Magic Kingdom Wait Time Trends In September – Is ‘Busy’ The New ‘Normal’?

September has always been the least crowded month of the year at Disney World although a quick look at Magic Kingdom in 2015 shows that crowds have been much more substantial than usual. Historically, the average daily crowd level in September is ‘3’ but this year so far only five days have hit that level or below. In August, our crowd level predictions were accurate within one index point 75% of the time so it appears to be a specific issue with September. [you can see weekly reports of how the crowd calendar did here]

Magic Kingdom is busier than normal this September, especially the 13th to 25th
Magic Kingdom is busier than normal this September, especially the 13th to 24th

Interestingly the Crowd Calendar actually over-predicted the crowds leading up to the first weekend in September, likely due to higher wait times recorded during the same period last year (Labor Day Weekend, 2014). During the week before Labor Day in 2015 we saw low crowd levels as predicted. In May we responded to several questions about our Labor Day predictions and it turns out we were right. However Labor Day itself was much more crowded than usual and we under-predicted the wait times that weekend.

We also under-predicted the crowd levels during Rosh Hashanah (September 13 – 15, 2015). The last time that Rosh Hashanah occurred over a Monday was 2012 and the Magic Kingdom crowd levels that weekend were as follows:

  • Friday, September 14, 2012 was a ‘1’
  • Saturday, September 15, 2012 was a ‘4’
  • Sunday, September 16, 2012 was a ‘3’
  • Monday, September 17, 2012 was a ‘3’
  • Tuesday, September 18, 2012 was a ‘2’

Before that, the last time Rosh Hashanah was over a Monday was 2008 and the crowds were similarly low. It is interesting to note that in both 2012 and 2008 the U.S. economy was struggling. Clearly, we have not seen Rosh Hashanah crowds like this before.

The Crowd Calendar predicted the Magic Kingdom crowd levels well on September 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 so the what happened between September 16 and September 24, 2015?

We know from our wait time modelling techniques that the increase cannot be due to anything that we know about, otherwise the Crowd Calendar would have predicted crowd levels much higher. School schedules in 2015 are about the same as previous years, park schedules are pretty much the same, Free Dining has been around for years and the weather in September has been normal. So, it’s not that.

Disney World Wait Times in 2015
Disney World Wait Times in 2015

It doesn’t seem to be an issue unique to Magic Kingdom either. We see a similar upward trend in other parks although to a lesser extent at Epcot. Throughout September our average miss at Epcot is one index level and we have over-predicted as much as under-predicted, so Epcot looks relatively normal. It also may not be an exclusive issue to September although it has been much more noticeable this month, when we usually see lots of ‘1’s and ‘2’s, not ‘6’s and ‘7’s. But as mentioned, we didn’t see as many misses in August as we did in September so if wait times are up overall in 2015 then the impact has been greater in September for some reason.

It does seem to be unique to Walt Disney World however since we do not see an equivalent increase in crowds at Universal Orlando Resort. One could argue that comparing Universal crowds in 2015 to those in 2014 may not be an apples to apples comparison given the influx of Harry Potter fans to Diagon Alley last year but the lack of a strong upward trend there is interesting none-the-less.

Wait time trends in 2015 at Universal Orlando don't look that different to historical averages
Wait time trends in 2015 at Universal Orlando don’t look that different to historical averages

So we know :

  • Crowds are up at Walt Disney World but not as significantly at Epcot and not at all at Universal
  • The upward trend was greatest between September 16 to 24 at Magic Kingdom
  • The trend is likely not due to normal factors that we know about like park schedules, weather or holidays

We also know that Visit Orlando reports hotel occupancy is up in 2015 (January – July) across all regions of Orlando, and in some cases is up significantly (11.9% in Kissimmee West). Orlando International Airport also shows an increase in the number of passengers processed in 2015, up 7.4% compared to 2014. Both of these statistics point to an overall increase in the number of people visiting Central Florida but that doesn’t help explain why the impact has not been felt at Epcot nor at Universal Orlando.

Notice that the Crowd Calendar has correctly predicted (within one index point) two of the previous three days on the chart at the top of this article. Perhaps crowds will begin to flatten out to normal historical levels now that October is approaching. We will certainly be watching closely to see what happens next.

 

Fred Hazelton

Fred Hazelton maintains the crowd calendar, theme park wait time models and does hotel rate analysis for the Unofficial Guides. He's also done the models for the new mobile wait times product Lines. Fred Hazelton is a professional statistician living in Ontario, Canada. His email address is fred@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @DisneyStatsWhiz.

29 thoughts on “Magic Kingdom Wait Time Trends In September – Is ‘Busy’ The New ‘Normal’?

  • September 29, 2015 at 3:54 am
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    Perhaps you could use all of your data mining to determine the number of websites that highly recommend September as the best time of the year to go. Lol… This is the very reason that we go in Sept every few years. The number of people planning trips based on this advice might actually be moving the needle on crowd levels. I am going first week of Feb, and it isn’t as highly recommend on most websites, so I expect the crowds to be more typical.

  • Pingback:Disney World Crowd Calendar Report - September 20 to 26, 2015 - TouringPlans.com Blog | TouringPlans.com Blog

  • September 29, 2015 at 6:39 am
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    For now, busy is the new normal for WDW. I think this goes down again when the next economic downturn hits especially if it hits in the next year or two. If a Economic downturn happened in the next year or so, I don’t think Disney world will be ready for it with a major new attraction. The next major attraction (Frozen is a B or C ticket) is probably going to be when Avatar opens in late 2017.

  • September 29, 2015 at 7:25 am
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    We’re in the World right now, and staying at Pop Century. When I went to the front desk to get our room changed, while we were waiting for the computer to tell us what was available the CM said that they were super full right now. When I asked if they knew why, like if there was a.m. event or something going on, they said they had no idea why it was so busy at this time of year. They were just as confused as we were on why there was so many people.

    • September 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm
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      Ah, good to know. We have hotel occupancy numbers from a few Disney resorts, and they’re about the same as 2014 so far. But the values are always the first to fill. 🙂

  • September 29, 2015 at 7:31 am
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    We read on lots of planning sites that September was the best time to go due to low attendance. We were there this May 21-28 and it wasn’t busy the first part of our trip. We never “walked on” to any rides, but it wasn’t unbearable. We just took a short trip from Sept 22-27th. It was busy. The only time we walked on to a ride was the night of the Tuesday MNSSHP. I am aware we were there the first weekend of FWF and Friday was busy at Epcot but not terrible. Saturday, however, was awful and we couldn’t even get to a food booth to try anything. It was the first time I have seen a CM in Epcot taping the ground with arrows so people would flow more efficiently. We were there last October during the Columbus day holiday and I thought that was crowded. Wrong! We were actually planning on going back during that time this year, but after reading over and over that September was the best time to go we thought we would try it. I love WDW so crowded or not we always have a good time.

  • September 29, 2015 at 8:29 am
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    One factor on the rise that may be worth considering is the increasing number of families who homeschool. While the September surge likely has many factors, homeschoolers likely plan to attend when public school crowds would be unable to do so. Just a thought.

    • September 29, 2015 at 12:24 pm
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      Good idea. We don’t have an easy way to track that, but we’ll talk about it.

    • September 29, 2015 at 12:52 pm
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      Homeschooling and being self-employed gives us a lot of flexibility in our travel. That’s why when we have gone to Disney, it’s been in the second or third week of September. This year was a real disappointment with regard to crowd level compared to our ’12 trip in the same week of September.

  • September 29, 2015 at 10:37 am
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    We did the Rosh Hashana break in 2012& 2013, it wasn’t bad at all. But since then, we have noticed that a lot of our friends who aren’t teachers or Jewish, have taken that time to go on nice quick vacations.

    • September 29, 2015 at 7:51 pm
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      That’s good to hear Gus, that confirms what we have seen as well.

  • September 29, 2015 at 11:04 am
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    We have been AP for years and we always take multiple trips in September. It has been steadily getting busier (or at least feeling busier) the last few years. We just got back from a trip that was just plain crowded. We waited 35 minutes in the FastPass line at Kilimanjaro Safari with both sides running normally! Now part of what makes it seem more crowded to us is the horrible new FastPass+ and a sizeable increase in the number of rides offline. We went three years without ever running into a closed ride, except for scheduled refurbishments. Now if we encounter less than 2 a day we feel lucky. This weekend we were actually in line when Pirates went down, Triceratops Spin and Dinosaur and that’s in addition to rides we avoided because they were reported closed by others. You can feel those closures push up the crowds waiting for other rides. So basically, I don’t know if crowds and wait times are actually up but as someone who has been in the World at least once a month for almost a decade, it feels like they are and that’s all the really matters to me.

  • September 29, 2015 at 11:38 am
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    More and more school districts are giving days off for the Jewish holidays in September. Many often have a teacher professional development day backed up to one of them. Add in Food and Wine, MNSSHP, and the number of websites declaring September as the “hidden gem,” and you have a much more popular month.

  • September 29, 2015 at 12:06 pm
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    More school districts in the Metro Atlanta area are going to a balanced schedule where the students get a week long break in September. It is extremely popular to schedule a WDW vacation during that time, its a pretty easy drive. We have done it twice in the past five years ourselves. We were always seeing people we knew or seeing people wearing hat/t-shirts with the local grade school/high school logos. Going through the parking lots, looked like half the cars were from the Atlanta area. Our local school was on break last week but our neighborhood was a ghost town, we knew several families that were at WDW. I have never heard someone they were planning a trip to Universal, only Disney.

    • September 29, 2015 at 12:23 pm
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      Thanks Bill! We checked school calendars for 2014 and 2015, and they’re within a percent or two of each other. So approximately the same number of students were off on each day in 2014 and 2015, other than the floating holidays Fred mentioned earlier.

  • September 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm
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    Have you considered tracking the number of Unofficial Guides sold and active touringplans.com subscriptions over the years to see if there is a correlation there as well? A correlation there certainly doesn’t equal causation by any means, but it could create an “amplifier effect.” An increase in those numbers could indicate a higher level of engagement within the broader Disney-fan universe. There are also just a lot more people using social media today than there were in 2008, so the question “what’s the best time to go to WDW?” is probably being asked more often and probably has a better chance of being answered by someone “in the know” than it was 7 years ago. There are also more Disney podcasts and other sources of media that further amplify the “September” drumbeat and make things more public that were formerly secrets. I also agree with Brandon that a lot of these may be home-schooled families based on what I see in my Facebook feed.

    Anyhow, thanks for the openness about these numbers and analysis and for letting us pontificate with you!

  • September 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm
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    Interesting, thank you Fred. Especially curious that crowds didn’t spike at Universal at the same time.

  • September 29, 2015 at 7:11 pm
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    We have spent a lot of time thinking about some of the theories mentioned here but after looking more closely at the data we have ruled most of them out. The “secret is out” theory is an interesting one – that September is recommended so often by travel sites that now people are booking more September trips. Although the Disney Travel Site community reaches thousands of people, millions go to the parks although this is one theory that if true, does not conflict with that data we have.

  • September 29, 2015 at 11:31 pm
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    Having been there on the free dining plan, we noticed this was the first time we were required to buy a package that included Park Hopper tickets.
    We park hopped for the first time…
    Could it be that then PH tickets sold to everyone on free dining caused a migrating crowd to drive up Crowd levels at certain times/parks?

    Just a thought.

  • September 29, 2015 at 11:37 pm
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    After being surprised a couple of times by high crowds in September, I talked to a cast member in the Magic Kingdom who said they were surprised too. She picked up a lot of unexpected overtime.

    • September 30, 2015 at 9:27 am
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      We’re hearing the same thing. Good to know. Thanks Beth!

  • September 30, 2015 at 8:56 am
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    Not criticism intended here, but could it be FastPass Plus? The way I understand the wait times, if FP+ is pushing up wait times at certain attractions, doesn’t that drive up the “busy-ness”?

    • September 30, 2015 at 9:26 am
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      Good idea, Brian. We’re checking on this too.

  • September 30, 2015 at 8:59 am
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    I agree that it was more crowded than I expected to see during our September 9-13 visit, however it was much better than late May . I have noticed several sponsored Facebook posts titled “The Best Time to go to WDW” and I do think that has an impact when millions of people read/share.

  • September 30, 2015 at 1:22 pm
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    One question for the Touring Plans Group: Do you have any advanced access to WDW hotel capacity and Restaurant Reservations? Of course, if the CMs at the hotels are surprised by the crowds, then I don’t know how much better Touring Plans can predict. I was just wondering if an upward trend in September reservations made at the beginning of the year would alert an adjustment for Wait Times.
    Another “thank you” for all your work, which benefits entire families; yet, only we Alpha Planners truly appreciate. In the big picture of the entire cost of a vacation, your subscription price far and away continues to return the greatest value.

  • October 3, 2015 at 6:23 pm
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    Today (Oct. 3) you predicted a 3 at EPCOT but the park was packed to a ridiculous level. We knew something was up when we arrived and all the lanes to parking were open, with every booth fully staffed with two people. I asked a security guard if the crowds were expected, and he said yes due to the Food & Wine Festival. The lines for the food booths were extremely long. We couldn’t walk through World Showcase without bumping into people, it was so crowded. Could it be that the crowd calendar, being based on ride wait times, perhaps under-represents park attendance during events like Food & Wine, because people are there to eat/drink and not ride?

    • October 3, 2015 at 6:43 pm
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      Thanks for using the site, Beth!

      Yes, that’s exactly it. That’s why during Food & Wine, we put the following text on every day of the daily crowd calendar for Epcot:

      “NOTE: These estimates are only based on wait times. The crowd estimates do NOT factor in the Food & Wine Festival.”

      That includes today: http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/crowd-calendar/date/2015-10-03.

      Len

      • October 3, 2015 at 7:15 pm
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        Ah! I had not clicked through to the daily crowd calendar. I was looking at this one: http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/crowd-calendar (which doesn’t mention Food & Wine at all, I don’t think? Maybe I’m just not seeing it.) Well, F&W made a HUGE difference. I wonder if the crowds will die down after awhile or whether we should just avoid EPCOT for the duration.

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