It’s official! Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve has surpassed all of the “competition” to claim the crown as the #1 worst week of 2023 at Walt Disney World. This post covers the astronomical attendance and terrible triple-digit wait times right now at Walt Disney World, plus Genie+ selling out in two parks for the first time ever, along with commentary about crowding. (Updated December 29, 2023.)
Let’s start by talking crowds. As noted, we’re in the midst of what will almost certainly go down as the worst week of 2023 when all is said and done. It’s currently #1, just ahead of the very first week of the year. To that point, the current crowd conditions will continue into early 2024, which is why all of the big changes don’t take effect until January 9. Like last year, the first week of 2024 will probably be worse than the week leading up to Christmas.
It’s only half over, but the current week has an average wait time of 56 minutes and a crowd level of 10/10. That’s 2 minutes worse than the first week of January, but 5 minutes behind the same week last year. However, the average wait time is still increasing and will likely narrow the gap by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around.
In our previous crowd report from halfway through that day, we reported that December 27, 2023 was tied at the time for the busiest day of the year (with January 3, 2023). At that point, we indicated that wait times had probably peaked for the day, and we expected the average dip back to 64 minutes.
That was incorrect! Wait times didn’t drop–they increased by another 2 minutes, to a 67 minute average. In the end, December 27 went down as the busiest day of 2023 and was tied for the busiest day in the last 365 (with December 29, 2022). That’s actually the highest/worst wait time we have on record in the post-reopening era.
That is, until December 28, 2023 arrived. That day ended with a 68 minute average wait time, which was another new record. Not to point out the obvious, but that was once again a 10+/10 crowd level, and the worst average wait times since at least January 2020.
However, the day is still young and there’s a shot for today (December 29, 2023) to surpass yesterday. The current average is 69 minutes, so if the day ended right now, it’d be another record. And that’ll probably happen–for each of the last several days, the average kept rising until well into the afternoon. It’s only 1:30 p.m. now, so there’s a very good chance that average will eclipse 70 minutes when all is said and done. It’d be fitting for today to be the busiest day of 2023 given that December 29 was also the busiest day of 2022!
In any case, every day for the rest of this week/year has a chance of being the busiest of the week/entire year. In fairness, we warned you that crowd levels would be 10+/10 this week! Here’s a look at just how bad wait times are at Walt Disney World:
For those keeping score at home, that’s 8 attractions with wait times at or above 2 hours. There are another 4 rides with triple-digit waits. Add to that 16 more attractions with hour-plus wait times.
Most notable of these is Avatar Flight of Passage with a 280 minute wait time. That’s, uh, a lot! However, this actually is not a record for the attraction. According to the DTB archives, Avatar Flight of Passage had a 6-hour wait time back in 2019. (It has had 200+ minute wait times on so many occasions that we don’t even keep count. This is, sadly, not abnormal.)
This is obviously very bad and we feel for stuck in these lines. That’s especially the case when it comes to families who have heard Disney executives speak for the last couple of years about how the reservation system prevents overcrowding, and planned a trip on that basis. Even though this week is a historically busy time and that’s “common knowledge” to Disney fans, not everyone knows that. There are a lot of people who still mistakenly think that higher prices equals lower crowds!
As we’ve discussed at length on many occasions–most notably in Disney Doesn’t Want Lower Crowds–this is false. That title pretty much says it all; none of the company’s policies or changes made under the guise of prevented overcrowding have been for that purpose. Not now, not in the past, and not in the future. There are always for optimization.
If Walt Disney World could have both higher crowds and higher spending, they would absolutely take both. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is Exhibit A in this argument every single year, and it’s honestly astounding to me that we keep having this debate. There’s a common viewpoint that price increases are actually good because they decrease attendance and help cut crowds. That is erroneous. This is a go-to line when raising ticket prices, and one that has been mindlessly parrotted by a certain subset of Walt Disney World fans.
We have rejected this perspective time and time again. For one thing, there is ample evidence to the contrary, as attendance has increased by millions of guests per year in the pre-closure decade. For another, if Disney wants to reduce crowds, there are ways to accomplish that–building more attractions or not taking 84 years to open a cloned roller coaster in an otherwise empty warehouse. In reality, Disney has little desire to reduce attendance–they want to “optimize” wait times, staffing, and pricing.
Just putting this explanation here, once again, so I can share this link the next time someone praises price increases in the comments or requests more of them to reduce crowds. (Yes, that is a thing that people actually say!) Anyway.
Speaking of higher prices, here are the prices for Genie+ at Walt Disney World for December 29, 2023:
Multiple Parks (valid with Park Hopper tickets): $39
Magic Kingdom: $39
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: $35
Animal Kingdom: $29
These record-high amounts started on December 23 and we expect these precise price points to continue through New Year’s Eve. On January 1, 2024, it’s likely the max price will fall back to $29. Don’t be surprised if Genie+ sells out several times in the days and week to come despite the record high prices.
Despite the record high prices, December 28, 2023 was the first time ever that Genie+ sold out at Animal Kingdom. It was also sold out at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the second time ever…and second consecutive day! Guess what? Both parks also sold out on December 29, 2023. Third straight day for DHS and second for Animal Kingdom.
I mentioned this back when the change was made to per-park pricing, but it was my understanding at the time that ‘issues’ with Animal Kingdom last year at Christmas were actually a main motivation for the move to per-park pricing. Not the only reason Walt Disney World did it, but one of many factors.
Basically, Animal Kingdom does a bad job of handling crowds because it has so few headliners and because people generally arrive late and leave early. Consequently, there’s insufficient capacity for the peak hours when the park is packed. That’s why Animal Kingdom oscillates between having very low and very high crowds–once it reaches a certain tipping point, the park is a nightmare. Before that, it’s usually relatively manageable. It should be self-evident that the point was reached in the last two days.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a somewhat similar story, except with more capacity but also more demand. Its top heavy lineup is why it averages the highest wait times (by far) in all of Walt Disney World. This dynamic at both parks is also why they can be surprisingly easy to strategize–people hit a wall at both and head for the exits as a result. We’ve discussed that in countless crowd reports, though.
As I’m writing this, Genie+ has not yet sold out for Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Judging by Lightning Lane availability, I’d be surprised if either did. I currently see options for just about every headliner in both parks (part of that is that I appear to have hit a ride reservation refill time at EPCOT). Magic Kingdom being open until midnight also helps on the capacity side.
As previously mentioned, the next two weeks or so will see peak season plus attendance, with crowd levels of 10+/10, for lack of a better term. That may not make complete sense, but last year’s peak week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a good illustration. December 20 was a 10/10 crowd level day with an average wait time of 54 minutes–that was only one minute higher than a 9/10 crowd level. By contrast, December 29 was the worst day of last year, also with a 10/10 crowd level but an average wait time of 67 minutes.
That’s a 13 minute spread–which is absolutely massive–but the exact same crowd level. Nowhere else on the scale (except, I guess, 1/10 since it could theoretically start at 0 minutes–but that never happens in practice) has that range. Usually a crowd level has a range of a few minutes before it moves up or down. Not 10/10. It can be 54 minutes, 67 minutes, 80 minutes, etc. Hence the 10+/10 crowd level.
Hope that makes sense. Even if not, the salient point is that there are varying degrees of ‘bad’ crowds and that 10/10 isn’t a static level of awfulness. Right now is pretty bad, but next week will almost certainly be way worse. On the plus side, the parks will be operating in ‘maximum efficiency’ mode, which presents more opportunities for beating the crowds if you’re willing to work a bit.
It’ll be interesting to see how many days Genie+ sells out between now and January 6, 2024. My previous guess was 3-4, with all of the sell outs occurring later in the week as NYE draws nearer and crowds crescendo.
Genie+ selling out despite higher prices actually shouldn’t be a surprise. For one thing, there’s a certain amount of price inelasticity when it comes to paid line-skipping. Most guests who don’t balk at the $35 price point also are unlikely to be dissuaded from buying the service when it’s priced at $39. That’s especially true of visitors who pay peak season prices to visit Walt Disney World–they’re less likely to be cost-sensitive (if they were, they’d choose cheaper dates in the first place).
There’s also the practical reality that Genie+ is more valuable when crowds are higher. As we’ve discussed previously, there is a “sweet spot” for buying the Genie+ service, and you are arguably better off skipping it in favor of superior strategy when prices are highest due to lack of Lightning Lane availability (see When to Skip Genie+ at Walt Disney World).
However, that’s not exactly intuitive to a lot of people who aren’t savvy planners. In general, the more guests see longer wait times, the more likely they are to want to skip those standby lines. Worse wait times creates a higher incentive for bypassing lines, meaning higher uptake of Genie+ even when it costs more. Demand for beating crowds increases as crowds increase, and as such, Genie+ will always be most popular when it’s most expensive. That’s true even if its advantage is somewhat illusory in 10/10 crowds, since availability worsens and so too do the Lightning Lane return lines.
What do you think of Genie+ setting a new all-time record high price of $39? If you’re visiting during the week of New Year’s Eve, what’s the maximum price you’ll pay for the line-skipping service? Thoughts on our perspective that demand for Genie+ will continue to be highest on the busiest/most expensive days? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? Do you agree or disagree with my 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!