WARNING: Controversy ahead!
Many Walt Disney World regulars have incredible repositories of advice for visiting The Most Magical Place on Earth. Some can leave travel agents in the dust with sharp tips on when to make reservations, how to attain the best Fastpass+ selections, which resorts to stay at, and how to reduce time waiting in line.
While most of the advice regulars gather is great, there are some foundational tips for visiting Walt Disney World that are no longer as helpful as they used to be. Some of this is due to changes at Disney over the past ten years. Others are cases where the world has caught on to popular tips and hacks previously only used by Disney insiders. While there are exceptions to every rule (put those tomatoes down), you may be surprised to learn that…
1. The best times of year to visit are changing
With the exception of the rare family that just doesn’t mind Disney’s summer hordes, Walt Disney World experts have long prided themselves on knowing the best times to visit to avoid crowds. For some families, the priority is visiting during a time with moderate crowds but plenty of rides still being open. For others, the goal is to hit the parks with the fewest people possible, even if that means taking kids out of school and having them do homework on the dining room table at Old Key West.
Over the past three decades, the general rule of thumb regarding Walt Disney World crowds has been to avoid summertime, holidays, and busy events like Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. Some of the best times to visit used to be:
- January and February (avoiding holiday weekends)
- The weeks surrounding spring break in March and April
- The 2-3 weeks of May before school lets out
- September after Labor Day weekend
- The week after Thanksgiving to the week before Christmas
Now, depending on which bits of this advice you have followed in your trip planning, it’s likely that one or two might have left you scratching your head. The reason why is that over the past five years, crowd trends at Walt Disney World have started to change in surprising ways, to the point that it is hard for experts to agree which times are the ironclad best to plan your trip.
The best example of this is the few weeks surrounding spring break. Ten to 15 years back, guidebooks were still suggesting this as a recommended time to visit. Spring break crowds were concentrated on two busy weeks, with the surrounding weeks proving moderate to light. The problem now is that spring breaks across the country are widely scattered—just look at the different school calendars in some major metropolitan area and you will see spring breaks vary over the entirety of the month depending. This is also a perfect example of people catching on that this was a good time to visit. The same thing goes for some weeks of mid-May (though there are still great days to visit early in the month).
The other factor that has thrown a wrench in crowd trends is an abundance of new events. Epcot, for example, now has four major festivals going throughout the year. While this has breathed some much-needed life into the park, it also means more visitors to Epcot at unexpected times, particularly when a festival has just kicked off. Unexpected events like Leap Day all-nighters, Magic Kingdom After Hours, RunDisney events, and other surprising additions have also skewed trends on days when visitors may have assumed crowds were supposed to be light.
At the same time, summer crowds have been down at Walt Disney World the previous years, meaning more and more people are catching on and scheduling trips at other times of the year. It is reaching the point that experts are starting to shift advice on assuming summer is the busiest time all year. To make things even more confusing, it seems like even on light days, Animal Kingdom’s World of Pandora remains steadily crowded. In short, everything experts have assumed about when to visit Walt Disney World is gradually changing.
Don’t fret. The best way to make sure you are visiting at a good time is to do some research on well-updated crowd calendars. Also, be sure and check if Disney will be having special events when you visit. Don’t let Epcot festivals deter you any more if they have in the past. Generally, they seem to quiet down once the first two weeks have passed. Trip planning just requires a little extra research than it used to. Speaking of which…