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. (Last updated October 14, 2018.)
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.)
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.
After a spike in crowds during the winter and spring, including an unexpected bump in January and February (see Is There an Off-Season at Disney World?). Following that, things returned to normal from early March until mid-May, with summer crowds below average at Walt Disney World. This was not totally unexpected, as we wrote about this new phenomenon in “Summer Is Not Busy Season at Walt Disney World Anymore” last year.
August and September were particularly slow, leading us to write another article, “All Quiet on the Crowds at Disney World Front.” Crowds have gotten progressively heavier since then, with some of the worst crowds of the year thus far in October 2018.
This is pretty much what we’ve expected. The Halloween and Christmas seasons have become progressively busier the last few years, while summer has declined in popularity. We’re not really sure why January and February felt so much busier than normal, but we believe that was a one-off.
In our most recent update to this post in October 2018, we’ve 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. 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 the worst month to visit.
The last week of August is potentially the qualitatively worst week of year to visit Walt Disney World. In addition to the weather, it marks the end of “Peak Season” ticket prices, meaning people who postponed their visits to save money will start heading to the parks. On top of that, both Halloween and Epcot Food & Wine Festival “seasons” start at the end of August, which cause crowd spikes (and unevenness) at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It should still only be moderate in terms of crowds, but still worse than the two months that preceded it.
11. 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.) Another upside is that for two consecutive summers, we’ve seen below average crowd levels, so we’re now prepared to call that the “new normal.” Crowds will spike around Independence Day, the upside there is added entertainment and special fireworks.
Still, July is not a good month to visit if only because of heat and humidity. Once you plan for the weather realities of a summer trip, remember that “even a rainy, potentially crowded day at Walt Disney World is better than a perfect day at home” so you don’t get too down on trip.
10. June – Another summer month, another low spot on the list. The upside to June is that, like July, summer crowds are seemingly now a thing of the past (at least until Walt Disney World self-corrects with pricing model changes). The downside to June–in addition to the 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 April 2019. 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. October – With each update to this post, October drops. 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.
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.
Irrespective of why, October is now the busiest month of the year at Walt Disney World in terms of average wait times. It’s so busy that the entire month is blocked out for Free Dining and other discounts are difficult to find. The crowd levels coupled with lack of discounts push October into the middle of the pack. While it doesn’t see the same obscene wait times as New Year’s Eve or Christmas week, October is a month that is consistently busy, with no real reprieve. If you don’t mind rolling the dice a bit on weather, you should visit during September if you’re choosing a fall month.
7. 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 as bad, as the entirety of the month falls before summer tourist season. 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.
Even with Memorial Day weekend factored into the mix, crowds are below average in May. You have some people trying to beat the Peak Season pricing, while others cannot visit before school is out. 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.
6. 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, 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.
5. January – We often 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 downside is that Christmas decorations are up long past the holiday’s conclusion–to the point that they are awkward and overdue for removal. Weather can be cold, but it beats hot and humid!
The plus side of that is that the crowds are ‘lethargic.’ Despite the spike in crowds during January and February this year, we anticipate January and February 2019 returning to normal. Late January, in particular, is one of our favorite times of the year at Walt Disney World. You get the low crowds, Christmas decorations are down, and the best chance at (slightly) improved weather. All things considered, January is still one of the better months to go, especially if you can avoid the MLK Day holiday.
4. 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.
3. September – When judged solely on the basis of crowds, September is one of the better months of the year. Aside from Labor Day (which is actually less crowded than you expect), September is relatively slow, especially earlier in the month.
Think of September as the calm before the storm that is October, with crowds getting heavier towards the end of the month. September also is the first full month of Halloween and Food & Wine Festival seasons, which are definite plusses. In 2019, September will be the calm before the storm in a couple of ways, as it’s also likely to be the last normal month before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts and brings with it an influx of visitors.
The downside to September is the weather, but even that is trending in the right direction. Still, heat and humidity make being outdoors unpleasant, but it’s still a high point in the storm season. 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.
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.” Unfortunately, there’s just a pinch of sarcasm here. It’s as if the both ‘secrets’ were entrusted to Harvey Levin, and have been plastered everywhere.
Unfortunately, the first week of December is not the respite from crowds that it once was. The secret has gotten out, and that coupled with Disney’s more strategic use of blockout dates and dynamic ticket pricing has shifted crowds to the first week of December. Crowds are still nowhere near as bad as October or other peak seasons, but it’s no longer the ghost town that it once was. We still view the first two weeks of the month as very desirable times to visit, 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 how early December used to be. Mid-November and the week after Thanksgiving both tend to have lower crowds than early December, which saw a fairly significant spike in crowds last year. We are predicting December 2018 will see similarly elevated crowds, whereas November should remain low to moderate.
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.
Still, if low crowds and more temperate weather speak to you–and why wouldn’t they–then it should be easy to see how November sneaks into the #1 spot on our list for months to visit Walt Disney World in 2018.
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!
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!