Saturday, January 6, 2024

End of 2023 Wait Times - Busiest Week of the Year


We haven't done a crowd report on the blog lately, and this one is sadly overdue.  But I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the crowds during typically what is the busiest week of the year on the Disney World calendar - the week between Christmas and New Year.  This post will take a look at exactly those wait times and see whether it follows the recent trends of busiest days of the week, as well as trying to put into context just how busy it actually was (spoiler: busy!)

As always, our wait time data comes from Thrill Data.  Wait times don't always tell the full story of how crowded the parks are, but they are at least hard numbers, which carry more weight than anecdotes from guests who were there.  No one can be in all places, all the time, so wait times represent the best way of measuring just how busy things are/were.  

Let's take a look at some recent wait times.  We'll start with Christmas Eve and work up through New Year's Day.  Remember, this is the AVERAGE wait time across ALL attractions at Walt Disney World.  Obviously the headliners will attract higher crowds, but as a blanket measure, this is a pretty good indicator of how things were:

12/24 (Sunday) - 40 minutes
12/25 (Monday) - 42 minutes
12/26 (Tuesday) - 54 minutes
12/27 (Wednesday) - 67 minutes
12/28 (Thursday) - 68 minutes
12/29 (Friday) - 70 minutes
12/30 (Saturday) - 70 minutes
12/31 (Sunday) - 58 minutes
1/1 (Monday) - 42 minutes

Now let's talk about it.  First, one of the recent trends we have talked about on this blog has been the fact that weekends had been less busy than many weekdays, particularly at the start of the week.  Monday has been the busiest day of the week in general.  That pattern actually did NOT hold here.  The two Mondays in that data set are the actual holidays (Christmas and New Year). This IS consistent with last year's data, though both of the holidays last year (on Sundays) were closer to the rest of the wait times for that week.  I'm not sure we can draw any great conclusions here (like, "ditch your family on Christmas Day and come to the parks!") but it is noteworthy.

This is the graph from Thrill Data below.  I included all dates from 10/1/23 through current day, just to give you a sense of how bad things get during this week:

See those giant red lines?  Yep, those represent 12/27-12/30.  Last week reached a high of 67 minutes on 12/29, so that means that three of these days were the worst days in the last year for crowds, and the other was tied for the fourth worst.  I've seen multiple reports that these were actually the four busiest days since 2019, though I can't corroborate that with the Thrill Data numbers.  It does make sense, given the pandemic keeping the numbers down in 2020 and 2021, but eclipsing last year is a major feat (if we can call it that).

One of the talking points during this past year has been that "crowds are down" at Disney World.  And while this is technically true, it only tells part of the story.  This is why Disney has been releasing new promotions and discounts  - now that demand has leveled off, they need to do something to draw in crowds and (perhaps even more importantly to them) get resort occupancy numbers up.

But these general points don't jibe with weeks where there is a "captive audience" so to speak, including the week between Christmas and New Year.  This is one of the few weeks that schools are closed nationwide, making it one of the only times families can visit without having their kids miss school.  Many businesses are also closed this week, or at least are operating in "holiday mode" where a lot of employees are out for all or part of the week, and things tend to be more relaxed than normal.  That, in combination with the magic of Christmas and Disney working hand in hand, makes this week the busiest week of the year, every year.  I certainly don't need to be an expert to figure that out!

The new trend recently has been that the week after New Year is also busy.  This is a big reason why any of Disney's new guest friendly policies (including elimination of park reservations and the return of full park hopping and the Disney Dining Plan) are set to kick in on January 9, and not January 1.  Disney sees this trend and wants to wait for the post holiday lull to enact major changes.

I only included data through January 1 above, so you might look at that and think that this represents a return to lower crowds after the holidays, and that this current week might not be so busy.  I have some bad news on that front.  While the crowd levels aren't as high as they were in the previous week (and remember, NOTHING has been that high for years), the wait times are still inflated for this week, coming in between 55 and 58 minutes.  

The positive spin there is that the crowds on 1/2 and 1/3 last year were in the 64/65 minute range, so that is a noticeable drop off (though "noticeable" is true in the numbers, I suspect most guests wouldn't feel that way as they fight their way across the hub in Magic Kingdom).  What appears to be true is that last year didn't quite reach the highs that this year did, but that the weeks leading up to and coming out of the holidays were more flat, whereas this year had a very specific spike across a four or five day stretch, with relatively lower crowds on either side.

I hesitate to draw any conclusions from this either.  The higher January crowds have been a recent phenomenon, perhaps as guests try to "beat the system" by taking their vacations a week later and then found out that many people are doing the same thing.  It will be interesting to see if this year is the start of a correction to that correction, or whether this will continue to be the norm in some form going forward.

Regardless, you probably didn't need to read this post to know that this holiday week would be the busiest of the year, but it was nice (?) to see that the data backed that up.  If you are going to visit during this time, you have to know that the crowds will be a major impediment to success.  It doesn't mean it can't be done, just that you have to have a good touring plan and a lot of patience to fully enjoy your time.

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