Is There an Off-Season? Epcot Wait Times in January at Walt Disney World

We continue our discussion of “off-season” wait times at Walt Disney World theme parks with Epcot.

At Animal Kingdom, we saw a meteoric rise in average wait times over the last four years. The numbers above represent the average posted wait time at DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin in January. That’s a 71% increase in wait times over four years. If you missed Animal Kingdom’s analysis along with an introduction to the questions that this series will attempt to answer, see this post.

Below is the chart for Epcot. Again, the date runs down the left column with the average wait for that day and year filling each of the corresponding cells:

The attractions represented are Journey into Imagination with Figment, Living with the Land, Mission: SPACE, Soarin’, Spaceship Earth, Test Track, and The Seas with Nemo. Like the Pandora rides at Animal Kingdom, I’ve omitted Frozen Ever After as it would skew the 2017 and 2018 numbers much higher. We’ll take a look at that ride separately.

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This chart for January 22, 2018 is close to your average day at Epcot so far this year with the 26-minute overall average across all attractions and times of day. You’ll see that number in the lower right hand corner. Our January analysis alone includes data from more than 650 individual spreadsheets. We’re using over one hundred thousand individual wait times just for Epcot and more than 500,000 wait times across the four Parks. That’s every attraction at every Park in five minute intervals all day, every day.

Back to Epcot with the overall average wait for January of each year.

One thing to keep in mind is that Soarin’ is a big driver of wait time variance. The motion simulator was down for refurbishment for much of January 2016, which is a lot of why we see the drop in wait times that year. In 2017 and 2018,  the ride sported a 50% increase in capacity along with the new Around the World film.

Let’s start by taking a look at how wait times at Soarin’ have changed, first with January 2015:

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Most of us probably remember the days before Crooked Soarin’ when the ride operated with two independent theaters. The 58-minute average wait in January is about 15% below average for 2015. The average wait during June 2015 was 68 minutes, for example.

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Soarin’ Around the World opened in June 2016 with a new film and the addition of a third theater, which increased hourly capacity by about 50%. That means the new version was about six months old by January 2017 and the wait time is down 13 minutes, or 22.4%, compared to the same period of time in 2015. It’s interesting to see how much wait times increased/decreased given what we can assume is a rise in interest given the film’s refresh versus the known rise in capacity. Apparently demand didn’t rise in proportion to the capacity increase or we would see a similarly long wait.

Here’s 2018:

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Again, I’m missing individual wait times for January 3rd and 4th, unfortunately. If we assume the average was 60 minutes given that January 2nd and 4th were around there, then the overall average wait for the month would be 45 minutes, which is exactly the same as 2017. Since Epcot only saw a 6.1% overall increase in wait times from 2017 to 2018, it makes sense that we don’t see a big increase at Soarin’ specifically.

Let’s have a look at The Seas with Nemo and Friends, which is an omnimover ride that should see a consistent hourly capacity from day to day and year to year:

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Back in 2015, the overall average wait for the month was 12 minutes. At no point during the day is the average wait above 20 minutes.

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Epcot attendance was actually down from 2015 to 2016, so it isn’t necessarily surprising to see wait times go down at The Seas with Nemo year-over-year. But considering the incredible gains at Animal Kingdom given that attendance was down there too, I think we could have expected the wait to go up a couple of minutes.

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Enter Festival of the Arts. Still, wait times are up “just” about two minutes or around 18% in 2017 versus 2016. And up just one minute compared to 2015.

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And again, wait times are flat year-over-year with the same 13-minute overall average in 2018.

The takeaway here seems to be that wait times are flat at Epcot attractions where we know the capacity doesn’t change from hour to hour or day to day. The overall average wait went from 12 minutes to 11 minutes to 13 minutes to 13 minutes. Considering Expedition Everest’s average wait was up more than 75% from 2015 to 2018, Nemo’s increase seems far less significant.

Let’s take a look at Spaceship Earth:

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Since our discussion begins with 2015, we’re staunchly in the FastPass+ era, so we don’t see the 5- and 10-minute waits all day like we did back in 2012 or 2013. But January, 2015’s 17-minute average, as seen in the lower right hand corner box of the chart, seems reasonable, even if peak waits are 30+ minutes around noon.

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The 29.4% drop in the average wait time year-over-year is probably all the proof we need that the drop in attendance during the first half of 2016 wasn’t just in our heads. I still wonder how much effect My Disney Experience and FastPass+ booking had on people skipping a second day at Epcot. Anyone that scrolled through the available attractions during the downtime at Soarin’ would see a pretty sad lineup. I mean…Living with the Land was a Tier 1 FastPass+ experience. That’s enough to make a day at Hollywood Studios seem smart.

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2017 brings Spaceship Earth’s average wait back to one minute above what we saw in 2015. Or you could say that it’s a 50% increase over 2016’s low. Statistics are a little too easy to manipulate, but hopefully this analysis “feels” somewhat transparent.

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And we do see an 18% increase in Spaceship Earth’s average wait time from 2017 to 2018, which seems somewhat significant. But with The Seas with Nemo and Soarin’ basically flat, it’s mostly a blip.

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While not explicitly part of this analysis, Frozen Ever After has been open for two months of January so far. In 2017, the overall average wait was an even 70 minutes.

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And in 2018, we see a drop of 11 minutes, or a 15.7% reduction. I am missing data for January 3rd and 4th and if I were to input 75 minutes for each, as is likely, the average wait for the month would rise one minute to 60. There’s probably a number of reasons for that drop, but you can probably safely chalk it up to reduced demand. You might be willing to wait an hour for New Maelstrom once, but perhaps not twice. And after experiencing the re-imagined flume ride, a lot of people seem to look back towards Test Track or Soarin’ as their Tier 1 FastPass+ choice.

The wait time trends at Epcot are quite a bit different than Animal Kingdom and what most guests experienced in 2015 should be similar to 2017 or 2018 with virtually identical wait time averages. 2016 saw a major lull with Soarin’ closed. The lack of growth is likely why we’re seeing Epcot go through some transformative changes over the next few years with the addition of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille rides, in addition the space restaurant. A great number of unannounced changes are also likely with Future World seeing a major refresh and the possibility of a new hotel. But while wait times have not seen marked increases, Epcot attendance should prove to be up 5-7% in January year-over-year as the Festival of the Arts continues to drive considerable weekend traffic.

So to answer our question, “off-season” wait times at Epcot are not at all unprecedented. What we saw this year is very similar to the past few years.

I don’t think what’s going on at Hollywood Studios will be particularly illuminating, but we’ll go through it anyway. Sometimes I wish Magic Kingdom came first alphabetically. But it always comes up last.


  1. Larry says

    Speaking on behalf of those whose last names naturally occur at the end of the alphabet, let me say that it is not at all unprecedented to occasionally reverse alphabetic sequences and proceed from “Z” to “A.”

  2. Beth says

    It’s funny to me that your brain always lists the parks alphabetically. My brain always lists them chronologically by opening date.

    Really thorough analysis—thanks!

  3. Eric says

    Hey Josh, just curious if you have any data on actual park attendance. In Jan 2016, before Frozen and with Soarin shut down, I would imagine attendance on the whole was lower. Not by 20%, but even a 5% decline could be statistically significant. Just a thought….

  4. J says

    If you’re trying to answer the question, “Is there an offseason?” you should be comparing off-season wait times to non-off-season wait times? If they are appreciably lower, then YES, there is indeed an offseason!

    Instead, you’re comparing this year’s off-season wait times to prior years’ off-season wait times, which instead addresses the question, “Is the offseason busier now than it used to be?”

  5. Mark says

    We visited Epcot on January 29 and crowds were light. We only waited 35 mins for Soarin in stand by line .

    Test Track single rider wait was only 10 mins

  6. dusty cheatham says

    as a 22 year veteran of ” the world ” FEELS LIKE crowds during off season . to me there is no off season . Disney has successfully marketed a year round strategy . try getting your favorite hotel without getting up at the crack of dawn 6 to 8 months in advance heck what am I saying 1 year in advance . 5 years ago no problem . passholder discounts ? what passholder discounts ? . now joshs book DOES HELP with your planning..maybe people are just willing to spend $$$$$ more than 5 years ago. please this is just my opinion based on 22 years of visiting the parks during certain times of the year.2nd week in sept, 1st week in dec, .were all SLOW times to go to Disney. hats off to Disney for a good marketing strategy & for our good friend josh for writing a very informative book . as well as dave schute @ yourfirstvisit for helpful hints & pictures. again this is based on just my past visits.

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