Labor Day Crowds Increase at Disney World
Typically, Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah for summer crowds before the September off-season at Walt Disney World. In this crowd report, we’ll take a look at wait time data from the holiday weekend, along with some thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with attendance at Walt Disney World.
As we’ve been reporting for the last month or so, off-season has arrived earlier than normal at Walt Disney World. Everyone has their theories for why attendance and wait times are so low, and we cover the most—and least—plausible explanations in our most recent update: Walt Disney World’s Lowest Crowd Week of the Last Year.
Regardless of what we’ve been experiencing in the parks for the last few weeks, Labor Day marks the end of the summer travel season, and is the busiest holiday until Columbus Day. That’s not really saying much, as Labor Day historically does not have a huge impact on Walt Disney World crowds. It’s nothing like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or even Veterans’ Day.
Nevertheless, there’s usually a small spike for Labor Day, following which, September is usually the slowest month of the year at Walt Disney World. This bump in crowds occurs in part because there’s usually a lull for a couple of weeks before Labor Day weekend as school districts in the South start going back into session. That’s exactly what we’ve observed in the week since our last crowd report, as late August and early September wait times dropped to single digit lows.
Let’s start with a look at the objective numbers, courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:
From Monday through Friday, Magic Kingdom’s average wait time topped out at 15 minutes on both Monday and Friday, with 13 minute averages last Sunday and Thursday. On the last day of August, the average was only 10 minutes, versus 18 minutes last week (and down from 50 minutes one month earlier).
As we mentioned in another post last week, the average wait time at Magic Kingdom was only 9 minutes on September 1, which was a new wait time record low for 2021! It’s also the second-slowest day at Magic Kingdom since reopening, bested only by July 15 of last year when attendance was capped at an artificially low level as the phased reopening began.
Unsurprisingly, crowds increased over the holiday weekend. Magic Kingdom averaged wait times of 30 minutes both Saturday and Sunday. On Labor Day itself, Magic Kingdom attractions averaged 20 minute long lines.
This is a sharp spike as compared to what we’ve been seeing, but still down considerably as compared to late July when the average hit 50 minutes. By both Labor Day and regular long weekend standards, this is not particularly bad.
Going attraction by attraction on Labor Day, the wait times at even the Magic Kingdom headliners aren’t bad.
Top holiday weekend averages were Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 66 minutes, Jungle Cruise at 59 minutes, Splash Mountain at 50 minutes, Space Mountain at 48 minutes, Pirates of the Caribbean at 47 minutes, Peter Pan’s Flight at 46 minutes, and Haunted Mansion at 43 minutes.
Continuing to Epcot, where the average wait time ranged from 10 to 12 minutes this past Monday through Friday. That average was up to 19 minutes on Saturday, 23 minutes on Sunday, and 21 minutes on Labor Day.
Attractions with the longest wait times were Test Track (46 minutes), Frozen Ever After (40 minutes), and Soarin’ Around the World (31 minutes). Nothing else was above 30 minutes on average.
Over at Animal Kingdom, wait times saw their sharpest increase. Midweek averages were as low as 7 minutes (!!!) on September 1, and ranged from 9 to 12 minutes on the other weekdays. A few readers reported doing Avatar Flight of Passage repeatedly as a walk-on earlier this week, which is just wild.
Over the holiday weekend, Animal Kingdom’s parkwide average jumped to 28-34 minutes and the typical wait for Flight of Passage exceeded an hour. Those numbers are by no means awful (you can still easily beat the crowds at AK by arriving early or staying late), but it’s a bigger spike than any other park. That’s not uncommon–Animal Kingdom has had the highest highs and the lowest lows since reopening.
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It bottomed out at an average 15 minute wait on September 1, with 16-21 minute waits throughout the other weekdays. As we reported in Star Wars Rise of the Resistance: September Slump, that was easier than ever to ride this week.
The average wait at DHS on Saturday was 33 minutes, 37 minutes on Sunday, and 35 minutes on Labor Day. Slink Dog Dash is the only attraction averaging an hour (60 minutes exactly) during that time, with several other headliners in the 30 minute range (+/- 5 minutes).
If you’re wondering why the pre-Labor Day crowds have been so low, it’s the same explanations as before. The primary causes of cancellations are likely Florida’s record case numbers and Walt Disney World’s reinstated indoor mask rule. It should go without saying, but different people are cancelling for different reasons.
Beyond that, there’s the exhaustion of pent-up demand and fans delaying trips until the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021.
There’s also the lack of various demographics that often disproportionately visit right now, including international tourists (due to border closures) plus convention-goers and group events (due to corporate cancellations). Those would normally sustain the off-season after school starts going back into session, but are almost entirely absent this year.
Finally, even those school districts that haven’t yet gone back might have more stringent quarantine policies, leading to greater pre-school year attendance drop. It’s possible that these quarantine policies will negatively impact attendance to a slight degree during other school breaks for the rest of the year.
When it comes to Labor Day crowds, the most obvious explanation for the bump is that it’s a long holiday weekend. The typical last hurrah of summer–no deep analysis needed. Even though it’s not one of Walt Disney World’s major holidays in terms of crowd levels, a slight surge happens with consistency every year.
Even amidst fears about a travel slowdown for the next several months, analysts expected robust Labor Day demand. A recent TripAdvisor survey showed 31% of Americans had firm plans to travel over the holiday (just below last year’s 32% and 2019’s 35%), but that another 22% were considering last minute trips. Moreover, Orlando was the #2 destination in the survey, ahead of Las Vegas at #3, but behind Ocean City at #1. Most surveyed indicated they’d be visiting beaches or other outdoor destinations.
Orlando International Airport’s forecast shows even higher local travel numbers, with an estimated 303,863 departures this year for the holiday period versus 283,860 actual departures in 2019 (the relevant Thursday through Tuesday of both years). We flew out of MCO this weekend, and it was the busiest we had seen the airport since 2019 (not that we have a ton of experience flying in the last 20 months). It felt like normal times again.
Of course, not all of incoming travelers visit Walt Disney World, but there’s usually a (strong) correlation between MCO’s traffic and Walt Disney World attendance.
Based upon what we saw last week and heading into the weekend, attendance remained low for Labor Day but noticeably busier than the last few weeks. With that said, 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 crowds is highly variable–especially among those who have largely avoided crowds for the last year-plus. Despite wait times nearly identical to last year’s Labor Day, comparing the two makes very little sense. Park capacity was far more limited last year, but so too was queue spacing and seating on attractions.
It remains to be seen what happens next with Walt Disney World crowds. AP sales resume this coming week, and that will likely result in an influx of new Annual Passholders. Many Floridians, especially recent transplants, weren’t able to purchase Annual Passes during the last year and have likely opted to postpone visits rather than taking advantage of the multi-day resident tickets.
Accordingly, our expectation is that weekend crowds for the remainder of September will see a bump as compared to August. Conversely, weekdays for the next three weeks to have some of Walt Disney World’s lowest crowd levels of the last 5 years. This is more or less the phenomenon that’s occurring at Disneyland since Magic Key Passes went on sale. While seasonal offerings and demographics are different, the same general trends will likely hold true.
Ultimately, we’ve been mostly pleased by what we’ve seen from crowds at Walt Disney World this holiday weekend. Average wait times were elevated as compared to their “ghost town” numbers from the past few weeks, but still below normal and completely manageable. And this was even with MCO forecasting a huge travel weekend.
If you’re able to visit Walt Disney World between now and the last week of September, you’ll likely experience something in the range of what crowds have been like over the course of this week, depending upon whether you visit on a weekday or weekend. It should go without saying, but all bets are off once Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary gets started. If you’re visiting in October through December, don’t start salivating at these low crowd reports–your experience won’t resemble this in the least. Regardless, hope you all had a safe, healthy, and happy holiday weekend!
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Did you visit Walt Disney World this Labor Day weekend? Were you in the parks during the weekdays beforehand? How did crowds compare between the weekdays and holiday weekend? 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!
We went to Hollywood Studios on the Sunday of the long weekend, having been there the Sunday of the week before. It was definitely much busier, in terms of both wait times & the crowds – not just the feels like, but the actual crowds. There were waaaay more people everywhere, so walking around wasn’t quite as easy as before, and getting photos without many people in them was tougher. But since we’d done most everything the week before, and we were still able to get a boarding pass for ROTR at the 7am release both days, I guess it wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past. 🙂
Can you do an update to address crowds post Labor Day now that AP sales have resumed? I am heading to WDW in about a week and am wondering if it’s still slow or not! Thanks.
Is there any chance that you’ll be doing a Disneyland crowd report this week? We’re going to be at DLR early next week, and it would be great to get an idea of what to expect now that APs are on sale again.
Crowds were back down today. We had a pretty epic day at MK, starting with Seven Dwarfs at rope drop (roughly the 4th train so no wait) and Peter Pan right before fireworks. We did 13 rides in between, including every headliner but Jungle Cruise. We also managed brunch at The Wave mid day (hat tip to Tom for this recommendation) and Skipper Canteen for an early dinner. The longest wait, oddly enough, was 30 minutes for It’s a Small World, due to some rather delayed loadings. We road Thunder Mtn four times, all under 10 minutes. We’ve got another MK day scheduled for Friday, which is now going to be pretty laid back.
Are you going to do an update to the Halloween parties specifically? I can’t find anyone who tracks that data.
I’m noticing something interesting when trying to check demand in November. Almost no dates provide pricing for hotels when I run the search. I can run dates in October or December and get rates, but not November. Do you think that’s because demand is that high, or because they may be considering not opening some of the hotels scheduled to open and they need inventory to move people to?
We were originally supposed to travel around 8/23, but when the mask rules changed, we moved our trip back to November. I’m not opposed to masks, just masks in the heat outdoors, and at the time they were still enforcing in the queues.
I don’t want to show up in November to horrendous crowds. What’s your take on the booking availability in November? Guess we should have kept our August travel dates, but who knew!
I think something odd is going on with hotel inventory. I’m not sure what, but my gut tells me inventory is either being held back or not being added back into the system when cancellations are occurring–or both.
Demand is definitely high for October through November, but I’m skeptical it’s THAT high for some of these weeks, especially given cancellations.
Lured by low crowd reports, an airfare deal and great snap travel rates, we took the plunge for a 48 hour visit. 🙂 It was our first time at the Coronado and we really enjoyed it!
I must say that lines were great on Saturday until about 11am at the Magic Kingdom. We were able to take photos by the castle without a million people in the background. Yay!
In hindsight, we wish that we had waited to ride the Mine Train until late night. Even the posted 35 min wait at 9:05am impacted what else we accomplished with little wait. Most rides started at about 10 minutes posted wait time at 9am and went up through the day. After lunch (at about 1:30) we took a pool break and came back at 6pm. Line time never dropped until 8:40pm. We managed a double ride on Big Thunder with fireworks overhead and then bolted to Splash mountain for the last ride of the night! Pirates was down for a huge chunk of the afternoon/early evening and when it came online, the posted wait was 40 minutes or more. We skipped it. 🙁
One surprise for us was the lack of bakery treats. Tom, I know you don’t always love the specialty cupcakes, but we missed them. Between the full Confectionary being closed and the Main Street Bakery not having ANY options, we made do with the (fresh?) packaged treats. The rice crispy ears were good and the MINNIE sugar cookie was pretty yummy.
Compared to our Christmas 2020/21 trip, there was more food available, fireworks were on, masking was only indoors and lines were a bit better. I’m worried about what post Fastpass/post COVID will look like at WDW in terms of overall enjoyment and massive lines. I think the days of 8-10 day trips may be gone for us.
Thanks to you and Sarah for braving that heat to report back from the Disney trenches. It’s crazy hot and tiring with masks!!!
More and more, I think saving Seven Dwarfs Mine Train until night is the way to go. Between waiting in the sun and the opportunity cost of missing out on other rides when waits are low, it just seems like a worse option early.
Snacks and desserts are starting to improve, but I agree, there’s still a lot of room for improvement!
We were there ftom August 25th-30th. It was a beautiful experience! Walked on mostly everything. Longest waits in every park were 25 min for frozen in epcot (Walked on test track and soarin) 25 minutes for Mickey and Minnie’s railway in Hollywood studios ( rope dropped slinky which was 10 minutes and no problem getting ror two days in a row) we did the boo bash which was not necessary nor was it worth it. It was fun but everything felt so rushed. On our regular magic Kingdom day the longest wait was mine train at 25 minutes ( we walked on everything else…literally everything else. It was amazing!) We were lucky and it was a great trip!
I personally wouldn’t bring an unvaccinated person to Disney. It’s all your risk level though. It’s just too many crowds.
Also we purchased our Disney world tickets through get away today as you suggested. Do you know if they are offering any refunds or rescheduled due to covid?
Please keep us updated. We are supposed to visit the 18th-24th. One of the only reasons we are potentially not canceling our trip is due to the potential low crowd volumes and wait times.(thanks to your in depth reviews, thanks) We have two young girls and we are very nervous about traveling to Florida right now. Does anyone have any insight to ease my mind about traveling with two you d unvaccinated kids. Thanks
What about crowds into the start of the 50th anniversary? I know crowds in October are very hard to predict, but your crowd calendar post for Oct 2021 was last updated in early August. What are your best guesses, at this point, on what crowds will be like in October? Has there been further word about cancellations picking up? I’m debating between going as planned (Oct 9-16) or pushing to the first week of February. I always knew October would be busy this year, but I’m worried about being packed in with people during a COVID surge. Also getting worried how the potentially chaotic rollout of Genie+ could make crowds feel worse. Are you still anticipating, as of now, that first week of February is going to have low to moderate crowds? Thanks!
Thanks, Tom re:September. I am there from the 23-26 and have been panicked about crowds since July.
I work in the hospitality industry at a large luxury hotel – our focus used to be filling the place to the brim. Since COVID, we are shifting to a whole new strategy of higher average rate, less occupancy, to focus on service. Not saying Disney is truly doing that but I def understand. It does price people out which they must be okay with. There are Mercedes drivers and Toyota drivers. Guest satisfaction had to be on the decline given the crowds pre pandemic. I was there in January 2020 and Avatar was legit a four hour wait.
I think Heather hit on the one outlier that has to be factored in for this year especially…. The Mouse has been….hoarding the cheese. Lol. It seems lately that every new press release involves some form of an added cost or complexity, and I really do think that it’s starting to have an effect. I know I’ve seen people that have just shifted gears and are going to Universal solely based on costs alone. I heard on a podcast about 4-5 months ago, that the host had an off the record conversation with a higher up park exec, and he told him that the days of them just packing the parks to the hilt were over… that overcrowding was far and away the biggest impact to guest satisfaction. This left them with a dilemma…how do you limit attendance without impacting the bottom line? Increase pricing. Ironically we Disney fans are getting what we wanted, just not HOW we wanted it to happen. Most of the changes they’ve been implementing are designed to ultimately improve guest experience (note the use of most lol…. There are quite a few things they’ve been doing/not doing that are just them not wanting to spend the money on things right now), but with them comes the added expense that will offset the expected subsequent attendance drop. Pay more, and enjoy a less crowded experience is the new mantra… definitely not there yet though. I get why everyone is so upset with all the recent changes and I’m not thrilled about the extra hit to the pocketbook either, but I understand the why…. From a PR viewpoint, they’ve done about as bad of a job as they could’ve on things.. rolling out massive new programs and only including minimal details- causing speculation to go off the rails.
Sorry for the long winded diatribe! Lol!
Whenever convenient, Disney has claimed that increasing prices has been to reduce crowds or improve the guest experience. It’s been effective spin by Disney and a way to make some fans more accepting of price increases over the last several years.
The problem is that it’s not true. Disney has still packed the parks, because while fewer guests at higher prices doesn’t impact the bottom line, additional guests at higher prices IMPROVES the bottom line.
The reason increased pricing is not mentioned here as a cause or even contributing factor to lower off-season attendance is that it’s not one. Crowds were high in late July when (seasonal) pricing was even higher than it is right now. Crowds will be higher in October through December when, once again, seasonal rate charts are higher.
At some point down the road (maybe as soon as early 2022), I do think WDW’s aggressive price increases and cost-cutting will catch up to them, but I’m very skeptical that’s what’s occurring right now.
And don’t apologize for the long-winded diatribe–thoughtful comments are always appreciated! 🙂
No mention of people choosing other options because of how expensive it’s gotten? All the other theme parks are significantly cheaper. It’s just not worth it anymore. Also, anyone interested in an extensive bounding wardrobe?
When you say last week of September, what day does that start? 26th?
Correct. September 26 is the date when 50th Anniversary crowds will likely start to materialize. It’ll be gradual, but that should mark a shift.
We were at Animal Kingdom today ( Monday) early on the wait times were low – we did the safari ride – wait time listed at 35 minutes – and although I didn’t time it we were on much quicker than that. By late morning queues were pretty long – although less than 1 hour except for avatar – 110 mins (we don’t do the big rides!) we did a lot of animal watching and walking, although it was busy it was quite tolerable. We are staying on property and going to Epcot tomorrow. Certainly busy than last week but not the worst I’ve seen
Thanks for sharing your experience. It’ll be interesting to see how this week plays out!