Attendance and wait times have been on the rise to their holiday highs, as Christmas crowds have begun arriving at Walt Disney World. This crowd report shares recent data, thoughts on what’s likely to happen next with crowd levels between now and New Year’s Eve, and which dates will end up being the busiest of December 2022.
With Christmas less than one week away, things have changed in a hurry at Walt Disney World. For most longtime fans, that’s hardly a surprise. Contrary to persistent urban legends that the parks are “dead” on holidays because everyone is at home with their families, Walt Disney World typically sees two of its busiest weeks of the entire year in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
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.
There are several other variables that can impact “feels like” crowds, from festivals at EPCOT to weather to guest demographics to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency to time of day or day of the week. And that’s just a partial list! Beyond that, wait times can be manipulated by Walt Disney World. They’re often inflated, or otherwise inaccurate.
In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s raw attendance or crowds–which have increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus. 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 weekly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole. Thanksgiving week (the tallest red line towards the right) is the third highest week of the year to date, behind only Presidents’ Day and the peak of spring break season.
Following that holiday, there was a sharp week-to-week drop, with wait times falling by 15 minutes on average from 49 minutes (10/10 crowd levels) to 34 minutes (3/10 crowd levels). Since then, crowd levels have gradually been swelling back towards their holiday highs. (Note that I cut this graph off as of yesterday, otherwise today would show up as its own week.)
Breaking it down by day, and it’s not quite so steady. Crowds increased noticeably in the first full week of December from their post-Thanksgiving lows before dropping again for a few days last week. However, crowds have once again been on the rise in the last few days. The final bar is today (December 19, 2022) and shows Walt Disney World once again approaching the holiday highs of Thanksgiving week.
The decrease is surprising, but the subsequent increase is not. This is technically the week before Christmas, and now is typically when peak holiday crowds arrive at Walt Disney World. We’re expecting that dynamic to differ somewhat this year–more on that in the commentary at the end.
We’ll start the park-by-park data with Magic Kingdom, which continues its best porcupine impression. This graph might lead you to believe that the trend is there is no trend. However, when overlaid with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party dates, it becomes obvious what is happening here.
This is something we’ve covered at length, again and again, but one last time, most people avoid Magic Kingdom on party-shortened days and crowd into the dates with longer hours and no party. This results in significantly lower wait times on party days. Almost every day of MNSSHP or MVMCP at Magic Kingdom has been below 3/10 on the crowd calendar.
That spiky graph isn’t easy to read or draw conclusions from beyond the one about party days, so let’s take a look at weekly wait times, which smooth out the MVMCP v. non-party days.
From this, we can see Magic Kingdom drop from 8/10 during Thanksgiving week to 2/10 after, and slowly rebound in the 2 weeks since. Even this doesn’t tell the whole story, as returning entertainment and characters–in Magic Kingdom and elsewhere–has impacted wait times and the distribution of attendance among all 4 parks. (Just look at how wait times, as a whole, dropped at the end of April.)
Above are attraction wait times for the month (through December 19, 2022) at Magic Kingdom, which obviously exclude the week of Thanksgiving and days thereafter in November.
The biggest surprise here is Space Mountain, which as of a couple weeks ago was operating efficiently and had relatively low waits. The wait time has spiked more recently, which could be coincidence, but is more likely due to downtime on one side of the ride. Everything else is about par for the course. Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin are high, but that’s hardly unprecedented. Splash Mountain is further down the list, but that’s a byproduct of weather. I am slightly surprised it hasn’t climbed up the rankings a little now that there’s a concrete closure date–I guess most fans have already said goodbye.
Continuing to EPCOT, where crowd levels are soaring once again. After spiking to a 10/10 for the holiday, levels were in the low to moderate range for the last few weeks. Over the course of the weekend and today, they’ve steadily risen to the 10/10 level once again (if today’s average holds, today will be the 3rd busiest day of the year at EPCOT).
As always, “feels like” crowds at EPCOT–especially in World Showcase–are always worse on weekends and evenings. We spent a lot of time at EPCOT in the first couple weeks of December and it felt busy even when crowd levels were 6/10. This is despite the return of Fantasmic, which has definitely relieved some of the pressure on Harmonious.
When looking at attraction wait times, there are no surprises at EPCOT, either.
The top trio of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, and Test Track are all above an hour, but everything else has been mostly manageable. Again, this is for the entire month–the story is much worse in just the last 3 days. Once the date range is narrowed, Soarin’ Around the World and Mission: Space also join the list of hour-plus average wait times. (The headliner trio all approaches triple digits, too.)
Animal Kingdom had its busiest day of the year Thanksgiving week, and by a wide margin. The average wait time was 74 minutes, which would be a 15/10 or so if the crowd calendar went above 10. This is the busiest day we’ve seen at Animal Kingdom since we began tracking wait times in 2019.
After a quieter couple of weeks, that’s where wait times are trending once again. This weekend was in the 7/10 range and today is a “normal” 10/10 at Animal Kingdom. The park will likely see even worse days in the week ahead, approaching that “15/10” crowd level territory once again.
As with the other parks, individual ride wait times are almost exactly what we’d expect thus far in December 2022.
Avatar Flight of Passage is almost off the chart, followed not-so-closely by Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris. As with every other park, this wait time chart is for the entire month–the last few days are much worse, with Flight of Passage averaging 169 minutes.
Finally, there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After several days of 10/10 crowd levels and 70+ minute average wait times during the week of Thanksgiving, numbers sharply declined during the two weeks after. Unfortunately, that (relative) lull is now a thing of the past.
Over the weekend, DHS crowd levels once again spiked. The last two days have seen the return of 10/10 crowds, with average wait times of 64 and 66 minutes. Still not as bad as Thanksgiving, but there’s still plenty of time.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where the individual attraction wait times get interesting. Up until this weekend, Tower of Terror was #1 due to one of the elevator shafts being out of service (again). Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has since passed both it and Slinky Dog Dash, but all 3 have been bad.
Again, this is for the entirety of the month. Switching to the last week, wait times for all three plus Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run are over 100 minutes. Toy Story Mania, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster aren’t far behind–all at or above 85 minutes. And this is only going to get worse.
Speaking of which, it’s pretty safe to predict that this week will be busier than last week. Another not-so-bold prediction is that this coming weekend will be busier than the weekend that just concluded. The stretch between then and New Year’s Eve will be even busier still, especially with both Christmas and NYE bookending that week.
None of these predictions are particularly bold. Historically, crowd levels incrementally increase throughout the month of December, with the week leading up to Christmas being the second-worst week of the month. The week leading up to New Year’s Eve is usually the worst week of December…and sometimes the entire year. However, there are a few wildcards this year…
First, the weather. Check out that 10-day forecast for Walt Disney World above. No, not the rain this week–that’s par for the course in Florida and won’t have a material impact on crowds.
Instead, look at the low temperatures this coming weekend and into next week. Historically, cold weather has put a damper on crowds, as fewer locals visit the parks when it’s freezing (literally, in this case) outside. This has even been the trend when Osceola and Orange Counties are out for their winter breaks–exactly the same thing happened back in 2018.
Second, the Disney Park Pass situation. Over the weekend, reservation availability was fully refilled (see above) for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. While all dates have since turned yellow, the reality is that many more reservations are available this year than were last year or even for Thanksgiving.
Obviously, we don’t know how many reservations Walt Disney World has released, but given current crowds and how long those Park Passes remained available, our guess is…a lot.
Finally, there’s the biggest wildcard: the timing of both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In a normal year, the week leading up to Christmas would be really busy (10/10 crowd levels) but still not as bad as the following week. A lot of people would take the partial week off work to head to Walt Disney World for Christmas, but even more had the full week between then and New Year’s Eve off. That has been particularly true when both holidays fall midweek.
When Christmas and New Year’s Eve fall on the weekend, crowds skew towards the latter. This is especially true when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Intuitively, this should make complete sense: far fewer people take the week before Christmas off when it doesn’t occur during those weekdays.
The end result is disproportionate crowding between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, with the week ahead of Christmas ‘absorbing’ less of the holiday attendees. (The fact that Walt Disney World released discounts for December 11-25 should also speak volumes about attendance and occupancy forecasts for this week.)
Ultimately, in light of the totality of the circumstances, we are expecting this week to be very busy–9/10 or 10/10 most dates–but comparatively far less crowded than the following week. While the weather will keep some Floridians at home, they’ll likely be a drop in the bucket as compared to the crush of tourists descending upon Walt Disney World between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
In fact, we would not be the least bit surprised if that ends up being the busiest week of the entire year, with wait times surpassing Presidents’ Day, peak spring break, and Thanksgiving weeks. Those are currently the 3 busiest weeks of 2022, and the wait time average needed to “beat” those weeks is 52 minutes. It’s entirely possible that both this week and next surpass that, but we’re betting that next week takes the #1 slot while this week “only” enters the top 5.
There will likely be a drop-off in Walt Disney World attendance after New Year’s Eve, but it’ll still be busy with locals on winter break and runDisney attendees. Crowds will not truly relent until the following week–in other words, expect varying degrees of insanely busy at Walt Disney World between today and January 9, 2023. Starting that day, we might just see another true stretch of winter off-season!
Predictions on crowds for the rest of December 2022 and first week of 2023? If you’ve visited this holiday season, what was your perception of “feels like” crowds? If you’re at Walt Disney World right now (or just got back), have you noticed growing crowds as Christmas approaches? Thoughts on our predictions or anecdotal observations? Agree or disagree with our opinion that last week was the best time of the entire year to visit 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!