Death, Taxes and Disney Crowds At Christmas

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You don’t need to be a master statistician to predict that Disney theme parks will be crowded during the Christmas holidays. Every year, the period between December 24th and January 1st is the most crowded time of the year. It can be a great time of year to be at the theme parks though. The decorations. The extended hours. The holiday spirit of the cast members. Some of the theatre attractions actually seem more enjoyable when they perform to a full house.

But unfortunately, wait times are at super-high levels like no other time of year. Many readers ask us if Christmas should really be en eleven on the Crowd Calendar. In fact, it should be a fifteen!

But just how crowded is it, really?

Here it is by the numbers.

  • On the slowest day of the year the Average Peak Wait time is 23 minutes.
  • On most days of the year the Average  Peak Wait time ranges from 26 to 32 minutes.
  • On the busiest day of the year (other than during Christmas break) the Average Peak Wait time is 43 minutes.
  • During Christmas break the Average Peak Wait time is 45 minutes!

That means the average peak wait time during Christmas break is 2 minutes higher than the most crowded day during the rest of the year. So there’s crowded and then there’s Christmas-crowded.

This year’s crowds leading up to Christmas day were a little heavier than expected. Then, we were shocked to see that crowds at the Animal Kingdom on December 26 were high but not super-high. We recommended the Animal Kingdom as a “Best Park” but the wait times were even lower than expected. In fact, they were low enough to make the overall resort crowd level a 9.

Christmas Crowds 2010 – Predicted vs. Observed
Date Predicted Crowd Level What Really Happened
December 19 6 7
December 20 9 10
December 21 9 10
December 22 10 10
December 23 10 10
December 24 10 10
December 25 10 10
December 26 10 9 (Animal Kingdom wait times were even lower than expected)
December 27 10 10
December 28 10 10

We will be watching the Christmas crowds daily as we do every other day. Check us out on Twitter and Facebook to see our daily reports on the crowds at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort.

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Posted on December 29, 2010

18 Responses to “Death, Taxes and Disney Crowds At Christmas”

  • Hi, I was curious what the observed numbers were for November 28-December 4. We went that week due to low predictions but it was slammed! The wait times weren’t that bad, but transportation was always crowded and we couldn’t get reservations to any restaurants. We had a better time on past trips where the predictions were 8′s than this trips with 1, 2 and 3 days! Now we don’t know when to go!

  • Megan is correct, that post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas sweet spot is no longer sweet. We have a new time of year picked out to visit the World, but I will never tell what it is.

  • Fred,

    Your posts are the reason I subscribe to the website. I can’t go to WDW for two years so I don’t really need lines but because your post are so fadcinating I keep up my membership – even though I know I could read your posts for free. Funny to have such an irrational reaction to such rational analysis. Rock on!

  • we rolled into Epcot @ 6 p.m. on Christmas, and stayed until 9:30. We walked out with fireworks going over our heads and went to MK, where we got to TCC in time for watching that fireworks show, from the boat dock area.
    Crowded but doable. Then, MK emptied out and we had the place to ourselves (it seemed) until 1:30 a.m., with a lite rain. The castle de-lighting was great, and street sweepers were caroling.
    Loved it. One downside – everyone (it seemed) had a huge and empty stroller they aggressively shoved like a battering ram. Very obnoxious. Saw lots of packages and so on in the stroller – many families just use them as carts and to make personal space.
    Also, seniors walking four and five abreast – folks, enjoy your leisurely pace but please don’t block the way for the rest of us. Is there a compromise between blocking the entire sidewalk and, say, single file?
    Just asking.

  • We were in Hollywood Studios on Christmas day and did not find the crowd level high at all! We rode TTT with a 40 minute wait – grandkids had a 45/50 minute wait for RRC but all the other rides were walk ins. We had no major waits in the MK or EPCOT (including Soaring – about 30 minutes). Crowds were much less than in previous years. Osbourne Spectical of Lights was not crowded, you could walk around without getting bumped by anyone.

  • Thank you, Fred! You’ve really spelled it out. Back when I was 20-something and lived in South Florida, I’d drive up with friends to spend the 26th in the then one and only park, the Magic Kingdom. Now I enjoy the holiday spirit and decorations BEFORE the holiday season hits. Now when friends ask why I don’t recommend going over the Christmas/New Year’s break, I can point them to your excellent blog posting!

    Happy New Year!

  • We were at MK on Monday, December 20. It was RIDICULOUSLY crowded. Went to Epcot on Tue 12/21 – wasn’t terrible, but it was very very busy.

  • Bill, I don’t blame you for not telling! I have heard early May is good, will shoot for that next. September is too hot still.

  • I would agree, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas that was notorious for low crowds and cool weather is no longer the sweetest time of year. Our wait time data shows (sorry to spill the secret Bill) that early September boasts the lowest crowds of the year. The interesting thing is that it isn’t really that close of a race. Three quarters of the slowest days of the year now occur in Early September.

  • My family and I came from the UK for a week beginning 4th December, this is the fourth time we have visited during this time period and found this year the busiest so far. Not only was it unusually very cold but the weather seemed to effect the running of MK from the ticket machines to being left standing on the monorail platform due to a frozen track (apparently!). Even though we arrived at MK at 8.30, we were still waiting for a monorail at 9.20am. When we finally arrived in the park the crowds were comfortable until 11am, then even the most quietest rides had long wait times. This was also the case in HWS where RRc had technical problems and the Osborne light show was so crowded you couldn’t walk. Epcot on the Friday seemed to come to a standstill after the candle light procession and finding anywhere to eat became impossible.
    Throughout the week the ratings were still between 3 -4 which seemed too low. I have been to the parks at peak times in the summer where the crowds seemed lighter!

  • We spent December 4-13th at Walt Disney World and had a great time. We specifically chose these dates to enjoy the holiday happenings before the big holiday crowds, and were lucky enough to get advice from the WDWToday guys to help us with our dates. Although the crowd predictions went up in the weeks preceding our trip, they were still pretty rosy. While we did have a few crowd issues, (a sold out MVMCP on a night that was discounted when we purchased our tickets tops the short list of uh-ohs) we rocked at utilizing touring plans and rope drops to avoid long waits for attractions. I’m the first to admit that I would love to experience any of the parks when they are empty, but I fear those days are over thanks to discounts and promotions. For our recent trip, I can tell you that rope drop and using a good touring plan have a much bigger impact on wait times than which day you choose to visit. Of course choosing a low crowd/ best park further maximizes the benefits, too! So much about how we perceive crowds is subjective…one person’s packed is another’s average. I myself prefer not to be jostled by strangers, but as long as I am walking onto attractions in 10 minutes or less on average I am happy. My worst crowd moment actually happened at World of Disney on a “low-key” morning mid-trip when I was trying to take advantage of a 20% off coupon. Crowds were terrible, and navigating the store was excruciating. The longest line I waited in the entire trip was the one in which I stood that morning waiting to make my purchases. Overall, our trip was a success. I credit that to the folks at touringplans.com, lines (I’m nrogers32 there), the WDWToday podcast, and allears.net. Thanks for a great trip and please keep up the good work!

  • We went to WDW Dec 2-9 and we didn’t find much in the way of crowds. Granted, we didn’t venture into the Magic Kingdom until almost the last day of our trip, but even there it wasn’t crowded and we hit all the big rides in a two hour span with virtually no wait times (we got there at rope drop). The weather turned VERY cold three days into the trip but it only affected Blizzard Beach and Kali River Rapids as far as we could tell. The Candelight Processional crowd was insane and made it hard to get through the mid-section of world showcase in the evening, but everyone was laughing and joking about the crush when we were there. Your own attitude makes a big difference in those situations, we were on vacation and didn’t sweat the small stuff! We didn’t bother trying to get into any of the restaurants, those did seem to be ridiculously packed, and we were quite satisfied with the variety of counter service meals available both in the parks and at Downtown. We hadn’t been to WDW in 20 years and didn’t really believe that a good plan was necessary, but we used touring plans each day and it made for a successful and enjoyable trip. I don’t think that would have happened if we had tried to “wing it”. Thanks for all your hard work, it’s worth it to all of us!

  • We tried to go during the value period between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Literally every single room on site was booked, including the unsold time shares.
    The Disney agent said he’s never seen every hotel at 100% occupancy.

  • We were at the world from 12/26 until 1/4. This was the first time we have gone during that time. Was it crowded, yes. However, the longest wait we had the entire trip was about 20 minutes for HM on 12/31. Thanks to Lines I barely waited in line!

    • One more thing. It was VERY cold the first few days. Did the dessert party on 12/27 and shivered through air temps around 30 degrees and wind chills around 20. Disney should have brought in some standing heaters.

  • You actually make it appear really easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really one thing which I think I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very vast for me. I am looking forward on your next post, Ill attempt to get the hang of it!