When to visit Walt Disney World is a common question, and as construction has increased, readers have been asking about the best years for a Walt Disney World vacation instead of months or weeks. At this point, it’s whether to go in 2020 or wait until 2021 for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary? (Last updated August 19, 2019.)
If you recall this topic covered previously on the blog, that’s because it’s something we discuss regularly. We first started when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was announced nearly 4 years ago. (Crazy to think that the land is now open for previews and will soon open to the general public!) Since, we’ve come back as new projects have continued to be announced for Walt Disney World.
There are some definite upsides to waiting. Walt Disney World is in an unprecedented era of expansion, much of which follows a period of stagnation that occurred in the aughts. Frankly, this is playing catch-up, and should have happened years if not a decade ago.
This huge expansion is the obvious reason to wait, and we’re going to delve into timing these numerous projects to take advantage of the most openings and least construction. However, there are also significant downsides to waiting, as we will also cover here.
On a personal note, I’m never a fan of postponing anything for something theoretically better down the road. Don’t let the romanticized notion of the perfect be the enemy of the good. (“Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”) For many people, waiting several years is not much of an option anyway, as kids grow up quickly, and taking them sooner rather than later is always the best course of action.
The point is that there’s always something new on the horizon, or a reason to postpone a visit. As Walt Disney World regulars, we find ourselves far more often faced with “something new” as an excuse to visit, which is why we go so often. Procrastination is the least of our problems!
We’d hazard a guess that people reading this are going to fall squarely into two camps: those like us who visit annually or more, and those who are planning a first-time (and depending upon how that goes, only time) visit, and wanting to choose the best time.
Rather than posing a question in the post title and not answering it, we will provide two very specific times when those of you in the latter group should visit: December 2019 and mid-January 2022. Obviously, these are not the only times we’d recommend visiting (to the contrary, we ourselves will take countless trips between those times), but if we had to pick only two times to visit between now and then, those timeframes would be it.
Let’s start with December 2019. The biggest expansion at Walt Disney World in recent memory is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opens at the end of August 2019 (this month!). Worth noting here is that its second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, doesn’t open until December 5, 2019. This is the flagship attraction of Star Wars Land, and the biggest budget ride that Walt Disney World has ever built.
Prior to that debuting, the Disney Skyliner gondolas will begin operations, most construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will wrap up, and another new hotel that has been under construction for the last few years will have its grand opening. (The other major hotel project, Gran Destino at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, already opened over the summer.)
In other words, a lot of very major projects at Walt Disney World will be finished by or before December 2019. Arguably, this is the big month for Walt Disney World debuts in the immediate future, and so long as you visit in or after December 2019, you’re seeing the biggest fruits of these construction projects.
With that said, a case could also be made for waiting until (date to be determined in) Spring 2020. This is when Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will open in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, several new films and smaller scale offerings will debut in Epcot, and maybe Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will open.
I suspect that mid-May 2020 would be a good time to visit to see all of most of this open. That’s still a good time for crowds and decent time for weather. However, we don’t have opening dates for any of the big new things coming in 2020–so all or none of it could be open by then. In the last couple of years, Walt Disney World has been all over the place with its opening dates; some debuting much later than expected, some coming earlier.
There’s also the downside of waiting until Spring or Summer 2020, and that’s the likelihood of increased construction at Epcot as that park gears up for the rest of its huge reimagining. Magic Kingdom is another park that will likely see more work done next year, especially as it gears up for enhancements set to debut during the nostalgia-heavy Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration. Speaking of which…
Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, meaning that its 50th Anniversary will occur on October 1, 2021. It might seem logical for its anniversary celebration to begin on that date, but this is not official. It’s just as likely that an 18 month celebration would begin slightly before then.
If the 50th Anniversary celebration is underway by September 2021, that would be an ideal time to visit. It’s the heart of off-season, and will have lower crowds than October (albeit less desirable weather). Same goes for May 2020, if the event begins really early for some reason.
We anticipate October through December 2021 to be incredibly crowded, with many longtime fans planning ‘homecoming’ style family trips to celebrate the momentous occasion. There is always a surge of guests for any 5 or 10 year anniversary, but the 50th should see a significantly greater influx of crowds–especially if Walt Disney World puts on a meaningful event.
Irrespective of crowds, we will be among that group. As with many other longtime fans, we’re eager to pay tribute to a magical place that has meant so much to us. If you’re a first-timer, infrequent visitor, or just averse to crowds, going between October and December 2021 may not be as appealing to you.
Accordingly, mid-January 2022 is a time during the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration when all of the big additions will be open, like TRON Lightcycle Power Run, the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster in Epcot, and the new entertainment at Magic Kingdom will have debuted.
It’s also at a point when the ‘new land smell’ will have worn off Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and during a season when the crowds should generally be lighter. Going during this off-season month will help blunt the (anticipated) increase in overall crowd levels between now and 2021.
Most notably, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will draw new visitors to Orlando. Just as Harry Potter did, there will be new guests who would not otherwise visit the parks. These Star Wars fans are not just going to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and leave. Some of them might, and others might only do DHS and Magic Kingdom, or DHS, Epcot, and the Universal parks, but a good chunk will visit all of these parks. “A rising tide lifts all ships” and all of that.
Between now and 2021, it’s not unreasonable to expect Walt Disney World’s per park attendance to increase by 1 to 3 million guests (depending upon the park–Disney’s Hollywood Studios will see the biggest increase). That’s a huge increase, and even with the many expansion projects, Walt Disney World lacks the rides to absorb these crowds.
The good news is that Walt Disney World is anticipating huge crowds and has projects in both Epcot and Magic Kingdom to help absorb those crowds, and pull guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The bad news is that the earliest of those large-scale projects will open a year after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Another potential, significant downside to waiting is cost. While Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge construction is the largest, most noteworthy project at Walt Disney World right now, it should be noted that there are numerous infrastructure projects, the construction of a slick, new gondola system, and hotel improvements occurring around Walt Disney World.
It might be self-evident that Walt Disney World is making all of these improvements–particular those at the resort hotels–to justify higher prices, but it’s still worthy of some brief discussion. Walt Disney World is not renovating hotel rooms, adding fine dining and luxury-caliber amenities, or gondola transportation to any of these resorts simply as a nice gesture to guests. The goal of these upgraded features is an ‘upgraded’ price.
While it’s impossible to prognostic exactly how high room rates will surge (exact numbers at least in part depend upon what type of special on-site perks on-site guests receive for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), it’s easy to envision a scenario with a 25% across the board increase between now and 2021, and even more significant bumps at the Disney Skyliner resorts.
The thing is, Walt Disney World prices do not exist in a vacuum. There are also scenarios where such price increases are not sustainably in light of larger economic circumstances. In the last several years as consumer confidence and the markets have soared, so too have Disney’s prices.
It remains our belief that a recession (or ‘correction’) is on the horizon at some point in 2020 or 2021, and that would undermine Disney’s ability to continue such price increases unabated. Accordingly, you might actually be able to enjoy an improved guest experience and the above-mentioned amenities while actually pay less than current prices.
Of course, all of this is speculation on our part. The only thing we know for sure is that Walt Disney World has a history of price increases, would undoubtedly like to increase prices more, and will do so if the market will bear it. If the market won’t, prices will decline. Unfortunately, if a recession does occur, it could also impact your ability to travel. But we’re veering too far off-topic now.
Suffice to say, we think there’s really no time like the present to plan a trip to Walt Disney World (assuming that “the present” is beyond December 5, 2019). For the last two years, we’ve been advising a lot of vacation planners to wait, so it’s good to finally be in a position where the fruits of all this construction are (mostly) about to come to fruition. While there is some upside to waiting until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 or early 2022, there are also a lot of unknowns about that, and the biggest expansion in WDW history is already complete. In the immortal words of the Sherman Brothers:
“Now is the time now is the best time Now is the best time of your life… Yesterday’s mem’ries may sparkle and gleam Tomorrow is still but a dream Right here and now you’ve got it made The world’s forward marching and you’re in the parade!”
Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations for visiting Walt Disney World in the next several years? Are you looking forward to visiting in or after December 2019 once big additions, including all of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, are open? Will you wait until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary? Any thoughts or predictions of your own to add? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!