Our strategy guide to January 2020 at Walt Disney World features free crowd calendar planning tips, days to visit & avoid, weather, seasonal events, and new attraction openings & closures. We cover everything January 2020 for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. (Updated December 28, 2019.)
January at Walt Disney World is the month of the holiday hangover. 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 Festival of the Arts and the WDW Marathon. Aside from those events, January tends to be relatively quiet. January 2020 will be a slightly different story, as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is still drawing huge crowds and necessitating earlier openings at DHS. (More on this below.)
Most guests who want to visit during the winter plan an earlier trip to visit during the Christmas season, and most planning 2020 Walt Disney World trips begins shortly after Christmas, and those people typically don’t start visiting until 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 2020 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.
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 begins on January 17, 2020. Read our Guide to the 2020 Epcot International Festival of the Arts for more info and tips about this special event.
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.
January 2020 Refurbishments & New Attractions
In terms of other attractions that will be closed during January 2020, 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 will further gain momentum in January 2020 with more closures.
This unprecedented overhaul has led us to ask (and answer) the question Should You Visit Epcot in 2020 or 2021? While we’d encourage you to read that, the answer for January 2020 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 Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and 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 in December and is so incredibly popular that it has led WDW to extend park hours. The blockbuster ride has an unprecedented protocol, as it does not have FastPass+ or a standby line.
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.
In Epcot, a trio of new films will debut on January 17, 2020. Two of these are in World Showcase, with the other in Future World. The latter is “Awesome Planet” in The Land pavilion; this is a 10-minute film showcasing the Earth’s beauty and diversity with in-theater effects and an original musical score from Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price.
Next, “Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360” debuts (obviously) in World Showcase’s Canada pavilion. While technically new, Disney has also stressed that this is an update to the previous “O Canada!” film. Finally, “Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along” in World Showcase’s France pavilion will play in rotation with “Impressions de France.”
January 2020 Disney World Crowd Calendar
When it comes to January 2020 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.
At worst, January 2020 will be moderately 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.
By mid-January, the parks crowds will further decrease, save for MLK Day Weekend, but those tend to tail off the Tuesday following the holiday as most people don’t have the entire week off. However, the 2020 Pro Bowl will be held in Orlando the very next weekend, so those low crowds don’t last long.
If you’re wondering why you don’t see a color-coded crowd calendar here, it’s 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.
For years, this approach worked and made crowd calendars reliable. For the most part, Walt Disney World attendance followed an identifiable pattern that tracked with the aforementioned proxies. However, Disney has become more adept and sophisticated at manipulating both attendance and crowd flow. January attendance is still significantly lower than most other months, but wait times often don’t bear this out.
Think of this as the difference between the actual temperature and the “feels like” temperature, but with crowds. We can still somewhat reliably predict the actual crowd/attendance patterns, but not wait times. The latter are what most of you likely care about (the “feels like” crowds) and it’s now much more difficult to accurately forecast wait times via Walt Disney World crowd calendars.
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.
With all of that said, if we had to choose one week to visit Walt Disney World in January 2020, it would be the week beginning January 26, 2020. Not only is this the lowest week for crowds, but it’s a bit after Festival of the Arts starts; Epcot is always busy the first weekend of any festival.
While January 26 is date of the 2020 Pro Bowl that will be held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, we don’t believe the spike of attendees for this event who also visit Walt Disney World will be as significant as other events throughout the month.
Other good times to visit will be January 13-17 and 21-24, 2020. Between those two set of dates is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Weekend, as well as well as the Dance Team National Championship. The latter is held at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, and will result in an influx of preteen and teenager cheerleaders and dancers.
It’s worth noting that January is also the start of ‘summer’ vacation season for South America, namely Brazil. As such, you might 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. This is mostly a matter of luck and timing.
January 2020 Pricing & Discounts
The silver lining to a January Walt Disney World vacation is prices. The 25% off room-only offer is available for most nights, as is the 40% Disney Visa discount for the new Disney’s Riviera Resort. While these same deals have 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 these discounts in late January cheaper than the same offers in November or December.
Overall, January is a mixed bag 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. 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.
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 2020? 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!