Edit: I’ll update this post each month with new charts showing wait times for the previous four weeks. If you’ve recently taken a trip, you can see how wait times stacked up compared to the last 18ish months. If you have a trip coming up, you can check out how wait times are trending. New takeaways are in bold throughout the post below.
Over the last month, from May 8th through June 7th, wait times have been lower than the same dates in 2017. That’s a big change from what we saw to open the year when wait times were up significantly in January and February. This is good news as it means that wait times aren’t inevitably going to go up all year. There is hope.
Today we’ll take a look at wait times at Magic Kingdom and try to see if we can figure out when the best time to visit over the next 18 months might be.
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 rides on the corresponding day with the 12 months that made up 2017 running along the top before the chart continues with how far we’ve come so far in 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.
From a quick glance at the 2017 numbers, a few things immediately stand out. First, just about anyone will tell you that September is the least crowded time of year to visit Walt Disney World and the numbers back that up. If we eliminate Hurricane Irma week, where the Parks actually closed on the 10th and 11th, the average wait for the month rises to 30.7 minutes, which is still shorter than any of the other months. January is typically considered to be the second least busy month of the year and the 2017 numbers back that up too. With kids out of school, the summer months are usually said to be more crowded, on average, than other months. And the numbers in 2017 show just that for the most part, though the averages for June, July, and August are lower than March and April with spring break and Easter. The averages for the summer months are also lower than December overall, thanks to the high waits seen during the Christmas holiday.
Moving on to 2018, the trends that we’ve been discussing this year look to be confirmed. Earlier this year, we were comparing what “felt” like high wait times in January to wait times from previous years. Here’s a quick refresher on what we saw at Animal Kingdom:
The full post is available here.
Here’s part of the relevant discussion:
The year-over-year increases are the highest that we’ll see across the four Parks. 2016’s wait times are 13.8% higher than 2015’s. 2017’s wait times are 18.2% higher than 2016’s. And 2018’s wait times are 26.9% higher than 2017’s wait times. All in all, we see a 70.7% increase in four years and we’re only an additional 5.5 minutes away from a 100% increase.
So what gives? Pandora is the obvious culprit with Rivers of Light and the other nighttime enhancements playing a smaller role. Say what you will about Cameron’s franchise, but it’s hard to argue that the alien land hasn’t been incredibly popular with guests given the immense wait times for Flight of Passage and the number of people now arriving 60+ minutes early for rope drop. But even before Pandora’s opening, the increase from 2015 to 2017 is still 34.6%. During those same years, Epcot and Hollywood Studios wait times are actually down.
Since that post was published, the Themed Entertainment Association published their attendance numbers for Animal Kingdom and other theme parks around the world. Based on those numbers, Animal Kingdom attendance went up about 15.2% from 2017 to 2018, while wait times went up 26.9%.
Magic Kingdom’s average wait time increase from January 2017 to January 2018 is 20.3% – from 33.5 minutes in 2017 to 40.3 minutes in 2018. The 40.3 minute average in January 2018 is longer than eight of the months in 2017 and almost exactly equivalent to July of last year, which is a peak summer month that obviously includes the July 4th holiday. Worse, February 2018’s overall average wait of 43.3 minutes is longer than any month in 2017 outside of December and March 2018’s even eclipses that with waits that are more than 10% longer than the busiest month in 2017.
In 2017, the average wait at Magic Kingdom across the 17 attractions that we’re considering was 37.8 minutes over the entire year. That number is based on over 350,000 individual wait times, so we’re talking about quite a bit of data. The numbers include Extra Magic Hours where applicable, but do not include wait times during special events like Disney After Hours or Mickey’s Halloween/Christmas Parties.
Here’s a look at how those wait times are distributed over the course of a day that’s almost exactly average, June the first.
I picked 17 attractions that I thought would be representative of how a day at Magic Kingdom would be going. There are rides with variable capacities – Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain can operate with one or two sides loading, for example. Other rides, like Peter Pan’s Flight, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and Under the Sea ~ Voyage of the Little Mermaid are basically going to run at full capacity all day, every day as you’re not taking vehicles off the track. Other attractions, like Mad Tea Party or The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, are not the most popular attractions, but high wait times there are typically indicative that waits are much longer everywhere else. For example, the Adventureland spinner might not be appealing when Jungle Cruise is a walk-on, but might be looking like a more reasonable selection when the wait there is 75 minutes and Aladdin is commanding just ten.
For comparison’s sake, here’s wait times from the least crowded day of the year, which happened to be the day before the hurricane hit:
I probably wouldn’t hop in the van and drive towards Florida when they threaten that “the big one” is coming, but it is a surefire way to experience the lowest possible waits. Two weeks later, on September 23rd, wait times would be almost three times as long.
And for the sake of amusement, here’s the busiest day of the year, December 31st, just through midnight:
On the other hand, braving the chances of a catastrophic storm may be preferable to experiencing the known threat that is New Year’s Eve at Magic Kingdom. Wait times were 442.9% higher on December 31st than September 9th.
Back to our comparison of 2017 to 2018 so far, here’s a chart that shows the average wait times at the 17 Magic Kingdom attractions for each Saturday to Friday week in 2017 along with the equivalent week in 2018. Those are big differences during the last two weeks in January and into February when wait times were up more than 40% in 2018 compared to the same days in 2017. The 41-minute average wait from January 20th through January 26th in 2018 is equal to or higher than 70% of weeks in 2017. That increase is with no holidays, no special events, and virtually every school in the country in session.
On the other hand, beginning in the middle of April 2018, wait times begin to decrease compared to the same weeks in 2017 and we see almost two straight months of waits that are either the same or lower. Waits are typically just five to ten percent lower, but it is an indication that waits aren’t inevitably going to rise all year.
Here’s the last 74 weeks of wait times sorted from the week with the lowest average wait to the week with highest average wait. If you’ve visited Disney World recently, it might be interesting to see how “crowded” it was during that trip compared to other possible dates:
Interestingly, while we’ve spent some time discussing how much longer wait times have been so far in 2018, two recent weeks in April are among the 15 least crowded weeks since the beginning of 2017 and the last seven weeks are among the 26 least crowded weeks in nearly a year and a half.
Which brings me to one of our main conclusions: If you’re looking at booking a trip sometime in the next 18 months, I’d take a long look at sometime between April 27th and May 25th of next year with April 27th through the third week in May as the best weeks. The weather is warm during the last couple of weeks of April before getting hotter in May without the humidity of the summer. You’ll enjoy the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot during its peak. Crowds should be on the low end. Resort prices are around average. And unlike the fall months, you (probably) won’t have to deal with the Mickey’s Party schedule closing Magic Kingdom at 6pm on three or four days each week.
Speaking of the Mickey’s Party schedule, here’s another look at Magic Kingdom wait times during October 2017 with Mickey’s Halloween Party dates highlighted in festive orange:
The 35.5 minute overall average for October is the third shortest in 2017, but that’s largely due to the 18 Party dates with the 30-minute average and what will be 6pm closes this year. The 43.1 minute average that we see on Non-Party dates would make October the second busiest month of the year if we were to eliminate the Party days from the equation. Hence, the “October is crazy crowded” charges that you’ll often see. That’s probably true when the average wait on non-Party days is longer than the waits seen during two-thirds of July. On the other hand, waits on Party dates are among the lowest of the year.
From mid-April through the week before Memorial Day in 2019, we should be looking at Magic Kingdom closing between 10pm and midnight nightly with the Happily Ever After fireworks scheduled every night. That’s a big improvement from 6pm closes and no fireworks. Not to mention the September humidity. On the plus side, waits during the last week in October remain low, relatively speaking.
Disney will seemingly tell you how busy they’re expecting it to be based on the price they charge for a 1-day admission ticket on a given date. Here’s the chart for 2017:
It’s about what we would expect given the “crowd calendars” from the last few years and Disney’s rankings seem to jive with the recorded waits that we’ve seen so far in our own charts.
Here’s the chart for 2018:
The reliability of this chart, as it pertains to Magic Kingdom wait times, is probably worth investigating. If we’re planning a visit, it would be nice to be able to choose from about nine good weeks that are mostly coded “Value” for the rest of 2018. And if it’s expected to be much busier, we can at least be prepared for it.
Here is a hilariously wide chart that groups Magic Kingdom’s 2017 wait times by season:
The conclusion is that Value days see much lower waits with a 31.3 minute average. The average wait for Regular days is 37.8 minutes, or a 20.8% increase over Value. And the average wait for Peak days is 42.6 minutes, which is 12.7% higher than Regular and 36.1% higher than Value. So there is a significant increase between Value and Regular seasons and to an even larger extent from Value to Peak, but less from Regular to Peak.
Let’s see if that trend holds up in 2018 with a more manageable chart:
The good news is that Value days continue to see lower waits than Regular or Peak days. The bad news is probably that the waits are much longer for each designation. So far, the average wait for Value days in 2018 is 38.7 minutes, which is longer than the average for Regular days last year and only 9.2% shorter than Peak days in 2017. Furthermore, while there was a 36.1% difference between Value and Peak days in 2017, the difference is just 19.1% so far this year. So there’s less of a difference in wait times between the least crowded and most crowded days of the year.
That probably does it for now. So far, we have a number of takeaways. First, if you’re looking at planning a trip later this year, try to hone in on Value days whenever possible as wait times remain significantly lower than Regular or Peak days. September should see the lowest wait times of the year, even if they’re higher than last year. If you’re planning a trip next year, think about sometime between April 27th, which is the Saturday following Easter, through May 23rd, with the April dates seeing warm, but not oppressively hot, weather. It’s probably the most underrated time to visit, at least until 250,000 people read that sentence.
No matter when you plan on visiting, take a look at the website’s cheat sheets at the following links:
They were recently updated for the spring and early summer. In these documents, you’ll find everything that you need to enjoy a successful and efficient day at the Park – custom maps, rope drop tips, FastPass+ priority, touring plans, and expected wait times.