Labor Day Crowd Predictions for Disney World
Historically viewed as the “end of summer,” Labor Day weekend is something of an oddity for crowds and wait times at Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll offer predictions for the September holiday, and what you should do if you’re planning a visit to WDW for the long weekend.
Normally, Labor Day weekend is not that bad crowd-wise. Even though it’s the unofficial end of summer, most school districts in Florida and other key states go back into session at least a couple of weeks before Labor Day. Without these key school districts, the holiday weekend is not really the last hurrah of summer crowds (which aren’t as bad as they used to be, anyway) at Walt Disney World.
In recent years, Walt Disney World has accounted for this, and shifted the start dates for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival to August. This has helped buoy attendance a little bit and also sparked local interest for mid-August through the entirety of September, which is typically the slowest stretch of the year at Walt Disney World. Of course, all of that is in a normal year. Obviously, 2020 is anything but normal…
Since reopening, Walt Disney World crowds have generally been low, which is something we predict will continue to be true through the rest of the year (see Will Walt Disney World’s Low Crowds Continue? for more specificity). With that said, we have seen some aberrations.
There was a mild spike for a couple of weeks around the end of July through mid-August. This could probably be attributed to a few things: positive word of mouth about Walt Disney World’s reopening safety measures, reports of unprecedented low attendance levels, and getaways before school went back into session. To the extent that there was pent-up demand among tourists who felt comfortable traveling, this was it.
Second, weekends are busier at Walt Disney World right now. This is something we’ve discussed in several posts, and we’d expect this trend to hold true for the rest of 2020–probably through at least March 2021.
The explanation here is simple: Floridians make up a disproportionate number of guests right now (~50% per Disney’s quarterly earnings call), and they can predominantly visit on weekends and weeknights after work. Evening options are limited by operating hours and Park Pass scarcity, so weekends it is!
Since Florida and other Southern schools have gone back into session, we’ve noticed weekday crowds dip once again–both in the parks and at the resorts. We’re in the midst a hotel stay and this is the least busy we’ve seen the Crescent Lake area since June, before the parks reopened. (And here I was worried that occupancy might spike because yesterday was the first day of better discount rates–guess not everyone thinks like me!)
Sticking with hotels, let’s turn to Labor Day–as this lightness will likely vanish in the next couple of days…
Above is a look at on-site hotel availability at Walt Disney World for this weekend. Specifically, Saturday night. So it’s not even as if we’re trying to book a long stay.
You can’t see all of the hotels, but there’s literally nothing.
Sometimes DisneyWorld.com’s online inventory is wonky (I know, hard to believe anything related to Disney IT would be anything but flawless), so let’s cross-check that against Disney Vacation Club availability.
Once again, literally nothing at any resorts. This is despite a surplus of availability pretty much any other date between now and October. The DVC calendar being wide open aside from Labor Day is actually the bigger story here. In a normal year, we’d expect Labor Day to be fully booked only a few days out–but we’d also expect the same of the entirety of September and October, save for a scattering of dates at Saratoga Springs and Old Key West. The anomaly isn’t Labor Day–it’s the rest of fall.
However, it’s important to remember that Walt Disney World’s resorts account for less than half of all guests in the theme parks at any given time. Some fans like to vilify new on-site hotel construction as the cause of crowds, but that really isn’t it.
This is especially true now, with only a fraction of resorts operational. Disney could fill every single open room and still be well below the reduced capacity. So we turn to third party hotels, where there actually is decent availability, including in both Bonnet Creek and the Disney Springs Resort Area. Far fewer options than the middle of the following week, but better than nothing.
With that in mind, let’s turn to Disney Park Pass availability. As you’re undoubtedly aware by now, there are three “buckets” of inventory for these theme park reservations.
First up is what things look like for resort guests. Nothing at all for Saturday and Sunday, which is unprecedented.
Next, theme park ticket holders–which is basically a mix of tourists staying in off-site hotels and locals. This includes those who purchased the discounted Florida Resident Disney Magic Flex Ticket, which is not blocked out Labor Day weekend.
Same deal here as availability for resort guests. Friday, Monday, and Tuesday have availability for all parks except Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Finally, the Annual Passholder bucket. Fully booked Saturday through Monday with only Animal Kingdom and EPCOT available Friday.
It’s also noteworthy here that during the Disney Park Pass “reallocation” last week, Labor Day weekend was replenished for APs. Those are air quotes because it was not simply an inventory reallocation—there was no inventory in the resort guest or theme park ticket guest buckets from which to pull for these dates. That means Walt Disney World increased park capacity for Labor Day weekend.
Before we get into predictions and strategy, I want to start by apologizing for not writing a dedicated post about Labor Day crowds while most of you could still adjust your plans. Predictions are covered briefly in our Disney Park Pass Update & Crowd Forecast: September & October 2020, but not everyone has time to read everything. Honestly, the extent of the Labor Day problem sort of snuck up on me.
Labor Day weekend–especially Saturday and Sunday–are going to be bad. Even though there are currently limits on park attendance, Labor Day crowds are naturally limited by demand in a normal year. As such, we anticipate higher wait times than a normal Labor Day, which is likely to be the case due to attractions operating at reduced capacity. With fewer stores and restaurants open plus queues spilling out into walkways, congestion levels could also feel worse than normal.
Suffice to say, this Labor Day weekend will be the first real test of Walt Disney World’s modified operations. That goes for pretty much everything from just how long those physically-distanced queues can extend to whether there’s enough dining capacity to meet guest demand. This weekend will demonstrate why there are “please wait here” markers on the bridge to Harambe–as the line for Avatar Flight of Passage could stretch that far.
With highs in the 90s and ‘feels like’ temperatures above 100Âº, guest tolerances and adherence to the rules will also be tested. If you’re planning a visit, pack plenty of sunscreen, a water bottle, hat, or maybe even a sun umbrella (good for ‘enforcing’ physical distancing!) because you’ll be in outdoor queues more than normal. Oh, and pack your patience.
If you’re traveling to Walt Disney World for the holiday and somehow have flexibility in your plans, consider exercising it Saturday and Sunday. Do a pool day, stroll around Crescent Lake, or the Disney Skyliner Sip & Snack Strategy. (Do not visit Disney Springs–that’ll be even more bonkers than the parks.)
Failing that, arrive early armed with good strategy. Check out our Walt Disney World Itineraries and Rope Drop Tips. They’re somewhat dated with references to FastPass+ and other ‘temporarily paused’ things, but the core ideas hold true. Consider a midday hotel break or a long lunch–potentially at a nearby resort if you don’t already have ADRs–when crowds peak.
The most important piece of ‘temporary abnormal’ advice we can offer for Labor Day weekend is to stay or return late and stick around for park closing. Due to the shorter hours, more guests than normal are currently arriving at rope drop, wanting to get the most bang for their buck.
However, due to a mix of the weather, mask rules, and who knows what else, fewer guests are staying until park closing. Labor Day might be the weekend that bucks this trend due to longer wait times, but we’ve found it to consistently be true thus far–especially if there’s an afternoon rain shower. This is especially the case at Animal Kingdom, and less so at EPCOT (the one park open after dark).
Beyond the obvious “it’s going to be busy” conclusion, the other takeaway to be gleaned here is that Labor Day weekend is in no way a harbinger of crowds to come–at least not for September or October. As you can see in the visuals above, it’s a blip–the one weekend without Disney Park Pass or Disney Vacation Club availability. This weekend doesn’t reflect what attendance will be like for the next couple of months, so we’d caution against drawing any premature conclusions or getting worried by what you see on social media if you have a trip planned for later in September or October.
However, this weekend could be a preview of what we can expect Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s weeks (and to a lesser extent, Veterans Day). It also might be an exaggerated version of holiday season crowds, in general. Our primary interest in Labor Day weekend is seeing how Walt Disney World handles and absorbs higher attendance levels while operating at a reduced capacity. This will be relevant not in the next couple months, but if/when travel starts to pick up while the parks are still operating with restrictions and reductions in place. We’ll be on hand to check it out, and will report back with what we find for future planning purposes.
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!
Are you visiting Walt Disney World this weekend? Plan on employing strategy to beat or at least minimize exposure to crowds? What do you think attendance will be like Labor Day weekend? The rest of September and October? Think this will be a preview of what’s to come during the holidays, or will Walt Disney World open more to help absorb higher attendance numbers? Do you agree or disagree with our predictions? 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!
Here now and was at AK Saturday (yesterday). Definitely felt busier than MK on Friday, but still super doable… especially with so few attractions. Waited 35 minutes for Naavi and 35 for FOP in the middle of the day. Was here in February and it was sooo crowded, this has been a breeze! Rope dropping HS for Rise today (Sunday) and hoping for a low boarding group so we can escape back to the room in the middle of the day a bit. Staying at Pop which feels pretty busy… but still, all very manageable (so far).
According to this your Labor Day prediction looks spot on. I’d give this weekend a hard pass.
While crowds are a little heavier than I’d like, it’s really not nearly as bad as February was. HS yesterday, got to do ROTR, Epcot again today. People seem to be following the directions for the most part, so no issues.
I know this is not related but i had a full price reservation for CBR FOR NOV 22-28 and i had a preferred room .the southern discounts didn’t apply to a room for 5 so i couldn’t take any discount but after the 3rd call and 4 hours of waiting on a cast member i was able to book an upgrade for yacht club and it only cost me $257 more total to do it. Sometimes it has a lot to do with the cast member you get on the phone after being told no other offers apply by the first two, the 3rd cast member was the charm.I was also able to book my sister and her husband a discounted rate FOR 25 NOV THRU 28 NOV that showed no availability online . We are excited to be going after two earlier cancellations in May and early July.I really enjoy your updates Tom!
We are here now. Crowds are picking up for sure but still low wait times, I anticipate that will increase! The biggest problem I foresee is mobile ordering for meals- this is a logistical nightmare even with low crowds!!
I’m not familiar with the AP side of the park pass system, but is it possible APs jump on and reserve a park pass, but don’t actually end up going? Is there any penalty for reserving a spot and not using it (like advanced dining reservations)? I could see people going “meh, too hot, too crowded, never mind”
Any chance Disney is limiting new hotel room reservations on the 6th and 7th just because of the lack of park pass reservations available those days or are they truly sold out?
Tom, so interested to hear your report on how the crowds were after the Labor Day weekend, as we will be there from Dec 24th to Dec 30th, and I am very curious to see how the parks handle the spike in crowds. Good luck to you and Sara this weekend in your “research”.
It’s not bad. We’re here now. Swan is pretty nice hotel.
So really the weekend may be the worst of it with Monday and the following week being as slow as normal? We’re headed out Sunday and going to Magic Kingdom on Monday. May miss rope drop to avoid some crowds. How do you think Monday will be crowd wise? Thanks!
Honestly this is a joke. No one is social distancing and cast members are clearly at their witts end. I’ve been here since Monday & yesterday (9/4) & today (9/5) makes me regret coming. My patience is thoroughly being tested by lack of consideration for others & today definitely lacks the Disney magic my family has experienced in the past.
Christy, where are you hiding? People are doing fine and CMs seem happy to be back at work.
Tom, thank you so much for all of your research and the helpful information you share especially during these uncertain times. You and Sarah seem like awesome people and I’d love to be able to meet you two someday!
For any reason would you recommend either of these weeks over the other or do you think they’ll be about equal? Fri 10/2- Sat 10/10 OR Fri 10/16 – Sat 10/24 2020.
We are wanting to stay in the Cabins @ FW but apparently I wasn’t fast enough yesterday when the discount dropped to secure our original dates. I was able to get it for two weeks earlier, however so now I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort to keep checking to see if it becomes available or just go ahead and move our trip. We’re lucky that our dates our semi-flexible but it would still be somewhat of a hassle, hence the question. 🙂
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any reason why either one of those weeks would be better or worse than the other.
The big wildcard could be school breaks. Admittedly, I do not have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on with those. My guess is that most fall breaks will not happen, and where they do, schools will strongly discourage traveling during those breaks. I don’t really know, though.
Got it. Thank you for your input!
I hope the crowds go down the days after Labor Day. We are flying in Monday afternoon and going to the parks on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Leaving Friday. Really hoping for low crowds!
I’d expect crowds to drop pretty fast and significantly come Tuesday. Historically, Labor Day does not result in weeklong spikes (like Thanksgiving or Christmas). My guess is that the overwhelming majority of the visitors are Southerners doing long weekend getaways.
Have a good trip!
We will be in Hollywood Studios Saturday, hoping to get in a virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance. Am I correct that you can’t join the queue until you scan your band to get into the park?
Correct, all members of your party must be inside to try.
We missed the first distribution in morning but got group 104 in the second. We rode right before closing, and they boarded into group 107.
I’m planning on Epcot on Friday early, since most locals are working that day and Animal Kingdom on Sunday since it has been the least attended park. Not sure I will go to Animal Kingdom…I will wait to hear from others how Saturday goes. I’m not wanting to go if the crowds are larger. I’ll just hit the beach early in the morning instead. Should be interesting for sure.
Sounds like a fairly savvy strategy–good luck!
Nice. We’re hitting Epcot tomorrow night, DHS Friday, Epcot Saturday, AK Sunday, MK Monday, AK Tuesday am. However it shakes out with crowds, we’re stuck to that at this point on the Parks Pass front.
Well tom, we shall see, heading out tomorrow! Still seeing a lot of very low crowd forecasts, but those are likely based more on past numbers than current situation effects. temps in low 90s seems great compared to San Antonio 100-plus and humid. Even into the 80s on Monday! I wasn’t even going to take a pair of convertible pants, but I will for the plane since you never know if it’s going to be hot or cold. So not expecting to wear socks except for the flights…
I did pick up that 8mm/2.8 Rokinon/Samyang fisheye. Looks pretty cool so far. I like using a polarizer but that’s not possible with this glass. It is very compact though and pretty light. Hoping for just low breezes to help cool things off and leave water calm.
Low 90s just means the temperature is in the low 90s, but it feels like 105 degrees with the humidity. Low 90s are not like low 90s further up north.
Oh, I’m familiar with it, having lived in Orlando and Tampa and visiting dozens of times. Wearing jeans, steel-toes, hard hat working in Tampa in August isn’t exactly fun. And San Antonio is usually hotter, both temp and ‘feel’ so I am looking forward to cooler conditions down there! The ‘feels like’ is very subjective anyway, although as I get older the humidity part does seem to bother me more than it used to.
That 8mm fisheye is a ton of fun–hope you have a great trip and are able to enjoy some upside in the ‘temporary abnormal’ operations this weekend, even if the crowds are heavier than you were hoping!
I’m looking forward to it! Still going to carry the 12mm too. Might leave the bigger and heavier Hasselblad zoom in the room and stick with wide shots. I’ll have my little Sony RX-100 V with me, but will most likely concentrate on the short ones.
Hand-holding for three-exposure bracketing for HDR has been fairly successful for me with those. Five shots, I need a little support…
How crowded do you think the crowds will be on the Monday in Magic Kingdom? We arrive on Monday early afternoon and was going to go straight there. I’m hoping by afternoon the crowds would thin out a bit for those wanting to BBQ but maybe that is wishful thinking.
Crowds are definitely going to peak on Saturday and Sunday and start dropping off Monday. By how much is anyone’s guess. If you have an AP and don’t have to burn a park day, it’s worth a shot!
Thanks! We don’t have APs. Our original plan was to do a park on our last day but since the flight time got moved up, we decided to try a park when we first arrive.
Something like, “Postulating on what it feels like at a Disney Park when they reach their capacity during the temporary abnormal”, just doesn’t have a ring to it but I think that’s a more apt title for this post :-). Once the calendar goes gray for all the buckets, it kind of eliminates the need to predict anything.
I’m curious to read about what it was like, and might even stalk some wait times from afar (it really is a problem). I think this weekend is interesting because, in my opinion, it offers potential visitors a look at what the worst case scenario is in terms of crowds for the rest of the year. That is assuming, WDW doesn’t up the cap.