An Insider’s Guide to the Best Time to Visit Disney World: What the Experts Say

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Disney World, a favorite destination for both families and adult travelers, combines the rich warmth of nostalgia with a modern future-looking presence that makes it irresistible to travelers seeking escape. Because of this universal appeal, when to go to Disney World is the first question travelers wrestle with when planning their magical adventure. Deciding the best time to visit is about more than, juggling school holidays and work schedules. It’s about orchestrating a complex web of factors, that include Disney events, crowd dynamics, and even climatic subtleties.

In this article, we aim to simplify it all, for Disney World first-timers and veterans alike, offering an in-depth analysis of what you can expect during various times of the year.

Understanding Peak vs. Off-Peak Seasons

The terms peak season and off-peak season are not official Disney terminology, but scratch just the surface on Disney vacation planning, and you’re sure to hear them a lot.

Experienced travelers are well aware that certain times of the year are more crowded than others at Disney World. Over time, these popular travel dates have become known as “peak seasons”, a time when crowds are at their highest and wait times for rides and attractions at their longest.

Since the early days of Disney travel, things have evolved considerably. As the internet came along and turned us all into informed travelers, an interesting thing began to happen at Disney World. Seasons that were once quiet with little traffic began to see more guests, while some peak dates have levelled out.

One example comes from a friend of mine who visited Disney World for the first time the week of Thanksgiving. This was in the early 1990s, and they spent a blissful week drifting from ride to ride with no wait.

Today, the Thanksgiving holidays are one of the more popular times to travel, a reflection of the fall in general, a season when back-to-school no longer means vacations are out of bounds.

So, what exactly defines peak and non-peak season at Disney World? Let’s break it down.

What Defines Peak Season and Off-Peak Season at Disney World?

Disney World peak and off-peak seasons are defined solely by crowd levels. During peak seasons at Disney World, the parks and resorts typically realize the highest levels of visitors across the 4 theme parks and resorts.

Because many guests decide when to go to Disney World based on school holidays, peak seasons usually revolve around major U.S. celebrations.

Here are the peak times to visit Disney World listed in order of crowds from highest to lowest:

  • Christmas (the week between Christmas and New Years)
  • Thanksgiving (starting the weekend before and continuing into the early part of the week after)
  • Easter week
  • Presidents Day week through Spring break season (generally from late February through mid-April)

Other factors may induce a temporary peak season, such as when guests flock to the parks to experience the launch of a new attraction. This momentary blip in park attendance may elevate crowds for a few months around the ride debut before subsiding again.

Peak season is characterized by long waits for popular attractions and higher than average waits for less popular attractions. As one client put it after spending a week at Disney World over the Christmas holidays, “the wait for a cup of coffee at Starbucks was an hour.”

In contrast, guests will find lower crowds during off-peak season, resulting in shorter waits for everything from rides to dining and transportation to and from your resort. While lines and waits will still be a part of your day, you’ll spend far less time on those pursuits during off-peak seasons than you will during peak seasons.

Off-peak seasons mirror peak seasons, with the lowest crowd levels usually found throughout mid-August through the end of September and mid-January through mid-February.

Should You Visit Disney World During Peak Season?

Early morning peak season crowd at Disney World Animal Kingdom
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Given the higher crowds associated with peak seasons, many travelers will avoid these dates like a dastardly plague. However, higher crowds don’t always equate to a bad experience. I had one client who was planning a trip with her extended family. The only dates where everyone could get together was over the holidays.

I warned her that crowds would be at their peak, and that she’d likely have to wait in long lines. She was undaunted, and with that advanced expectation in mind, headed out with her family to experience the time of their lives.

In fact, there are a number of advantages to visiting Disney World during peak seasons.

Peak Season Pros: Extended Park Hours

Visiting Disney World during a peak season has one really big advantage. The parks open earlier and stay open later. This is a great perk if you’re an early riser or a night owl, since you’ll be able to visit the parks on your own internal time schedule.

Visiting some parks, like Magic Kingdom, at night also provides an extra dose of magic. Seeing the different lands come alive in spectacles of light is something you have to see to believe, and it’s an experience that won’t always be available during off-peak seasons when crowds are lower.

Peak Season Pros: Special Events and Shows.

The holidays bring a wealth of special experiences to Disney parks, so peak seasons are often associated with the festive ambiance, decorations, and limited-edition merchandise common to the season.

Peak Season Cons: Longer Wait Times for Rides and Attractions

Longer lines are one of the biggest drawbacks to visiting Disney World during a peak season. However, purchasing Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane experiences, can make it much easier to manage your time and eliminate a lot of the waiting.

Peak Season Cons: Higher Prices

While we already mentioned the Disney hotel and ticket costs are higher during peak seasons, you’ll also encounter higher prices once you arrive. Expect to spend more on food and possibly for additional services, such as ride sharing if you decide to use it.

Peak Season Cons: Crowded Spaces

More visitors inside the parks obviously leave less room for navigation. At times visibility is reduced as well, making it harder to see what’s ahead and to locate where you are going. If you suffer from claustrophobia or just don’t like crowds, peak seasons are not the best time to visit Disney World for you.

Visiting Disney World During Off-Peak Season

Early morning off-peak season crowds at Disney World Animal Kingdom
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Early morning crowds are extremely light during off-peak seasons but pick up as the day wears on.

Since most of the year is technically considered off-peak for Disney World travel, odds are your vacation will fall into one of these dates. We’ve found that some off-peak seasons, such as late May through July can be more crowded than other off-peak travel dates, but generally speaking, any time that isn’t considered peak will offer the same benefits and drawbacks.

For many visitors, the off-peak season is the best time to visit Disney World. The atmosphere is more relaxing, cast members are less harried and there is more time for magical interactions, as well as space to enjoy the ambiance and theming that make up a Disney park.

Crowds are also lower during off-peak seasons. Avoiding the elevated crowds means lower waits for rides and everything else that matters. But making better use of your time is not the only advantage to an off-peak visit to Disney World.

Disney uses a complex dynamic pricing system for determining the costs for tickets and resorts throughout the year. A good rule of thumb is that hotel pricing is lower during off-peak season as are ticket costs, so visiting Disney World during less popular travel times could save you some money in addition to time spent in lines.

As with all good things, however, there are a number of pros and cons.

Disney World Off-Peak Season Pros: A More Intimate Experience With Fewer Crowds

If you’re dream is to soak in all of the imaginative details of Disney parks and revel in every impromptu experience that presents itself, you’ll find off-peak season the best time to visit Disney World for you. With fewer people in the parks, you’ll be able to take your time strolling the avenues and have a much better view when street performers, special characters and the like make their appearances.

Disney World Off-Peak Season Pros: Better Chance at Dining Reservations

Advanced dining reservations at Disney World table service restaurants can be made 60 days before your arrival, and the competition can be stiff for more popular establishments or character meals. Since fewer people are competing during those coveted slots during off-peak dates, you might find it easier to secure the restaurants and times of your choice.

Disney World Off-Peak Season Pros: More Time With Characters

With fewer people waiting in line for Disney character meet and greets, you may find that each Disney star has a little more time to spend with you, posing for pictures, signing autographs or just goofing around. One of our favorite experiences occurred during a very uncrowded day at EPCOT.

My girls had finished visiting with the characters and were waiting for their father to wrap up  a very engrossing conversation he was having with a cast member. Suddenly, the line to see the characters completely emptied out, so Minnie, Chip and Dale all came over to “chat” with my girls, giving them the experience of a lifetime. This type of interaction is by no way common, but is far more likely during off-peak seasons when there are fewer visitors.

Disney World Off-Peak Season Cons: Potential for Ride Refurbishments

Despite the advantages of visiting Disney World during off-peak seasons there are some definite disadvantages. For one thing, Disney uses the times when crowds are lowest to do a little refurbishment. These sprucing up projects are necessary to keep the parks at their best, but it can be very disappointing to find your favorite ride or attraction will be closed during your dates of travel.

Worse yet, since ride refurbishment schedules may not be posted until a few months before, you won’t always know what will be opened or closed when you book your trip.

Disney World Off-Peak Season Cons: Shorter Park Hours

With fewer people visiting the parks during off-peak season, there is no reason to keep the gates open late. You’ll find you can get everything done in the shorter timeslots allotted but may miss the opportunities to experience an early morning or after dark in some of the parks.

Picking the Best Time to Visit Disney World: Weather Considerations

Floating rocks in Disney's Pandora Land taken during Extended Hours.
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Sunny Florida—that’s the motto, and that’s certainly the reputation. What the travel brochures don’t mention is the fact that sunny Florida is sometimes cold and sunny or hot, humid and sunny. At other times, it isn’t sunny at all but pouring buckets of rain.

For many, visiting Disney World is dependent on weather conditions and finding a climate that won’t impede their visit.

Differences in Florida’s Climate Throughout the Year

Florida’s climate varies greatly throughout the year. Summer months may see average temperatures reach into the upper eighties or nineties. This hot season generally runs from May through September, when humidity levels also spike and dew points are considered oppressive for much of the time.

In fact, that moist atmosphere is ripe for rain and thunderstorms. The Orlando area sees an average rainfall of 6” in June with similar amounts common through September.

On the other hand, Florida is no stranger to cold weather in the winter. The coldest months of the year in Orlando run from December through February. While average highs in January range from 52°F to 70°F, 40s are possible.

The Best Time To Visit Disney World Considering Temperature and Humidity

Given that most tourists favor clear, rainless days with perceived temperatures between 65°F and 80°F, the best times to visit Disney World for good weather occur between mid March to mid May and from mid October to early December.

The Hurricane Season and Its Implications

Since opening in 1971, Disney World has only closed the parks 8 times for hurricanes. These closures are usually brief lasting only a day or two, but Hurricane Frances in 2004 did require Disney to shutter parks for 3 full days.

Many guests won’t travel to Disney World in the summer or fall for fear of running afoul of these tremendous weather events, but as demonstrated above, the risk is slight. Purchasing travel protection can eliminate most fears, but beyond that, Disney does an excellent job of navigating hurricanes that impact the parks.

If you’re scheduled to depart when an active hurricane advisory is in effect, you’ll be given the opportunity to reschedule your trip. Since most airlines will do the same under adverse weather predictions, the only real concern is whether you’ll be able to secure new vacation dates at work.

If you’re visiting the parks when a weather advisory becomes active, you will have choices. Disney encourages guests to leave early, to avoid being stranded by airline delays, but also accommodates guests who do stay.

Generally, guests will be required to shelter in place at their resort and should expect limited food options to be available. Given weather conditions, cast members will also be required to limit travel, so staff won’t always be available to man restaurants and the like. Expect boxed meals, though the cast members on hand have been known to originate impromptu activities for entertainment.

If traveling during hurricane season, the best advice is to purchase a travel protection. policy That way, you can be reimbursed for monies already paid in the event that a storm makes it impossible to travel. Disney offers travel insurance for a minimal cost on all vacation packages. Talk to a travel agent for more details.

When to Go to Disney World for Special Events and Festivals

EPCOT during a Walt Disney World Christmas
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While festivals and special events were once confined to extreme off-peak dates, their popularity has encouraged the powers that be at Disney to expand the lineup. You can now find a festival or special event running at nearly any time of year you choose to travel.

Some of the most popular festivities include:

  • EPCOT International Festival of the Arts: EPCOT International Festival of the Arts merges the worlds of visual, culinary, and performing arts into an immersive tapestry of global culture, deserving of every traveler’s bucket list. Runs mid-January through mid-February.
  • EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival: EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival is a premier event showcasing top-tier horticulture and design, a must-visit for garden enthusiasts and travelers alike. Runs early March through early July.
  • EPCOT Food and Wine Festival: EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival is a culinary journey, offering visitors a curated taste of global cuisines and beverages in an unmatched Disney setting. Runs mid-July through mid-November.
  • EPCOT Festival of the Holidays: EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays offers travelers a unique blend of global holiday traditions and entertainment in one vibrant destination. Runs after Thanksgiving through end of December.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party: This spooktacular fest has everything lovers of the spooky season could desire, from trick-or-treating across the Magic Kingdom to stunning parades featuring the Headless Horseman. This special ticketed after-hours event offers guests a chance to experience the Magic Kingdom after dark with fewer crowds and special surprises. Runs late August through Halloween.
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney World delivers the season’s magic in a festive, unforgettable experience. This special ticketed after-hours events features free cookies and hot chocolate and a not-to-be-missed holiday inspired fireworks spectacular. Runs November through December.

Best Time to Visit Disney World: Tips for Tackling the Crowds

holiday crowds at Disney World Magic Kingodm
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No matter when you visit Disney World, managing your time with other guests in the park is part of the reality. You’ll need to brush up on patience and maybe even brush off your small-talk skills.

Fortunately, Disney Genie+ and individual Ligthning Lane purchases make it possible for you to skip the regular queue. Instead, you’ll prebook a one-hour ride window to access the ride through a special queue known as the Lightning Line. A limited number of guests are permitted in the Lightning Lane each hour, ensuring a short wait to ride.

Genie+ Strategies

There is a fee to use Genie+ (starting at $14.99 per day, per guest), so it’s worth brushing up on some popular strategies for making the most of your purchase.

First, you’ll need to have the My Disney Experience app loaded on your phone and signed into your My Disney Experience account. It’s also important to have all members of your party linked together as friends and families.

Second, be sure to purchase Genie+ before 7:00 am on the day you plan to use it. This can be done through the app, and as long as your party is linked together through My Disney Experience, one person can make the purchase for all travelers.

There is a very important reason for purchasing Genie+ so early in the day. The booking window for Genie+ selections opens at 7:00 am. This is a case where the early bird will certainly have an advantage over those late risers.

Some Genie+ reservations will sell out by midday. Considering the fact that you can’t book your next Genie+ until you’ve used the first, or until two hours after park opening. Waiting until later in the day to book could cause you to miss out on a lot the service has to offer.

If you decide to use Genie+, you’ll want to be fully educated on how it works and to learn the strategies for making the most of it. Take some time to hop on over to our complete guide to Genie+, and be sure to bookmark the page for later reference.

Disney World Dining Tips for Peak and Off-Peak Seasons Alike

Hollywood Brown Derby exterior

When you’re deciding on the best time to visit Disney World for you, don’t forget about dining at the parks and resorts. Disney offers a number of fun and festive experiences, often themed to particular cuisines or visited by special characters. To be certain you can enjoy the establishments you choose, be sure to follow the following tips.

Disney World Table Service Dining Tips

Disney World table service dining restaurants are among the most popular for vacationers. These include the Polynesian themed O’hana, Toppolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort, and a number of character meals and other special delights.

If you’re set on enjoying time at one of these venues, be sure to book an advanced dining reservation. Reservations can be made starting 60 days before your trip, and guests of Disney World resorts have a distinct advantage.

If you’re staying at a Disney-owned hotel, you’ll be able to book dining reservations beginning 60 days before arrival for the entire length of your stay. That means, if you’re arriving on October 10th for a ten-day trip, you can make reservations beginning 60 days prior to the 10th for your entire vacation.

Guests staying at other area hotels will only be able to book reservations 60 days ahead of each day of their stay. This means for the same 10-day trip arriving October 10th, you’ll need to log into you My Disney Experience account 60 days before the 10th, 11th, 12th, etc. to book reservations for that day.

Reservation windows open at 6:00 am Eastern time, and available slots can go quickly. It’s advisable to be logged into your My Disney Experience account a little before 6:00 and be ready to start booking on the hour.

Disney World Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride behind text.

With decades of experience in hand, we provide customized guidance, cutting through the confusion with clear explanations and actionable tips. We’ll help you create the best experience, with recommendations and travel planning advice based on the trip you want to have and the memories you want to make.

As travel agents with Mickey World Travel, we at Seconds to Go can take the fuss out of a Disney World vacation. Request your free Disney World vacation quote today or email kathleen@mickeyworldtravel.com!

Plan your more important reservations for later in your trip. There is usually more availability the farther out you try to book. However, this flexibility won’t be available for guests who decide to stay at offsite properties, since they will only be able to book each day’s reservations.

If it all sounds like a hassle, consider booking with a travel agent. Most will make dining reservations for guests who book a Disney vacation package, whether they stay onsite or off.

If you’re interested, we’ve put a quote form below. You’ll never pay more than you would by booking with us than you would booking yourself, but the planning support and help we provide could be a real time saver for you.

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Disney World Quick Service Dining Tips

When figuring dining into calculating the best time to visit Disney World, remember that quick service dining is your friend. Fast, efficient and varied, counter service establishments make it easy to dine quickly and get back to the rides and attractions.

For faster service, consider mobile ordering. A few taps on the My Disney Experience app can put you ahead of the crowds and help keep you on schedule with little wait in line for your food.

For complete details, read our Disney World mobile ordering guide.

When to Go to Disney World Conclusion

For any vacationer, selecting the best time to visit Disney World is based on a number of factors, including weather, special events, crowd conditions and your own schedule. If there is one piece of advice that we could leave you with, it’s this: don’t let the threat of high crowds or bad weather deter you from visiting Disney World, if corresponding dates fit your schedule best.

There are ways to mitigate the effects of weather, crowds and other factors. You’ll find most of the information you need across this site. If you have a particular question, just let us know. We’re happy to help with your planning needs.

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Mother daughter travel bloggers exploring the U.S.

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother-daughter travel bloggers exploring the U.S. We're sharing our experiences, tips and insights to help you more easily get out and explore the beautiful landscapes and places of this nation.


Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughters. Kathleen has been a professional writer for more than a decade, helping businesses craft compelling content to advance organizational goals.

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