In 2022, we saw a BIG surge in crowds at Disney World. Disney executives said that the parks were more in demand than ever, and they weren’t wrong. In fact, only recently have we seen a glimpse of the normal ebb and flow of crowds that we’re used to seeing throughout the year.
Now that 2023 is here, we’re wondering if this trend will continue or if there will be a drop-off in crowd levels. As popular as Disney World is, we have some very good reasons why crowd levels may drop this year. Let us tell you why.
Although we can’t predict the future with any kind of certainty, we can make some good guesses about upcoming Disney World crowds based on previous patterns, current trends, and the conversation about Disney happening in news media and on social media platforms. Based on these factors and what we’ve seen so far this year, we’ve found 5 reasons that crowds in Disney World might slow down in 2023.
First, we’re looking at a travel trend that meant BIG crowds in Disney in 2022 and could lead to a huge dip this coming year.
Revenge Travel Is Dying
In case you haven’t heard of this trend before, “revenge travel” is what experts called it when a lot of people went on big vacations after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began to be lifted around the world. As travel restrictions and mask mandates disappeared, people took “revenge” on the pandemic for delaying their vacation plans by going on even bigger trips.
In 2020, one travel expert said, “Americans definitely have a feeling of being trapped. And granted, it’s a strange climate in the U.S. — politically, it’s like we’re living in ‘The Twilight Zone.’ People DM me, email me and post in our comments section things like ‘I’m so ready to go! I want out of here!’” (The Washington Post).
One survey showed that people became anxious to get out of their homes and especially to reconnect with loved ones who lived far away: “Wanting to connect with distant loved ones and a change of scenery were key factors motivating leisure travelers in all states. A craving for different surroundings was strongest among those in regions with the most severe coronavirus outbreaks” (Harris Poll).
The Washington Post reported that revenge travel began to happen in the late summer of 2020, and it really took off in the summer of 2021. However, the biggest spike in revenge travel seemed to be in the summer of 2022. By this point, most travel-related COVID-19 restrictions were gone, and many people once again felt comfortable with traveling.
But then late August 2022 hit and we saw a very unusual sight in Magic Kingdom: the ground. There were usually so many people packed into the park that you couldn’t see the ground at all, but suddenly the park felt virtually empty.
Now, late August and September are usually ideal times to visit Disney World, as many people are returning to work and school after summer vacations. However, in 2020 and 2021 we didn’t see the usual dip in crowds, which we attributed to this new trend of increased travel. In 2022, that lull finally returned.
Could that mean that revenge travel has reached an end? People have time to go on their big “revenge” vacations and may now feel satisfied with their usual routine of smaller or fewer trips each year.
Over the holiday season in 2022, crowds grew and the parks filled to capacity once again.
DVC Members Have Used Stocked Points
The Disney Vacation Club is essentially a timeshare program that’s just for Disney World. DVC members get a certain number of points to use each year, and they can spend those points to “purchase” stays at various DVC hotels on Disney property. They must use or bank their points each year or the points will expire and be wasted.
When the Disney World parks closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney allowed DVC members to pause the timeline of using their points for the duration of the closure. Those points would roll over to be used later on, once the parks were open again.
However, the policy that the points timeline would be paused ended as soon as the parks reopened. That meant that a LOT of DVC members needed to use their points within the next year (2020 to 2021) in order to prevent the points from expiring. With the option to roll over extra points ending, there was a limited window within which DVC members needed to visit Disney World or risk wasting points.
So in that next year, a lot of DVC members were in Disney World, using up their points. But now that it’s been over 2 years since the parks reopened, that surge of visitors due to the DVC points dilemma has slowed. DVC members can once again return to their normal routine of visiting Disney World.
People Might Be Burnt Out
We already mentioned that revenge travel has slowed quite a bit, and part of that may be that people are feeling burnt out on travel and maybe specifically burnt out on travel to Disney World. So many people have visited in the last couple of years (demand has definitely been up), so those who have already been may delay another vacation — or at least another big, expensive vacation — for a couple more years.
One factor that could certainly contribute to Disney World burnout is the consistent stream of price increases. We’ve seen park tickets, merchandise, food, and more getting more and more expensive in Disney World. Just recently, hundreds of menu items in the parks and at the hotels got even more price increases.
Genie+ (the add-on extra that allows you to skip the line on some rides) used to be $15 flat per person, per day. Now, however, Disney World has introduced surge pricing for this add-on, which means it can get more expensive during peak times. We’ve already seen that price jump to record highs, just a day after the announcement that the pricing could change.
Other extras have also gotten more expensive, like building a droid or lightsaber in Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And some perks — like the Disney Dining Plan — have STILL not returned, so those benefits aren’t available to balance out the more expensive changes.
With what seems like a steady stream of price increases and add-ons being announced frequently, some people may simply be sick of Disney World. However, it sounds like those price increases aren’t going away anytime soon — Disney CEO Bob Chapek has said that Disney will continue to raise the prices based on consumer demand.
Are the rising prices enough to keep people out of the theme parks? Over the last couple of years, they haven’t seemed to put much of a dent in the crowds coming in. However, we may see the added expenses start to weigh more on guests’ minds.
Recession Talk May Have Some People Worried
Many people are currently worried that the U.S. economy is entering a recession. According to Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC, “There’s an 80% chance of the U.S. falling into a recession.” Some other experts are less confident in this possibility, with a CNBC study of economists, fund managers, and strategists revealing that many experts claim there’s a 52% chance that the U.S. could enter a recession sometime over the next year.
A recession could be caused by a variety of factors — Hanke blames an excess of money in the system after the government flooded the economy with stimulus checks and other relief funds. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, Economic Counsellor and Director of Research at the International Monetary Fund, told TIME that the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing war in Ukraine as the reasons for an “increasingly gloomy and uncertain outlook” of the global economy.
During a recession, a variety of factors come together to weaken the economy. It may involve less consumer spending, a cutback on salaries, a reduction of available jobs, slowing investment, and other trends that can sometimes create a circular pattern of less investment in business and thus fewer jobs available as businesses cut back on their budgets.
Some experts believe that a 2023 recession can be avoided. Former Federal Reserve economist Claudia Sahm told TIME that a fairly strong labor market may pull the economy through with less damage than others are predicting.
However, even if the U.S. avoids a recession next year, simply the threat of one can be enough to convince people to scale back on spending and stock up on savings. That might mean that a Disney World vacation has to wait.
When the U.S. economy took a hit in 2012, Disney used the time to invest more in its theme parks, which resulted in a boom in attendance once the recession was considered over in 2013, according to USA Today. This indicates that crowd levels did drop that year, which could be a predictor for 2023.
In 2008, Disney World attendance stalled, with visitor numbers staying about the same as seen in 2007. This is different from the usual trend of increasing attendance each year (The Orlando Sentinel). We may see a similar occurrence next year if recession fears continue.
Guests Are Tired of Political Drama
And the final reason we could see a drop in guest attendance next year is that many people are tired of the political drama that Disney has been wrapped up in throughout 2022. The company’s ongoing issues with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis include disagreement over the Parental Rights in Education law (commonly called the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its opponents) and the dissolution of Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.
We’ve seen both the governor and the company retaliate against one another as the drama has unfolded, and that has meant that Disney has been in the news quite a bit lately. Some guests may be getting tired of it all and could be taking a break from the parks as a result.
All of these factors could point to fewer crowds in Disney World in 2023. However, we’ve also seen that — over the last year — the price increases and political drama haven’t been enough to keep people away from the parks. Guest attendance is still up from previous years, despite all of the changes.
So far this year, we’ve seen some pretty big indicators that crowds may not be slowing down anytime soon. Genie+ sold out for the first time in Disney World, and has continued to do so time and time again when demand calls for it. Not only that, but after initially reaching a record-high price of $29 per person per day, the service increased yet again and hit $35.
It’s possible that Disney World will still be crowded if you plan to visit in 2023. If that’s the case, check out these posts to help you cope with the crowds:
- The Secret to Avoiding Disney Springs Crowds
- Genie+ Tips for the Most Crowded Days in Disney World
- 10 Tips to See Disney World Fireworks WITHOUT Crowds
- Use Mobile Order to Skip the Line at Disney World Restaurants
If you want to do some planning before your 2023 Disney World trip, check out our DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining. We’ve compiled all of our BEST tips and tricks from years of Disney World travel into one eBook that you can download to your tablet or smartphone and take with you! We’re offering our readers 25% off with code WDW2023.
Keep following DFB for more of the latest news and updates from Disney World!
Are you planning a Disney World vacation for 2023? Let us know in the comments.