Our 2021 Disney World Crowd Calendar Guide will answer common questions like when’s the best times to visit Disney World? Are there better weeks than others? Days? The answer to these questions is yes, but it’s not that simple. There’s so much that goes into making a crowd at Disney that proper analysis and park experience is required. And while it would be easy to say September thru November is less busy, that really doesn’t help as guests tend to choose dates based on specific weeks or when deals like the Free Disney Dining Plan are happening.
When we’re planning a Disney World vacation there are several things we take into consideration. First, Disney World is never really slow per se. It’s the most visited theme park resort in the world so to say “slow” isn’t quite truthful. There are always going to be crowds here. Having said that, there are ways to avoid more crowded days which are a thing. So are less crowded days.
As a family who visits Disney World often, it’s easy to pick up on crowd trends. And the more we visit, the more we understand. While we feel we can offer an advantage to our readers with this knowledge, we’re certainly not going to skip over the obvious points that make up a crowd. A majority of our crowd calendar is made up of common knowledge of what makes a crowd.
First, anytime school’s out, the crowds get bigger at the theme parks. This isn’t to say that when Roy Disney Jr. High is having two days off of school the parks are going to blow up. We’re referring to the obvious times including Spring Break, the Holiday break, summer and even Fall Breaks like Thanksgiving.
Summer is the absolute worst time to visit Disney World. This is because EVERY school is on break and EVERY family is travelling. These months are typically June, July and August. Spring Breaks are also very consistent with schools as far as them happening every year. The only difference is that they are spread out over March and April because not all of them take off the same week (though we wish they did). This makes these months a little harder to navigate.
The Holiday break in December is like summer. Pretty much every school takes these weeks off and a lot of families travel during this time. We actually haven’t been to the Disney Parks during the final 2 weeks of December for many years because the crowds are just awful. Never plan a once-in-a-lifetime vacation during this time.
Lastly, Thanksgiving Break is a very busy time and pretty much all schools take the same days off. Avoid at all cost.
Second, Any major holiday is going to draw crowds to the parks. When people are given time off work and school, they become weekend warriors and head to Disney World. It doesn’t matter if it’s just for 2 days or 5, they are going to come. The biggest holidays we’ve already mentioned: Christmas Time and Thanksgiving. Next comes Labor Day followed by Presidents Day and MLK Day. We didn’t mention Independence Day because it’s during summer break when the crowds are running high already. Easter is also a popular holiday to celebrate at the parks; so is Valentines.
Halloween is an interesting holiday as Disney celebrates it for many months (in 2019 it started in late August!). The actual Holiday Day itself is a crowded day. October in general sees bigger crowds because people are attending the Not So Scary Halloween Parties at Magic Kingdom but they tend to focus on just that park. More on this in a minute.
Third, Brazil. That’s all we have to say…
Just kidding, we’ll elaborate on this a bit more. We’re not sure why or how or when this started but for Brazilian high schoolers (and Brazilians turing 15), when they graduate, it’s a rite of passage for them to come to Disney World. We’ve been watching this over the past 10 years and it’s quite amazing. Though COVID has somewhat put a halt to this practice for 2020 and probably 2021, it’s bound to come back. These months include Summer time and the month of January. There will be groups with hundreds of kids at a time, broken down into groups of 25 or so and things can get crazy.
Last, the weekends. This is all thanks to the locals and their annual passes (we ♥️ you!) While it’s not nearly as bad here as it is in California, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are always busier because of the locals. They’re out of school, they’re off of work and it’s super easy for them to drive 30 minutes or less to get to the parks for a night out. They have no real commitment to a plan; to get things done, because they have all the time in the world and they’ve done it a million times already. A lot of them come for the dining, shows and atmosphere.
Those are the obvious times to avoid if you’re looking for a less crowded vacation. While this guide does cover many details about choosing a date, there are other things to consider so you may want to take a look at our Disney World Planning Guide which answers a lot of other questions about preparing for a vacation.
Before we jump into our Crowd Calendars let’s go over some of the changes that have happened during 2020-2021 that are impacting crowds. First, Disney has had to bring capacity rates down due to COVID. They are currently sitting around 40% and climbing slowly. While this sounds like a dream, with social distancing guidelines in place, lines have actually extended so it’s had a weird impact on attraction wait times. While the parks themselves have less people, lines are still reaching up into the 60+ minute wait times. This is going to continue to have an impact until summer 2021 when we feel Disney is going to return to mostly normal. See our COVID-19 Planning Guide to help you understand how it’s impacting the resort overall.
Second, Disney is no longer selling annual passes to anyone which may have an impact on weekends in 2021. While most Florida Residents were able to hang on to their current passes, no one else is able to purchase one, resident or not. The only way this could swing into a positive is if they continue to hold out on new sales with capacity limits reaching normal levels. In this case, weekends could be much slower than they have been in the past.
Third, park hopping has resumed in 2021 which we feel will spread the crowds out more than when it wasn’t available. When it’s only 1 park per day for everyone, certain parks are going to be more crowded than others. If you happen to choose a park that wasn’t busy that day because everyone was over at, say, Magic Kingdom, you scored. Being on the opposite of that however, it the worst. So having the park hopper option back should help level out parks starting around 3pm each day.
Lastly, new attractions for 2020 and 2021 have had a huge impact on crowds, specifically Disney’s Hollywood Studio. With the launch of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, this park jumped in status. Every guest is clamoring for a chance to ride this state-of-the-art attraction. And while guests can only experience it via a virtual queue, they do need to be in the park that day, so if they get a boarding group, they’re coming in. If they didn’t, they’re still coming in to take a second stab at getting into the virtual queue at 2pm.
Also at this park, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has opened and it is super popular. It’s the ride everyone is running to when the gates open and maintains a 100+ minute line throughout the day. We discuss how to get onto this ride and others in our 1-Day Hollywood Studios Itinerary which you should look at to help you plan your day there. Because it’s new though, this (the crowds) will continue for the foreseeable future.
Now let’s dive into some of the more specific reasons guests choose to come (or not) and how it impacts crowds..
Openings like new attractions, lands and debuts of new entertainment like parades, fireworks and shows have always drawn bigger crowds. There are so many hard core Disney fans out there that when one of these are happening, they all show up. And it’s not just the fans. Bloggers, news writers and YouTubers also come to be the first to report or get a video of it.
In our experience, we think it’s fun to be one of the first but not everyone feels that way. We’re willing to deal with massive crowds and long waits to be able to achieve this. If you’re just a regular park goer who wants a fun vacation with less crowds, you’ll want to skip these events by either scheduling your trip before or after or avoiding the particular park where it’s happening.
To find out when things like this are happening, we recommend you join our free monthly newsletter as we are always writing about and covering these things. Your other option is to follow Disney Parks on Twitter or Instagram as they also tend to mention them.
Festivals are big at Disney World, particularly at the Epcot theme park, which is home to the International Food & Wine Festival, the International Festival of the Arts and the International Flower & Garden Festival. The Food & Wine typically runs early fall to the first week of November. This is probably their biggest one that’s attended and has become a tradition for many Disney Park fans. Opening week and the final week are the two busiest. The weekends at this park, starting Friday thru Sunday, are always busy with locals. It’s best to avoid this park during those times unless you love the party atmosphere.
The Arts Festival runs January through February and is slowly becoming one of the more popular festivals due to its unique offerings and, of course, food. While crowds aren’t as bad for this yet, we anticipate 2022 will be a big year for it assuming things normalize from COVID. The weekends are still the best days to avoid for this festival.
The Flower & Garden Festival is the second largest festival at Epcot and too has become a tradition for park fans to attend. With great offerings like workshops, celebrity guests, the Garden Rocks Concert Series and additional dining, guests flock here during the months of March thru May. Avoid the first two weeks of this and the weekends to miss the crowds and long lines.
Other festivals at Disney include the Festival of Holidays, also at Epcot, which runs November thru December, offering new dishes and drink for everyone to enjoy. Because this typically runs during the busy Holiday season already, there are just larger crowds everyday. And like Epcot most weekends, it gets busier.
These can happen at any time of the year but there are several that are always scheduled in Disney’s book that tend to draw more guests to the resort. First up is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties that take place at Magic Kingdom. Over the years this event has grown into something..scary. It’s taken over more dates and basically sells out of each one in advance. It runs late August (pre-COVID) thru October 31st. It doesn’t happen on everyday of the week, typically 3-4 times, and in the evenings from around 6pm till close. It is a special ticketed event so the park closes to anyone who doesn’t have one, typically around 6-7pm. However, the event does allow guests to enter the park before this and it tends to get busy. The dates of the parties can be found by looking at Disney’s Calendar for the event.
Another scheduled, yearly event at the parks is Candlelight Processional, held at Epcot every Holiday season. It draws in big crowds who want to hear a celebrity guest and choir read and sing the traditional Christmas story. People like Neil Patrick Harris and Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the celebrities that come in to participate. It’s very much a tradition and you can see when this event is taking place to either attend or avoid the crowds.
Some of the biggest weeks/weekends at Walt Disney World are the runDisney events. These include several half marathons and marathons spread across the calendar year. While they are fun to participate in, they definitely bring in the crowds. We’re talking thousands and thousands of additional people in the parks. They typically show up several days before the races and stay several days after. If you can avoid these events, do so at all cost. Be sure to checkout the runDisney calendar to see when they are happening.
Within the last several years has emerged a new event that seems to be happening more and more each year. We’re talking about the Disney After Dark events that seem to be taking over every park and theme imaginable. They are special ticketed events and do run late in the evening til 1-2am. While they don’t make a huge impact on crowds, we’d say around 4-5pm people start showing up and it can get busy then.
The last big event takes us back to Magic Kingdom park for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that runs November thru December. Like the Halloween Parties, these run about 3-4 days out of the week and are a special ticketed event. The park will close to guests early and the days that they are being held tend to be much busier than others.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex property becomes home to several big sporting events including NBA games (during COVID especially), the D-League, cheers camps and spring training to name a few. There are also teen basketball, baseball and volleyball camps that happen each year. They bring in hundreds of kids at a time, who all tend to stay at the All Star Resorts, and eventually make their way into the parks in the evenings. We highly recommend looking the their calendar to see when they are happening.
If the NBA does end up playing their playoffs again at Disney World, the parks don’t tend to fill up due to these events but Disney does cut off a chunk of rooms for the players, coaches and their families to stay in. We don’t anticipate another “bubble” happening but anything is possible right now.
There are two cities in the U.S.A. that are notorious for holding some of the largest conventions. One is Las Vegas and the other, you guessed it, is Orlando. Whether they are held on property or not, they bring in a ton of people who also bring their families to visit the parks. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort is the epicenter for conventions being held on property. Their rooms fill up and the attendees fill up the parks. The Swan and Dolphin Resorts are also home to many conventions throughout the year and, in general, are not hotels we recommend. You can catch their event calendar to plan around them. You can also find a general convention event schedule for Orlando events.
It’s strange to think that people would go to such lengths as weather watching to determine when they should vacation. The truth is, you can’t rule out anything! For instance, many guests tend to avoid September thru November because of the hurricane season that happens in Florida. While there isn’t always a hurricane that happens, they don’t want to risk anything so they skip these months.
If you’re already at the parks and you see that it’s going to rain or is raining, these are some of the best times to attend the parks because they slow down with many guests leaving the parks to go back to their hotels. This is due to many of them not being prepared. We suggest you take a look at our What to Pack for Disney guide to help you prepare for events like these.
If you did come prepared for bad weather, you’ll probably enjoy some of the shortest lines you’ve seen, especially if it rains all day.
Occasionally Orlando will get some ridiculously hot days where no one wants to be outside, even park guests. They’d rather be at the pool or a water park than in the heat. These can also be great days to enjoy smaller crowds if you come prepared. Lot’s of water and some cooling cloths are highly recommended.
If you’re someone who wants to get every ounce of Disney out of your vacation, park hours should always be consulted. They fluctuate depending on the time of the year but can also be a good hint as to when Disney “expects” the parks to be busy. For instance, during the months of January and February, park hours are less, running from around 9am to maybe 8pm on average.
In the summertime, park hours tend to run from 7am till 11pm. The reason for this is crowd levels. If you haven’t caught on yet that summer is a busy time, you haven’t read anything we’ve written. The basic idea behind this is if you’re planning a vacation and the hours during your planned stay are longer, it’s a sign that Disney is anticipating larger crowds.
There are some weeks where this isn’t correct however. The first 2 weeks in November are the only ones that don’t really follow this trend. When the Holiday decorations come out, the first 2 weeks of November get extended hours but really don’t see massive crowds like Thanksgiving. Sometimes if you’re lucky it’s the same for the first week of December.
TOURING PLANS CALENDAR
For anyone who wants to dig even deeper, there’s one company out there that has whipped up a magic formula for calculating park crowds, most of it based on historical data. We will admit that history, while a solid place to pull data from, can change. For instance, COVID-19. No one expected it but it sure did change the way Disney World crowds have functioned. Having said that, for the visual lovers out there, this is a great option.
They present their data in calendar form, with each park ranked between 1 and 10. The higher the crowds, the bigger the number. They’ve been running this for about 7-8 years now and are pretty dang good at it. It does required a subscription so if you’re not willing to spend the money, you can just use our free data above to help you decide the crowds. If you don’t mind dropping a little dough for a great visualization, Touring Plans is a great option.
If it seems like there’s a lot to consider when it comes to crowds, there is; but simple knowledge can go a long way in this game. Just remember, travelling outside of major holidays, summer and school breaks is going to significantly lower your wait times and crowd levels. Adding in avoiding big special events like attraction and land openings as well as runDisney events will bring them down even more. Lastly, avoiding weekends is always a great plan to avoid the weekend warriors and annual passholders.
Are you an expert on crowds at Disney World? Have you been going for so long that you have the perfect days and weeks? We want to hear from you! We love to share our experience and knowledge but we also like our readers opinions. Leave a comment or shoot us an email and let us know what you think. If it’s something amazing, we’ll be sure to add it to our post!
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.