Monday, March 20, 2023

Spring Break Crowd Report

After a few weeks of (relative) calm at Walt Disney World recently, Spring Break season has arrived.  Last month, we took a look at crowds over President's Week, one of the busiest weeks of the year.  There were some interesting trends observed in that post, so I wanted to see if the trend we saw there carried over to another of the busiest times of year for the parks.

Spring Break is a harder time to pin down, due to schools having all different break schedules.  This generally leads to elevated crowd levels from mid-March all the way through mid-April and sometimes beyond.  Depending on where Easter and Passover fall, a lot of schools work their breaks around one or both of these holidays.  But this past week was really the start of Spring Break season, as many colleges (and local K-12 schools) were off from 3/13-3/17.

As such, this particular week is often the most crowded of any of the weeks during this season.  We'll see if that holds true for this year, as Easter and Passover are in the same timeframe in early to mid-April.  That will by default be a busy time, and as I said above, none of these weeks will be considered "slow" on the crowd calendars.  But this past week is a good litmus test for crowds and as such, I wanted to see how they were in comparison to President's Week and if the same general pattern emerged.

I'm going to use the same methodology that I used in that previous President's Week post, but I'm not going to compare the crowds to last year's.  As I said, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what week schools are off during Spring Break and I'm not going to go back and try to find that same week from last year.  Looking at a week and a half of this year's data should provide enough data to draw conclusions.  Once again, this is the average wait time across all four parks, by day.  You can break this down by park, though the results are largely similar.  As always, data provided by Thrill Data.  

Assuming you were trying to "get a jump" on crowds, I started looking back at Wednesday March 8 and counted up until yesterday, Sunday March 19.  Here are the average wait times:

Wed 3/8 - 30 minutes

Thur 3/9 - 34 minutes

Fri 3/10 - 39 minutes

Sat 3/11 - 34 minutes

Sun 3/12 - 42 minutes

Mon 3/13 - 53 minutes

Tues 3/14 - 60 minutes

Wed 3/15 - 58 minutes

Thur 3/16 - 54 minutes

Fri 3/17 - 45 minutes

Sat 3/18 - 34 minutes

Sun 3/19 - 31 minutes

For analysis, we'll start with the days leading up to this past week.  There is certainly a difference in those first few days compared to the week proper, so if you could have arrived Thursday the 9th, for example, you would have had a few days before things got bad.  What's most interesting to me is that the Saturday is not bad at all - I would consider that a pretty good day for this time of year.  Sunday is busier, but not tremendously so.

This is in contrast to the President's Week crowds, which showed a spike as soon as we hit the weekend (really the Friday before was heavy - 51 minutes on average).  I'm not sure what could account for this, as I would assume people start trips on weekends as soon as school is out.  This would have been a good plan this year!

Much like President's Week, though, crowds jumped during the early part of the week and peaked on a weekday (Tuesday in this case).  For President's Week, there was a more dramatic drop off as the week went on, where Monday through Thursday of this Spring Break week were all pretty similar (and busy).  Starting Friday the 17th, though crowds began to thin out, leaving this past weekend, once again, at much lower levels than the rest of the week.

This was exactly the pattern we saw during President's Week.  As I had recommended at the time, going later and staying later would have benefited you greatly.  In this case, you could have either come and left early or come and stayed late - either way, the middle of the week would have been bad.  The question was whether you wanted the heaviest crowds at the beginning or end of your trip.

Looking at the data, I would suggest that the BEST plan during this week would have been to both come early AND stay late.  You could have enjoyed some low crowds on both ends of your trip, and maybe taken a resort day or two, or just spent less time in the parks on the busiest days.  Of course, there are problems with this strategy.  First, it assumes that you have the ability and the means to stay for more than a week.  Crowds are only one part of the equation, and paying for a hotel and/or park tickets for extra days might not be worth the benefit of lower crowds.

Also, this strategy assumes that you would know when crowds were going to be lower and plan accordingly.  This isn't as easy as it seems.  It's safe to say that the weekdays of these vacation weeks are busier than weekends (as a general rule - Epcot would likely be the exception) but you would be hard pressed to figure out how different the crowds would be on any given day or how dramatically the drop off would be come the weekend.

My prior post on this subject was phrased as a question - can previous wait times be predictive?  As I cautioned there, this is a fool's errand generally.  Patterns have emerged, so I think it's safe to make some assumptions.  But if you're basing your trip around these numbers when planning a trip at the same time next year, there are many factors that could change the crowd dynamic and make all that work moot, or at least more frustrating.

Instead, you should always assume it will be busy at these times of year and plan accordingly.  Using the weekends around a busy week seems to be a good plan, at least for now.  Sometimes there just isn't a choice and you have to roll with it.  Hopefully these posts have given you a general idea of how things are going and how to prepare.  We'll monitor crowds for this season and any other busy seasons and see if these things remain true.

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