Let’s start with a quick recap from Part 1 of this crowd report for those who didn’t read that. For Labor Day weekend, Walt Disney World’s hotel rooms were sold out, DVC resorts being fully booked, and Park Pass reservations were filled for all parks–a first on all fronts post-reopening. Accordingly, the forecast was for significantly higher crowds than previous weekends in July and August.
That’s not how things played out. While far from being ‘ghost towns’ like some post-reopening weekdays, Walt Disney World saw only a modest increase in wait times as compared to the last four weekends. Per Thrill-Data, Saturday waits at Magic Kingdom were up 1.4%, Animal Kingdom waits were up 16.4%, and Hollywood Studios waits were down 19.4% week over week.
However, waits at EPCOT were up a whopping 29% on Saturday, with falling–but still elevated–wait times Sunday and Monday. EPCOT went from being the least-busy park on average to the busiest.
Below is a look at EPCOT posted wait time averages throughout the day on Saturday (blue line), as compared to the last four Saturdays before that:
It’s pretty well-established that EPCOT is a park to avoid on weekends during the fall. Our Guide to EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival–written with a normal year in mind–likens weekends to frat parties and strongly recommends avoiding them.
However, this is no normal year. The annual culinary event doesn’t have its normal drawing power, there’s no College Program this semester at Walt Disney World, and fewer students on Florida’s university campuses.
To be honest, if you asked me before Labor Day weekend which park would’ve seen the biggest spike in crowds, EPCOT is not the park I would’ve picked. It hasn’t really been on my radar in terms of crowds because they’ve been so non-existent the last couple of months.
With the benefit of hindsight, all things become clearer. So of course, now it’s glaringly obvious as to why EPCOT’s crowds should’ve been expected to increase the most. Naturally.
By and large, it’s a matter of capacity utilization on an average day versus the Labor Day holiday.
On a normal day, none of Walt Disney World’s parks are hitting their current capacity caps–or even coming close to them. Of those, EPCOT is the furthest from hitting its attendance limits.
In part, this is a lack of guest demand for the current incarnation of EPCOT. It’s also due to the capacity of EPCOT being higher than the other parks. It should go without saying, but attendance caps are not uniform across all 4 parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the lowest level (hence the most ‘sold out’ Park Pass days) and EPCOT has the highest.
This is mostly a result of EPCOT having the most available space (meaning you exclude things like the savanna of Kilimanjaro Safaris since guests can’t chill with the lions out there) of any park at Walt Disney World. Despite a “worthwhile” attraction count about on par with Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s safe to assume EPCOT’s capacity is double or more than of DHS.
On a normal day this doesn’t really make much of a difference as attendance across the parks more or less self-regulates. EPCOT is not pulling double the attendance numbers of Disney’s Hollywood Studios–far from it.
While Walt Disney World is not releasing official numbers, our guess is that EPCOT is hitting around 20-40% of its reduced capacity cap most days, whereas Disney’s Hollywood Studios is likely in the 70-80% range. Over Labor Day weekend, both parks were at 100% (even if Disney decreased these caps over the weekend, we’d assume they did so proportionately). To get there, EPCOT’s attendance would’ve increased more, meaning proportionately higher wait time increases. Pretty obvious in retrospect, but something we didn’t consider prior to the weekend.
Beyond that, many of the guests who visit EPCOT on an average day are not there for attractions.
As is often stressed, EPCOT is the local’s park. Many visitors are simply wandering around, enjoying the atmosphere of World Showcase, eating, and perusing the shops.
Labor Day weekend–or any holiday, for that matter–is different.
Right off the bat, it’s different for Walt Disney World as a whole in terms of demographics, with more tourists and fewer locals. More infrequent visitors means fewer guests who are content wandering around, and more who are prioritizing attractions. That’s true in a normal year as well as this year.
However, the unique wrinkle for 2020 is Disney Park Pass. As discussed elsewhere, this reservation system was fully booked for every single park over the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Unsurprisingly, the last park to book to capacity was EPCOT.
This means that a lot of tourists visited EPCOT not out of a strong desire to experience Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along or the Seas with Nemo & Friends, but for a lack of other options. On a regular holiday weekend, the other three parks don’t fill to capacity, meaning EPCOT isn’t a consolation prize that comes closer to its capacity cap.
The only time this is true is New Year’s Eve, when EPCOT does see significantly elevated wait times. That’s the reason Test Track frequently has the longest wait time of any attraction in any park on New Year’s Eve. However, EPCOT has a strong reputation as the NYE park for locals, so even that is not a perfect comparison.
At least, that’s my theory for why EPCOT saw such a larger spike in wait times than the other parks over Labor Day weekend. The TL;DR version of that is that it’s attendance had the most room to grow on a sold out day since it was previously the Walt Disney World park furthest from utilizing its full capacity, plus a difference in demographics skewing towards guests who are more interested in attractions.
We visited EPCOT on Labor Day itself, and found wait times to be significantly higher than anything we had observed since July. In some cases, over double the norm. Crowds and congestion were also heavier, but not to the degree we would’ve expected given wait times.
To the contrary, a typical weekend last year during Food & Wine would’ve felt more uncomfortable in World Showcase, but would’ve reflected lower wait times. Hence the commentary above.
When the dust settled on the holiday weekend, attendance levels returned to normal, and (most significantly) the other parks were no longer ‘sold out’ of Park Pass reservations, wait times at EPCOT plummeted. Above is a graph of average waits on Labor Day (red line) as compared the following day (blue line). A drop of 59%, which was by far the largest of any park at Walt Disney World.
This is all significant because, if our theorizing is correct, the same type of scenario is going to play out every holiday travel period, or any time Disney Park Pass reservations are unavailable at the other three parks. (From all three buckets–the AP bucket alone is almost irrelevant when it comes to crowds–at least for now.)
The big takeaway is that EPCOT is the worst park to visit on busy days during this stretch while Disney Park Pass is being utilized. With the lowest crowds on (temporary ab)normal days right now, it has the most room to grow when crowds increase. (So visit EPCOT on a less-crowded weekday if at all possible.) Conversely, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the best to visit for the exact opposite reason. Since it’s the park regularly coming closest to its reduced capacity cap, it has the lowest ceiling on crowd growth. Magic Kingdom is second-best, and Animal Kingdom is second-worst, although there’s less of a gap between those as compared to the extremes of EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Did you visit EPCOT this weekend? What did you think of the crowds? How did EPCOT compare to your experience at the other Walt Disney World parks? If you’ve visited on a past Food & Wine weekend, how did crowds compare to that? How did wait times compare? 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!