It’s now mid-October, and Walt Disney World’s delightful off-season has come to an end. Crowds are now moderate to heavy depending upon the day and park, and we’re only expecting things to get worse. Halloween and Christmas seasons both tend to be pretty busy–this is nothing new.
This comes after the slow start for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which itself still hasn’t seen the record-breaking influx of guests originally feared or anticipated. Star Wars Land will likely, however, see wait times and crowds trending upwards throughout the next couple of months, with things getting progressively worse in December once the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride opens and the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker film premieres.
Fortunately, there are a number of silver linings in terms of October 2019 crowds at Walt Disney World. First, they’re no worse than normal–even with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge added to the mix. Second, it’s far easier to avoid crowds and long waits this year than in recent memory. In addition to covering the crowds, we’ll offer some tips for avoiding them in this post…
After getting progressively worse over the past week and a half, it would seem that October crowds peaked over the weekend. We always forget about it, but it should actually be unsurprising that this weekend sees a spike each year–it’s due to the Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day holidays, which is a long weekend for some people.
This October spike in crowds is obviously not good news. It’s startling to see triple-digit wait times for attractions that had waits around 30 minutes a month ago. In fact, the wait times we’ve seen for roughly the last week are worse than the summer or pretty much any time since Easter and spring break.
However, it’s not all bad news. For one, in the span of just a month, the weather has improved considerably. Highs are now in the mid-80s, rather than the mid-90s with “feels like” temperatures above 100. Morning and evening temperatures are downright cool at present, as opposed to being “fog your glasses hot and humid as soon as you step outside.”
Crowd-wise, September is definitely pure bliss, but it’s anything but that when it comes to weather. It’s tough to last an entire day outside in Florida during September, let alone going strong every single day for an entire week. October might have higher attendance, but at least the weather is bearable. Moreover, there are ways to avoid those crowds, making for a pleasant time overall…
In terms of crowd avoidance tips, skip Epcot on weekends and week nights when there are Extra Magic Hours. Weekends are when local Food & Wine crowds show up in full force, and Extra Magic Hours evenings are a similar draw. In fairness, we do not follow the second half of this advice ourselves. We love evening Extra Magic Hours at Epcot; we just suck it up and deal with the crowds those nights.
Your best bet with Epcot is rope drop on a weekday until about 5 or 6 pm. Due to the ending of IllumiNations and subsequent debut of the Epcot Forever fireworks (plus Food & Wine), locals have been turning out in greater numbers than normal after work on weekdays. We’d anticipate this trend continuing through the remainder of the calendar year. The sea of construction walls makes crowds feel worse than actual attendance numbers would suggest, too.
The good news is that mornings remain a delight at Epcot. If anything, rope drop at Epcot is quieter right now than normal thanks to it being the one park that does not have Extra, Extra Magic Hours. This is something we covered in our recent Double Rope Drop Day at Walt Disney World.
Suffice to say, you can get a lot done by arriving early and doing rides, followed by Food & Wine booths right when those open at 11 am. Take a midday break or find reprieve from the heat in air-conditioned attractions until late afternoon, and deal with the larger crowds in the evening. (See our Ultimate Guide to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival for more strategy.)
The ebb and flow of Magic Kingdom crowds follows a pattern of their own. Weekends and most non-event nights have seen a visible uptick, and days that offer Extra Magic Hours in the evening are among the worst times to visit.
Saturdays at Magic Kingdom should absolutely be avoided. Because they are sandwiched between 2-3 party nights and because locals are off work, Saturday sees disproportionate crowds to the rest of the week. You’ll see several attractions with wait times over 100 minutes on Saturdays, including ones you wouldn’t expect thanks to FastPass+ distribution.
However, there remain two great times to visit. The first of these is accessible to everyone: before around 5 pm on Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party nights. It’s one of those things that’s self-evident when you think about it, but is easy to overlook.
Visitors without Park Hopper tickets plan around park hours, and a 6 pm closing is far less appealing than 9 or 10 pm. It might come as a surprise, but the ‘feels like’ crowds in Magic Kingdom are lower before Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party than during the event. (As we cover in our Is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Too Crowdedpost, wait times are another story.)
For this reason, we strongly recommend Park Hopper tickets during this time of year. With them, you can visit Magic Kingdom during the day on party nights and then simply hop to a park that’s open latest. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom see their crowd levels drop as the day goes on.
Even if you don’t have Park Hoppers, you can often get more done in fewer hours than on a normal, non-party night. The reality is that the lower crowds on that 6 pm closing day more than offsets the extra 3 hours of park time. In that case, do dinner at one of the monorail resorts or Disney Springs on that evening.
Our choice would be a ‘monorail crawl’ of some sort, capped with a viewing of the Halloween fireworks from the Ticket & Transportation Center or Polynesian beach, which are arguably the best viewing locations to see those perimeter bursts in their full glory, anyway.
In addition to choosing the right day and time of day to visit each park, the biggest thing you can do is take advantage of Extra, Extra Magic Hours. Unlike evening Extra Magic Hours, these early morning openings are the optimal time to visit and the advantage they offer cannot be overstated.
As we’ve noted before, the early start time is simply a non-starter for so many families with small children and guests who view a trip to Walt Disney World as a relaxing vacation. As such, we anticipate ExEMH remaining a great offering until they end.
Hence our recent Why You Should Visit Disney World RIGHT NOW! post imploring you to take a last-minute trip and visit ASAP if at all possible. I doubt we’ll ever see anything like Extra, Extra Magic Hours again–at least, not anytime soon.
Unfortunately, ExEMH doesn’t do you much good if you’re staying off-site. Same goes for evening Extra Magic Hours. (Although so many people are now eligible for those, and they occur so early at night that more and more guests stay, pretty much negating any advantage they used to offer.)
However, the end of the night on non-Extra Magic Hours evenings remains the best option for off-site guests. This is especially true with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and Pandora – World of Avatar. You won’t experience any of this trio totally devoid of crowds, but given their normal popularity, even moderate crowds late at night is the best-case scenario.
For the headliners in these lands, we recommend jumping into the standby line right before park closing. Not only is this a solid approach for minimizing your wait, but it’s cooler at night and there’s (obviously) no sunlight to make the wait even more excruciating. We also favor this approach with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train–it’s typically the only way we do that ride.
Overall, October continues to be a busier month at Walt Disney World, thanks to a confluence of factors ranging from improved weather to fall breaks to seasonal offerings in the parks. Even though this is not a new (or even recent, at this point) trend, it nevertheless catches people off-guard, especially coming out of the doldrums of September. Don’t be surprised when crowds continue to swell as we head into November and December, either!
Have you visited Walt Disney World in October this year or the last few? What has your experience been with crowds? Have you found that Extra, Extra Magic Hours or visiting each park strategically on the “right” days of the week has helped? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of crowds at WDW? 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!