We’re only two full months into 2022, and already have seen the biggest crowds in 2 years at Walt Disney World. This crowd report shares wait time data, photos from the parks, and thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with numbers at Walt Disney World heading into spring break season.
To quickly recap, attendance has been high over the last couple of months–just as it was two winters ago before the parks closed. In Winter Is Not Off-Season at Walt Disney World, we explained how January and February crowds have grown since ~2017, why last year was the outlier, and how now is more of a return to normal. (For good measure, we also pat ourselves on the back a bit for predicting this when it seems to have caught everyone else by surprise.)
Crowds at Walt Disney World surged in the last couple of weeks, with Presidents’ Day, Princess Half Marathon, and schools on winter breaks pushing attendance and wait times even higher. Honestly, this has caught us slightly by surprise. Not that the last two weeks have been busy–that was easily foreseeable–but just how packed the parks have been during that period…
Again, our 2022 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars warned that winter would be bad. That prediction was predicated upon postponed trips, pent-up demand for international travel, snowbirds resuming their normal Florida travel plans, the return of runDisney and youth sporting events, and people remembering how low crowds were this year.
That confluence of circumstances meant much more demand than normal in early this year. The lack of discounts through early March 2022 was also concerning and suggestive of more travel, and my expectation was/is that attendance will follow suit.
We also warned that the week of Presidents’ Day is always busier than people expect. Admittedly, even we didn’t think it would be this bad. If you asked me whether the last two weeks would be busier than the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, I would’ve said no.
And yet, they were. Before we get ahead of ourselves with a forward-looking forecast, let’s dig into wait times and see to what’s up with winter crowds at Walt Disney World…
Let’s start with a high level look at monthly wait time averages across the entirety of Walt Disney World. (All graphs and wait time stats courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.)
There you have it–February 2022 was the busiest month in the last year at Walt Disney World. It dethrones December of last year as the busiest month since reopening, and is thus the busiest month in the last two years.
The average wait time at Walt Disney World was 45 minutes in February 2022. To put this into perspective, last December, it was 41 minutes. That may not seem like much, but 4 minutes is actually pretty significant, especially multiplied across all attractions–it adds up over the course of a day or trip.
To give you even more perspective, the average wait time in February 2020 was 50 minutes (see above weekly graph). The peak week that winter was also that of Presidents’ Day, which saw wait times average 55 minutes. So you could say that this month was bad…but it could’ve been worse!
If you break it down by week, you can also see how crowds have grown gradually over the course of February 2022. Since bottoming out at a 6/10 level in late January, wait times have risen each week since.
The last two weeks have both been 10/10 in terms of crowd levels, with the more recent week being even worse at an average wait of 52 minutes versus 48 the previous week. That makes the last week of February 2022 the busiest of the last two years, surpassing the week of Thanksgiving, which also averaged 48 minute waits.
Once we get into individual days, the graph becomes difficult to read–but you can still see the spike over the Presidents’ Day weekend on the far right.
In case you’re curious, February 20 and 22 rank as tied for the busiest days of the last 450 at Walt Disney World. So “congratulations” if you visited during the days bookending Presidents’ Day. You “survived” the #1 crowd day of the year (thus far) at Walt Disney World!
For park by park analysis, we’ll start with Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom wait times had been all over the place from early January through early February, but settled into a “predictably bad” groove the last couple of weeks. Crowd levels hit 9/10 on February 14, and haven’t looked back since. Only one 8/10 day since, with most days hitting 10/10–only a few 9/10s scattered into the mix.
Here are the specific averages for the month:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: 117 minutes
Peter Pan’s Flight: 95 minutes
Jungle Cruise: 76 minutes
Space Mountain: 74 minutes
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 63 minutes
Pirates of the Caribbean: 57 minutes
Haunted Mansion: 57 minutes
Following our Best & Worst Days at Each Park in Walt Disney World would’ve helped choose the “least bad” days to visit Magic Kingdom during the last two weeks, but there’s only so helpful resources like that are amidst peak season crowds. You would’ve still hit 10/10 days, but shaved a few minutes off the average wait. Small victories, I guess?
It’s a similar story at Animal Kingdom.
There, wait times peaked at 64 minutes on February 20. That’s worse than the Walt Disney World average, but not as bad as over Thanksgiving when wait times hit 67 minutes.
Avatar Flight of Passage averaged 105 minutes and Na’vi River Journey averaged 69 minutes, which are right in line with holiday season highs. Kilimanjaro Safaris was at 64 minutes, while Dinosaur averaged 34 minutes. The few other attractions in Animal Kingdom were all below 30 minutes.
Also relevant here is that Expedition Everest is down for refurbishment until at least the end of April 2022. In another park, this would displace guests and result in higher waits elsewhere. To some extent, that’s probably happening. However, with so few rides in Animal Kingdom, it’s more likely that people are just finishing the park faster and leaving earlier. That would also explain some of the drop-off in average wait times. February was also a cold month, so Kali River Rapids only managed to average a 22 minute wait time. Double that a month or two from now.
Continuing to Epcot, which is skewed for a couple of reasons.
First, the 2022 Epcot International Festival of the Arts ended on Presidents’ Day. Events are always a big draw for this park, whereas “Diet Epcot” is not. With that said, festivals are big draws for locals, snowbirds, and other Walt Disney World regulars who visit the park without rides as their focus.
As we’ve stressed repeatedly, these crowd reports showcase wait times, which are not conclusive of attendance. They’re an imperfect measure of raw attendance or crowds–but they’re still the best measure that exists.
There are several other variables that can impact “feels like” crowds, from special events to weather to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency. Epcot, in particular, is notorious for higher “feels like” crowds in World Showcase on weekends and evenings. Weekends are busier for drinking and evenings are busier for people Park Hopping over to watch Harmonious.
During the past week, we’ve noticed that lines are particularly bad at Epcot counter service restaurants and outdoor vending. This is undoubtedly due to the lack of festival booths, which provide the park with needed dining capacity when it’s busy.
As for specific attraction wait times at Epcot, here’s what we have for February:
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure: 89 minutes
Frozen Ever After: 82 minutes
Test Track: 67 minutes
Soarin’ Around the World: 41 minutes
Mission Space: 23 minutes
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Check out the tallest red line towards the right. That’s February 23, which goes down as the busiest day at any Walt Disney World theme park in the last 450 days with an average wait time of 72 minutes.
We weren’t in DHS on 2/23, but we did visit on the #2 day of the last 450 days at Walt Disney World back during Thanksgiving. I can’t imagine the park being even busier than that by an average 5 minutes. Absolutely astronomical number. (If anyone was in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on February 23, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.)
Here are February attraction numbers for Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance: 140 minutes
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: 105 minutes
Slinky Dog Dash: 103 minutes
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: 75 minutes
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 75 minutes
Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run: 74 minutes
Toy Story Mania: 67 minutes
Alien Swirling Saucers: 42 minutes
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue: 30 minutes
Keep in mind that these are averages, not daily highs. They’re the middle-of-the-road numbers from February.
The total average time it would take to do all 9 of those rides is 681 minutes–or 11.85 hours. That’s essentially the full operating day, from opening until closing, to do the entire ride lineup at DHS. No time for bathroom breaks, eating, stage shows, or even walking between attractions.
This is why Genie+ is probably worth it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, even if you’re only able to knock out 3-4 headliners with it. That’s the likely scenario given that Slinky Dog Dash is gone within seconds and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run fills up in under 2 hours after that. From our perspective, spending $16 per person to save 3+ hours on vacation is worth it.
We spend more time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios than I would like, in large part because it’s the most difficult from a strategy perspective. From our experiences at DHS in February, it was a rough month for the park. It wasn’t a matter of waits being inflated or congestion somehow being lower. What you see is what you get at DHS. It was very bad. Fantasmic cannot come back soon enough.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios felt like one of the days shortly after the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, with overflow queues everywhere, long waits for Mobile Order, packed shows, and a much fuller parking lot. This park is definitely back in February 2020 form, but without the entertainment and other offerings to help absorb crowds.
Looking forward, you can expect more of the same for the coming month. As covered in our March 2022 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World, Mardi Gras plus lingering Princess Half Marathon crowds will kick off the month, before Spring Break season arrives in full force.
Our original expectation was that the second week would see a bit of a lull, but Walt Disney World inexplicably extended hours that week. We were (and still are) expecting the worst of the crowds to come in the third week of March 2022. (My prediction: that ends up being the worst week of the month and the first quarter, surpassing Presidents’ Day week.)
Due to Mardi Gras, this week could also end up being the worst of the month or year to date. Walt Disney World has already extended hours for the first week of March 2022, including an unprecedented move for Epcot. The park now opens at 8:30 am this week, which is something we haven’t seen before during the phased reopening.
Pre-closure, there were occasions when Epcot opened at 8 am instead of 9 am. The thing to keep in mind is that it was staggered, with World Showcase not opening until 11 am. Now, the whole park opens at once, with some entertainment not starting until 11 am. (So it’s not a huge shift, but certainly better than the previously scheduled 10 am opening time for Epcot.)
We were in Magic Kingdom for Early Entry and regular park opening today, and it was one of the busiest mornings we’ve seen in a long time. If this is a ‘sneak peek’ of spring break crowds…big yikes. (It’s also crazy to me that Magic Kingdom is only open from 9 am until 9 pm this week. Given crowds, park hours should be at least 8 am to 11 pm.)
Disney Park Pass reservations are also starting to fill up for this week and beyond in March 2022. There’s already limitedDisney Park Pass availability for Monday through Thursday of the third week. It’s still early, so expect Friday through Sunday to follow suit very soon.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Disney Park Pass availability the second week. Normally, nearer dates will faster, as many guests don’t make reservations until the last minute. As such, we’re still holding out a sliver of hope that the second week of March isn’t terrible. Same for the fourth and final weeks.
Even though wait times are once again hitting pre-closure levels, keep in mind that Walt Disney World is still not operating at 100%. Many stage shows are still dark, some nighttime spectaculars & parades are still cut, meet & greets are mostly absent, atmospheric entertainment isn’t back, hours remain reduced, and not every venue in the parks & resorts (dining, in particular) is fully efficient due to staffing shortages.
All of this might seem minor, but the totality of it means that Walt Disney World isn’t equipped to handle nearly the attendance levels as it was in March 2020 (well, at least the first half of the month before the parks closed). As a result, this still is not an apples to apples attendance comparison.
Even when Walt Disney World is busy, it’s still possible to have a satisfying and productive day in the park. Be sure to use our Walt Disney World Itinerariesfor efficient step-by-step strategy, with options now with and without Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.
Ultimately, it’s not just this past month that’s going to end up being crowded. The next month-plus will be busy at Walt Disney World, with only a few potential reprieves from the crowds. Whether March 2022 will surpass February remains an open question. There’s another wildcard: the possibly that added hours or more returning entertainment could help offset higher raw attendance, meaning lower wait times despite higher crowds. That feels like a bit of a wonky “technicality,” though.
Suffice to say, March 2022 will be busy (and, spoiler alert, so will April). Pack your patience and arm yourself with savvy strategy if you’re visiting Walt Disney World this spring break season or beyond. It is going to be very busy with “feels like” crowds and wait times among the highest we’ve ever seen in the last two years, yet again. We’ll be in the parks throughout the week and should have some reports and advice that will help you make the most of Spring 2022 at Walt Disney World.
Predictions on crowds for spring break season? Thoughts on our prediction that the third week of March 2022 will be the busiest week of the year (so far) at Walt Disney World? If you’ve visited in prior months during the last year, how did crowds compare between then and now? What did you think of the wait times? Any parks or times of day noticeably worse than the others? 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!