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 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:

  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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31 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!

Was this even remotely helpful?

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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.

10 Amber { 05.14.14 at 1:51 am }

Hi,
We are planning our family trip for MNSSHP the weekend of October 17-19. When I spoke
to customer service they do tell us they start getting guests who dont have MNSSHP tickets out of the park at 4 p.m. The party starts at 7:00, so the people who dont have tickets to the event should be out before the party begins. I think its fair that they have guests without event tickets leaving at 5, because paying close to 400 for 3 adults, and 2 children for 8 hours in the park, the event, less crowds, and less ride times is what we pay for.

11 Dave { 05.14.14 at 7:15 am }

Amber, if the party started at 5 I’m sure DInsey would do just what you suggest. But the party begins at 7. That’s when non-party guests leave. As a courtesy to party guests, they typically are allowed in as early as 4p. But that doesn’t mean the party starts anytime other than 7!

12 Jen { 08.09.14 at 4:54 pm }

Hi Dave, we are planning a trip December 11-16 I see it’s pop warner week but also that it’s the 2nd best week to visit per the calendar. We are going to MMVMCP on the 11th and I had planned MK on the 12th due to assuming low crowds with a 7pm closure. I have done a lot of research and per touring plans this Friday is rated higher at MK than Saturday the 13th which is open until 10. I just really question why a Saturday with no evening entertainment would not be crowded? It’s only a 2 vs 3 rating but I’m wondering if you would recommend switching the dates? We were planning AK Saturday so easily able to interchange. Also I was wanting to know your opinion on Epcot with 3 and 4 year olds? We have candlelight dinner and akershus reservations but will they enjoy it or would you recommended an additional day at MK on Monday 12/15? Thanks!

13 Dave { 08.10.14 at 10:01 am }

Jen the 12th will be MUCH less crowded than the 13th, for exactly the reasons you note. There is little at Epcot for kids that age–I would skip it for sure…

14 Jen { 08.11.14 at 10:29 am }

Thanks for the advice Dave! I will stick with the original Friday the 12th plan for MK. Our plan as of now is MK Friday, AK saturday, HS Sunday, then back to MK Monday does that sound ok crowd wise or would you recommend any changes? I know HS is a gamble due to the EMH but at the time decided that since we tried to avoid Epcot on the weekend. Will there be a BIG difference in crowds on Sunday? Also a bit concerned with the Monday MK since a lot of people do it at the beginning of their trip. Any info would be greatly appreciated!

15 Dave { 08.12.14 at 7:54 am }

Jen I would for sure flip Sunday and Monday. Monday will be very crowded at MK because it is a late-close full evening program day between two 7p close days. And HS will be crowded Sunday not just becasue of EMH but laos becasue of the early close at MK!

16 Jen { 08.12.14 at 10:15 am }

I was afraid of that, my concern there is the obvious that we will be at magic kingdom two days with no electric parade or wishes fireworks, I keep seeing on touring plans if crowds are rated 4 or under and you have a touring plan the crowd difference shouldn’t matter. Would you agree or disagree? I guess it comes down to giving up evening parades and fireworks or giving up the lighter crowds. It’s just that viewing touring plan times they show Sunday and Monday at HS a 4 with similar wait times. I just wish I knew if that will really be the case! Thanks again your info is greatly appreciated.

17 Dave { 08.13.14 at 9:14 am }

Jen if you are going to MVMCP you can skip the electrical parade and wishes! TP did a massive redo of its crowd calendar earlier this summer and I can’t make sense of it. I would use Josh’s calendar here: http://www.easywdw.com/category/calendar/12-december-2014-crowd-calendar/

18 Jen { 08.13.14 at 4:52 pm }

That helps a ton! I will start re-arranging our dining reservations and definitely follow your recommendation. We don’t need to see the events twice and would much rather have less crowded days. Your calendar is very easy to follow I hadn’t seen that before so thank you I think we are set now.

19 todd { 08.17.14 at 9:15 pm }

Hi Dave, my girlfriend and I are going our first time to Disney in July. We’ve heard this is a very busy time and we’re kinda nervous but it’s the only time we can go. Any advice on enjoying ourselves in the hot july weather and busy crowds?

20 Dave { 08.18.14 at 12:52 pm }

Todd, see this for my thoughts on July 2014. The situation in 2105 will be similar! http://yourfirstvisit.net/2013/12/18/july-2014-at-walt-disney-world/

21 kathy { 08.20.14 at 10:55 pm }

going to Walt Disney World on October 14th through the 21st we do have a four day park hopper pass and are looking to go to Universal Studios one to two days will not be arriving to Disney until around 2:00 on the 14 and need to leave the 21st by 11:00 any recommendations thanks

22 kathy { 08.20.14 at 10:55 pm }

sorry forgot to mention that it is going to be 8 adults several who have never been before

23 Dave { 08.21.14 at 9:04 am }
24 kathy { 08.31.14 at 8:17 am }

Thank you I already have viewed several guide books but am trying to figure out which parks are best for which days….

25 Dave { 09.03.14 at 7:47 am }

Sorry, Kathy–misunderstood your question!

Universal tends to be best Sat-Mon.

The 15th, avoid Epcot. This is a good day for MK’s evening events
The 16th avoid MK
The 17th avoid AK and Epcot
The 18th avoid all but AK
The 19th avoid HS
The 20th avoid MK and AK
The 21st avoid Epcot

26 jan { 09.07.14 at 7:32 pm }

Hi, I’m planning a quick trip to MK on 12/4 or 12/5. I’m a little concerned about the crowds. Since these dates have MVMCP in the evening, will that create larger crowds during the day? I plan on going whichever day does not have the EMH. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Great site by the way!!!!!

27 Dave { 09.08.14 at 7:33 am }

Jan, on MVMCP dates the park closes early to those without tickets, and does not offer the evening parade or fireworks to them. As a result, MVMCP days are much less crowded at MK than days where the park is open late and offers the full evening program.

28 jan { 09.08.14 at 5:05 pm }

Thanks Dave, that’s what I thought but then I saw this comment…
“Avoid the daylight part–or at minimum, the afternoon part–of days when parks have less-common evening entertainment”

Thought this might mean there are higher crowds during the day when there is evening entertainment.

29 Dave { 09.09.14 at 6:41 am }

Oh–good point Jan–I hadn’t thought people would read the sentence that way! To possibly help clarify it a bit, I added “available to everyone with regular tickets” to the end. Thanks for the catch!!!!

30 Joan { 09.28.14 at 10:02 am }

We are headed to Disney the week of October 18…any thoughts on the crowds bases on Orlando local school calendars? We thought they were off earlier in the month but the schools seem to be closed that week…ugh

31 Dave { 09.29.14 at 7:14 am }

Hi Joan, the Orlando schools have little effect!

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