It’s been a slow September at Walt Disney World. Low off-season attendance has resulted in the first three weeks of the month also being the 3 least busy weeks of this year! This wait times report covers data for the month at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, plus predictions.
These low crowds are not a new development–neither in the last few weeks nor in recent years. Excluding the post-reopening period, the window between when schools go back into session in mid-August until October has been the slowest stretch of the year at Walt Disney World for many years running. As the first mostly-normal year in a while, September simply confirms what we long have known.
Still, it’s nice to see this actually play out, with September having the 3 least-crowded weeks of the year thus far. Plenty of other weeks and months in the last couple of years have defied expectations, in ways good and bad. September continues to be one of the few consistent and predictable months of the year, although that could be starting to change…
This year has had some added wrinkles. One has been adjusted hours, with earlier park openings but also earlier closings. Another has been a lack of nighttime spectaculars in two parks, concentrating guests around Harmonious and Disney Enchantment on the evenings it has been held. Then there’s the biggest change of all–the return of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
This is something we’ve covered at length, again and again. If you’ve missed all of our posts documenting why or how Magic Kingdom is less busy on the days of parties, start by reading No, These Dates Won’t Be Busy at Walt Disney World. That specifically addresses the start of the party season, but applies to all dates of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party through December.
But this isn’t about the impact of MNSSHP on crowd dynamics at Magic Kingdom, it’s about the bigger picture of wait time trends at Walt Disney World. Let’s take a look at September crowds thus far. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:
We’ll start with the weekly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.
The first two weeks of September were 1/10 on the crowd calendar, across the entirety of Walt Disney World. With identical averages, those two weeks are tied for #1 as the best of the year thus far. Going back even further, those are the best numbers we’ve seen since the beginning of October last year.
Crowds increased to 3/10 last week, which is still good enough for the #3 week of the year. Not even the winter months of January or February can hold a candle to wait times during the first three weeks of September.
However, the current week is a totally different story. Granted, we’re only one (partial) day in, but there has been a big spike back to the same crowd level and wait time average (6/10 and 40 minutes) as before Central Florida schools went back into session in August.
The daily numbers underscore the lows of early to mid September versus the moderate crowd levels thus far today.
It wouldn’t be the first time wait times randomly spiked as a one-off, or today could mark the early arrival of normal fall crowds. We’ll be paying close attention to see whether today turns out to be an anomaly or the start of a new trend.
For park by park analysis, we’ll start with Magic Kingdom.
As noted above, Magic Kingdom has regularly been having 1/10 or 2/10 days since the start of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on event days. Yesterday and Friday were two such 1/10 days, with average wait times of 18 and 19 minutes, respectively.
However, today is a totally different story so far. Today is a solid 10/10 crowd level, with an average wait time of 46 minutes. If these numbers hold, it’ll be the busiest day in Magic Kingdom since March 15, and one of the worst days of this entire year. In September, of all months!
Animal Kingdom has actually seen its crowd levels increase in the last several days. It went from having 1/10 and 2/10 days from late August through mid September to having 3/10 to 5/10 days since Friday.
Once you get past the Pandora attractions, individual ride wait times still aren’t bad. For the entire month, Avatar Flight of Passage is the only attraction that has averaged a wait time over an hour. Our Animal Kingdom Afternoon Arrival Strategy is once again the ideal approach for this park. Early Entry or rope drop also work really well.
It’s so easy to beat the crowds at Animal Kingdom that Genie+ is an absolute waste of money unless you’re arriving after 9:30 am and leaving before 3 pm…which, apparently, most people are doing. (Don’t be like everyone else!)
Over at EPCOT, it’s a similar story. The low lows with 1/10 crowd levels appear to be over, as crowd levels have been 2/10 to 5/10 since last Friday.
We haven’t pointed this out in a while, but these reports actually measure wait times, which are not conclusive of attendance or crowdedness. They’re an imperfect measure of raw attendance or crowds–yadda yadda yadda–but the best measure that exists. Nothing else is objective, and perceptions vary too much. (Plus, aren’t wait times what ultimately matter most?)
Usually, there’s a nexus between crowds and wait times. Higher attendance usually equals higher wait times. But not always. EPCOT is notorious for higher “feels like” crowds, especially in World Showcase, during festivals, and on weekends and evenings. World Showcase is worse on weekends due to day drinking, while evenings are busier for people Park Hopping over to watch Harmonious. In short, people show up for things other than attractions, so that elevated attendance isn’t picked up by wait time data.
EPCOT during Food & Wine Festival weekend nights is a confluence of bad “feels like” crowd conditions. (Throw in an away UCF game and it’s a perfect storm!) In short, that 5/10 crowd number for this Saturday probably wouldn’t align with the perception of most guests in the park. We try to avoid EPCOT on weekends during this time of year, and that’s precisely why.
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Daily crowds have had their ups and downs, but the overall trajectory is similar to Walt Disney World as a whole. The first two weeks of the month were 2/10, last week was 3/10, and this week is 6/10 so far.
As a reminder, individual park crowd levels are relative to other dates at the same park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the highest averages in all of Walt Disney World, due to its top-heavy ride roster (plus shows that don’t post wait times). Consequently, a 2/10 at DHS is an average wait time of 40 minutes, whereas 2/10 at Magic Kingdom is 27 minutes. That’s actually a pretty big difference over the course of the day.
Over at Universal Orlando, it’s a very similar story.
Honestly, this chart is more in line with what I expected to see from the Walt Disney World numbers. Last week and this week (meaning today) are starting to creep up, but more gradually. Of course, this doesn’t take into account Halloween Horror Nights, which is doing absolutely bonkers numbers this year.
With backward-looking wait times out of the way, let’s talk look forward to the rest of this month and October. The Disney Park Pass calendar is nothing but green for the entirety of September, minus today.
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised no other dates have gone yellow, particularly the last couple days of the month. Granted, it is September, but we’ve flagged that weekend as being the “worst” of the least busy month of the year.
As we’ve mentioned previously, October will be a different story. It’s too early to say when the crowds will return in full force, my expectation is that the first weekend ends up being busier than any dates in September. Of course, that’s a relative term given the total lack of crowds this month–even if crowd levels are 6/10, that prediction is technically true. (And that’s about what I’d expect.
That and other weekends being green while weekdays are yellow isn’t necessarily indicative of anything. Walt Disney World has been allocating more resources to weekends, meaning the parks are better staffed. That means the capacity cap is higher, and thus, the likelihood of reservations running out is lower.
Then there’s the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday weekend. As discussed in the latest update to the October Crowd Calendar, this holiday always catches people by surprise, but it is busy at Walt Disney World during that long weekend and the dates thereafter.
This holiday coincides with fall break for many school districts, making it the most popular week for vacations to Walt Disney World since July. Walt Disney World uses Park Pass reservations to redistribute crowds so we’ve been more inclined to ignore them the last several months, but there’s a reason that week has been yellow since August. It will almost certainly be busy–I’d bet on it being the worst week in October.
In the nearer term, our expectation is that wait times start rising. In our last crowd report, we questioned when attendance would bottom out, making a “just for fun” prediction that September 11-17 would be the slowest week of the off-season. That turned out to be wrong.
September 11-17 was a 3/10 on the crowd calendar (31 minute average). The week before that was actually the least busy of the month, registering 1/10 on the crowd calendar (27 minute average). In our defense, we did say it was a “just for fun” prediction since each of the first three weeks of September would see similarly low crowds, making it likely that good or bad weather any of those weeks would be the deciding factor.
It now seems likely that the lowest crowds of the fall off-season are in the rearview mirror.
While the jury is still out as to whether today is the start of a new fall trend or an anomaly, I think the most likely possibility given the data (historical and present) is: a bit of both.
Crowds typically trend up later in the month as October draws nearer. This is a week earlier than normal, but this year has seen a lot of shifts in crowd dynamics, so that alone isn’t shocking. Today’s jump is sharper than typical, but if that drops by even ~3-4 minutes tomorrow (and it almost certainly will drop by much more than that at Magic Kingdom with tomorrow being a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party night), we’re in the realm of what’s reasonable.
Ultimately, our expectation is that below-average attendance continues throughout the last two weeks of September, but that the 1/10 and 2/10 crowd level days and weeks are over. It was a good run while it lasted! We hope you took advantage of our advice and visited between mid-August and late September, because crowds will only go up from here for the rest of the year.
The crowds will return in October and won’t let up–at least, not consistently–until after winter school breaks end in the second week of January 2023. The big questions are just how bad crowds get, how quickly, and whether there are reprieves in the next three months between all those holiday weeks. Any idiot can predict low crowds in September. (Just look at me, a true success story in that field!) It takes a lot more skill and luck to get the coming weeks within these busier months right!
Thoughts on sleepy September crowds at Walt Disney World? Predictions for the rest of the month? What about October through December? How bad do you expect crowds to get for the heart of Halloween and the holiday 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!