Walt Disney World (FL)

Is Summer the New Off-Season?

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For many years, summer at Walt Disney World has been synonymous with large crowds, long lines, and high heat. However, last summer we noted that crowds took a significant downturn compared to 2022. And my most recent trips to WDW felt even lighter this year. But here at Touring Plans we don’t make decisions or recommendations based on feelings – we need the data! And as we’ll see throughout this post, the data also suggests that summer crowds are now trending lower than the rest of the year. This marks a significant shift in visitor patterns and has implications for both visitors and the park itself. Let’s dive into the numbers and discuss what this means for your Disney trip planning.

Explain the Math

Crowd levels at Walt Disney World are measured on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least crowded and 10 being the most crowded. This scale follows a bell curve, meaning most days fall in the middle range, with fewer days experiencing extreme low or high crowds. Understanding this distribution helps us grasp how crowd levels vary and why the changes in summer crowds are notable.

  • Crowd Levels 1-3 (Low): Minimal wait times, often found during off-peak times like early September. These levels indicate a more relaxed park experience, with visitors enjoying shorter lines, more dining and resort availability, and less congestion.
  • Crow Levels 4-6 (Moderate): Manageable wait times, typical during school holidays or mid-week visits during off-peak months. This range represents the bulk of typical park days, where planning and touring strategies become crucial for making the most of your time and money.
  • Crowd Levels 7-9 (High): Longer wait times, common during spring break, summer vacations, and holiday weekends. These levels require significant planning and patience, as popular attractions can have wait times exceeding an hour.
  • Crowd Level 10 (Peak): Extremely busy, usually occurring during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Days at this level are often marked by packed parks, very long lines, and a need for extensive planning and early arrival times.

The bell curve of crowd levels is designed to help visitors plan their trips around these varying levels of attendance.

Early Summer Crowds 2022-2024

To understand the shift in summer crowds, I pulled the average crowd levels at each park from Memorial Day weekend through June 9th for the past three years. This period traditionally marks the beginning of the summer season, a time when families are expected to flock to the parks after they finish the school year. However, the data tells a different story.

Average crowd level at each park in the days between Memorial Day weekend and June 9th
  • Animal Kingdom has seen a noticeable decline in crowd levels. Back in 2022, Animal Kingdom was the second-most-crowded park after Hollywood Studios. Then in 2023, it dropped to the least-crowded with an average drop of two crowd levels every day. How much of a difference is two crowd levels? About 30 minutes of standby wait time at Flight of Passage, or almost two hours of waiting throughout the day if you use a touring plan to hit most of the attractions in the park. In 2024, wait times are down even more.
  • EPCOT also shows a decline, though not as much as Animal Kingdom. There was a modest drop of just over a crowd level from 2022 to 2023, but then it’s the only park that has actually seen a (very slight) increase in crowds this summer compared to last summer.
  • Hollywood Studios shows one of the most significant drops, sliding a full three crowd levels gradually from 2022 to 2024. Those three crowd levels mean 35 minutes less waiting for Rise of the Resistance, 20 minutes less at Slinky, 20 minutes less at Tower of Terror, or almost three hours of waiting throughout the day if you use a touring plan to hit most of the attractions in the park.
  • Magic Kingdom, the most iconic and often busiest park, decreased slightly from 2022 to 2023 … and then plummeted in 2024. Some people attribute this fall-off to people waiting to visit when Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens. But other parks haven’t seen the same drop-off, and if your family is taking a once-in-a-lifetime, or even annual trip to Walt Disney World, you’re not going to skip Magic Kingdom just because Tiana isn’t open yet. This drop to an average crowd level of less than three represents 20 minutes less waiting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain, 15 minutes less at Peter Pan’s Flight and Jungle Cruise, or almost three hours of waiting throughout the day if you use a touring plan to hit most of the attractions in the park.

These numbers clearly show a downward trend in summer crowds across all parks over the past three years, suggesting a significant shift in visitor behavior.

Average Crowd Levels by Month

To further investigate the trend of decreasing crowds in the summer, we looked at the average crowd levels for each month over the past 13 months. This view gives us a more comprehensive look at how crowds fluctuate throughout the year and highlights the particular decrease during the summer months.

Average crowd level each month for the past 13 months

If we only look at full months, September 2023 was the least crowded in the past year. But so far, June 2024 is on track to be even less crowded! And May 2024 is just behind September. December, January, February, and March all almost tie for the most crowded months of the year.

What’s Up With Summer?

Several factors might be contributing to this trend of decreasing summer crowds:

  1. Heat: Florida’s summer heat can be intense and uncomfortable, deterring many visitors – or at least keeping them out of the parks during the hottest part of the day. Families either opt for cooler months, or they stay out of the parks during the hottest part of the day, lowering the peak wait times normally seen during that same period.
  2. Post-Pandemic School Skipping: Many parents have expressed that following the pandemic, they feel more empowered to prioritize travel and time together as a family over perfect attendance at school. Combined with other factors, this may lead to them visiting Disney during the school year rather than during the summer.
  3. Dynamic Pricing: Disney’s pricing strategy, with higher ticket prices during what are traditionally peak times, may be spreading out the crowds more evenly throughout the year. By making peak times more expensive, Disney encourages visitors to plan trips during traditionally quieter times.
  4. Holiday Events: Special events during other times of the year might draw visitors away from summer. For example, Halloween and Christmas parties, offerings, and decorations have become increasingly popular, attracting visitors in the fall and winter.

What Does This Mean For You?

If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, the summer months might be the perfect time to visit. Historically known for high crowds, summer now offers lower crowd levels, potentially making for a more enjoyable experience with shorter wait times and less stress.

Here are some tips to make the most of a summer visit:

  1. Plan for the Heat: While crowds are lower, the summer heat is still a factor. Plan to arrive at the parks early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the peak heat of the day. Take advantage of indoor attractions and shows during the hottest hours. Wear light clothing and invest in something like a neck fan or an umbrella for shade to keep everyone cooler. See: How to Keep Cool at Disney World
  2. Stay Hydrated: Florida’s heat can be intense. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Disney allows visitors to bring their own water bottles, or you can always get free cups of water from quick service dining locations. See: How To Stay Hydrated at Disney World
  3. Take Breaks: Consider taking a mid-day break to return to your hotel for a swim or a nap. This can help you recharge and avoid the hottest part of the day. Or if you have multiple park days planned in a row, consider taking a day off to relax at the pool. See: The Art of the Walt Disney World Nap

So, is summer the new off-season? The numbers certainly seem to suggest so. Whether this trend will continue remains to be seen, but for now, it offers a unique opportunity for savvy Disney visitors to experience the magic with a little less madness. Happy planning!

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

3 thoughts on “Is Summer the New Off-Season?

  • Hi Becky! Thanks for another great column. I was curious – has the current Touring Plans crowd calendar been adjusted to reflect the surprisingly weak June (by lowering predictions for July and August), or are they staying the course for now?

  • “Combined with other factors, this may lead to them visiting Disney during the school year rather than during the school year.”

    ^^^needs editing

    • Thanks for the catch!


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