“When is the best time to visit Disney World?” is a common question without an easy answer. Crowd calendars can help avoid crowds, but seasonal events, weather, and park hours all impact the ideal time to visit, which is subjective. Objectively speaking, the least crowded times of the year at Walt Disney World are late April through late June, September, early December, and portions of January and February. (Last updated January 1, 2019.)
With that said, there really is no “slow” season at Walt Disney World nowadays. Off-season days can feel more crowded if Walt Disney World lowers attraction capacity utilization, or if you get stuck behind a large tour group. In general, overall crowd levels are higher than they were a decade ago, so a “low” crowd time now is more like a moderate crowd time a few years ago.
Walt Disney World use promotions and special events during previously slow times of year to lure guests to the parks, and dynamic ticket pricing to redistribute crowds. That doesn’t mean that any time is a good/bad time to visit, though. There are definitely big differences in crowd levels, and you should plan accordingly…
Given this, crowds should not be your only consideration when planning when to visit Walt Disney World. There are some great seasonal events, such as the Halloween and Christmas seasons, Food & Wine Festival, runDisney, and other fun events. You may also be constrained as to when you can visit by school schedules, vacation time, and other factors. Add to that weather and various other considerations, and when to visit Walt Disney World isn’t as cut and dry as visiting in late September, early December, or February when crowds are low.
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, let’s take a look at when you should and shouldn’t visit Walt Disney World…
Since Walt Disney World is typically a family vacation destination, crowds typically go hand-in-hand with the school schedules discussed below. In addition to these school-vacation times to avoid if you’re seeking lower crowds, the following is generally true:
MLK Day weekend
Super Bowl weekend
Presidents’ Day weekend
The two weeks abutting Easter
Mid-March through early to mid-April (Spring Break)
Christmas week through Marathon weekend (the first or second weekend in January)
Late-May (“early” Summer Vacation)
Mid-July through mid-August
Late October through Thanksgiving week
The week before Christmas week
Any runDisney event weekend
Early to mid-December
Mid-January through early March (minus holiday weekends)
June through early July
Mid-August until early October
Many specific dates within the “Busiest” and “Least Busy” ranges actually fall within the moderately busy range, but, as I mentioned above, creating a calendar of specific crowd conditions is beyond my expertise (consult TouringPlans for that).
Worth noting is that we’ve seen many times that used to be slower times of the year increase in terms of crowds. The week after New Year’s used to be the slowest of the year at Walt Disney World, but thanks to the rise in popularity of runDisney and the Walt Disney World Marathon, those first two weeks can now be fairly busy.
In terms of changes to the above, the first is moving the summer months out of the busiest category. While summer remains a poor time to visit because of weather, tiered ticket prices have caused summer crowds to drop dramatically. You can read about the other reasons why June through August are suddenly “good” times to visit in our post: Why Summer Season Is Not Peak Season at Walt Disney World Anymore.
Likewise, September and October used to be the two slowest months of the year. Thanks to that tiered/dynamic ticket pricing, better weather, and more schools having fall breaks, October has become a consistently busy month–one of the busiest of the year. The popular “Free Disney Dining Plan” promotion also makes certain weeks that used to be slow in September through December much busier.
South American tour groups used to show up to Walt Disney World in droves during the summer months, leaving many agitated Walt Disney World guests in their wake. However, due to declining economies in these countries and them spreading their visits more throughout the year from early spring until early fall, there really is no “tour group season” anymore.
These groups, and really any large group, can cause serious headaches if you happen to be in the same line or same park as them, but if you are in a different park, your experience is likely to be radically different. This same sentiment applies equally to youth sporting groups that often visit in early December. Ever been in line behind 100+ high school cheerleaders? If you answered “no,” hope that it never happens. If you answered “yes,” I feel your pain.
This isn’t to say that there’s no way to avoid the crowds anymore–there absolutely is. The slower times of the year are still noticeably slower than the busier times of the year, but in the last few years, Disney 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. 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 is still substantial.
Obviously, crowds should not be the only consideration on when you visit Walt Disney World. School schedules, weather, special events, and even park hours may all come into play. Our new Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World post takes these qualitative factors into account along with crowd levels to rank every single month of the year, and also recommend the 3 weeks of the year that are the absolute best for taking a Walt Disney World vacation!
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, as that’s 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 Labor Day weekend is a good time 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, Memorial Day weekend, 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).
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t visit during these times, as some people don’t have many other options, but if you do go, at least bring your patience with you, and have a good touring plan! Consult our Disney Park Itineraries for strategy on this.
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, so you may want to consult our Visiting Walt Disney World During Storm Season article to navigate the afternoon showers without them putting too much of a damper on your trip.
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 work the FastPass+ system (consult our Guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World post for tips on leveraging FP+) well and/or use a touring plan, 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 1 a.m. (with Extra Magic Hours). 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 use FastPass+ more 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 rise early and generally call it a day by 5 or 7 pm or so, those 2 am 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.
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…
Candlelight Processional at Epcot – Here we cover whether you should do the dinner package, along with a list of the narrators, and some photos from recent Candlelight Processionals we’ve attended.
Festival of the Arts at Epcot– Returning and expanding for 2019, this is one of the highlights of January and February at Walt Disney World for us. Truly captures the essence of old school EPCOT Center.
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. However, the big opening on 2019 is Star War: Galaxy’s Edge in Fall 2019. It’s unclear whether special events will be added this summer to fill the void.
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!
Based on questions we’ve received from readers, we’ve expanded the general schedule bullet-point information with more in-depth monthly guides that cover everything from anticipated crowds over the course of the month to weather to smaller special events, and more. So far, we have the following months done (click each to open each month in a new browser-tab):
If you’re considering when you want to visit, you should definitely read each of these months, as other variables come into play for planning which we simply cannot account with a basic look at crowds. Our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World post ranks each of these months to give some context to the individual posts, too.
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.
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!