Fall break is one of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World. Theme park attendance increases due to federal holidays and school districts having days off, resulting in a sharp spike in crowd levels that catch many visitors by surprise. In fact, October 2023 will have weeks with some of the year’s highest wait times in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios–the busiest dates since Easter!
Technically, fall break “season” has already started. Some school districts do multiple ‘student holidays’ or ‘professional development days’ for teachers in late September and October. Other colleges, universities, and K-12 school systems take longer breaks during the middle of October. It’s not just fall breaks that contribute to congestion, either; as covered in our 2023 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars, there are a variety of reasons why the next few months contain some of the busiest dates of the entire year.
Unfortunately, many Walt Disney World visitors still have a now very outdated impression of October as being one of the slowest months of the year. We say “still” because this was actually true a decade ago, but hasn’t been the case for a long time. At least, it hasn’t been consistently true. There will still be pockets of low crowds in October, but they’re getting harder to find and aren’t nearly as good as mid-August through September.
In any case, our goal with this post is to highlight the worst week of fall break that will have the highest wait times and worst crowd levels at Walt Disney World since (literally) the spring break season. That’s right–there’s a week on the horizon that we’re highly confident will be worse than any dates after Easter, surpassing every single week from May through September.
In so doing, we’ll look at school schedules for some of the largest districts that impact Walt Disney World, changes to park hours, and general travel trends for fall break to predict which dates will be “red flags” on Walt Disney World crowd calendar for October 2023. For the many of you that are already booked for that week, we’ll offer advice to help you beat the crowds to the greatest extent possible.
If you don’t already have Disney Park Pass reservations, we’d recommend that you start by making those ASAP. While Walt Disney World theme park reservation availability has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year, there will likely be many yellow–and perhaps even some grey–dates in October. The extent same thing happened last year after months of nothing but green, and we already saw our first yellow days for regular ticket holders in a long time this past weekend!
In particular, expect Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to end up being fully booked for many days in mid-October 2023. Due to being the host of the Disney100 celebration plus the opening of Moana’s Journey of Water, it’s also possible that EPCOT will end up being fully booked for some dates. (In fact, it was the park that ran out of reservations over the weekend!)
The good news is that Walt Disney World has started to extend park hours for October 2023. These extensions signal that the internal attendance forecast is elevated for at least part of the month, and this practice of extending hours happens with consistency whenever crowd levels are expected to be above-average to heavy.
The bad news is that these extensions are not (yet) for the entire month and are really more of a return to normal than anything else. Magic Kingdom is closing at 11 pm on nights when it’s not hosting Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and is opening at 8 am on days when it is. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is once again opening at 8:30 am; Animal Kingdom is opening at 8 am. Unfortunately, EPCOT is retaining its 9 am to 9 pm hours for now, even on weekends.
While this is good to see, this is simply a return to the standard summer hours and what was normal during the entirety of last year’s Party Season at Walt Disney World–even the slowest parts of September. Normally, some of these hours would be further extended for peak dates, especially since MNSSHP causes major disruptions to crowd dynamics. We’re still hoping that EPCOT and Magic Kingdom might see even more extensions; watch the DisneyWorld.com calendar’s month view for updates.
As you can see from looking at that calendar, the timeframe that has seen the most extensions is October 6 to October 14, 2023. (Our guess/hope is that the following week will also soon see extensions.) This particular week-plus will be bad due to the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday long weekend, plus extended fall breaks.
On top of that, the weather is typically improving–drawing more locals to the parks. And even though Walt Disney World will have been celebrating Halloween for almost 2 months at that point, it’s the heart of the Halloween season, and more people will actually want to experience that now that the holiday is closer and the weather finally feels like autumn.
Similarly, there will be more of an appetite for strolling around World Showcase and grazing from the 2023 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival booths now that the temperatures are more tolerable. That always happens, but this year, the kickoff of Disney100 and EPCOT overhaul nearing completion will further contribute to crowds.
In the end, that’s likely to be one of the top 10 worst weeks of the entire year as measured by wait times, and even worse when it comes to ‘feels like’ crowds and congestion. On top of that, it’ll almost certainly be the busiest stretch since spring break, so locals and fans who have grown accustomed to quieter parks will experience a bit of ‘crowd shock.’
As noted above, this catches a lot of Walt Disney World visitors by surprise–especially those who don’t have kids on break or Columbus Day off. I don’t think we know anyone who gets Columbus Day off, but a lot of Americans must not have work on that Monday, as it’s consistently busy at Walt Disney World! Additionally, a seemingly ever-increasing number of schools use Columbus Day as the basis for their fall breaks, offering an extended holiday between their first and second marking periods.
That’s actually not the case for both Osceola and Orange Counties, which are the districts in Central Florida that call Walt Disney World home. Instead, Orange County lists October 13 as the end of their first marking period and October 16, 2023 as a student holiday. Osceola County has October 12 as the end of the marking period and October 13 off. (Notably, Osceola also had a student holiday on September 22, which was likely a contributing factor to the high crowds over this past weekend.)
Even if no other district in the entire United States had fall breaks then, that long weekend would be busy at Walt Disney World due to those two local school systems. This is another thing that catches some longtime Walt Disney World fans by surprise, as local school districts did not have such an outsized impact on park attendance a decade or so ago.
However, Central Florida has seen a population explosion in the last several years, with these two counties in particular seeing an influx of remote workers and upper middle class families who visit Walt Disney World in strong numbers. As we’ve seen time and time again in the last few years, holiday breaks in Orange and Osceola Counties now have significant impacts on attendance at Walt Disney World. And in actuality, many other school districts around the United States will also have fall breaks at the beginning and end of this same week.
We don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to comb through the schedules of every single school district in the United States. If we did, it would probably reveal a range of breaks in October 2023, but with the majority occurring October 6-16, 2023.
Nevertheless, there are a several specific districts in Florida that are among the largest in the country and have an outsized impact on attendance at Walt Disney World. What’s interesting is how many of these districts have late fall breaks or student holiday dates as compared to the Northeast and Midwest:
- Miami-Dade County Public Schools: October 26-30, 2023
- Broward County Public Schools: October 23-24, 2023
- Hillsborough County Public Schools: October 16, 2023
- Palm Beach County Public Schools: October 13, 2023
- Duval County Public Schools: October 16, 2023
Here are other major school districts and their fall break dates that could impact crowd levels at Walt Disney World:
- Houston Independent School District: October 13, 2023
- Gwinnett County Public Schools: October 5-9, 2023
- Chicago Public Schools: October 9, 2023
- Fairfax County Public Schools: October 9, 2023
Again, this is a very incomplete list. Notably, there’s very little representation from the Northeast and Midwest. This is not to say that New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, etc. don’t have a huge impact on crowds.
Based on past precedent with crowds and reader feedback from parents, the majority of school districts that feed into Walt Disney World crowds have fall break the same week–beginning or end–as Columbus Day.
One of the lessons Walt Disney World fans should learn from Jersey Week is that school breaks in even a single Northeast or Midwest state can have an outsized impact on crowds. Same idea with fall break, except it’s not just a single state–many have breaks in mid-October.
Additionally, our focus here is on K-12 school districts, but universities have fall breaks that can cause slight spikes to attendance. Colleges usually have less of an impact on Walt Disney World crowds due to age demographics, but they don’t have zero impact. Notable examples include Florida State University, University of Florida, University of Central Florida–you get the idea.
If you don’t find this sufficiently persuasive, how about some context based on last year’s crowd levels (courtesy of thrill-data.com). Average wait times spiked sharply on October 7, jumping to 50 minutes for a 9/10 crowd level. Just one week prior was still the off-season, and the average wait time was 30 minutes (1/10 crowd level).
The peak of those crowds occurred October 7-17 when almost every day had 9/10 crowd levels and average wait times of 47-50 minutes. Daily wait time averages fluctuated and fell the following week, but we’re still high overall and especially as compared to the two previous months. Crowd levels remained elevated through October 24, after which point they dropped to off-season lows at the beginning of November. (Another spike soon followed for Veterans’ Day.)
The high fall break crowds last October spanned portions of 3 weeks, which had average wait times of 43-47 minutes (crowd levels of 7/10 to 9/10). It was a sharp contrast the previous 7 weeks, spanning back to mid-August, during which time crowd levels never eclipsed 3/10. The peak week of fall break ended up being busier than Easter week last year–the worst week of the year since the end of March.
I think it’s unlikely that this year’s fall break peak surpasses Easter 2023. That week had 54 minute wait times on average (10/10 crowd levels) and, in retrospect, was the “last hurrah” for pent-up demand. It was also one of the very few weeks in 2023 that was busier than its prior-year counterpart.
By contrast, pretty much every single week since Easter has underperformed in 2023. For fall break to be the busiest week since then, all it would need to do is have an average wait time of 41 minutes or higher. There are only two weeks that have hit the 40-minute mark since Easter–the week immediately after Easter and the last week of July. Otherwise, the comps are pretty favorable and easy for fall break to beat.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple weeks in October 2023 cross the 40 minute threshold. There’s even an outside chance that could start this week and run for the entirety of October. Over this last weekend, Walt Disney World saw its busiest consecutive two days since late July, with average wait times of 44 minutes on both Saturday and Sunday. (More on the noteworthiness of this in a minute.)
Based on both past precedent and current circumstances, we anticipate that October 6 through October 16, 2023 will be the busiest week-plus of fall break at Walt Disney World and one of the the 10 worst ‘weeks’ of the year. Expect daily crowd levels of 7/10 to 10/10 at every park during this date range, with 8/10 and 9/10 being the most common crowd levels if last year is any indication.
We highly recommended anyone with flexibility avoid those travel dates. Even though few, if any, school districts have the entire week off, there’s enough of a “patchwork” of breaks (and plenty of parents will pull their kids out for longer) that it’ll likely be bad. Much of this should be restating what you already know–this has been a ‘red flag’ on our October Crowd Calendar for a while, and made our list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023 to 2025.
Next, let’s talk wildcards. As discussed in Best & Worst Days to Do All Parks at Walt Disney World in 2023 (and elsewhere), weekends have been ‘wonky’ at Walt Disney World this year, and much slower than the historical norm. However, we’ve been highly skeptical that this trend would continue for October through December. There are a bunch of reasons for that–the increased frequency of MNSSHP and MVMCP, better weather, out of state APs/DVC Members taking long weekend getaways to WDW, and probably other variables I’m forgetting.
Well, if the 8/10 crowd levels over this past weekend (September 23-24) are any indication, the slower weekend trend is coming to an end…at least for the rest of 2023. It’s too early to make any definitive proclamations here, as one weekend is hardly a ‘trend.’ But this does lend a bit of credence to what we were expecting, and it’s likely this will continue to varying degrees from October through early January 2024.
Conversely, there’s a new Florida Resident Weekday Ticket Deal for Fall & Holidays 2023 that blocks out weekends. There are also a ton of lower-tier Annual Passes in circulation that aren’t valid on weekends. Those coupled with the higher costs of visiting on Saturdays and Sundays could cause weekends to remain slower.
Speaking of the new Floridian ticket deal…although that’s blocked out on all weekends, it isn’t blocked out for the peak weekdays of fall break. The end result of that is wait times could spike across the board for fall break, but disproportionately during weekdays when the discounted ticket is valid. It’s hard to say how things will play out, but given that fall breaks tend to be shorter and anchored to weekends, our guess is that Saturdays and Sundays will be worse than they’ve been all year.
Then there are some soft indicators of heavier crowds for fall break. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is sold out for every single October 2023 date. That alone is pretty unremarkable, as the same thing happened last year and for most of 2019, plus 2021 with Boo Bash. What’s more noteworthy is that October 2023 dates sold out even faster than last year despite pent-up demand otherwise being exhausted and average ticket prices being higher. Although it hasn’t happened yet, we’d expect many/most Halloween Horror Nights dates in October to sell out, too.
Additionally, on-site resort options are incredibly limited for the peak of fall break at Walt Disney World. Unless you break your stay into two-day increments…hope you like Coronado Springs or Port Orleans! It’s a similar story for the resorts at Universal Orlando, and even off-site accommodations (which have been increasingly abundant) are booking up for some dates.
Finally, we previously speculated that the official opening date for Moana’s Journey of Water (October 16, 2023) was chosen strategically so that it would miss the worst of fall break crowds at Walt Disney World. As was evidenced over the weekend, Journey of Water will need to use a virtual queue when demand is too high–due to lack of sufficient space for a standby line. This suggests that internal forecasts call for the peak of fall break crowds starting to wind down by October 16, 2023.
Before you worry too much or debate cancelling, let’s talk beating the crowds. First, remember how we discussed extended park hours at the top of the post? Well, those added hours are incredibly advantageous–especially the earlier opening times since most travelers don’t want to do the early wake-up call on vacation.
For like the tenth time in the last couple of weeks, choosing the optimal days to do DHS and Magic Kingdom–and then taking advantage of Early Entry at both parks–is huge. Do not understand Early Entry, or visiting those parks on days that are likely to be less crowded. It’s a similar story with Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom in the evenings.
By simply arriving early or staying late at every park, you can beat the worst of the midday crowds. (Of course, that’s “simple” in theory but more difficult in practice, especially if you have small children. That’s a big reason why wait times are lower first thing in the morning and later in the evenings.) Beyond that, be sure to also check out our Walt Disney World Itineraries for plans of attack, including options with and without Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.
Suffice to say, it’s entirely possible to beat bad crowds by utilizing Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, rope drop, etc. We cover the best & worst approach for each park in Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World. If you’re only going to read one planning post, make it that. There are great ways to beat the crowds–even on busy days–without buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes.
Speaking of which, we have a ~4,500 word Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ for those who want to thoroughly master paid FastPass. Weeks like this, it’s definitely a good option for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. (We seldom recommend Genie+ at Animal Kingdom, and that remains true during fall break, too.)
Overall, that’s about what you can expect to experience during Fall Break 2023 at Walt Disney World. Expect elevated ‘feels like’ crowds starting pretty much right now, and continuing until the end of October 2023. Based on historical precedent, this week won’t be terrible and neither will closer to Halloween–the worst crowds will be October 6-16, 2023.
We aren’t completely confident that the last week-plus of October will have the same degree of slowdown as last year, given the number of large Florida school districts that have breaks at the end of the month. (I’m going to assume that a lot of districts also had fall breaks during the same time frames last year, though.) Regardless, it still should be as bad as the peak, and there will be a brief slowdown at the start of November before the holiday season kicks into high gear.
In the end, we wouldn’t necessarily avoid fall break ‘season’ if you have a school-aged child and have no better options outside of the big holiday breaks in the final quarter of the year. There’s a very good chance all of those (Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s) will be just as bad or worse than fall break. Just be aware that attendance levels will be higher than they’ve been from mid-April through late September. As always, crowd levels at Walt Disney World have been increasing across the board and still surprise us from time to time. Nevertheless, we’re reasonably confident in this fall break forecast.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you visited Walt Disney World during fall break in the past? What did you think of the crowds? Are you visiting this year? Any other major school districts have extended fall breaks in mid-October? Anything else we missed that could impact crowds in October 2023? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our Fall Break 2023 Crowd Forecast for Walt Disney World? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!