Monday, July 10, 2023

July 4th Crowd Report


As promised (threatened?) last week, I wanted to take a look at the crowds at Walt Disney World on and around July 4th.  Some interesting data emerged from last week, and I thought we would talk about it in the context of overall crowd levels, touch a bit more on the weekday/weekend dynamic and see if we can figure out why these numbers were the way they were.

If you've ever watched the fireworks from Disney's 4th of July celebration (usually taking place on both 7/3 and 7/4 at Magic Kingdom), the crowds in the hub look daunting.  It might lead you to believe that crowds were out of control around this time. But the actual numbers here would lead you to the opposite conclusion.  As a side note, looking at crowds just in the hub around fireworks time (for ANY show) give a skewed view of what that day's crowds were like.  Most people who remain in Magic Kingdom at that time are watching the fireworks, meaning a large number of people are condensed into a relatively small space.  That also means wait times during the fireworks will generally be substantially lower.  But I digress ...

Once again, we are taking a look at the overall crowd numbers from WDW as a whole, courtesy of Thrill Data.  It would probably be more informative to focus on Magic Kingdom for the purpose of this exercise, as that is the park most frequented on Independence Day (likely driven by the unique fireworks that run for only those two days, and perhaps to be inspired by the patriotism found in Liberty Square) but for some reason, Thrill Data has a gap on that day when looking just at Magic Kingdom (the same is true for last year, so I have to assume it's intentional - I just don't know why).

So this is the data for WDW as a whole, from the weekend before the 4th up to the weekend after the 4th:

7/1 - 26 minutes
7/2 - 27 minutes
7/3 - 31 minutes
7/4 - 24 minutes
7/5 - 36 minutes
7/6 - 36 minutes
7/7 - 37 minutes
7/8 - 35 minutes
7/9 - 32 minutes

That's right, the actual 4th of July holiday was the LEAST busy day of the entire week!  As discussed recently, the weekend before was also quite slow.  But given the Monday/Tuesday trends we talked about, we should have expected Tuesday (the 4th) to be at least as busy as Monday, if not more so.  And again, given that this is a holiday, where even locals have the day off, that data is especially interesting.

One major data point here makes sense, given the context above - both of the lowest tiers of Annual Passes (Pirate and Pixie Dust) are blocked out on 7/4.  In fact, the blockout dates for those passes covered 7/1-7/4, which goes a long way to explaining the lower crowd levels, at least among locals.  There was also the weather factor - Florida is always hot, especially this time of year, but I saw numerous heat advisories and temperatures in the mid-upper 90's.  Maybe that was too much for some, though if you had a vacation planned, you were pretty much locked in regardless.

My next move was to compare this to last year, to see if this always holds true.  This data is for the same days of the week in 2022:

7/2 - 40 minutes
7/3 - 40 minutes
7/4 - 36 minutes
7/5 - 39 minutes
7/6 - 42 minutes
7/7 - 42 minutes
7/8 - 41 minutes
7/9 - 39 minutes
7/10 - 38 minutes

Once again, July 4th was the least busy day of this timeframe last year.  The difference isn't as pronounced (and the wait times were higher - 39.7 minutes over that time period, versus 31.6 minutes this year.  That confirms yet again the current trend of lower crowds right now) but Annual Passes weren't as big of a factor here, as new pass sales were still frozen until recently.  I can't confirm the weather on that particular week last year but I feel safe in saying that it was hot.

As Thrill Data doesn't have data going back beyond that, I turned to another reliable standby - the Touring Plans historical crowd calendar.  First, in 2023, July 4th was a 3 level crowd out of 10 (7/1 was actually a 2 overall) and in 2022, it was a 5 (right in line with the rest of that week, being in the 5/6 range).  Even Magic Kingdom was only a 5 this year on 7/4 (if you had visited Hollywood Studios that day, you would have been in luck, with a rare 1 crowd level at that park).

Crowd level data during Covid is largely useless, so I skipped 2020 and 2021.  Going back to 2019, July 4th was also a 5 crowd level, around average for that week.  But as recently as 2017 and 2018, July 4th crowds were as large as you might have expected - an 8 overall (and a 9/10 in Magic Kingdom), which was higher than the average for the days surrounding it.

Has something changed in crowd dynamics over the last five years?  Crowd levels are lower across the board, but usually a holiday shows a brief spike, as those of us not fortunate enough to be off during the summer often take vacations around holidays.  The weekday/weekend dynamic doesn't truly explain it here either, as the holiday fell on a Tuesday this year.

I suspect the Annual Passholder blockout had something to do with it this year (and with the 4th on a Thursday next year, the blockout dates are 7/3-7/6 - if these trends are in any way predictive, this would be a good time to go next year, I think).  The relatively similar wait times across the week in 2022 probably just means that that week was going to be around that level, regardless of the day the holiday fell (people taking off for the whole week).

It's hard to say whether this is a trend that will continue in the future, but it is certainly interesting.  A lot of what I thought I knew about crowd dynamics has been shifting recently, so it's worth keeping an eye on to see if this is a new normal or just a minor blip as Disney seeks to course correct crowds with discounts and similar measures.  It appears that the summer crowds in general are lower than in recent years, which tracks with what we've been seeing from Disney's response.  How and when that levels out will be fascinating to watch.

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