Disney off the Beaten Path:The Slowest Time of the Year
As much as I love Disney World, I find that there’s a direct correlation between my enjoyment of the parks and how crowded they are. It’s true that there’s a certain energy and excitement that you can only find when the parks are crowded, but that feeling fades pretty quickly when you can’t get from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland due to the sweaty hordes thronging the walkways. This is why I tend to travel during the off season. If you’ve never been to Disney World during the slower months, you’re missing out on one of the best experiences you can have in the parks.
So, just when is the slowest time of the year? Well, there are some Disney fans who say that the so-called slowest time of the year doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll agree to a certain extent. I can remember coming to Disney during the first two weeks of December in the late 80s. The parks were practically empty and we walked on every ride; I can remember riding Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road at least eight times without getting off. While those days are gone, there are still great times of the year to come to Disney. Don’t think in terms of months, however. Promotions and special events mean that even traditionally slower months of the year will have busy weekends. Rather, think in terms of slower weeks and if possible avoid the following: Holidays, school breaks, and special events like Pop Warner. Here’s a brief run-down on the slowest times of the year:
January: January is a great time to visit the world, but keep in mind that marathon weekend (usually the first or second weekend in January, depending on when New Year’s falls) and Martin Luther King weekend will be crowded. Otherwise, it’s probably the slowest time of the year. The trade-off is that the weather can be unpredictable, so bring clothing that you can layer and don’t forget a coat. And your bathing suit.
February: Great until mid-month. Valentine’s day marks the beginning of Disney’s very long Spring Break season and higher crowds.
May: Early May is one of my favorite times of the year. Kids are back in school after break. Only the most die-hard Disney fan is going to take his kids out of school right before school gets out for the summer. Mother’s day is almost always uncrowded. I’ve been there two years in a row and the waits were better than they are in early December. If you want to catch Star Wars Weekend at Hollywood Studios, the first weekend of this month-long event is usually a weekend in May. Go and be rewarded with lower crowds. A warning: It can be really hot.
September: After Labor day, expect low crowds. Also expect hurricane warnings. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get trip insurance when you travel, make an exception this month. Orlando hasn’t been hit hard by a hurricane in years, but the outer bands can mean heavy rains and flight delays. Plan accordingly.
November: I love early November. The weather is perfect, the crowds are low, and there are often good discounts available from Disney. Just remember that Jersey Days, the period when New Jersey schools are out for break, falls during this time, usually the latter part of the second week. Expect much higher crowds than normal during this time.
December: Early December used to the slowest time of the year, much loved by Disney fans. Sadly, this is no longer true. Slightly busier than May or January, you can still you can enjoy Christmas decorations and relatively low crowds during this time. If avoiding large school groups is important to you, make sure you find out the dates for Pop Warner ahead of time. Most of us love kids and don’t begrudge them having their fun, but when you’re trying to sleep and they’re practicing their cheers at 2:00 a.m., you might find yourself lacking in pixie dust. By all means, don’t cancel your trip during this time, just don’t book a room at the resort(s) they’re staying at. One more caveat: Their arrival and departure days are usually very busy days in the park, but otherwise Pop Warner doesn’t seem to have a huge effect on crowds.
One last thing. If you’re concerned about crowds and want more in-depth information, check out the Touring Plans Crowd Calendar by the folks who put out the Unofficial Guide. They use years of data and expert analysis (they have an economist predicting trends based on the economy, for goodness sakes!) to determine crowd levels. I don’t plan a trip without it. You can view the calender 30-days out for free or you can pay around $9 for a year-long subscription that also gives you access to touring plans and Lines, which gives you mobile wait times on your phone. You can also check out for free.
Chris blogs at Everything Walt Disney World. She’d like you to know that she was not hoodwinked, bamboozled, or paid in chocolate for giving Touring Plans a glowing recommendation.