Lower Memorial Day Crowds at Disney World

It’s  the unofficial start of Summer 2023 at Walt Disney World, with the tourist season kicking off over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This post shares recent wait times data from the month of May, what’s likely to happen next with attendance levels in June and July 2023, and more.

This is basically just a quick check-in on crowds, as last week’s Slowest Six Week Stretch at Walt Disney World Since 2021 covered post-spring break attendance trends in full detail. That discussed the impact (or lack thereof) of new Annual Pass sales resuming and more resort discounts. About the only material changes since then have been the latest ticket deals that dropped last week.

The other somewhat-significant news from last week was Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro’s warning that Walt Disney World would see a “moderation” in demand this summer, even as he contended that Disneyland will continue to “perform exceptionally well.” This echoed earlier earnings call comments from CFO Christine McCarthy, who braced investors for a slowdown at Walt Disney World.

Then there were Memorial Day weekend Disney Park Pass reservations, which remained wide open for regular ticket holders, on-site resort guests, Annual Passholders, and even Cast Members. Obviously, these calendars are ever-changing, but we never saw anything but ‘all green’ for the regular reservation and AP calendars (excluding blockout dates). Given all of that, our expectation was that it would be a comparatively quiet Memorial Day weekend at Walt Disney World.

The only thing that did give us pause was the forecast released by Orlando International Airport (MCO) calling for a busy Memorial Day travel window, with 1,126,500 travelers projected to pass through the airport during the 7-day travel period ending May 31, 2023. That amounts to a 16% increase in MCO passengers as compared to the same period during the prior year.

For MCO, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer travel season. According to the airport, early indicators point to a busy summer season for MCO. The airport attributes this to “growing demand and an increase in airline service and seat capacity.”

Initially, it was difficult to reconcile this heavy traffic for Orlando International Airport with a decrease in demand for Walt Disney World over Memorial Day weekend. MCO is the gateway to Central Florida, and visitors to Orlando are largely coming for theme parks. Then I dug deeper into MCO’s stats…

As it turns out, the first quarter of 2023 saw a 22% increase in year-over-year traffic at Orlando International Airport. In total, more than 14.2 million passengers moved through MCO in the first three months of this year.

April was another strong month, with MCO exceeding 5 million passengers for the second consecutive month. That resulted in the airport’s second busiest month ever, with an average of more than 167,000 passengers per day. Domestic and international traffic increased by a total of 16.4% in April.

Interestingly enough, MCO actually saw a slowdown in growth for March and April, despite those months shattering records in terms of absolute passenger tallies. That’s presumably because last year’s spring break was already busy, so there was only so much room for percentage growth. Also interesting is that the Memorial Day holiday window passenger average is actually lower than the April average (167,000 vs. 160,928)–and over half of April was not at all busy at Walt Disney World.

We already covered some of the explanations for MCO’s spike in traffic in our last Walt Disney World Transportation Report. In a nutshell, the leading explanations are the resumption of international travel, new Terminal C, and more wide body planes flying into Orlando.

In looking at nationwide TSA checkpoint numbers, it’s a similar–albeit less pronounced–story around the United States thus far in 2023. Pent-up demand has been the story of the last two years, but 2023 is the year that travel is finally back on track after staffing shortages and disruptions, allowing airports to finally surpass 2019 volume.

As for how MCO is breaking records while Walt Disney World is experiencing lower wait times…that’s a good question! There are probably a number of explanations for that, from improved capacity and efficiency in the parks to a higher ratio of guests flying versus driving. It could also be more business travel, international visitors doing things beyond the parks, and assorted events, among other things. We truly don’t know–just spitballing!

The “obvious” explanation that many will seize upon–because it fits certain narratives and/or wish fulfillment–is that people are boycotting Walt Disney World, have been priced out, or are otherwise voting with their wallets. However, in analyzing wait times data from Universal Orlando, those crowd levels are mostly on-trend with Walt Disney World. (Memorial Day weekend was actually the first statistically-significant departure between the two since Orange County’s spring break; both discrepancies could be explained by blockout dates for locals, though.)

As we’ve said repeatedly, we are actively hoping for an end to “revenge travel” and normalization in attendance at Walt Disney World. Putting pent-up demand in the rearview mirror is good for consumers and the long-term health of the parks & resorts–especially Walt Disney World’s reputation and guest goodwill. The company not doing record-breaking numbers regardless of the guest-unfriendly decisions and changes they make is a good thing. Ditto having to compete for customers and vacation time and dollars.

The point is that we’re not seeking to confirm our own biases or preconceptions about the current slowdown at Walt Disney World. Whatever the reasons might be for lower wait times despite increased traffic into MCO, they’re impacting both major Orlando theme park operators. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how trends play out over the summer and if more of a divergence emerges between Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando!

As always, what’s covered in these “crowd” reports is actually posted wait time data that’s pulled from My Disney Experience and compiled into graphs for tracking and comparing various days, weeks, months, and years. A lot can be gleaned from posted wait times, but it’s not necessarily conclusive of in-park congestion or crowds. However, wait times are not the same as “feels like” crowds or congestion.

In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s crowds, especially if you’re comparing current conditions to prior years. Walt Disney World attendance has increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus, so the vast majority of days in 2023 will be more crowded than their counterparts in 2015 or 2017.

With that out of the way, let’s dig into the data and look at Walt Disney World wait times. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:

We’ll start with the monthly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole. With an average wait time of 31 minutes, May 2023 is now tied with last September as the least-busy month of the last year. (That’s an increase of 1 minute as compared to our last report, meaning this month is no longer the slowest since October 2021.)

At present, wait times are 9 minutes lower on average than in April. Keep in mind that wait times plummeted halfway through April (the average was 47 minutes through Easter), so the difference between spring break and shoulder seasons is more like ~15 minutes on average. That’s about an hour saved for every 4 attractions, which is a huge difference.

Above is a look at weekly wait times. So far, this week (starting Sunday) is 1/10, with the six weeks before it also being 1/10. Again, that’s a slower stretch than the “slow season” last August and September, which is almost unfathomable.

Zooming out, we have the resort-wide daily numbers for Walt Disney World:

This shows a drop-off post-Easter and not much of a recovery since then. Most days since have been 1/10 or 2/10 on the crowd calendar, with a handful of 3/10 days, and three days that were 4/10. Wait times did trend upward over the course of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and if that trajectory holds, this will be the first 2/10 or 3/10 week in a while.

Still, it’s pretty remarkable that 2023 Memorial Day weekend peaked at 3/10 crowd levels with wait times that were on average 10 minutes lower than the same dates last year. As we’ve mentioned repeatedly, Memorial Day is not one of the truly busy holidays at Walt Disney World–and never has been–but those numbers are low even by Memorial Day standards (especially considering the increase in MCO traffic).

On a different note, Genie+ prices increased to $25 over the weekend–the highest price since April 15–and remained at that level as of May 30, 2023.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this is the ‘new normal’ for the summer tourist season, or if it was just a holiday weekend bump. More and more, there’s been a disconnect between crowd levels and Genie+ pricing, with rates often remaining elevated even after crowds have dropped (or failed to materialize, in the first place).

Turning to forward-looking crowd forecast, we really don’t have anything to add or modify as compared to our recently-updated 2023 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars or predictions in the last couple of crowd reports. (If you’ve already read those, you might as well skip this as it’s all rehashed.)

As anticipated, May 2023 has been a great time to visit Walt Disney World. Shoulder season should continue until around mid-June 2023, which is when we’d normally expect summer crowds to start arriving in full force. Attendance will trend upwards before that–starting pretty much last Thursday–but the parks should see any truly bad days until mid-June.

Crowds tend not to get bad until around the halfway point in June for a number of relatively simple and straightforward reasons. For one, not every school district is out of session by Memorial Day. For another thing, families like to spread out their trips and don’t usually travel immediately after the school year ends or right before the next one begins. This is why crowds usually crest around Independence Day, building gradually up until early to mid-July, and declining steadily after that.

Ultimately, the next 2-3 weeks should continue to be a very good to great time to visit Walt Disney World, with lower crowds and wait times as compared to an average early summer. The lowest of shoulder season crowds have likely already ended, but the near-term shouldn’t be too bad. Our expectation is levels around 4/10 to 5/10 for the next few weeks.

Looking forward a bit further to the anticipated peak of summer from mid-June through late July 2023…it’s difficult to make a more accurate prediction. Walt Disney World hasn’t experienced a “normal” summer in several years–since 2018. Last year, the second week of June ended up being the peak, which was due to rising oil/gas prices.

Before that, the resumption of normalcy followed by the COVID-comeback threw a monkey wrench into late summer crowds. Then there was the closure in 2020 and the pre-Star Wars slump in 2019. Almost all of those variables, with the possible exception of gas prices and the broader economy, will be nonfactors in Summer 2023 at Walt Disney World.

Given how many years it’s been since Walt Disney World has had an average summer, it’s exceedingly difficult to quantify what “normal” means on the 2023 crowd calendar. Our expectation is that most days in mid-June through July 2023, Walt Disney World does not get above 6/10 as a whole, with the peak being around 7/10. Maybe 8/10. It’s really hard to say, and there’s a wide range of possibilities given the circumstances.

If anything, predicting 6/10 average crowds for the bulk of Summer 2023 feels like erring on the side of higher predictions than what’ll happen, and most days/parks actually won’t break 5/10 for the next two months. I’d rather prepare you for the “worst” and be pleasantly surprised than the other way around. Underpromise and overdeliver…except that isn’t really possible here, since some Walt Disney World fans seem to expect that “average” crowds means it’ll be possible to hula hoop on Main Street during Happily Ever After!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Are you visiting Walt Disney World during Summer 2023? Were you in the parks for Memorial Day weekend? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably better or worse than the others? If you’ve visited in past weeks following spring break, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? 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!

19 Responses to “Lower Memorial Day Crowds at Disney World”
  1. Mark Lease June 8, 2023
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  4. Melissa Malone June 1, 2023
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