We’ve all seen those adorable “We’re going to Disney World!” videos, sharing children’s uninhibited excitement at learning they’ll be vacationing at the Most Magical Place on Earth. What’s not shown in those videos is the sheer amount of planning it takes to figure out the logistics of a trip to the beloved theme park.
When you’re planning a trip to Disney World, you need to figure out your budget with the tickets, the hotels, the dining… the list goes on and on. But the first thing you’ll need to determine is precisely what time of year you’ll visit. While some families may be constrained by school or job schedules, if you are open to planning your trip at any time of year, there are certainly better times to visit the parks if you want to avoid the bulk of the crowds (or the Florida heat).
I spoke with Molly McCormack of Mammoth Club and Megan Hamilton from Miss Wizarding World, two theme park experts who visit Disney and Universal frequently and know a thing or two about the best and worst times of the year to go.
The Best Times to Go to Disney World
Want lower crowds, fun decorations, and tasty eats? Molly’s favorite time to visit the parks is during the fall, and for good reason. “My top time to visit is the fall,” Molly tells me. “I love spooky season in the parks — plus the Food & Wine Festival is happening at Epcot.”
The Epcot Food & Wine Festival is currently taking place at Epcot, lasting through Nov. 18, 2023. The festival features “Global Marketplaces,” food booths that let you get a taste of food and drink from around the world.
As for Halloween, Disney World begins celebrating Halloween in the parks in mid-August, lasting through the first week of November. The spooky season includes the after-hours event Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on select nights, but during the day, you’ll get to enjoy special treats and fall-inspired decorations.
If you’re looking to enjoy the fall season at Disney, Molly recommends non-holiday weeks in September and October. Additionally, she recommends visiting for the holiday season — but during very specific times.
“If you’re wanting the winter cozy season vibes, try the week after Thanksgiving through the first two weeks of December,” Molly suggests. “The parks will be decorated beautifully for the holidays, but you’ll typically miss the crowds of actual Christmas week. Both of these times are usually far better temperatures than the summer as well, though it can still rain with hurricane season.”
As long as you avoid holiday weeks from September through early December, you can experience lower crowds, lower temperatures, and decorations for various holidays. What else can you ask for in Disney World?
Speaking of lower temperatures, the other time of year Molly recommends is the start of the year, during January and February. She shared that those months “are typically slow, with the exception of runDisney race or holiday weekends!”
The major runDisney marathon typically takes place the first weekend in January. In 2024, for example, the runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon will take place from Jan. 3 to Jan. 7, bringing in tons of people to the parks.
The other major perks to this time of year are the (much cooler) weather and the Epcot Festival of the Arts. “[During January and February the] weather is lovely, too. Plus, the Festival of the Arts is usually happening at Epcot, which I think is the most family-friendly and underrated festival. Basically, if you can avoid school being out and the offensive heat, you’ve made a great choice,” Molly explains.
To recap, the best times to visit Disney World are:
- Non-holiday weeks in September and October
- After Thanksgiving through early December
- Mid-January to mid-February
The Worst Times to Go to Disney World
While there are certain times of the year when you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it will be crowded in Disney World, predicting the busiest times of the year at the park has become less certain in recent years.
“It’s actually become harder since the 2020 closures and pandemic to predict crowds,” Molly shares. “Historically, very busy times haven’t been as packed and vice versa.”
However, when you want to steer clear of the biggest crowds, there are a few specific times of the year you will absolutely want to avoid visiting the parks. “It’s a pretty safe bet that national holidays are incredibly busy — especially Christmas and New Year, and Easter/Spring Break,” Molly cautions. “Even long weekend holidays such as Memorial Day or Labor Day can be very busy.”
Another major time to avoid? The summer. “Summer break (especially Jul. 4) is also very popular — and now you’ve got the added bonus of 100° heat and humidity,” Molly says. “If you’re able, avoid any time when school is out.”
To recap, the worst times to visit Disney World are:
- Major holidays
- Long weekend holidays (think Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.)
- Summer break
- runDisney events
How to Make the Best of the Worst Times of the Year
While in theory, it would be easiest to avoid those “worst” times of the year, that isn’t always possible. Depending on your schedule, your kid’s schedule, or a combination of the two, you may need to visit Disney during one of these busier times of the year.
If that’s the case, there are plenty of ways you can still make the most out of your trip. A few ideas:
- Pay to “skip the line”: Want to avoid the lines that come with big crowds? Consider paying to skip the standby line with Disney Genie+ at Disney World.
- Extend your stay: When there are big crowds and long lines, you may need to spend more than a day in each park. Consider extending your stay by a day or two to get more done.
- Stay on-property: Staying on-property can have huge benefits at each park. At Disney World, you’ll have complimentary transportation from on-property resorts and will get benefits like Early Theme Park Entry or Extended Evening Hours (if you’re at a Deluxe Resort).
- Plan well in advance: If you’ll be staying during a busier time of year, don’t wait until the last minute to plan. Take advantage of booking hotels, dining, tickets, and more well in advance to avoid unnecessary stress.
- Stay on weekdays: Even during busier times of the year, you’ll find that weekdays are likely less crowded than the weekends. Many Floridians or locals will come to the parks on their days off over the weekend, adding to the already overcrowded times of the year. If you can, book for weekdays to avoid those added weekend crowds.
- Consider your ticket type: Consider what the best bang for your buck is for ticket pricing. “Oftentimes, if you’re visiting more than three to four days, an Annual Pass is cheaper and comes with perks like a discount on food and souvenirs,” Megan says. Price out the cost of tickets for the time you’re visiting, and consider whether an Annual Pass will be less expensive at Disney.
So, when you book your trip, remember: While there may be some obvious times of year to put in the “avoid” column if you’re looking to bypass crowds (lookin’ at you, Christmas), there are some more under-the-radar dates you may want to look out for, too.