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Crowds pack Disney World theme parks for spring break

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Published: April 9, 2009 at 12:01 PM

My sources are telling me that crowds are slamming the Walt Disney World theme parks in Florida this week, with the Magic Kingdom closing its parking lot at times, and cars being redirected to overflow lots at the other Disney theme parks.

The week before Easter traditionally is the busiest of the Spring Break weeks for theme parks. Here in Southern California, I found a large crowd at Knott's Berry Farm when I visited earlier this week.

I've yet to hear reports about crowds at Universal Orlando, though I am sure one of you will help me out with that, in the comments.

If you've been reading the site in the past, you'll know that parks have been dreading this year, given the lousy state of the U.S. economy. Disney World, in particular, has discounted heavily on hotel and food packages and (this is key) promoted those discounts relentlessly. That strategy appears to be paying off, with large crowds coming to Central Florida this week.

The Central Florida theme parks do not release attendance data, so we can't know for certain how this year's attendance matches with previous years. (Some general information about park attendance trends will become available when Disney and Universal release their 10-K reports for the quarter, later this year. Those are the reports corporations that issue public stock are required to file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission every three months, detailing the company's financial status and outlook.)

But big crowds are good things for theme parks. What are you seeing at the parks you've attended this week?

Update: When the parks are packed, it's a perfect time to try one of our four hour tour plans. They'll help you get some of the biggies, early in the day.

Readers' Opinions

From Deidre Dennis on April 9, 2009 at 12:24 PM
Everything I've heard and seen the parks have been packed. Not necessarily more than previous years, but generally around the same. It seems that people are continuing on with their vacation plans despite our weak economic times. I think more and more people are planning well in advance to help offset some of those costs.

We go in June for 10 days and I'm anxious to see what the attendance is like. It was packed when we went before and I'm expecting much of the same. Just gotta take advantage of getting there early, using those FastPasses, Express Passes and Quick Queue passes at other parks, which isn't anything new for us as we always try to maximize our time on vacation.

Glad to see that parks are still doing strong.

From 208.60.177.25 on April 9, 2009 at 12:44 PM
I went to Epcot on Tuesday. The park was the busiest I have ever seen! I tried doing your Epcot 4 hour tour, but failed honorably. Mission: Space had a 65 min wait by 9:30 AM, and Soarin had a wait of at least 2 hours all day, and a 3 hour wait as we were leaving at 8:30 PM.
The fast passes were all out by 10:30 AM!
The Beirgarden Restaurant had no tables left for groups over 3 people.
This was my worst experience at Epcot ever, and I honestly feel completely ripped off.
From TH Creative on April 9, 2009 at 12:52 PM
I am sitting in my office located in a construction trailer right next to Aquatica.

The sign at the park's entrance announces the park is currently at capacity. The family tube ride looks like it is not operating. The line to the tower for the twisty, colorful. multi-slide attraction is all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.

Orlando is ROCKIN'!

From TH Creative on April 9, 2009 at 12:58 PM
I gotta tell ya, my office is located on International Drive, and the end of the line for Peter Pan's Flight is right in front of my desk.

D'OH!

From 64.132.248.114 on April 9, 2009 at 1:09 PM
I-4 past Disney is solid everyday at lunch for the past week
From Jacob Sundstrom on April 9, 2009 at 2:09 PM
I'm really glad that these parks are doing well, even with these tough economic times. Lets hope that they can keep this up!
From 72.186.144.155 on April 9, 2009 at 3:48 PM
I drove past the parking lot for Busch Gardens Tampa on wednesday at about 2pm and by then the standard parking lot and the normal overflow parking lots were both filled to capacity, the park was directing cars to a secondary overflow parking lot past Adventure Island waterpark.
From Brandon Jackson on April 9, 2009 at 3:58 PM
Reporting Live From My Orlando Hotel Room:
I come down to Orlando for vacation several times a year (mainly for Universal) and this is the busiest I've ever seen it. Were here from Monday(4-6) till Friday(4-10). Wait times have been pretty much the same all week Hulk:110mins Spiderman:90mins Jurrasic Park River Adventure:90mins The Mummy:90mins Simpsons:110mins. I read online that this week would be the 2nd busiest time of the year next to Christmas due to spring break/Easter and hoped it wouldn't be that bad due to the economy and whatnot. But it is PRETTY DAMN packed.
From 97.53.229.79 on April 9, 2009 at 4:22 PM
Just left Orlando: Hollywood Studios on Tuesday was a nightname with 2 hour waits for Toy Story (go early for this one). Crowds were so big that the park was not enjoyable. Animal Kingdom was crowed on Saturday however it was very manageable. Waited 3 hours for Soarin at Epcot on Wednesday, got in line arond 2:10pm left ride after 3:00pm. Good ride but not worth the wait. Magic Kingdom also was crowded on Wednesday but was able to ride most rides before 9:30 because we got there so early. Went to Epcot and then back to Magic Kingdom around 9:00pm and was able to ride everything but Space Mountain. My advice - be there waiting on them to open the gates and then go back to the room and sleep and visit later in the day when the families with small kids leave. Good luck.
From James Rao on April 9, 2009 at 4:49 PM
Just an FYI - crowd expectations for May at WDW are way up as well. Generally early May is a good time to travel to the world, but not this year. Expect crowds just slightly smaller than peak summer time.

All those big discounts sure seem to be paying dividends now.

From Anthony Murphy on April 9, 2009 at 5:07 PM
Guests at my Disney Store that just came back and said it was packed!
From Joshua Counsil on April 9, 2009 at 5:40 PM
Update on TH's post:

The Peter Pan line has now reached my home in Kingston, Ontario. Disney is currently collaborating with MIT and NASA to get an approximate wait time. The next available FastPass return time is between 10:05 AM and 11:05 AM Tuesday March 9, 2010.

From Jason Kwan on April 9, 2009 at 7:59 PM
My sister went to Typhoon Lagoon last Tuesday and told me that there were like 50 cars in the parking lot. And she finished everything there within two hours.
From TH Creative on April 10, 2009 at 3:07 AM
Memo to Jason Kwan: Last Tuesday it was like 40 degrees in Orlando. Might explain why Typhoon Lagoon was not-so-crowded.
From TH Creative on April 10, 2009 at 8:47 AM
Aquatica Line Update: Healthy lines going up the stairs to the family raft ride (which is now working again) and the swirly multi-tube, rainbow slides.
From 173.79.126.168 on April 11, 2009 at 3:46 PM
I spent from April 3-9 in Disney Saratoga Springs> The parks were ok the firts few days, but worse than ever the last days of our stay. Getting to the parks early, and staying late was the only way to get to top attractions. It is amazing how Space Mountain continues to pack them in after 34 years...Even with the Magic Kingdom open every night this week till 1AM thre are 30 minute lines for it at 12:30!! Sorin at EPCOT is the longest line for an experience that is a tad better than an IMAX film...but certainly not worth the wait. There were two days with rather cold weather (Tuesday and half of Wed) that explains why the water parks were empty and the dry parks FULL> i did not get the impression we are going through the worse economic crisi since the great depression...far from it!
From Vincent S on April 12, 2009 at 7:54 AM
Disney always gets their line times wrong. Usually if Soarin says there is a 90 min wait, that really means its a 110 min wait. However rides like Test Track will say 60 min wait, but yet its only 45-50 mins. Heck the single rider line at Test Track could say 20 mins, but that really only means 10 mins.
From 24.11.187.48 on April 12, 2009 at 5:51 PM
The lines were definitely incredible the week of 4/3/09-4/11/09. As experienced Disney travelers, we had difficulties doing all that we wanted even with extra magic. It would be interesting to see statistics related to capacity days for the past few years. Easter overlaps with other spring breaks definitely increase the numbers. We for sure will make alternate plans the next time this happens for us.
From 76.244.156.19 on April 14, 2009 at 7:16 AM
I took my family to Disney World Orlando for our first trip 4/3 - 4/10, and it was the most exhausting vacation of my life. It was hard to walk without stepping on a person! I was told by several veterans that the crowds were the biggest they had ever seen. On the 8th, the Magic Kingdom crowd was 7,000 over capacity, and they started turning people away. (This was told to me by an employee.) We did all 4 parks in 4 days, then slept til noon on Wednesday :) We will never do Disney again at Spring Break. The only thing that saved us from completely unraveling was the fact that it was my son's birthday, so we used the fast passes at Magic Kingdom on the 7th. We were able to use the bday fastpasses to ride space mountain 2x, when there were no fast passes left (yay!) That was the only park that had any worthwhile rides with fast passes available. After our day off, we did Epcott again, and saw the World Showcase--amazing! Disney is definitely awesome, just wish we had done it a different time of the year.
From 71.62.12.83 on April 14, 2009 at 5:54 PM
We also went for our first time, during this awful week of the 4-11th of April. My wife and I describe it as waiting to go into a large concert, going through the gates, and then turning around and leaving the stadium, again and again all day. This was just getting from one place to another. I can't say I'll ever return- however, and this is what makes Disney special, the kids had a ball. They didn't even notice or care.... But it was a tremendous strain on the parents.
From 24.64.223.204 on April 14, 2009 at 8:40 PM
Dam, i rarely go anywhere and figured this would be a good year for Disneyworld etc. I already have to battle claustrophobia to get on the rides, long lines makes it worse. I hope things calm down around there by April 28. Any updates on the crowds? Thanks.

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