Over our years as Walt Disney World fans, Sarah and I have developed clear preferences for favorite times to visit and returned repeatedly during those weeks. That much should be evident from our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World, which offers several recommended ‘sweet spots’ for planning your own trips.
We’ve also managed to find the silver linings in some peak weeks. For example, we used to love visiting the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve for the super early openings and ultra late closings. Those hours are a thing of the past (for now?), but that week still has an exceptional energy.
Admittedly, we’ve avoided other weeks, including ones that have their own selling points despite being busier. One of those has been the peak week of Central Florida spring break, which we’ve tried to steer clear of for the last several years. As has been covered at length in other posts, including our Spring Break 2023 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World, we were forecasting this to be the worst week of spring break at Walt Disney World.
Nevertheless, when I had the opportunity to do a stay at Walt Disney World for the TRON Lightcycle Run media event, I opted to extend that to “stress test” our itineraries, Genie+ and Lightning Lane strategy, and more. (I also opted to “stress test” my stomach, eating a lot of ill-advised foods.)
I learned a lot in the process, the fruits of which will be shared in the weeks to come over the course of content about Early Entry at all four parks, Extended Evening Hours at both Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, Genie+ run-throughs, hot dog reviews, and more.
For now, I wanted to address some topics that I found interesting, but that probably are not worthy of standalone blog posts. This touches upon all of the ‘successes’ of my solo trip, with the second installment focusing on what went wrong.
Weather – When most people are planning spring getaways to Florida–especially those from snowy states in the Midwest and Northeast–they are probably not hoping for extreme cold weather. I guess I’m the outlier there, as I love doing the parks when temperatures are in the 50s or 60s.
As much as I love the low crowds of August and September, the heat and humidity can be brutal. When the temperature is colder, I can always add layers; but there are only so many I can take off before park security puts an end to the party. I was thus very pleased with the weather this trip, which ranged from the low 50s to high 80s.
Highlighting the weather as a strength might seem useless for planners, but this is an underrated aspect of visiting during spring break. March and April are far more likely to have mild and pleasant temperatures than are other school breaks. During the holiday season, it’s often too cold; in summer, it’s too hot. Spring break weather is usually just right.
Late Nights – One underrated aspect of 30 degree daily swings in temperature is that many guests are not properly prepared and clothed for it. To their credit, Walt Disney World rolls out racks of hooded sweatshirts (don’t really know why I’m giving them “credit” for savvy sales of merchandise–not like it’s altruistic), but that’s still not enough to keep people in the parks late into the evening.
Even on days that didn’t have sharp shifts in weather, the parks were noticeably less crowded in the last several hours of the night. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it’s one that I keep expecting to change. I really can’t explain this dynamic…have the last few years made everyone more tired? I don’t ever remember the parks clearing out in the evening (save for Animal Kingdom pre-Pandora) the way that they do now.
In any case, the end of the evening continues to be the best way to approach pretty much everywhere except World Showcase. This is especially true with Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (something we really expected to change with the return of Fantasmic, but that has not happened). It even happens at Magic Kingdom, at least with actual wait times (crowds for the fireworks and on Main Street are a different story).
Extra Hours – I have a theory. Genie+ and Lightning Lanes have simultaneously created a false sense of security among guests who use them, and a defeatist attitude among those who don’t. It’s as if paid line-skipping is viewed as the silver bullet for beating wait times, and if you don’t buy Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes, you’re out of luck. You will endure long lines and lengthy waits, no matter what.
Except that isn’t true at all. As noted above, evenings are awesome. Same goes for mornings, albeit to a lesser extent. Then there are the bonuses hours, which are the best of all. I did Early Entry at all four parks and Extended Evening Hours at both EPCOT and Magic Kingdom (the only places it’s offered right now). With one exception, all of these experiences were excellent.
Equally notable is that my worst morning occurred on the least busy day of the entire week, and some of my best ‘runs’ in both the morning and evening occurred on 9/10 or 10/10 crowd level days. I’ll have separate reports on all of these in the coming couple of weeks, but the salient point is that you should not sleep on Early Entry, nor should you skip Extended Evening Hours if you’re eligible.
As compared to Extra Magic Hours, both of these offerings seem to fly under the radar. Part of why Early Entry works so well is that crowds are diluted among all four parks every day (which is huge!), but equally significant is that too many visitors dismiss it as a “waste of time” because it’s “only 30 minutes.” To each their own, but we consistently find ourselves being able to accomplish more during Early Entry and the 30 minutes of rope drop thereafter than we ever did during morning EMH…at least, at 3 of the parks!
EPCOT – Crowd calendars have become almost irrelevant for EPCOT. This has increasingly become my perspective, but spring break really drove this point home. Prior to this visit, I shared sentiment attempting to illustrate this point in a recent crowd report:
As always, EPCOT is the one park where what you see is probably not what you get. If you visited on February 21, you would’ve encountered wait time levels that amounted to a 9/10 crowd level, but you also would’ve missed the end of Festival of the Arts by one day. If you visited on March 1, you would’ve been there for 2/10 crowd levels according to wait times, but also the start of the 2023 EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival.
I would be willing to bet that if you asked 100 people to walk around EPCOT on both of those two days, and never had them do attractions or look at wait times, the majority would say March 1 was busier. More than any other park, EPCOT is the locals’ park, and that’s evident in scenarios like this.
If you’re a tourist focusing on attractions, you still would’ve enjoyed low wait times, to be sure, but you would’ve felt much more congestion than the crowd level suggests. There’s no good solution to this discrepancy, other than pointing it out. This does happens at the other parks to some extent, but not to nearly the same degree as EPCOT.
This is 100% true. I was in EPCOT on March 15, a 10/10 crowd level day with an average wait time of 56 minutes. It was also a day that many Annual Passes were blocked out, as was the Florida resident ticket deal.
As someone who primarily doesn’t do EPCOT for attractions, this day felt less busy to me than recent 2/10 and 3/10 days I’ve done during the winter off-season. There were virtually no lines for the Flower & Garden Festival food booths, walkways had some congestion but weren’t awful, and the Imagination lounge was only about half-full.
By 10/10 crowd level standards, it was a really pleasant day. But then again, I say that as someone who did not endure the triple-digit wait times for Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, or Test Track. I know it was a busy day because of that and the extended overflow queues for front-of-park attractions that are normally walk-ons, but that wasn’t my perception as someone there to eat and wander my way around World Showcase.
TTA PeopleMover Lines – This one is niche, but similarly, there was often no line (or a short one) for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Again, this was the case even on 8/10 and 9/10 days in Magic Kingdom.
Unlike the above EPCOT dynamic, this actually is not something that I’ve noticed in the past. My hope is that the TTA was just having really efficient days with minimal downtime (and it seemed to be!), and not that there’s a pronounced gap in the attraction’s popularity between tourists and locals or regulars.
Characters…Minus One – Character dining experiences are still not back to 100%, but it sure seems like regular meet & greets have now reached that point. I’m inclined to go a step further, as the new additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios plus the character caravan that goes around to resorts are things that did not exist pre-closure.
I’m frankly surprised and delighted that Walt Disney World has restored the “free” character encounters prior to the “paywalled” ones, and equally pleased with the quality and variety of these experiences. As compared to Disneyland, it still seems like free-roaming characters are the missing ingredient, but after seeing how that’s going with the newest addition to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge…maybe there’s a reason for that!
Staying at All Star Sports – We are huge advocates of split stays at Walt Disney World, and recommend them as a great way of experiencing a variety of accommodations, taking advantage of perks, or splurging for part of your trip. Our own advice was seemingly taken to an extreme with this trip, which started out at the Grand Floridian and concluded at All Star Sports. (I wonder how many guests do that particular split stay–it can’t be many!)
Part of my motivation for staying at All Star Sports was “research,” to see if the youth sporting events being hosted at the hotel negatively impacted the normal guest experience. Upon checking in and being assigned a room overlooking the Touchdown section of the resort, I had a “what have I gotten myself into?!” moment. My room was, quite literally, directly above the middle of the football field. Every night that I returned to the room–no matter how late I stayed in the parks, there were dozens of kids playing on the field.
I am very happy to report that this was never an issue. Aside from 30 seconds of chanting once at midnight (before I was in bed), I didn’t hear any sound from outside my room. In the interest of full disclosure, I turned my room’s room from “auto” to “high” and was also perpetually-exhausted from doing Early Entry to after park closing every single day, but I still could have been awoken if the kids were rowdy enough.
Not to contort myself into turning this into too much of a positive, but the energy at All Star Sports was excellent. It reminded me of a more athletic version of Fort Wilderness, with kids (not just the event participants) out playing catch with their parents, young adults playing foosball and cornhole by the lobby, Cast Members getting in on the fun (and likely keeping it in check), and people just generally being engaged in activities. The resort felt relaxed and alive, but without bursting at the seams or being overly raucous.
St. Patrick’s in the Parks – On the topic of subverted expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by St. Patrick’s Day in the parks. This isn’t a holiday that’s really on my radar, and I started the day out in EPCOT. I was wearing all-blue, as if in subtle protest of the green-imbued uniform of St. Patrick’s Day. In actuality, it was total coincidence. I would’ve dressed appropriately but also avoided EPCOT had I known it was St. Patrick’s Day, worried it would’ve been chaotic, crowded, and too much of a party scene.
In actuality, the atmosphere at EPCOT was delightful. I’d hazard a guess that ~25% of guests were wearing leprechaun Mickey Mouse shirts (it felt like I missed a memo) with the majority wearing green of some sort. Rather than being a party scene, it was convivial and family-friendly; the perfect atmosphere for a holiday at Walt Disney World. Next time, I’ll be sure to actively partake by wearing my own Leprechaun shirt–but one featuring Warwick Davis, not Mickey Mouse.
The Weekend – No, not the Canadian singer known for his sonic versatility and dark lyricism. I’m talking about the weekend days of Saturday and Sunday. This was already covered in Spring Break Crowds Have Sprung at Walt Disney World, but the weekend was surprisingly uncrowded.
Maybe I should’ve seen this coming, as it’s been a trend we’ve been observing more and more lately. However, there’s always been a good explanation for that, from runDisney events to post-holiday crowds heading home. In this case, one week of spring break should’ve segued into another, as that’s usually been the case in the past.
I have my theories for this, with most revolving around pricing. Higher weekend prices for airfare and hotels (off-site and on-site), plus increased ticket prices and the overall cost of vacations could be causing visitors to cut days from their Walt Disney World vacations. Locals being pushed away from weekends could also be an explanation, but I suspect pricing is the big one. Either way, it made the weekend more pleasant than expected–and definitely better than the same dates were in 2019 (or even in 2021-2022).
Ultimately, spring break is not going to become one of our favorite times to visit Walt Disney World. Even with all of the upsides identified here, these are not dates we’d choose if given a wide open calendar. However, that’s not the reality for most actual tourists who have young children. This is precisely why so many people visit during school breaks and they become crowded in the first place–a lack of better options.
With those more narrow parameters in mind, spring break actually becomes a more desirable time to visit. As a general matter, I was surprised at just how smoothly things went and what I was able to accomplish. The trip wasn’t without problems (more on those soon!), but by and large, crowds and wait times were both “beatable.”
All things considered, spring break is certainly better than the heart of summer season, which typically is not as crowded–but that’s more than offset by worse weather. What’s more debatable is whether spring break is superior to other holiday weeks. The crowds this particular week were not as bad as Thanksgiving or Christmas–but those are (arguably) more than offset by the seasonal festivities. In any case, I would not hesitate to do a spring break 2024 trip if it were my best or least bad option for visiting Walt Disney World. Even during these peak weeks, there are plenty of opportunities for having fun and outsmarting the crowds.
For me, it was a productive research trip that encompassed a lot of strategy trials and testing, plus plenty of fun riding TRON Lightcycle Run and seeing Happily Ever After. It’s also nice seeing normalcy restored at Walt Disney World to the point that the parks are mostly in their pre-closure states, and pretty close to firing on all cylinders. It’s hard to believe it’s been three years; it feels both like a lifetime ago and only yesterday.
If you’ve already visited Walt Disney World during spring break this year, what was your experience? If you’ve visited this same week in prior years, how do you think this year compares? Thoughts about anything else covered here? If you’re a frequent visitor during this timeframe, what’s your take on crowds, wait times, seasonal spirit, weather, etc? Agree or disagree with my assessment of spring break? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!