Elbow room at Disney World? Families are souring on the Most Magical Place on Earth

by WorldTribune Staff, July 14, 2023

In the commercials for Disney’s Florida theme parks, guests gleefully prance through the parks with plenty of elbow room and glide onto exciting rides with no wait time.

In reality, a family of four trudge through a sea of other guests and four bottles of water are purchased (for $16) to keep them hydrated while waiting up to two hours in line to go on a ride that lasts 15 minutes.

Lately, however, it’s beginning to look more like the commercials, a report said.

“Visitors to Disney theme parks this summer are encountering something they haven’t seen in a while: elbow room,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Passy wrote in a July 10 analysis.

“Travel advisers and industry analysts say the slowdown is the latest sign that Disney’s recent price hikes and changes to park operations have soured some families on visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth,” Passy added.

In 2023, multi-Day Disney World tickets went up in price from $11 per day to $40 depending on the number of days chosen. That can mean $100 or more extra per day for a family of four.

In December of 2022, Disney introduced a park-specific pricing structure for 1-Day, 1-Park tickets. Up until that point, all four theme parks cost the exact same no matter which day you were visiting. So if you bought a ticket for Disney’s Magic Kingdom for one day, a ticket for EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom cost the exact same price.

The new 1-day ticket prices per park are:

• Magic Kingdom: $124-$189 (plus tax)
• EPCOT: $114-$179 (plus tax)
• Hollywood Studios: $124-$179 (plus tax)
• Animal Kingdom: $109-$159 (plus tax)

“Theme-park fans have loudly complained in recent years about Disney raising admission prices and eliminating free amenities,” Passy noted.

Stephanie Oprea, an Atlanta-based senior planner and director of marketing for Pixie Travel, an agency specializing in Disney vacations, says costs are giving travelers pause.

“People might be a little bit fatigued with price increases based on the economy at the moment,” Oprea says, noting that some clients have considered cruise or beach vacations rather than returning to Disney’s parks due to recent price increases.

Guests at Disney World in recent weeks have had significantly lower wait times to get on rides, according to data from Touring Plans, which tracks wait times at major amusement parks. Industry analysts say shorter wait times generally correlate with smaller crowds.

At Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, home to the blockbuster Star Wars attractions, July 4 was the third-slowest day in the past year, according to Touring Plans.

The average posted wait time at the Magic Kingdom park — which has a special fireworks display on July 4 — was 27 minutes this year for the holiday, down from 31 minutes in 2022 and 47 minutes in 2019, the Touring Plans analysis shows.

“It’s something that nobody would have predicted — just unfathomable,” said Len Testa, a computer scientist who runs Touring Plans.

The Wall Street Journal chronicled the Independence Day week of Disney World annual pass holder Jaime Brown, who lives in nearby Celebration. Brown visited the resort three times during the July 4 week, hitting all four of the resort’s parks.

When Brown visited Disney’s Epcot theme park during that stretch, she says she walked onto the Spaceship Earth attraction without waiting. On another day, she scored a last-minute breakfast reservation at Topolino’s Terrace in Disney’s Riviera Resort, which typically books out weeks in advance.

“I couldn’t believe how light the crowds were,” Brown told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the parks felt busier during a 2021 summertime visit.

The slower period at parks could extend beyond summer, says A.J. Wolfe, the owner of Disney Food Blog. Disney doesn’t have major new U.S. attractions opening soon, apart from a reimagination of the Splash Mountain ride at its Florida and California parks. Attractions based on “Frozen” are being built in Disney’s Paris and Hong Kong resorts, and a “Zootopia” attraction is due to open soon at Disney’s park in Shanghai.

Given that vacationers often visit both Disney World and the nearby Universal theme parks, Testa says some families may be holding off on visiting Central Florida in anticipation of a third theme park expected to open in 2025 at Universal Orlando Resort.

Crowds are relatively light at Universal Orlando too, travel analysts say. The average wait time with the Universal Studios Florida theme park was 28 minutes on July 4, down from 38 minutes in 2022.

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