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Disney World's crowds are thinning. Growing competition — and cost — may be to blame.

Disney World attendance appears to drop
Disney World crowds appear to be getting smaller 06:05

Disney World's crowds are getting smaller, signaling that the high entry costs to the theme park as well as competition from other destinations may be taking a toll on attendance, Wall Street Journal reporter Jacob Passy told CBS News. 

"We specifically looked at July 4, which over history has always been a fairly peak day for the parks," Passy said, noting that he looked at data from a company called Touring Plans, which tracks wait times at top amusement parks. "The wait times were significantly lower this year than in previous years."

Touring Plans' data showed that July 4 was the third-slowest day in the past year at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida. Meanwhile, wait times at Disney's Magic Kingdom in the state were an average of 27 minutes on July 4, down from 47 minutes in 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The entertainment giant may be battling a few issues, including parents' increasing wariness of spending more than $100 per day for a ticket to Disney World. Intense competition from rival destinations, especially as pandemic restrictions have eased across the globe, may also be playing a role, Passy noted. 

"Florida was one of the first parts of the country to benefit from one of those post-COVID booms," he said. "They started getting people much earlier than other destinations, and now they are having to compete with cruise lines and with folks who want to travel to Europe."

In May, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro said at an investor conference that the company expected "to see some moderation in the demand at Walt Disney World." But he pointed to lower attendance following Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration, which ended in April 2023.

Disney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Tourist tax revenue is down this year across several Florida counties, suggesting that the issue isn't specific to Disney World, but could point point competition more broadly for tourism dollars from other locations. And wait times at Disney World rides have inched back up, according to one theme park expert, Robert Niles, who tweeted about wait times of more than 80 minutes for popular rides like Space Mountain.

Feud with DeSantis

At the same time, Disney World is embroiled in a fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has orchestrated a takeover of Disney World's theme park district after the company opposed a state law that critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay." That law restricts teachers from discussing gender identity and topics surrounding sexuality in the classroom.

In late April, Disney sued DeSantis, alleging the governor waged a "targeted campaign of government retaliation" because of its opposition to the law.

Disney scraps $1 billion Florida development plan amid tensions with DeSantis 01:39

But it's difficult to quantify whether the culture war battles between Disney and DeSantis are scaring away visitors, Passy noted. 

"I would say that there are probably some folks that are turned off for various reasons, but I would hesitate to suggest that is the main driver of any trends we are seeing at Disney World right now," he said.

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