June 17, 2024

Mardi Gras 2024 Crowds at Disney World

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Mardi Gras plus scattered winter school breaks and stray holidays means heavy crowds during what's otherwise winter "off-season" at Walt Disney World. This stretch of February will be busy, with higher wait times, attendance, and

Mardi Gras plus scattered winter school breaks and stray holidays means heavy crowds during what’s otherwise winter “off-season” at Walt Disney World. This stretch of February will be busy, with higher wait times, attendance, and congestion in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. (Updated February 5, 2024.)

Let’s start with the good news. Mardi Gras 2024 won’t be anything like last year. As we stressed repeatedly months beforehand, that week was a “red flag” on our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars. We predicted it would be the busiest week of the first quarter of the year, and one of the worst 10 weeks of the entire year at Walt Disney World.

That was due to a confluence of circumstances resulting in several holidays all more or less coinciding with one another, plus a runDisney race and youth sporting events at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Consequently, crowds started swelling a couple of days in advance of the Presidents’ Day (etc.) long weekend and crowds getting really heavy during Mardi Gras week. On our highly scientific scale of LSU and Saints shirts spotted in the parks, basically the entire state of Louisiana visited Walt Disney World that week.

Being a native Midwesterner, my knowledge of Mardi Gras is minimal. It wasn’t even on my radar until ~6 years ago when we moved to Florida and started seeing a lot of LSU and Saints shirts in the parks during a very busy week. (Seriously, that really was what did it.) That led me to do some research about school breaks, which confirmed suspicions. Since then, we’ve observed this trend continue to play out on an annual basis, with wait times also increasing alongside the Saints and LSU gear (no such love for the Pelicans).

For those wanting to plan ahead, here are future Mardi Gras dates:

  • February 13, 2024
  • March 4, 2025
  • February 17, 2026
  • February 9, 2027
  • February 29, 2028
  • February 13, 2029
  • March 5, 2030

Here’s the basis for those dates. That same site also offers a ‘simple’ formula for figuring it out yourself: “Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter, and Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday. Easter can fall on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25, with the exact date to coincide with the first Sunday after the full moon following a spring equinox. There you have it. Voila! If you’re still confused, get out a calendar that has the holidays printed on it. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday!”

If at all possible, we’d recommend avoiding at least the long weekend (Thursday to Tuesday) of Mardi Gras. Staying away for that entire week-plus is the best practice, but crowds do usually decrease heading into the weekend (assuming another holiday week doesn’t occur after Mardi Gras–in 2024, one does).

Mardi Gras crowds at Walt Disney World are particularly bad when the holiday coincides with Presidents’ Day. When that happens, it’s not just Louisiana and a handful of other school districts in coastal counties in Mississippi and Alabama. Exponentially more school districts have Mid-Winter Break or “Ski Week” that coincides with Presidents’ Day–the key difference is that they’re not as geographically close to Walt Disney world as are the Mardi Gras districts.

In any case, the good news is that Mardi Gras and Presidents’ Day do not fall in the same week in 2024 or for the next few years. This is good news, at least for those who have a Mardi Gras break and plan to visit Walt Disney World, as it means the crowds will be diluted over the course of two-plus weeks instead of consolidated into a single week.

It’s bad news, I suppose, for those who just happen to be visiting Walt Disney World in mid-February 2024 because it seems like a lovely time to visit and crowds weren’t particularly bad last year. Those same dates will be worse this year. (Mardi Gras also overlaps with Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day this year, but aside from maybe ADRs at popular restaurants for the latter, those holidays are not strong attendance indicators for Walt Disney World. It’s Mardi Gras that’ll be the cause of crowds that week.)

We’re drawing your attention to the week of Mardi Gras because the crowd spike happens every single year and there’s a lesson to be learned. Not only that, but fans are caught off-guard by the increase in attendance and wait times. After all, many of you outside Louisiana and those coastal counties in neighboring states may have no clue Mardi Gras is “a thing” at Walt Disney World that increases crowd levels.

It’s understandable that the spike in crowds continues to surprise Walt Disney World fans year after year. There are probably several factors at play here. First, reports of lower crowd levels for the month or so beforehand lulls people into a false sense of security and optimism that off-season trends will continue. If you’re seeing low-to-moderate wait times one week, you probably don’t expect those to spike sharply overnight. But they often do.

Second, while most people are generally aware of the aforementioned February holidays, not many people have them off work. Mardi Gras is not exactly like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. The degree to which a couple of states or a region having a school break can impact Walt Disney World crowd levels is actually pretty significant.

If you live in the Midwest, you may not be aware that Mardi Gras is a “big deal” and popular travel period for the Southeast. If you don’t live in those locations, it’s an understandable blind spot. The same thing happens with Jersey Week, which impacts crowd levels at Walt Disney World. It’s not like these are federal holidays, and it’s also easy to underestimate how much a single state can move the needle.

But you know what they say? “Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice… strike three.” ~Michael Scott

As for how bad crowds will be during the week of Mardi Gras, honestly, it’s almost impossible to predict. Last year, the break coincided with Presidents’ Day and, by extension, Mid-Winter Break and Ski Week. It’s always worse when that happens. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to separate those visiting from Mardi Gras school districts and those coming from Mid-Winter Break ones. Although there are a lot of LSU and Saints shirts, that scale actually isn’t quite scientific. Shocking, I know.

Of course, there have been plenty of previous years when Mardi Gras and Presidents’ Day didn’t coincide. The most recent of those was 2022, but the problem with trying to extrapolate anything from that was that it happened during when park reservations were being utilized to a more meaningful degree but also during the start of pent-up demand in earnest. As a result, the parks ran out of reservations for most dates during that two-week timeframe.

For whatever it’s worth (not much, in my opinion–but I’m still going to share it), Mid-Winter Break crowds started growing that year the Thursday before Presidents’ Day and peaked on the following Wednesday (2/23/2022) with a 10+/10 crowd level. Wait times were far above the normal range for 10/10 crowds–it was the busiest day of 2022 up until Thanksgiving, far worse than any day around Spring Break or Easter.

The entire long weekend was busy, much worse than any day during Mardi Gras (or the stretch as a whole). Wait times started dropped a bit Thursday through Sunday, and spiked on the Monday before Mardi Gras. Crowd levels slowly trended downward the rest of that week–from 9/10 to 7/10.

I wouldn’t be inclined to draw any conclusions from that, aside from the big picture one that Mardi Gras 2024 won’t be as busy as the week around Presidents’ Day. That’s a pretty safe one, consistent with what we’ve seen in the past when they’re separate weeks. It’s also fairly reasonable to conclude that Mardi Gras crowd levels will be higher than late January and early February, and even those have been elevated as compared to the historical norm.

So 8/10 to 9/10 crowds for Mardi Gras 2024 is absolutely within the realm of possibility. I’d bet against multiple days of 10/10 crowd levels for the entirety of Walt Disney World, but specific parks hitting that wouldn’t be a huge shock. A big part of that depends on Genie+ pricing. If the service is priced “too low” (relative to crowd levels), there’s the possibility of it selling out (or at least selling very well); that in turn could cause higher standby wait times, and that’s what crowd levels measure, anyway.

But all of that’s largely academic. For real people actually visiting Walt Disney World during the week of Mardi Gras, the parks will feel very busy. Putting a specific number on that is arguably counterproductive–8/10 to 9/10 could undersell the ‘feels like’ crowds and congestion that you will perceive.

If you’re a Midwesterner (or anyone for that matter–but a special shoutout to my fellow Michiganders!) who is currently freaking out because you accidentally picked the week of Mardi Gras to visit Walt Disney World because those same dates were good last year: don’t. Sure, the week of Mardi Gras will be busy. But it’s also an excellent time of year in the park with comfortable weather (certainly better than what you’ll have at home!)

On top of that, following a good itinerary and utilizing smart strategy is more important than choosing the “right” dates. And as we’ve seen on many occasions in the past, even those who choose dates that should be good have had that undermined by surprising crowds, disruptive weather, etc.

To that end, it’s entirely possible to beat bad crowds by utilizing Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, rope drop, etc. We cover the best & worst approach for each park in Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World. If you’re only going to read one planning post, make it that. There are great ways to beat the crowds–even on busy days–without buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes.

By simply arriving early or staying late, you can beat the worst of the midday crowds. (Of course, that’s “simple” in theory but more difficult in practice, especially if you have small children. That’s a big reason why wait times are lower first thing in the morning and later in the evenings.) Be sure to also check out our Walt Disney World Itineraries for plans of attack, including options with and without Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.

If you have a healthy vacation budget and are interested in a splurge, there’s also an After Hours at Magic Kingdom on February 12, 2024. While I’m not inclined to strongly recommend that due to the big price increase this year, it’s a quasi-VIP experience and weeks like this are when it absolutely makes sense and can be a “worth it” purchase.

To that point, we have a ~4,500 word Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ for those who want to thoroughly master paid FastPass. Weeks like this, it’s definitely a good option for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. (Advance booking of Lightning Lanes will not launch before Mardi Gras…and probably not prior to Spring Break, at this point.)

Ultimately, we’ve been warning for a while that Mardi Gras will be bad at Walt Disney World. Although this understandably catches vacation planners by surprise, high crowds for Mardi Gras is not a bold prediction–it’s one backed by at least a decade of precedent and wait times data.

The open question is just how bad it’ll end up being in 2024. This is the first “normal” year in a while when Mardi Gras won’t coincide with Presidents’ Day, and there’s a decent range of possibilities for crowd levels–but all of them are above-average to heavy. There’s also the fact that Walt Disney World has not blocked out discounts for those dates, which means there are resort discounts for tourists and resident ticket deals for Floridians (and those include weekends this year).

For those who are thinking about a visit to Walt Disney World this winter that’s outside the second half of February 2024, we’d recommend consulting our February 2024 Crowd Calendar and March 2024 Crowd Calendar for specific best and worst dates. In particular, avoid Osceola and Orange County K-12 Spring Breaks. The good news is that, thanks to Easter occurring earlier, things will start looking better earlier than normal this spring.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you visited Walt Disney World during Mardi Gras or the other February holidays? Was it a year that coincided with Presidents’ Day/Mid-Winter Break? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably worse than the others? Did you notice a significant difference between posted and actual wait times? If you visited in the weeks before/after Mardi Gras, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? Visited for past Mardi Gras weeks? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our crowd 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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