Our strategy guide to January 2021 at Walt Disney World features free crowd calendar planning tips, days to visit & avoid, weather, seasonal events, and when Christmas decorations are taken down. We cover everything at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. (Updated January 1, 2021.)
Before we get started, keep in mind that a lot has been cancelled, cutback, or changed at Walt Disney World following the reopening of the parks, and that remains true even as of 2021. Even though we’re starting to see things return–like Park Hopping, which is back as of January 1–the experience is still very different from the same month last year.
In this guide, we’ll cover a normal January at Walt Disney World and then offer commentary about how this year will differ. That should make this a useful resource for those planning trips for both January 2021 and January 2022, and will also give the former group an idea of what they’re missing and how it’ll impact their Walt Disney World vacation for better or worse…
Typically, January is the month of the holiday hangover at Walt Disney World. Some Christmas entertainment continues for a few days in early January, and there are still decorations up for the first half of the month. January’s big draws are the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts and the Walt Disney World Marathon (the runDisney event is not happening in 2021 but will likely return for 2022).
Aside from those events, January tends to be relatively quiet. Most guests who want to visit during the winter do so in November or December of the previous year. Those who begin planning a visit for the new year typically don’t visit until Easter or Spring Break. As such, there are a lot of upsides to visiting in January, from light crowds to favorable weather. Of course, there are some downsides, too…
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.
Here’s what else you can expect from January at Walt Disney World…
January Weather at Disney World
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.
January Special Events at Disney World
Between the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts and the Walt Disney World Marathon, January isn’t quite the “sleepy” month it once was. We absolutely love the annual Festival of the Arts, which will begin on January 8, 2021 and run until February 22, 2021. Read our Guide to the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts for more info and tips about this special event.
As noted above, the 2021 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend & Princess Half Marathon Are Cancelled. Walt Disney World will convert these races to virtual events, similar to the previous runDisney race weekends last year. This is ultimately mostly good news for anyone visiting in early January who had not registered for the event. More on that in the crowd calendar section below. If you’re contemplating doing the 2022 Walt Disney World Marathon, see our Idiot’s Guide to runDisney.
Normally, there’s 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.
However, this is largely due to the Walt Disney World Marathon. Many runners postpone their November or December trips in order to run the event in early January, and enjoy seeing the illuminated Christmas decorations on the course in the early morning hours. Consequently, most decorations left up until that weekend and taken down shortly thereafter. It’s unknown when the holiday decor will be uninstalled in January 2021, but our guess is “earlier than normal.” (Don’t be surprised if it starts coming down the first week after New Year’s Day.)
January Refurbishments & New Attractions
In terms of other attractions that will be closed during January 2021, 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.
The big project that will have the most noticeable impact on the guest experience is the massive reimagining at the front of EPCOT, which will eliminate Future World and replace it with 3 new neighborhoods. This project has already kicked into high gear, and the front half of EPCOT is a maze of construction walls.
This unprecedented overhaul has led us to ask (and answer) the question Should You Visit EPCOT in 2021? While we’d encourage you to read that, the answer is yes–we recommend spending a lot of time at EPCOT for Festival of the Arts. Just be mindful that it will have significant construction.
Other work around Walt Disney World won’t be visually noticeable. This includes ongoing construction on the TRON Lightcycle Run roller coaster at Magic Kingdom. Some minor projects will be visible in the other parks, but EPCOT is the major one at this point.
In terms of new attractions that have already opened, there’s Star Wars Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This opened just over a year ago, but is still so incredibly popular that the ride has its own special policies and hoops to jump through in order to experience it.
If you only read one other post while planning, we highly recommend that it be our Ride Guide & FAQ for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. That covers almost every conceivable question you could have about ‘best practices’ for experiencing the attraction, and basic info about it.
January 2021 Disney World Crowd Calendar
When it comes to January 2021 crowd calendars for Walt Disney World, it’s a real roller coaster of a month. In true “holiday hangover” fashion, the beginning of the month tends to be pretty busy. As we’ll discuss in this section, crowd calendars also spike at other points in January, which is otherwise a fairly quiet month.
If your Walt Disney World vacation starts before the holiday season ends, we 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.
There’s not a color-coded crowd calendar here because we are becoming increasingly averse to those. If we just had a visual crowd calendar graphic here, many of you would only look at that and not read the accompanying explanation that covers what you might actually expect.
We think such an approach would do readers a disservice, and we’d strongly caution you against over-reliance on any Walt Disney World crowd calendars. While they can be useful tools, crowd calendars are but one small piece of a much larger puzzle. We no longer choose our own travel dates based upon WDW crowd calendars and we’d encourage you to do the same.
Walt Disney World crowd calendars are less and less reliable due to how Walt Disney World manipulates attendance patterns, staffing, closures, and ride capacity. Few months demonstrate this as well as January, which is unquestionably Florida’s off-season. Since Disney doesn’t release official attendance numbers, crowd calendars use things like school schedules, airport traffic statistics, hotel pricing & occupancy, and other indicators as proxies for crowds.
Even the low-crowds portions of the last two Januarys 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’ve encountered some of the worst crowds of the year from mid-January through early February. We are of the belief that this was not an isolated occurrence, but a calculated move by Disney.
This is even more true for January 2021, as the reopening and capacity restrictions have thrown another monkey wrench into things. We can still forecast general trends, but that’s about it. With all of that in mind, here are our crowd calendar predictions for the best and worst weeks at Walt Disney World in January 2021…
With all of that said, if we had to choose one week to visit Walt Disney World in January 2021, it would be the week beginning January 24, 2021. Not only is this the lowest week for crowds, but it’s a few weeks after Festival of the Arts starts; EPCOT is always busy the first weekend of any festival.
Other good times to visit will be January 6-15, 2021 (avoid Saturdays and Sundays if at all possible). Basically, you want to avoid Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Weekend and the week that follows it, but the rest of the month is pretty solid.
If at all possible, we recommend avoiding January 3-5 because many local schools are still on holiday break for those dates. Blockouts for most Floridian Annual Passholders are lifted on January 3, 2021 and that will result in a surge of guests those dates. Osceola County schools go back into session on January 4, 2021 and Orange County goes back into session on January 5, 2021. However, with the rise of virtual learning this year, it’s entirely possible that entire week is slightly elevated.
Crowd levels for January 2021 will actually be quite different from a normal year. Typically, the Walt Disney World Marathon would spike crowds early in the month. Then the Dance Team National Championship, a colossal youth cheer event held at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, would result in an influx of event attendees. However, both are cancelled for January 2021.
Another complicating factor would be that January is also the start of ‘summer’ vacation season for South America, namely Brazil. In a normal year, you’d encounter large South American tour groups in Walt Disney World. These tour groups typically don’t have a significant impact on crowd calendars, but could impact on the “feels like” crowds if you encounter them frequently. However, current travel restrictions make it unlikely that international visitors will have any impact on crowd levels for at least the first half of 2021.
January Pricing & Discounts
The silver lining to a January vacation is prices. Disney already released some 2021 room-only discounts that offered up to 40% off Walt Disney World resort discounts for Annual Passholders and Florida residents, with up to 35% off for the general public. Those are good discounts–about 5% better than what’s historically offered for the same dates.
There’s also a new 35% off PIN Code was released that extended that same discount even deeper into Summer 2021. However, the best deal of all is the Half-Off Hotels at Walt Disney World for Visa Cardholders, which has great rates for January 2021.
While some of these deals have been offered for the last couple of months, the difference now is that rack rates are at their offseason levels for most nights in January, making these discounts in late January cheaper than the same offers in November or December.
We prefer the room-only discounts to the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion, which is not being offered for January 2021, anyway. 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, January is a mixed bag at Walt Disney World. Once January 1 hits, I’m not interested in anything Christmas, and by the second week in January, the background music and decorations just feel awkward. If you go to Walt Disney World to escape the cold weather, this month might also not be for you. Florida in January can be surprisingly brutal, especially if you’re dressed for a tropical getaway. Plus, park hours are often short and crowd calendars spike at various points through mid-January.
The upside to a January visit is lower attendance later in the month, which also means lower prices. The cooler weather can also be very beneficial, and we’ll take January weather over summer heat and humidity any day. You might actually prefer the shorter hours, since it means getting everything done in a shorter timeframe. Festival of the Arts is also the best seasonal event of the year at EPCOT. In other words, there’s a lot to love about January–especially later in the month leading into 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.
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 like Walt Disney World in January? Are you a fan of the holiday offerings after Christmas at Walt Disney World? Looking forward to Epcot’s Festival of the Arts or doing Star Wars Rise of the Resistance? Do you agree or disagree with our advice or crowd calendar recommendations for January 2021? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!