Crowds and Walt Disney World



By Dave Shute

DISNEY WORLD CROWDS, LIES, STATISTICS, AND JUDO

Every now and then I get a comment or an email saying something like (this is an exact quote, but for reasons that will become apparent I’m not going to link to it):

  • “Our last visit was Sept. 2011 . . . The crowds were not low in the parks. MK closed most nights at 5 pm for MNNSHP. Only EPCOT was open late and DTD. They were mobbed . . . impossible to find a place to eat if you didn’t make your reservations 180 days out. MK very crowded during the day. The shortest wait we saw for Toy Story Mania or Soarin’ was 90 min. and fast passes gone by 11:00 am. . This same week has a crowd level of #1!”

Or to put it another way…I said it was not going to be crowded, but it was!

Now there’s a number of errors of fact or interpretation in this comment (MK closes at 7, not at 5, for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party; the restaurants are always packed during free dining; FASTPASSES are almost always gone for Toy Story, and often for Soarin, by late morning at every time of the year).

But there’s two bigger points.

One is that if you don’t know what high crowds are, it’s hard to know you are experiencing a low crowd.  

And the second is that even in the lowest-crowd weeks of the year, sometimes the days you choose for specific parks matter a lot.

LOW DISNEY WORLD CROWDS COMPARED TO WHAT?

Low crowd periods, as used in this site and its crowd calendars, are low compared to other times of the year with higher–often spectacularly higher–crowds.

That does not necessarily mean that the parks will feel uncrowded compared to your expectations, as that depends on your expectations, because low does not equal empty.

Even on the quietest of days, if you arrive at 11a and stay through the afternoon parade, you may run into mobs of people, long lines, and fully-distributed FASTPASSES.

But all of these will be much better than they would be during a more crowded period.

The least crowded day I ever had at the Magic Kingdom was a cold and rainy January day during a long stretch of cold and rainy days.  It was already one of the lowest attendance periods of the year; everybody knew the forecast; everybody was tired of the cold and the rain; tons of people stayed home; and I had 20 rides in by 1p.

The busiest day at the Magic Kingdom I’ve ever personally seen was a late Wednesday afternoon the week after Easter 6 or 7 years ago.  Because I was tent-camping at Fort Wilderness, I drove; and for unrelated reasons had  arrived a couple of days earlier than I had planned.

I took 45 minutes to get a burger at Pecos Bill’s, and even the Carousel of Progress was mobbed…

So “Low Crowds” does not necessarily mean lower than you think they will be, or a low as you wish they were; it means lower than the other choices you have.

VARIATIONS IN DISNEY WORLD CROWDS BY DAY OF THE WEEK AND OTHER “LOCAL” FACTORS

You can also, by art or by error, design your trip so that you hit the parks on their most crowded days.

Because both shorter and longer trips typically include weekends, weekends (and Mondays) are typically the times that see the most people in the Disney World parks. Operating hours are often extended over weekends (except at Epcot), but not in proportion to demand, so crowds can be high even during low times of the year.

Days when a park has morning Extra Magic Hours will be more crowded later that day than they would be without these special hours. This is because these hours disproportionately attract Disney resort hotel guests, many of whom don’t have hoppers and thus have that as their park all day.

During weeks with highly varied show schedules and/or operating hours, the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios can show real variation in crowding across the week.  This may be what happened to the commenter I quoted at the top of the page.

During many non-holiday weeks from September through President’s Day, there will be weeks when the Magic Kingdom closes some nights at 7, 8 or 9p, and others at 11p  Some of these nights will have no evening parades or fireworks, and others will.

This is particularly an issue many weeks September through much of December, when because of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party the Magic Kingdom can be closed at 7p, with no fireworks or evening parade available to the general public, multiple times a week.

As a result, people are both “repelled” by the 7p closings and lack of evening shows, and “attracted” to the days when the park is both open late and showing fireworks and parades…and those days can be mobbed.

The better way to handle these periods is to see the Magic Kingdom on days when it closes at 7p, and see the evening events on a different day, without having spent the earlier part of that day at MK.

THE JUDO OF DISNEY WORLD CROWDS

This last point is an example of how to think about crowds at Disney World.

Think about why you are drawn to Walt Disney World in general during a particular week, or to a specific park on a particular day, and whether your reasons are the same as those of the typical family with children.

If the reasons you have are also those of the typical family with children, then you will likely run into disproportionate crowds.

So as much as you can, do the opposite of the typical family–that’s the judo.

  • Go when almost all kids are in school.
  • Avoid parks on days when they have morning Extra Magic Hours.
  • Avoid the daylight part–or at minimum, the afternoon part–of days when parks have less-common evening entertainment
  • Go during lousy weather

The point you have to be specially careful about is “go when almost all other kids are in school.”  I’ve learned a couple of things over the years of running this site:

  1. School breaks across the country are more varied than most parents think–especially spring break
  2. There’s a number of parents who think “We’ll go to Disney World during Thanksgiving/ Christmas/ Easter, because everybody else will be home with their families, and it’ll be great.”  Oh no it won’t…
  3. You  need a plan that includes showing up before the parks open, riding the most popular rides first, and using FASTPASSES.  See this post on the TouringPlans.com blog for how much this matters.

MORE ON WHEN TO GO TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

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9 comments

1 Anonymous { 06.20.12 at 12:57 am }

If crowds are that bad then Disney is doing something wrong – much like the airlines and shrinking leg room. I am dreading our visit. 5 minutes is my tolerance for waiting in a ride queue.

2 Anonymous { 02.26.13 at 11:52 am }

then dont go

3 tbuff { 07.18.13 at 9:00 am }

I don’t feel it is as though Disney is doing something wrong….if they were, they wouldn’t have the crowds!!!!! I don’t know of any parks that I have visited where there haven’t been lines longer than a 5 min. wait. That’s not to say that there weren’t ANY rides that had low wait times, but most were longer than 5 min. When you find a park that has wait times for MOST of their rides that are 5 min or under, please let me know because I would make it a must do! I don’t like to wait either so I’m with you on that, but I do it because that’s just part of the process. Look at touringplans.com-they have good plans to help you get through the parks with minimal wait times. I hope you enjoy your visit.

4 Brian { 08.22.13 at 3:33 pm }

Dave,

How important is it to not visit the days on Extra Magic Hours? This is the first time I have stayed on property and wasnt sure how much a difference it would make.

Thanks

Brian

5 Dave { 08.23.13 at 7:48 am }

Brian it’s not a huge factor, just a tool for not avoiding the highest crowds. Morning EMH are great, but the park is more crowded later in the day than it would have been without EMH. Evening EMH also draw extra crowds, without much benefit other than later hours…

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6 TrainerBBD { 09.26.13 at 12:53 pm }

Your comment about the interpretation of crowd level is soooooo true.

We have gone to Disney in 08, 10,12 and going back again this year … We have planned our trips around “Slow”periods but have also been very lucky as far as crowd levels go.

Our first trip we went last week of august and first week of Sept — Signs on almost all rides had 5 minute wait on them … It was awesome … Some rides we did not even have to get off as they let us stay on if no one was waiting to ride in our car.

Our second trip we went first 2 weeks of September and again we had great wait times … More of the 15 minute ones but still allot of 5′s spread in.

Our third trip was last week of Sept and first week of October. Well most rides were 30 minutes with some 60 minutes spread in… This seemed SUPER busy to us (lol)

But our friends went during March break and they were getting 60 – 90 minutes everywhere with some up to 120 minutes …. They never saw a 30 minute or less sign :s

So to them what we considered busy would have been heaven to them ………

The best thing I advise my pals is to make the trip about the kids, go at their pace, see the rides they want to see and “Listen” to them ….. Some days our kids just want to go back to the house and swim in the pool… We make very little reservations so this saves us from the “We have to be at XXX by XXX time” ….. We eat BFast at the house, lunch by quick dining at the park and then typically we eat at a restaurant out of the parks for supper…..

We can’t wait to see Disney all Christmassy this year and look forward to the night party as we did the Halloween one last trip.

Coming from Canada it will be nice to see snow — Not !!! (lol)

Safe travels and have fun to all going !!

7 Dave { 09.27.13 at 6:41 am }

Thanks, TrainerBBD, for the detailed and thoughtful post!

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8 India { 04.16.14 at 11:58 am }

Hi Dave!

Thanks for all your help and hard work. Even though it’ll just be my fiance and I on our honeymoon (we have no kids), your site has still been my #1 help in planning! I do have a question for you. On October 23, Thursday, we are planning on doing AK. However, upon looking at park operating hours, I see that MK is open 9a to 7p but with 8a to 9a EMH. What do you think of days like these?

9 Dave { 04.17.14 at 9:02 am }

Hi India and I’m so glad the site is helping!

Days MK closes at 7 tend to be very uncrowded even with the added attractor of morning EMH. People have a way of seeing MK and Epcot early in their visits, and AK and HS later, so AK, while OK, is not as good a choice that day as MK.

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