“When is the best time to visit Disney World?” is a common question without an easy answer. Our 2020 crowd calendars can help avoid crowds, and choose the best weeks to plan your vacation. We also cover seasonal events, weather, park hours, and other factors that impact the ideal time to visit. (Updated January 3,2020.)
There really is no “slow” season at Walt Disney World nowadays. 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). Even then, true off-season days can feel worse than they actually are if Walt Disney World lowers staffing, manipulates attraction capacity utilization, or if you get stuck behind a large tour group.
Additionally, 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. 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…
Given this, crowd calendars should not be the only thing you consult when planning when to visit Walt Disney World. There are some great seasonal events, such as the Halloween and Christmas seasons, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, runDisney races, and other fun offerings.
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 crowd calendars are at their lowest.
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…
2020 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 2020 Walt Disney World crowd calendar and info posts are essentially everything here, but with 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 2020 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 (particularly at Magic Kingdom and Epcot) will far better prepare you to avoid crowds and zig when others zag.
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 2020 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. 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 vacation 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.
Conversely, October used to be one of the 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. Along those lines, the popular “Free Disney Dining Plan” promotion also makes certain weeks that used to be slow in November and December much busier.
South American tour groups show up to Walt Disney World in droves during the winter and summer months, leaving many agitated Walt Disney World guests in their wake. Same goes for Pop Warner and other teen sporting events that occur at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
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. However, if you are in a different park, your experience is likely to be radically different. 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.
Moreover, 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. 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.
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 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 midnight (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 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.
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 for another year, 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. The big attraction openings for this year are Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway on March 4, 2020 and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Summer 2020. 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!
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.
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!