Early Fall Crowds Falling at Disney World
Like clockwork, early fall crowds are falling at Walt Disney World. Schools throughout Florida and other Southern states are back in session, unofficially ushering in the off-season. This wait times report covers ride & daily data for last month at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, while also offering commentary and predictions for September 2022.
By way of recap, crowds have followed a familiar pattern this month, with August starting out busier as summer wrapped up, with locals and tourists making their last visits before vacation season came to an end. Major school districts going back into session resulted in lower wait times, a trend that has accelerated since mid-month when Osceola and Orange Counties in Central Florida started their new academic years.
In addition to that, the 2022 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is now underway, bringing shorter operating hours to Magic Kingdom for regular guests on those evenings. This is something we already covered last week in Magic Kingdom’s Third Slowest Day of 2022! The title pretty much says it all, but the post is worth skimming if you’re somehow still on the fence about doing MK on MNSSHP days.
Thus far, the daytime hours before Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom have ranged from 1/10 to 2/10 on the crowd calendar. Our expectation is that these numbers will increase going forward (for the reasons discussed in that post), but they should remain low. But before we get to the forward-looking predictions, let’s take a look backwards at August 2022 thus far.
As always, all graphs and wait time stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:
We’ll start with the monthly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.
After peaking in June, summer crowds declined in July and that trend has continued in August. The average wait time across all attractions at Walt Disney World is now 38 minutes–identical to May.
With the week by week view, we can see that wait times started higher at the beginning of the month, and have dropped during the last two weeks.
Again, this mirrors May–but in reverse. That month started slow and got progressively busier, whereas August is on a downward trajectory.
Individual days illustrate mostly the same, but with more bars.
Now that schools are starting to go back into session, it’s likely these numbers will drop even further. With one week left in August, it’ll be interesting to see whether wait times fall enough to make this the least busy month of 2022 at Walt Disney World (so far).
For park by park analysis, we’ll start with Magic Kingdom.
It’s a “tale of two crowd levels” at Magic Kingdom, with full operating days (9 am to 11 pm) being in the ~4/10 or 5/10 range and days of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party being 1/10. (Note that this does not include wait times during MNSSHP–only before it starts.)
Here are the specific ride averages for Magic Kingdom:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 71 minutes
- Meet Mickey & Minnie at Town Square Theater: 69 minutes
- Peter Pan’s Flight: 68 minutes
- Meet Mickey at Town Square Theater: 58 minutes
- Splash Mountain: 57 minutes
- Jungle Cruise: 53 minutes
- Space Mountain: 44 minutes
Note that the Mickey Mouse meet & greet appears twice because it started the month as “Meet Mickey” and is now “Meet Mickey & Minnie.” Despite lower crowd levels, the duo is pulling a higher wait time by 11 minutes. Nicely done, Minnie.
If I had to guess, I’d say this meet & greet is likely operating at reduced capacity. Genie+ availability has been limited (so that’s not causing the elevated standby waits) and this is not notorious for abnormally inflated wait times.
Assuming staffing is an issue here, it’s almost certainly due to the return of other meet & greets in Magic Kingdom coupled with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
Several characters have started appearing around the park on a daily basis, and there are numerous meet & greets at MNSSHP that are a shift (7 pm to midnight) that normally wouldn’t be staffed with characters. Fewer meet & greets were a complaint in our 2022 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Photo Report, and staffing is likely the explanation for that, too.
Animal Kingdom has seen its crowd levels fall this month to the 5/10 range most days.
August 19 is the one big exception to that–it was a 9/10 for some reason. Not sure what happened that day to lead to the spike.
Here are the attraction averages for Animal Kingdom:
- Avatar Flight of Passage: 90 minutes
- Na’vi River Journey: 63 minutes
- Kali River Rapids: 51 minutes
- Kilimanjaro Safaris: 50 minutes
- Meet Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost: 44 minutes
- Dinosaur: 35 minutes
- Expedition Everest: 34 minutes
Another inexplicable spike: Avatar Flight of Passage is up by 15 minutes, from 75 to 90 minutes. That’s a significant jump, especially at a time when every other wait time in the park dropped.
The most likely scenario here is that the attraction is operating at reduced capacity, with one theater down. We haven’t personally heard anything about this, but it’s not as if Avatar fans who are hyped up for the sequel(s) have suddenly descended upon Disney en masse.
Over at EPCOT, wait times continue their gradual decline from early summer levels.
Most of these lows are occurring Fridays through Sundays, which makes sense. EPCOT is the locals’ park, and Floridians are more likely to visit for festivals and atmosphere than rides. Locals are also more likely than tourists to cancel park plans at the last minute if the weather is bad–and it has been a hot and rainy month-plus.
Here are individual attraction wait times at EPCOT this month:
- Frozen Ever After: 71 minutes
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure: 67 minutes
- Test Track: 66 minutes
- Soarin’ Around the World: 41 minutes
- Mission Space: 38 minutes
These times for headliners at EPCOT are actually down quite a bit, albeit still all above an hour. The supporting player attractions are almost all at 15 minutes (and walk-ons for much of the day, in actuality), which really drags down the average.
It’s only a matter of time until Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind drops its virtual queue and adds a standby line, which will spike the average pretty significantly. While we think this would be the “right” thing to do as it would reduce friction and stress, we’re also admittedly a bit happy it hasn’t happened yet.
The virtual queue is now pretty easy for anyone who tries at or around the time it opens, making this a “freebie” low wait attraction. It’ll easily be another hour-plus wait once standby debuts. (It’ll also require us overhauling all of our EPCOT strategy, which I’m not looking forward to doing yet again.)
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Remember all of our grousing about DHS being the “most frustrating park” at Walt Disney World? Well, that’s a thing of the past…for now. The average crowd level has been 3/10 in the last two weeks.
With that said, it’s important to understand that crowd levels are relative to other dates at the same park. Consequently, a 3/10 at DHS is an average wait time of 42-44 minutes, whereas 3/10 at Magic Kingdom is 31-33 minutes. That’s actually a pretty big difference over the course of the day.
Here are ride-by-ride wait times for Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the month:
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance: 103 minutes
- Slinky Dog Dash: 90 minutes
- Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run: 75 minutes
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 69 minutes
- Toy Story Mania: 65 minutes
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: 61 minutes
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: 52 minutes
It’s also worth noting that these wait times vary widely over the course of the day. The bulk of guests cram into DHS during the midday hours and typically leave early. Early Entry and the last two hours of the evening remain blissfully uncrowded, and you can accomplish more during those ~3 hours than the entirety of the midday stretch.
This will change once Fantasmic (finally) returns. That will normalize crowd levels over the course of the day, and should lower these averages. It’s another change that’ll be good for the park and average guests. (Selfishly, we’ll miss these quiet nights at DHS. Here’s hoping the upgrades to Fantasmic make its belated return worth the wait.)
For the sake of comparison, here’s a high-level look at the weekly wait time averages for Universal Orlando.
The general trend of Universal Orlando’s crowd levels in the last month track with those of Walt Disney World. The big difference is that there has been a bit of a bump in the last week, with crowd levels going from 4/10 to 5/10. Still, pretty slow.
After today, the Disney Park Pass calendar is nothing but green until mid-October. (The week of Columbus Day, which always catches people by surprise since “no one” has the holiday off work. Someone must, because it’s typically busy!)
This is partly due to a recent reservation refill, which turned the rest of this week green. This appears to have occurred in tandem with the multiple changes to Disney Park Pass policies at Walt Disney World. It’s a good time to book reservations now, especially for Magic Kingdom on party days if you couldn’t get them before.
Looking forward, our expectation is that crowds continue falling. As discussed in the latest update to the September 2022 Crowd Calendar, this is the best month of the year to visit from a wait times perspective. Literally the entire month sees below average attendance. Even Labor Day draws far fewer visitors than most other holidays.
There’s really no bad time to visit as far as the September 2022 crowd calendar goes. The first weekend and the last week will be the two busiest weeks. However, “busiest” is a relative term, as even those should be really light compared to the entirety of October.
September is one of the last bastions of the off-season at Walt Disney World. This has been consistently true even as attendance has spiked during other previously off-season months.
In fact, we named September 2022 the #1 month to visit in our Best & Worst 2022 Months to Visit Walt Disney World because of how predictably uncrowded it is. Whereas other off-season months have gotten busier, September has stayed the same–and (knock on wood) always should remain that way due to school schedules and less desirable weather.
Nevertheless, there will be many on social media (and perhaps in the comments to posts here) who see this post’s headline or future crowd report titles and attribute the falling numbers to boycotts, price increases, consumer unfriendly policies, or whatever the outrage du jour is next month.
If that’s what you want to do, it’s certainly your prerogative. My one request would be that you return to either celebrate your ongoing “victory” or admit “defeat” when the October and November crowd reports roll around. Because all of the aforementioned “causes” of lower attendance would not be confined exclusively to mid-August through September. If those are the real reasons for lower attendance–and not easily predictable patterns that are true year in and out–they surely won’t end when September concludes. Right?!
Ultimately, our expectation is that lower attendance continues over the course of the next week to a sufficient degree that August claims the crown of least crowded month at Walt Disney World in 2022. That title will likely be short-lived, as September tends to be even slower.
From my perspective, the big question mark is when the fall group events and convention crowds arrive. There’s an outside chance that the last week of September sees an outsized spike due the arrival of these, plus early fall breaks for various school districts around the country and diehard WDW fans visiting for EPCOT’s 40th Anniversary. In that case, September might end up being slightly busier than August.
Personally, I’d bet against that. My expectation is that the arrival of fall crowds coincides with Columbus Day weekend, and that continues to accelerate with only minor reprieves here and there throughout the holiday season. Early signs point to the last three months of the year being busy, so if you only care about numbers–and not weather or Christmas–the next month is the time to visit Walt Disney World. It might be smart to plan a last-minute long weekend, if you can swing it!
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Thoughts on early fall crowds at Walt Disney World? Predictions for the rest of the month or fall off-season? If you’ve visited within the last month, what did you think of wait times? Have you done Magic Kingdom during the day of a MNSSHP night? What about posted v. actual wait times? 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!
We went in September when the DDP was first initiated. Our TA said that no one would take their kids out of school only a week into their school year. Well, the TA was definitely wrong! The parks were full of families with school age children. It was busy every year after with the DP.
We found September to be not as busy as our usual trips, BUT the weather was very Hot! We felt like we melting while walking in Epcot. We swore off september from then on, even with lower crowds. However, that’s just our one experience. Other than the extreme heat, it was not crowded at all and still beautiful and fun.
Columbus Day & that week is unofficially “Jersey week”. Folks from the Garden State descend on the Parks.
Unless they moved it this year, Jersey week is at the beginning of November.
We were at Disney World last week and met a couple from New Jersey. They said that jersey week is the second week of November, this year 2022. They said it’s because there’s some teacher workdays that they’re off school.
Disney had no magic left on our trip last year. We have gone yearly ( party of 9) as grandmas treat for many years. My simple solution. We are not returning to Disney unless they start to bring the magic back. Such a lose for new generations.
Oh man… I’m going Nov 2 – 8. Is that predicted to be a busy week? I also bought my tickets at a time when you can combine genie +.
From a crowd numbers stand point and attraction wait times Sept is a great time to visit but I never will again in Sept because the last time we did was in 2012. And a down pour like I’ve never seen in my whole life hit the parks and liked to have drowned every one in them! It lasted hours and hours till the parks finally closed early. Around 2PM. It had begun raining in the morning and did not stop. It was raining so hard you could hardly even see the people who were swimming for their lives and clinging to what ever cover they could find. And I remember we went inside the American experience just to keep from drowning in Epcot and being wet from the rain and inside the air conditioning was like 20 degrees below zero. I was sick for the rest of the week because of that horrible experience. I saw one poor stupid soul standing in line behind a couple other people for something rain just beating off his head. I don’t know what was so important to that man he felt he had to face a monsoon to experience it but there he stood in only a rain poncho that looked like it was barely hanging on. When they say Sept is the rain season….
Listen to them.
We will be going in the beginning of Sept and hope this is true. This would make it better to do a good amount of ride. Thanks for the article.
Thanks so much for your articles! You mention the crowds at Magic Kingdom during the regular hours are a 1/10 or 2/10 on MNSSHP days. What is the estimate of crowd levels during the party?
Great article Tom! We’re heading down the second week in Sept….hoping the weather is kind to us. As for the ADRs, when we went down this past May we were able to book most of the ADRs we wanted. When we were at the various parks we arrived at several of our dining locations about 60 to 90 minutes before our reservation and they were able to seat us right away. I also noticed a couple of times where walk-ups without reservations were able to get a table. Might have had something to do with the particular restaurant, but it never hurts to walk up and ask if you’re there.
Good recommendations, and it never hurts to try!
One word of warning to those reading: ~75% of the time, we are seated late rather than early at WDW restaurants when they’re busy (September *shouldn’t* be busy). My perception is that many locations are overbooking their available capacity, and making people wait.
This is one reason I love walk-up waitlist. If there’s a restaurant with a 10-15 minute wait, that almost always means you’ll be seated immediately.
Hi Tom and Sarah,
Is there a difference in what you can get done at a party versus extended evening hours if staying at a deluxe/DVC resort?
Thank you for all of your articles and tips – my family is having a wonderful time here at WDW.
Today we are visiting EPCOT and we were able to get a Group Number in the Virtual Queue for Cosmic Rewind. They list an estimated wait time of 30-45 min.
Later in the morning we were also able to purchase a time for an ILL for Cosmic Rewind ( which ended up being for an earlier time than the estimation for the Virtual queue) just FYI it was offered at $14/person
It’s an amazing ride- a new favorite.
We were lulled by August low crowd reports and 100/RT flights last year and flew in for Labor Day weekend ahead of the pending changes (Genie). It was busy and lines were long. 🙁
I’m interested to see how the weekend plays out this year….
If you thought Labor Day was busy last year, I’d definitely stay away this year. It will be busier.
(FWIW, last year Labor Day peaked at a 2/10 on the crowd calendar on Saturday–Friday and Monday were 1/10–and “benefited” tremendously from the delta variant and reinstated mask rules causing cancellations. Neither variables will artificially suppress attendance this year.)
Love your articles Tom and I’ll never stop reading but Genie+ has ruined WDW and we wont be back!
Aren’t you the guy who people “have to” buy G+ to avoid long lines?
Since Early Entry at every park every day (among other things) has made Genie+ virtually unnecessary, does that mean EE saved WDW or did Tom save WDW by testing out the possibilities and showing us that is true?
@Jojo…….Aren’t you the annoying person who won’t admit the truth because you’re an apologist?
Go bother someone else, you act is lame
Go back under your bridge TROLL
You’re the troll with an agenda, who brings G+ into every unrelated post of Tom’s.
I said go back under your bridge! you are THE DEFINITION of a TROLL!
Change is hard. Get help.
Thanks Tom! Great post!
I do have a question. How many consecutive months of low attendance, in your opinion, will it take for Disney to step back on park reservations and possibly changes that benefit on-site guests for Gennie+.
I’m not sure it’s a matter of consecutive months for reservations. I think that could change with lower attendance, but also satisfaction scores. If it’s an issue for regular ticket holders, Disney could drop reservations and glean most of the same data from the date-based ticket system. The tough part would be redistributing crowds, which is one reason why reservations might stick around for the long haul. (I do not expect reservations to be dropped for APs at any point.)
On-site benefits are a matter of occupancy rates, not attendance. (There is a difference–and the two are not as closely tied as some might believe.) Even with lower crowd levels, the hotel booking numbers are holding strong.
“Even with lower crowd levels, the hotel booking numbers are holding strong.”
The softness is definitely there with off-site (and “off-site”) hotel numbers. I keep looking at Disney Springs hotels and I can have most of them for under $150 with fees the weekend of EPCOT 40, even after Oct 1. It does seem like crowds currently are more of a function of non-Disney hotels in the area.
We are going Mid September. So it sounds like crowd levels will be low. Which will be great. As long as bad weather holds off. We’ve been down that road before for in September. So fingers crossed we can be there on our actual anniversary this time. Question is, I’ve only been able to make a couple of dinner reservations. There a lot of places across all parks that have no reservations for this week. Been trying for while now. Why if the crowds are going to be so low. Are places not releasing all their reservations yet or holding on to some seating?
That’s a great question. I have been in September as well, bc. (Before covid) and dinner reservations were still difficult. I thought dinner reservations have a direct coordination with park reservations, no? How can all the reservations be unavailable and every single restaurant be full if the parks are not full. that’s confusing.
I had not noticed this–I’ll have to poke around MDX and see what’s up.
One thing I have noticed this month is that last minute (1-2 days in advance) ADR availability has been excellent. I wonder if maybe WDW is holding back reservations and releasing more once there’s clarity about staffing? Don’t know what else could explain it.
We are going the week of September 18th. I tried booking dinner reservations at the 60 day mark. I got up at 5 am each day for all of my bookings and the times were very limited for the size of my party (5). I was able to book almost everything I wanted but I wasn’t a huge fan of the dinner times.
Tom commented a bit ago that 1-2 days out seem to open a bit for reservations. Now that you have a current reservation, keep checking the week before you arrive and even 1 or two days before and see what opens up. Maybe you will have some luck with times you like better!
Good luck and have a great time!!!
@Megan, I had issues booking 60-day ADRs for my party of 5 for my upcoming trip, which starts tomorrow. A week ago, a relative made plans to join us for a few days of our trip. I went back to those ADRs to see if I could adjust them to 6 pp. Guess what? I discovered that almost every restaurant we were unable to get for a party of 5 was available for parties of 6. Disney seems to be programming for maximized revenue by refusing to leave one seat vacant at a 6-seater table. Guess what else? Disney won’t ding you if you show up for a reservation with fewer than your stated guests. I hate having to game the system like this, but I went back and booked a couple of preferred reservations as tables for 6.
Thank you so much! I look into it.
Another contributing factor is people booking multiple ADRs because they are unsure where they will want to eat. This is very common with frequent visitors and they will cancel 24 to 48 hours in advance to avoid the penalty charge.
Nicole, going last week of sept and had/having a rough time with ADRs also. I have never had this much of an issue before. On another note hoping Tom’s latter premonition of low crowds minus conventions holds! Thanks Tom and Sarah for your work
Hello, Kelly are you sure about this? 🙂
Wondering cause I just checked and I can get Be Our Guest for 3 but not for 2..
Anyone can confirm that if 2 guests show up instead of 3 we won’t be charge?
We’ve done it before through the years – not on purpose, but because some older relatives or little ones fizzled out before they could make a dinner adr. Never had an issue.
Thanks for the great reporting, Tom and Sarah! This is all great news for me! I’m heading down tomorrow and am looking forward to a low crowd day as we kick off our park time at the MK on Friday morning…