But what about the less busy times of year? Say you're willing to pull the kids out of school and visit Disney World in May or October? Do you still need a plan or can you wing it?
First, let's talk a little about what times are less busy. There is confusion about it here. I've heard people say, for example, "we're going in the middle of summer - nobody goes to Florida in the summer so I don't think it'll be crowded!" But summer is when school is out, so it's one of the busiest times of year!
In addition, the old standby, "go when school is in session" isn't as foolproof as before. First, the secret is out - the "quiet" times aren't as quiet as they used to be. Second, Disney holds major events during less-busy times of the year to bring people out - things like the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot in the fall, Halloween parties in September and October, the Marathon and Half Marathon in January, Pop Warner football in December, and Star Wars Weekends in May. Because of these events, crowds are generally higher throughout the year than in the past.
What if I manage to pick a quiet time?
Okay, but suppose you manage to avoid those landmines and find a rare quiet week at Disney World. If so, you're still not entirely out of the woods. Here's what you'll see:
- Big ticket attractions will still have long lines. No, you won't see 4 hour waits like you would on December 27. But the big ticket attractions (Peter Pan, Toy Story Mania, Soarin', Space Mountain, among several others) will still have peak waits of 45-90 minutes.
- Second-tier attractions may have tolerable waits most of the day. Attractions like Pirates of the Carribbean, Jungle Cruise, and Haunted Mansion are where you'll see a significant improvement in wait times. Instead of 20-60 minute peak wait times, expect to see them closer to 15-25 minute peak waits.
- Fastpass acquisition will be a bit easier. Return times for Fastpasses will generally be a bit earlier. (This is not true for absolute top tier attractions like Toy Story Mania).
So do I need a plan if visiting during a quiet time?
I've heard from people who have visited Disney parks on non-busy days, and, without a plan, ended up waiting 30-60 minutes for several attractions, and saying "I can't believe how crowded it is!" At the same time, I have sent many families into Disney parks during the busiest times of year who told me the park essentially felt empty due to using optimal touring strategies. Having the right approach to visiting the park is far more important than picking the least busy day.
That being said, you have a bit more leeway visiting on a less crowded day. My suggestions if you are lucky enough to visit on a non-busy day.
- Still get to the park early. The great thing about the parks on quiet days is the morning is a ton of fun. The big rides will still have lines, and still need a touring strategy to avoid the lines. But once you visit those big-line attractions, the rest of the park will be gloriously empty! It's so much fun to run between Fantasyland attractions and have them mostly to yourself!
- You can relax a bit more. While the big-ticket items still have long lines, you can have a more relaxed touring strategy beyond them. I often help my clients plan their mornings, and then give suggestions for "no-line" things to do in the afternoon. And there are more "no-line" things to do during less busy times!
- Using Fastpasses becomes even more valuable. Because Fastpasses will have (generally) earlier return times, you'll be able to get more of them. This means more rides! Just be sure to use Fastpasses as optimally as possible.
It is definitely better to visit Disney World on a less-busy day. When I visited all four Disney World theme parks in a single day, and visited every major attraction (37 in all), I went on a relatively quiet day. That was not a coincidence.
That being said, going during a non-busy time is not an excuse for not planning. No, you won't be waiting in four-hour lines. But you could easily end up in several hour lines - waits that you could avoid with a plan! As always, please contact me if you want more information on how to plan a Disney vacation to do everything you want without any long waits!