When to visit Walt Disney World is a common question, with many fans wondering whether it’s a good idea to delay a vacation due to construction, cutbacks, pent-up demand, prices, and more. Among other things, this addresses whether you should visit in 2023 for the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, or wait until 2024?
This has been a big question in recent years, as major expansion hit Hollywood Studios and then EPCOT, with the center of the latter park still a giant dirt pit. Walt Disney World is an expensive vacation destination, so it’s understandable that many families–including infrequent or once-in-a-lifetime visitors–would want to see the parks at their best, with everything open and lots of shiny new rides.
On top of construction, the last couple of years have been rough. Reduced stage shows, nighttime spectaculars, other entertainment, scaled-back menus, limited hours, missing perks, staffing shortages, maintenance woes, dramatically increased costs due to supply constraints and pent-up demand–the list goes on and on. Then there was Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which was incredibly underwhelming and didn’t deliver on many of its promised additions.
In typical times, we oppose postponing experiences for something theoretically better down the road. In life and with Disney theme parks, there’s this fantasy of a perfect tomorrow and imperfect today. Something better, newer, or bigger on the horizon that you should wait to see. That overlooks the costs of waiting, and also the downsides.
The last couple years have really driven this point home. Americans have reweighed their priorities and placed renewed emphasis on experiences. Even beyond that, waiting on a Walt Disney World trip is not much of an option for many families; kids grow up quickly, and taking them sooner rather than later is the best course of action.
Then there’s the nature of nostalgia and change. To borrow a line from Andy Bernard (who went to Cornell, so you know he’s smart), “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” This statement is profoundly simple, yet simply profound. And it’s especially true when it comes to Walt Disney World.
Looking back, there are a number of times that I’d consider to be the “Golden Age” at Walt Disney World. Most recently, September through early December 2019. Before that, November and December 2016. Prior to that, Summer 2014. Even what’s routinely viewed as an era of stagnation, 2007 through 2011, holds a lot of nostalgia for us. (That’s us below in Summer 2008, sporting Mickey ears we won while lining up for Journey into Imagination–one of several successes during the Year of a Million Dreams! If I could trade everything added to Walt Disney World since to revisit then, I would do it in an instant.)
With the benefit of hindsight, I could give examples of why each of those years were special (Dream Lights’ debut, Year of a Million Dreams, SpectroMagic’s farewell, Summer Nightastic, Extra Magic Hours until 3 am, etc).
The problem is that, with the exception of late 2019 and Summer 2014, I don’t think I could identify those as special eras while living through them. There are several reasons for this, all of which are beyond the scope of this post. Regardless, the point is that it’s hard to say how 2023 or 2024 might be perceived with the benefit of hindsight. Maybe one or both will be viewed as a new “Golden Age” when looking back from 2030.
But enough with the ‘deep thoughts’ about revisiting the past. Let’s take a look at the pros & cons of visiting Walt Disney World in 2023. As compared to the last couple of years, the big thing is that the parks will not be operating in ‘phased reopening’ mode. By and large, guests will not have to settle for a compromised Walt Disney World experience.
To be sure, there are going to be modifications you don’t like that persist. Disney Park Pass reservations still exist–but we wouldn’t be surprised if that system is retired for everyone but Annual Passholders sometime in 2023. Park Hopping is still restricted–but that’s likely to be rolled back to some degree. Shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Jedi Training Academy, and Enchanted Tales with Belle are on hiatus–but at least 2 of those are likely gone for good. If the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights are ever going to return, that’ll likely happen in 2023.
It’s likely that major complaints you might have with Walt Disney World in 2023 are likely to exist in 2024 and beyond. A lot has changed in the last few years, and most of it is not intended as temporary. Sure, some things might change. It’s realistic to expect the Disney Dining Plan to return or Genie+ and Lightning Lanes to improve as more tweaks are made.
It’s also reasonable to expect tensions, for lack of a better term, between guests and Cast Members to improve. It’s been a rough couple of years, with people stressed out, overworked, and reaching their breaking point. In short, there are little ways that “more of the magic” will slowly be rebuilt. Morale has already gotten a lot better just in the last week!
However, Disney likely will not bring back Disney’s Magical Express, free FastPass, free resort parking, or other on-site perks you might be missing. That’s what will not happen no matter whether you visit in 2023, 2024, 2025, etc.
With that said, it’s important to “never say never” when it comes to all of this. If this post were written two weeks ago, we would not have included this caveat, and would have called it a certainty that DME, free FP, etc., will never be back. However, the return of CEO Bob Iger puts a lot back into play and means pretty much anything–within reason–is on the table. (More on that very soon!)
In the last year plus, there has also been the reality that Walt Disney World hasn’t been able to operate at full capacity due to staffing shortages and other operational woes. This has necessitated capping attendance levels in the parks, using park reservations to redistribute attendance, and reduce occupancy levels at the resorts so as to not overwhelm staffing levels and available resources.
It also means demand has outstripped supply/capacity, and that imbalance has resulted in higher prices–significantly so. The bottom line for people planning vacations is paying more while getting less. A similar scenario has been playing out with other theme parks and across the travel segment, but it’s been particularly pronounced with Walt Disney World. You might experience “skimpflation” at hotels, airlines, and other theme parks, but we’ve felt this disproportionately with Disney.
There is some reason to believe this will differ between 2023 and 2024. My sincere hope is that pent-up demand has already started to exhaust itself, with this holiday season being the last hurrah of sorts. We’ve already seen four new discounts through Spring 2023 released recently, which came early by historical standards and surpassed recent precedent in terms of quality.
It’s too early to call this a turning point, but we suspect it’s exactly that. Our expectation is that bookings have dropped off towards the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary (all of these discounts are being promoted as a “last chance” to experience the World’s Most Magical Celebration), and things will normalize around that time.
Let’s use that as a jumping off point for what’ll probably differ between the next two years.
First up is prices, which is what we started to touch upon above. One way or another, it’s almost certain that Walt Disney World prices won’t be the same in 2023 as they are in 2024. It’s exceedingly rare for room rates, ticket prices, and food costs staying consistent year-over-year. Of course, there are two directions they can go, up or down.
We recently revisited What Does Walt Disney World Do During A Recession?as it’s been a hot topic on the minds of Wall Street investors and analysts. While Disney leaders claim one thing will happen, we have a different answer based on historical precedent post-9/11 and during the Global Financial Crisis (2007-2008). The short answer is aggressive discounting, but the kind that keeps spending high (e.g. Free Dining).
Perhaps the most salient point from that post is that economists have predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions, and Disney’s prices may not drop at all. To be sure, we have practically salivated about the prospect of a “correction” in Walt Disney World’s prices for the last several years–even pre-closure. If I had a dollar for every time my wishful thinking about Disney pricing has been wrong…well…I still couldn’t use that money to book a stay at the Grand Floridian, because every time I’d get closer, its price would get further out of reach!
Typically, menu prices increase in late January or February and potentially again in September or October. Tickets and parking follow a familiar pattern; the last several years, those have gone up in February and not October (but both are possible). Vacation packages and resort rates for the following year are usually released in mid-summer, and almost always show higher rates year-over-year. Each of these increases is, on average, 5-10% per year. This also does not take into account increased nickel & diming or cuts, which also occur with regularity and increase effective prices even further.
The reality is that Walt Disney World is almost always less expensive to visit sooner rather than later. If you’re debating between 2023 and 2024, there’s a strong chance next year will be cheaper. If you’re waiting for prices to drop, history is not on your side.
It’s true that everything is cyclical and that an economic correction is inevitable at some point, but let’s say it happens in 2 years and results in an effective 10-15% decrease in prices (via better discounting–not outright decreases). In the meantime, prices will have increased at least twice, by 5-9% each year. It’s still possible that you’ll come out behind by waiting.
I am holding out hope that Walt Disney World sees a slowdown sooner rather than later, as it would be better for the long-term health of the parks & resorts if they are forced to compete for customers, address issues with guest satisfaction, and return to their own high standards. The longer the current run of unmitigated financial success continues, the more difficult the underlying systemic problems will be to address. But I’ve learned better than to ‘predict’ better discounting or lower prices in the future, as that is definitely the exception rather than the rule.
It is also safe to predict that the same quantity and quality of new attractions will not debut in both 2023 and 2024.
The other somewhat-significant 2023 opening date is Moana’s Journey of Water, which will debut by late 2023. That’s also when the EPCOT overhaul will be finished according to Walt Disney World, which means no more Giant Dirt Pit at the front of the park. Play Pavilion might also open around then, but who knows. That one is a mystery.
New nighttime spectaculars are also debuting in 2023, with a replacement for Harmonious coming late in the year (EPCOT Forever is expected to run during the spring and summer while work happens on the lagoon) and the return of Happily Ever After (possibly reimagined or enhanced) earlier on.
As for 2024, the only major project on the horizon is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which is the overhaul of Splash Mountain. Imagineering has indicated that this will debut in late 2024 at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, with a recent permit scheduled to run through June 30, 2024. While it’s possible that the reimagined ride opens by then, that’s inconclusive as to its actual completion date.
A lot of the set pieces can be fabricated off-site and installed once Splash Mountain closes, but I would not put much credence in that “late 2024” date this far in advance–and before construction has even started in earnest. Imagineering has had difficulty with delays in recent years, and there’s potential for more of that with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure–especially given the unknowns. If I had to bet on an earlier or later date, my money would be on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure slipping into 2025.
That’s it. That’s literally the only major addition currently scheduled to debut in 2024…and even that might not open until the following year. Given project timelines and Disney’s lethargic pace of construction, it’s literally impossible for the company to announce any other major attractions that could conceivably debut by 2024. (Even 2025 is probably out the window at this point.)
Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of exciting additions. The turnaround time for entertainment is much tighter, meaning that new parades (day or night), fireworks, stage shows–or even a celebratory ‘event’ combining several of those things a la Summer Nightastic–is a possibility.
There have been persistent, credible rumors over the last year that Paint the Night will finally make its way to Walt Disney World. We don’t expect that anytime soon now that Fantasmic is back, but it’s a card up Disney’s sleeve that could help “fix” some of the current problems. That’s doubly true if an economic downturn drags on Disney’s numbers. But as with price decreases, I certainly wouldn’t bank on any of that.
All things considered, it doesn’t seem to us like there are many compelling reasons to wait until 2024 to visit Walt Disney World. For the first time in about a decade, there is no major all-new attraction coming that is guaranteed in 2024. (Honestly, I am hoping that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure doesn’t debut until 2025. The earlier it opens, the less likely it is to be impressive.)
From the perspective of pricing, normalcy, new offerings, and more…it all seems like it’s pretty much a wash between the two years (at least based on what’s presently known), with the likelihood that there isn’t much difference between October 2023 and the same month in 2024. This is a far cry from the last several years, when new lands like Pandora, Toy Story Land, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge–or a multitude of other new attractions from Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind–were compelling reasons to wait.
Unfortunately, Walt Disney World now appears to be largely between construction cycles, which probably explains the decision to hold back TRON Lightcycle Run until 2023, even though it could open next month if Disney so desired. Here’s hoping the Moana, Zootopia, Encanto, Coco, Villains, etc. proposed projects in Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom get greenlit to kick off the next big development boom.
Rather than posing a question in the post title and not answering it, here are four times we’d target for visits next year: late March 2023, late May 2023, September 2023, or early December 2023. These are not the only times we’d recommend visiting (to the contrary, we ourselves will make countless visits between those times), but those windows make sense and each will likely offer more than the visit before them.
Let’s briefly discuss the pros and cons of each timeframe…
First, late March 2023.
Central Florida schools have their spring breaks mid-month (so arrive after March 19, 2023), and Easter falls on April 9, 2023. Going between the two should minimize crowd issues, and the likelihood that TRON Lightcycle Run is open. If you’re a gambler, consider booking the first week of March 2023. There’s a decent chance TRON Lightcycle Run will be open by then (or at least in previews) and crowds will almost certainly be smaller.
If you are not a gambler and want to hedge your bets, there’s a good chance Walt Disney World announces the official opening date for TRON Lightcycle Run by or before ABC’s Christmas Day “Parade.”
Next, late May 2023.
Even with Memorial Day weekend factored into the mix, crowds are typically below average in May. On top of that, the end of May 2023 will be the kickoff to summer season, which hopefully means the return of a (reimagined?) Happily Ever After and EPCOT Forever fireworks, plus other new entertainment ready to roll. This also essentially guarantees that TRON Lightcycle Run will be open.
September 2023 is a safe bet for being a good time to plan a trip.
While crowd levels during other off-season times have fluctuated, September has remained reliably slow over the last several years. That’s unlikely to change. On top of that, whatever returns in time for summer will still be around and the likelihood for discounts is highest in the fall. (We will refrain from recommending a specific week here, as our ‘ideal week’ for this year ended up being when Hurricane Ian hit. Oof.)
Mid-November or early December 2023 is our final recommendation. These weeks are always good times to visit, so long as you avoid the weeks leading up to Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The entire holiday season is busier in absolute attendance numbers than September–and by a significant margin–but the addition of Christmas and nicer weather makes it a qualitatively superior time to visit.
It’s also likely that everything in EPCOT will be done at this point, meaning you’ll be able to experience Moana’s Journey of Water and normal walkways throughout the front of the park. We don’t view any of this as exciting enough to book a trip around (even as ardent sidewalk supporters), but perhaps you’re major Moana fans.
Ultimately, which one of those time frames is right for you is largely circumstantial. If you’re a first-timer, we’re inclined to recommend the March or holiday season time frames when taking everything into consideration. Florida’s weather starts getting hot and humid by May and continues that way through September, with the latter being hurricane season on top of that. So even if the crowds are better, you’re getting a different form of “unpleasantness.” (And we’d argue that those higher “feels like” temperatures can more than offset lower crowd levels, making the overall comfort level of your visit lower.)
One thing we are reasonably confident about is that there’s no compelling substantive reason to postpone your visit until 2024. Walt Disney World is not debuting any game changing additions in at least the first half of 2024 (and possibly not until 2025) that justify delay. Of course, there are always wildcards with entertainment, special events, and other offerings that could roll out post-2023 as a stop gap.
There’s also the possibility that management is forced to undertake a course-correction or chooses to do so with Bob Iger back at the helm. This would mean improving the guest experience and satisfaction after a few years of burning through goodwill, but this is also just as likely to happen next year as 2024–it’s impossible to predict right now. If you’re sitting on the sidelines waiting for Walt Disney World to restore some of the magic that’s been lost, you should wait to see what happens. Everyone else probably has all of the information they need to decide when to book a trip next year!
Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations for visiting Walt Disney World in 2023 v. 2024? Do you have a trip planned for late March 2023, late May 2023, September 2023, or non-holiday weeks during the Christmas season? Are you looking forward to visiting once TRON Lightcycle Run opens? Any thoughts or predictions of your own to add? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!