Orlando's Walt Disney World receives close to 17 million visitors a year and they're all trying to figure out the best time to go, just like you. And while Disney World is "magical" all year long, the park changes constantly as special events come and go, as crowds ebb and wane, and as the park and area hotels offer special deals and packages.
We turned to mother-daughter duo Kim Wright Wiley and Leigh Wiley Jenkins to get the scoop on when to visit Disney World. They're Disney experts who have visited the park more than 100 times combined and in their new book (released Sept. 9), "Fodor's Walt Disney World With Kids 2015: With Universal Orlando, SeaWorld & Aquatica," Kim and Leigh shared their tips on the best and worst times to visit, when to get specials and more. Read on for our season-by-season guide to visiting Disney World.
Spring: Beautiful Weather, Smaller Crowds
Spring in Orlando is, well, magical. The temperatures are mild; everything is in bloom, and if you play it smart, you might not be overcome by crowds. Kim's take on spring is to play it smart: “You’ve kind of got the same thing with fall [the shoulder season], and I like spring a lot if you can avoid spring break.”
Pros: Spring brings beautiful weather and smaller crowds.
Cons: Kids are in school, and when they aren’t, you'll have to deal with the spring-break crowds.
Can’t miss: The Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot
Recommended for: Spring breakers and families with kids under 5
Summer: School's Out, Crowds Are In
Summer is peak season for Walt Disney World. That shouldn't surprise you since many families plan trips around summer break. Kim and Leigh advise to factor the heat and humidity into your trip. If there's no avoiding to go in the summer, the first two weeks in June and the last two weeks in August are usually less crowded and will have shorter lines. Whenever you go during the summer, make this your game plan to avoid the heat: Get up early and go in the morning, then take a break around lunch and during the hottest hours, then head back in the late afternoon. Temps will have dropped, and you can spend the time refreshing at your hotel's pool (or napping).
Pros: Attractions should be open with longer hours. And your kids are out of school.
Cons: All the other kids are also out of school, bringing huge crowds in. And there's the Florida heat and humidity.
Can’t miss: Star Wars Week, when Disney brings in all of the characters from "Star Wars" at Hollywood Studios at the end of May and early June. Rumor has it that Disney is looking at expanding Star Wars to an entire section.
Recommended for: Families who are restricted to a school schedule.
Fall: The Best Time to Visit?
If there's one season of the year that Kim and Leigh recommend, it's fall. “I really love fall because it seems like the crowds are low and the weather is almost perfect, and also because of the Food and Wine Festival,” says Leigh. She knows the season well, having worked at Disney for two and a half years. And in case you’re worried about fall-break crowds—don’t. Fall breaks fluctuate, based on where schools are in the country, and they are much more staggered than spring break.
Pros: It’s the least-crowded time of year (with the exception of January), yet it is still warm enough to enjoy everything. Most of attractions will be open.
Cons: Kids are in school, so a lot of families just can’t take them out for vacation—even if it is Disney.
Can’t miss: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which involves quite a few events that are all extremely popular. Kids dress up in costumes to go to the park, trick-or-treat and see the rides. The Food and Wine Festival involves food booths set up around the Epcot World Showcase and is a huge event—even with Orlando locals. Mark this event down for the adults who need some culinary entertainment.
Recommended for: Families with children under 5
Winter: Holiday Crowds and the Off-Season
Winter is the off-season, but you're not going to find snow on the ground, and if you're looking for the shortest lines, this is when you go. But be prepared to bundle up. Cold fronts can sweep down into the Orlando region. “Basically winter is kind of a mixed bag because the holidays are the most crowded time, but the times that aren’t crowded are probably the least crowded times,” says Leigh, who also advises to make the decorations part of the experience.
“One of the things I love to do is to go around to the hotels and they’re all decorated to whatever that hotel’s theme is,” Leigh said. For example, at the Wilderness Lodge you’ll find a Native American theme with teepees surrounding the tree. The Yacht and Beach Club Resort will feature a seashell or other nautical tree theme. There are even tours where Disney takes you around the hotel and shows you how it’s decorated.
Lastly, winter is the best time to see the animals in Animal Kingdom because it’s cooler for longer periods—it’s also good to see the animals early in the morning or right after it rains.
Pros: Disney has its holiday decorations up in November and December, and if you’re hoping to see them, go in the first two weeks of December; it will be much less crowded, but the decorations will be there. The park also holds a special parade that occurs the entire week of Christmas.
Cons: Christmas and Thanksgiving are the busiest times of the year, and the crowds are almost unmanageable. Some rides will also be closed in winter for maintenance and refurbishments.
Can’t miss: Holiday decorations, including the on-site hotels. Another don't-miss? That would be Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party—complete with special cookies and other extras around the park. During the Christmas Party, only limited amounts of people are allowed into the park. It will cost extra to attend, but the money can be well worth it, especially since kids will have much better chances when it comes to meeting the characters and finding short, short lines.
Recommended for: People who aren't interested in sitting by the pool or hitting up the water parks.