It’s no secret that spring break is busy at Walt Disney World. Crowd levels increase during these school holidays, normally culminating with the peak week of Easter. That holiday has some of the year’s highest wait times, attendance, and congestion in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios–but it’s not the only week of heavy crowds at WDW. (Updated March 8, 2021.)
While spring break “season” kicks off in early March as universities, colleges, and K-12 school systems take their 1-2 week breaks, not all dates within that range are equally crowded. To the contrary, as covered in our 2021 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars, some dates that fall within traditional spring break season are pretty good times to visit.
Our goals with this post are highlighting some of the recent crowd levels at Walt Disney World, looking at changes to park hours in March 2021, analyzing general travel trends for spring break 2021, and trying to predict which dates will be “red flags” on Walt Disney World crowd calendar for March and April 2021…
March 8, 2021 Update: Since publishing this, crowds have predictably decreased at all four Walt Disney World parks. This always happens following Mardi Gras and Presidents Day, with early March being the calm before the storm in terms of attendance and crowds at Walt Disney World.
The last two weeks, wait times have still been above their winter off-season lows, but not by much. On par with late September or early October. However, that’s expected to change starting this week before further accelerating next week…
If you don’t already have Disney Park Pass reservations, hope you like EPCOT! (Or Animal Kingdom, but only on some days.) For the next two weeks, Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are fully booked across all three buckets of Park Passes for many days.
This week isn’t quite as bad as next week, which is already fully booked for resort guests and theme park ticketholders from Monday through Thursday. It’s not much better the other days or for Annual Passholders–from March 13 to 20, 2021 the only park with any availability is EPCOT. If you’ve already read the remainder of this post, you know why that is–if not, here’s the full explanation…
Let’s start with park hours. Walt Disney World has been extending park hours for March 2021, beginning with all dates the first two weeks of the month, with even longer hours Friday through Sunday. This wasn’t particularly noteworthy, as this has been happening with consistency for the last several months.
Walt Disney World releases boilerplate hours with Magic Kingdom closing at 6 pm, EPCOT and DHS at 7 pm, and Animal Kingdom at 5 pm, and then extends those closings as travel dates draw nearer. The much more noteworthy extension occurred for mid to late March 2021…
For March 12-13, 2021 (Friday and Saturday) hours were extended pretty significantly. Magic Kingdom went from closing at 6 pm to closing at 10 pm, EPCOT was extended to 8 pm one night and 10 pm the next, and both Hollywood Studios added an hour at park opening and at closing.
All of this is much easier to visualize on the DisneyWorld.com calendar’s month view.
For March 14-20, 2021 the following extensions occurred:
- Magic Kingdom: 8 am to 9 pm daily (previously 9 am to 6 pm)
- EPCOT: 11 am to 11 pm (previously 11 am to 7 pm)
- Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 8 pm (previously 10 am to 7 pm)
- Animal Kingdom: 8 am to 8 pm (previously 9 am to 5 pm)
All of this amounted to over 100 added hours, which is a pretty significant increase for a single week. Normal extensions are 1-2 hours per day, per park. This particular week also contrasts pretty sharply with the following week of March 21-27, 2021. (Update: Walt Disney World has since significantly extended hours for the following week, albeit not to the same degree.)
So…what gives? Why has Walt Disney World added so many hours for March 12-20, 2021?
The most straightforward explanation is that this is the week of spring break for both Osceola and Orange Counties, which are the districts in Central Florida that call Walt Disney World home. Both districts list March 15-19, 2021 as their spring breaks. Additionally, the Orange County School District calendar has March 12, 2021 as a student holiday/teacher workday.
Even if no other district in the entire United States had spring break that week, it would be incredibly busy at Walt Disney World due to those two local school systems. As we’ve seen time and time again in the last few years, holiday breaks in Orange and Osceola Counties have significant impacts on attendance at Walt Disney World. And in actuality, many other school districts around the United States will also have breaks coinciding with this same week.
We don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to comb through the schedules of every single school district in the United States. If we did, it would probably reveal a range of breaks in the next two months, with the bulk from mid-March 2021 through early April 2021.
With that said, there are a several specific districts in Florida that are among the largest in the country and have an outsized impact on attendance at Walt Disney World. Those districts and their respective spring breaks are as follows:
- Miami-Dade County Public Schools: March 29 to April 2, 2021
- Broward County Public Schools: March 19-26, 2021
- Hillsborough County Public Schools: March 15-19, 2021
- Palm Beach County Public Schools: March 15-19, 2021
- Duval County Public Schools: March 8-12, 2021
Here are other major school districts and their 2021 spring break dates that could significantly impact crowd levels at Walt Disney World:
- Houston Independent School District: March 15-19, 2021
- Dallas Independent School District: March 15-19, 2021
- Gwinnett County Public Schools: April 5-9, 2021
- Chicago Public Schools: March 29 to April 2, 2021
- Fairfax County Public Schools: March 29 to April 2, 2021
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of spring break schedules. These 12 school districts were selected because they’re among the country’s largest districts that are either near Walt Disney World or feed heavily into visitor demographics. That’s why Chicago is listed but Los Angeles Unified, Clark County (Nevada), and Honolulu’s school districts are not.
Additionally, our focus here is on K-12 school districts, but many universities have cancelled or modified their spring breaks. (Colleges usually have less of an impact on Walt Disney World crowds due to age demographics.) Notable examples include Florida State University, Ohio State University, Arizona State University, Boston University, and the University of Michigan. At these schools, students will receive several one-day “well-being breaks” without any scheduled academic activities.
It’s entirely possible that some K-12 school districts on the above list also could’ve cancelled their spring breaks. I took the effort to find the official calendar for each of the aforementioned districts, but cannot confirm they haven’t modified their plans since publishing those. (In particular, Texas school districts cancelled classes during the recent winter storm, but I can’t find anything indicating if/when those dates will be made up.)
As you can see from the above lists, half of the major school districts we’ve targeted have their spring breaks March 15-19, 2021. Suffice to say, our expectation is that this ends up being the busiest week of March or April 2021 at Walt Disney World. We anticipate it being even busier than the week of Easter. (On a related note, several readers have asked what we expect Walt Disney World will do to celebrate Easter. Probably nothing aside from a few desserts, but that’s just our guess–no official announcement has been made.)
To further compound crowding woes, Walt Disney World is offering the Florida Resident Ticket Deal and not blocking out those dates. (Instead, March 26 to April 11, 2021 are blocked out.) That ticket went on sale back in January, and while Disney could’ve left the week unblocked because internal attendance projections were low, more recent park hour changes suggest that is no longer the case.
As such, our prediction is pretty much a repeat of Mardi Gras Crowds at Walt Disney World. Just replace all of the references to “Mardi Gras” with “Spring Break” and that more or less is our forward-looking prediction.
In particular, we forecast that March 12 through March 21, 2021 will be the second busiest week (maybe even supplanting Mardi Gras) of the quarter, and one of the worst 10 weeks of the entire year at Walt Disney World. We highly recommended anyone with flexibility avoid those travel dates.
Beyond that, don’t be surprised if the entirety of spring break is busier than normal at Walt Disney World. For one thing, remote work and learning are a game-changer on this front, and make it easier for guests to take “hybrid” work/play trips to Walt Disney World. This phenomenon is hardly unique to spring break, but it could be especially pronounced in the coming couple of months as more people look for a reprieve from harsher than normal winters.
To that point, CBS News is reporting that officials in South Florida are preparing for an influx of visitors in March and April, with hotel bookings already up 20% year over year. Obviously, Walt Disney World is a bit different than the beach cities, but we would anticipate similar travel trends.
Intuitively, this makes sense. Florida is always a popular spring break destination thanks to its warm weather, which may be even more attractive than normal. Additionally, Florida has garnered nationwide headlines for the last several months as one of the few states, and highest-profile one, that have “fully reopened.” While that will cause some potential visitors to steer clear of Florida, it will attract many others–including both those who have been vaccinated and those who are just generally fatigued with restrictions.
As we’ve pointed out several times, Walt Disney World is taking a more conservative and cautious approach (as are many businesses) than Florida as a whole. That doesn’t mean visitors to the state will actively avoid the Walt Disney World. during spring break trips. Some will, but many won’t know until arrival and others won’t care.
Another thing we’ve pointed out repeatedly is the difference between “feels like” crowds and raw attendance numbers. Right now, Walt Disney World is capping attendance at 35%. This can sound alluring, but it’s deceiving. (We’ve lost count of the number of commenters who have come back disappointed, contending that attendance is not capped at 35%.)
In addition to capacity caps, the reality is that Walt Disney World is also not firing on all cylinders. Due to physical distancing and various attractions, restaurants, etc. being closed, the parks can only absorb about half the normal crowd levels. Even though attendance is limited to 35% of full levels, peak days can feel incredibly busy because there are fewer places for guests to go and things to do. The current limits are effectively more like 70% of full capacity–definitely not 35% of 100%.
Overall, that’s about what you can expect to experience during Spring Break 2021 at Walt Disney World. To summarize, our prediction is elevated ‘feels like’ crowds from around March 11 to April 11, 2021. (The following weekend, April 15-18, 2021, might also be a bit elevated due to holdovers from a cancelled runDisney event.)
The worst of those crowds will almost certainly be March 12-21, 2021. Following that, March 26 to April 4, 2021 will also be another bad week, which is pretty typical of Easter. We’d actively avoid those dates if at all possible, or at least leverage our Walt Disney World Park Itineraries to beat the crowds. Arriving early and having sound strategy is as important as choosing the “right” dates to visit.
Outside of those couple weeks, we wouldn’t necessarily avoid spring break season–just be aware that attendance levels will be higher than they’ve been during the January and February off-season (minus Mardi Gras). As always, crowd levels at Walt Disney World are becoming increasingly difficult to predict and still surprise us from time to time. Nevertheless, we’re reasonably confident in this spring break forecast.
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!
Have you visited Walt Disney World during spring break season in the past? What did you think of the crowds? Are you visiting this year for Easter or spring break? Any other major school districts having spring breaks during these windows? Anything else we missed that could impact crowds during March and April 2021? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our Spring Break 2021 Crowd Forecast for Walt Disney World? 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!