Why Disney Parks Really Seem Empty This Summer, Experts Say
Several factors are contributing to Disney looking a lot less crowded this summer.
Disney has made its parks premier travel destinations. But getting the chance to experience that Disney magic does have its fair share of downsides. Besides the hefty price tag, visitors have also come to expect that they'll need to battle intense crowds due to the year-round popularity of these parks. Over the course of the last several weeks, however, new reports from Disney guests suggest that's not the case this summer. Has park attendance really plummeted? And if so, what's causing the sharp drop-off? One travel expert is now saying the truth is more complicated than it seems. Read on to find out why Disney parks really seem empty this summer.
Recent visitors have spoken out about "empty" Disney parks.
The summer vacation season is in full swing, but social media posts have painted a concerning picture for Disney. During the Fourth of July weekend, various park guests went online to comment on the lack of crowds.
"I am here on vacation and we've been to all four Disney parks and both Universal parks since Saturday: I've been extremely surprised by the short wait times," one person tweeted on July 4 in response to a user who posted pictures of wait times that were as low as five minutes for certain attractions.
"We have lightning lane but still. Hollywood studios was a ghost town this morning. Epcot was very empty Sunday," they added in their tweet.
In a popular Reddit thread, others indicated that the parks were equally empty during the weekend leading into the holiday.
"Hollywood Studios was absolutely dead tonight, the Saturday before the 4th of July," one person wrote on July 1.
Another user added, "We were at Epcot and rarely waited over 30 minutes for anything in the park."
But the truth may be a bit more complicated.
In a new article for The Points Guy, travel news writer Tarah Chieffi says that Disney parks are "far from a ghost town this summer," despite recent reports.
Chieffi spent the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World with her family and experienced typical holiday scenes at the theme park, including tightly-packed crowds for the fireworks show, and Magic Kingdom wait times that passed 60 minutes for popular attractions.
"And even before I even stepped through the gates that morning, theme park reservations for Magic Kingdom were sold out for the day," she writes.
Chieffi says it is true that some parts of the park were not as packed as she expected—like Hollywood Studios, which she notes was "noticeably less crowded" than what she is used to on a typical summer day.
"But an afternoon of not having to dodge as heavy of crowds as we expected while pushing a stroller through Hollywood Studios before returning to a quite-busy evening at Magic Kingdom does not a ghost town make," she notes. "While I'd personally enjoy a crowd-free summer at Disney World, that's not quite the case."
There are certain reasons parks may seem emptier this summer.
This was the hottest Independence Day at Disney World in the past few years, Chieffi points out. Data from Time and Date indicates that on July 4, temperatures in the Orlando area reached a high of 95 degrees, while humidity levels climbed as high as 87 percent.
That could help explain why Thrill Data reported that wait times were lower across Disney World's four theme parks than they had been in the previous eight years.
Meanwhile, other nearby dates appeared to have wait times that were more in line with averages seen before the pandemic, per The Points Guy. Orlando-resident and frequent parkgoer Matt Roseboom, who serves as an editor and publisher at Attractions Magazine, told the news outlet that a lack of big new attractions may also be why Orlando theme parks in general seem "a bit less crowded this summer."
Disney World recently opened the new Tron Lightcycle/Run coaster this summer, while Minion Land is close to being completed at Universal's Orlando Resort. But according to Roseboom, these one-off type of attractions "just don't bring the crowds like a full Star Wars or Harry Potter land would."
There may also be an overall shift in tourism happening.
Florida was one of the first states to reopen to tourists after the COVID shutdown, and visitors flocked to Disney World as it began a phased reopening for its four Florida themes parks in July 2020, according to The Points Guy. As a result, Roseboom said that it's also likely most travelers have already gotten the "Disney itch" out of their system—causing pent-up demand for the parks to decline.
"I do think that the surge of people waiting for their Orlando vacation has passed and they are going elsewhere," Roseboom told The Points Guy. "Many people will always make Orlando their go-to vacation, but during and just after the pandemic, Orlando was an easy visit for most Americans."
Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, suggested the same when asked about the apparent decline in attendance in a July 13 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box.
"Disney opened up early during COVID … It created a huge demand and [Disney] didn't have competition because there were a number of other states that weren't open yet," he said. "There's a lot more competition today."
Now, travelers are shifting their post-pandemic summer plans away from tourism in Central Florida and back to the rest of the world.
"The big story of the summer is really Americans flocking to Europe for those that can afford it," Phillip Ballard, the chief communications officer of HotelPlanner.com, told The Points Guy in a separate story. "There's finally enough travel confidence that Americans have saved up enough money that now is the time to go to Paris or Rome."