Is Walt Disney World's attendance down in 2023 so far?

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A new report is making its way around the internet claiming that attendance at Walt Disney World's theme parks in Orlando, Florida is trending downward. Touring Plans, a trip planning company that tracks wait times at theme parks, sounded the alarm by pointing out that queue times across Disney's parks, both in Florida and California, were down year-over-year.

Touring Plans specifically noted that wait times at Disney's parks during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which is typically a busy season for travel and tourism in Florida, were down across the board.

At Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the average wait time on July 4 was just 27 minutes compared to 31 minutes the year prior. At EPCOT, it was 27 minutes compared to 35 minutes last year. Hollywood Studios' wait time average was just 18 minutes, down considerably from 44 minutes in 2022. And lastly, Animal Kingdom's wait time average was 25 minutes compared to 34 minutes last year.

Going even further back to pre-pandemic times, Magic Kingdom averaged wait times of 47 minutes on July 4, 2019, according to Touring Plans. EPCOT was at 33 minutes, Hollywood Studios at 33 minutes and Animal Kingdom at 37 minutes.

After enjoying the post-COVID travel resurgence, the sudden drop in wait times across the theme parks has caused many to question if Disney's parks, experiences, and products business is starting to lose some steam. While Disney's theme parks business has been one of the few financial bright spots for the company in recent quarters, the company warned that the latter half of 2023 will see a "moderation in demand" at its domestic parks, especially when compared to last year's 50th Anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World.

Wait times alone don't necessarily translate to a massive drop in attendance, but If Disney is experiencing lower crowds it could be due to several factors. For starters, some of it could be Disney's own doing. Under former CEO Bob Chapek, Disney consistently raised its prices, from tickets to food to merchandise, while simultaneously introducing systems that complicated the park experience, such as Genie+, Lightning Lanes, and the reservation system. To me, this is the most likely reason. The constant feeling of being nickel-and-dimed and growing frustration with complicated technology took away much of the magic of the parks.

Another factor could be politically driven. Disney's ongoing feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the company's "woke" culture has alienated some on the right. Some of Disney's biggest detractors likely look at the lower attendance and attribute it to the whole "go woke, go broke" mantra, but I doubt that's the case here.

What's more likely is that increased costs, coupled with a slowdown in consumer spending have resulted in fewer families vacationing at Disney's theme parks.

Talk of slowing crowds at Disney will likely spook investors as the theme park business has been one of the company's lone bright spots. But it's important to remember, that lower attendance doesn't necessarily mean lower profits. The whole goal under Chapek was to thin the crowds by essentially pricing many families out, resulting in a better park experience with shorter wait times for those who could actually afford it.

The idea was that fewer families who spend more would offset any drop in crowds. And while the consistent price increases here and there didn't seem to be deterring visitors last year, it seems that last year's "revenge travel" phenomenon is finally starting to fade. With fears of a recession looming, many Americans are likely pulling back on vacation as they try to reign in their spending.