Tuesday, February 28, 2023

President's Week Wait Times - Can They Be Predictive?


This past week was "President's Week", a vacation for many schools to commemorate President's Day, winter break, or whatever you want to call it.  This week sometimes sneaks up on people at Disney World, as either they don't realize so many schools are closed or just don't think of it as a "big" holiday, thereby assuming that crowds will be lower.  This is assuredly not the case, and President's Week is often one of the busiest weeks of the year at the parks, right up there with Christmas week, Thanksgiving and Easter/Spring Break.

I wrote about this a bit last week, as Genie+ sold out on consecutive days for the first time ever.  There are some caveats to that, as Genie+ has only been in existence for about a year and a half, and Disney is constantly making changes to "improve the guest experience" (or so they say).  The short version of that post was that it wasn't necessarily alarming that Genie+ had sold out, and that this week would be very busy regardless.

As a side note, Genie+ pricing is becoming an interesting new way of forecasting crowd levels.  The two days Genie+ sold out (as well as the prior day), it reached it's (to date) maximum price of $29 per person per day.  So more people were buying it at its highest price.  But the price dropped to $22 on 2/22 and stayed that way for three days before dropping again to $20 on 2/25.  And it didn't sell out on any of those days.  That would lead you to believe that the crowds were lower on those days, though as the data we discuss below shows, this is only partially true.  

Regardless, the real point of this post is to look backwards at the prior week (or so) and discuss whether the crowd trends shown are indicative of anything as far as future busy weeks go.  As always, I want to point out that trying to predict crowd levels is a fool's errand, as there are many extenuating factors that can influence crowds on any given day.  There's also the reality that there aren't really any "slow" seasons anymore, and that there are more people going to Disney World every year, meaning that a look at crowd levels on a numerical scale is often useless as they are a relative measure.  

In any case, looking backwards is easier than looking forwards, and there were some interesting trends during this last President's Week that bear discussion.  We're going to start by comparing this President's Week to last year's (2022) same week to see if there are shifts in crowd patterns.  We're looking at the numbers from a distance, meaning that we're using the average wait time across all four parks each day and assigning it one average number.  All of this information is taken from Thrill-Data.com.

One of the things I wanted to look at first was whether crowds rose the week prior to President's Week - perhaps parents felt more comfortable taking their kids out of school for a couple of days to "get a jump" on crowds.  For 2022, I started looking at Wednesday February 16, and went all the way through Sunday February 27, the last day of the weekend before kids had to be back in school. Let's look at that:

Wed 2/16 - 41 minute average wait

Thur 2/17 - 46 min

Fri 2/18 - 54 min

Sat 2/19 - 53 min

Sun 2/20 - 57 min

Mon 2/21 (President's Day) - 56 min

Tues 2/22 - 57 min

Wed 2/23 - 61 min

Thur 2/24 - 49 min

Fri 2/25 - 47 min

Sat 2/26 - 45 min

Sun 2/27 - 44 min

A couple of things stand out here.  First, yes, the crowds are a little lower before the weekend begins, but not tremendously so.  That indicates to me that trying to beat the crowds by arriving early isn't a great strategy.  It's also interesting that the highest wait times of the week were the middle of that week, a Wednesday (a similar trend occurs in the 2023 data, which we'll get to below).  Crowds drop fairly significantly after that, though wait times are still elevated.

I'll assume most people vacation for a whole week, give or take.  I know our favorite pattern is to go from Saturday through Friday.  If you did that in this case, your average daily wait would have been 54.3 minutes.  But with wait times decreasing towards the end of the week, if you had gone from, say, Monday through Sunday, your average wait time would have been 51.3 minutes.  I know that doesn't sound like much, but remember, that is just an average, without breaking down each park or ride individually.  And considering this is all the same "week", I think you'd be better off starting and ending your vacation later rather than earlier.  This will be an even more stark contrast with this year's numbers.

For 2023, I used the same days of the week (Wednesday February 15 through Sunday February 26).  Here's where things get really interesting:

Wed 2/15 - 31 minutes

Thur 2/16 - 38 minutes

Fri 2/17 - 51 minutes

Sat 2/18 - 56 minutes

Sun 2/19 - 57 minutes

Mon 2/20 (President's Day) - 56 minutes

Tues 2/21 - 61 minutes

Wed 2/22 - 53 minutes

Thur 2/23 - 48 minutes

Fri 2/24 - 44 minutes

Sat 2/25 - 36 minutes

Sun 2/26 - 28 minutes (not a typo!)

So the basic pattern is the same here.  There is something to be said for getting in early, as the wait times really ramp up on the Friday before President's Day.  But that's a gamble, and as we saw above, not necessarily indicative of a pattern every year.  The more interesting aspect here is the END of the week.  If you had gone from Saturday through Friday again, your average wait time would have been 53.6 minutes.  The total of the averages for those days was 375 minutes, where 2022 was 380 minutes.  Remarkably similar, and the highest wait time again was a weekday (Tuesday this time) as opposed to a weekend (which would have been my prediction had I done this ahead of time).

But look at the sharp drop off from mid-week on.  The weekend numbers are almost impossible to believe, yet two sources (Thrill Data, as well as @WDWWait on Twitter) say the same thing.  If you had visited from Monday through Sunday, your average wait time would have been 46.6 minutes.  That's a seven minute difference on average just by shifting your trip a few days - that is a significant number!

The question becomes whether this is predictive of anything.  I'm not sure you can expect such a big drop next year (and it remains to be seen whether these levels stay low for the coming week - last year didn't average a wait under 40 minutes until March 5), I think that there is something to the idea of going later and staying later during a holiday week.  Most people want to be done with their vacations and have a day or two to unwind before returning to work and school.  But if you can get over that hurdle, it could help to stay into the weekend following a holiday, as crowd levels start to drop.  If you were willing to hold the kids out of school for a day or two on the back end, you could really see a big difference in your overall vacation happiness.

As I said, I don't want to make any sweeping generalizations based on just a few data points.  Crowded is crowded, and it's going to be tough to go during these busy weeks no matter what.  I have often said that I would choose Easter break over President's Week if those were my only choices.  So I ran these same numbers for this past Easter.  

I'm not going to put them down day by day, but the fluctuation wasn't as great, even in the days leading up to Easter - wait times were very similar on each individual day.  Part of that has to do with the fact that not everyone is off the same week for Easter - some schools are closed leading up to the holiday (Holy Thursday and Good Friday at the very least) and some (like ours often) is closed the week afterwards.  But if you had gone from Saturday through Friday last Easter (like, perhaps, a certain blogger and his family did), your average wait time would have been 46.6 minutes.  

While not "great", that number is lower than the average of the same days of the week in this February break.  In fact, it's the same number as the "Monday through Sunday" version of President's Week as shown above. The difference is that the average wait per day was very similar over Easter, whereas wait times obviously fluctuated wildly during this President's Week.  I'm sure the parks felt significantly less crowded towards the end of this past week.

It's tough to beat the crowds at Disney World, but if you have no choice of when to go, you can still do your best with any sound strategy (as previously mentioned - early entry, rope drop, Genie+/ILL, extended evening hours, Disney After Hours, etc, etc).  It's hard to look at a granular, day by day level and draw any real conclusions.  But I'm pretty confident in saying that shifting your vacation later by a couple of days can make at least some difference.  I plan to follow this up with another Easter week report this year and we'll see if that trend holds.

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