Friday, July 7, 2023

Weekday vs. Weekend Crowd Analysis


I keep a pretty regular eye on the crowd patterns at Walt Disney World ... so you don't have to!  Even when I don't have a trip coming up, I am interested in trends, as that can inform a decision on when to visit again.  Things have shifted a lot over the years, and Disney has gotten more savvy by programming events during formerly "slow" times to even out crowd levels throughout the year.

Actually, that's not entirely true.  Some things are beyond Disney's control, such as school breaks, holidays and weather.  Christmas season will ALWAYS be busy (a bold prediction if I do say so) and a time such as early September, with hurricane season in full effect and schools just back in session, will likely be quieter.  Disney's goal really is just to bring in more people during slow times - a good rule of thumb is that it's never really "slow" at any time, just varying degrees of busy.

But still, crowd patterns can be interesting, especially when something seems out of whack.  One such trend that I've noticed in recent months has been higher crowd levels on weekdays and lower crowds on weekends.  I thought I would take a deep dive into those numbers today to try and address a couple of things.  First, is this really a crowd pattern?  Second, if it is, how long has it been going on?  And third, why would this be the case?  

My methodology here is pretty simple.  Taking data from, I looked back at the last three months of crowds on Saturdays and Sundays, and compared them to crowds on the following Mondays and Tuesdays (I probably could have gone the whole week, but I thought it was more instructive to look at just those days of the week, as a typical vacation would either start on a weekend OR a Monday).  I also looked back at the month of June last year to see if this trend was the same.  I didn't factor in July 4 (yet - I plan on doing a separate crowd analysis on that day/week, as that also produced some interesting numbers).

As is usually the case, I'm taking these numbers from Disney World as a whole, not park by park. That more detailed level can be informative as well, but for our purposes, a general overview will do, as long as we're comparing like to like.  Seeing a relatively "good" number here doesn't mean that you'll be able to assume that riding the most popular rides in the middle of the day will be that wait time - if that's how you think, you're sure to be disappointed.

In any case, let's get to the numbers:

April 2023 Saturday/Sunday - average wait time 35.6 minutes
April 2023 Monday/Tuesday - average wait time 41.9 minutes

May 2023 Saturday/Sunday - average wait time 31.0 minutes
May 2023 Monday/Tuesday - average wait time 32.3 minutes

June 2023 Saturday/Sunday - average wait time 32.3 minutes
June 2023 Monday/Tuesday - average wait time 40.3 minutes

A few things here. First, it is consistent that the weekend wait times are lower in all the months we looked at.  It also appears that the most recent month has the starkest contrast - a whopping eight minutes less waiting per ride on average adds up to a lot of time during your day.  The difference was almost negligible in May, though that was also the quietest month of the bunch.  That holds up, in my mind - the lower the crowds, the less difference between wait times on any given day.  

Another thing of note about the months listed here - they encompassed various natural ups and downs of crowds, including holidays such as Easter and Memorial Day, the start of summer travel and all the times in between.  I'm not going to analyze all of these various periods in detail here (though we discussed Easter crowds in depth here) but I can assure you that this pattern is the same on any given data points and not just the averages (some, especially in May, are pretty close but it almost always holds that crowds were lower on the weekend and not the weekdays).

I began to think about this post as I watched the June numbers - the difference was, to me, pretty substantial and noticeable without even looking too hard at the numbers.  To that end, I wondered what the same numbers were from this time last year.  

June 2022 Saturday/Sunday - average wait time 41.3 minutes
June 2022 Monday/Tuesday - average wait time 45.6 minutes

So that pattern held, even last year, though the numbers weren't as stark.  As a side note, take a look at the average wait time for this period last year compared to this, and it tells the tale that crowds are definitely better now.  Perhaps that is pent up demand running out, which tracks with Disney being more generous with discounts and promotions than they have in years.  Yes, it will always feel crowded, but right now, the overall trend is definitely in the favor of the guest, as you will wait less for rides and probably can book a package on a discount, thereby paying less than you would have a year ago.  

In any case, I wondered if my initial impression that Disney is more crowded on weekends was always wrong, or if this has been a recent trend.  Thrill Data doesn't appear to keep records that go back years, but I used the Touring Plans historical crowd calendar to approximate these same numbers on the old one through ten scale.  First, I used it to confirm what I saw using the wait time data, and yes, Touring Plans matches the previous data.  One thing to note, especially when looking at June, is that the difference in crowd level was more pronounced this year, with weekends being in the 4/5 range, while Monday and Tuesday were in the 6/7 range.  Compare this to last year, when it was mostly 6's on the weekends and 7's on weekdays.  

But I wanted to go back further to see if this had always been the case.  We already looked at 2022 and 2023.  Using 2021 and (especially) 2020 data was not very helpful, given the pandemic that shut the parks down and then created artificial crowd ceilings based on policy and the level of comfort people felt about going to theme parks.  So I didn't even look at those years.

Going back to 2019, though, the trend was similar (at least in June - the data set I'm using for most of this post).  In 2018, there was a different story, as crowds were essentially identical across weekdays and weekends.  But in 2017, the trend we saw above held true - Mondays and Tuesdays were in general busier than their weekend counterparts.  Going back much further than that doesn't really do much, as crowd levels in general are vastly different than they were, say, ten years ago, but in general, this pattern holds true.

So I guess I was wrong all these years!  That leads me to question why, and to see if that means anything when it comes to trip planning.  One thing of note is that Disney World is not a "locals" park, unlike Disneyland in California.  My theory had always been that locals would be more likely to visit on weekends, thereby inflating crowds when mixed with out of state tourists, who would visit on any day.  This happens in more specific circumstances (usually the festivals at Epcot) but doesn't move the needle when it comes to the big picture.

My working theory here is that the most affordable local Annual Pass is the weekday only pass, and that this price point entices locals to go that route and work their schedules around when they can visit, instead of the other way around.  Another factor is the price of airline tickets - airlines are always offering lower rates if you travel during the week.  I didn't know how much of a difference that made in a situation like this, but I could certainly be convinced that more people don't travel on weekends, thereby inflating wait times on weekdays when they arrive.

A somewhat related point there is that with the increased cost of Disney vacations, people are simply spending fewer days in the parks.  When combined with not traveling on weekends, that could push people taking, say, a four or five day trip into just visiting on weekdays, arriving on Monday and leaving before the next weekend.  I don't have specific data to back that up, but it makes sense.  For me personally, I like to arrive as soon as possible (usually on a Saturday) and leave in time to recover before going back to work the next week.  Perhaps I'm in the minority there.

Regardless, this post came to me as a way to look at wait times and test my hypothesis.  Apparently, I don't know as much as I thought I did about how crowds work at Disney World, but we're always learning!  If you are indeed taking a shorter trip, my suggestion would be to encompass the weekend and then leave mid-week, as opposed to just arriving on a Monday.  You can always use "rest days" on weekdays instead of weekends.  The difference in crowds will likely be worth it.

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