June 22, 2024

Shoulder Season Slowdown at Disney World

0

Spring break is mostly in the rearview mirror and summer is still another month-plus away, meaning Walt Disney World is now now entering "Shoulder Season." This crowd report shares wait times data, which dates ended




  • Twitter

Spring break is mostly in the rearview mirror and summer is still another month-plus away, meaning Walt Disney World is now now entering “Shoulder Season.” This crowd report shares wait times data, which dates ended up being the worst of the season, and our on-the-ground observations about congestion and lines. Plus, predictions on attendance levels in May and June 2024, and beyond.

We’ll start by taking a look back at the last month-plus of spring break season at Walt Disney World. Specifically, we’ll look at what our Spring Break 2024 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World got right and wrong with its predictions (aside from Orange County’s week off, which ended up being shockingly uncrowded), and just how bad Easter ended up being.

The good news is that the broad contours of the predictions–aside from that one badly bungled week–ended up being accurate. Spring break season did unofficially begin on March 8 and it started to fizzle out by the weekend after Easter as the Northerners started heading home. Save for some spring break stragglers, ‘shoulder season’ arrived in full by Tax Day.

As always, what’s covered in these “crowd” reports is actually posted wait time data that’s pulled from My Disney Experience and compiled into graphs for tracking and comparing 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. However, wait times are not the same as “feels like” crowds or congestion.

There are several other variables that can impact “feels like” crowds, from festivals at EPCOT to weather to guest demographics to ride breakdowns to operational efficiency to time of day or day of the week to percentages of guests buying Genie+ or using DAS. Beyond that laundry list, wait times are often inflated, inaccurate, or otherwise manipulated by Walt Disney World. Phew.

In short, wait times are an imperfect measure of Walt Disney World’s raw attendance or crowds–which have increased by several million people over the course of the last decade-plus. 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:

We’ll start with the monthly numbers for Walt Disney World as a whole.

It’s actually been a surprisingly busy start to 2024 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.

As a result of the first two months being busier than expected, we started 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.

In the end, last month ended up being on par with January and April 2024 is well-below trend with a 36 minute average versus 41 minutes last April. That’s the month-to-date number, which is falling. April 2024 will almost certainly end up with an average of 35 minutes or lower. Of course, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison–Easter was early (in March) this year.

Speaking of which, above is a look at the weekly crowd levels. The 7 bars on the far right are what we’ll be looking at. The yellow bar at the very end can be disregarded–that “week” is just today (April 22, 2024), and Monday is always the busiest day of the week–so it’s meaningless for the week as a whole.

The previous two weeks are green bars, with 1/10 crowd levels and averages of 30-31 minutes. Those measure the post-spring break drop-off. The two weeks before that are dates bookending Easter, which is almost always the busiest stretch of spring break. As predicted, that was true again in 2024. The green bar prior to that was the surprisingly uncrowded week of Central Florida’s spring break.

Orange before that was the kickoff of spring break, which was busy for reasons previously discussed–mainly the ‘last hurrah’ of the Florida resident ticket deal, conventions, youth sports, blockouts, and early spring breaks in Canada and elsewhere. That first week was busier than anticipated, but the big surprise was the sharp contrast and dropoff the following week.

Zooming in more, we come to the resort-wide daily numbers for Walt Disney World.

The week leading up to Easter was unsurprisingly busy, with a bit of a lull (comparatively) for the holiday weekend itself. No huge surprise there given blockouts and a lack of ticket deals. This is precisely what we’ve come to expect in such circumstances.

More surprising is that the following weekdays picked up right where the prior week left off, with Thursday, April 4 being the busiest day of spring break season. (Magic Kingdom was busier than any date during Christmas and New Year’s on April 4!) It’s not a huge shock that this week was (almost) on par with Easter; by virtue of the holiday falling earlier, more schools had the week after off.

What is surprising is that following Thursday being so busy, and wait times sharply plummeting over the weekend. Overnight, crowd levels went from 9/10 on Friday to 2/10 on Saturday. That steep drop likely is due to weekend pricing and tourists heading home from vacation earlier–a trend we’ve seen time and time again over the last year-plus.

The entire week thereafter was less busy, with crowd levels picking up for the following weekend. This likely comes down to locals, blockouts, and weather. Still, these crowds are pretty insignificant as compared to spring break.

For those wondering how Walt Disney World’s wait times compare to Universal Orlando, the trend is about the same for the entirety of spring break season. That includes the slower Central Florida recess, busier early break and Easter, as well as the spike on April 4. Universal has also seen a slight rise in wait times over the last week or so.

The similarities between the two are actually a bit eerie. Normally, one or the other not having AP or ticket deal blockouts this time of year can result in dramatic differences. Not so for spring break season. There are a few days that are markedly different, but the overall trends for the last month-plus are incredibly similar.

In general, Universal has seen a more pronounced slowdown on off-peak dates than Walt Disney World, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s more of a divergence for the upcoming shoulder season. At some point, we’re also expecting some degree of ‘calm before the storm’ at Universal as locals and fans take “breaks” before the opening of Epic Universe next summer. But that could be pretty well masked by overall tourist trends.

As mentioned in What Went Right on Baby Bricker’s First Disney World Trip, we spent the first week of shoulder season (1/10 crowds; 30 minute average) in the parks and can confirm that both wait times and congestion or feels like crowds were down dramatically. It was a night and day difference as compared to my prior solo trips to Walt Disney World this year or late last year, for that matter. Easily the lowest crowds I’ve observed since last August and September, with the lack of miserable weather being the key distinguishing factor.

There were only a few noteworthy things that I saw in terms of crowds, and the first is that EPCOT was wholly lacking in congestion–even on weekends. Interest in Flower & Garden Festival already appears to be waning (very short lines at the booths and nothing really drawing crowds), and there’s still over a month to go. This would explain both why the event was shortened by over a month, and why it really makes sense to introduce a summer festival.

Over at Magic Kingdom, I was surprised to see overflow Lightning Lane return lines. Granted, this is something that’s been getting progressively worse since last year’s spring break, but it hasn’t been consistently bad–it usually corresponds with crowd levels. This time, despite low crowds, there were overflows for many attractions. This further reinforces why Walt Disney World is cracking down on DAS abuse and misuse.

Other than that, I have nothing insightful to add. We didn’t purchase Genie+ at all, and still managed to do most of what we wanted (admittedly a slower-paced trip with baby) despite only one Early Entry day. Lots of late nights, though, and those proved incredibly fruitful!

Looking forward, Walt Disney World is now out of the woods with the worst of spring break. In fact, as covered in the most recent update to our 2024 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars, there are very few ‘red flag’ dates.

At this point, it’s basically just what’s currently on the ESPN Wide World of Sports calendar for April 2024: 2024 ICU Junior World & World Cheerleading Championships, Cheerleading Worlds and Dance Worlds. All of those events occur this week or coming weekend and could cause a slight bounce-back in terms of crowds.

These are major dance and cheerleading competitions that boost attendance at the parks and occupancy at the hotels, usually the All Stars and Coronado Springs. However, the impact on crowd levels in the parks isn’t significant as a whole–and tends to be overblown based on anecdotal experiences, which can be quite bad. (Meaning that you could think they’re a huge negative if you’re stuck in line for Haunted Mansion behind a group of 100 cheerleaders…or you might never see a single participant during a weeklong trip.)

Aside from those cheer and dance events, which are worth bringing to your attention but not you fretting over, the good news is that it’s shoulder season. For those unfamiliar with the term, “shoulder season” is the period between two peak seasons. I guess that’s because the shoulders are below the “peak” of the body, or the head. In which case, perhaps we should start referring to September as butt-season? It has a certain understated stupidity to it.

Anyway, Walt Disney World’s attendance patterns are largely dictated by school breaks. As a result of this, far fewer guests in Disney’s core demo visit shortly after or before a major break. One major break (spring break) just occurred, and another (summer vacation) doesn’t start for another month-plus.

We see similar scenarios other times of year, but Walt Disney World has done a good job of filling the calendar with attendance-boosting events or otherwise attracting alternative audiences during those windows. The biggest exception to this is mid-August through late September and, to a lesser extent, the stretch between the end of spring break and Memorial Day.

For reference, last year’s shoulder season ran from roughly April 15 until the Friday before Memorial Day. As we reported at the time, that was the Slowest Six Week Stretch for Walt Disney World Crowds Since 2021. That was a really big deal then, as it signaled the end of pent-up demand and was a dramatic drop as compared to 2022 through mid-April 2023.

With the benefit of hindsight, those dates are less remarkable. Still pretty slow, but more of a signal of what was to come as most dates until the heart of the Halloween and Christmas season were comparatively uncrowded. Those weeks would end up being surpassed by mid-August to early October 2023, which is/was the slowest 10 week stretch since 2021.

It’s impossible to say with any degree of confidence whether the 2024 shoulder season will be slower than last year. I’m inclined to predict that it will not. Last year, Walt Disney World got caught flat-footed by the end of pent-up demand and scrambled to release deals, many of which didn’t launch until later in summer. This year, those were released in early April. That alone is a big difference, and could be enough to buoy attendance.

Between better deals and last year offering such a low baseline, it seems like the smart money is predicting on higher crowd levels for the 2024 shoulder season. With that said, “higher” is a relative term. The stretch between now and Memorial Day should still be pretty slow, with crowd levels under 5/10 for the vast majority of days.

In a nutshell, 1/10 to 3/10 days are much more likely than 5/10 to 7/10 days. Lower crowds can be expected through mid-June, as there’s a slight spike for Memorial Day and then usually another drop thereafter. Even Memorial Day isn’t bad by holiday weekend standards–it’s not on par with holidays like Presidents’ Day, Columbus Day, or Veterans Day. Those holidays are arguably “lower profile” but end up being bigger attendance boosters.

Instead, summer vacation crowds typically build and decline gradually, with the peak usually occurring in July. This means that even early June 2024 should not see the worst of summer vacation crowd levels. In a normal year, June would be higher than May, but lower than July. Unlike last year, we do not expect a lull for Independence Day. Walt Disney World has “fixed” its ticket deal blockouts, which should remedy that.

With that said, Walt Disney World hasn’t experienced a “normal” summer in several years. Every single summer since 2019 has had some monkey wrench thrown into the mix, and that includes last year with the aforementioned pullback in pent-up demand catching Walt Disney World flat-footed. I’d like to think that there won’t be any surprises this year…but who knows.

Regardless, I’m much more confident in the crowd forecast through May 2024 than I am in picking the best & worst weeks in Summer 2024. My hunch is that this summer is going to be slightly busier than last year due to the deals, but still not terrible (moderate territory, mostly). Summer is no longer peak season at Walt Disney World–and hasn’t been for a while. With no opening date for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and nothing major announced yet, I don’t see this being the year that changes. We shall see–it’ll be interesting to watch!

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

Are you visiting Walt Disney World during shoulder season between spring break and Summer 2024? Have you visited in the past during the month of May? Were you in the parks over the past couple weeks? What did you think of the crowds? Any parks, times of day, or days of the week noticeably better or worse than the others? If you’ve visited in past weeks following spring break, did you notice a big difference in crowd levels? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!




  • Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *