Mardi Gras 2023 Crowds at Disney World
Mardi Gras plus the holiday weekends of Presidents’ Day, Lunar New Year, and Valentine’s Day plus scattered winter school breaks resulted in heavy crowds during what’s otherwise winter off-season at Walt Disney World. This stretch of February and March 2023 will be busy, with higher wait times, attendance, and congestion in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
Mardi Gras 2023 won’t be anything like last year–it’ll be much more like two years ago, due to the break also coinciding with Presidents’ Day this year. As we stressed repeatedly months beforehand, that week was a “red flag” on our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars. We predicted it would be the busiest week of the first quarter of the year, and one of the worst 5 weeks of the entire year at Walt Disney World.
In a nutshell, this was due to a confluence of circumstances resulting in several holidays all more or less coinciding with one another, plus Mardi Gras festivities being cancelled in New Orleans. Consequently, crowds started swelling a couple of days in advance of the Presidents’ Day (etc.) long weekend and crowds getting really heavy during Mardi Gras week. On our highly scientific scale of LSU and Saints shirts spotted in the parks, basically the entire state of Louisiana visited Walt Disney World that week.
The final weekend of Mardi Gras was particularly busy. All four Walt Disney World theme parks hit capacity for all ticket types and Disney did a last-minute extension to weekend park hours. This came after Walt Disney World previously extended hours several times, with closing times of 10 pm and 11 pm some nights for Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. This is several hours later than normal 7 pm and 8 pm park closing this time of year, and suggested Disney’s internal forecasts were projecting a busy week.
As it turned out, the week of Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras was one of the busiest weeks of the year at Walt Disney World. It was especially bad for Magic Kingdom. Last year, Mardi Gras wait times at Magic Kingdom were on par with the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, and higher than the week leading up to Christmas.
The story was similar at Animal Kingdom, which was above holiday season peaks. At Animal Kingdom, this was second-busiest week there since last July, with wait times triple that month and August levels.
EPCOT likewise went from averaging 16 to 22 minute wait times from mid-January through mid-February to 35 minute waits. EPCOT also sees a significant difference between holidays/weekends and weekdays (the spikes are all Saturday and Sunday or holiday breaks).
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was up significantly as compared to the mid-January to mid-February, but more or less on par with weekly October through December levels. As we’ve stated repeatedly, DHS is always an anomaly because it’s often coming close to park capacity.
We’re sharing this not to take a victory lap because our forecast was dead on the money–we also point out when we get crowd predictions wrong. Rather, we’re pointing it out because this happens every single year and there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s not boasting, it’s preserving for posterity a record of crowd levels so fans aren’t caught off-guard when it occurs again, plus predictions for Walt Disney World crowds in February 2023.
You know what they say? “Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice… strike three.” ~Michael Scott
It’s understandable that the spike in crowds continues to surprise Walt Disney World fans year after year. There are probably several factors at play here.
First, reports of low crowd levels for two months or so beforehand lull people into a false sense of security and optimism that off-season trends will continue. If you’re seeing rock-bottom wait times one week, you probably don’t expect those to (essentially) double overnight. But they do.
Second, while most people are generally aware of the aforementioned February holidays, not many people have them off work. Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras are not exactly like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. The degree to which a couple of states or a region having a school break can impact Walt Disney World crowd levels is actually pretty significant.
If you live in the Midwest, you may not be aware that Mardi Gras is a “big deal” and popular travel period for the Southeast. It’s also a popular winter break for some Northeast school districts. If you don’t live in those locations, it’s an understandable blind spot. The same thing happens with Jersey Week, which impacts crowd levels at Walt Disney World.
Essentially, our point here is that this is going to happen again in 2023. Don’t dismiss last year’s crowds as an aberration because of Disney’s capacity constraints or Mardi Gras events in New Orleans being cancelled. While those almost certainly factored in and exacerbated crowd levels, that week would’ve been bad regardless.
Presidents’ Day is always celebrated on the third Monday of February. That means it’s February 20, 2023. Being a native Midwesterner, my knowledge of Mardi Gras is minimal, but it’ll be February 21, 2023. (Here’s the basis for those dates.)
To compound matters, the following weekend is Princess Half Marathon Weekend, with official event dates of February 23-26, 2023. Most runners will show up early rather than staying late. Consequently, we’d recommend avoiding February 17-26, 2023 if at all possible.
Both Osceola and Orange County, Florida are scheduled to have their Spring Breaks March 13-17, 2023. That alone will make that week plus the weekends before and after pretty busy.
In addition to all of these February and early March 2023 holiday weekends and weeks, Spring Break and Easter 2023 are the high profile ‘events’ that will have a significant impact on attendance and wait times.
If you’re contemplating a visit in the next few months, we’d recommend consulting our February 2023 Crowd Calendar, March 2023 Crowd Calendar for specific best and worst dates to visit Walt Disney World. In particular, avoid Osceola and Orange County K-12 Spring Breaks. Same goes for our April 2023 Crowd Calendar, although the spike there should be more obvious.
If you’re already looking ahead to next year, the 2023 winter crowd spike should more closely mirror last year with Mardi Gras and Presidents’ Day coinciding. We’ll say it now so you have over a year to plan and aren’t caught flat footed at the last minute: avoid February 17-26, 2023 at Walt Disney World!
Overall, attendance levels at Walt Disney World are becoming increasingly difficult to predict. For the last few years, we’ve cautioned against over-reliance on crowd calendars (including our own!) for more distant dates. That’s truer than ever right now; I honestly cannot predict with a high degree of accuracy how crowded October 14 or November 3 will be–or even which will be busier. At this point, no one can.
However, I can predict with almost complete certainty that the aforementioned week in February 2023 will be crowded at Walt Disney World. Unless America stops honoring its leaders or New Orleans gives up partying, it’ll be bad. It’s not a matter of our crystal ball having hyperopia or haziness at random. Some dates are just easier to predict than others; right now, school calendars and holidays provide the most “crowd clarity.” Plan your winter off-season visits to Walt Disney World in 2023 accordingly to avoid these “surprise” peak season crowds!
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Have you visited Walt Disney World during Mardi Gras, Presidents’ Day, Lunar New Year, or Valentine’s Day? Were you in the parks during any of these holidays last year? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably worse than the others? Did you notice a significant difference between posted and actual wait times? If you visited in the weeks before/after Mardi Gras, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? Visited for past Mardi Gras weeks? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our crowd 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 are at disneyworld now and the entire state of Louisiana is here. Will never ever come here again over Mardi Gras. Worse than any spring break we were ever here. Dont ever go this week!!!
Nicki, You’re very welcome!!
Thanks Sheila!! I appreciate the insider knowledge!
Nicki, you will be fine. There are only two parishes (i.e. counties) here in Louisiana from where most people go during Mardi Gras that still have off all week this year. Most of the rest of the parishes have off only thru Wednesday because of Hurricane Ida. (They are using that time for make-up days.) And New Orleans and surrounding parishes are having parades again (they didn’t parade last year due to covid) so I think a lot of people are going to stay home to celebrate. Also, you’re going to be there enough days that you should get everything done that you want to do and have a great time. Relax and enjoy! 😀 😀 😀
Tom there is also a large soccer tournament at espn complex 2/19-2/23, I’ve been booking families at WDW for week before/after, so that will add to the crowds at that time too.
So you say avoid Feb 17-26, 2023 but what are the dates to avoid in Feb & March 2022? We are arriving Feb 28 but taking a pool day on the actual date of Mardi Gras (3/1/22). We plan to start park days 3/2, 3/3, 3/4 (pool day on 3/5) and then more park days 3/6, 3/7, and 3/8. Should we be okay??
Needing advice….how bad is BAD is Mardi Gras 2022 expected to be. I was following Disney trends that first week of March is nice but now I’m stressing. Please help!
Does anyone know if Park Hopping was at capacity? I am nervous about not being able to park hop over Spring Break. We made a few evening Epcot reservations.
Hi Tom. My family and I are planning a trip the week of November 13 this year. What are your thoughts on on the Christmas party? Do you think they will have it this year? Any suggestions on what to avoid that week would be most welcomed. Thanks!
I am planing on going to Disney World from June 7 to June 11 2021. How busy do you think it will be at the parks? I wish they had the fast pass back.
The crowds are going to continue as long as all the kids are out of school making for an anytime vacation at WDW.
Hey Tom, do you think that Lunar New Year really has an impact on crowds? I know NYC schools are closed for the day, but I doubt any of those families are going to do WDW for a single day off when schools are closed for a full week for Presidents Day right around the corner. I was planning a WDW trip for the first week of February 2022, but I’m open to moving it up to the last week of January instead. Any insight would be appreciated!
Wow! You were right, Tom! This past week at Disney was about as busy as New Year’s week!!
Any idea on what June 5-14 of this year, will be like? With crowds? Can you compare it to any crowd level from the past year? Thanks:)
You were right. You tried to warn us but our dates weren’t flexible. It was so crowded and combined with the covid restrictions it was pretty much unbearable. I will never go back until they either bring back fast passes and more food options or crowds go down significantly.
We are in the same boat! Went right after Christmas through Jan. 3rd. Never again! It was just too much with masks and closures, lack of fireworks and NO FP! Not worth it to us.
Not sure you mentioned it, but I think the cancelled Princess weekend brought in a lot of travelers that didn’t want to cancel their trip. I know sooo many people that traveled here to run but kept their trip anyways. It was definitely a super busy week!!
Easy way to remember, aside from Goggling: Mardi Gras is ALWAYS 47 days before Easter.
That breaks down to 40 days of Lent, and 7 Sundays during Lent.
It’s also a popular time to have conferences where you can can get a tax write off (to the degree legally possible) for a number of Louisiana professional and trade groups. For example, the Louisiana Bar Association has held Continuing Legal Educations conferences during Mardi Gras at WDW for decades.
Hiya! The way Mardi Gras typically works in the New Orleans/ Southeast Louisiana region is as follows: Most elementary, middle and high Schools have the entire week off. This true for public schools and the overwhelming majority of parochial and private schools. Most colleges and universities are off Monday – Wednesday. Even here, however, you have a lot of people who are able to ditch classes for the remaining 2 days with few repercussions, as family vacations during Mardi Gras week are a well-known fact of life.
I’d have to say that more people went to WDW this year than usual. Going to Aspen or elsewhere to ski is a thing, as is Europe, cruises, etc., during normal times, and almost all those options were off the table this year.
Mardi Gras occurs the day before Ash Wednesday every year. The reason it fluctuates is because Easter fluctuates from year to year. Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of Lent. It is 40 days of Fasting and Pennance. Therefore on Fat Tuesday. (some) people party. The amusement packs turn one day into a whole season. In New Orleans and Mobile, Mardi Gras does not last more than a week.
It looks like park passes are now available for Hollywood Studios in April when the were definitely gone a few days ago – does this mean that the 35% capacity is over and Disney has expanded that to sell more tickets ??? Was already nervous about the crowds predicted …
Probably not. Disney seems to add reservation availability a bit at a time – probably in part so you don’t have to book months and months in advance to get Hollywood Studios. Enjoy your trip!