“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… “Welcome to “A tale of two Disneys.” We’re going to look at some of the best and worst times to visit Disney. Depending on when you travel, you can expect to see variation in cost of accommodations, wait times for attractions, ability to get good views of parades and shows, and even the cost of food in the restaurants. And, there’s always the weather.
The Best of Times…
If you travel during ‘off-peak’ times, you may be able to take advantage of promotions, designed to get more people into the parks. Disney often runs promotions for “up to 30% off your resort stay.” You’ll find that this usually means that if you stay in a deluxe resort, you save 30%. If you opt to stay in a value resort, you’ll save 10-15%, and moderate resorts are somewhere in between. Disney also offers a free dining promotion (usually late August/September), which can be a considerable value. During these less busy times, FastPasses are less critical, as the wait times are rarely too long. You might even be able to get a great seat for a parade or show without staking it out an hour in advance.
1. Still “Sort-of” Summer Vacation: Mid-August through September
For those of us who have to travel in the summer season, this is the best value. Prices and crowd levels drop around this time as families prepare to go “back to school.” Schools in the south start in August, so if your family doesn’t start until September, this might be a great time to travel without taking children out of school. Something to consider, however, is that hurricane season is at its peak this time of year. Although Disney has only closed a few times due to hurricanes, you may wish to visit another time of year if you’re not fond of rainy weather. This time of year is also extremely hot and humid.
2. Holiday Spirit: Mid-November & Early December
In early November, you may experience “Jersey Week”, when New Jersey schools are out for Teachers’ Convention and Veteran’s Day. Crowds spike at this time (but it’s nothing like mid- summer or Easter week). Thanksgiving is also a popular time. Mid-November, however, is a good bet. December also typically has low crowds if you travel during the first few weeks. Once the week before Christmas comes, so do the tourists. If you want to see the parks decorated and attend special events, consider early December!
3. New Year, Low Prices: January through Mid-February
There are some holiday weekends to contend with (Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day long weekends, and marathon weekend), but January and February are generally good bets. Right after New Year’s, the prices at resorts are at their lowest. They stay at this low price until mid-February.
The downside to this time of year is that rides are sometimes closed for refurbishment. You can check the refurbishment schedule on Disney’s website; of course, it is always subject to change.
4. Halloween Heaven: October
The sticky August/September temperatures have gone down, but it’s still delightfully warm (highs in the low 80’s). Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party dates are available, and the crowd levels and prices are still reasonably low. Add the Epcot Food & Wine Festival to the mix and I think that puts October into my #1 coveted travel time slot. Of course, I can’t “officially” condone taking children out of school because I am a school employee myself (but this looks like a really, really great time to visit- wink, wink).
If you can travel during any of these 4 times you’ll be mostly pleased with the lower crowd levels. Prices will vary though, so if you are on a strict budget, you should hone in on January or late August through mid-November. If you can travel during one of these times, great! By all means, take advantage of the promotions and the lower crowd levels. However, many people can’t travel during these times. If you have to travel during one of the “worst” times, hang in there with me until the end of this article. I promise you that even the “worst” travel times can be totally magical.
The Worst of Times…
During peak travel season, expect to pay top-dollar for your on-site resort, as well as for gas or airfare. The same room at a resort can cost up to 50-75% more at Easter than during January. At 11am, the line for Space Mountain might be nearly 2 hours long (and it may be that long at Toy Story Mania within minutes of park opening). Meeting Ana and Elsa without a FastPass+? Out of the question, unless you want to wait for upwards of 4 hours. And yes, you’ll be walking down Main Street shoulder to shoulder with the masses. On a crowd size scale of 1-10, this type of day is a 9 or 10. You also probably had to make your dining reservations WAY in advance, and your top choices may have been booked already. I hate to tell you this, but even the restaurants use “peak pricing” and charge more during these times. We must remember that Disney is not a non-profit magic factory, but a business. The concepts of supply and demand are alive and well. But please remember- these “worst” times are also really special. Did you know that Disney has an Easter parade? Want to be in Disney during Christmas? These experiences might outweigh the potential hassle of traveling at these times.
1. Holiday Hectic:
A few days before Christmas and the week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of the busiest weeks of the year. It’s also very expensive to travel and to stay at the resort. Being at Disney on Christmas is very magical, but keep in mind that the Christmas parade you see on TV is actually taped several weeks prior to Christmas.
2. Here Comes Peter Cottontail… and EVERYONE else:
The weeks immediately before and after Easter rivaling Christmas week; Easter is another top contender for busiest time at Disney. Be prepared for major crowds and peak prices. That being said, I’ve been there this week, and it’s manageable.
3. March Madness: Late February through March
There are highs and lows in the crowds during this time, but this is generally a more expensive time to visit. Spring breaks vary across the country, so many college students and families will be traveling to Disney during this time period.
4. School’s Out For Summer: June Through Mid-August
Most of the country’s schools are out of session during this time, so the resorts expect major crowds. You can expect the prices to be high, too. It will be quite hot and humid, so plan to take breaks.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the GREAT news. If you are traveling during one of the “worst” times, you’re still going to have an awesome vacation. I’ve only traveled to Disney World during a peak season (late June, July, and the week before Easter). I’m here to tell you that even if you are like me and thousands of others who can really only travel during the peak times due to family, school, and work schedules, you’re going to be just fine. There is no BAD TIME to visit Disney if you know what you’re doing. I have never waited longer than 30 minutes for a ride (and usually no longer than 15), and honestly would not hesitate to travel during these times again and again. A trip during peak season just requires a higher level of planning. (Check out our planning articles and you will be fine! – Listed Below) Sure, a family traveling in January has it easier. They don’t have to plan as much. Their FastPass selections aren’t as critical. Their ADR’s (advanced dining reservations) aren’t as impossible to secure. And yes, they are able to maintain some personal space in the parks. But a prepared family traveling during peak seasons is going to have just as much fun. Ultimately, you should choose the time that is convenient for you. If there is a special event that you want to attend, don’t let peak season deter you from going!