Today I am starting a new series on the blog where I walk you step by step through planning a Walt Disney World Vacation. A Disney for Dummies if you will, though I use the term “dummies” very affectionately :). This series will be mixed in with other posts, so if you are familiar with the basics, there will be content here for you as well. I will do my best to be as detailed as possible in these posts, but there is a lot to cover so feel free to reach out if you have questions.
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE SHOULD YOU PLAN
I recommend you begin the planning process 10-12 months in advance, especially if it is your first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort or it’s been a while since your last visit. Things have changed so much from the days when you could just show up, purchase park tickets at the gate ,and go about your merry way. You can still do this of course, but there’s a good chance you will be greatly disappointed in how much you are able to accomplish and undoubtedly feel you wasted your money. Planning this far in advance gives you plenty of time to research and make important decisions before you hit those milestone dates for Advanced Dining Reservations (180 days in advance) and Fast Pass+ reservations (30-60 days in advance depending on if you are staying on the Walt Disney World Resort or not). Also, depending on the time of year, resort hotel rooms can book up fast, so you’ll want to book when you have more choices available to you.
WHEN TO GO
I personally believe having a good plan is more important than the time of year you go. Obviously, avoiding peak times like spring break, fall break, Summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/New Year’s will almost certainly be to your advantage, but sometimes you just can’t control when your family is available to go. If you have a good plan, you can survive any crowd and still have a great time.
Crowd calendars can also be helpful when trying to plan your trip, though not always accurate. I’m not sure what kind of voodoo goes into predicting crowd levels at the parks, but I do know historical data and trends play a huge part. Obviously, the past can be a very good indication of the future, but it’s not a perfect system. The future is after all the future and Walt Disney World crowds are in a state of unpredictability right now. With Toy Story Land having opened in June and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge slated to open next year, I don’t think we will see them resuming predictability any time soon. So, just keep that in mind when using these calendars. Here’s a free one you can check out here.
WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND THE RESORT
Disney offers several events and celebrations across the resort at various times throughout the year to enhance the park experience. These experiences range from festivals and parties to special dining experiences and more. Below you will find a very condensed version of what’s going on around the Disney resort during various months throughout the year.
January – February: This time of year would be considered an “off-season” time. Towards the beginning of January, you can still catch some of the Christmas decorations but things return to normal pretty quickly. Relatively speaking this time of year is usually cold and rainy and crowds are generally lower. The water parks are also not open in full swing. Festival wise, you can enjoy Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts.
March – May: Spring time is in full swing around the resort during these months. Crowd wise, you’ll want to keep in mind that most of this time is considered Spring Break. So plan your trip carefully and have a good system in place to deal with the crowds. If you can handle the heat, we’ve had good luck with the month of May and it is definitely one of my favorite times of year to go, mainly for Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. This is my absolute favorite event offered at Epcot (Yes, even more than Christmas!). It’s similar to Epcot’s International Food and Wine festival offered in the fall. It does have a smaller food and drink offering, but it also comes with less crowds and the flower displays are absolutely beautiful.
June – August: Expect large crowds as most kids are out of school, high temps and a daily afternoon storm during this time of year. On the plus side though, the parks have the longest hours of the year and the water parks are open with no risk of closure due to cold weather. If you go this time of the year, you’ll definitely want to try to plan your park days during the week and take plenty of afternoon breaks for some time to swim and cool down! If you’re super brave, Magic Kingdom offers a spectacular July 4th fireworks display. It’s on my Disney bucket-list 🙂
August – October: Ah, Fall at Walt Disney World. Main Street USA is the stuff of small town fantasy this time of year. I seriously can’t get enough. You’ll definitely want to book some tickets to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party if you’ve got room in your budget. The Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular and the Boo-to-You parade are spooky good fun. You can meet special characters, trick-or-treat around Magic Kingdom, watch Happy HalloWishes Fireworks show, hear ghostly tales at the Haunted Mansion, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a run in with the Headless Horseman. Even if you can’t afford tickets to the party, it’s still a great time of the year to visit. At Epcot, you’ve got the International Food and Wine Festival going on that may interest any foodies in your group. Crowd wise, you’ll want to keep in mind that schools are taking fall break most of October. September is usually a good month to visit with lower crowds.
November – December: While Fall is a great time of the year at Walt Disney World, nothing can beat the magic of the Christmas season. No matter what resort or park you are at, you will be immersed in the holiday season. Every park has something to offer. My absolute favorite is the Candlelight Processional offered at Epcot. This is a free concert, though I highly recommend booking the dining package, where you can hear a celebrity narrator tell the story of Christmas and classic hymns and carols preformed by a spectacular choir and orchestra. At Magic Kingdom, you can book tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and watch it snow on Main Street USA along with a special parade, Holiday Wishes Fireworks show and much more. Literally, no matter where you are, you will experience the joy of the Christmas season. This is definitely the most magical time of the year at the Walt Disney World Resort. While the Magic Kingdom is literally decorated overnight and ready for Christmas starting November 1st, the rest of the resort is not fully decorated until around mid-November and some of the Christmas offerings do not begin until Thanksgiving day. You’ll also want to steer clear of the 2 weeks leading up to Christmas and the week leading up to New Year’s as those times are undoubtedly the busiest crowd wise of the year at Walt Disney World. Temperatures can also be quite cool during this time of the year. This is another season the water parks are not running in full swing.
Have any questions about planning a Walt Disney World vacation? Reach out to me here.
Have a magical day!