A lot of resources exist to choose the best time to visit Walt Disney World. From statistical crowd calendars to special events schedules to park hours, and more, there’s no shortage of information to help guests make informed decisions. While Walt Disney World crowd calendars are really popular among trip planner, we believe a more holistic approach to planning when to visit based on other comfort and enjoyment factors in addition to crowd calendar stats is a more pragmatic approach to choosing dates.
Low crowds during a time when temperatures are sweltering, humidity is off the charts and there are no special events should not trump moderate crowds during a temperate time of year with a special event. Few people evaluate their vacation’s success by some statistical ‘fun quotient’, so why not do likewise when planning, and perform a qualitative analysis when choosing travel dates?
That’s our approach, at least, and one that has proven popular with readers of our When to Visit Walt Disney World post, which we felt only scratched the surface of what people should be considering before choosing their dates. To provide additional we began writing monthly guides to delve into each month in greater depth. These monthly Walt Disney World guides offer overviews of crowd levels for the month, what weather and temperatures to expect, special events occurring during the month, and historical information on the availability of discounts and pricing patterns.
In this post, we seek to offer context to the monthly guides by sharing our own variation of a crowd calendar for Walt Disney World. Not one based purely in statistics, but also in qualitative factors. The goal of our Walt Disney World crowd calendar is to rank every month and give a bit of insight into which times within the month are best…and why we like or dislike each month. Sometimes, it’s due to crowds, sometimes it’s weather or other factors. (As such, calling this a crowd calendar is a bit of a misnomer, but you get the idea.)
With all of that said, we do think crowd calendars have value, too. Unfortunately, even though we make regular trips to Walt Disney World, visiting 6 months out of the year in an average year, we don’t have the expertise to offer a day-by-day crowd calendar. Perhaps if we were locals or had strong statistical models, but we are not and do not. Instead, if you’re looking for a daily crowd calendar, we recommend checking out out TouringPlans and easyWDW for that. Both of those sites have reliable crowd calendars.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, the point of this post is to rank every month of the year for visiting Walt Disney World in light of all variables that (we feel) are important. We feel that this offers a much more helpful resource to everyone planning Walt Disney World vacations, and you can adapt it to your circumstances as you see fit.
April 6, 2017 Update: This winter (January and February) saw normal crowd levels, with slight spikes at Epcot (likely due to Festival of the Arts). This follows lower than normal crowds last summer saw lower crowds, while there were much heavier crowds in October, and some abnormal spikes in November and December.
We are anticipating a spike in crowds for Summer 2017 over last summer, with the primary causes being the opening of Pandora – World of Avatar, and increased consumer confidence in the United States. This will partially (but not entirely) be offset by lower numbers of international visitors, caused by the strength of the U.S. dollar and political uncertainty about visiting the United States.
In revising this post for 2017, we’ve also gone back and updated each of the month by month overviews taking these recent crowd trends into account. You can read more in-depth descriptions about each month by clicking the month name below, which will open that page in a new tab…
12. July – If you have no other options, perhaps you can feel better about a July trip to Walt Disney World by considering it your patriotic duty to go for Independence Day? (Just play a lot of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and pretend you’re saving Earth, Big Willie Style.) This is the worst month of the year due to the intersection of summer vacation crowds and poor weather. We present that matter of factly so you can adjust expectations accordingly and be prepared for what’s in store. Once you plan for the reality of a summer trip, remember that “even a rainy, crowded day at Walt Disney World is better than a perfect day at home” so you don’t get too down on trip. While crowds are especially bad around Independence Day, the upside there is added entertainment and special fireworks.
11. August – Feel like Mission: Space is insufficient at simulating a visit to Mars? Then you’ll love August in Walt Disney World, when every day feels like a veritable trip to the red planet! Hot, humid, stormy weather typifies August in Central Florida, and that alone makes August one of the worst months to visit. On top of that, you have summer vacation crowds for the first two-thirds of the month. The only thing that prevents August from taking the “worst” crown is the last third of the month, which sees off-season crowds, and an ever-so-slight reprieve in terms of heat.
10. June – Another summer month, another low spot on the list. The upside to June is that the bulk of the summer crowds don’t show up until mid-month, at which point crowds only worsen until around mid-August. The downside to June–in addition to the crowds and heat–is the rain. The average monthly rainfall in June at Walt Disney World is over 8+ inches, and the probability of rain on any given day is above 50%. June is the first month of the year that we see hotel choice (particularly in terms of pool-quality and proximity to the parks) really making a big difference, too.
9. April – James Franco could make a sequel to Spring Breakers set at Walt Disney World, and it would make the events of the original film seem perfectly tame. Okay, maybe not, but that doesn’t change the fact that Spring Break at Walt Disney World is a time to be avoided if you can. Ranking April is tricky. If Easter is in March, April leapfrogs both March and May as a better month. However, our current rankings are based upon 2017 dates. Given that Easter will be in April next year (and every year until 2024), it’s a month that we recommend avoiding if you don’t like long lines. The entire month will be above average, but the weeks abutting Easter will be DEFCON 1. You’d better be ready for some intense hand to hand combat when racing to Frozen Ever After at rope drop! 😉
8. May – After our descriptions for June, July, and August that weren’t exactly ringing endorsements, you might have similar worries about May. Fortunately, it isn’t nearly as bad, particularly earlier in the month. In fact, there’s a decent amount of upside as May marks the transition to summer, with park hours becoming longer and whatever new entertainment is on-tap for summer typically debuting by or before Memorial Day. Additionally, most schools are in session for the entire month of May, meaning crowds (aside from Memorial Day weekend) typically are average or below. The downside is that heat and humidity can really start intensifying in May, and this is the first month of the year during which it’s not uncommon to see the temperatures broach 90-degrees and the humidity reach high levels.
7. March – At schools that don’t use the Easter holiday as a proxy for their Spring Break dates, the bulk of these breaks fall in March. Easter does not fall in March again until 2024 (although in 2018 it’s on April 1) and most schools use Easter as a proxy for their Spring Break, meaning that March is normally the less-common Spring Break month.
Still, March is above-average in terms of crowds due to early (and college) Spring Breaks. It becomes the most crowded month on the rare years that Easter falls within the month. Aside from crowds, weather is typically temperate by March, as evidenced by the start of Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival at the beginning of the month. Regardless of the year, we are big fans of the late February, early March dates as a great time for cool weather, low to moderate crowds, and Epcot coming into bloom.
6. January – In our full post, we describe January as the “holiday hangover” at Walt Disney World, and that’s perfectly apt. It’s sort of like Walt Disney World ate too many Christmas cookies and is too lazy to get off the couch and take down the decorations, with this mentality continuing long after the tree is dead to the point where its wife is embarrassed when it finally throws out the tree. (Not that I know from experience or anything.) After the New Year’s and WDW Marathon crowds head home, it place feels hungover. The crowds are low and Christmas decorations are up long past the holiday’s conclusion–to the point that they are awkward and overdue for removal. Weather can also be quite cold, but all things considered, January is still one of the better months to go, especially after the MLK Day holiday.
5. September – When judged solely on the basis of crowds, September is arguably the best month of the year. Aside from Labor Day (which is actually less crowded than you expect), September is the closest Walt Disney World has to a “dead” month these days. It also has the start of Halloween and Food & Wine Festival seasons, which are definite plusses. The downside, and it’s a big one, is the weather. Not only can heat and humidity make being outdoors unpleasant, but it’s still a high point in the storm season. Still, it can be worth a roll of the dice to take advantage of those low crowds, especially later in the month. We’ve had visits during September with incredibly pleasant weather and little rain. That’s not the norm, but it can happen.
4. October – If we were making this list 5 or so years ago, there would have been a solid argument for placing October in the #1 spot. Markedly improved weather as compared to September plus Halloween and Food & Wine Festival in full swing. The only downside as compared to September is crowds. Nowadays, everyone and their brother seems to be celebrating Columbus Day, Rosh Hashanah, Halloween, Sweetest Day, National Dessert Day (of course Disney celebrates this one), National Bologna Day, Moldy Cheese Day, and a whole host of other random holidays. Or maybe it’s an increase in schools having staggered fall breaks throughout the month. Whatever the case may be, October is now above-average in terms of crowds (the entire month is blocked out for Free Dining), pushing it firmly behind November and December, and even behind February. It’s barely behind September, a month when the weather can still be pretty bad.
3. February – If late January is the better time of that month, it should follow that February is better than January. And it largely is, with the only exceptions being Super Bowl weekend (no, contrary to urban legend, the parks are not dead during the Super Bowl because “everyone” is watching television) and the week of Presidents’ Day. Overall, crowds are slightly higher than January, but from our perspective, this is more than negated by the improved weather and the parks all having hit “reset” on the Christmas decorations. While it’s not a good time to go in terms of seasonal events, it is a good time to see Walt Disney World in its “unblemished” state, without added decor.
2. December – If Disney Vacation Club is the “Best Kept Secret,” the beginning of December being the best time to visit is “Disney’s Second Best Kept Secret.” It’s as if the both ‘secrets’ were entrusted to Harvey Levin, and have been plastered everywhere. The good news is that, even though sites like this one sing the praises of the beginning of December, the percentage of guests who read this info is low, and the percentage of readers who are able to follow the advice is even lower. The end result is that the beginning of December remains the absolute best time of year to visit Walt Disney World, even despite being about as “secret” as the In-N-Out Secret Menu. Low crowds and Christmas decorations & entertainment are the big highlights here. The only thing keeping December out of the top slot is the hellacious crowds that descend upon Walt Disney World the week leading into Christmas and don’t relent for the rest of the year.
1. November – Save for Thanksgiving week and Jersey Week, neither of which are nearly as bad as the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weeks in terms of crowds, all of November is pretty much like the first part of December. The other upsides to November are that the weather is generally more temperate (whereas December can be downright cold at times) and Food & Wine Festival is ongoing. The biggest downside is that not all Christmas entertainment starts until after Thanksgiving, and some resort hotel decorations are not up until then.
The culmination of all of this? That our favorite week to visit Walt Disney World is the Sunday after Thanksgiving through the first Saturday of December. We think that’s the sweet spot for the best prospects of good weather, low crowds, and seeing all Christmas decorations. (It also avoids Pop Warner.)
If I were going for two additional trips, whether in a single year, span of years, or in my entire life, I would plan trip #2 the last week in September into the first week of October. This capitalizes on the low crowds of September while also increasing the odds of milder weather. It hits both Halloween and Food & Wine seasons, and an added bonus is that October 1 is Magic Kingdom and Epcot’s anniversary (although that will result in a slight spike in crowds), which is a neat experience during milestone years.
For week #3, I’d do late February into early March. It’s another opportunity to see the parks without a seasonal overlay (Flower & Garden Festival will start towards the end of the trip, but that’s just an overlay of pretty flowers), which is a nice change of pace. Aside from the Sunday after Thanksgiving timeframe (you do not want to start the trip any earlier than that), you can tweak the timeframes of these 3 sets of dates to fit your travel needs. Just don’t tell anyone about these weeks. Let’s try to keep this an actual secret.
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!
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Do you agree or disagree with our month by month rankings? Are there any months you think are better or worse than we have them ranked? Any specific ideal weeks of your own that you’d recommend people visit Walt Disney World? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!