Magic Kingdom just had its third slowest day of 2023! I was in the park all doing rides, testing new Early Entry and rope drop strategy, and checking out crowd patterns. This Walt Disney World park report covers what it was like and why, how this compares to other days–including the same date last year–and other assorted commentary.
Our tried and true advice for Party Season is visiting Magic Kingdom during the daytime hours on the same dates that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is held in the evening. On these dates, Magic Kingdom operates from 8 am until 6 pm, which means the park opens an hour early and closes 4 hours earlier than normal. Most tourists see that 6 pm closing time and do the intuitive thing: go somewhere else!
This happens reliably and predictably. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, Magic Kingdom crowd dynamics during party season has been one of the key discussion points of our August through December crowd calendars for several years. It’s actually one of the easiest “predictions” we make.
Those are air quotes around prediction because this pattern has played out predictably and consistently for years. It’s akin to “predicting” that Peter Pan’s Flight and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will have higher wait times than Carousel of Progress. Most guests do the logical thing, not wanting to miss out on 3-4 hours, including nighttime and the Happily Ever After fireworks in Magic Kingdom.
As such, we’ve been advising those who want lower crowds–or who have Park Hopper tickets–to start their day in Magic Kingdom on evenings when Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held. Typically, you can accomplish more in fewer hours because the crowds are lower.
Some readers have doubted this or think it’ll stop working as “word gets out,” and instead opted for the counter-counterintuitive approach of avoiding Magic Kingdom. But in plain terms, that’s just the intuitive approach, and it’s what the vast majority of Magic Kingdom visitors are doing. Most park-goers aren’t reading blogs like this, and many who do don’t follow the advice. Don’t overthink it or try playing 4D chess–this strategy has worked for at least the last decade. It’s highly unlikely that 2023 will be the year things suddenly change.
As for the other reasons why this particular day in Magic Kingdom was the third slowest of the year, there are actually a couple. For one, most Central Florida school districts went back into session the day prior, so locals were less likely to make weekday visits. Same goes for families throughout the South, or anywhere where school has already–or is about to–go back into session.
Then there was the weather. While we were slightly dismissive of the low Independence Day crowds being driven by the heat, it’s probably a bigger factor right now. Central Florida is in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave, with daily excessive heat warnings for much of the past week. It’s been a brutal summer, but it’s gotten even worse recently; that plus the duration of the record high temperatures has likely put even more of a dent in crowds.
Although it wasn’t quite as bad as the previous day, the feels like temperature was triple digits before park opening with the actual temperature in the 90s and above throughout the day. I’m no stranger to summers in Central Florida, and this past week was the worst weather I’ve ever experienced at Walt Disney World.
While schools going back into session, fall off-season arriving, and the record heat wave were all contributing factors, this day being the third slowest of the year is mostly about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. (The only other days that beat it not-so-coincidentally had early closings, too.)
MNSSHP really throws a monkey wrench into crowd dynamics at Magic Kingdom, pushing attendance higher on the dates it’s not occurring and lower on days of the event. That’s why both the Thursday before and Saturday through Monday afterwards were busier, despite school being back in session and those dates also being hot.
Against that backdrop, let’s turn to the wait times in Magic Kingdom, courtesy of Thrill-Data.com. The average posted wait time across all attractions in Magic Kingdom was 20 minutes, which is a 1/10 crowd level. To put that into perspective, this is as contrasted with average wait times of 30-32 minutes during the 4 weekdays leading up to this, for 3/10 to 4/10 crowd levels.
However, this is actually up as compared to the same date last year! For the first day of the 2022 MNSSHP, the average wait time was 18 minutes at Magic Kingdom. Two minutes might not seem like much, but it is over the course of the day, and would normally represent a full crowd level.
It’s tough to explain the why of this given that crowd levels have been trending downwards year-over-year, especially given that Splash Mountain was included in wait times last year and TRON Lightcycle Run was excluded from them this year (even with the virtual queue, the standby wait easily exceeded 20 minutes on average). However, we’ll discuss a couple of possible theories later in the post.
Anecdotally, my first hand experiences with “feels like” crowds on both days (this year and last) corroborates that 2023 was slightly busier. “Congestion” is a strong word to use given that neither one were particularly packed with people, but August 11, 2023 felt noticeably busier relative to the start of the Party Season last year.
I was honestly a bit surprised and taken aback by this. I would’ve guessed that the few guests in Magic Kingdom would all be racing from ride to ride, or chasing that sweet, sweet air-conditioning whenever possible. I expected to be the only dummy out in walkways taking photos of pumpkin decorations and getting PhotoPass Magic Shots for Halloween, but I was hardly alone.
Again, it’s not like Magic Kingdom was even remotely busy (far, far from it), but I honestly went in expecting this to be the least busy day of the year–not “only” third slowest.
To put what an incredibly slow (even by 1/10 crowd level standards) day at Magic Kingdom looks like in 2023, above is a graph of average wait times over the course of the day. Whenever we discuss low crowds, some readers who were in the parks inevitably mention that certain rides had hour-plus posted wait times.
Unfortunately, that’s how it works–this isn’t 2007-2017 anymore. You will be hard pressed to find a single day in 2023 when Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight don’t average at least 60 minute posted wait times. (To put that into perspective, the current averages for both are ~80 minutes, and that is still considered low!) Crowd levels are relative, not absolute. If saving 20 minutes on a headliner is not a big deal to you because the posted wait time is still an hour, this type of post is not for you. (And honestly…maybe Walt Disney World isn’t for you?)
With that said, I managed to do both Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight twice during the day, and on both occasions, my actual wait time was far less than the posted wait time. In fact, my longest actual wait time of the entire day was 23 minutes for Space Mountain, which was an unforced error on my part because I timed it poorly. But in any case, a maximum wait of 23 minutes is not too shabby! (I probably also waited slightly longer for TRON Lightcycle Run upon returning to the virtual queue, but I forgot to time it.)
Most attractions had actual wait times that were 10 minutes or less. Some were “however long it takes to walk through the mostly-empty queue.” For many attractions, wait times were dictated more by Lightning Lane utilization than standby line length.
It was almost comical to see only a handful of guests in the standby queue, waiting for the steady stream of Lightning Lane guests to subside. This is always “a thing,” but it’s not as noticeable on busier days because both queues have a decent number of guests in them.
Other attractions had little-to-no Lightning Lane usage, meaning they were a walk-on for standby guests. “it’s a small world” is a good example of this. Despite the 15 minute posted time, the actual wait was however long it took to walk through the queue.
Speaking of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, there are a couple other things I thought were interesting. First, the established trend of per-park pricing for Genie+ continued for the start of Party Season, meaning that Magic Kingdom was just as expensive as the Park Hopper pricing. I’m betting this was an oversight, and I would not expect this to remain the case as Party Season progresses. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom should flip-flop in this scenario.
On a positive note, Genie+ utilization was clearly lower than it has been throughout the year. Because of that and the no re-ride rule, there was an obvious point when the ‘supply’ of Lightning Lane guests pretty much exhausted itself. Normally, that doesn’t happen for popular attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, or Jungle Cruise. There’s a steady stream of guests coming through the Lightning Lane. If anything, it’s worse during the middle of the day–the standby lines can come to a crawl.
That’s typically not the case on days of the parties at Magic Kingdom. If you simply wait until around 2 pm for headliners, standby lines moved steadily because everyone who bought Genie+ had already booked and done the headliners. So that was nice!
Another thing I noticed, which is consistent with Party Season last year, was that character meet & greets had elevated wait times during the day. I haven’t inquired about it yet this year, but this was previously due to staffing, and needing more of those Cast Members for shifts during MNSSHP and MVMCP, meaning fewer were scheduled during the daytime hours. I can’t imagine the explanation is any different this year.
Last year, this added a new wrinkle to Genie+ at Magic Kingdom during Party Season, as Lightning Lane supply went far faster than normal for all of the characters and caused us to change our Magic Kingdom Lightning Lane Rankings. I’d expect the same to happen again this year, but will give it another MNSSHP or two before updating that.
More character experiences with posted wait times being back as compared to last year–and most of them having wait times higher than 20 minutes–at least partial explains the year-over-year increase in the average wait time. It also didn’t help that Haunted Mansion had just come back up from refurbishment, that Pirates of the Caribbean has been having a lot of downtime woes, or that Hall of Presidents has been posting a perpetual 20-minute wait for some reason. Even taking all of that into account, like mentioned above, this day felt busier.
With that said, it was an incredibly productive day in Magic Kingdom. I’ll be back with a separate strategy report for rope drop and Early Entry, but I managed to accomplish a ton during the first couple hours of the day–even more than last year. Part of that is probably because the weather “incentivized” me to do more rides, seeking shade and air-conditioning rather than doing my normal routine of wandering aimlessly and taking photos.
Suffice to say, all of this is exactly why our zig when they zag recommendation has been to do Magic Kingdom on days of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and to Park Hop somewhere else around 4 pm. (The park closes at 6 pm, but we recommend bouncing around when the party mix-in starts since crowds and lines tend to increase by 4:30 pm.)
Again, even though Magic Kingdom has longer hours on these days, you will get less done than you could before 4 pm on a party day. So long as you’re comfortable missing the Happily Ever After fireworks or are fine watching from a resort restaurant or the TTC, we highly recommend doing your days in Magic Kingdom on party dates.
Ultimately, that’s how the day prior to the first 2023 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party played out at Magic Kingdom…in predictable fashion but somehow with even hotter temperatures and slightly higher wait times than last year. Going forward, the story should be pretty similar for all regular days before around 4 pm on MNSSHP nights.
Keep in mind that crowds will keep changing throughout Party Season. Fall attendance typically does not bottom out in mid-August, as many school districts are still on break until later in the month. The low point usually occurs after Labor Day, and we’d expect the same in September 2023. Towards the end of that month, attendance remains low but starts to trend upwards.
October usually sees a sharper spike, with November and December being even busier (with the exception of a few weeks between holidays). We are less confident in the degree of these crowd predictions for the holiday season, as they’re at least in part predicated on conventions and other group events. The point stands that crowds are not static–next month will be slower and October through December will be busier.
Regardless, this approach will remain ideal for the duration of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party seasons. When crowds change, that occurs across the board–meaning this advice will still be proportionately accurate. In other words, if it’s more or less busy on party days going forward, the circumstances will be similar for non-party days–meaning the benefit should remain approximately the same. Last October, crowd levels increased across the board, but the average wait time differential between party and non-party days actually increased.
We’ll have more on all of this in the coming days, weeks, and next month or so. This is my “busy” time of year as I work on field-testing, revising, and writing new strategy posts for Party Season and beyond. I’ve been in the parks every day for the last week (speaking of which, apologies for the lack of replies to comments–I’ll try to catch up later this week) with a bit more testing to do. After that, I’ll start working on putting together a range of other strategy posts for these party days and non-party days in Magic Kingdom.
As a general matter, August and September 2023 should be a relatively uncrowded months at Magic Kingdom (just avoid Mondays!), and across the board at Walt Disney World. Orange County Public Schools and Osceola County Public Schools have now started their first day of classes, and those districts have a disproportionate impact on crowd levels at Walt Disney World. Other districts around the South have also gone back into session, with the Midwest and Northeast next up to start their academic years.
Now, we just need the weather to cooperate for this to be a truly pleasant time to visit Magic Kingdom. While I’m loving the low crowds, I’m less keen on my shirt being soaked from sweat by the time I arrive at the bus stop. That comes with the territory and choosing to visit Walt Disney World during summer/early Halloween season, though. I’ll take unpleasant weather if it means gloriously uncrowded parks!
Have you visited Magic Kingdom for daytime hours on a party night? What was your experience with crowds and wait times? Do you plan on visiting Magic Kingdom during the day before the 2023 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party? Or, is the loss of fireworks and having to leave by 6 pm a dealbreaker for you? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!