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 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 Extra Magic Hours.
- Avoid the daylight part–or at minimum, the afternoon part–of days when parks have less-common evening entertainment available to everyone with regular tickets
- 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:
- School breaks across the country are more varied than most parents think–especially spring break
- 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…
- 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
- For when to go to Walt Disney World, see this
- For the best and worst times to visit, see this
- For forecasting crowds at Walt Disney World, see this
- For seasonal pricing at Walt Disney World, see this
- For weather at Walt Disney World, see this
Want a second opinion? Then check out my book lol.