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.
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!