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Brian Bennett

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When to Go - Year-at-a-Glance

Beginning in October, Walt Disney World will be hosting the  fifteen month long "100 Years of Magic" Celebration, to commemorate Walt Disney's 100 birthday.  The Disney - MGM Studios will be the focal point of this extravaganza, with special displays, new shows, and so on.  It's important to note, that with the celebration going on, some of the historic patterns of crowd levels may be skewed.  With that warning, here's a round-up of what to expect throughout the year.

Special Events notwithstanding, here are my personal opinions as to advantages and disadvantages of going to Walt Disney World at various times of the year:

January-February

  • Crowds are not very great, although the Disney Company schedule quite a few special events at this time of year to bolster attendance.
  • Because of the lesser crowds, some of the night time entertainment (e.g. the Main Street Electrical Parade, Fantasy in the Sky, Fantasmic!) might not be presented very often at this time of year. A bonus, though, is that the extensive and beautiful Christmas decorations are still on display through the first week or so of January.
  • Weather tends to be cooler, although average highs are still in the low 70's.  However, temperatures often dip into the 50's and sometimes lower (In fact, in late January and early February 1996 were dipping into the 20's at WDW). You can't definitely plan to spend time in the water parks at this time of the year. The weather might cooperate, but it might not. Also, the water parks may be shut down during this time of year for annual maintenance. Disney staggers the shut-down schedules, but it's something to be aware of.

March-May

  • A lot of crowds hit WDW around the college spring break time and around Easter, but the numbers are still less than is normal for the summer months.
  • Night time entertainment is shown more often than early in the year. You're certain to catch the parades and so on around Spring Break time and the two weeks straddling Easter.
  • My wife, Barbara, provides a wonderful photo tour of Epcot's International Flower & Garden Festival -- an event held each Spring in the park.  If you're a garden fan, and can plan your visit around the Festival, you'll be glad you did!
  • Weather is warmer, with average highs in the high 70's in March and up into the high 80's by May. The water parks are always open at this time of year.
  • A lot of local school groups congest the parks (especially the Magic Kingdom) toward the end of May and into early June.

June-Mid-August

  • local school groups continue to congest the parks (especially the Magic Kingdom) into early June, so beware of the crowds at that time. Crowd levels don't decrease, though, since the summer vacation season starts as soon as the school groups start to trickle away.
  • Since many people go to WDW during the summer months when schools are shut down, this one of the very busiest times of the year except for Christmas week. It gets steadily worse as you get closer to the middle of August (since more schools nowadays reopen toward the end of August instead of early September).
  • Night time entertainment is shown pretty much every night.
  • Weather is very hot (average highs in the low 90's, but spiking up from there occasionally) and humid.  The heaviest rainfall of the  year (monthly levels from 6 to 7 1/2 inches) come in the early summer.  Of course, the water parks are open at this time of year and they are very crowded. Also, the pools at the hotels tend to be very busy too. If there is water anywhere, rest assured that people will be in it.
  • Foreign tour groups, especially from South America (since it's winter South of the equator when it's summer up here), are very prevalent during the summer months. The major drawback is that large masses of people cause bottlenecks and traffic jams as they diligently stick together during their day in the park. If you and your group become separated by one of these groups, you might not find each other again until you learn to speak Portuguese.
  • "Gay Day" is held at WDW in early June every year (the first week end after Memorial Day). An eyewitness account of the 1996 "Gay Day" is provided by Kenny Cottrell, a fellow user of rec.arts.disney.parks, if you would like to have a better understanding of the event.  Also, you might want to read Helen Tillger's trip report from May and June, 1996. Helen's report describes her group's experiences during the annual event.

Mid-August-September

  • In recent years, crowds have tended to really drop off in mid-August, but spike again during Labor Day weekend. In 1996 and 1997 and again in 1999 and 2000, this was NOT the case -- due to the fifteen month long 25th Anniversary and Millennium celebrations which caused stronger-than-normal mid-Fall crowds in those years.  Otherwise, this is normally a relatively quiet time of year at WDW. One other issue, there is still a strong number of foreign tour groups that visit WDW during the September-November time of year, mostly from Europe (a lot of folks visit from the UK, especially).
  • A drawback to the lesser crowds is that the hours of operation for the parks themselves are greatly shortened during the Fall (see paragraph above labeled "park hours" for more details). Therefore, some of the nighttime entertainment might not be presented very often at this time of year. Labor day weekend might very well be the last showing of these presentations until mid-October.
  • Weather is still quite hot (average highs in the upper 80's and into the low 90's) and humid. Of course, the water parks are open at this time of year but with the lesser crowds throughout Florida, they are much less crowded than they are in August. The major feature of September in Florida, though, is rain. Hurricane season is in full swing and while there is little danger with WDW so far inland, rains rivaling the deluge are not uncommon even when the storm itself doesn't even make landfall in Florida. 
  • "Night of Joy" is a specially-ticketed event held in September each year.  It is a that includes an evening in the Magic Kingdom with featured contemporary Christian music artists.

October-Thanksgiving

  • Again, higher-than-normal crowds associated with the Walt Disney World 25th Anniversary and the Millennium celebrations increased crowds in 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000 from other years.  Otherwise, this is another relatively quite time of year.  As a result, the hours of operation for the parks themselves typically remains shortened (see paragraph above labeled "park hours" for more details). Because of the lesser crowds, the parks night time entertainment might not be presented as often at this time of year.
  • Weather is warm (cooling down from September with highs in the upper 70's to mid-80's) and a lot less humid with less rain than September, too. Sometimes the water parks are shut down (although not simultaneously) at this time of year. When we visited WDW in November, 1995, River Country was down, but the other two parks were in operation.
  • Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a special ticket event during the Fall season each year.  It is a specially-ticketed event that includes an evening in the Magic Kingdom with trick-or-treating, special fireworks, decorations, and other Halloween fun.

Thanksgiving to Christmas

  • Crowds remain much less numerous than the summer and Christmas season. In fact, some visitors that I've talked to feel that this time of year is among the quietest. Christmas decorations start going up in early November.
  • Because of the lesser crowds, some of the night time entertainment might not be presented very often at this time of year.  However, other seasonal events such as the Very Merry Christmas party and parade at the Magic Kingdom, the Candlelight ceremony at EPCOT are shown throughout this time.
  • Weather is a lot less predictable at this time of year. It might be very warm one day (average highs are still in the mid-70's), and a cold front can come through and suddenly drop temperatures into the 50's. You can't depend on the weather enough to ensure a hot visit to the water parks, but you can plan for the contingency just in case.
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is a special ticket event during the very end of November and the first few weeks of December each year.  It is a specially-ticketed event that includes an evening in the Magic Kingdom with snow on Main Street, other decorations, and Holiday fireworks.

Christmas to New Years

Sheila Hagen wrote a great series of articles for MousePlanet entitled "Christmas at Walt Disney World" that gives a lot of great details about what actually happens at WDW during this wonderful time of year!
  • This is the single most crowded week of the year at WDW. Great numbers of people descend on WDW this week. Every walkway in the parks is filled with milling people, attraction lines are at their longest, and tempers can flare. If crowds are not your thing, don't go to WDW at this time of year. On the other hand, if you're a real people person and like to smell the body odor and breath of the guy in front and behind you for two hours while waiting to see the Christmas parade, this is your time...go and enjoy!  
  • In partial compensation for fighting the masses, Disney provides beautiful decorations and special events to disperse the crowds. Lines for almost every attraction will be very, very long, though. Just plan on it.
  • The night time entertainment is usually changed to a Christmas theme at this time of year, but I expect that IllumiNations, which has been revamped just for the Millennium Celebration, will not change during the holidays in 1999 or 2000.   However, other seasonal entertainment and events are shown throughout this time.
  • Weather is still unpredictable at this time of year (average highs are still in the low 70's). It might be very warm one day, and a cold front can come through and suddenly drop temperatures into the 50's. You can't depend on the weather enough to ensure a hot visit to the water parks, but you can plan for the contingency just in case.

Kym J. Helms (khelms@pen.k12.va.us) sent me the following note about crowds and hints and tips about visiting during the holiday season:

I wrote asking you for information on the crowds at Disney Dec. 20-23rd. I wanted to let you know for future information, it was not too bad at all! I have to say that the Birnbaum guide was a life and crowd saver!

A few tips from our vacation that you might want to pass on to others who go the week and days immediately preceding Christmas:

  • Number one...Hit Epcot the very last day or two. It is easier to pace yourself without fighting crowds, through the countries than in any of the other parks. There weren't as many rides to wait for.
  • For the best view of fireworks in the magic Kingdom, we started to the ferry soon after the night time parade. After everyone unloaded, we positioned ourselves on the top deck, by the captain, at the rail and road the ferry back and forth three or four times as it picked up passengers. Inevitably, we got to watch the fireworks go off over the castle as we cruised the lake , on a private cruise with each trip back to the Kingdom.  It was beautiful and we had a head start unloading before everyone in the kingdom left for the boats!!
  • Go to Animal Kingdom anytime, but go early!
  • MGM was the most crowded park, we visited it the 22nd.  However, late night (7:00 on, the rides were basically little or no wait...the shows were "walk ins too!!)
  • The absolute worst part of the trip was Toontown. You couldn't get through it. Quite frankly, it wasn't worth the wait.
  • All in all, a good guide book is worth its weight in gold.  Don't go early to the parks where on property guests have early admissions. Go anywhere else EARLY or LATE.

We loved it, survived and weren't too disappointed with the crowds and the wait times. The middle of the day, 11:00-3:00, was terrible in the Magic Kingdom. before and after that were OK.

I'd do it again (of course, with four children, I'll have to get an additional job, but we're thinkin' on it!  Thanks for your earlier help and suggestions. It was great and worth the "crowd chance". It really wasn't bad!

Mother of four in Virginia

 
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