With 2018 now behind us, it’s time to take a look back at Magic Kingdom wait times over the course of the year and see how they compared to 2017. We’ll use that data to see if we can come to any conclusions about what to expect for the rest of 2019.
This is the main chart that we’ll be working with:
Each number in the shaded boxes is the average overall wait across 17 Magic Kingdom attractions on the corresponding day with the 12 months that made up 2017 running along the top before the chart continues with 2018. The days of the month run along the left with the average overall wait for each given month running along the very bottom. Disney charges different prices for 1-day tickets throughout the year and the chart is color-coded based on that. Value days are in green with Regular days in yellow and Peak days in red. We’ll consider whether Value days see reliably shorter wait times than Regular or Peak days in a little bit.
Here’s a cropped version of the 2018 chart. Interestingly, we spent the majority of the first six months of the year talking about how much higher wait times had been than the year before.
And for good reason – average waits were higher in 2018 than 2017 during each of the first three months of the year, sometimes by more than 20%. Waits would have been higher in April if Easter fell on a consistent date, but we see a small drop in April wait times from 2017 to 2018 because the week leading up to the spring holiday occurred during the last week in March. May is also down just over five percent year-over-year.
Here’s the same data presented in a different way. You’ll note that the trend that we saw during the first half of the year reversed itself during the second half, with five of the last six months of the year actually seeing lower wait times than the year before. My guess is that November would have also been lower had it not been for the reduction in operating hours that we saw this year during Thanksgiving week. From 2011 through 2017, Magic Kingdom opened at 8am and typically closed at 12am or later each day from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to the Saturday following. In 2018, Magic Kingdom was open from just 9am to 11pm, or two fewer hours each day. With the 8am to 9am and 11pm to 12am hours seeing the shortest waits of the day, the 2018 numbers aren’t pulled down by those lower wait times. You’ve also got a similar number of people cramming into the same Park during a truncated period of time, increasing wait times.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing Disney’s propensity to cut staffing and reduce capacity during less crowded times of year, which has in turn increased wait times even with lower attendance. For example, let’s say you’re behind 500 people at Space Mountain with one track operating. You’re going to wait longer than if you were behind 750 people in line with two tracks operating since the capacity has doubled and the line has only increased by 50%. We all probably remember #thanksshanghai, when entertainment offerings and staffing seemed to drop in order to cover cost overages in China leading up to the Shanghai opening back in early 2016.
If I told you that wait times were now dropping, our first inclination is probably that things are beginning to turn around – that staffing and capacity must be increasing. That we fought the good fight and won. The fact is that things are actually getting worse in both regards. One clear indication of that is by how many fewer hours Magic Kingdom was open year over year. For example, in October 2017, Magic Kingdom saw 19 regular 8am openings. On Mickey’s Halloween Party dates, which there were 18 of in 2017, the Park was also open until 7pm. In October 2018, there were zero regular 8am opens at Magic Kingdom and the Park closed at 6pm on Mickey’s Halloween Party dates, which there were also 18 of. In fact, in October 2017, Magic Kingdom was open a total of 386 hours, or 12.45 hours per day, not including Extra Magic Hours or any special events. In October 2018, Magic Kingdom was open a total of 323 hours, or 10.42 hours per day, not including Extra Magic Hours or any special events. That’s an average drop of 2.03 hours. I think we can agree that if Disney was trying to increase capacity, that they wouldn’t reduce the number of hours that the most popular theme park in the world was physically open by 16%.
But even with the reduction in operating hours, wait times still decreased by nearly 8% from 2017 to 2018.
And it looks like Disney was aware of that going in. In 2017, October saw nine peak days, at least according to the 1-day ticket pricing structure. 2018 only saw four peak days in October. So they must have been expecting a reduction in demand, which is evident both from pricing and the number of operating hours. That’s exactly what they got.
It seems unlikely that it’s a coincidence that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party tickets are already on sale this year, more than two months earlier than last year. Free Dining and other promotions have also been expanded to begin earlier in the year, including summer dates. To read more in-depth about that, see “Walt Disney World Crowds Continue to Shift Away from Summer.” The question then becomes, “Where are they shifting to?” And it seems like the answer, at least in 2018, was the first half of the year.
Obviously, the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the big “What If” as we head towards its fall 2019 opening. Some number of people are going to wait to visit until after it opens, while others will likely try to sneak in a trip earlier in the year to avoid what is going to be a Christmastime clustercuss of unprecedented proportions.
The following chart shows the average Magic Kingdom wait on a weekly basis in 2017 compared to the same days in 2018:
Nine of the first ten weeks see higher waits. However, beginning with the third week in July, nine of the next ten weeks see lower waits and only one week from July 15th through November 4th sees a higher average wait time in 2018 compared to 2017. That’s a pretty significant about face.
This very long chart shows the average Magic Kingdom wait time each week over the last two years from the week with the shortest wait to the week with the longest:
If you’ve visited over the last 105 weeks, you can find your vacation dates and see if the Park was really “crazy crowded.” If the wait time for your week was below 38.2 minutes, then you actually experienced below average wait times. If you were there during the week leading up to Easter or New Year’s Eve 2018, then you experienced the heaviest crowds of the last two years.
Disney now uses four different price points on 1-day tickets. We’ll call them Value (Green), Regular (Yellow), Peak (Orange), and NOPE (Red). Here’s the chart for 2019:
On Green Value days, 1-day tickets cost $109. Yellow Regular days cost $114. Orange Peak Days run $122. And Red NOPE days come in at $129.
In past years, the single day ticket price seasons have been a good indication of how wait times will end up. On Value days in 2018, the average Magic Kingdom wait was 33.4 minutes, compared to a whopping 47.5 minutes on Peak days. Regular days, at 37.2 minutes, are somewhere in the middle. If you’re flexible with your dates, then it makes a lot of sense to hone in on as many Green Value days as possible from the 2019 chart.
Early last year, I published “When is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World Based On a Lot of Wait Times,” where I offered the above advice. September 2018 did see the lowest waits of the year – 36.3% lower than the month with the second lowest waits and less than half of the average wait of the busiest month of the year. In 2019, eight days in early May are coded Value, which seems to bode well for that advice.
Back to our 2019 chart:
The trends that we’ve seen over the last couple of years look to continue. February looks like a great month to visit in terms of crowds and prices. It makes sense to avoid Presidents Day Weekend and the week that follows.
March will be busy for spring break, though the first two weeks look relatively good.
The first two weeks of April also look positive before the Easter crowds roll in. Three of the four busiest weeks of the last two years were centered around Easter and spring break. With the holiday falling in late April this year, spring break crowds should be more spread out.
May looks good for the most part, though we can expect weekends to be more crowded as temperatures rise and locals return to the Park for Flower and Garden before the oppressive summer humidity rolls in. One trend that we see is higher prices on most Fridays and Saturdays. From “Does It Really Matter Which Day of the Week You Visit Disney World’s Magic Kingdom?” we know that Sundays are typically the least crowded day of the week. You might use that knowledge to your advantage. Somewhat surprisingly, Mondays are usually the second least crowded day to visit Magic Kingdom, though that is very much not the case from August through December with the Mickey’s Party schedule. Any day with longer hours and no Party is going to be much more crowded.
It’s a bit curious that June prices and wait times are so much higher than July, but that’s the way it was last year as well. June’s average Magic Kingdom wait was 44.2 minutes, or the second highest month of the year. July came in at 38.9 minutes, which means seven months actually saw higher average waits. It’s no coincidence that Free Dining starts July 5th this year. If you’re looking at summer dates, the later you can go the better, generally speaking. Epcot is particularly dead during the summer months before Food and Wine takes over, probably towards the end of August again.
September remains the best overall month to visit in terms of crowds and prices. Note that September 2018 was actually hotter than June, July, or August of last year. But you’ll run into fewer people, even if they’ll be just as sweaty.
October, November, and the first half of December all look about the same with a lot of Regular weekdays and higher-priced Peak weekends. Those Saturdays in October are no joke with the same pricing as Easter and Christmas. Still, fall 2018 saw relatively low wait times for the most part.
If you’re looking at a trip that begins in October or later, then you do run the risk of visiting during the beginning of Star Wars mania with the likelihood that Galaxy’s Edge will be operational the later in the year that it gets.
That probably does it for now. We’ll see how January ended up looking compared to the last couple of Januaries in a few days.