Walt Disney World resort availability is extremely limited for this Christmas season through early January 2023, prompting reader questions and concerns. This post addresses what’s going on with the sold out hotels, lack of discounts, and commentary about what you can expect later next year. (Updated October 10, 2022.)
This essentially serves as a “heads up” to those thinking about last minute holiday trips or anyone wondering why many or most hotels are showing up as unavailable when searching for rooms. With some hotels already having limited available through early 2023, we’d strongly recommend booking your resort and other vacation components ASAP. Get something flexible and refundable locked-in now so you aren’t shut out or paying higher prices later. Additionally, we now have explanations as to why this is happening.
This appears to be history repeating itself, with a similar trend to what we saw last year around the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and Christmas, as well as earlier this year. With October through December being the busiest stretch of the year at Walt Disney World, you might want to book now if you’re already looking ahead to 2023.
One of the biggest changes on the limited hotel availability front since this time last year is that all previously-closed resorts have reopened. Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, plus All Star Music and Sports, as well as Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House all reopened since last fall.
That’s over 15% of Walt Disney World’s total room inventory that’s now available for booking but was not earlier in the year–and that’s even before taking into account maximum occupancy thresholds, which have almost certainly increased as compared to last fall due to staffing strides.
Despite this inventory spike, many Walt Disney World hotels are sold out for a range of dates in the next several months. The simplest and most straightforward explanation for sold out resorts at Walt Disney World is demand. We’ve been warning ad nauseam of “Revenge Travel” at Walt Disney World. You’re probably sick of hearing about this, but the travel industry continues to see strong bookings due to consumers shifting their spending from goods to services to make up for lost time.
Last year, the expectation was that the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration would be incredibly busy. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary would take years-in-the-making “homecoming” trips last October through December, adding another wrinkle to pent-up demand. The Delta variant had other ideas, and October ended up being one of the slowest months of the year, with crowds not really recovering. The weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas were still busy, but otherwise, crowds were relatively muted.
However, demand does not account for the “fully booked” hotels at Walt Disney World, at least not entirely. While Walt Disney World is not capping park attendance as before, this is occurring at the resorts.
This is not as a vestige of physical distancing. Instead, it’s due to staffing shortages. These persist in key roles that disproportionately impact the resorts at this point.
As a whole, Walt Disney World has turned a corner on its staffing shortages. The College Program’s accelerated resumption and Walt Disney World’s aggressive hiring blitz are now paying off. Tons of new employees have gone through Traditions training and been assigned to locations around Walt Disney World.
Consequently, Walt Disney World’s theme parks are mostly fine. Attractions, retail, and most other areas are adequately staffed.
However, this is not true across the board. Walt Disney World continues to hold job fairs, and is offering hiring bonuses and higher pay for certain roles. In particular, Walt Disney World has had ongoing and significant shortages for housekeeping, cooks, and bus drivers.
To remedy the bus driver shortage, Walt Disney World has contracted with a third party coach bus company (hence all of the Academy buses around the complex for the last several months). Not having much success, Disney recently increased hiring bonuses–some are now up to $6,000 depending on the position and location of the applicant! The company is also offering referral bonuses to current Cast Members who recruit new hires.
In an attempt to take pressure off the housekeeper shortage, Walt Disney World unofficially “banned” 1-night stays for peak holiday season travel dates. This restriction was never publicly announced, but if you tried to book a single night reservation, no availability would’ve shown via the online booking engine. If you expanded that to 2-nights encompassing the exact same dates, viola, there was availability.
That limitation on 1-night bookings is now gone, but don’t be surprised if Walt Disney World brings it back should demand exceed supply (of housekeepers) again. If this does happen, it’s likely to occur from late November through early 2023. (It’s worth noting that we are still encountering similar 3-night minimum stays for certain Hilton and Marriott hotels in the Flamingo Crossings area.)
During several quarterly earnings calls this year, CEO Bob Chapek addressed how staffing is impacting Walt Disney World operations. He has said that the company has “self-imposed capacity constraints” as a form of “mitigation” due to problems with staffing shortages for several positions that are integral to the guest experience.
Even before Chapek spoke about this issue, we addressed Walt Disney World’s housekeeper shortage. The causes of the current labor shortages are multifaceted, and the analysis in the above post applies to both housekeepers and cooks. By and large, it’s something that won’t be remedied by hiring bonuses–it has gotten better, but will likely continue to be an issue in 2023 and beyond.
These staffing woes directly impact operations, occupancy, and the guest loads that resorts can accommodate. In particular, Disney can’t fill every resort room every night if there aren’t enough housekeepers to turn them all over by check-in time. Insufficient dining capacity at restaurants and food courts likewise means Disney can’t fully book all rooms at a resort without causing issues at peak meal times.
Prior to Chapek confirming this, we had heard rumblings about these issues for months and of room inventory being held back as a result. Rumors of Port Orleans Riverside operating with only a handful of its buildings filled with guests, Contemporary Resort having minimal issues relocating guests when undertaking a last-minute refurbishment of half its rooms, and many more anecdotes. The totality of these stories strongly suggested that the hotels were leaving a large percentage of their rooms unfilled to reduce other pressures around Walt Disney World related to the staffing shortages.
In searching for room options in November and December 2022, we are once again seeing many or most resorts sold out. While it’s normal for some resorts to be sold out, usually most have at least some options. It’s also worth noting that the above date range for Veterans’ Day is particularly bad–worse than Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other busy weeks.
Even in searching other dates during the holiday season with better availability, it’s difficult to find anything for Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Wilderness Lodge, and the Polynesian. All are difficult to score for full trips, as are other hotels from time to time.
When trying to assess “real” demand levels, it’s also worth point out that the lack of availability often does not extend to third party resorts to nearly the same degree. Sure, there are the dates when the price of the Swan & Dolphin or Four Seasons randomly skyrockets to absurd territory, but that’s not all that abnormal.
Many other times, there’s no availability at Disney-owned hotels but there’s no shortage of reasonably priced third party alternatives. Suffice to say, if Walt Disney World doesn’t have hotel availability or the rack rates you’re seeing are too pricey or beyond your comfort zone, consider booking a refundable rate at third party properties.
We’re seeing availability at the Swan & Dolphin, Bonnet Creek, Disney Springs, Grand Cypress, Universal, and Flamingo Crossing hotels. If you haven’t had Flamingo Crossings on your radar before, it might be worth considering. Several hotels have opened in the last year, including Target, Walgreens, and multiple other retail, dining, and grocery locations.
Ultimately, that should help explain what’s going on with unavailable rooms at Walt Disney World. Pent-up demand and revenge travel are playing a huge part, and will likely continue to do so due to international visitors even as domestic demand fizzles out. That’s not the full story, though.
There’s also the reality that “fully booked” hotels at Walt Disney World are not even close to 100% occupancy and are not actually sold out of all rooms. They’re capped at lower levels due to staffing shortages, in particular housekeepers, bus drivers, and kitchen staff. As Walt Disney World continues to undertake hiring initiatives and as demand normalizes, this problem should start working itself out.
The availability–or lack thereof–that we’re currently seeing for this holiday season through January 2023 indicates that, once again, pent-up demand is posing a problem for Walt Disney World resort availability. While things had gotten better earlier this year, it’s clear the problem isn’t totally resolved. Here’s hoping Christmas 2023 plays out differently, but you may want to book something sooner rather than later even for next holiday season. We’ll keep you posted as this situation continues to change.
What do you think is driving the availability issue at Walt Disney World? Do you think pent-up demand is the big issue, with people making up for lost time traveling and not caring how much they’re paying? Think the housekeeping, dining, bus driver, or other staffing shortages help explain the problem? How do you expect the hotel inventory problem to play out? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!