Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Easter Week Crowds - the Worst of the Season?


We're back with another look at recent Easter week crowds at Disney World.  As promised last week, we said that once the data was in, we would take a look back at just how bad it was (or wasn't? Stay tuned).  We're going to see if this was truly the peak of Spring Break season, and compare that to how crowded the parks were for Easter week last year.  We'll also take a look at whether a certain recent trend continues in terms of crowd distribution for a given week.

If you were traveling to Disney World for Easter week, you probably knew what you were getting into, as this is a week that schools often have for vacation.  Interestingly, in recent years in New York (where I live), the school break has been the week AFTER Easter.  While still crowded, that week generally sees lower crowds across the board.  

For the purposes of this report, we're going to look at crowds from the Friday before Easter week (potentially "beating" the Easter rush) through Easter Sunday itself.  As always, this data comes from, and represents the average total wait time for attractions at all parks.  Obviously the headliner attractions will see numbers significantly higher than this, but as a macro look at general trends, this serves our purpose.  Here are the average wait times for the period I mentioned above:

Friday 3/31 - 41 minutes

Saturday 4/1 - 35 minutes

Sunday 4/2 - 47 minutes

Monday 4/3 - 60 minutes

Tuesday 4/4 - 61 minutes

Wednesday 4/5 - 59 minutes

Thursday 4/6 - 55 minutes

Friday 4/7 - 55 minutes

Saturday 4/8 - 47 minutes

Sunday 4/9 - 39 minutes

A couple of things to note as we talk about this.  First, this was a bad week for crowds (hard-hitting analysis, I know).  I tend to consider a week in Disney terms from Saturday through Friday, as that's how we normally visit.  For the earlier Spring Break crowd report, the average wait over those seven days was 49.4 minutes.  For the same period during this week, the average wait was 53.1 minutes.  This puts it on par with President's Week (53.6 minutes) as one of the busiest of the year so far.  For Spring Break season, this was the peak (unless it somehow gets worse this week, which I tend to doubt).

Second, this week was a bit of a "trend buster" compared to those recent periods we looked at.  In both of the earlier cases, the crowds dropped off considerably later in the week, usually by Thursday or Friday with the weekend being almost unbelievably good compared to mid-week.  That isn't really the case here, as Friday is just about as bad as the rest of the week (though down a little from the Tuesday peak - that remains consistent).  Easter Sunday was a very nice day in terms of crowds, but it wasn't easy getting there.

If I had to make a prediction here, it's likely because this next week is indeed another week where a lot of schools, particularly in the Northeast, are off.  This current week should end up being less busy than the previous week for sure, but I think some of the lines are blurred depending on when vacations start.  For example, while our kids are off this week, the vacation actually began last Thursday.  So some of the Thursday/Friday crowd could have been people finishing up their vacations as well as some people starting their own.  It's hard to tell where one ends and one begins in this case.

Another interesting note here is that this same week (not by date but by period - the week leading up to Easter) in 2022 was not nearly as busy as this year.  I won't break it down by day, but the period from 4/9-4/15 (Saturday through Friday) last year averaged a 45.4 minute wait.  That is a significant difference from this year, and it was clearly behind both mid-March (Florida Spring Break) and President's Week last year in terms of average crowd level.

I'm not sure what could account for such a stark difference in crowds, but I suspect at least some of it can be explained by the date where Easter falls.  The earlier that Easter falls, the more likely it is to blend into other Spring Break crowds, where schools are off regardless of the holiday.  If Easter falls in mid-April as it did last year, that separation from the rest of the season would likely thin out those crowds.  

That's the best I can figure, because there doesn't seem to be any other significant factor.  By last Easter, Disney was essentially operating as normal after the pandemic.  There were some experiences still closed, but even capacity restrictions were largely a thing of the past, so that didn't really play a factor.  Next year will be a really interesting litmus test, as Easter is March 31, putting it right in the crosshairs of other general Spring Break weeks.  More interesting to me is that Easter and Passover aren't near each other next year (the latter being April 23) and I know for a fact that New York schools are out on that latter end.  Other Northeast schools run the gamut of Easter week all the way through mid-April.  I wonder if this will see a more steady distribution of crowds throughout April.  But an early prediction is that late March week next year will be the busiest of the season.

Another side bar to this crowd report - as I had said in that earlier post, Genie+ reached a new peak of $35 per person starting on Tuesday 4/4.  What's interesting to me is that the price remained at that high all week, up to and including today (4/11, as I write this).  I would have thought that the price would have backed down a bit as the crowd levels were reduced at the end of the week.  

I can't find a site that tracks if and when Genie+ sells out, but I find it hard to believe that it would have sold out on, say, Saturday the 8th with crowd levels being relatively mild.  Unless the FOMO factor came into play, where people saw the high price point and assumed the crowds would be worse, so they made sure to jump on the purchase.  I don't have enough information to draw any conclusions here, but it is certainly worth monitoring in the continued Genie+ saga.

One other thing that surprised me is that Disney didn't extend park hours given the crowds they must have seen coming.  Last year for Easter week, the hours were slightly longer across the board, even with lower crowds.  Animal Kingdom lost an hour this year, while Epcot lost a half hour (Magic Kingdom had the exact same hours as last year, while Hollywood Studios was either the same or slightly longer this year, depending on the day).

What's more interesting about the hours wasn't just that they were extended was that the opening times are almost all later (Epcot opened at 9:00 instead of 8:30 this year, Hollywood Studios at 8:30 instead of 8:00 and Animal Kingdom at 8:00 instead of 7:30).  This might not seem significant, especially if the closing time is adjusted accordingly.  But the earlier the parks open, the better it is for the guest who is willing to be there at those opening times (or earlier, if you factor in early entry).  Most people aren't willing to get up that early on vacation, leading to emptier parks until crowds start to wake up (h/t to Disney Tourist Blog for this astute observation).  

As always, even if you visit on a busy week, there are tricks you can use to beat the crowds, which include early entry, Extended Evening Hours (if eligible), and Genie+.  This past week was a difficult one to visit but if you follow any of these tips, rest assured that you're doing better than the average guest when it comes to getting on as many attractions as possible.  

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