You had everything planned out. You woke up at 5:45am ET 170-or-so days ago and grabbed all your ADRs. When your FastPass+ window opened 50ish days ago? You snagged Flight of Passage; then Slinky Dog Dash; you even got Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. With ten days left until your Walt Disney World vacation, your excitement is starting to grow exponentially—day by day. You had your luggage packed and your toiletry bag ready to go. With the news on in the background, you started to pack: tank tops if it’s hot outside; a hoodie for those cool, damp evenings. Sure, you were nervous about flying (even though you couldn’t help but think “wow...if I only waited to book I’d be able to snag an amazing deal!”) or stopping at rest stops while driving with the coronavirus spreading day-by-day, but you knew to take the proper precautions. This would be a different trip. One in which you’d have to wash your hands every hour; one in which you have an excuse not to hold on while plunging down Splash Mountain…but no matter what, you’d be in your happy place: within the Disney bubble and away from the news for a while.
As the NBA suspended its season and the rest of the sports world followed suit, you started to grow wary. Would they? No...no way. It’s Disney. It's one of the safest places on earth! They have those nifty hand sanitizing stations…then it happened. Disneyland closed through the end of the month, and a few hours later, Disney World closed as well.
Not to be grim, but while Disney World is hoping to open back up in April, there’s truly no telling how long this virus will last and what that means for places like Walt Disney World. That’s not to say you should cancel your April trip, but in my opinion, there’s no guarantee Disney is back up and running by then…
It obviously stinks (there’s a few other words I’d use, but we’ll go with “stinks”). The trip you’ve been looking forward to for close to a year or more is canceled. And while many will tell you that there’s worse things going on in the world, it’s okay to be selfish for a moment and wallow. A lot of planning goes into a Walt Disney World vacation. And truthfully, despite the current stock price, Disney will always be there. So you’ll most likely be given an option: cancel your trip or book at a later date. That’s where I’m here to help. Here are the best times, in my opinion, to visit Walt Disney World.
December is my absolute favorite time to visit Walt Disney World. My family started going during Christmas week in 2009. It started as a “one-time trip” and turned into an annual tradition, continuing through 2018. Christmas decorations go up on November 1st and grow week by week through early December. By December, Disney World is a holiday dream. There’s decorations everywhere: from the parks, to Disney Springs, to the resorts. Each resort is intricately decorated, all with Christmas tree(s) themed to the resort. The lobbies at each Deluxe Resort feature a towering Christmas tree or some sort of holiday display that you won’t want to miss.
During select nights in December, Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The separately ticketed event runs through the third week of December, and afterward, most of the entertainment continues during normal park hours from December 22nd or 23rd through the new year. The party features character meets, holiday entertainment, and tons of holiday-themed snacks like hot cocoa, cookies, and more.
EPCOT has the International Festival of the Holidays. It’s a celebration of cultural traditions from around the world. Each pavilion around the World Showcase is decorated and features booths and kiosks serving up dishes inspired by traditional holiday fare from that country or region; as well as Holiday Storytellers who bring holiday traditions to life.
The Candlelight Processional is easily the most-popular event during the holidays at Walt Disney World. In 2019, performances were held three times each night at America Gardens Theatre. A celebrity narrator, usually joined by a choir, retells the biblical tale of Christmas. It’s first-come, first-served in terms of seating, and the best way to get a seat is by booking a Candlelight Processional dining package in advance.
Hollywood Studios continues to impress me year after year. Of course, nothing will ever beat The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which featured over 10 miles of lights drenched all over the Streets of America. Sadly, the final season was in 2015, as Streets of America closed to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. But Hollywood Studios soon made up for it. The park has nighttime entertainment, like Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM, a fireworks and projection show taking place at the Chinese Theater; as well as holiday projections onto Tower of Terror which run throughout the night. There’s also plenty of holiday-themed snacks throughout the park.
We can’t forget about Animal Kingdom, which is slowly easing into the holiday spirit. In 2019, Animal Kingdom added decorations and entertainment throughout the park, like a holiday dance party in DinoLand USA, a tribute to Diwali in Asia, authentic African celebrations in the village of Harambe, and an off-planet experience in Pandora. The Tree of Life also comes to...well...life each night with a holiday projection show.
The downside, of course, is that Christmas week is easily the most crowded time of the year at Walt Disney World, but early December should be a bit less crowded. The weather is also inconsistent. One year, it was sunny and 80 degrees, then dropped down to a high of 50 the next day—and was in the 30s at night. You sort of need to pack for all types of weather, which can be stressful. Overall, I may be biased, but I truly believe that the holidays are the best time to visit Walt Disney World.
I love springtime in Walt Disney World. You typically have more consistent, milder temperatures, which feels like a true vacation when coming from the Northeast. We visited twice for Easter before taking a bigger extended family trip during Halloween.
Halloween is a really fun time to visit. Magic Kingdom is decorated and hosts Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party during select nights. The separately ticketed event features Halloween-themed entertainment, character meets, trick-or-treat candy stations, snacks, and lower-than-usual wait times. The Halloween Party is probably the most popular event at Disney, as there are usually rare character meets you can’t find anywhere else, or any other time of the year, such as Jack Skellington.
At Epcot, you’ve got the Food and Wine Festival, which will give you a taste (no pun intended) of what you missed out on during the Flower and Garden Festival. Plus, by then, renovations should be a bit further ahead and maybe some of the walls will be down throughout the park.
It’ll also be a bit cooler than April, although I will warn you: it could be inconsistent. There were some days when the temperature dipped into the 50s; and other days when it hit as high as 80 degrees. Also—if you go earlier in October or late September, you do run the risk of it being hurricane season...which honestly, at that point, I’d just cancel and try again next year.
Pro tip: As I mentioned above, Christmas decorations start going up on November 1st. While every inch won’t be decked quite the way it is in, say, December, it’s quite the dramatic overnight change. Halloween falls on a weekend this year. I’d book October 29th through November 3rd or 4th and experience both holidays.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Disney during Thanksgiving. This year would be my first time, assuming we go. I have a family friend who goes almost every year and absolutely loves it, plus I’ve spent a ton of time researching the week of Thanksgiving so I feel like I can offer some guidance here.
I had a hard time booking a trip for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, after all, has always been one of my favorite holidays. Whereas we “grew out of” Christmas, Thanksgiving holds way more traditions for my family, like cooking and watching football.
You can still get your Thanksgiving experience at Walt Disney World. Liberty Tree Tavern serves up Thanksgiving favorites year-round and some restaurants will feature special menus and offerings for the holiday. And if worse comes to worse, maybe it’s time to introduce a new holiday tradition. While we were timid about not having our “Feast of Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve, Narcoossee’s quickly became our new go-to. While places like Homecomin' or Hoop-Dee-Doo Music Revue don’t feature the usual Thanksgiving offerings, they do offer plenty of stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.
Thanksgiving will be one of the more crowded times of the year. It’s not quite as chaotic as Christmas, but it’ll be more crowded than normal. Like Christmas and October, weather could also be inconsistent. I’ve seen people wearing winter coats some years, and shorts and t-shirts during others. While a damp, cold night in Disney is never fun, I actually prefer layering up during the cooler months than melting during the summer.
I know...I know. You don’t want to wait a whole ‘nother year to visit your favorite place in the world, but it may be the best move. There’s a lot of things to look forward to at Walt Disney World in 2021. By Spring, 2021, most of EPCOT should be done or close to done...eh...there should be a lot less walls. It’s the 50th year anniversary at Disney, and new lands, restaurants, and attractions will be open by then. And plus...everything you planned for this year? You could do it again next year. Easy as that.
I grew up going to Disney during the summer. It wasn’t until my sister was a teacher and I was in college that my family started to go during Christmas. Summer wouldn’t be my first or second choice, but I also understand that it can be the only choice for many people. If you were planning on going during March, there’s a good chance you were taking advantage of a school break.
July 4th is one of the most-popular times to visit Walt Disney World, as the Magic Kingdom hosts a jaw-dropping fireworks display. Do note that July 4th falls on a weekend this year, leading to even higher crowds.
The biggest concern around summertime at Disney World is the harsh Florida heat and humidity. By the afternoon, the heat could be unbearable, but you can certainly plan around it. Go early in the morning, stay until lunch, then head back to the hotel and hang by the pool. Then, return to the parks at night.
Another concern is the crowds. During the summer, you’ll run into a lot of international tour groups, however, if there’s ever been a year to go...this may be it. I think you’ll see a dip in international guests and ultimately lower crowds post coronavirus, as there still may be some hesitation.
Overall, if you can bear the heat, then it may be worth looking into. I will point out that many dates during the summer are already within the 180-day ADR window, so it may be difficult to find a reservation at your favorite restaurant.
You’re not gonna wanna hear this, but another option may be just canceling right now. Sure, I’d much rather book for later in the year, but truth be told, there’s really no telling how long this coronavirus will be around or how long its impact will be felt. Look—this should be a happy blog and should boost optimism, but I’m just trying to be a realist here. While there’s a possibility we lower the curve and drastically cut down on the virus by summer, there’s also a chance it hangs around throughout the rest of 2020.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re able to move your trip at no extra cost, then it may be worth doing so. With the 50th year anniversary coming up next year at Disney, as well as the economic impact to the travel industry; resort, ticket, and travel prices are bound to go up. I’d much rather make a speculative reservation for next year and cancel if need be, than to cancel all together and risk paying a higher premium at a later date.
April, May or June 2020
Like I said above, there’s truly no telling how long this virus will hang around or the impact it’ll have once it subsides. If I’m a betting man, I’d say it sticks around until at least May, but that’s just my opinion.
From a Disney side of things, April and May are already well within their 180-day and 60-day window. You’ll have a hard time finding FastPass+ selections and most restaurants are already booked. It’d be unfortunate to have spent all that time planning your trip only to go a month or two later and miss out on all those dining and FP+ selections you made.
I wanna close with a quick message to all the readers: stay safe and take care of yourselves. I’m not going to preach good hygiene or anything like that...but know that Disney isn’t going anywhere. It may be closed for now, but it’ll re-open; and as the refurbishments take place, it’ll be better than ever. It’s imperative right now that we take the necessary precautions, and while it may stink, it will get better. Stay safe, everyone.