There’s probably never a time that we could really consider the Walt Disney World Parks to be “not busy”, but there are certainly some days that are much busier than others. Whether park regulars or first-time visitors, most Disney guests likely know that days like Thanksgiving and Christmas will see larger crowds. But many may not know there are other dates that can also draw in a lot more people than average. Other national holidays, well-known and not-as-well-known events, anniversaries, and even unofficial gatherings and celebrations, can cause Park attendance to skyrocket when you might least expect it. To help you better plan your next trip and try to avoid the busiest times at Walt Disney World, we’ve made a list of the days and events that are most likely to draw heavier crowds than normal.
Disney Festivals, Parties, and Special Events
It probably goes without saying that anytime Disney offers a special limited time event the Parks will experience higher crowds – at least some of the time. While we have done a few of these events ourselves and have loved them, we know there may be times that guests may prefer to visit when the parks are less crowded. So if that’s the case for you then you may want to be aware of these specific events that tend to draw more crowds:
(exact dates can change from year-to-year, but each of these events are generally held around the same time that they were the previous year)
- Epcot International Festival of the Arts –– January 18 – February 25, 2019
- Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival –– March 11 – June 3, 2019
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party –– select nights from August 16 through November 1, 2019 (exact dates can be found on Disney’s blog)
- Epcot International Food & Wine Festival –– August 29 – November 23, 2019
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party –– dates for 2019 are TBD, but these parties are usually held on select nights beginning sometime early November and running through mid to late December (around Christmas)
- Epcot International Festival of the Holidays –– November 29 – December 30, 2019
The good news is that there are almost always less crowded “off times” during these events, so if you do your research when planning, you might have a good chance of still being able to enjoy one of these events on one of the less crowded days. It may still be more crowded then the Parks usually are depending on the type of event and time of year, but it may at least be possible to avoid the most crowded event days of the year – an example being Halloween day as one of the most crowded Mickey’s Not So Scary parties every year. Of course, some events supposedly have a very limited amount of tickets available, such as After Hours events, so it is very likely that these events will be much less crowded than an average day at any of the Parks.
Also note that, while not technically “events”, July 4th and New Year’s Eve (and many times the day before each of these holidays) are usually extremely crowded because Disney World usually offers special firework shows at certain parks on these holidays.
To see all of these types of events that Disney World currently has listed on their schedule for this year, visit their official website.
Running is a popular athletic activity in the United States, and there are numerous events offered at Walt Disney World especially for those who enjoy this sport. Disney World holds their own races of various lengths multiple times a year, and these events are incredibly popular. Needless to say, due to their popularity, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you are going to run into some considerable crowds during these times. And since many of these races take place within the actual Disney Parks, you can not only expect resort hotels to be full, but also the four parks themselves.
The dates for each of the runDisney events can change from year to year, but the good news is that Disney’s website will list all of these event schedules as soon as they are available each year so that you can plan your vacation accordingly. It is especially common for these races to be around the same time each year or themed to certain festivals, such as Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, so this is also something to be aware of when selecting your trip dates. However, while some of these seasonal events or times may have a corresponding runDisney event, you shouldn’t have to worry about the crowds from such events to be present for the entire festival or month, as these races generally only last a few days each.
The remaining races scheduled for 2019 (and the 2020 races that have been scheduled so far) that are listed on Disney’s official runDisney.com are:
- Star Wars Rival Run Weekend –– April 4 – 7, 2019
- Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend –– October 31 – November 3, 2019
- Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend –– January 8 – 12, 2020
- Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend –– February 20 – 23, 2020
As always, it’s a good idea to double check these times and dates on Disney’s official website before planning your trip just to be certain that these events haven’t been rescheduled or canceled.
Sports Events and Competitions
Sporting events and competitions are held every year at Disney World. In particular, there are several large dance and cheer competitions held multiple times a year at ESPN Wide World of Sports, which is located on Disney World property, that often draw large crowds. While some of these competitions may be college level, the majority are for teens and younger kids, so you can expect not only large crowds at the Disney Resorts during these times, but also entire groups to visit the parks together during their free time (whenever their age group or bracket is not competing). Also, some of these groups sometimes either arrive a few days before their event or stay a few days after in order to have more time to spend in the parks, so this is something else to keep in mind. Since ESPN is located near the All Star Resorts, as well at Art of Animation Resort and Pop Century Resort, these Disney hotels often fill up with these groups since they are value resorts and only a short distance from the event facility.
Unfortunately, it’s been the general consensus, for at least the last several years, that these event weeks are some of the worst times to visit Disney World because of the type of atmosphere caused by some of the groups, both in the parks and in the hotels. Not all groups of course, but enough to have become a well-known issue. I have read and heard more guest experiences than I can count that have described these times in a rather unfavorable manner, with the biggest complaint often being that some of these groups can be incredibly loud, keeping other guests up at night in the hotels and disturbing their overall experience in the parks.
While I am sure Disney tries to keep control over the general atmosphere of their properties and address any issues as soon as they can so as to ensure guests have an enjoyable time, there is no possible way for them to monitor every group’s activity 24/7. So sometimes these issues can unfortunately happen – though we have seen Cast Members deal with difficult issues caused by guests in the past and were honestly impressed by their response time and overall handling of the situation.
So for these reasons, crowds and overall atmosphere, a lot of guests choose to avoid these event times each year. This can be a bit tricky to do since there are several of these events, but if you’re able to schedule around these times, you may find the parks and the Disney resort hotels to be less crowded than during these events.
While various sporting events take place all year, the following list includes the events that we have heard of drawing some of the largest crowds, as well as their scheduled dates for 2019:
- College Cheerleading & Dance Team National Championship (UDA/UCA) –– January 18 – 20, 2019
- National Dance Team Championship (UDA) –– February 1 – 3, 2019
- National High School Cheerleading Championship (UCA) –– February 8 – 10, 2019
- Contest of Champions National Dance Competition –– March 1 – 3, 2019
- International All-Star Championship (UCA) –– March 9 – 10, 2019
- AmeriCheer & AmeriDance International Championship –– March 16 – 17, 2019
- International Cheerleading Union World Championships (ICU) –– April 24 – 26, 2019
- USASF Cheerleading and Dance Worlds –– April 27 – 29, 2019
- The Summit Championship –– May 2 – 5, 2019
- D2 Summit Championship –– May 10 – 12, 2019
- Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships –– December 6 – 14, 2019
- Pop Warner Super Bowl –– December 6 – 14, 2019
The week that is most definitely one to avoid if you can help it is December 6 – 14 this year, as both the Pop Warner Cheer & Dance Championships and the Pop Warner Super Bowl take place that week. The All Star Resorts in particular will be quite crowded at this time as they are located near ESPN Wide World of Sports and are generally on the lower end of pricing. You may want to especially avoid All Star Sports this week, if at all possible, since the sports theming is a draw for these groups – though it is still likely that all three of these value resorts will have guests from these groups.
The Pop Warner events in December are also obviously the longest running event of the year and the ones we hear negative comments about most often, so you may want to be particularly aware of this event when planning your vacation, especially considering Christmastime is always a more crowded time of year in general anyway. As I mentioned above, definitely check the ESPN Wide World of Sports website before making any plans to make sure none of this information has changed if is important to your travel plans.
Multiple other sports events are also held year-round at ESPN Wide World of Sports, so you might want to check the full schedule on their website as well.
Though they are not official days instituted by Walt Disney World, “Dapper Days” are specially set days by a large group of people that visit various places on Disney World property wearing mostly vintage-inspired outfits. These days have become increasingly popular over the years, which has resulted in a growing number of people participating in Dapper Day festivities and outings. Dates can change from year-to-year, but they generally take place in the Spring and Fall.
The set dates listed on DapperDay.com for 2019 are:
- April 26 at Disney Springs
- April 27 at Magic Kingdom
- April 28 at Epcot
- November 16–17 (exact plans for these dates have yet to be announced)
While not an official Disney event, there is a group that organizes a specific week every year in which a lot of the local gay community (as well as some groups that travel to Orlando for these days) plans their trips to multiple Orlando theme parks (not just Disney World) to be all in the same week. These specifically planned days, most commonly referred to as “Gay Days”, are generally not known to many Disney guests, and it is important to be aware of these days when planning your vacation. Any time a large amount of people plan their trips together (see Jersey Week below as another example), chances are that there will be a higher level of crowds at those times. This year, the information we found lists August 13 – 19, 2019 as the week that this event is scheduled. We’ve also found this to be scheduled generally in the summer time.
This is also not a Disney event, but it is another time period in which a large group of people visit Walt Disney World all at the same time. The state of New Jersey has annual teachers meetings that result in a week off of school for a substantial amount of students, so many families from New Jersey choose to visit the Disney Parks in Orlando during this time. This year, it appears that November 2 – 9, 2019 is “Jersey Week”, as it is commonly known among regular park guests and Disney Park fans.
Spring Break and Holidays
While not technically an “event”, we want to mention Spring Break as a time that draws tremendous crowds. This makes planning a trip in March (and possibly the first part of April) somewhat of a challenge since school districts across the country all have different Spring Break weeks, but if you are planning on being anywhere in Disney World during these months, it is definitely something to be aware of – especially the local Orlando school spring break time generally in March. National holidays also create very busy days and weekends (sometimes even weeks, such as the week before Christmas). While holidays can be very special times at Disney World, if you would rather avoid the large crowds, you might want to consider visiting during non-holiday weeks.
Park Anniversaries and Special Days
Other dates that may see larger crowds are those dates that are connect to Park-related anniversaries or birthdays. October 1st is the anniversary of Walt Disney World’s opening, as well as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (though these two parks opened years apart from each other). The year 2021 is especially expected to see large crowds around the month of October (and most likely all year long), as both Walt Disney World and Magic Kingdom will be celebrating their 50th anniversary (Magic Kingdom was the first park to open in Disney World back in 1971).
Animal Kingdom opened on April 22nd in 1998, and this year May 1, 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Other important Disney-related dates included Mickey’s (and Minnie’s) birthday on November 18, and May 4th (and possibly 5th) for Star Wars. Though not “official” anniversaries for the Star Wars franchise, May 4th (“May the Fourth Be With You”) and May 5th (“Revenge of the Fifth”) are big days for Star Wars fans around the world. We would expect Hollywood Studios to possibly see larger crowds on these days – especially once Galaxy’s Edge opens later this year.