So you’re ready to go to Disney? Terrific! We’ve got all the information that you need to plan the ultimate Walt Disney World vacation in a stress-free format. Follow this simple step-by-step planning guide, and you’ll be on your way to making memories before others can even look up “monorail”.
The very first decision you’ll need to make when prepping for a Disney vacation is when you’d like to go. There are several factors to consider when making the best choice for your party. Here’s what you need to know…
1. Crowd Calendar
There are good times to go to Disney World, and there are better times to go to Disney World. Obviously, if you’re able to go when the parks are less busy, that would make for a better experience. It also makes a difference financially, since prices for park tickets, resort rooms, and even food go up significantly during peak seasons. (Seasons known to be busy, historically.) We’ve put together this chart that helps you gauge the typical crowd attendance for the parks year round.
Weather conditions can make or break a trip, am I right? And while conditions will always be somewhat unpredictable, these data averages may help a little in your decision-making process.
Heat – If you like the heat, plan your Disney trip May through September. If you prefer temperatures that may require a jacket, you’ll be more comfortable November through February. See the graph below for average highs and lows in Orlando. (But trust me—always pack one pair of pants and a jacket…even in July.) You may also like 8 Cool Ways to Beat the Heat at Disney World
Precipitation – Rain is always a possibility, especially in the afternoons. Don’t let it affect your decision too much, though. We’ll discuss later how a little rain can actually be good.
Storms– Hurricane season in Florida is broadly defined between early June and late November, but realistically the chances of hurricane activity are most likely between August and early October. But FYI – Disney does have a hurricane contingency plan if you choose to plan your trip during these times. Check out 10 Fantastic Things To do When It Rains At Magic Kingdom.
If you are a participating in a special event, the camaraderie of other like-minded individuals can add extra energy to your visit. On the flip side, if you’re an “outsider” during a special event period, you may not appreciate the larger crowds.
RunDisney – Race weekends attract plenty of people. Below are approximate total registrants for all race events.
Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (early January, 85,000+ runners)
Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon (late April, 30,000+ runners)
Wine & Dine Half Marathon (early November, 30,000+ runners)
Cheer Competitions– Thousands of cheerleaders and their families compete mid-March every year for the International All Stars. Smaller competitions happen throughout the spring as well. Check ESPN website for more details.
Home School/Field Trip Days – Early November several thousand homeschoolers usually attend Student Seminars (formerly Home School Days), while March sees an influx of local schools taking field trips to Epcot or Animal Kingdom.
Gay Days– The first Saturday in June is usually Gay Day in the Magic Kingdom with up to 150,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community participating. The Gay Days group also organizes meet-ups at other Disney parks during the surrounding days.
Grad Night H2O – On certain days in April, high school grads can visit Typhoon Lagoon for special hours and pricing. Surrounding days they can purchase specially priced theme park tickets.
Night of Joy – A contemporary Christian music celebration at ESPN Wide World of Sports. This is a specially ticketed event, usually on a weekend in early September.
4. Holidays and Festivals
There’s always something to celebrate at Disney parks. Though the parks are busier during these holidays and festivals, the unique offerings can offset the crowd hassles for some people. It’s all up to you and your desires for a magical trip! Here’s a breakdown of the major holidays and festivals affecting the parks…
Festival of Arts – Epcot, Thursdays-Mondays, mid-January through mid-February. This festival offers different performing, visual, and culinary arts from around the world each week.
Flower and Garden Festival – Epcot, running continuously, March through May. A popular festival celebrating flowers, nature, and clean eating. An excellent choice for smaller kids with additional outdoor playgrounds added.
Star Wars Celebration and Galactic Nights – Hollywood Studios, mid-April. The Force is strong during Star Wars days—and the crowds are high. Plus, Galactic Nights is a specially ticketed Star Wars event where attendees can wear costumes and enjoy exclusive activities. *Note – Hollywood Studios hours will be limited for those without an event ticket. Plan accordingly. you may also be interested in 7 Stellar Star Wars Experiences At Disney World Resort.
Summer Break – Again, school break means high crowd capacity. But Disney’s water parks have extended hours.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party – Magic Kingdom, select nights, late September through October. A specially ticketed evening event with added characters, parades, and shows. *Note – Magic Kingdom hours will be limited on party nights for those without a party ticket. Plan accordingly.
Food and Wine Festival – Epcot, running continuously, September through mid-November. Taste new dishes and drinks from around the world. On weekends there is a special concert series. *Note – weekend nights are extremely crowded and less child-friendly than normal.
Christmas – All parks celebrate with various events including Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, Holidays Around the World, Candlelight Processional, and more. It’s magical! But again, the school break tends to draw many visitors.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Magic Kingdom, select nights, November through December. A specially ticketed event with added characters, parades, and shows. *Note – Magic Kingdom hours will be limited on party nights for those without a party ticket. Plan accordingly.
Other Holidays – Basically, the crowds increase anytime there’s a break in school (see crowd calendar). But Disney usually does something to make even the “smaller” holidays special…Mardi Gras parade at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, Chinese New Year celebration in Epcot, etc.
Scheduled maintenance is necessary, but it can be a bummer when a favorite attraction is out of service during your trip. An authorized Disney planner can make you aware of maintenance schedules. Checking individual rides/resorts on My Disney Experience (a must-have app that we’ll discuss in later steps) for your dates is possible too, though possibly tedious. One thing is certain, in terms of maintenance—during winter months you will only have access to one water park and times are limited.
My absolute favorite times of year to go to Disney World are:
Early January, during the week—Crowds (and prices) are at an all time low, the weather is cool. Just watch out for the weekend events.
Early May — I LOVE Flower and Garden Fest, and most people are not taking their kids out of school so close to the end of the year.
September — Crowds begin to thin as school calendars resume. It’s hot but bearable.
Early November — See all the Christmas decorations before the craziness of the holiday crowds. And the weather is usually super!