July 20, 2024

Summer 2023 Crowd Slowdown at Disneyland

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It's time for an on-the-ground report on summer crowds at Disneyland, which is starting to see a slowdown. We'll take a look at June and July 2023 wait times and how they compare to last

It’s time for an on-the-ground report on summer crowds at Disneyland, which is starting to see a slowdown. We’ll take a look at June and July 2023 wait times and how they compare to last year, how busy the parks were over the holiday weekend, potential reasons for the quieter summer, and weekdays vs. weekends. Plus, predictions for the start of off-season and start of Halloween at Disney California Adventure and Disneyland.

Let’s start by bringing you up to speed on crowds at Disneyland for the last several months. Spring break season was relatively busy, but slower as a whole than last year. After that, crowd levels fell far and fell fast–dropping from 9/10 to 4/10 in a single week. From mid-April through late May, each week had fairly consistent 3/10 crowds, on average.

Wait times rose gradually between the week before Memorial Day and mid-June, before dropping again. Even the summer peak in June was not busy, with 7/10 crowd levels across all of Disneyland Resort and only a few days of 8/10 or 9/10 crowds and zero 10/10 days. This more or less parallels our recent crowd reports from Walt Disney World, except with higher numbers at Disneyland.

To at least some degree, this was to be expected at Walt Disney World. Company executives attributed this to an exhaustion of pent-up demand and the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. By contrast, they indicated that demand was still strong at Disneyland, and a slowdown in the California parks wouldn’t come as soon–or at least wouldn’t be as bad.

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons for the discrepancy, but the main one proffered by the company is that Disneyland reopened much later, so there has been more of a lag in pent-up demand. Although it’s difficult to assess summer crowd trends since 2019, it also appears to us that tourism at Disneyland has been stronger in June and July since around 2016. (We’re inclined to attribute this to the pronounced differences in Southern California and Central Florida weather, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions.)

Against that backdrop, let’s turn to the data for the first half of Summer 20233. Note that what’s covered in these “crowd” reports is actually posted wait time data scraped from the Disneyland app and compiled into graphs covering various days, weeks, months, and years. A lot can be gleaned from posted wait times, but it’s not necessarily conclusive of in-park congestion or crowds. Just wait times, which is the only objective way to measure crowd levels.

Nevertheless, wait times are an imperfect measure of Disneyland’s crowds, especially if you’re comparing current conditions to prior years. Disneyland attendance has increased by several million people since the overhaul of Disney California Adventure, and demographics have also shifted significantly. The end result is that the majority of days in 2023 will be more crowded than their counterparts in 2012 or 2015.

With that out of the way, let’s dig into the data and look at Disneyland Resort wait times. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of Thrill-Data.com:

Let’s start with the monthly numbers for Disneyland as a whole. As compared to the same months in the prior year, April and beyond have seen a noticeable drop in average wait times.

This is most pronounced in June and July. Last year, those two months were 10/10 and 8/10 crowd levels, respectively. This year, wait times are down by 8 minutes on average; this June’s crowd level was 3/10 and July 2023 would be a 1/10 crowd level if the month ended today.

Above is a look at weekly wait times at Disneyland. This shows the peak of summer (so far) happening the second week of June, with crowd levels hitting 7/10. They fell to 4/10 the week after that before bottoming out at 1/10 to end June and start July.

However, wait times are once again trending upward, and it’s possible that there will be a second peak later this month. Based on historical data from more normal years, twin peaks wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Either way, it’s unlikely that crowd levels end July 2023 in 1/10 territory. We’re expecting between 3/10 and 5/10 for the month as a whole when all is said and done.

Looking at daily numbers across all of Disneyland year-to-date, it’s a story that’s somewhat similar to our wait time reports from Walt Disney World–except with higher averages across the board. Summer has yet to hit the same high highs as the winter holidays or spring break season, but that’s to be expected. Summer is a longer school break, so families aren’t concentrated into the same set of limited dates.

Sunday is consistently the slowest day of the week thus far this summer, with Saturday and Fridays usually being close behind. Unlike Walt Disney World, this trend isn’t coming out of left field–it has happened in the past. At Disneyland, this dynamic is almost entirely the result of blockouts for Magic Key Annual Passes and the Discounted California Resident Tickets. Presumably, Disneyland’s expectation is that tourists and locals buying regular tickets would offset those blockouts, but that often is not the case.

Along with blockouts, the other big explanation for crowd dynamics is date-based ticket prices. This also is nothing new, but weekends are more expensive than most non-holiday weekdays, causing cost-conscious customers who can visit on any day of their weeklong Southern California vacation to opt for weekdays instead.

This is also likely a contributing factor to summers getting slower over time and off-season dates getting slightly busier. Despite the bigger gap (contrast the $159 tickets on August 7 with the $104 price exactly two weeks later), that hasn’t been particularly pronounced. That’s presumably due to school breaks and most parents being unable or unwilling to pull their kids out of school to take advantage of lower prices. But it has had some impact.

Just for the sake of comparison, we’ll also take a look at Universal Studios Hollywood’s weekly wait times. It’s been busy, by golly. 

If ever there was any question as to which is more popular, Super Nintendo World or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, I think we have our answer. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the expanded Toontown…but I love Super Nintendo World. I’m incredibly happy to see it be such a smash success, and hope Universal is already greenlighting Nintendo expansions everywhere. If they need any ideas, we a Super Nintendo Wish List with no shortage of Zelda, Metroid, Mario, etc. blue sky ride pitches.

(Unfortunately, we cannot speak to on-the-ground crowds at USH. Even normally, there are like 5 attractions that Sarah can do there due to motion sickness. Now that she’s pregnant, that number drops to 2-3. That’s a very long drive for so few things! We do plan on heading back for more Nintendo time once the off-season starts, though.)

With the wait times data out of the way, let’s turn to commentary. I want to start by conceding that crowd prognosticating or even monitoring remains challenging. There has been normalization this year, and a return to pre-closure trends. However, Disneyland attendance and wait times are still more difficult to forecast and understand than Walt Disney World.

Even though we’re in the parks every week, I still find myself caught off-guard by crowd patterns at Disneyland and DCA from time to time. This is definitely easier when it comes to Walt Disney World and I have more confidence in my conclusions and analysis there, even if the Florida parks throw some occasional curveballs (like the Independence Day long weekend!).

Part of the reason is because there are still times when Disneyland either is running out of reservations, or is redistributing them in weird ways. I’ve lost count of how many times reservation availability has been replenished, or redistributed between ticket types this summer. There have been times when a scattering of dates was fully booked, only to magically become available the next day–or to move from Magic Keys to regular tickets.

Actually, it seems like the opposite of that has been happening in recent weeks–AP reservations have been added at the “expense” of day guests, with the latter losing reservation availability. But then regular tickets have wide open availability again a day or so later. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it–or the frequency with which it’s happening. I don’t check for the reservations on an hourly or even daily basis. So my commentary here is probably not particularly insightful, beyond pointing to a thing that happens sometimes and maybe has some degree of impact on crowds, or at least the attendance mix.

Speaking of the latter, one thing we have noticed in the last few weeks is smaller-than-expected crowds at the beginning of the day. It probably goes without saying, but crowd levels are not static throughout the day. During a normal tourist season, Disneyland would see an increase in earlier arrivals, as visitors on vacation are more inclined to arrive for or closer to rope drop. By contrast, locals are more likely to arrive late.

However, we’ve done a few Early Entry and rope drop days at both Disneyland and DCA, and were surprised at the light crowd levels by summer standards. (To ensure those weren’t anomalies, we’ve also monitored wait times from home on other mornings and saw pretty consistent results.) This suggests to us that there are fewer tourists than last year as a percentage of guests…or I guess it’s possible that Disneyland has targeted the coveted ‘sleep-in demo.’

The most plausible explanation for this is the exhaustion of pent-up demand among tourists. We’ve discussed this at length in countless other posts, so we won’t rehash it here. As noted above, Disney executives have stated that this is more pronounced at Walt Disney World…but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening at Disneyland. Crowd levels suggest that it is, but to not as significant of a degree. What we’re seeing tracks with that.

Another possible explanation is cancellations or people postponing visits due to Fantasmic and high number of attraction closures (for summer). When it comes to Walt Disney World, it’s unlikely that ride refurbishments have any meaningful impact on bookings. Sure, some people may delay or cancel trips if their favorite ride is going to be down–but not significant numbers, so the impact in aggregate is negligible.

As with so many things, Disneyland is different on that front. This is because the demo skews far more local and impulsive. It’s not just the hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders within driving distance in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties.

People from Northern California and the surrounding states also take a lot of quick trips to Disneyland and have a great degree of flexibility in their visits. They can delay if Fantasmic isn’t being performed or their favorite dark rides are down. Or if they’re just waiting for Rogers: The Musical or whatever is new. (Speaking of which, we still do not have dates for the Adventureland Treehouse and replacement entertainment for Fantasmic!)

Regardless of the reason, you can accomplish a lot–more than normal by summer standards–in the first few hours of the day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. As mentioned above, we re-tested Early Entry strategy for both parks; it all still works just as well as ever.

I can also confirm that it is possible to do Web Slingers and Mission Breakout during Early Entry and still beat the rope drop crowd to Radiator Springs Racers. However, it is not advisable unless you’re fast and willing to gamble! After those rides, you can knock out pretty much every headliner in DCA with minimal waits during the first couple hours.

Over at Disneyland, you can still do literally the entirety of Fantasyland during Early Entry. You can also (still) rope drop Peter Pan’s Flight because the line almost entirely dies down by the end of Early Entry. You can also hit Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at rope drop for a 30 minute or less standby wait.

For that matter, you can do Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance even after that initial wave and still not have too long of a wait. Same goes for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Wait times for Disneyland’s newest dark ride have fallen off a cliff, which has less to do with demand and more with its very healthy ride capacity.

In any case, it’s common for Runaway Railway to have the lowest times of the attractions in Toontown. There are many occasions when Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin has more than double the posted wait time of MMRR…that’s largely a byproduct of Genie+ and wait time inflation, though.

One of our recent visits to Disneyland was for Independence Day, which was a pleasant experience. We saw the 1st Marine Division Ceremonial Band along the parade route and for flag retreat, which was especially poignant on the Fourth of July. There were other military bands and photo ops throughout both parks all weekend, too.

Crowd control was fantastic (and probably overkill, but better to be overprepared than underprepared!) and it was a great way to spend the holiday. My only complaint was that Patriotic Mickey Mouse made his final appearance on July 4th shortly before 3 pm, and when Mickey returned after Magic Happens and the flag retreat, he was in his Disney100 platinum costume. That’s normally a good look…but not what anyone is there to see on Independence Day. (But I digress.)

We’re trying to avoid areas of heavy congestion right now, so we opted to watch World of Color: the Fourth of July Tribute from under Silly Symphony Swings. This was a great spot for the pyro–up close and personal–but is not a good spot for the show itself. (We knew that going in, but are just mentioning it in case you’re reading this and thinking, “that’s a good idea!” It is not.)

After that, we caught Disney’s Celebrate America! – A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky. All things being equal, we would’ve preferred to watch that from Main Street (and I checked out the crowd an hour before showtime–it wasn’t bad!) and would recommend that approach.

All in all, it was a great day–proof-positive that Disneyland is still distinctly patriotic, despite claims to the contrary. (I know all of this is largely tangential to the crowd report; I didn’t feel like writing a standalone Independence Day report, but still thought this was worth sharing.)

Looking forward, there will undoubtedly be busy weeks and months again later this year at Disneyland. Probably even later in Summer 2023. It’s entirely possible that Rogers: The Musical plus whatever nighttime entertainment has yet to be announced will give crowds a boost. San Fransokyo is a minor addition, but it could be enough to move the needle with locals, especially those who have been delaying visits until everything new debuts.

It would not be the least bit surprising to me if summer crowds at Disneyland had yet to peak. That’s not necessarily what I’m expecting–it’s difficult to predict and really depends upon what, if any, incentives Disneyland gives fans and locals to visit beyond what has already debuted or been announced.

Beyond that, it’s safe to predict that crowds will once again start (or continue?) falling with the arrival of August. That’s when families start preparing for school to go back into session, and stop traveling so much. LA and OC schools actually going back into session will be partially offset by AP blockouts lifting, but mid-August through mid-September should still see the normal off-season lows.

Crowds are likely to increase in the second half of September, with October through December seeing a spike, including days and weeks that are 10/10 crowd levels. While I’d expect most dates even in those 3 months to be down year over year, that’s relative. In absolute terms, it’s likely that most guests will find most dates to be “very busy” during the heart of the Halloween and holiday seasons.

That context about what “slowdown” means is important. The parks are not going to be dead or ghost towns, or even on par with the emptiness seen in recent weeks at Walt Disney World. It’s just going to be less busy–maybe by 20% or so–as compared to last year. Heck, even as I’m writing this report about a crowd slowdown at Disneyland, party tickets for Oogie Boogie Bash are selling like hotcakes and there’s a multi-hour virtual queue. By the time you read this, the entire event might be sold out.

Point being, it’s not like Disneyland and DCA are struggling, or anywhere close to it. Rather, the parks are coming down from nearly two years of revenge travel, during which time supply (of reservations) exceeded demand on many days and the parks were packed even as the company limited attendance.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, what Disneyland is experiencing is a gradual return to normal–and not a five-alarm fire. A slowdown from unprecedented demand is not a catastrophe, it’s a normalization. Disney would’ve loved to maintain record-breaking numbers or that growth trajectory, but frankly, all of that pent-up demand was a distortion that had unhealthy consequences for both Disneyland and the broader economy.

Putting that in the rearview mirror is good for consumers, the country as a whole, and even the long-term health of Disneyland. The parks not doing record-breaking numbers regardless of the guest-unfriendly decisions and changes they make–and instead having to actually compete for customers–is very much a good thing. That may not be the case for the company’s bottom line on the next quarterly earnings call, but it most certainly is in the long-term and from the perspective of guest goodwill and brand reputation.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on crowds during the first half of the Summer 2023 at Disneyland? Predictions on crowds for the remainder of the summer tourist season, or August and September 2023? If you’ve visited last month (or especially this past weekend), what did you think of crowds and wait times? Any parks or times of day noticeably worse than the others? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our report? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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