underway at Walt Disney World! In less than a week, the parks have already seen some of their highest and lowest crowds of the holiday season. This wait times report covers the good and bad of wait times data for November 2023 (so far) at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, plus on-the-ground observations and predictions for what to expect next week for Thanksgiving.
Before we get going, one thing we want to emphasize is that crowd levels are going to change over the course of the holiday season. A lot. That much is probably obvious from the second sentence, indicating that Walt Disney World has seen high and low crowds in the span of a week.
Well, there’s a lot more of that to come. There’s a reason they call it the holiday season–because it’s a season of holidays. Between the start of November and early January, there are no fewer than a half-dozen holidays and breaks that have huge impacts on crowd levels. Some of these are obvious–the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Others, like Jersey Week, are decidedly less so.
The very good news is that in between those holidays, there are lulls in crowds. The aforementioned breaks act as magnets, of sorts, and people are less likely to take off of work or pull their kids out of school when a built-in break is just around the corner. This makes the downtime even more pronounced, with the exception of locals and diehard Disney fans who know about the better times to visit.
Point being, the next couple of months are going to be a roller coaster of crowds.
Let’s turn to the wait times data–starting with the usual asterisks. As always, this data is not conclusive of attendance or in-park congestion. Additionally, frame of reference is a major issue.
Walt Disney World attendance has increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus through 2019. Then attendance plummeted for a year-plus, spiked as a result of pent-up demand for 2 years, and is now coming back to reality. So your individual perception of crowds may vary considerably based on when you last visited.
There are also several other variables that can impact “feels like” crowds, including but not limited to festivals at EPCOT, weather, guest demographics, ride breakdowns, operational efficiency, wait times manipulation, and park operating hours. This is just a partial list, and all of those are significantvariables right now.
In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s raw attendance or crowds. Imperfect as they might be, wait times are still the best measure of crowds–and the only objective one. The alternative is relying on anecdotal observations, which are much more flawed and incomplete.
It’s impossible for anyone to be everywhere at once, and hard to know whether you’re in a pocket of crowds, what efficiency issues exist, and whether guests are disproportionately doing attractions or loitering about. Yada yada yada. See our 2023-2024 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars for more disclaimers about the limitations, strengths, weaknesses, etc. of this type of post.
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. At present, November is exactly equal to October and only slightly busier than the fall offseason.
October was actually busier than November last year, but we don’t expect a repeat of that. This October was down considerably year-over-year, to the point that October was actually slower than summer. We’re guessing that November 2023 will end up being busier than this October, but far less busy than last November. That would be consistent with every single month this year after January.
Above is the weekly wait times data for Walt Disney World. The last two bars on the right reflect the spike for Jersey Week and Veterans Day, followed by the drop-off after those holidaymakers went home.
As Walt Disney World heads into Thanksgiving week, it’s safe to predict another big spike. It’ll likely be the busiest post-Easter, but we suspect it won’t surpass that. This Easter was busier than last Thanksgiving week, when pent-up demand demand was still running hot. Higher wait times for Thanksgiving 2023 would defy all trends we’ve seen this year.
According to our own list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023 to 2025, one of the worst weeks of the year starts today (November 17, 2023). Our initial forecast called for those peak season crowds continuing through November 25, 2023. Now that we’re closer to the actual dates, I’d probably exclude 11/25 from that “worst” window. It’ll be busier than the days that follow, but shouldn’t be as terrible as the days before it.
On a positive note, that same list has the following week as one of the best of the year. Probably not a surprise, as we’ve been talking up the week after Thanksgiving for years. Disappointed we won’t be experiencing it ourselves this year, but we have a Disneyland Christmas visit as a consolation prize.
Next is a high-level look at the daily numbers across all four parks at Walt Disney World. Unsurprisingly, Veterans Day was very busy at Walt Disney World as were the days before it. More interestingly is that the entire holiday weekend was pretty packed. In a normal year, that would be a given, but we’ve been discussing how weekends have been slower this year at Walt Disney World.
This has happened enough in late October and November that we’re ready to call it a new trend. We’ve been expecting the slower Saturday and Sundays phenomenon to stop (or pause) during the holiday season, and it’s safe to say that’ll continue until around January 7, 2024. This is such a popular time of year with locals and diehard Walt Disney World fans that it seems improbable for weekends to continue being slower.
No other real surprises on the daily numbers, aside from yesterday (November 16) being really slow. Lower crowds were a given, as with the prior days, but wait times were down around 6-8 minutes as compared to what they should’ve been in light of adjacent days. We’re guessing this is mostly a matter of the weather–calling it a rainy day would be an understatement.
We’re going to race through the park by park analysis, starting with Magic Kingdom.
The prickly porcupine impression for Party Season has returned with the start of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The way the earlier park closing time impacts crowd levels is something we’ve covered at length, again and again. (See Least Crowded Late 2023 Days at Magic Kingdom for dates that we recommend doing MK.)
We’re starting to see higher crowd levels on party-shortened days. This is to be expected, and is due to rising crowd levels across the board and fewer options to avoid MVMCP since it’ll occur on more days of the week. Expect this trend to be especially amplified during Thanksgiving week. The “good” news is that the non-party days will get even worse, making the party days comparatively more attractive despite those higher crowd levels.
Next up is Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom wait times pretty much mirror Walt Disney World as a whole, but at a lower level. It definitely helps that Animal Kingdom has gotten some healthy extensions to park hours, and those earlier openings plus late closings and the earlier sunset time (meaning evening in Pandora and Tree of Life Winter Awakenings!) certainly helps.
As always, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the busiest park at Walt Disney World as measured by average wait times. (Note the different scales for the various parks.)
For November 2023, DHS has 7 rides at or above hour-long waits. This actually is not as bad as last month, which had even more attractions that were at or above 80 minutes. Notably, not even Slinky Dog Dash or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are in triple-digit territory.
That’ll change for Thanksgiving week. Expect even more 60-80 minute waits for regular rides, and 120+ minutes for the headliners. We highly recommend arriving for Early Entry, taking a midday break, and returning late. Additionally or alternatively, buying Genie+ will be a big help. It’ll be worth the (higher) price!
Finally, we have EPCOT. It was a busy holiday weekend here, with the park having its second-busiest day since Easter.
Against my better judgment, I was in EPCOT on that day and, holy cow, it was insanity. Technically, it was “only” a 9/10 on the crowd calendar. Again, this is as measured by wait times. Yet it was the busiest I’ve seen EPCOT outside of New Year’s Eve in a long time. I overhead a lot of comments to this effect, most notably from a VIP tour guide (if anyone would know, it’s her!).
Obviously, a 9/10 crowd is not good–there’s only level higher! But the lines for food booths, Starbucks, DVC lounge, and pretty much everything else all “signaled” that this was a 10/10 day. I think any reasonable Walt Disney World regular walking through the park would’ve concluded as much.
The only thing that signaled crowds weren’t that bad was ride wait times. To be sure, they were high. I saw several rides with triple-digit wait times. However, I also saw Test Track and other attractions in former Future World with moderate wait times later in the day. If you were only bouncing from ride-to-ride, disregarding everything else, EPCOT wasn’t truly terrible that day.
Although not the greatest example given that 9/10 crowd level, this should still underscore how EPCOT is notorious for a divergence between “feels like” crowds/congestion and wait times. We want to warn you, again, that this is only going to get worse next month with the filling in of the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit and debut of Luminous: Symphony of Us. Plus, the start of EPCOT Festival of the Holidays and Candlelight Processional.
World Showcase is also worse on weekends due to day drinking, while evenings are busier for people Park Hopping over to watch the fireworks. In short, people show up for things other than attractions, so that elevated attendance isn’t picked up by wait time data. We try to avoid EPCOT on weekends during this time of year (oops!), and that’s precisely why.
Honestly, I’m shocked that Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom have been getting healthy park hours extensions…but not EPCOT. I know this isn’t Theme Park Tycoon, but if I were in charge, I’d take those extra hours from Animal Kingdom and give them to EPCOT. It could open an hour earlier and stay open 2 hours later–and that would probably pay for itself in bonus food & beverage sales!
We’ve essentially already started the commentary, so I’ll continue this thread with Magic Kingdom. The following day, it was a somewhat similar story during filming for the ABC Christmas Day Parade and “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration.”
I spent that entire day in Magic Kingdom, arriving just after opening and staying until almost 2 am on that night (or morning, I guess?). When I first approached Magic Kingdom, I immediately thought, “what have I gotten myself into?!” There were huge lines just to enter the park, and the parade route was already packed. Some moron had given everyone a heads up that parade filming would be occurring (in fairness, it wasn’t just me–this was all over the internet), and approximately half of the Sunshine State descended upon Main Street.
For pretty much the entire day, Main Street and the parade route were packed. Navigating the park was a challenge at times. Various thoroughfares were closed at times and traffic became one-way in other parts of the park. Main Street viewing for Happily Ever After filled up about 45 minutes in advance, and announcements were played encouraging guests to watch from elsewhere. I ended up watching from the Rivers of America because Fantasyland was closed, and even the waterfront promenade was fairly full.
I posted some videos of the parade and stage show filming on social media, and received responses from others in the park. Some claimed it was the busiest they’d ever seen Magic Kingdom. Others were surprised that it wasn’t as bad as they expected.
The thing is, both were right. The front of Magic Kingdom was crazy and chaotic. Same goes for areas of Fantasyland and other parts of the park impacted by the filming. However, wait times as a whole were pretty manageable. Some were downright low! That was especially true in the evening, when the chillier temperatures and wind cleared things out well ahead of that midnight closing time.
The last ~4 hours were downright blissful, and I accomplished a ton of attractions. I’m not the least bit surprised the overall crowd level ended up being 3/10 for Magic Kingdom that day. Those who arrived early, left early, and stayed towards the front of the park might be shocked at that number.
(I’m considering writing about the parade filming and/or staying until after midnight in Magic Kingdom. If there’s interest, please let me know–not sure what “value” these posts actually contain. I have ~2,000 photos of Cinderella Castle with cool searchlights that really need to find a home!)
Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. We’ll be watching wait times closely starting this weekend, as there should be a sharp spike heading into Thanksgiving. For those keeping score at home, last year wait times increased on the Friday through Sunday before Thanksgiving before skyrocketing on Monday. November 21, 2022 was far and away the busiest day of the year…until it was dethroned by several dates between Christmas and early January.
We’re expecting a repeat of that for Thanksgiving 2023. Monday will probably be the busiest day of the holiday week since it’s the busiest day of almost every week, but don’t discount Tuesday or Wednesday–those were also 10/10 days last year. Thanksgiving and Black Friday were both 9/10 days, while Saturday was 6/10. By Sunday, the surge had subsided, and the week that followed had a crowd level of 2/10. That’s precisely why it’s Our Favorite Week of the Entire Year at Walt Disney World. The attendance wave recedes just as quickly as it swelled! It’ll be interesting to watch what happens this weekend–we’ll keep you posted. Surf’s up!
Thoughts on the November 2023 crowds so far at Walt Disney World? Predictions for the peak of Thanksgiving week? Think it’ll be better or worse than last year, or about equally bad? Thoughts on our forecast, analysis, or anything else? 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!