January at Walt Disney World is sort of the month of the holiday hangover. Some Christmas entertainment keeps going for a few days in early January, and there are still decorations up for the first half of the month. The big draws during the month of January are the Epcot Festival of the Arts and the Walt Disney World Marathon. Aside from those major events, the month of January is relatively quiet.
Most guests who wanted to visit during the winter planned an earlier trip to visit during the Christmas season, and most planning 2019 Walt Disney World trips begins shortly after Christmas, and those people typically don’t start visiting until Spring Break, at the earliest. There are a lot of upsides to visiting in January, from light crowds to temperate (actually, sometimes downright cold) weather.
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of Walt Disney World before mid-January. To me, it really does feel like a hangover. There are straggler decorations that feel out of place or forgotten, and the weather can be frigid. This is entirely a matter of personal preference, as I know some people enjoy being able to see Christmas decorations without dealing with the crowds. Personally, once Christmas is over, I’m done with the holiday.
In terms of crowds, January is only moderately (at worst) crowded once you get past the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. It used to be the case that crowds basically plummeted starting New Year’s Day, but Disney has wisely placed the Marathon Weekend at a point in January such that holiday crowds leave and runDisney crowds pretty much arrive simultaneously.
The week or so between New Year’s and Marathon Weekend isn’t as crazy as the weeks leading to Christmas and New Year’s, but it is pretty busy. By mid-January, the parks are dead, save for MLK Day Weekend. Because of this, expect shorter park hours throughout January, with all parks being closed by 9 pm on many nights.
One thing we should note is that even the low-crowds portions of January 2018 were significantly busier than any Walt Disney World crowd calendars predicted. As we discussed in our “Is There an Off-Season at Walt Disney World” post, we encountered some of the worst crowds of the year from mid-January through February.
In our follow-up to the above post, “Explaining Increased Crowds at Walt Disney World,” we questioned what caused this spike, and whether it was an isolated occurrence. We believe that it was, and do not expect heavy crowds in the off-season stretch of early 2019. Nevertheless, if our predictions are wrong, January 2019 could be similarly bad.
Here’s what else you can expect from January at Walt Disney World…
If your Walt Disney World vacation starts before the holiday season ends, I have a post discussing Visiting Walt Disney World at New Year’s that you might want to check out. Every day of your trip before New Year’s Day, you can expect some of the worst crowds of the year at Walt Disney World. There’s a drop New Year’s Day, but not as precipitous of a drop as there used to be.
In fact, for January, there probably won’t be much of a drop at all because of the way the weekend falls–most guests probably won’t end their holiday vacations until that Sunday, with crowds dropping at the start of the following week before skipping at the end of the week for the Walt Disney World Marathon. For further info on when to visit, check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year.
If you go by historical averages, January is the coldest month of the year at Walt Disney World. In my experience, November through February can have weather ranging from cold to downright balmy, but January tends to have more of the former category than the other winter months. Expect weather on average from the upper-40s to low-70s.
Packing for January weather requires preparing for a wide range of weather conditions, and you’ll want to make sure you attention to the extended forecast before your trip so you don’t get surprised with a streak of 30-degree weather or 90-degree weather and not have the proper attire for either extreme. Read our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your January Walt Disney World vacation.
In terms of what’s going on, January used to be a dull month, but became much more exciting last year, thanks to the mid-month addition of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Between this and the Walt Disney World Marathon, January isn’t quite the “sleepy” month it once was.
Aside from those two events, you have a “holiday hangover” for a couple of weeks at Walt Disney World. During that time, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and (to a lesser degree) Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom parks still decorated for Christmas. There’s no other Christmas entertainment (there’s more info about all of this in our Ultimate Walt Disney World Christmas Guide), and not really anything else.
Basically, you’re looking at Christmas decor, and the aforementioned Walt Disney World Marathon both of which are long gone if you visit in the second half of the month. If you don’t mind potentially frigid (for Florida) weather, the second half of January is thus a pretty good “quiet” time at Walt Disney World.
In terms of other attractions that will be closed during January 2019, check the Walt Disney World Refurbishment Schedule. Just a heads up: that might be a bit deceptive in terms of actual construction work. There’s going to be a lot of ongoing construction throughout Walt Disney World, and will be for the next several years. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the big project right now, and it will not be open until Late 2019. Other projects at Magic Kingdom and Epcot won’t be finished until early 2021, and will impact guests come early 2019.
Even though we recommend spending a lot of time at Epcot for Festival of the Arts, be mindful that it could have significant construction in early 2019, including the possibility of more work in Future World. Other work won’t be visually noticeable (such as on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway), but other projects (such as the Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Spring Resort overhauls) will have a much greater impact.
The silver lining to a January Walt Disney World vacation is prices. The 30% off room-only offer is available for most nights after January 5, and while this is the same discount that has been offered for the last few months, the difference now is that rack rates are at their offseason levels for most nights in January, making a 30% off room in late January cheaper than one in November or December.
We prefer this discount to the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion, which is not currently being offered (expect the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion dates to be announced sometime around late-April or early-May 2019). Our Walt Disney World Discount Comparisons post covers why the room-only discount gets our vote over “free” dining. In this case, free isn’t always better, even though it is for many guests. If you’re booking a room-only discount, you can decide for yourself which hotel might be best by reading our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews.
Overall, I’ll be honest, January is not one of my favorite months at Walt Disney World. Once January 1 hits, I’m not interested in anything Christmas, and by January 10, the background music and decorations (that stay up until January 15 in some parks) just feel awkward. As a native Midwesterner, I go to Walt Disney World to escape the cold weather. Florida in January can be surprisingly brutal, especially if you’re dressed for a tropical getaway (don’t make the same mistake as me!), so I don’t particularly enjoy that, either. Plus, park hours are also short, and I am a night owl.
The upside to a January visit is low crowds later in the month and lower rack rates, both of which every sane person should love. (Me included–in my love of late January…not the ‘sane person’ part.) Not everyone is me: some people like seeing the Christmas decorations whenever possible, like the cooler weather, and actually prefer the shorter hours (since it means getting everything done in a shorter timeframe). I do admit that it’s sometimes nice to see all of the parks in their “original” state without any decorations, but if I want that, I’d far prefer heading in early to mid-February, when the crowds are just as low, the weather is starting to improve, and there are no remnants of Christmas left lingering about. Perhaps I’m just a Grinch, though.
Do you like Walt Disney World in January? Are you a fan of the holiday offerings after Christmas at Walt Disney World? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts on these questions, or anything else, in the comments!