Walt Disney World Crowds
Without a doubt, people are returning back to Walt Disney World. The question is, by how much and is it safe?
That answer is, it depends. Here's why.
Without a doubt, the vast majority of people going into the parks right now are local guests.
When the parks first opened, Annual Passholder spots were extremely limited which is why the parks were so empty. Now, local Annual Passholders are being given more park reservations which is leading to higher crowds.
Although there are some out-of-town guests, international travel through Orlando International Airport is extremely light, meaning the majority of guests are domestic travellers, and likely, those able to easily drive there.
There is A LOT (and I Mean A LOT) Still "Temporarily Available"
Many shops, and entertainment offerings are currently not operational, and there are several attractions under refurbishment. Aside from fireworks and character meet and greets, attractions are also "temporarily unavailable" Sing-Alongs, the Peoplemover, Walt Disney World Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, Liberty Square Riverboat, Club Cool, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Festival of the Lion King, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and permanent closure of Primeval Whirl.
Restaurants and shops are also still unavailable to guests which limits dining options and forces guests into a reduced number of stores.
Park Limitations + Park Offering Limitations = Appearance of Higher Crowds
What does this mean? Park capacity limitations and park offering limitations artificially make crowds appear higher than they actually are.
As more opens up, the appearance of crowd sizes will slowly start to go down (assuming park reservation capacity is not increased) since guests will get "eaten up" by the increased offerings.
To determine the "return of guests", the best indicators are the number of flights (particularly international flights since foreign visitors make up 20% of park attendance) out of Orlando International Airport and room capacity at Disney Resort Hotels. As long as resort hotels remain closed and those that are being offered at discounted rates, it's safe to assume that local guests are making up the majority of visitors (hence the extended hours to get them to eat in the park as opposed to going home to make dinner).
So, to answer the question on crowd size, they are larger but the majority are through Annual Passholder reservations made by local people who drive to the parks and go home on the same day. Until we see all attractions, shops, dining options, and resort hotels open and the same crowd sizes pre-pandemic, it's safe to say park capacity is reduced and crowds are lower. We'll just never know by how much unless Disney shares that information with us.