Despite being the “last hurrah” of summer, Labor Day is always an oddity for attendance & wait times at Walt Disney World. This post offers predictions for the September 2023 holiday, why we’re forecasting low crowds all long weekend, and daily park recommendations if you’re planning a visit.
By holiday weekend standards, Labor Day weekend is never that bad crowd-wise. Even though it’s the unofficial end of summer, most school districts in Florida and other states go back into session at least a couple of weeks before Labor Day. Without these key school districts, the holiday weekend is not actually the last hurrah of summer crowds at Walt Disney World.
We start by mentioning this because it seems like every year, there is “surprise” by the “unexpectedly” low crowds over the Labor Day weekend. (Just watch–there will be headlines with the words surprise and unexpectedly following the holiday weekend. It happens like clockwork!) For whatever reason, a lot of Walt Disney World fans have outdated conceptions of crowds for Labor Day that just haven’t been true for years. Many of these same fans somehow still overlook Columbus Day and Veterans Day, which are way worse!
In recent years, Walt Disney World has attempted to account for this, shifting the start dates for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival to early August and late July, respectively. 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.
However, there’s only so much that can be done. Year in and year out, mid-August through most of September remain inherently unpopular because school just went back into session, which is a huge limiting factor on the pool of potential guests. Not only that, but this is one of the hottest stretches of the year and it’s the heart of hurricane season.
Even the promise of low crowds isn’t enough to lure (logical) guests to visit during this timeframe. It works on people like me who love low crowds at any cost (although I’m rethinking that after enduring the recent record-setting heat wave), but most potential guests stay on the sidelines. Anyway, this post isn’t about all of August and September–it’s about one specific window: Labor Day Weekend.
Rather than a simple “trust me bro” for the explanation as to why Labor Day 2023 weekend won’t be busy at Walt Disney World, I’ll show my work. The most obvious starting point is past crowd levels with wait time data and graphs courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.
Above is a graph of crowd levels and average daily wait times across all of Walt Disney World for the entirety of the last 365 days. On the far left side, you’ll see September 2022. It should be easy to spot because it’s on the beginning of the graph, and also, because it was the slowest month of last year.
Last year, Labor Day weekend occurred September 2-5. Aside from that Sunday, when wait times “shot up” to 4/10, crowd levels were 1/10 every day of that long weekend. The average wait time for all days was 30.25 minutes, which was a 1/10 on the crowd calendar by last year’s standards.
For the sake of comparison, the current week in late August 2023 has been a 2/10 on the crowd calendar with an average wait time of 34 minutes. Almost across the board, Summer 2023 has been slower than last summer. So the smart money would be on Labor Day Weekend 2023 being less busy than last year.
In case you want more comparisons, above is a graph of Labor Day wait times for the last several years. (The color-coding is relative to other Labor Day dates, not each year as a whole.)
The busiest Labor Day was 2017, when the average wait time was 33 minutes. To put that into perspective, the average monthly wait times this June and July were 37 and 36 minutes, respectively. Month-to-date, the average wait time in August 2023 has been 34 minutes. Meaning that the busiest Labor Day in the last decade was still slower than the 3-month average for Summer 2023, even as “revenge travel” has fizzled out.
The least busy year was 2014, when the average wait time was 18 minutes over Labor Day. In fairness, annual attendance has increased by millions of guests since 2014, so that data is ancient and useless. Seriously. Wait times data that’s older than 2017 serves little value as it predates the opening of Pandora: World of Avatar, Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, TRON Lightcycle Run, EPCOT’s overhaul, etc.
The most recent “modern” normal year was 2018, and the average wait time then was 28 minutes. (For reference, 2019 was not normal due to ‘crowdpocalypse’ fears from the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and extended operating hours; 2020 was not normal due to post-reopening capacity caps; 2021-2022 were not entirely normal due to pent-up demand.)
No matter how you slice it or what excuses you make, every single one of these dates was below average as compared to each of those years as a whole. Objectively speaking, Labor Day has been a slow day since at least 2014. Probably longer. I don’t have data to support anything beyond that, but I don’t remember it ever being a busy holiday. This is why it’s so confusing to see other Walt Disney World fans be surprised when Labor Day is inevitably uncrowded…what was the basis for their expectations that it’d be busy, in the first place?
Also worth mentioning is that Labor Day Weekend is, in part and as the name suggests, a weekend. As discussed in several recent posts, weekends are slower at Walt Disney World right now. This is a trend that we expect to continue for the rest of 2023–probably through at least March 2024.
If you’re wanting an explanation for this phenomenon, see Why Are Weekends So Slow at Walt Disney World?The bottom line is that Saturdays and Sundays are objectively the least-busy days of the week at Walt Disney World, a trend that has held true for pretty much this entire year.
Some of the same rationale for that hold true when applied to Labor Day Weekend, too. The big one here is that many cost-conscious consumers have been pushed away from weekends by higher prices on park tickets, accommodations, and airfare. That’s the case even on regular Friday and Saturday nights. And, guess what, it’s even more pronounced for September 1-4, 2023!
The above chart shows the nightly standard room rates at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. Notice the difference in rates for September 1-4 as compared with the days before and after? Now look at the weeks directly before and after? Guests with flexibility are going to choose different dates. We know this because this has been happening all year long–people have been gravitating towards cheaper days of the week, and cheaper weeks within the same general date-ranges.
It’s a similar story for single-day park tickets. Walt Disney World ticket prices are currently at their off-season lows, which is a $109 starting price. By contrast, Saturdays and Sundays are $134 right now, and Labor Day Weekend is $144. Although Disney diehards who read blogs like this probably never buy them, 1-day tickets are incredibly popular with average visitors who only spend a single day in the parks as part of a Florida vacation.
Unsurprisingly, the most expensive day of the week to fly is Friday and Labor Day Weekend is a more popular travel time than random weekdays in late August or mid-September. As with everything else, this is another contributing factor that means fewer budget conscious consumers are doing their first day in the park on Saturdays.
All of that explains why Labor Day Weekend 2023 is likely to have demand on par with weekends at Walt Disney World. Now let’s turn to current signals that actually point to lower demand…
Above is a look at on-site hotel availability at Walt Disney World for September 1-4, 2024. That’s just a partial list of availability for one week from now. Almost every hotel has availability, and with deep discounts for the general public, Annual Passholders, and Florida residents. (For those wondering, those deep discount percentages are no better than what’s offered before or after Labor Day, so the savings does not bridge the gap.)
For fun, go do a search for Columbus Day Weekend or Veterans Day Weekend. Spoiler alert: there’s far less availability. (Veteran’s Day is especially slim pickins’, with almost no standard rooms open.) Those are holidays in October and November–meaning further into the future–so they should have more room inventory, all else being equal. But all else is not equal, as those holidays are much busier than Labor Day.
Not that it’s particularly meaningful or conclusive of crowds anymore, but Disney Park Pass inventory for resort guests and ticket holders is wide open. The same is true for Annual Passholders, which is reflected above.
The reason I chose to feature the AP calendar above is not because it’s more relevant, but to illustrate that the two lowest tiers of Annual Passes are blocked out September 2-4, 2023.
The Pixie Dust Annual Pass is blocked out every Saturday and Sunday, and there’s likely a ton of this pass in circulation because it’s the only AP tier that was sold for over a year. The Pixie Pass being blocked out weekends is likely a big contributor to those being slower this year.
Both the Pixie Pass and the Pirate Pass–two affordable admission options for locals–are also blocked out the bulk of Labor Day Weekend. That’s even more Floridians than normal who thus won’t be in the parks over the long weekend, which should result in an exaggerated version of the recent ‘wonky weekends’ dynamic we’ve been talking about.
Which brings us to our biggest and best piece of ‘evidence’ of all…
The title of this post asserts not just that Labor Day will have below-average crowds, but that it’ll be ‘dead.’Admittedly, that’s a bit of hyperbole…but not much. Our belief is that Labor Day Weekend 2023 will be on par with Independence Day 2023, which was so uncrowded that it made mainstream media news coverage, and prompted an explanation from Bob Iger.
But what Iger “missed” with this is not explaining why July 1-4 was slower than the rest of summer. For the aforementioned rationale to pass muster, it has to apply to only Independence Day Weekend. It doesn’t, though. Pent-up demand has been exhausting itself for months and most of the summer has been hot, not just a single weekend in July. That means that those are just generalized excuses for crowds trending down. So why were crowds below-trend for that holiday weekend?
This answer is, in part, more pronounced price increases for the holiday weekend. July 1-4 cost significantly more than the travel dates around it, and had higher-than-normal weekend premium pricing.
Both of these aforementioned ticket deals were blocked out July 1-4, 2023. When paired with everything else, that right there would seem to be the primary explanation as to why crowds were down so significantly for Independence Day. It was a long holiday weekend–a time that would normally be very busy at Walt Disney World. And yet, average crowd levels were 1/10 and July 4 was the slowest day of the entire year so far.
It’s probably obvious by now where we’re going with this. Regardless, guess when else those two ticket deals are blocked out. Anyone want to take a shot in the dark as to the second asterisk???
That’s right! Both ticket deals are blocked out September 1-4, 2023!!!
In short, Labor Day Weekend 2023 is the exact same setup that resulted in surprisingly low crowd levels over the Fourth of July. Weather is an unknown, but the forecast is calling for more of the same: high heat and humidity…and maybe rain. (Just like the other 44 weeks of summer in Florida.)
Then there’s the competing factor, which is normal crowd patterns for Independence Day vs. Labor Day. All else being equal, Fourth of July Weekend is usually much busier than Labor Day. And unlike the comparison to Columbus Day and Veterans Day, all else actually does seem to be equal here. So it would stand to reason that September 1-4, 2023 could be even slower than July 1-4!
So that’s the basis for our prediction. It’s not just that other forecasts calling for “elevated” attendance over Labor Day Weekend are wrong. Nor is it that Labor Day Weekend will see slightly below-average crowd levels as compared to 2023 as a whole.
We’re going a couple steps further–contending that Labor Day Weekend 2023 will be downright slow at Walt Disney World, and on par with what happened over Independence Day. (I won’t be truly bold and assert that Labor Day will be slower than Fourth of July, as I think that’s too park-specific given the differing circumstances. Also, July 4 was the slowest day of the year thus far, so beating that will be a tough task even if it makes sense on paper.)
With that in mind, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about when to do each park over Labor Day Weekend 2023. Honestly, that’s the far tougher question than whether Labor Day will be busy or slow, due to the ‘conflict’ between MNSSHP and our standard Best & Worst Day of the Week Advice.
If it were me and I did not have Park Hopper tickets, I’d do the following:
September 1: Animal Kingdom
September 2: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
September 3: Magic Kingdom
September 4: EPCOT
If I did have Park Hopper tickets, I’d do this:
September 1: Magic Kingdom -> EPCOT
September 2: Disney’s Hollywood Studios -> TBD
September 3: Animal Kingdom -> Magic Kingdom
September 4: Magic Kingdom -> DHS
The big tension here is between Monday and MNSSHP at Magic Kingdom. Normally, Monday is the busiest day of the week at Magic Kingdom. Also normally, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party days are slower at MK. My gut says this is resolved in favor of MNSSHP, but by not as pronounced of a degree as normal. A lot of people sadly do not check hours before heading to the parks.
The flip side of that is another conflict: current weekend trends vs. normal weekend dynamics during Party Season. Thus far this August, Saturdays have been slightly up at Magic Kingdom, whereas Sundays have remained fairly slow. Granted, we’re only two weekends into Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, but that’s about what we expected. Hence Magic Kingdom appearing Sunday on both lists above.
In the end, it’s important to emphasize that there are several ‘competing’ variables at play when it comes to the park-specific recommendations, and some or all of those could be ‘wrong’ as a result. I have a higher degree of confidence in the bigger picture prediction that Labor Day Weekend will be slow than the granular park picks. The good news is that the bigger picture prediction matters a lot more, and should mean choosing the best park each day matters a lot less!
Are you visiting Walt Disney World for Labor Day Weekend 2023? What do you think attendance will be like for this year’s Labor Day holiday weekend? What about as compared to this month, last year, or the rest of September and October 2023? 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!