Disney World ‘Anomaly’ Creates Media Frenzy, Leads to Misinformation on Park Attendance

in Walt Disney World

A family holds hands while walking towards a castle at Disney World, with a small child in the middle wearing Mickey Mouse ears. They are all seen from the back under a warm, evening sky.

Credit: Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney World has been in a sort of decline in crowds levels ever since 2021. The number of people entering the Parks and staying has declined recently. We are in a post-pandemic world now, and who knows if things will ever go genuinely back to the way things were. One thing is sure: there seems to be a debate taking place online on whether or not Disney World is truly “empty” or “crowded.”

Let’s examine this debate once and for all and determine what’s truly going on at WDW.

A Disney Dad and Disney Mom at Magic Kingdom Park without kids
Credit: Disney

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A Post-Pandemic World at Disney World

Post-pandemic, the crowd levels at Walt Disney World have likely seen fluctuations depending on the overall state of the pandemic, government regulations, and Disney’s safety measures. During the height of the pandemic in 2020 and early 2021, the theme parks experienced significant closures and limited capacity to adhere to social distancing guidelines and ensure the safety of Guests and employees. As vaccination rates increased and COVID-19 cases declined, Walt Disney World likely relaxed some restrictions and gradually increased capacity levels. Disney may have implemented new health and safety protocols to accommodate higher attendance, such as mask mandates, temperature checks, and enhanced cleaning procedures. Since crowd levels are influenced by multiple factors, including travel trends, seasonal variations, and economic conditions, it is essential to refer to current, up-to-date sources to get the most accurate and recent information on Walt Disney World’s crowd levels post-pandemic. Websites and apps that track real-time wait times and crowd predictions can be valuable resources for visitors planning their trips to the theme Park.

Disney World
Credit: Inside The Magic

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Disney World Before COVID

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, crowd levels at Walt Disney World varied depending on the time of year and special events. As one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, Disney World typically experiences higher attendance during peak seasons, holidays, and school breaks. Weekends were often busier than weekdays as well.

Some critical periods with higher crowd levels included:

  1. Peak Season: Summer months (June to August) and major holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Easter attracted large crowds due to school vacations and family travel.
  2. Spring Break: Late February to April was another busy period when many schools had spring break, leading to increased visitation.
  3. Special Events: Disney World’s special events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, and EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival drew additional Guests, often resulting in higher attendance during those periods.
  4. RunDisney Events: During RunDisney race weekends, there was an influx of participants and spectators.
  5. New Attraction Openings: There was often a surge in attendance when new attractions or lands opened, such as Pandora – The World of Avatar or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Disney World employed various strategies to manage crowd levels during peak times, such as extended operating hours, virtual queue systems for popular attractions, and tiered pricing for single-day tickets, with higher prices during peak periods.

It’s important to note that crowd levels can be subjective, and what one person considers “crowded” may differ from another’s perception. Additionally, crowd patterns and management strategies may have evolved over the years, so it’s always a good idea to refer to current sources, and official Disney World updates for the most accurate and up-to-date crowd-level information.

Magic Kingdom
Credit: Lee (myfrozenlife), Flickr

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Disney World Crowd Levels in 2021

In 2021, the crowd levels at Walt Disney World were still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the theme parks had reopened with limited capacity and implemented various health and safety measures, including mandatory mask-wearing and physical distancing, crowd levels were not back to pre-pandemic levels. Disney World continued to manage attendance through a reservation system that required Guests to secure a reservation for Park entry in advance. This system helped control the number of Park visitors on any given day and allowed Disney to maintain appropriate distancing and safety protocols. Crowd levels during 2021 varied depending on the time of year and events, but generally, they were lower than during typical pre-pandemic years, especially during the traditionally busy seasons. Capacity restrictions and other measures were in place to prioritize the health and safety of Guests and employees.

Walt Disney World crowds walking down Main Street, USA.
Credit: Inside the Magic

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Disney World Crowd Levels in 2022

After a devastating blow to crowd levels at Disney World in 2021, things began to look vastly different for WDW in 2022. According to the Global Attractions Attendance Report, a collaboration of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the economics practice at AECOM. This calendar-year study of worldwide attendance is a resource for Park operators, developers, and the travel industry. Top worldwide theme parks, amusement parks, water parks, museums, and theme Park operators are named, ranked by attendance, and industry trends are identified. The Global Attractions Attendance Report is considered the gold standard within the theme Park industry. TEA is credible and a good source for update-to-date information on theme Parks. The report showcased Magic Kingdom as the highest-attended theme Park in the country last year, with over 17.1 million Guests visiting the Disney Parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios came in 3rd place with 10.9 million visitors in 2022. EPCOT placed 5th, with 10 million. In 6th place was the final Disney World Park, Animal Kingdom, at 9 million visitors in 2022. Combining all these Parks, you got a whopping 47 million Disney World visitors last year, making it one of the hottest tourist attraction destinations in a post-pandemic world.

Family enjoying unique Na'vi cuisine at Disney World
Credit: Disney/David Roark

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Despite Record Attendance, Disney Raises Prices on Tickets, Merch, and More

But with all these visitors came Disney’s desire to raise ticket prices, food, merchandise, and more. The Disney World tickets went up by a small margin, but enough to change for a family of four looking to visit the Parks on vacation. Disney tried to alleviate these ticket costs by implementing new Disney World Annual Passes, announced in 2022 and beginning in September of the same year, only to be halted for a significant portion before finally back on sale in 2023. Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney, returned and was announced to be on board for an unspecified amount of time, although it has now been confirmed that Iger will remain CEO of Disney through 2026. This came as a direct result of Bob Chapek, called “Bob Paycheck” by many, essentially running WDW like a cash cow and not giving the fans or Guests any real reason to return to the world they grew up with. Then came those unexpected layoffs that forced thousands of Disney World workers to lose their jobs, as Iger decided it was time to funnel the money elsewhere and to regain the fans through implementing new hiring strategies, like laying off thousands to hire…thousands. But plenty of higher-ups were involved in the firing process, incredibly confident Disney, Hulu, and other platform executives.

So with all this said and done – is Walt Disney World empty in 2023? Are the Parks less crowded than they were in 2022 or 2021, or 2019?

Magic Kingdom
Credit: Inside the Magic

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Are the Disney Parks Empty, or Is the Media Overexaggerating?

Inside The Magic has reported on the Disney Parks being “empty” over the last few days and weeks. But these empty periods are only short-lived as other sources and media outlets report on the Parks being full, alive, and thriving with people. The times the Parks have seemed empty have been at a time when a storm, event, or holiday has taken place. The media went into a frenzy at the start of July when news outlets like CNN, FOX NEWS, ABC NEWS, The New York Post, and others reported how empty Disney World became during the 4th of July holiday weekend and actual day. The media giants reported on Disney World being empty and jumped on the bandwagon of saying that somehow this meant Disney World was always open and never filled with Guests and long wait times for rides and attractions. But that seems to be far from the truth.

So, was the Fourth of July an anomaly, as a person so eloquently put it in the first tweet shown above? Since that fateful day, Disney World Parks have seen a steady incline of Disney World Guests throughout variable days and times. If you look at things from an outside perspective, you will undoubtedly believe that Disney World is empty. But you are most likely comparing pre-pandemic numbers and not looking at things from statistical output. Thrill Data is a great place to run numbers and determine crowd levels for places like Disney World Resort.

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As you can see from the analytical statistics presented above, you can see that, yes, WDW is slightly less crowded than in 2019, 2021, and 2022. But to boast that these Parks are “empty” should be taken lightly and not believed unless you try to visit the Parks during their off-season, which can even bring in large numbers of Guests. You should gather information yourself, research as much as possible, don’t follow the crowd, and figure things out on your own about the current state of WDW and the crowd levels and wait times presented daily. This, in turn, will assist you in making the right decision on when to visit the Parks with your family or friends or on a solo trip.

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