As promised in last week’s aptly-titled post with questionable grammatical choices, “The Calm Before the Storm or the Calm Before the Manageable But Definitely the Summer at Walt Disney World,” we’ll now take a look at crowds and wait times over what I think most people expected to be a much busier holiday weekend, in conjunction with a much larger increase in Park Pass availability, and the overall number of people that Disney would ultimately admit into its Parks. Airline travel was at its one-plus-year peak and Orlando was often quoted as a top destination. That increase in overall Park Pass capacity did not come to…pass.
Those Park capacity increases, as promised by the CEO of the company last week, should still be on their way in the imminent future. I’ll include a couple of conspiracy theories as to why these increases have not yet been realized at the end of the post, after you gloss over the various wait time charts. The bottom line is that Memorial Day Weekend ended up seeing some of the lowest average waits and crowds of the year thus far, thanks to a recent increase in capacity at dozens more attractions, and Disney holding steadfast in the number of guests it was willing to admit.
Our morning at Animal Kingdom continues as we head towards Asia after first experiencing Na’vi River Journey and Kilimanjaro Safaris. I would link to the previous Parts, but I’ve been assured by every comment that there has been plenty of time to catch up on them. But just in case, here they are: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. You might also pull up, “The Calm Before the Storm, or the Calm Before the Manageable, But Definitely the Summer at Walt Disney World” for a broader, early look at what we might expect to see over the summer.
One reason why these posts are taking a little longer than usual is that we’re still waiting on the theme park capacity increases expected this summer to catch up with the recent increases in attraction capacity, the latter of which continues to ramp up daily as more and more attractions return to “normal operation.”
Just a few weeks ago, we’d be talking about It’s Tough to Be A Bug or Mickey’s PhilharMagic operating at around 20% of their potential capacities, with Disney closing off every other row and requiring six feet and then three feet between parties of up to four guests. As a party of one, that meant I was basically taking up seven or ten seats in the theater – the four seat maximum for a single party, plus the three empty seats on either side of me.
Fortunately, most of my lenses are long enough that I could still at least whack the acrylic plastic barriers built to protect you from my menacing ways. Just because some things change doesn’t mean everything has to:
The day’s lens: A Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.
We’re just a few days away from Memorial Day Weekend and what typically marks the beginning of the summer season at Walt Disney World. There was a time when the summer was among the worst times to visit. Nightly hotel rates were among the highest of the year. Temperatures and humidity were somehow even higher. There was a discernible lack of special events. School was out, which meant the Parks were packed with vacationing families from around the country. As recently as a few years ago, all of that combined with peak travel from South America, which meant large tour groups that often went “under-supervised” at best.
More recently, summer crowds have dwindled. South America’s economy tanked and Brazil heavily taxed group travel, basically eliminating the green shirts and flag-carrying 20-year-olds that had permeated property from around 2009 to around 2016. That dearth of special events pushed more and more people to the fall when Mickey’s Not So Scary and Food and Wine highlighted the season, especially when combined with cooler temperatures and the supposed promise of lower crowds and waits. The summer was decidedly not where it was at.
If you’re a regular blog reader, or at least visit the website on that fortuitous afternoon when there’s actually a new post, you’re more than familiar with the changes in crowd flow from posts like, “When is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World Based On A Lot of Wait Times,” which dates back to 2018, along with a follow-up at the conclusion of the season, “Walt Disney World Crowds Continue to Shift Away from the Summer.” At the time, we were working with charts like the one below to examine crowd fluctuations. In this particular example, we take a look at the average wait by month across Magic Kingdom’s major attractions from just under three years ago, borrowed from that previously-mentioned post:
While June rivaled March’s high, the average was less than a minute longer than February, shorter than the spring break high of March, and within about 10% of January’s 40.3-minute average. At the time, January was long hailed as the “secret” best time to visit. Yeah, not so much. July’s average was lower than five of the first six months of the year and August’s waits were even lower than that. September followed, as it traditionally does, and has remained the best month of the year to visit as far as wait times are concerned, even with the shorter hours and capacity cuts that we’ve endlessly chronicled over the last 10+ years.
There are actually a good number of people in the Park, though it will likely pale in comparison to what we see during the peak summer months ahead. Mask mandates and capacity limitations are ending sooner than expected as families start moving spare change from the DoorDash fund to the Disney World vacation savings jar, that just so happens to double as the bathtub. If Dogecoin can make a 14-year old a billionaire in three weeks, then your life savings should be good for at least a few hours at the All-Stars and a Corn Dog split six ways.
Over the past few years, summer crowds at the Florida theme parks have been on the lower end of the spectrum with few special events drawing domestic visitors who would prefer to visit during our state’s version of fall or winter for the “cooler” temperatures and limited-time offerings. We typically do fall for about three days and winter for up to five, but it’s a subtle barometric change in the dew point that most out-of-state visitors likely won’t notice.
We really only do things two ways here. You’ll either open the door in “The Little Mermaid” section of Art of Animation and say to yourself, “I guess it’s not too bad” as you proceed cautiously further from the thermostat that’s programmed to say that it’s 12 degrees cooler inside than it actually is. Or the other season, where that Disney cruise to Alaska, which would have only cost $42,000 more per person, “feels” like a sounder decision than Florida in July, as the heat and humidity hit harder than that Italian Trio from Tony’s Town Square.
Our peak crowd day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom continues as we see how things look when Park Passes are completely sold-out days before our visit, indicating that what we encounter is about as “bad” as crowds and wait times can get given current capacity constraints. You had about six months to read the first part of this series, but it’s still available here, in case, like me, you forgot. The main difference being that now there are no temperature checks. And we’ll be moving to three-feet stickers instead of six-feet markers in a lot of locations.
According to the Disney site, it’s the first paragraph that’s rewritten after the first sentence:
And Disney will no longer skip rows when parking automobiles, which had allowed guests more room to take out everything they apparently own, on top of what they purchased specifically for the trip, out of the Chrysler Town & Country. Those vans somehow seemed to continue back forever as strollers that appeared to be larger than the minivan itself were whisked out and unfolded like they had been a million times before as Zoey and Paisley hop in. I’m not entirely sure why you would move away from that model of filling the lots given the increased comfort right off the bat. We’ve probably all struggled to see whose door is swinging open first back in the pack ’em in days that are returning faster than I would have expected. Filling in every row probably takes a couple fewer cast as you don’t need any extras staying behind, and with parking only costing like $27, margins are going to be pretty slim on that one.
More recently, in Part Two, we began our touring in Pandora, before considering how we wanted to plot out the rest of our day. With a break, or plans to take it easy from 11am to 4pm or so, heading to Asia and DinoLand next to take advantage of nearly nonexistent crowds and waits makes the most sense. Without a break, heading to Kilimanjaro Safaris next is our best play as our wait should be closer to 20 to 30 minutes than the 45 to 70 minutes that it will quote from 9am until much later in the afternoon.
Looking ahead towards Creature Comfort Starbucks on the left, it doesn’t look too bad, but we’re only a half hour into the day as hundreds of people head towards Harambe.
Of course, even with a million people threatening to pass us, we can’t saunter by the cotton-top tamarins enjoying breakfast without enjoying a peek at the funny little creatures. There are more to come. Only half of which are bloggers.