Lower temperatures and shorter lines, it sounds like the perfect Disney World vacation, but before you decide to do Disney World in the winter, there are six things you should consider first.
Orlando Winter Weather
While average temperatures from November through February are in the seventies during the day, nighttime lows dip into the 50s, making any after dark events a little on the cool side. If you’re thinking you won’t be out at night, you might also be interested in knowing that it isn’t uncommon to have days where the temperatures plunge, and highs reach only into the low 40s.
In December and January of 2010, for example, there were at least two days in each month when the temperatures struggled into the 40s. Daytime highs in the 50s have also been common over the past decade for these two months.
If you’re used to winter cold and snow, temperatures like these might seem like a welcome breath of fresh air, but it’s important to keep expectations realistic. Understand that it is possible to have some cold days at Disney World in the winter and plan to pack for cooler temperatures during your Disney World vacation planning.
The Pools Are Heated, but that Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Warm
Disney reservationists will tell you not to worry about cooler temperatures, because the pools are always heated. What they don’t tell you is that the average temperature is lower than your body’s own natural temp. That can make for a chilling dip if air conditions aren’t right.
Even on beautiful sixty- or seventy-degree days, it’s not uncommon to see the pools basking in blissful uninterrupted sunshine. After all, a dip in an eighty-degree pool will still lower your body temperature below that of the air, which isn’t always welcome on a cool day.
Expect Ride Closures
Unless you’re traveling during a holiday period (Christmas, Thanksgiving or Presidents day week), expect ride closures during a trip to Disney World in the winter. With fewer people in the parks, it’s the best time to take care of maintenance or overhauls.
There is good news, however. Disney often rotates the closure of certain rides. For example, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain are not down for refurbishment at the same time as this would leave this area of the park without a headliner attraction.
Beyond refurbishments, cooler temperatures can also wreak havoc on ride systems, resulting in closures due to mechanical issues. After paying for an early morning ticketed event to enjoy the new Toy Story Land a few years ago, we woke to highs in the 40s on the morning we were scheduled to attend. When we arrived, we found Slinky Dog Dash, the headliner attraction of the event, closed due to ride system failures. We spent the morning watching an empty coaster run the track in testing, unable to ride.
Likewise, we arrived at Animal Kingdom in the afternoon to find that waits in the Genie+ line for Expedition Everest were 45 minutes long as that ride had been down most of the morning as well. We experienced similar closures during a separate trip when temperatures plunged. So, if your visit coincides with a cold spell, don’t be surprised to see several rides go offline.
Are Disney World Crowds Lower During the Winter? Not Always
Savvy vacationers have learned to travel to Disney World in the winter to avoid the larger crowds associated with summer visits. Since Disney prices theme park tickets lower at less popular travel times, we can look at ticket costs to get an idea of anticipated park crowds.
A standard 4-day ticket in January 2023 (excluding New Years eve and New Years Day,) ranges from $114- $127 per day. That same ticket rises to around $127- $131 per day in March indicating that you can expect to enjoy your trip with fewer people during the winter. While ticket prices are a good rule of thumb to judge crowds, they don’t always take into account other factors.
In recent years, Disney has worked hard to establish a schedule of weekend winter events to draw more people to stay at Disney World resorts. Cheer competitions, marathons and other activities attract large numbers of guests who hit the parks on Saturday and Sunday.
Of course, you can always schedule your trip Monday through Friday to avoid the higher weekend crowds, but this approach requires a little bit of Disney savvy as well. Keep in mind that many people use school holiday breaks to take a Disney trip, and it just so happens that winter months are chock full of them. Expect much higher crowds at Disney World during these winter holidays:
- Thanksgiving: Crowds arrive in force during the weekend before the holiday and remain through the weekend after. According to Touringplans.com, Disney World crowds average 5-6 (out of ten,) the week before Thanksgiving, but spike to 8s, 9s, and 10s during the holiday week.
- Christmas: Crowds begin to rise noticeably starting two weekends before the actual holiday and hit their peak the week of Christmas through the first week of the new year.
- Martin Luther King Day: Crowds begin to rise the Thursday before and peak on Saturday, remaining high through the actual holiday itself on Monday.
- Presidents Day: Expect crowds to increase heavily on the Thursday before and continue through the following week as more schools begin to implement week-long winter breaks during this time.
While crowds may be high surrounding these celebratory dates, don’t despair to find that your trip coincides with heavier crowds. With a little bit of planning, you can still enjoy your trip and accomplish everything you want to do.
Restaurant Reservations are Easier to Come By
Outside of the winter holidays, less people visit Disney in the winter. This means scoring that Be Our Guest dining reservation is that much easier.
Typically, booking reservations for popular Disney World restaurants requires a lot of planning, and flexibility in dining times. During the quieter winter times, reservations are not only easier to score, but it is also easier to book reservations for peak times. No more eating lunch at 10:30 just to get a popular reservation.
Expect Water Park Closures
Guests have the option of visiting two waterparks when visiting Disney World. However, consistent with Disney’s ride refurbishment schedule listed above, these venues must also be spruced up during the low season.
Unlike Disney’s regular refurbishment schedule, you can expect to find an entire park closed during certain months of the year for a little fixer upper. Of course, lower demand for wet adventures may also play a part.
In 2019, Blizzard Beach closed as early as September for extended maintenance. As the park opened in 2020, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon shut down for it’s annual spruce up. Since each water park offers different experiences and attractions, this may impact your Walt Disney World vacation planning.
Parks Adopt Shorter Hours During Winter at Disney World
As crowd levels subside through the course of the winter months, so do the number of hours that each park is open. You can expect to see openings as late as 9:00 for most parks and daily closures as early as 7:00 or 8:00. Meanwhile, daily operating hours during the summer or other peak travel times can extend well into the night.
If you like visiting the parks after dark, look for special ticketed events, such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. When limited events like these are held, the parks are often open later on non-event nights to accommodate more guests, so visiting on these dates is also an option.
Since operating schedules for the park are often established only months in advance, it may be difficult to plan if you’re booking months out. Just remember that higher crowds usually equate to longer operating hours, so the winter holiday periods listed above will naturally demand longer daily operating hours.
Packing Tips for Visiting Disney World in the Winter
With Orlando winter weather temps ranging greatly, it is important to know what to pack. Often times, You will be comfortable in a t-shirt during the day when the sun is out. But, it is not uncommon for temps to drop rapidly when the sun goes down, and remain cold throughout the night and morning.
The best way to deal with this is to plan ahead, and dress in layers. We recommend packing thin layers that can easily be shed and carried around the parks. During colder months we bring a backpack to carry the discarded layers.
While temperatures in the 40s and 50s may not seem too bad, keep in mind that humidity plays a roll in making it feel even colder. We recommend bringing a top layer that has a wind breaker and or water proof material to it. We have often found ourselves freezing in cotton sweatshirts because the damp cold cuts right through them.
When packing for Disney World in the winter, be sure to bring thin layers that fold and compress well, and avoid big bulky coats that have a lot of weight to them.
If you do find yourself in Walt Disney World in winter without enough warm clothing, coats and sweatshirts can be purchased at Disney Springs, or off property in one of the many nearby outlet malls.
Lower Price Flights
Winter months mean less traveling, kids are in school, money is a bit tighter due to the holidays, and many people prefer to travel in better weather.
All these things together mean that airline prices are driven down by supply and demand. We all know you can save on Disney World ticket prices and hotel rooms during the winter months, but you can also save on airline prices by booking your vacation to Disney world in the winter months.
But, be sure to avoid the holiday weeks to save. Typically, airline prices drop dramatically after new years and remain low through February.
Disney at Christmas
Another perk of visiting Disney World in winter is the Christmas décor adorning all the parks and resorts. Disney goes all out for Christmas, and the decorations are quite stunning to see.
Every single park has one main, large Christmas tree decorated to the nines, as well as many smaller trees, and specialty themed decor based on what park and land you are in.
For example, Tomorrowland will have space themed Christmas décor, and Frontierland will have Christmas decorations that look more antiqued. Liberty Square even has historically accurate Christmas decorations for the timeframe of the land.
While we recommend avoiding Disney during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years, the Christmas decorations are put up immediately after Halloween and are typically left up through the first week of January. If you want to visit Disney in the winter to avoid crowds and save some money, there are still options to do so and see some Christmas décor.
Visiting Disney World during the winter can be a great experience as long as you know what to expect and plan accordingly. And no matter when you’re taking your trip, make sure you know the steps to take when planning a Disney World vacation.