It’s the Year’s Busiest Week at Disney World

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and the week around it will be the busiest of the year at Walt Disney World (so far). This crowd report will share recent wait time data, photos from over the weekend, and thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with numbers at Walt Disney World this holiday season.

This week being insanely busy should be unsurprising. Every year, Michiganders make the pilgrimage to Florida the week of Turkey Day to drown their sorrows in the magic before, during, and after another disappointing Detroit Lions performance. With the Lions currently sitting at 0-9 (sorry, forgot that one impressive tie!) and likely to start *checks notes* Tim Boyle at QB, it’s unquestionably going to be another rough day. But hey, at least the Bears suck, too.

Now, you might argue that awful outings by the Detroit Lions don’t cause heavy Thanksgiving crowds at Walt Disney World. However, a straightforward statistical analysis supports my hypothesis. Every year I can remember, the Lions have played like turkeys on Thanksgiving. Also every year, Thanksgiving has been crowded at Walt Disney World. It’s hard to believe that’s just a coincidence.

With that said, we have been slightly surprised by just how high crowds have been at Walt Disney World over the past few days. Since mid-August, we’ve been discussing the impact of Florida’s since-subsided delta surge and Walt Disney World’s reinstated indoor mask rule on cancellations. As we pointed out then, those cancellations didn’t impact just the early fall–they stretched through the end of 2021, including the holiday season.

Although our 2021-2022 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars caution that the weeks of Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve would still be incredibly busy, we expected that plus hotel unavailability, lack of international travel, etc. would take some of the edge off attendance. Judging by the lack of Park Pass availability, wait times, and congestion in the parks, that clearly is not going to be the case.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with a forward-looking forecast, let’s dig into wait times and see to what’s up with current crowds at Walt Disney World…

Let’s start with a high level look at weekly wait time averages across the entirety of Walt Disney World. (All graphs and wait time stats courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.)

This actually doesn’t reflect the high crowds we’re referencing–at least, not in full. That’s largely because recent weeks have had low days mixed in with the high ones. As for Thanksgiving crowds, there’s only been a couple days of those thus far.

If you break it down by day, the graph becomes more difficult to read, but you can also see what happened yesterday–the highest line at the very far right side.

November 21, 2021 had an average daily wait time across attractions in all parks at Walt Disney World of 50 minutes. This makes it the busiest day of the year so far, surpassing July 27 and 28 by one minute each.

Breaking this down by park, where we’ll start with Magic Kingdom.

We actually can’t see this playing out there, where the average wait yesterday was a decidedly average 34 minutes. However, it was also a Disney Very Merriest After Hours night, which meant Magic Kingdom closed a couple of hours early as compared to most other dates this week.

As we’ve mentioned several times–including in our Best & Worst Days at Each Park in Walt Disney World, the day during party nights is always less crowded. Let’s see how much wait times spike today for Magic Kingdom.

Yesterday’s longest lines in Magic Kingdom were Jungle Cruise, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Pirates of the Caribbean–all of which averaged over an hour. (Jungle Cruise’s 95 minute average should reinforce why it’s #1 in our Magic Kingdom Genie+ Priorities & Lightning Lane Ride Ranks.)

Continuing to Epcot, where crowd levels have spiked after settling into lower levels for much of the last few months. Yesterday averaged a 33 minute wait at Epcot, which may not seem bad, but it’s the highest number since July 28. As always, “feels like” crowds at Epcot–especially in World Showcase–are always worse on weekends.

Attractions with the longest wait times were Frozen Ever After and Test Track, at 94 and 61 minutes, respectively. Soarin’ Around the World averaged a 49 minute wait time–much higher than it has been in recent months. Nothing else was above 30 minutes, which is what brought the overall average down so much. (Note that this does not include Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure due to its virtual queue.)

Animal Kingdom had its busiest day of the year yesterday, and by a wide margin. The average wait time was 67 minutes (!!!), which is significantly higher than even the worst date in July (60 minutes).

Avatar Flight of Passage averaged 150 minutes and Na’vi River Journey averaged 85 minutes. Kilimanjaro Safaris averaged 74 minutes, Expedition Everest averaged 56 minutes, and Dinosaur averaged 55 minutes. Yikes.

Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Another red line eclipsing all of days at the far right.

DHS continues to be the busiest park at Walt Disney World, with yesterday hitting an average wait time of 67 minutes (!!!!!). That eclipses Saturday (#2 of the year), which hit 59 minutes, and Friday, which hit 53 minutes. This falls into “big yikes” territory on our highly scientific scale.

While both parks averaged a 67 minute wait time through the day on November 22, this is subjectively worse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios because the park has more rides. By contrast, Animal Kingdom has more to do without waiting in lines.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance averaged a 154 minute wait time, Slinky Dog Dash averaged a 105 minute wait, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster averaged 83 minutes, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway averaged 81 minutes, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run averaged 78 minutes, Toy Story Mania averaged 73 minutes, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror averaged 65 minutes. That’s right–all headliners were over an hour. Even Alien Swirling Saucers was at 47 minutes. Alien Swirling Saucers!!!

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where we spent the bulk of our weekend at Walt Disney World, and the crowds were self-evident. 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 bad. Very bad.

I haven’t seen crowds this heavy since early last year. 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 than we’ve seen at any point since early March 2020.

Back then, we wrote Disney’s Hollywood Studios: WDW’s Best Rides & Most Frustrating Park, which focused on how the attraction roster was too top heavy, with an insufficient supporting lineup to help absorb crowds. Now, that post seems so quaint. Never would’ve imagined even more could be cut from the supporting lineup!

In short, Disney’s Hollywood Studios needs all stage shows back ASAP and more temporary entertainment to help ease congestion. DHS used to do exactly that for the Christmas season–anyone remember the Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special?!

Looking forward, you can expect crowd levels throughout this entire week on par with Sunday. Magic Kingdom will be worse, because everyone who avoided it on Sunday due to the party will be trying to get their fix during the week. Epcot will also likely be worse, for lack of better Park Pass options (just like in the spring and early summer).

Speaking of Disney Park Pass availability, there’s not much of it. Availability has only worsened since we reported on it in last week’s Walt Disney World Warns of High Holiday Crowds. There’s now zero Disney Park Pass availability for this entire week. It’s possible some dates will be reallocated from APs (now that those sales have been paused) and refilled, but that will only worsen crowds if it happens.

Peak season crowds in the coming week due to Thanksgiving is hardly a bold or new prediction. It would be more surprising if this wasn’t the busiest week of the year so far. And that’s true regardless of whether the Detroit Lions end up winning on Thursday.

Again, nothing new there–all of this is covered in our November 2021 Crowd Calendar.

Aside from Michiganders (and other Midwesterners, for that matter), there’s the Reopening of International Travel’s Potential Impact on Walt Disney World Crowds. Orlando International Airport is already reporting high volume from abroad, suggesting those visitors are already arriving in full force.

In addition to that, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is forecasting a near-record 1.63 million passengers passing through MCO during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. This is down only slightly from 2019.

While “lower” might seem good, 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 level of crowds as it was for Thanksgiving 2019. As a result, “down only slightly” is effectively an increase in feels like crowds, even if not raw attendance numbers or travel volume.

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 Itineraries for efficient step-by-step strategy, with options now with and without Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.

Speaking of which, we’d strongly recommend Genie+ for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. We used it over the weekend at DHS, and while we were able to make fewer selections per day with it than we were in October or early November, we still saved over 4 hours in line. Your mileage may vary, but that’s worth the $16 per person per day to us.

If you’re staying on-site, be sure to take advantage of Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours (if eligible). As “companion” advice to that for the coming week: embrace the midday break. Rather than going back to your resort, we’d highly recommend doing lunch outside the park at one of the nearby resorts. During your Magic Kingdom day, take a bucolic boat ride and enjoy a fantastic feast for the holidays, which is also a great value for families.

Your goal should be to stay until closing, which requires outlasting the crowds. That can be difficult to accomplish if you spend the entire day in any of the parks, so don’t feel bad about taking a break. Sometimes a respite from the crowds and chaos is necessary to power through the full day.

Ultimately, it’s not just this coming week that’s going to be incredibly crowded. The next month-plus will be busy at Walt Disney World, with only a few potential reprieves from the crowds. Thanksgiving week may not end up having the highest attendance of the year, but if so, that’ll only be because the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve surpasses it.

In short, pack your patience and arm yourself with savvy strategy if you’re visiting Walt Disney World this week or beyond. It is going to be very busy with “feels like” crowds and wait times among the highest we’ve ever seen. We’ll be in the parks throughout the week and should have some reports and advice that will help you make the most of Christmas season at Walt Disney World.

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Predictions on crowds for Thanksgiving and Christmas season? Do you agree or disagree that this is caused by the dreadful Detroit Lions’ performance on Turkey Day? Thoughts on our prediction that this week 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!

35 Responses to “It’s the Year’s Busiest Week at Disney World”
  1. Colleen November 27, 2021
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