Sunday, March 18, 2012

Planning Your Trip Tip: When to Go

So, you're planning a trip to Walt Disney World.  First of all, congratulations!  Second, I'm here, and more than happy to help!  In Planning Your Trip Tips, I'll be giving you some important planning information, from who to call and when, to how to choose what you want to do while you're there.

The first question on many people's minds is.....When do I want to visit?  Worry not, dear planner.  In this post, I'm going to break down each month by weather, crowd levels, theme park hours, and special events, so you can choose the time of year that's right for you!

Let's get started, shall we?

January and February (Grouped together due to similarity)
  • Weather - Cold to mild.  Sometimes it may not get out of the 50s during the day, then by the end of the week, its 80 and you're wearing shorts.  The weather at this time of year is difficult to predict, making it difficult to know what to pack.
  • Crowd Levels - Low.  Most attractions (with the exception of certain headline attactions like Toy Story Midway Mania! and Soarin') will have minimal waits.  One exception to this rule is Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend.  Locals tend to frequent the parks more during this weekend, so it can get crowded.
  • Theme Park Hours - The parks close early during this time of year.  Typically, Magic Kingdom will close anywhere from 8-11 each night, Epcot will close at 9, Hollywood Studios at 7, and Animal Kingdom at 5.  Additionally, only one water park will be open (each January one goes down for its annual refurbishment), and it will be subject to closure due to cold weather.  Finally, note that because this is the off season, there is the chance for higher than normal levels of attraction closures during your trip.
  • Special Events - Marathon Weekend is usually the first or second weekend of January, but unless you are participating, this will have almost no impact on your visit.  Just be sure to congratulate all of those Marathon completers you see wearing medals.  Additionally, if you visit on Valentine's Day, you will likely see some rare characters out doing meet-and-greets, particularly the Disney Princes.
March and April
  • Weather - Mild to Warm.  A few pairs each of long pants and shorts, and a light jacket should get you though most days.  Don't forget your rain gear!  Florida is known for its flash thunder storms, so its best to be prepared, especially as the weather starts to warm up.
  • Crowd Levels - Moderate.  This can vary depending on the Easter holiday and spring breaks for colleges.  Wait times will be approximately 40-50 minutes for most popular attractions, 70+ for headliners
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours begin to increase at this time of year due to the larger crowds.  Typically, Magic Kingdom will close around midnight, Epcot at 9, Hollywood Studios at 10, and Animal Kingdom at 7 or 8.
  • Special Events - The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, including the Flower Power Concert Series (included with park admission), usually begins the first weekend of March and continues through the end of May.  This is a beautiful event, with flowers and topiaries all over Epcot, as well as special exhibits such as Bambi's Butterfly Garden.  Depending on when Easter falls, the Easter Bunny may be doing meet-and-greets at the Magic Kingdom.

Peter Pan theme topiary at the Flower and Garden Festival
  • Weather - Warm.  Time to break out the shorts and t-shirts.  But don't forget the rain gear.  As Florida weather gets warmer, afternoon thunderstorms become more likely.  And when it rains in Florida, it usually pours, at least for a few minutes.
  • Crowd Levels - Moderate.  Lines will start getting longer at this point in the year, especially when high schools seniors and college students start getting out of school.  For the most part, wait times will be similar to those in March and April until the end of the month.
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours are slightly shorter than in March and April.  Typically, Magic Kingdom closes at 10, Epcot and Hollywood Studios at 9, and Animal Kingdom at 7.
  • Special Events - The Flower and Garden Festival typically ends in middle to late May.  Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios take place the last two weekends of May and the first two weekends of June.  This event is fantastic for Star Wars fans and features autograph sessions with Star Wars celebrities, special shows, interviews with visiting celebrities, and meet-and-greets with over 30 Star Wars characters.

Stormtroopers marching toward the Sorcerer's Hat.  Only during Star Wars Weekends!

  • Weather - Hot.  Mid to upper 90s are a definate possibility.  Bring shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, and SUNSCREEN!!!!
  • Crowd Levels - High.  Waits of 90+ minutes for headline attractions and 60 minutes for other popular attractions are not uncommon.  Additionally, if you are not a Star Wars fan, steer clear of Hollywood Studios the first two weekends of June, as crowd levels are extremely high due to Star Wars Weekends.
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours are similar to those in May, athough Hollywood Studios may have extended hours during Star Wars Weekends.
  • Special Events - Star Wars Weekends continues for the first two weeks of June.  Also, the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series at Epcot begins in mid to late June every year.  The series features a number of different tribute bands (they usually change every few days) and is included in theme park admission.
  • Weather - Still hot.  Possibly hotter than June, with some days potentially reaching 100+ degrees.
  • Crowd Levels - High.  Waits can reach 120 minutes for certain headline attractions (especially Soarin', Toy Story Midway Mania!, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain).  Fourth of July is especially crowded at all parks except Animal Kingdom (where crowds will probably be fairly light).  Wather parks will likely close early due to capacity limitations.
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours are similar to those in May and June.
  • Special Events - The Sounds Like Summer Concert Series continues at Epcot.  There is also special holiday entertainment on the 4th of July including a special fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom, and special character meet and greets with Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross and a special Illuminations finale at Epcot.
  • Weather - Warm to Hot.  80s to 90s tend to be the average temperatures.  August tends to be a slightly rainer month, though, so definately bring at least an umbrella to the parks every day.
  • Crowd Levels - Low to Moderate.  If the free Disney Dining Plan promotion is going on, crowds may be a bit heavier.  Even so, most lines will be short, and lines for headliner attractions generally won't exceed an hour to 70 minutes.
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours are similar to those in May, June and July.
  • Special Events - There are no special events in August
  • Weather - Warm.  70s and 80s are typical, though it may get a bit chillier at night.  You may want to pack a light jacket.
  • Crowd Levels - Low.  Lines are generally short, even for headline attractions.
  • Theme Park Hours - Park Hours start to get shorter due to the smaller crowds.  Magic Kingdom typically closes between 9 and 10, but does close at 7 some nights.  Epcot and Hollywood Studios close at 9, and Animal Kingdom closes at 5 or 6.
  • Special Events - Nights of Joy, a Christian music festival, takes place at the Magic Kingdom the first weekend of September.  Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, a special, seperate admission event at the Magic Kingdom, takes place select nights in September and October.  This event features special character meet and greets, an exclusive parade and fireworks show (Boo to You and Hallo-Wishes, respectively) and trick or treat trails.  Additionally, it is the only time of year when guests of all ages are encouraged to dress in costume.
  • Weather - Warm.  However, it will get mild to chilly at night.  A light jacket is recommended.
  • Crowd Levels - Low, similar to September.
  • Theme Park Hours - While hours have not yet been announced for this year, it is expected that hours will be similar to those for September.  A special advisory:  on select nights in October (including Halloween night), the Magic Kingdom will close at 7 to regular guests for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.  If you do not have tickets to the event, it is highly recommended that you select a different theme park to visit these days, especially if you do not plan to park hop.
  • Special Events - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, a seperate hard ticket event at the Magic Kingdom, happens on select nights, including Halloween night.  If you wish to go to the October 31 party, buy tickets as soon as they go on sale, as this party tends to sell out first.  The International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot will also be taking place all through October.  This special festival includes panels with guest chefs, a variety of special tastings (that must be paid for and reserved in advance) and special food kiosks set up throughout the World Showcase that will feature exclusive food offerings just for this event.

Mickey and Minnie's special Not So Scary Halloween Party costumes (images courtesy of
  • Weather - Mild to Warm.  A light jacket and a few pairs of jeans are recommended.
  • Crowd Levels - Low to Moderate (except Thanksgiving).  On Thanksgiving Day, expect the parks to be more crowded than most days of the month.  The week after Thanksgiving, however, is one of the slowest weeks of the year in the parks.
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours tend to get longer again during this part of the year, especially following Thanksgiving.
  • Special Events - The International Food and Wine Festival continues at Epcot until mid-November.  The Festival of the Masters, a weekend celebrating art at Downtown Disney, is usually the first or second weekend of November.  Disney's Christmas festivities, including special decorations, parades, and shows, begins the day after Thanksgiving.  Finally, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a hard ticket event at the Magic Kingdom, will be held on select nights in November.  The event includes free hot chocolate and cookies, special character meet and greets, a special Christmas Parade and Christmas fireworks.
Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (image courtesy of
  • Weather - Cold to Mild.  Florida temperatures in December tend to fluctuate similar to January.
  • Crowd Levels - High.  December is one of Walt Disney World's busiest months.  Expect long lines (120+ minutes) for headline attractions and waits of 60-90 minutes for other popular attractions.  The week between Christmas and New Years is also especially busy, and the parks have been known to close early due to reaching guest capacity before noon.  Christmas and New Year's Day are the two busiest days of the year at the parks (Animal Kingdom, however, is relatively empty on New Year's Day because they do no special events).
  • Theme Park Hours - Hours during December are very long.  With the exception of Animal Kingdom (which must close early for the comfort of the animals), the theme parks will likely be open until midnight or later most nights of the month.
  • Special Events - Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party will continue at Magic Kingdom, with the last and most popular party held on Christmas Eve.  Other special events include the Osbourne Festival of Lights at Hollywood Studios, the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, and a variety of other special holdiay entertainment at the parks and resorts, including special character meet and greets, gingerbread sculpture displays at the resorts, and special shows and entertainment offerings (more details about these events will be given in a later blog)
The Osbourne Spectacle of (Dancing) Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios
No matter when you go to Walt Disney World, you're sure to make plenty of memories along the way.  So, as they say in all of those Walt Disney World commercials......

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