People often ask, “when is the best time to visit Disney World?” Some days and times of year are better to plan your trip to Walt Disney World. The least crowded times of the year are typically after Labor Day until the week before Thanksgiving, early December, the entire month of January and early February, and late April. That said, nowadays especially in 2013 now that New Fantasyland is open, there really is no “slow season” at Walt Disney World.
Choosing which days to visit Walt Disney World is just one aspect of planning a trip. To make sure you tackle everything, make sure you read our 10 Step Guide to Planning a Walt Disney World Trip, which covers all of the essentials.
As for avoiding crowds, we highly recommend that you subscribe to TouringPlans.com and use their comprehensive and park-by-park crowd calendar to plan the best times to visit (especially if you can only visit when your kids are on vacation), which has years of crowd data. Its professional statisticians can put together a far more accurate guide to avoid crowds than I can based solely on my anecdotal observations. That said, here are my general observations concerning crowds.
Since Walt Disney World is typically a family vacation destination, crowds typically go hand-in-hand with the school schedules discussed below. In addition to these school-vacation times to avoid if you’re seeking lower crowds, the following is generally true:
Many specific dates within the “Busiest” and “Least Busy” ranges actually fall within the moderately busy range, but, as I mentioned above, creating a calendar of specific crowd conditions is well beyond my expertise. Check out the TouringPlans.com Crowd Calendar for incredible specificity. 2013 is already shaping up to be a busy year, and even January 2013 has been busy thus far. We don’t expect this spike to hold up, but New Fantasyland will likely be crowded all year long in the Magic Kingdom, and the up-and-down nature of Test Track 2.0, which is down with alarming frequency, can wreck havoc on Epcot’s other attractions.
Obviously, crowds should not be the only consideration on when you visit Walt Disney World. School schedules, weather, special events, and even park hours may all come into play.
If school schedules are something around which you must plan, chances are you’re going to go during one of the busier (or at least not one of the least busy) times of the year, as that’s the paramount consideration for many other families planning trips, too. It may seem like a convenient time to visit during one of the ‘holidays’ your kids have off from school, but it’s important to consider whether other schools have these same times off, as well. Of the traditional school holidays, only Labor Day weekend is a good time to visit.
Because most schools have the week before Christmas until the shortly after New Year’s off, this is an especially crowded time to visit. Likewise, the same goes for President’s Day weekend, Easter week, Memorial Day weekend, the entirety of the Summer, and Thanksgiving week. Although schools do vary their Spring Break schedules, don’t expect the parks to be any less busy because of staggered Spring Breaks. Mid-March until mid-April are also incredibly busy times for the parks because of Spring Breaks. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t visit during these times, as some people don’t have many other options, but if you do go, at least bring your patience with you, or at least a good plan for touring the parks!
If weather is an important consideration, we highly recommend heading down during the months of September, October, early November, late February, March, or April. That is, assuming you want more temperate weather, rather than extreme heat and humidity or more cold weather. If you like your clothes drenched in sweat from high temperatures, May until late-August are the perfect times for you to visit!
While early December and January are great times to visit to avoid crowds, our experience has been that these are the worst two months in terms of weather. Not only does it get extremely cold (well, relatively speaking–it is Florida after all), but there are substantial swings in temperature. You might find yourself wanting to wear shorts in the morning but by late afternoon it is jeans and sweatshirt weather. As the night rolls on, you might even find yourself wanting to put on a parka. If you travel during these times of year, expect to bring more luggage and make more stops at your room to change clothing (or at least plan on renting a locker to store additional layers of clothing each day). You may be lucky and find relatively consistent temperate weather during these times of year, but it’s best to prepare for the worst so that you don’t have to purchase a bunch of $50 sweatshirts from the Emporium on Main Street. Those $50 sweatshirts can add up quickly!
In talking to others, we’ve found that this is the one area that people consider the least when planning their trips, which we think is at least a small mistake. It’s important to note up front that, typically, less busy times of year have shorter park hours and busier times of year have longer park hours. It thus stands to reason that you can basically get the same amount done in a shorter day during a less busy time of year than you could during a busier time of year. However, this isn’t always true. If you work the FastPass system well and/or use a Touring Plan, you have a good chance of getting more done during a busier time of year than during a slow time of year.
This is especially true if you get to the park early and stay late. Sometimes during especially busy times of year, the Magic Kingdom will open at 8 am and will close at 3 am (with Extra Magic Hours). While we’ve taken advantage of these hours without taking a break during the day, we realize some of you are mere mortals. A great strategy to employ during days with operating hours such as these is to get to the park shortly before opening, stay until around 11 am, go back to your resort to nap or relax, and return around dinner time to stay until park close. Regardless of the time of year, the parks will always be fairly slow during the first couple operational hours, and will always be fairly deserted late at night. Ride as much as you can early in the day and use FastPass more as the day wears on.
Similarly, park hours should be taken into account based upon your sleep habits. If you’re a late-to-rise night owl, the Fall and late Winter/early Spring months may be a bad idea, as these entail many early closing times. If you’re not going to get to the parks until noon anyway, your day might be only 7 hours or so. Conversely, if you rise early and generally call it a day by 5 or 7 pm or so, those 3 am closings aren’t going to do you any good. Make sure you check Disney’s park hours calendar when planning your trip. It’s important to note that this calendar is often inaccurate far in advance (Disney posts hours conservatively, then extends them as bookings increase).
This is a big one for us, as we’ve been to Walt Disney World so many times that it’s nice to visit during different times of year to keep things varied. Even if it’s your first visit to Walt Disney World, if you have particular interests, you might want to consider planning your trip around these special events. The schedules for these varies from year to year, as does the price (if any), so please consult the respective page for each event when doing your planning and budgeting.
Halloween and Christmas events in the Magic Kingdom are separately ticketed, meaning you can’t use your standard park tickets for them. Unlike regular park tickets, you also can’t purchase these tickets at a discount from Undercover Tourist. Despite this, both events are a ton of fun and well worth experiencing. Christmas at Walt Disney World is actually our favorite time to visit!
Hopefully this is a valuable primer to help you plan when to visit Walt Disney World!
Visiting Walt Disney World at the right time to avoid crowds is probably one of the most important aspects of trip planning. What time of year do you generally visit? Do you visit at times when you know crowds will be light, or do you visit when school is out of session? Share your thoughts in the comments!