It’s been over a month since spring break season ended at Walt Disney World, and the unofficial start of Summer 2023 is one week away at Walt Disney World. This post shares recent wait times data, crowd context, what’s likely to happen next with attendance levels, and more.
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 30 minutes, May 2023 is the least-busy month of this year–actually, it’s been the slowest month since October 2021!
The month isn’t yet over, but it’s currently tracking 10 minutes on average lower than last month. 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.
(Given that crowds are already trending upward and the likelihood of a slight spike for Memorial Day, we anticipating May 2023 surpassing last September by 1 minute–maybe they’ll tie. Either way, much lower than we anticipated for this shoulder season!)
Above is a look at weekly wait times. So far, this week is 2/10, with the five weeks before that being 1/10. This is a slower 6-week stretch than the “slow season” last August and September, which is almost unfathomable.
Now that we’ve shared a couple of illustrative graphs, it’s time for more ‘crowd context.’ Let’s take a look at the monthly graph for the post reopening period:
It might be a little difficult to read, but the graph above covers July 2020 through October 2021. We’re using this timeframe for two reasons. First, it’s the last time Walt Disney World has seen a stretch of crowds as low as they’ve been from mid-April through May 2023.
Second, to illustrate how crowd levels are relative. Note that the scale on the above graph differs from the one above it from the past year. That’s how crowd calendars work–on a rolling basis to the dates around them. They are not anchored to 1971 or 1993 or 2008 wait times–that would be absolutely useless from a practical/planning perspective. Pretty much every single day in 2023 would be 10/10 if we used 2008 or earlier as the baseline.
Point being, if you last experienced Walt Disney World in the post-reopening period, or even in 2017 or during the Great Recession, your baseline expectations and experience probably would be different than someone who visited during holiday weeks during the last year or so.
Not only that, but a ‘low’ crowd levels does not mean that in absolute terms. Even on 1/10 days, the parks will not be veritable ghost towns (for the most part) allowing you to do snow angels on the ground. You will see rides with hour-plus posted wait times. You will encounter areas of congestion. “Uncrowded” at Walt Disney World means something different than it does at the American Dream Mall or Wyoming in The Last of Us.
This type of explanation might work better with examples, so here goes. In response to our last crowd report, we heard complaints that there were still long lines for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, and other headliners during the middle of the day.
Going from a 10/10 crowd level to a 1/10 crowd level means you might encounter a 65-75 minute average wait time for popular rides, as opposed to 90-120 minute wait times. Since those numbers are averages, it also means higher peaks and lower lows. Below-average crowd levels does not mean every attraction is always a walk-on!
To illustrate this at an even less extreme level, above is the graph of May 2023 monthly average for each attraction in Magic Kingdom. Below is October 2022. As a reminder, May 2023 is a 1/10 crowd level, whereas last October was 7/10. (Again, note the different scales.)
Another specific problem point is Happily Ever After. A couple people pointed to heavy crowds for the recently-returned nighttime spectacular as evidence that overall crowds are not low. Unfortunately, uncomfortable congestion is the not-so-new normal for fireworks at Magic Kingdom. It was already bad with Disney Enchantment, and has only gotten worse now that the good fireworks are back.
For the sake of illustration, let’s say that there are–on average–40,000 people in Magic Kingdom towards the end of a busy night. On a slower day, let’s say the number is 20,000 people–half the number of a busy day. Now let’s assume that 10,000 people fit on or around Main Street USA.
These are hypothetical numbers…but do you see the problem? Whether it’s a slow or busy night, the number of people wanting to see Happily Ever After exceeds the capacity of the viewing areas on and around Main Street. One is far above capacity and the other is “only” slightly above it. Nevertheless, when a high percentage of guests in the park are concentrated into a small area of Magic Kingdom, that’s going to create crowding, regardless of whether it’s a slow or busy day as a whole.
We saw the same thing last September with Disney Enchantment on some of the slowest days of the entire year. There’s no great solution to this; it certainly doesn’t help that Animal Kingdom doesn’t have a nighttime spectacular, EPCOT Forever isn’t a big draw, and there’s currently only one nightly showing of Fantasmic. All of that consolidates crowds into Magic Kingdom for the evening.
This also happens with regularity during the Halloween and Christmas Parties. Main Street is absolutely packed for the parade, stage show, and fireworks; meanwhile, other areas of the park are absolute ghost towns. (That’s a big reason why Disney introduced the attraction overlays–an attempt to redistribute crowds more evenly across the park.)
The point is that hour-plus waits for headliners or Happily Ever After congestion are not conclusive of crowd levels. Those things would be “bad” just about any day you visit. The difference is in the degree. You may deem a 70 minute posted wait time to be “too long,” but it’s still objectively less than 85 minutes.
It also matters at the margins. On a 1/10 crowd level day, you might encounter a lot of posted wait times at mid-tier attractions that are 15-30 minutes, and end up being walk-ons (or close to it) in actuality. Those same attractions might have actual wait times of 15-30 minutes on busier days and posted wait times of 25-40 minutes. All of that adds up, and does matter.
Anyway, we just wanted to take a minute to provide potentially valuable context and adjust expectations. If you find all of that unpersuasive or implausible or whatever…maybe crowd reports or predictions aren’t for you. Honestly, some people would be better suited to visit with the expectation that Walt Disney World will be busy no matter when they visit. This might be true because their baseline is skewed, they have low tolerance for crowds, etc. Regardless of the reason, they may get excited for 1/10 or 3/10 crowd levels, and find there’s a huge expectations vs. reality discrepancy.
That’s totally fine and understandable. However, just because something isn’t for you doesn’t mean it’s invalid or inaccurate. To contend that Walt Disney World is equally busy every day of the year is flatly wrong. Anyone who visited during the week of Easter 2023 and then again 2-4 weeks later would easily be able to spot the difference.
That’s valuable for planning purposes, as it speaks to how wait times differ throughout a single year–some people can choose when to visit around that. That someone who visited during Easter 2016 and again in mid-May 2023 found crowd levels higher during the latter set of dates is interesting, but not really useful. It just tells me that we need to advance development of time machines. (Then all of the time travelers would go to the older dates for longer hours and lower prices…causing more crowds in the past!)
This is getting too lengthy–let’s briefly turn back to the current wait times data before some predictions for June and July 2023…
Zooming out, we have the resort-wide daily numbers for Walt Disney World.
This shows a drop-off post-Easter. 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. Nothing has really moved the needle on that–not the return of APs, dropping of afternoon reservations, or Florida resident ticket deals. The park by park breakdown doesn’t meaningfully add to this analysis, so we’re going to forgo it this time.
For those wondering how Walt Disney World’s wait times compare to Universal Orlando, the trend is about the same following spring break season. This has also been Universal’s slowest month since last September.
The biggest difference that we’re seeing emerge is that Universal is doing a bit better on weekends and worse on weekdays. Our working theory is that this is due to locals–Universal is slightly overperforming with them and slightly underperforming with tourists, whereas the opposite seems to be true with Walt Disney World. It’s not really a major difference, though. It’s been a slow 6 weeks at both parks, suggesting a slowdown in travel to Central Florida, and nothing unique to either park operator.
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. 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 around Memorial Day weekend–but the parks should see any truly bad days until mid-June.
Although Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season, it is not typicallyamong the worst holidays at Walt Disney World for crowds. It’s a lot like Labor Day, which is the unofficial end of summer. The reasons for this are relatively simple and straightforward. 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. (At least, that’s the “normal” summer attendance trend–but one we haven’t seen at Walt Disney World since ~2018!)
Ultimately, the next few weeks should continue to be a very good to great time to visit Walt Disney World, with lower crowds and wait times. The lowest of crowds are likely coming to an end, and weather will likely worsen from June through mid-August 2023, but the near-term shouldn’t be too bad.
Looking forward to the “peak” of summer from mid-June through late July 2023…I don’t have nearly as much confidence in the crowd calendar. As noted, Walt Disney World hasn’t experienced a “normal” summer in several years. 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. COVID is a non-factor for Summer 2023, but gas prices and the broader economy are big wildcards this year.
Based on the totality of circumstances, my expectation is that Walt Disney World wait times and crowd levels will stay lower for longer. This does not mean 1/10 or 2/10 crowd levels during the heart of summer season like the parks have been experiencing–it means lower than comparable weeks in the months of June and July during “normal” years.
My basis for this is in looking at all of the “levers” that Walt Disney World is pulling to incentivize visits plus McCarthy’s warning to investors and recent rumblings. All of that, coupled with the broader economy and the likelihood that “revenge travel” is largely finished suggests a summer slowdown is on the horizon.
Unfortunately, it’s been several years since Walt Disney World has had a normal summer, so it’s exceedingly difficult to quantify this on the 2023 crowd calendar. My guess is that most days in June and 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 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!
Are you visiting Walt Disney World during Summer 2023? Have you visited this month or in the second half of April? 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!