Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Beat the Heat? Visiting Disney World in the Summer


Last year, I wrote a post about the best and worst times to visit Walt Disney World.  I stand by my recommendations in that post but unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way and I can't follow my own advice.  Assuming that's true for many of you, I began to think about this question in a different way recently.  Given the negatives, is it a good idea to visit Disney in the heat of the summer?

To recap a bit of that previous post, I'm mostly speaking here to people who have no real choice.  If you can visit whenever you want, my recommendations there still stand (November/December being the best time to go, as long as you avoid holiday weeks).  But for many of us, especially with kids, it's not as simple as just picking your favorite time of year and going on vacation.

If you want to go on a real, week long vacation (as most people do), your time is restricted if you're traveling with school aged children.  School breaks are one option, but you'll pay for those in both dollars and crowds.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't go - we had a wonderful trip over Easter this past year and that's likely to be when we go on our next trip as well.

As a side bar, my personal preference out of all the school breaks is Easter, and that recommendation gets stronger the later in the year Easter falls, as it won't conflict with Spring Break for most colleges.  Your other options are likely to be more crowded, as many schools have them off at the same time - President's Week, Thanksgiving (where you don't even get a full week off from school - at least we don't) and Christmas (the single busiest week of the year most every year).

But for the purposes of this post, let's assume you don't want to or can't go over one of these school breaks.  That leaves only the long, hot summer as an option for you.  Summer is just a concept in Florida - pretty much any time from May through October will be extremely hot.  So if all else is equal, what would be the best time of summer to visit?

Our recommendation in this case is the end of August or even the beginning of September up until Labor Day (the one holiday that actually isn't that busy at Disney).  The reason for this is simple, and might not be relevant to you as a reader - schools in Florida, as well as many other (southern) states, open in mid-August.  That means the pool of potential visitors shrinks once you hit that time period.

In reality, the LOWEST crowds of the year will be in September after Labor Day.  This makes sense if you think about it - if you just started a school year, you are unlikely to want to take your kids out of school so early.  I'm in favor of taking your kids out of school for Disney - but as my kids age, this becomes less practical at any time.  In September, it's a non-starter for most people.

But if you have a window at that time of year, where school doesn't start until around Labor Day (as is the case in New York), you have a chance to experience Disney World at one of its least crowded times.  That alone can make it worth it to brave the extreme heat, daily thunderstorms and the height of hurricane season.

To illustrate this point, I ran the numbers on a few weeks of wait times using data from Thrill-Data.  The first week here is around Easter 2022 (the dates we traveled this year), as well as the last two weeks in August leading up to Labor Day.  I didn't get into granular detail on each attraction, but this data is the average wait time per ride daily.  The numbers are pretty clear:

In Magic Kingdom, for example, you could have waited eleven minutes less per attraction throughout the day if you had gone in August instead of Easter.  That jump is even more pronounced in the next week.  Those numbers are eye-popping if low crowds are the most important thing to you - even with the heat, you're waiting less time in line for each attraction, giving you more opportunities to get out of the sun.

To that end, if I were visiting at this time of year, my recommendation would be to take mid-day breaks every day, or as often as you can.  This is good advice generally, but not always practical if you're trying to accomplish a lot.  But with lower crowds, you can get more done in a few hours than you can in a whole day during the busiest season.  That gives you plenty of opportunities to swim and/or nap while avoiding the hottest part of a hot day, as well as the highest crowds of the day (even in slower seasons, mid-day is always the busiest time of day at any park).  Also, since you can generally schedule an afternoon thunderstorm in Florida, you can plan to be in your hotel room rather than in a poncho in the parks.

There are a couple of other things you can do to avoid crowds even further.  One is to take advantage of Extended Evening Hours.  We've talked about this a lot, because it is currently the best way to avoid crowds.  It is only available to deluxe resort guests. But the silver lining here is that hotel rates (as well as DVC rental prices) are lower during the slow season, making the opportunity to experience EEH more palatable.  And since this are EVENING hours, much of this time will occur once the sun goes down, taking away the heat factor.  

One other great trick to avoid crowds at this time of year specifically revolves around Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (yes, Halloween starts in August in Disney).  I wrote about this here and the crowds have played out in real life as expected.  Most people avoid Magic Kingdom during a party day, since they feel like they're "missing out" on something by the park closing early on these days.  If you don't have a park hopper, this seems like the right call.

But if you do have hoppers (recommended most of the time, and this time of year is definitely one of those times), you can visit Magic Kingdom during the day and hop elsewhere at night, thereby not "losing" any park time.  If you show up early (Magic Kingdom actually opened earlier this year during party days), you can enjoy a largely empty park.  This is a major advantage.  If there are two parties scheduled during the week of your trip, I would schedule Magic Kingdom for both of those days.

Obviously visiting during the summer is not for everyone (my wife and kids endorse this message).  But if you have no choice, or can put up with the weather, you will have a much more pleasant crowd experience than you will at any other time during the year.  Some good strategy will make this easier and you can do your best to avoid walking around during the hottest times of day.  In many ways, I would rather strategizing around heat rather than crowds, but I leave that choice to you.

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