Social Media has been in a frenzy recently discussing crowd levels at Disney World. Reports that Disney Parks are “empty” are circulating everywhere. While it’s true that the crowd levels are much lower than normal, it’s not fair to say that the Parks are “empty.” That’s purely hype.
We recently did a deep dive into the data (and charts, so. many. charts). After much discussion and analysis we’ve reached an undeniable conclusion: crowds haven’t disappeared. The truth is, crowds are pretty normal. They are definitely lower than 2019, but higher than 2021. In the last few years, we have just gotten used to abnormal crowd levels.
2019 was the last year that could be called “predictable” at Walt Disney World. From wait times to the best time of year (even the best week) to go, crowds followed predictable patterns that made it easy to know what to expect. Enter 2020: everything changed. Ever since the Parks reopened nothing has been “typical.”
In 2020 a lot of trips got canceled during the four months Disney World was closed to guests. Think about how many people vacation to Disney World in four months… We couldn’t venture a guess but the number is ridiculously high (roughly 57,000 people pass through Disney’s gates each day). Now take into account how many people refused to return right away due to concerns about COVID-19 or the various restrictions that were in place when the Parks reopened. Many of those people rescheduled their trips which artificially inflated Park attendance.
2022 was the most “normal” year we’ve seen since the Pandemic. The number of new cases took a nosedive (in fact, when was the last time that you even checked that statistic?), and it was the first full year that masking and social distancing requirements were gone. We have, for all intents and purposes, finally learned to live with COVID. As a result, people started traveling again in large numbers. That created inflated attendance numbers. This year, most of the individuals who delayed trips (rather than canceled) have taken them. That means the crowd levels we are seeing now are, for the first time, a potential glance into what a post-pandemic Disney World is going to look like.
Take a look at the charts below. It lists average wait times for all 4 theme parks from January 1- July 9, for 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023. While we don’t love wait times as an indicator of crowd levels (they are often inflated and don’t reflect the real-time wait), it does help to visualize how crowds have shifted over the years.
We believe that going forward 2023 levels will become a “new normal.” The crowd levels were bound to level out at something and that point is now. They reflect those traveling to Walt Disney World without the pent-up demand of delayed pandemic travelers in a world of economic uncertainty.
Crowds will ebb and flow, of course, depending on the time of year and the nations economic climate (2024 and the uncertainty it is bringing is causing fewer bookings) but by and large after a political war, dramatically rising prices, and several years for families to explore different locations, people are looking elsewhere and we believe this will continue. To turn that around, Disney is going to have to offer some serious incentives to entice people back.