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Wondering when you should plan your Walt Disney World vacation to avoid the busiest crowds? Curious if there is a certain time of year when it is less expensive to go? These are very important questions that could make all the difference in your Disney vacation. So, does off-season really exist in Walt Disney World? Here’s what you need to know.
Off Season at Walt Disney World: Does it REALLY Exist?
As a travel agent specializing in Disney Destinations, I hear this question on a daily basis. What is the best time of year to visit the Walt Disney World Resort? Are there certain times of the year when Disney offers promotions and discounts to lower the price of the packages? When is peak season in Disney?
The answers to these questions are always changing, as the Walt Disney World Resort continues to grow and introduce new attractions, special events and festivals. Historically, peak season in Orlando has been during the summer months when children are out of school. Over the years, these patterns have changed. So, is there really even an off season at Disney World? Below are some tips on how to pick the right time of the year to plan your family vacation.
Use a Disney World Crowd Calendar
The absolute best way to determine what the crowds will be like in the Disney parks is to look at a crowd calendar. There are many different resources online where you can find opinions and predictions as to when the busiest times of the year will be. How do you know which one is the most accurate? Over the years I have grown to trust TouringPlans to accurately provide the best theme park crowd predictions.
TouringPlans is an online company that offers online subscriptions. Using a scale of 1-10 (with 10 reflecting the busiest crowds) they use a specific calculation to predict which parks will be the most crowded each day. In addition to their crowd calendar, they also include the park hours and extra magic hours offered each day. If you are planning a theme park vacation, I highly recommend subscribing to TouringPlans. They have crowd calendars for Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Disney Cruise Line as well.
Avoid Visiting During Busy Holidays
If at all possible, avoid visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during busy holidays. Holidays tend to draw in larger crowds since children are out of school. There are certain holidays that draw in larger crowds than others.
First and foremost, do NOT plan a visit to Disney World the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Trust me, you do not want to try and brave the crowds during this particular week. Historically, this is the busiest week of the year as thousands of people give the gift of a Disney vacation to their children for Christmas. If you want to give Disney as a Christmas gift, consider waiting until after New Year’s before arriving. You will be so much happier you waited.
So, what are the crowds typically like over the holidays?
- New Year’s Day – This is a very busy day that I personally avoid at all costs. You can expect crowds at a level 10/10. If you would like to visit in January and avoid the Christmas holiday season, wait until around January 6th to arrive.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. – While you will see larger crowds the weekend before through the actual holiday, you can expect crowds at around a level 8/10.
- President’s Day – This is a fairly busy weekend. Crowds are usually around a level 10/10 as is customarily found when there are school breaks associated with a long weekend.
- Spring Break – The Spring Break crowds usually start in early March and go through mid-April. You will find significantly larger crowds during this time. Crowds are typically around a level 8-9/10.
- Thanksgiving Week – This is a VERY crowded time. You can expect crowds to be at a 10/10 most of the week.
- Christmas Break – The crowds typically start arriving around December 20th and will continue to grow. On average you can expect crowds at a level 10/10 December 20th – January 5th. Historically, the Magic Kingdom reaches maximum capacity the week between Christmas and New Years which makes it the most crowded time of the year to visit.
Disney Marathon Weekends will draw in larger crowds than normal. The Walt Disney World Marathon is held each year in January and the Princess Half Marathon is held in February.
Plan Your Visit During the Less-Crowded Holidays
There are actually a handful of holidays that do not draw in significant crowds. As you will see from the list below, these holidays generally fall during the warmer times of the year.
- Mardi Gras Holiday – The Mardi Gras holidays (the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) tend to draw in larger crowds. The weekend before Fat Tuesday is generally busier than later in the week. Crowds are typically around a level 7/10.
- Easter – Typically Easter Sunday falls during the Spring Break rush. This isn’t a terrible time to visit; however, you can expect crowds to be around a level 7/10.
- Memorial Day – Memorial Day weekend is a pretty good time to plan your visit. You can expect crowds to be around a level 6-7/10.
- Independence Day – The 4th of July is another holiday when the crowds aren’t terrible. If you can brave the heat (Summer in Florida is brutal), you can expect crowds at around a level 7/10.
- Labor Day – Labor Day weekend is a great time to go. While it is still very hot, the crowds are generally around a level 5/10 as many kids are back to school.
- Columbus Day – While the month of October is fairly busy with the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, this particular holiday weekend is fairly mild with crowds at around a level 6/10.
Recommended Months to Travel to Experience “Off-Season”
Does “Off-Season” really exist at the Walt Disney World Resort? As you can see from the holiday schedule, Disney stays busy year-round. That being said, there are a few months that I personally consider to be the ideal times to visit.
I always recommend the month of September as the ideal time to plan a Disney vacation. The kids are back in school and the crowds are at an all-time low. Historically the month of September is when you will find the best discounts offered by Disney. In the past several years, we have seen the highly sought after Free Dining promotion offered to guests visiting during September. This promotion can save you A LOT of money on a Disney dining plan.
One thing to note, September is still very hot in Florida and this is peak hurricane season, so plan accordingly and purchase travel protection. According to TouringPlans, the month of September is the ONLY month when you can find crowd levels at a 1/10.
The first week of December is a great time to plan your visit. The Christmas crowds haven’t arrived yet and you can enjoy the beautiful holiday decorations throughout the parks and Disney resorts. You can also attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Typically the crowd levels are at 4/10 the first week of December.
May is another month that I highly recommend. The heavy Spring Break crowds are gone and it isn’t ridiculously hot yet. The weather is perfect for experiencing the Disney water parks. The crowds are fairly mild and Disney usually offers some really good room-only discounts this month. Historically, guests staying the Deluxe Resorts can save up to 25% off their rooms. The Epcot Flower & Garden Festival is in full bloom which is another great reason to travel during the month of May.
January & February
In the past January and February have been considered “off season” for Disney World. There are usually some really good discounts offered during these months. That being said, these are also the months when Disney usually does the vast majority of their attraction refurbishments. These two months fall after the Christmas crowds and just before the Spring Break craziness, making it the perfect time for Disney to update their attractions. I would not recommend visiting during these months if this is your first visit, or if you do not have plans to return again in the future. Imagine arriving at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to find Slinky Dog Dash closed for refurbishment.
How to Score the Best Discounts at Disney
The best discounts are found when you bundle everything together as a package. This means you book your Disney resort hotel, park tickets, and dining plan together under one reservation. You can learn more about how to secure your reservations with a $200 deposit and make lay-away style payments towards it in my post, Secrets to Affording a Disney Vacation.
Once you have your reservations secured, start watching for Disney’s announcements on special promotions. If you are working with a travel agent they will monitor this for you. Whenever a discount is released that is applicable to your stay you can have it applied to your reservation.