The holy trinity of a great Disney World vacation is the perfect combination of mild weather, low crowds, and discounts. It can be difficult to get all three: Let’s face it, Orlando is really hot at least five months out of the year, so you’re fighting a pretty big battle with the weather as it is. But you can get close. Here’s how you can determine the best time to visit Walt Disney World:
January is the ultimate off-season month to visit, with lower crowds, great discounts like free dining, and cooler weather. You probably already know that the downside of visiting in January is that park hours are shorter and refurbishments are common. What you might not know is that Orlando weather during this time of year can be downright unpredictable. Snow, yes I said snow, has been known to fall on Main Street and temperatures in the low 30s are not unheard of, so if you’re visiting then, make sure you bring a variety of clothing that can be layered when temperatures fluctuate.
Discounts are the big draw in January, but be careful that you’re not checking in during Marathon weekend in early January or Martin Luther King weekend later in the month as those are peak times to visit and discounts are hard to come by. When you plan your trip for January, be a little flexible with your dates and you’re sure to get a great discount.
Get Park Wise: Because the weather can be unpredictable, never add the water park option to your tickets until after you arrive at Disney World. Even though at least one water park will be open in January, no one wants to swim when it’s 45 degrees out even if the pools are heated. Remember, you can always add to your tickets once you’re there, but you can’t get a refund for options you didn’t use.
Gorgeous weather and the beginning of Disney’s spring break crowds make it difficult to plan a trip this month. Expect peak crowds for Valentine’s Day and at the end of the month, when kids up North start getting out of school. Because crowd levels vary this month, blackout date for discounts can be all over the place, but it you travel before mid-month, you should see the best combination of lower crowds and discounts. Like January, the weather is still unpredictable, so bring a variety of clothing.
Spring break is in full swing in March. Expect high crowds and fewer discounts. We’ve seen free dining and room discounts offered during the first and last weeks of the month, which also coincides with slightly lower crowds historically. This is usually the nicest month for the Flower and Garden Festival.
Get Park Wise: As long as free dining is offered the day you check into your resort, you will get it for your entire stay. This isn’t the case with room discounts.
Spring break crowds are at their worst the week prior and the week after Easter. Not only will the parks occasionally close due to capacity crowds, the likelihood that Disney will offer discounts during this time is pretty much zero. Despite the crowds, I actually prefer this month to July because the weather is often ideal, so if you can only travel in April or July, pick April. The great news is that by mid-April, the crowds will die down and discounts will be offered once again. If you’re worried about the cheerleading/dance groups that sometimes meet at the end of the month, just don’t stay at the All Star Resorts. Their events won’t noticeably bump up attendance in the parks.
Oh, how I love visiting in May: Great weather, discounts, lower crowds, Star War Weekends. What more can you ask for? While room discounts are common, getting free dining is unlikely. This is a great time of year to plan an adult trip as the kids are back in school from spring break and won’t be out for summer vacation for a couple of weeks. You won’t walk right onto rides, but wait times should be minimal for most of the month until Memorial Day Weekend. Keep in mind that when Star Wars Weekends begins at the end of the month, Hollywood Studios will be very busy.
Since many kids aren’t out of school until mid-month, early June is a great time to visit Walt Disney World. Again, don’t expect free dining, but you will generally see plenty of room discounts. By mid-month, crowds, and prices, will pick up considerably.
Get Park Wise: If you’re not buying a package (as opposed to a room-only reservation) or you’re staying off site, make sure you buy your park tickets for your June trip prior to the price increase that’s normally announced the first or second week of this month. Your tickets are good indefinitely, so buying them early can save you anywhere from 3 to 13 percent.
My least favorite month to spend in Walt Disney World is July. What can I say about this month: Humidity, heat, high crowds, and tour groups. Even worse, discounts are non-existent. Unless it’s the only time of year you can visit, brave the spring break or Christmas crowds. At least you won’t be hot and crowded.
As much as I dislike visiting in July, you’d think I’d advocate avoiding August as well. Quite the contrary. August crowds go down by mid-month and discounts start popping up all over, but if you’re waiting for free dining (and really, who isn’t?), don’t expect it to be offered until the last week in August. Yes, it’s still hot, but the lower crowds make it worth waiting if you can.
Get Park Wise: August is also the height of hurricane season. While I almost never recommend trip insurance for park vacations, it’s not a bad idea to consider it during this time of year. Orlando doesn’t get the full brunt of hurricanes, but the outer bands and associated flight delays around the region can spell big trouble for travelers.
While still hot, lower crowds make this month a great time to visit Walt Disney World. Keep in mind, this is still hurricane season so plan accordingly. The great news is, you’ll see discounts offered for most of September, including free dining. While free dining does not greatly increase attendance in the parks, it does mean that guests are more likely to make their advanced dining reservations early, so make sure you get in and make yours at the 180-mark if possible. September is a popular month for refurbishment, but having one or two attractions down would not deter me from visiting during this fantastic time of the year.
October is tricky. The Food and Wine Festival means that Epcot will be crowded every weekend, but overall crowds are manageable during this month. Expect discounts the first and last week of the month. Canadian Thanksgiving means that the middle two weeks of the month will be blacked out for discounts. So yes, you may blame our friends to the North for this one. I love the weather during this time of year. It’s still hot enough to swim but very comfortable for touring the parks.
I’m calling it: November is the perfect time of year to visit. Except for Thanksgiving week, crowds are never bad. You may have heard about Jersey Week in November: Forget about it. Yes, lots of good folks from New Jersey come down because their kids get out of school each year during this time, but this doesn’t result in a a huge bump in park attendance. The only problem with Jersey week is that Disney is smart and they black out discounts for that week. Try to pick your check-in dates before Jersey week is in full swing and you’ll stand a better chance of getting a discount.
This actually leads me to what I think is the best week of the year to visit: The Monday after Thanksgiving. Perfect weather, Christmas is in full swing, all the Thanksgiving guest are going home, and discounts like free dining are readily available.
Get Park Wise: You can find out when Jersey Week and groups like Pop Warner will be in the parks before even they publish their schedules by using the Touring Plans Crowd Calendar . Touring Plans estimates their visits based on years of past schedules, so they’re usually a reliable source. You’ll need to buy a subscription to access the entire calendar but it’s well worth the $10 or so you’ll pay and it gives you access to their mobile app as well.
I love visiting in December and as long as you’re out of the parks by the weekend prior to Christmas (say around December 18th), you should be able to enjoy low crowds and also get a nice discount on your room or on dining. You’ll see a lot of discussion online about Pop Warner, which is a large football and cheerleading competition held the first week of the month on property. Don’t believe much of what you read in this case. I go every year during Pop Warner and I’ve never really noticed the kids in the parks. Yes, if you’re staying at a value resort (they usually stay at the All Stars), you’re going to hear a lot of noise. Avoid those resorts and stay at Pop Century or Art of Animation if you’re planning on staying at a value resort. Otherwise, the only issue with Pop Warner is that Disney won’t offer free dining that week, but you can usually get a room discount at some of the resorts.
Just like in January, the weather this month is unpredictable. Even if the forecast for your trip says it will be perfect, I’ve learned not to trust it. Pack a variety of clothing that you can layer, especially for kids. One night at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party it was so cold that we saw people walking around covered with blankets they’d brought from their hotel rooms! Better safe than sorry—pack a coat. And gloves too, while you’re at it.
Get Park Wise: Disney tapes their yearly Christmas parade in the Magic Kingdom the first Friday and Saturday of December, with a make-up day on Sunday. You will have a difficult time getting into the park, but once you’re in, you’ll find that crowd levels are manageable until taping ends that day. You may also watch the parade and performers; the procedure for that changes from year to year but guests are usually able to see quite a bit.
What if you can’t visit during an ideal time? Well, here’s the thing: You’re still going to have a great vacation. Just use a touring plan so you can cut down on wait times and be especially mindful about the heat. Slather on sunscreen, drink a lot of water, and take breaks. Disney World is incredible during any time of the year and while I have favorite times to visit, I would never turn down a trip. So if you can’t go when the timing is perfect, you can still have a perfect time. Just plan—that’s half the fun anyway, right?
What about you? What’s your best time of year to visit? If you can’t visit during an ideal time, what do you recommend to make it easier?
Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.
You can find Chris at Everything Walt Disney World.
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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!