Knowing when to go to Walt Disney World is just as important as where you stay, what you eat, and how you experience the parks. Each month is a mixed bag of crowds, weather, cost, and other factors. Learn how to pick the best month for Mickey!
Former VIP Tour Guide Andrea McGann Keech analyzes the best and worst times for a Disney World vacation, one month at a time, based on:
Get the lowdown on your month, and then mark your calendar for magic!
Something every guest wants to know, whether they’re first-timers or frequent visitors, is this: When is the best time for my family to visit Walt Disney World? What happens there during every month of the year? That’s the information you’ll find in A Mouse for All Seasons.
By “the best time,” people want to know: (1) when is the number of guests the lowest—meaning that time spent waiting in long queues will be the shortest, (2) when is the weather most comfortable—meaning a time when heat and humidity are mild and the risk of rain and storms slight, and (3) what special events might be happening during our visit—meaning things that could either enhance or disrupt a vacation. Besides those three questions, another crucial question people should ask but often overlook is (4) which hotels, attractions, and restaurants at the resort will be closed for refurbishment, rain, or replacement? Plan in advance and you can avoid disappointment so that you don’t discover a much-anticipated attraction or experience isn’t open when you arrive.
Living near Anaheim, I visited Disneyland frequently during every season, every month, and under all possible conditions since it opened in 1955. I learned even more about the best (and the worst) times to visit Walt’s personal theme park as it expanded and changed over the years. Finally, when I turned eighteen, I got a dream position working throughout college vacations as a VIP hostess and tour guide. I got to share the best of what Disneyland had to offer with individuals and families from all over the world. Those early years are chronicled in a memoir titled The Cream of the Crop: Tour Guide Tales from Disneyland’s Golden Years (Theme Park Press, 2016).
Things changed dramatically and definitively in the summer of 1970 when we veteran Disneyland cast members were tapped to train the very first Walt Disney World cast members. The Floridian tour guides would wear costumes identical to ours in every respect but their color. Ours were mainly red, theirs would be blue. (Our velvet riding caps, vests, long sleeves, neck ties, Pendleton culottes, and wool knee socks didn’t last very long in the Orlando heat!). It was difficult to imagine another Disneyland, an East Coast upstart. We were skeptical about the new kid on the Disney block taking shape in the wilds of central Florida. Truth be told, our noses were more than a little out of joint about the idea of competition. We’d had the world’s attention all to ourselves, and now we’d have to share it with Florida.
After visiting Walt Disney World with my family and sometimes by myself during every season over the past four-and-a-half decades, the amazing “new”resort won me—and the rest of the world—over. There’s simply nothing else like it. As much as I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Disneyland, the entertainment colossus that is Disney World overshadows it exponentially. As Walt Disney’s early Florida dream has grown into the four major theme parks of today, as the first two resort hotels (the Contemporary and the Polynesian) have ballooned to twenty-five, and as the Magic Kingdom itself has been cloned from Paris to Shanghai to Tokyo to Hong Kong, there seems to be no end of exciting new ways to experience Disney.
Still, when you go can make a whole world of difference in the kind of experience you will have on your vacation. I’ve been to Walt Disney World in late June when school was out across the country and the temperatures soared right along with the humidity levels and the wait-times. Big “misting” fans were turned on us in the attraction queues as though we were livestock at the state fair. It was difficult to move or breathe, let alone savor the Disney experience. Our daughter, Liz, was working there that particular summer, which is the reason why we went at that time. Sometimes, you simply have little choice about when you’re visiting. There may be a professional convention dictated by your place of employment, a school vacation schedule you need to work around, a special wedding anniversary, a milestone celebration, or a variety of other reasons that make one particular time the time you’re going to Walt Disney World.
So why purchase a traditional book like this one in the days of rapid-fire information exchange and a bucket-load of blogs? There are a lot of reasons. No matter how good I am (or you are) at navigating the net and scanning a myriad of blogs and websites, both official and unofficial, it takes months and months of research to evaluate all the information and distill down the giant funnel of facts into a pocket guide of manageable size like this one.
I’ve created this guide to be easily accessible and clearly written with just what you need to know to compare every month of the year at Walt Disney World, right at your fingertips. I will give you advice plainly and simply, present information that is clear and concise, and organize facts so that you can find what you need quickly and easily. I’ll do all of that for you right here—give you everything you need and nothing you don’t. Believe me, as someone who has spent more time at Walt Disney World and navigating the best available websites, it’s a great help to get your information in one convenient place the “easy way.” That’s what you’ll find in the following twelve chapters.
Believe it or not, I can tell you from experience that there are tried-and-true ways to make the best of any month of the year. If you’re fortunate enough to have your pick of times to vacation, I’ll let you know the benefits and the trade-offs of every single month. With some advance planning and armed with pertinent information, you’ll be able to get the most out of any visit to Walt Disney World, no matter when you go. The main thing you need to do (and it’s the one thing you’ll be able to personally control) is to plan carefully before you go. It’s the one thing that can make all the difference between having a fantastic visit and one that leaves a lot to be desired.
Page through A Mouse for All Seasons and see what each month has to offer. You’ll save time and energy, two of your three most important resources, by planning ahead. The other resource is money. Going at a not-as-busy time can save you cash, but there may be other drawbacks in the off season that you shouldn’t overlook. One of those is the “closure” or “refurbishment” issue. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry! I’ll tell you about it in the pages that follow. You decide which of the key factors I’ll share with you here are the most important ones to you. It’s always a balancing act, and every guest has his or her own particular biases, me included (I detest humidity, for example, and adore Halloween). I’ll give you the information you need to make good choices, choices that will work well for you.
Remember, there’s no “right” or “wrong” time to vacation at Walt Disney World. Just make the very most of the time of year when you vacation. After all, as Walt Disney reminded us, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”
Let’s get started on making those Disney dreams of yours come true right now!
Andrea McGann Keech was born in southern California and visited Disneyland often, ever since it opened in 1955. She fulfilled a life-long dream of working at the park and became a bilingual tour guide and VIP hostess during college holidays from 1969 through 1972, experiences described in her first book The Cream of the Crop: Tour Guide Tales from Disneyland’s Golden Years (Theme Park Press, 2016).
She taught students in English and Spanish in grades K-12 during her teaching career. She was a member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress Committee that established Writing Standards, 2011-2018, for students in grades 3-12. She has written for a variety of national educational journals and presented often at teaching conferences, but the most fulfilling aspect of her work, by far, was seeing her students succeed.
Andrea lives in Iowa City with Shadow and Sunny, two wild and crazy standard poodles. Her happiest role is that of playing Mary Poppins to beloved grandchildren Katherine and Drew and spending time with baby grandson, Will.
Other Disney books by Andrea are The Indulgent Grandparent’s Guide to Walt Disney World, Treasure of the Ten Tags: A Disneyland Adventure, Walt Disney World Dining Guide 2018, and Walt Disney World Characters 101: Your Complete Guide to Perfect Meet and Greets (all from Theme Park Press).
Each month has a crowd analysis, with each day of the month ranked as either "avoid", "very crowded", "somewhat crowded", or "not very crowded", with reasons why. Each month also has a crowd summary, like this one for January 2018:
January is a great month for a visit, but there are a few January days you must avoid if at all possible. The first three or four days of January are not recommended, due to very heavy crowds still lingering at the resort following their Christmas vacations. One of the all-time busiest days of the entire year is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Unless it’s the only option you have, no one ever recommends going then. Also, the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday weekend will be busy, due to many schools now recognizing the holiday and making it a three-day weekend. I’ve gone to Walt Disney World many times during the MLK Jr. weekend, however, and I still find it quite manageable getting around. (I can’t say the same for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Universal Orlando. On the Monday of one MLK Jr. weekend when I visited, Harry’s World made a sardine can look positively spacious by comparison.)
A January event called the runDisney Marathon draws thousands of participants. While I’ve seen the entrants running around the parks and in front of my hotel on the lagoon, I’ve never found the crowds to be unduly bothersome during any RunDisney weekend. It’s fun and festive to see everyone in their abbreviated character costumes, proudly wearing the medals they earn for participating on colorful ribbons around their necks.
Mid- to late January is close to perfect as far as crowd-avoidance goes. Looking online, you’ll discover a good many of the monthly calendars posted by bloggers are so detailed as to be virtually indecipherable, even with bifocals and a Zeiss magnifying glass or an advanced degree in higher math. For me, figuring out those tiny calendars with their constants and variables is akin to attempting to understand calculus or physics—it’s not gonna happen.
I’d rather be prepared for crowd levels than unpleasantly surprised. Some sites are too optimistic. Use these general guidelines, and you should be fine.
Note: As always, all rankings given here are merely estimates based on past trends and are not guaranteed. This caution holds true for any other predictions made in this guide, including prices and weather. As you’ll discover, at Walt Disney World very little is an absolute certainty.
Continued in "A Mouse for All Seasons"!
Each month has a "climate" analysis (otherwise known as a weather analysis, but "weather" breaks the "c" theme of crowd, climate, cost, etc.), like this one for January:
For Floridians, January is the “coldest” month. For those of us heading south from Iowa where the mercury can drop below zero for a couple of weeks straight, it’s downright heavenly. The flowers are in bloom as the plane lands, and just hours earlier we were shoveling piles of snow from the driveway to get to the airport. Still, it must be acknowledged that January does have some chilly days and nights, even in sunny Florida. The year 2017 was one of the warmest years on record. Knowing those averages is helpful, but weather can be highly variable. Notice the difference between the actual and average temperatures:
Continued in "A Mouse for All Seasons"!