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!
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!
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!