June 15, 2024

Florida’s “Peak” Spring Break Week Was Dead at Disney World

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It's currently Spring Break 'season' at Walt Disney World, and there have already been attendance highs and lows in March 2024. This crowd report shares wait times data along with us trying to make sense

It’s currently Spring Break ‘season’ at Walt Disney World, and there have already been attendance highs and lows in March 2024. This crowd report shares wait times data along with us trying to make sense of why the parks have been so slow during what should’ve been a peak week at Walt Disney World.

We won’t bury the lede. Crowd levels have dropped precipitously since March 16, 2024. This is significant because it’s a big break week for Central Florida school districts, with both Seminole and Orange County having March 18-22 off for Spring Break, not to mention a ton of other counties throughout the South. During the same break last year, crowd levels for Walt Disney World as a whole were 9/10 and it was the second busiest week of the two month stretch, following Easter.

Consequently, I predicted in our March 2024 Crowd Calendar and Spring Break 2024 Crowd Calendar that although the season as a whole would begin on March 8, it wouldn’t be until March 15 when Spring Break kicked into high gear and crowds got truly heavy. I couldn’t have possibly been more wrong.

I can’t recall a time when I’ve been more wrong about anything, and I’m honestly embarrassed about this. But since we point out when we’re right about things, turnabout is fair play and it’s only appropriate to own just how wrong I was here. And it’s not just that I expected this to be the second worst week of Spring Break–I predicted it’d be one of the 10 worst weeks of the entire year. (It was last year!)

It’s also not just that I got this past week wrong–it’s that I missed the mark on the week before that, underestimating how bad March 8-15 would be, comparatively. I did note that, unlike last year, there was more of a bifurcated break for Central Florida, meaning that about half of districts had last week off and half had this week off. That led to the (I guess?) partially correct conclusion that this week would be less busy than its counterpart last year due to Spring Break being more diluted.

Then came the wrong part: “Even if no other districts in the entire United States had spring break these two weeks, they would be busy at Walt Disney World due to those area school systems.” I continued by explaining the outsized impact local school breaks have on crowds, which is a relatively new phenomenon due to the population explosion in Florida. For whatever it’s worth, it’s not just Florida; more major U.S. districts outside of the Sunshine State had this week off than last. (Although, to be clear, most districts have next week–Easter–off.)

More recently, I had the chance to back down from this forecast when Walt Disney World extended park hours and didn’t do much for the week of Orange County’s Spring Break. Instead, I worried that it’d be a repeat of last year’s holiday season when Walt Disney World “over” extended hours at first, and then backed off when actual extensions were warranted by higher crowds.

While I did concede and hoped there was something Disney’s internal projections showed that I didn’t know, our overall attitude was skepticism towards the lack of extensions. As it turned out, Walt Disney World was right–added hours were not really needed based on crowds. You definitely would’ve been better off going this week with shorter hours than last week with longer ones.

I did finally concede that a couple of countervailing factors suggesting that last week might be worse than this as Genie+ began selling out last week. The first was the Winter 2024 Florida Resident Ticket Deal, which ended on March 15, 2024. The second was the two lowest tiers of Annual Passes being blocked out starting last weekend and early this week. Even then, I underestimated just how outsized of an impact those variables would have.

Before going deeper into the discussion of crowds, let’s dig into the data and look at Walt Disney World wait times. As always, all graphs and stats are courtesy of thrill-data.com:

Here’s a look at daily crowd levels across Walt Disney World for the year-to-date. It’s actually been a surprisingly busy winter at Walt Disney World, with the average wait time in January being 40 minutes and the average in February being 41 minutes, which is only down slightly as compared to December, which averaged 42 minutes (due mostly to the insanity of the last two weeks). Prior to that, no month had a 40 minute average since last April.

We had expected this month to be even busier, but this week has pulled the average down, with most days having averages below 30 minutes. In a week full of surprises, the biggest was Monday, March 18. Even as crowd patterns have been shifting in 2024, Monday has remained the busiest day, on average.

Not this week! The average wait time at Walt Disney World this past Monday was 24 minutes, the lowest since January 9. The last time there were consecutive days with this low of crowds was immediately after Thanksgiving into early December of last year–our favorite week of the year at Walt Disney World.

Speaking of which, here’s the weekly look at crowd levels. From the first week of Spring Break to the second, average wait times dropped by a whopping 17 minutes. (We anticipated an increase of about 3 minutes–meaning a 20 minute anticipated vs. actual spread.)

This level of week-to-week drop is exceedingly rare–not even Thanksgiving to the week after or New Year’s to the week after saw this big of drops. Usually it takes two weeks to ‘stair step down’ from near-peak to off-season.

This past week’s crowd level is the lowest since early-to-mid September 2023. Going back to 2022, there hasn’t been a single week this slow that’s not in the month of September. Even some of the great weeks in 2023 and early 2022 were all busier than this past week. If you told me there was a ‘September-level’ week that would occur sometime this year, I would’ve guessed May or August or early December–definitely not the heart of Spring Break season.

It’s probably worth contextualizing this with actual attraction averages, since I can already anticipate some people who were at Walt Disney World using a random 1 p.m. posted wait time of 80 minutes to justify the conclusion that it was actually very busy.

In this context, “dead” does not mean that no one else was in the park or you could do snow angels on Main Street. It means September-caliber crowds, which is historically the slowest month of the year. So uncrowded that, for the most part, you wouldn’t need to use Lightning Lanes. A good way to describe “dead” is thus that, with a modicum of savvy strategy, you could do the parks via standby lines with minimal waits at 95% of rides.

In terms of averages, the only attraction in Magic Kingdom above an hour was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (72) minutes. This actually isn’t that great of a posted wait, and implies a maximum in the triple-digits. But nothing else had an average above an hour. And to be sure, I was (enviously) spot-checking wait times in Magic Kingdom and I saw times when SDMT was 45 minutes and everything else was below 30 (including Space Mountain with a 15 minute midday posted wait!).

Disney’s Hollywood Studios was home to the highest average, with Slinky Dog Dash at 81 minutes. Again, not great. But this is the type of week that would normally have triple-digit averages for 3-4 rides at DHS and 60+ minute waits for another 3-4 rides. Nothing else was over an hour, on average.

On more than one occasion, I spotted posted wait times of 30 minutes for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and even less for other headliners. Truly September stuff.

At Animal Kingdom, Flight of Passage was the only ride over an hour. During a normal Spring Break, this is another 100+ minute wait on average. Remember, it hit 3-4 hours multiple times during the week of New Year’s Eve. An average of 65 minutes is really rare, even if it might still seem like a long time. It’s really not for that ride.

Nothing else at Animal Kingdom was over an hour. This probably means you could’ve hit almost everything as a walk-on (or nearly so) during the first or last 2 hours of the day. And Animal Kingdom has been atypically bad so far this year–to the point that we’ve eased up our “no Genie+” stance, as it has (had) become more valuable.

EPCOT had one ride over an hour: Frozen Ever After. While that’s not so amazing, both Test Track and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure being below 60 minutes is a huge win.

With that said, this says nothing about congestion or “feels like” crowds at EPCOT. I’m guessing they also were not bad given the blockouts and demographics, but you never really know. If someone told me EPCOT felt miserable despite these average wait times, I’d be inclined to believe them. EPCOT is always a wild card with the potential for a disconnect between crowd levels (via wait times) and congestion, especially when weather is mild and there’s a festival.

Next, we’ll attempt to dissect why crowds were so unexpectedly low during the mid-March Spring Break window. All of the following considerations are also factors discussed in Monkey Wrenches Disrupting & Increasing Crowds at Walt Disney World in 2024

Florida Resident Ticket Deal Ended – As noted above, the first 2024 Floridian ticket deal of the year ended on March 15. It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that this ticket deal ended and crowds immediately dropped the next day. It’s also not a coincidence that crowds were elevated during the final week of the deal.

During resident ticket deals at Disneyland, we’ve noticed a ‘last hurrah’ in the week-plus prior to Californian ticket deals expiring. This has become consistent and predictable, to the point where crowds are always worse in the week before the deals end than the week after. This is notable because they end when they do for a reason–the following weeks are forecast to be busier due to the arrival of tourists, school breaks, etc.

Until this year, that had never happened at Walt Disney World to the extent that it does at Disneyland. There are times when ticket deals have been blocked out that have seen lower crowds (like last Fourth of July), but it’s never a single-factor scenario. It’s the resident deal blocked out plus higher prices plus other blockouts, etc.

In the ‘monkey wrenches’ post, I remarked that I’d “be willing to bet that Walt Disney World sold significantly more Florida resident tickets in 2024 as a result [of no weekend blockouts].” This was the big reason why Saturday and Sundays are no longer the least-busy days of the week at Walt Disney World, reversing a trend that started last year.

However, the degree to which weekend crowds increased during the ticket promo was far lower than the degree to which they’ve decreased–across the board–since the deal ended. That suggests that there’s more at play…

Annual Pass Blockouts – Another thing mentioned above is Annual Pass blockouts. The two lowest tiers of APs were valid many/most dates during the first week of Spring Break season, but not the second week. The Pixie Pass has blockouts for the second half of the month starting March 16, while the Pirate Pass blockouts began March 18.

This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the lack of crowds this week and the high crowds last week–locals trying to get their last visits in prior to being blocked out. The reason we discounted this as something that would downright depress crowds is because both of the same Annual Passes had blockouts during Orange County’s Spring Break last year–neither of these APs were valid during that aforementioned 9/10 crowd week!

There are two explanations for a difference. The first is that Orange County’s Spring Break and Easter are both blocked out, just as they were last year. Unlike last year, those are back-to-back weeks; that leads to a longer, uninterrupted blockout window than last year. But that only explains why last week would’ve been busier–locals getting in last visits before lengthy blockouts kicked in.

The better explanation for the difference between last year and this year is simply that there are more Floridians who are Annual Passholders–especially at the Pirate Pass tier. Last year, the only AP that was available for purchase at this time was the Pixie Pass. New AP sales for the other tiers didn’t resume sales until April 20, after an 18 month hiatus. That wrinkle obviously made a big difference, and one for which we didn’t properly account. We assumed most locals already had Pixie Passes last year (part of the reason the ‘less busy weekends’ dynamic emerged), but apparently that was wrong.

Few Non-FL Districts on Break – To whatever extent the above blockouts were overlooked and kept locals out of the park this past week or pushed them into the prior week, it was exacerbated by the reality that most school districts outside of Florida and the South simply do not have Spring Break this early.

Many Northern and Midwestern states just had Mid-Winter Break at the end of February; they’re not getting another break so soon. But once again, this was also true last year! Mid-Winter Break is not a new-for-2024 invention; it also existed last year. It was predominantly Osceola and Orange County (along with other Central Florida districts) schools causing the crowds. Year-to-year constants should not really explain the discrepancy between the two years.

Conventions, Youth Sports & Events Ending – Also as noted in the ‘monkey wrenches’ post, there are usually major dance and cheerleading competitions held from January until March. The biggest major ones of these wrapped up on March 10, which could be another reason crowds fell. I’m skeptical, as this is another year-to-year constant. (Also, I think the impact these events have on crowd levels is exaggerated.)

A possibly more significant wildcard is conventions and group events. We noted that business travel has rebounded in 2024, so that’s not a year to year constant. It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that convention season is over for now–or at least on hiatus as Walt Disney World prepared for the influx of Spring Break tourists.

Pricing – When package and ticket prices were released last year, it was notable that March 2024 was the lone month when prices went up every single day (as compared to March 2023). Part of this was to be expected, as the Spring Break season would be more consolidated into March due to the timing of Easter.

Still, higher prices last year for tickets and resorts often discouraged crowds, as also noted in our analysis of why weekends and some holidays were slower. This was particularly pronounced around times that were not as popular for out of state tourists. The reason for that should be obvious–tourists don’t have flexibility, and will vacation when they have school or work breaks.

By contrast, locals can time their visits to coincide with cheaper dates. These higher base ticket prices in tandem with the now-expired Florida resident deal meant it would’ve cost some locals over $100 more to visit this week than last week. (Even though this will also be true during Easter week, the probable distinction is the tourists without flexibility. They usually show up during holiday weeks without regard for peak season pricing. It’s the locals who move crowd levels at the margins.)

For whatever it’s worth, there was also a point in time when Walt Disney World expected this week to be busier than last. Prices shot up starting March 16 and they ended the aforementioned FL resident deal and started blockouts then. More expensive prices plus blockouts are the clearest signs that internal attendance projections are higher. Disney had obviously updated its forecast by the time park hours were extended, but lower crowds were not what the company expected when pricing March 2024 or releasing the Florida resident ticket deal.

Attendance Slowdown Without “Levers”? – It’s an embarrassment to get crowd predictions this wrong, but perhaps even worse is the possibility of missing the mark on overall trends. We’ve recently been discussing Re-Revenge Travel at Walt Disney World in 2024. We’ve theorized there’s a second wave or reverberation of pent-up demand that could result in a year-over-year increase in crowds after every month last year after January was down as compared to 2022.

This theory is grounded in objective reality–as of our last crowd report (meaning before this week), average year-to-date wait times for 2024 were tied with 2022 (41 minutes) and up considerably as compared to last year (37 minutes). Spring Break had gotten off to a shockingly strong start, suggesting that 2024 could pull into the lead as the #1 worst year ever at Walt Disney World for wait time levels/crowds.

It’s premature to throw that all out the window on the basis of one week, but I’m nevertheless questioning whether Walt Disney World has been able to buoy or improve numbers up until now by aggressively pulling “attendance levers” and maybe that isn’t sustainable–and this shows what happens when they let up on it. (This could also explain the flurry of summer announcements, such as why Disney Springs is getting a drone show or EPCOT is getting a summer festival, probably.)

Historically Busier & Worse Weather – Along similar lines, we theorized in the ‘monkey wrenches’ post that perhaps snowbirds were having an outsized impact in January and February. It’s possible that visitors from Northern and Midwestern states with the freedom to travel during off-peak months are choosing the winter and upcoming shoulder season over Spring Break, summer and early fall as a result of last year’s brutally high heat and humidity and/or more favorable pricing.

The flip side of that is these same snowbirds or out-of-state Disney fans with flexibility would be less inclined to visit during what’s historically Spring Break season due to the expectation of heavier crowds, higher prices, and (marginally) worse weather than winter. I personally don’t think this is a huge factor, but it’s also not nothing–especially after the triple-digit weather last year, some fans probably changed their visiting habits.

Ultimately, these are all just working theories that explain some of the reasons for lower crowds at Walt Disney World during the ‘peak’ week of Central Florida’s Spring Break. The undeniable fact that we missed or ‘underweighted’ these factors in the first place with our crowd predictions should alone suggest that we don’t have a firm grasp on what’s causing lower attendance. There are likely variables we missed here, too.

We apologize for whiffing so badly on this week’s crowd predictions. It would’ve been a great week to visit–one of the best of 2024 so far, and probably the best of the entire Spring Break season. If it makes anyone feel any better, we put our money where our mouths are, so to speak, and also avoided visiting this week. It was on our short list, but we opted against it after my firsthand experience with heavy crowds during the same week last year.

Instead, our Spring Break visit is going to be during a week that will, almost assuredly, be busier than this past week. That is, unless something has gone terribly wrong and Walt Disney World is on the precipice of an extreme crowd slowdown. Easter being Easter, we probably won’t have a good read on that until next month. Stay tuned, as we’ll keep you posted on predicted and actual crowd levels at Walt Disney World…even when we get them wrong.

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

Did you visit Walt Disney World this week or last week (or both)? What has your experience with crowds? Surprised by the low posted wait times during the peak week of Central Florida’s Spring Break? Any factors you think played a role in surprisingly low crowds that we didn’t identify? Do you agree or disagree with our take on the crowds? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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