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Best Times to Beat the Crowds: Disney World-Trip Planning 101

Making the decision to go to Walt Disney World is the easy part. Deciding when to go can be a little more complicated. While there are a lot of things to consider in making this decision, the factor most people ask about are the crowds. The reason Disney World has a reputation for being crowded is simple. It’s crowded. But hey, it’s the most popular tourist destination in the world. What do you expect? But that doesn’t mean the worst of the crowds can’t be avoided.

Editor’s Note: We understand that with the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, some of the advice in this article may not apply if you visit while park hours are reduced, capacity limits and physical distancing are in place, and some of our favorite experiences—fireworks, parades, and character greetings—are temporarily suspended. (You can read everything you need to know about the phased reopening by clicking here). We will continue to share articles that give guidance on a “normal” vacation to Walt Disney World, along with any special changes or instructions you may need to be aware of during the phased reopening to provide the best tips we can regardless of when you are visiting. ~ Chad & Cindy





 

First of all, bad news. The days of the off-season when the parks are empty, and every ride is a walk on are long gone. There is no such thing as a slow time at Disney World anymore. Disney has done a fantastic job using special events, festivals, and strategic room deals to fill in those traditionally quiet periods. Nowadays, the parks are either busy, crazy busy or “you have to be kidding me what were we thinking” busy.

If you want to avoid crowds no matter what, then holidays are out. The week before Christmas through the weekend after New Years is the busiest time of the year for Disney World. Magic Kingdom typically closes to new guests before lunch, and you may see gate closures at some of the other parks as well. We’ve been to Magic Kingdom on Christmas several times, and there is no doubt about it, it’s the thickest crowd we’ve ever been in. We’ve seen lines of an hour plus to get on the ferry boat or monorail from the parking lot to the front gate. It’s an excellent time way to spend a holiday but be aware of what you’re getting into.





 

It’s not just the major holidays such as Christmas, New Year, and Thanksgiving that packs the parks. Crowds swell around any holiday no matter how minor that closes schools and businesses. Whether trying to save on vacation days or avoiding extra days out of school for the kids, planning a vacation around a three or four-day weekend is very popular. The lines reflect that.

Summer and spring break time also bring much higher crowd levels for obvious reasons. Many parents are reluctant to pull kids out of school or don’t have the option, so times of extended school breaks are peak season in Orlando. Jersey Week falls into this category as well. While the weeks following Labor Day through Thanksgiving tend to have lower crowd levels, the first week of November is an exception to the rule. New Jersey closes its schools for teachers’ convention and everyone that isn’t a teacher heads to Florida.

Finally, special events can impact crowd levels. Two events, in particular, Marathon Weekend and Food and Wine Festival, will affect your visit. Marathon Weekend is always the second weekend in January and brings 150,000 plus extra people to the parks. That’s enough to bump wait times over normal January levels and make traffic heavy on Saturday and a complete mess on Sunday. Food and Wine Festival has made fall a popular time to visit, but the impact is mostly contained to Epcot.

So when are the slowest times visit? Zig when everyone else is zagging. The key to avoiding crowds is to go when it’s most inconvenient for the highest number of people to travel. That gets us back to school schedules. Since families with school-aged children are the core of Disney’s audience, visit during the times when it is most difficult for those families to visit. Here are the periods that historically see the lowest crowd levels:

  • The week following New Year’s Day through the first few days of February. With the exception of Marathon Weekend and the weekend/Monday of the MLK holiday, January is a great time to visit. Besides low crowds, it’s also the coolest time of the year when we have our winter (brrrrrrrr). Don’t worry, with the exception of a few random days, people who don’t live in Florida call this spring or early summer; or just paradise. Expect temps in the upper 60’s or low 70’s.
  • The last two weeks of February are generally slower.
  • April through the first week of May. Spring breakers have left and schools and colleges won’t begin letting out until mid-May. This is also a great time weather-wise to visit. Temps will have warmed into the 80’s so pools and waterparks are in full swing. However, the oppressive summer heat and humidity that Florida is famous for are still a few months away.
  • The second half of August through the end of September are some of the lowest crowd levels of the year. Schools are back in session and even if parents are willing to pull the kids out of school later in the year, they are usually unwilling to do so the first month.
  • Be aware the first couple weeks of October get a little busier due to some events and some fall breaks. The crowds are nothing like summer or holidays, but they are noticeably heavier.
  • The second half of October up to Thanksgiving week is generally slower. Don’t forget to avoid Jersey Week. Again, not as heavy as summer or holidays, but slightly busier.
  • Finally, the week following Thanksgiving through the first half of December are very good times to visit from a crowd perspective. Also, the humidity will have moved out but temperatures are usually still in the low to mid 80’s so it’s still great pool weather.

Again, we must warn you to set your expectations correctly. Empty parks are a thing of the past. No matter when you choose to visit parks will be busy, there will be lines, and you will want to get Fast Passes. Over the last couple of decades, Disney has done a brilliant job creating events, festivals, and facilities to draw crowds during traditionally slow times. However, try to visit during the periods listed above and avoid the times we’ve warned you about, and you will miss the worst of it. Have fun planning and enjoy your trip!



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About Chad Nykamp

Husband, father and lover of all things Disney. Like every kid, I loved Disney and the couple trips I took to Disney World in my early years are good memories. But my obsession began in 2004 when we made our first family visit. It's hard to believe that we almost cancelled the trip because it seemed like a lot of work with 3 very little kids. We were hooked by the end of the first day. By day 3 we were planning our next trip back. By day 5 we were doing the math on DVC. And by the end of the vacation everyone was crying the blues that we had to leave. Since then, Disney World has become our favorite vacation destination, a hobby and now a home. We love the detail of the story telling and the memories of time spent with friends and family.