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.
With that said, there really is no “slow” season at Walt Disney World nowadays, as the parks use promotions and special events during previously slow times of year to lure guests to the parks. Summer has always been a busy time of year, but expect Summer 2016 to be especially busy, as the Frozen Ever After attraction and Soarin’ Around the World open in Epcot, Jungle Book: Alive with Magic (and later Rivers of Light) debuts in Animal Kingdom, and more comes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. Suffice to say, the second half of 2016 should be pretty busy.
Crowds should not be your only consideration when planning when to visit Walt Disney World. There are some great seasonal events, such as the Halloween and Christmas seasons, Food & Wine Festival, runDisney, and other fun events. You may also be constrained as to when you can visit by school schedules, vacation time, and other factors. Add to that weather and various other considerations, and when to visit Walt Disney World isn’t as cut and dry as visiting in late September, early December, or February when crowds are low.
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 Guide to Planning a Walt Disney World Trip, which covers all of the essentials. With that said, let’s take a look at when you should and shouldn’t visit Walt Disney World…
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:
- Easter Week
- Mid-March through mid-April (Spring Break)
- June through August (Summer Vacation)
- Christmas week through Marathon weekend (the first or second weekend in January)
- Late-May (“early” Summer Vacation)
- The week before Christmas week
- Any runDisney event weekend
- Mid-to-late January
- Early February
- Late April
- Shortly before Labor Day until the week before Thanksgiving
- Early December
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 beyond my expertise. The above ranges plus our detailed month by month overviews (see below) should be what you need to plan when to visit, though.
Worth noting is that we’ve seen many times that used to be slower times of the year increase in terms of crowds. The week after New Year’s used to be the slowest of the year at Walt Disney World, but thanks to the rise in popularity of runDisney and the Walt Disney World Marathon, those first two weeks can now be fairly busy.
Likewise, September and October used to be the two slowest months of the year. Well, these months are still slow, but Disney has wised up, and now offers the popular “Free Disney Dining Plan” promotion during these months to spike crowds a bit.
South American tour groups used to invade Walt Disney World during the summer months, leaving many agitated Walt Disney World guests in their wake. Now, these (and other) groups seem to be spread throughout the year from early spring until early fall. These groups, and really any large group, can cause serious headaches if you happen to be in the same line or same park as them, but if you are in a different park, your experience is likely to be radically different. This same sentiment applies equally to youth sporting groups that often visit in early December. Ever been in line behind 100+ high school cheerleaders? If you answered “no,” hope that it never happens. If you answered “yes,” I feel your pain.
This isn’t to say that there’s no way to avoid the crowds anymore–there absolutely is. The slower times of the year are still noticeably slower than the busier times of the year, but in the last few years, Disney has really been aggressive with promotions and scheduling seasonal events during the slowest times of the year to entice people to visit and close the gap. These attempts to close the gap have been successful to a degree in that there is now truly no “dead” time of the year, but the difference in crowds between, for example, mid-September and the week before Christmas is still substantial.
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 you’re looking for a more detailed day-by-day Walt Disney World crowd calendar, check out TouringPlans.com.
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.
Late summer and early fall are the height of hurricane and storm season, so you may want to consult our Visiting Walt Disney World During Storm Season article to navigate the afternoon showers without them putting too much of a damper on your trip.
If you must visit between the late spring through early fall, just remember to pack accordingly, bringing the Frogg Toggs for the humidity…and ponchos for the rain so you don’t spend $179 on them at Walt Disney World. Read our Unique Disney World Packing List for some items you might not otherwise think of taking.
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! Check out our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your winter trip to Walt Disney World.
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. As you can read in our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World, it’s our favorite time to visit the parks!
We’ve written tips & tricks for almost every seasonal event at Walt Disney World, because most aren’t simply a matter of “show up, have fun.” We encourage you to click these links (they will open in a new tab) and read the guides. Like all things Walt Disney World-related, you’ll have a much better time and see more that the event has to offer if you do some advance planning…
- Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot – Our Guide to the Flower & Garden Festival. We think this is one of the most underrated events at Walt Disney World. Epcot looks so beautiful this time of year.
- Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – While Star Wars Weekends aren’t happening in 2016 (at least by that name), there are expected to be special Star Wars offerings for the summer months as construction of Star Wars Land is ongoing.
- Frozen Summer Fun Live at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – This is special ‘Frozen Fun’ that started in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with many of the same types of offerings, except themed to Frozen. Some elements of this event became semi-permanent after the summer ended, and it’s unclear if the full event will return for Summer 2016.
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom – Possibly more than any other special event at Walt Disney World, you need to do advance planning for this. Character meet & greets can form hour-plus long waits, and there’s so much to do that you can’t accomplish everything in one party. We highly recommend reading this guide!
- Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival – Want to know what to do–and more importantly what NOT to do? Read our guide. It’ll give you an idea of what’s not worth the money, and what is worth doing.
Month by Month Guides
Based on questions we’ve received from readers, we’ve started to expand the general schedule bullet-point information with more in-depth monthly guides that cover everything from anticipated crowds over the course of the month to weather to smaller special events, and more. So far, we have the following months done (click each to open each month in a new browser-tab):
If you’re considering when you want to visit, you should definitely read each of these months, as other variables come into play for planning which we simply cannot account with a basic look at crowds. We will have the rest of the year posted soon.
If you are unsure of when visiting Walt Disney World might be best for you–or need personalized help with any aspect of your trip from hotels to the Disney Dining Plan and more–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (basically, Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Hopefully this is a valuable primer to help you choose when you want to visit Walt Disney World. Figuring out when to visit is an important first step, but there’s much more to know. You’ll also want to read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post to buy the cheapest tickets from legitimate sources. To figure out where to stay, our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page is a great resource. Want to know where to eat or if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you? Our Walt Disney World Dining Resources will help!
For lots of other Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
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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!