“When is the best time to visit Disney?” is a question with no easy answer. Our 2021 Walt Disney World crowd calendars help avoid crowds and long lines. We cover seasonal events, weather, park hours, and other factors that impact the ideal time to visit Florida’s theme parks.
There really is no “slow” season at Walt Disney World. Attendance has surged by millions of guests per year, and every single day of the year is significantly more crowded than a decade ago. Since it’s all relative, this means that a low day on the crowd calendar now feels like a moderate day a few years ago (and so on). Some days can feel worse than they actually are if Disney lowers staffing, manipulates attraction capacity utilization, or if you get stuck behind a large tour group.
Additionally, Walt Disney World uses promotions and special events during previously slow times of year to lure guests to the parks, and dynamic ticket pricing to redistribute crowds. This has really thrown a monkey wrench into crowd calendars, as Disney’s masterful manipulation makes predicting wait times challenging. Nevertheless, there are still definitely big differences in crowd levels, and you should plan accordingly…
For 2021, there are also a ton of unknowns about how Walt Disney World’s phased reopening will continue, when things will go back to normal, plus when the parks will increase capacity caps and decrease physical distancing. It’s exceedingly difficult to foresee and appropriately balance these various factors and make accurate attendance forecasts. However, in Will Crowds Keep Increasing at Walt Disney World in 2021? we’ve tried to do exactly that.
Moreover, we’ve started the process of updating our month by month crowd calendars, and have suggestions for when you should and shouldn’t visit Walt Disney World…
2021 Disney World Crowd Calendars
If you’ve already narrowed down a season or range of dates during which you want to visit Walt Disney World, we’d recommend forgoing the remainder of this post. Instead, refer to our individual monthly guides, which offer free crowd calendars and cover weather, seasonal events, refurbishments, and what’s new & next.
These 2021 Walt Disney World crowd calendars offer more granular details for each specific month of the year. We’d suggest reading all months for the time of year you’re considering. For example, if you’re thinking of a summer vacation, read the May through August monthly guides; if you’re considering Christmas, consult both November and December.
These Walt Disney World crowd calendars cover the best and works week to visit in each month, with overarching assessments of attendance trends and wait times at Walt Disney World. In so doing, we eschew numerical or color-coded crowd calendars for detailed, qualitative explanations.
We believe this approach to Walt Disney World crowd calendars is far more useful to readers. While it’d be easier to mindlessly choose dates by what’s green or has a low number on crowd calendar, that approach doesn’t do proper justice to attendance and wait time trends.
As locals living near Walt Disney World, we are in the parks multiple times per week. For these crowd calendars, we combine normal data like wait times and other info that serves as a proxy for crowds with our in-person observations and anecdotal experiences. From all of this, we’ve learned to spot patterns and notice things about wait times and attendance at Walt Disney World, which we share with you in our crowd calendars.
Suffice to say, you’re far better off spending the ~10 minutes to read each crowd calendar section, as we explain the why and how of these patterns. Some times of year–September through December, especially–crowd calendars don’t tell the full story.
Having a little knowledge about the ebb and flow of attendance throughout the day will far better prepare you to avoid crowds and zig when others zag. Some parks and attractions see visitor numbers and lines spike during certain times of the day, and it’s important to understand the why of this, so you can plan around the peak crowds.
This is now especially true at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has changed dramatically thanks to demand for the newest blockbuster attraction and its novel virtual queue. For everything you need to know, read our FAQ & Ride Guide for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. In addition to being home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is also home to the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. (Suffice to say, it’s a popular park right now.)
If you are still trying to narrow down your dates and don’t want to read through 12 different Walt Disney World crowd calendar and monthly info posts, we’d suggest starting with our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World post. This ranks every month of the year, and while it has less detail, it can help you shortlist a few potential months to visit.
It’s also worth noting is that we’ve seen many times that used to be slower times of the year increase in terms of crowds. January and February used to be slow season and Summer used to be peak season–neither of which are true anymore. There are several other ways that attendance patterns have changed at Walt Disney World in the last several years that we address in those rankings.
In the last several years, Walt Disney World has really been aggressive with promotions and scheduling seasonal events during the slowest times of the year to entice people to visit and close the gap. (Most notably the popular “Free Disney Dining Plan” deal.) These attempts to close the gap have been successful to a degree in that there is now truly no “dead” time of the year, but the difference in crowds between, for example, mid-September and the week before Christmas remains significant.
This isn’t to say that there’s no way to avoid the crowds anymore–there absolutely is–and crowd calendars will help with that. The slower times of the year are still noticeably slower than the busier times of the year. All we’re saying is that crowd calendars are not some ‘magic bullet’ that you can use without doing any other research to have a great trip, walking onto every attraction. Over-reliance on Walt Disney World crowd calendars (including ours!) will lead to disappointment.
If you’re trying to determine when to visit, we recommend starting by choosing seasonal events and the type of weather that appeal most to you, and then narrowing your dates within those broad parameters based on what crowd calendars identify as the best and first weeks to visit. Walt Disney World crowd calendars are still a useful tool, but they’re not a planning panacea.
Choosing which days to visit Walt Disney World is just one aspect of planning a trip. To make sure you tackle everything, make sure you read our Guide to Planning a Walt Disney World Trip, which covers all of the essentials. With that said, here’s what else to consider…
If weather is an important consideration, we highly recommend heading down from in late September, October, early November, late February, March, or April. Those are the ideal times from a weather perspective. That is, assuming you want more temperate weather, rather than extreme heat and humidity or more cold weather. If you like your clothes drenched in sweat from high temperatures, May until late-August are the perfect times for you to visit.
Late summer and early fall are the height of hurricane and storm season, which have been intensifying in the last few years. We highly recommend consulting our Visiting Walt Disney World During Storm Season article before booking a trip this time of year. The best case scenario is navigating the afternoon showers without them putting too much of a damper on your trip. Worst case, an approaching hurricane forces you to cancel your trip or cut it short.
If you must visit between the late spring through early fall, just remember to pack accordingly, bringing the Frogg Toggs for the humidity…and ponchos for the rain so you don’t spend $179 on them at Walt Disney World. Read our Unique Disney World Packing List for some items you might not otherwise think of taking.
While early December and January are great times to visit to avoid crowds, our experience has been that these are the worst two months in terms of weather. Not only does it get extremely cold (well, relatively speaking–it is Florida after all), but there are substantial swings in temperature. You might find yourself wanting to wear shorts in the morning but by late afternoon it is jeans and sweatshirt weather. As the night rolls on, you might even find yourself wanting to put on a parka.
If you travel during these times of year, expect to bring more luggage and make more stops at your room to change clothing (or at least plan on renting a locker to store additional layers of clothing each day). You may be lucky and find relatively consistent temperate weather during these times of year, but it’s best to prepare for the worst so that you don’t have to purchase a bunch of $50 sweatshirts from the Emporium on Main Street. Those $50 sweatshirts can add up quickly! Check out our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your winter trip to Walt Disney World.
In talking to others, we’ve found that this is the one area that people consider the least when planning their trips, which we think is at least a small mistake. It’s important to note up front that, typically, less busy times of year have shorter park hours and busier times of year have longer park hours.
It thus stands to reason that you can basically get the same amount done in a shorter day during a less busy time of year than you could during a busier time of year. However, this isn’t always true. If you use an efficient touring plan (see our Itineraries for Walt Disney World), you have a good chance of getting more done during a busier time of year than during a slow time of year.
This is especially true if you get to the park early and stay late. Sometimes during especially busy times of year, the Magic Kingdom will open at 8 a.m. and will close at midnight. While we’ve taken advantage of these hours without taking a break during the day, we realize some of you are mere mortals.
A great strategy to employ during days with operating hours such as these is to get to the park shortly before opening, stay until around 11 a.m., go back to your resort to nap or relax, and return around dinner time to stay until park close. Regardless of the time of year, the parks will always be fairly slow during the first couple operational hours, and will always be fairly deserted late at night. Ride as much as you can early in the day and do less popular attractions as the day wears on.
Similarly, park hours should be taken into account based upon your sleep habits. If you’re a late-to-rise night owl, the Fall and late Winter/early Spring months may be a bad idea, as these entail many early closing times. If you’re not going to get to the parks until noon anyway, your day might be only 7 hours or so.
Conversely, if you wake up early and generally call it a day by 5 or 7 pm or so, those midnight closings aren’t going to do you any good. Make sure you check Disney’s park hours calendar when planning your trip. It’s important to note that this calendar is often inaccurate far in advance (Disney posts hours conservatively, then extends them as bookings increase).
This is a big one for us, as we’ve been to Walt Disney World so many times that it’s nice to visit during different times of year to keep things varied. Even if it’s your first visit to Walt Disney World, if you have particular interests, you might want to consider planning your trip around these special events. The schedules for these varies from year to year, as does the price (if any), so please consult the respective page for each event when doing your planning and budgeting.
Halloween and Christmas events in the Magic Kingdom are separately ticketed, meaning you can’t use your standard park tickets for them. Unlike regular park tickets, you also can’t purchase these tickets at a discount from authorized vendors (which can save you a lot of money on regular tickets). Despite this, both events are a ton of fun and well worth experiencing. As you can read in our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World, it’s our favorite time to visit the parks!
We’ve written tips & tricks for almost every seasonal event at Walt Disney World, because most aren’t simply a matter of “show up, have fun.” We encourage you to click these links (they will open in a new tab) and read the guides. Like all things Walt Disney World-related, you’ll have a much better time and see more that the event has to offer if you do some advance planning…
- Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot – Our Guide to the Flower & Garden Festival. We think this is one of the most underrated events at Walt Disney World. Epcot looks so beautiful this time of year.
- There are not usually big summer special events at Walt Disney World. Typically, this is the time when Walt Disney World unveils new attractions, and offers summer marketing revolving around those. The big attraction openings for this summer is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. It’s unclear whether special events will be added this summer to supplement.
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom – Possibly more than any other special event at Walt Disney World, you need to do advance planning for this. Character meet & greets can form hour-plus long waits, and there’s so much to do that you can’t accomplish everything in one party. We highly recommend reading this guide!
- Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival – Want to know what to do–and more importantly what NOT to do? Read our guide. It’ll give you an idea of what’s not worth the money, and what is worth doing.
If school schedules are something around which you must plan, chances are you’re going to go during one of the busier (or at least not one of the least busy) times of the year. School schedules are the paramount consideration for many other families planning trips, too.
It may seem like a convenient time to visit during one of the ‘holidays’ your kids have off from school, but it’s important to consider whether other schools have these same times off, as well. Of the traditional school holidays, only Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends are good times to visit.
Because most schools have the week before Christmas until the shortly after New Year’s off, this is an especially crowded time to visit. Likewise, the same goes for President’s Day weekend, Easter week, Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day week, Veterans Day week, the entirety of the Summer, and Thanksgiving week.
Although schools do vary their Spring Break schedules, don’t expect the parks to be any less busy because of staggered Spring Breaks. Mid-March until mid-April are also incredibly busy times for the parks because of Spring Breaks, with the two weeks abutting Easter being the absolute worst (since most schools still use Easter as a proxy for Spring Break).
Some people don’t have many other options, so it’s going during a school break or nothing. If so, it’s not the end of the world. As we’ve stressed above, crowd calendars are not as important as they used to be. Simply pack your patience and have a good touring plan (which is far more important than choosing dates based upon a crowd calendar, anyway). For help with this, refer to our Free Walt Disney World Park Itineraries & Touring Plans. We have the perfect strategy for fun, efficient, and memorable days in the parks!
If you don’t have kids or aren’t otherwise forced to travel around holidays or traditional vacation periods, we’d highly recommend avoiding them. Not because we have anything against kids, but because crowds and prices will be higher during these breaks. Plan around them and save both time and money!
If you are unsure of when visiting Walt Disney World might be best for you–or need personalized help with any aspect of your trip from hotels to the Disney Dining Plan and more–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (basically, Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Hopefully this is a valuable primer to help you choose when you want to visit Walt Disney World. Figuring out when to visit is an important first step, but there’s much more to know. You’ll also want to read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post to buy the cheapest tickets from legitimate sources. To figure out where to stay, our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page is a great resource. Want to know where to eat or if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you? Our Walt Disney World Dining Resources will help! For lots of other Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
Visiting Walt Disney World at the right time to avoid crowds is probably one of the most important aspects of trip planning. What time of year do you generally visit? Do you visit at times when you know crowds will be light, or do you visit when school is out of session? Share your thoughts in the comments!