Our imagination of a trip never quite aligns perfectly with reality, does it?
A trip to Disney and the Magic Kingdom conjures up thoughts of slow, carefree days spent perusing the parks, taking in a charming show, chance meetings with your favorite characters and maybe a few thrills on the coasters too.
The reality is a lot of people share this dream. And when we say a lot we mean A LOT of people. The sometimes absurdly long lines and lengthy wait times of popular attractions are a quick route to disillusionment. And so, Disney Crowd Calendars were born.
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What are Disney Crowd Calendars?
Disney Crowd Calendars are a way to avoid the biggest crowds before booking your vacation. You can use them to potentially reduce your wait times. They sound great in theory. Who wouldn’t want to spend less time in line and more time enjoying the park?
They typically really are in the form of a calendar. They range from simple crowd predictions by date to detailed strategy guides with suggested attraction plans, park comparisons and what to avoid.
Are Disney Crowd Calendars really accurate?
Well, that’s been the subject of a lot of discussion among Disney fanatics in recent years. Predicting anything with 100% accuracy is nearly impossible. But in the past, with some educated guesswork it seemed that these calendars definitely had some merit. They were a great way to be aware of holidays, new attractions or price drops that affected crowd size.
However, Disney has developed some clever ways to maintain crowd volume throughout the year that makes these predictions more and more difficult. There are now special promotions and changing ticket prices during the “slow seasons” that fill up the previously sparse crowds. The fact is that every year more and more people visit Disney parks. This only adds to the difficulty.
That said, they are based on sound logic and still could be a valuable tool. Keep in mind that they are not science and it’s still anyone’s guess how crowded your trip will be. It seems that using these calendars together with your own preferences, guesswork, and research is the way to go.
We hope you’ll agree that our more balanced, common-sense approach is the best way to decide for yourself.
What’s the best way to use Disney Crowd Calendars?
Using Disney Crowd Calendars with a healthy dose of critical thinking and skepticism seems to be best. They still are a useful tool to give you a rough idea of popular times to visit. But, they are far from pure fact.
Instead, try using this guide as a primer to each factor that affects crowd size. Being armed with this knowledge will give you the best chance to figure out which season and dates work best for you.
How are Disney Crowd Calendars made?
Disney Crowd Calendars take a variety of factors into account grounded in logic and data. But, the truth of how crowded the parks will remain anyone’s guess. So, for the remainder of this article, we’ll break down each factor in detail. You can use this to make an educated guess yourself. Using your own preferences and intuition seems to be a wiser method than blindly following a crowd calendar alone.
1. School Breaks
One of the biggest predictors of crowd sizes is the school semester and breaks. A lot of families plan their vacations around the school year since there is no other option to reasonably travel. While summer vacations are a joy to the children, that means higher ticket prices, fewer hotel options, and longer lines.
If you’re not tied to the school schedule because of children, we advise avoiding these periods. Spring and winter breaks, in particular, might be the worst of them.
Spring break is typically around the middle to the end of April. There are so many overlapping holidays here like Easter that means a lot of families are free to travel. It seems like this would be an ideal time for convenience’s sake. But, it’s not unheard of to temporarily close parks due to being near capacity. Avoid if possible.
Winter break ranges from around Christmas to the first week of January and is another extremely busy period for Disney parks. The good news is that the weather in Florida is great at this time. The temperatures stay around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for some relief from the cold. The bad news is that there’s nothing stopping throngs of students and their parents from taking advantage of the time off. The week of Christmas is one to steer well clear of if you’d like to avoid wall-to-wall crowds.
2. Special Events and Holidays
Disney holds special events all throughout the year that have varying degrees of effect on the park crowds. If you’re interested in attending one, by all means, you should go and enjoy it! But if your main goal is a quieter park, there are a couple of events you might want to consider passing on.
Holidays outside of school breaks also may have a big impact on crowd size. We’ll highlight a few special events and holidays to avoid below.
Food and Wine Festival
This is a 7-week long festival that starts in September and ends mid-November. This is a tricky one since it draws a ton of people to the pavilions in Epcot, the center of the festival. This makes walking around the park feel stuffy as people fill the walkways. But the same folks here just for the festival don’t usually take part in many attractions. It might be a nice strategy to book here if you’re not interested in the festival and want to game the crowd calendar system.
Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween Party
This Halloween themed event stretched from late September to mid-November. This is an after-hours, separately ticketed event that is extremely popular with visitors. And for good reason – it’s fun! There are special character appearances, and a festive atmosphere with costumed revelers all around. But the nights during the festival are jam-packed with people and actually were the subject of a lot of complaints in recent years.
Visiting the park in the early day might be okay since participants will likely start rolling in by late afternoon.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
This is a Christmas themed event that runs from early November to just shy of Christmas. This is another crowd favorite that frequently sells out and causes the park to swell with partygoers. So, it bears a lot of similar advice to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The park during the early day might be ok but prepare for the masses at night.
That said, it’s a fun time with lots to see and do including a Christmas parade, characters dressed in holiday fashion, unlimited cookies, and hot chocolate throughout the park, snow machines sprinkling on the main street and unique fireworks display.
You absolutely should enjoy this special time if your heart is set on it. But, we do recommend doing some research beforehand to see the level of crowds you’ll be dealing with. Book in advance to avoid early sellouts.
October is already one of the busiest months in the park thanks to impeccable weather and the end of the hurricane season in Florida. A lot of visitors also wait until the end of summer to book lower ticket prices.
This event coincides with school closings to create a perfect crowd gathering force. Avoid it if possible.
A lesser-known “holiday” is Jersey Week, the first two weeks of November that marks the closing of NJ public schools. This event causes a significant bump in foot traffic, mainly students, that you might want to steer clear of. Wait times are reported to be as long as double the norm.
This is one of the worst holidays to attend the park in terms of crowd sizes. Expect massive waits, crowded buses and cramped walkways in all areas of the park. These effects start at the beginning of the week and taper off after Thursday passes.
There will be holiday-themed decorations throughout the park, but they are minimal and don’t seem to be worth the extra stress.
This is another tough time to attend the park. The crowds are worse than Thanksgiving week. But, the festivities and decorations are absolutely worth seeing. It’s a joyful time reflected everywhere in the park if you can deal with the throngs of people present.
New Year’s Eve and Day
These are the most crowded holidays of all. Imagine visitors packed like sardines at most points of the day, long waits everywhere (including restrooms) with not much relief outside of the solace of your hotel room.
During all 3 holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, there have been temporary closings to new guests due to overcrowding. This is what you’ll be stepping into too.
These holidays can be fun, all these people are here for a reason after all. But, if you don’t like big crowds, lack the patience for very long waits, or simply want something less exciting and more relaxing, do yourself a favor and book other dates.
3. New Attractions
2020 also marks the opening of a lot of new attractions that will surely be a factor in drawing crowds. We’ll briefly highlight a few below, what area they will be coming to and on what dates. You can take this into consideration when planning your trip.
The latest Star Wars attraction has been opened for a while now. The opening and several months thereafter were much slower than expected which was great for Star Wars and Disney fans alike. It’s not clear why the opening was, well…, a bit of a flop. But the hype has finally caught on and fans are reporting difficulty reserving spots even over 1 month in advance.
If this is your main reason for your visit. Make sure to book far in advance, or simply bide your time while the hype cools a bit.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
This opened March 4th at Disney Hollywood Studios. It’s the first-ever moving ride that will include Mickey and Minnie so expect some hype and subsequently bigger crowds around its debut.
I’ve only heard great about this ride so far.
Remy Ratatouille Adventure
In this micro-sized adventure, you can explore the world of Ratatouille through the eyes of one of its main characters. This is a track ride through oversized kitchens, refrigerators and chef tables from a mouse’s perspective. It looks like a lot of fun for children but might draw some crowds into the French pavilion of Epcot around summer 2020.
Epcot Fireworks Display: Harmonious
Disney has plotted brand new fireworks show that launches at Epcot. Harmonious promises to be a dazzling and, more importantly, a big crowd-pleaser in 2020.
4. Cheerleading and Sports Events
ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is home to some of the biggest national sports competitions. The dates vary year to year but bring a flood of teens, coaches, and their families every time. The three biggest, The AAU National Volleyball Championships (June), The UCA National Highschool Cheerleading Championship (mid-May) and The Disney Girls Soccer Showcase(January), host about 20,000 people each.
The good news is that the athletes are often too busy drilling, competing or resting up to make a big impact on the parks. But as teams are eliminated you’ll see some bleed in. Expect roving mobs of teenagers from time to time.
Disney Crowd Calendars along with some careful research and planning absolutely can be a nice way to ensure your trip is everything you’ve imagined. Just remember to use them together with our considerations of crowd affecting factors: school breaks, special events and holidays, and new attractions.
That said if there’s a special event or season that is just right for you to visit Disney, go for it! No matter what, Disney parks are guaranteed to be popular and full of guests there for the exact same reason you are: to have a good time.
It sounds cheesy, but following your heart trumps any seasonal guide or crowd calendar out there. Use them wisely, with some skepticism and common sense and you’ll be just fine.