Updated for 2016!
Years ago, travelers talked about planning a Disney vacation when it “wasn’t busy.” They wanted to travel to Orlando when lines were less than five minutes for average rides and less than 15 minutes for thrill rides. I took a couple of those fabled vacations myself, usually with my kids playing hookie from school. Man oh man, those were the golden days.
Now? Disney World is a very busy place. That’s probably an understatement; Walt Disney World can be an absolute elbow-to-elbow insanely crowded place for a vacation. Searching for those fabled “down times,” I have spent hours reading planning books and websites, and the general Mickey Mouse rules of thumb is that if the kiddos are out of school, you don’t want to go to Disney. But for some of us, pulling the kids out of school just isn’t going to happen, and to get our Disney vacation in, we have to travel when we can. Lots of people travel when the kids are out of school, and that’s why it’s so busy.
So if you choose to go to Disney World when the whole world will show up in Orlando, what are the “worst” of the worst times? Let’s take a look at five busy times at Disney World, in reverse order, from crazy to just pull your Mickey ears off insanity.
5. Special Events
Disney has added all sorts of reasons for you to take a vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth all year ’round, with celebrations, discounts, free dining, and amazing events scheduled nearly every month of the year. Marathon weekends, Candlelight Processionals, any minor holiday when school lets out, and special events like Star Wars Weekends, Night of Joy, and Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas party days will always be more crowded than normal.
Is there a normal when it comes to Disney crowds?
While it may not be crowded for a week at a time, if the schedule says “weekend,” (i.e. Star Wars Weekend) there will be more people in town before, during, and shortly after that weekend’s events. It’s kind of a go early stay after mentality, and since you paid all that mont to get there, rightly so.
4. Holidays Other than Christmas
If the kids are out of school, people are loading up their cars, catching flights, and heading to Disney by the thousands. This obviously makes the most scheduling sense, with work and school schedules, but it can cause you to stand in long lines and wind up parking what seems like miles away from the parks. Thank goodness for trams.
Thanksgiving week will be packed, as many schools, including my own school system, now take the whole week off. Any nationally celebrated holiday that gives you a Monday off, so that you have three days to play, will put you in the middle of streams of people all heading for roller coasters and Fastpass+ machines to get in one more ride.
Thomas left a comment about his Thanksgiving trip, “We visited during Thanksgiving week and the week after in 2012. Contrary to your expectations, the crowd level was extremely low. Only around December 1st did the crowds start picking up again. Also, the last few weeks in August before school are very hot, but the parks are deserted. In 2009, we were at rope drops for both Magic Kingdom and EPCOT that had less than 20 people (not families, total bodies) waiting to get in.”
I believe crowd levels have increased in the last 5-6 years, despite numerous ticket price increases, and if the crow levels were that low during these times now, I’d take myself off from work just for some shorter wait times. You may get lucky on certain days in certain parks, but in general, holidays are a busy time.
Keeping in mind that unofficial rule about when kids are out of school, from just about the second week of June when kids run out the school doors, through the second week of August when parents drag them kicking and screaming back to school, Disney will be crowded. Not only that, but summer means heat, humidity, and possible rain showers.
Traditional Disney planning wisdom tells you to get to the parks bright and early, take a break and maybe a nap after lunch, and head back to the parks late afternoon or after dinner. Summer offers many Extra Magic Hours opportunities that can save you time if you are staying at a Disney Resort.
If staying all day in the summer works for you, then so be it. I personally wouldn’t be caught on Main Street, U.S.A., between noon and four p.m. in the summer, because it’s brutally hot outside and the most crowded during mid-day. You’ll find my family at the pool or snoozing off lunch, nap-dreaming of heading back to the roller coasters after dinner.
2. Spring Break
You have a three-month period of schools letting out for spring break, which means thousands of pre-k to post-graduate kids, teens, parents, and grandparents will flock to Orlando. February through April are busy times at Disney, when the weather is somewhere between shivering and sweating, (some days are both) although it’s probably more crowded on weekends during these month.
“Easter week,” which runs from Easter weekend through the next week, will be especially crowded as people enjoy the lovely weather and spring decorations at the resorts.
Did you know that Disney World’s Epcot Center made U.S.A Today’s 2013 Trashiest Spring Break Destinations? That’s because of something called “Around the World in Beer” that draws in college-age spring breakers, despite the family nature of this park. Tantruming toddlers vs. intoxicated college students…that’s a toss-up as to who you want to stand in line with you for a 120 minute wait for Space Mountain.
1. The Day After Christmas to New Years.
This is it ladies and gentlemen, the time the Disney Resorts and Parks are the most crowded, ultra crowded, and with good reason. School is out, lots of businesses are closed or people have just taken time off, and “The World” is alive with Christmas music and twinkly decorations. There may be no more beautiful time at Disney World than when the Christmas decorations are hung by the resort chimneys with care.
Yup, from Christmas to New Years is the most crowded and most expensive time of year. To see a price comparison, use this link: Can a Cheapskate Afford to Stay at Disney World During the Week of Christmas?
Daily crowd levels will increasingly steadily, as you move to standing room only on the monorails and easily over 120 minute waits for busy rides, from around December 20 and running through the New Year.
It takes a special person with a get-it-done attitude to vacation during this week.
Cathy, “We learned the lesson about Christmas and the week after by mistake one year. We took our then four and six-year-old to Disneyland as a surprise. Surprise to us, it was so crowded you couldn’t see from one end of Toon Town to the other! We talked to a Cast Member, and they informed us of what you said….Christmas Day and the week after is the most crowded time of the year.”
If the kids are out of school, they are hoping their parents will take them to Walt Disney World. Not to open a can of school make-up work worms here, but if you ever took the kids out of school so the Space Mountain line would be shorter, and your vacation patience level would be higher, then you just might be a Cheapskate Princess! We don’t advocate doing this multiple times each year, but if your Disney trip is just occasional and the kids are younger, well, you’ll enjoy a trip where you fight less crowds.
We had a lot of thoughts about missing school from our readers, so we’ve added them into the article.
Lena commented, “There is no reason to take your kids out of school for a vacation. Please don’t ruin their education for a shorter ride line.”
Several parents commented in response to Lena’s thoughts.
Sarah, “Taking the kids out of school will not ruin their education! I am a teacher of 20 years, and I take my own kids out of school to go. Keep in mind, there are many things one can learn while at Disney.
1) Learn about the different countries at Epcot
2) Map skills- my 5-year-old became proficient at reading maps because she wanted to know where everything was
3) Math skills- keeping a budget of their money
4) Animal Kingdom- learn about animals
5) Magic Kingdom- Hall of Presidents teaches one about US history
6) Epcot- Spaceship Earth-history of the world
I could go on and on! Please remember that one can not only have a great time at Disney, but one can learn a lot!”
Angela, “We went to Disney Land last September. My kids were four and three, so it was perfect. We hit the first Halloween Party of the year, which was busier than the rest of the week had been but it was doable. We just didn’t ride anything until 11 p.m. We hit all the trick or treat stations; it was the best Halloween EVER!
This year we are going the week after Thanksgiving. My oldest will be missing a week of school, but she’s only in first grade and I figure she’ll survive. Plus the decorations will be up and hopefully the crowds will be lower. I’m tempted to go at Christmas, but I think I’ll wait until the kids are older and more tolerant of long waits.”
Emily, “Being a K-2 school librarian, I used to be of the mindset DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT OF SCHOOL! You have ALL summer to vacation (and so does every other kid in the world!)!!! We went this past September for a week (yes, I missed a week of school, too), and it was the best decision and trip we had in a long time! We didn’t feel rushed, we enjoyed our trip more as a family, the parks were less crowded. FREE DINING was in also effect! The kids had the opportunity to learn, too! One week shouldn’t make or break their education (but DON’T go during State testing), and chances are, their teacher will be glad, and a little jealous, they went. Family memories are important, too!”
Michele, “Took my son out for a week of school several years in a row. He just graduated at the top of his high school class and just started college on a full scholarship. Go figure!”
Susanne, “Seriously…’Ruin’ their education! One week, or maybe a little longer, missed from school is totally worth the family fun you can have at Disneyland or Disney World.. We did it more than once, and our kids came out just great. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything!”
Glena, “School is important but in the grand scheme of life, there are a LOT of years to sit in a classroom. A trip to Disney might be a once in a lifetime experience for a family. There is no reason that a child can’t get the work they missed and make it up when they return in the evenings or during recess.
We all need a break every once in a while and putting school on such a pedestal exempting all the rest of life for it, well seems pretty boring to me. Life is learning and children learn everywhere, not just in the classroom!”
In fact, we asked our Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans if they took their kids out of school, and their answers could help you plan your next vacation. Use this link:
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you on vacation during the best times visit Orlando. When is that you ask? We can tell you that as well.
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Amanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.
Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast.
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