Years ago, people 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. Those were the 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.
So if you choose to go to Disney World when the whole world will show up in Orlando, what are the “best” of the worst times? Let’s take a look at five busy times at Disney World, in reverse order, from crazy to 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 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,” (Star Wars Weekend) there will be more people in town before, during, and shortly after the weekend.
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 school, 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.
Always keep 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.
I wouldn’t be caught on Main Street, U.S.A., between eleven a.m. 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, 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 Disney. February through April are busy times at Disney, when the weather is somewhere between shivering and sweating, although it’s probably more crowded on weekends during these month.
“Easter week,” which runs from Easter weekend through the next week, will be crowded as people enjoy the lovely weather and spring decorations.
Did you know that Disney World’s Epcot Center made U.S.A Today’s 2013 Trashiest Spring Break Destinations because they feature an “Around the World in Beer” offering that draws college-age spring breakers, despite the family nature of the 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 and the most 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 sparkly 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. Daily crowd levels will increasingly steadily, as you move to standing room only on the monorails and easily over 100 minute waits for busy rides, from around December 20 and running through the New 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, 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!
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