The Basics: When to Go to Disney World
By Dave Shute
- You can go to Disney World when it’s convenient for your family, and simply accept the specific circumstances that you will find at that time—crowds, wait times, price levels, weather, special events, and the odds of rides being closed for refurb.
- Or you can pick the specific circumstances that best suit you, and go to Disney World during one of the periods that best displays them.
If you follow the first approach, you likely will find high crowds and long waits, as the most convenient time to go is when the kids are out of school, so what works best for you will also work best for hundreds of thousands of other people.
If you follow the second approach, and pick the circumstances that are best for you, then you weigh several key variables, and target your dates based on which among them are most important to you.
If you are a first-time visitor, I’ve already weighed the weeks of the year on your behalf based on crowds, prices, ride closures, the peak of the hurricane season, and special events.
You can find my rankings for the weeks of 2017 at Disney World here, and draft rankings for 2018 at Walt Disney World here.
First-timers who may never return should also consider if their kids are old enough to get the best out of Disney World.
If you are a returning visitor—or a first timer who wants to figure this out for yourself—the key circumstances to keep in mind follow.
Crowds. Disney World is never not crowded, but some dates are much worse, and some much better, than others.
Disney World is at its most crowded when tens of millions of US schoolkids are out of school—the summer, Thanksgiving week, the weeks of Christmas and New Years, the week of President’s Day, and the spring break weeks from early March through the week after Easter.
Historically the least crowded times to visit are in September after Labor Day and the period in January and early February from after Martin Luther King Day until the Thursday before Presidents Day
My calendars predict low (green), moderate (black) and high crowd (red) weeks.
Curiously, every year I get flamed a few times because some people interpret my “low crowds” as meaning “no crowds.” For these calendars, that’s as wrong as thinking that a “low-priced” car is free, or that a forecast for “low temperatures” tomorrow means 459.67 degrees below zero, or that a “low bridge” is one that sits on the roadway below it.
“Low crowds” in my calendars means “lower than other possible dates.” It doesn’t mean no crowds, nor even crowds as low as you—or I—wish they were!
Prices. Disney hotel prices are twice as expensive some times of the year as others
They vary to a complex schedule that can include different prices for weekdays/weekends/short holiday weekends, and longer periods different prices based on of higher and lower willingness to pay.
Some will tell you that they are least expensive during the low crowd periods, and most expensive during the high crowd periods.
This is not entirely true—you can find both lower priced high crowd periods, and higher priced low crowd periods. Some months with mostly similar crowd levels will see four or more different price changes!
As I write this, Disney World multi-day ticket prices do not vary by date, with Disney simply increasing them once or twice a year. (Single day tickets do vary by date; the last few years, ticket prices have gone up in February, so buy your tickets now to avoid the price increases!)
That approach to multiday ticket prices is widely expected to change, with multi-day tickets for the more popular dates becoming more expensive than less crowded ones.
Disney World usually offers deals covering all but the most crowded weeks of the year.
Among these, the most popular and valuable has been free dining, which is often available for much of September and selected dates later in the year.
This free dining deal for 2017 has not come out yet, but when/if it does, you can find both it and any other current Disney World deals open to the general public here.
Weather. Despite the image people have of Florida as having year-round sunshine and warmth, there’s actually a couple of weather points to keep in mind.
First, winter weather can be much cooler, and much more variable, than people expect.
Second, the summer—especially later June through September—reliably combines brutal heat with brutal humidity with daily thunderstorms.
Third, the peak of the hurricane season is from later August through earlier October.
The weather you find best will depend on your preferences, but to me the ideal weather in Orlando is in later April and mid-later October—easily warm enough for the pool, but not so hot and humid that I don’t want to leave my room.
There’s more on Disney Word weather beginning here.
SPECIAL EVENTS AND WHEN TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD
Special Events. Both major and minor special events dot the Disney World calendar.
None but perhaps the Christmas season celebrations and Halloween parties matter much to most first time visitors, but many returning visitors pick their dates to map to one of the major special events:
The fall Food and Wine Festival
The fall Halloween parties
RIDE CLOSURES AND WHEN TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD
Ride Closures. Disney World closes rides for refurbishment and renewal at any time of the year, and longer refurbishments can last 6 months or more.
That said, rides are most predictably closed from early January through mid-February.
There’s more on ride closures at Disney World here.
Hope this helps–and if not, check out the links, or ask me a question in the comment form below!