Sunday, March 31, 2024

Spring Break 2024 - A Tale of Two Crowds


I haven't done a crowd report in a while, so I thought this was as good a time as any.  I made a couple of different posts about this last year, so I wanted to see how things compared from year to year.  We'll take a look at that here, including what I THOUGHT would happen, versus would ACTUALLY happened, and see if we can make any predictions for the rest of this spring, as there are plenty of vacations still to come (including our own!).

I usually focus a lot on crowds at this time of year since this is often the time that we take trips to Disney World.  Spring Break is an interesting time, as it's not the same as other busy/holiday weeks, since it's more spread out over a month or more, depending on how school breaks and Easter fall.  That was actually one of the most interesting things leading up to the start of the season in earnest this year, as there was no consensus week for school breaks.

In 2023, there were two "major" weeks for crowds during Spring Break and we talked about both at the time - March 13-17, where most colleges and local K-12 schools had breaks, and 4/3-4/9, which was the week leading up to Easter.  As discussed in that second post, Easter week was the worse of the two, with crowds being on par with President's Week (traditionally one of the busiest of the year) but both were busy.

Based on that, if you look at the data from last year (as always, taken from the wonderful Thrill Data website), you can see two higher peaks that stand out from the rest of the days around them - the two weeks mentioned above (the few days after Easter were particularly busy last year as well, so that second peak sort of extends longer that I had originally thought).

In contrast, in 2024, I expected to see a much more even distribution throughout March and April.  Obviously we only have data through March as of now, but the chart is far more different than I had expected it to be.

It actually looks a lot more like 2023 than I had thought, with two peaks and some valleys in the middle.  The more interesting part of this is that the second busiest week was NOT the week that Florida schools had Spring Break, unlike in 2023.  In fact, THAT week (I'll use 3/16-3/22, as I often compare weeks from Saturday to Friday) had an average wait time of 28.3 minutes, which is one of the best overall wait times you'll find in ANY season nowadays.  Two of those days averaged 24 minute wait times!

In 2023, "Spring Break week" averaged 49.4 minutes.  There was a comparable week this year, but it was actually 3/9-3/15, with an average wait time of 47 minutes, peaking on 3/11 (a Monday, still the worst day of the week to visit) at 57 minutes.  That's down from last year, if we consider these to be the comparable week for each other.

I can't really explain why the week that schools were closed was so much better than the week before, though it likely has to do with annual pass block out dates.  That was a large part of the reason why weekends had been so much less busy than weekdays in recent years.  Disney seemingly has recognized this and has moved some of those dates around, but this looks to me like an overestimation on their part and created a great week to visit.  If only we had known!

In any case, as far as Easter week goes, it once again "wins" the crown for worst week of crowds during spring.  From 3/23-3/29 (the week leading up to, but not including, Easter), the average wait was 48 minutes.  The weekend trend (or the hangover from the prior "dead" week) actually drags that average down - if you count only Monday through Friday, you end up with a more robust 52.6 minutes, putting it on par with the 53.1 minutes from 2023.  

Of course, since I'm using the seven day average, this year was actually less busy in both of these peak weeks compared to last year.  This goes against a recent trend of 2024 being busier than 2023 on a day by day basis.  I don't know if this is instructive here, as the last super busy week of 2024 was President's Week, and that average (46.9) was down from 2023 (53.6).  But the elevated crowd trend actually started after that break.  And while President's Week crowds tailed off after peaking early in the week, Easter week was busy at essentially the same level on all of the weekdays.  

Is there anything to be gleaned from this data?  Even though I was wrong about which week would be the busiest in mid-March, there still ended up being two peaks to Spring Break season.  The valley was the surprising part here.  So I don't know if I'm qualified to make further predictions into April.  But I do feel comfortable saying that the worst week is behind us.  Easter invariably ends up being the peak of this peak season.

Where do we go from here in April?  That's tougher to forecast.  But from what I can tell, many of the school districts (in the northeast especially) have a much more staggered vacation schedule throughout April, if they haven't already taken their break.  New York's break is from 4/22-4/26 (ask me how I know this one) but none of the surrounding states are off that week.

I would take this to mean that all of the coming weeks will be slightly more elevated than your typical March/April on NON break weeks, but far less crowded than the peak times shown above.  At least, that is my HOPE.  This might actually be the more even distribution of crowds I had thought we'd see throughout the whole season, but this time condensed into just April.  We'll be back to talk about that when the dust settles.

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