If you were to ask a hundred Disney lovers to give one reason they absolutely love vacationing at Disney World, you’re likely to get a hundred different answers. Some people go for the food, some the rides, nostalgia, or character interactions. Ask what they dread about a Disney vacation, and the answers are less likely to vary.
Whether they say long wait times, difficulty with dining reservations, less than desirable character interactions, it all boils down to one thing: crowds! No one wants to spend time in lines, fighting to get a good spot for parades and fireworks, causing them to miss out on valuable vacation fun. A great way to enjoy all of the Disney magic without having to squeeze your way down Main St., is to take advantage of Disney’s slower months, with can be the best time to go to Disney World.
As many would imagine, as the summer winds down, so do the crowds at Disney World for a little window of time. September signals the end of summer fun. Labor Day cookouts and back to school shopping make it seem like there is no more fun to be had. Kids and adults alike have tried to soak up every ounce of summer fun as possible, and come September, that opportunity seems to have dwindled.
Crowds fill Disney World all summer long, and come September, there is a little bit of a break in the crowd. If you’re looking for a chance to go experience all of the magic Disney has to offer without the headache of unbearable crowds, finding the best part of September might be your best option.
Labor Day Weekend Crowds
Naturally, there are times in September when the crowds can be expected to be higher than average. The unofficial end to summer is Labor Day, and everyone is busy trying to get every drop of summer fun they can out of what’s left of it.
Although Labor Day weekend is ideal for cookouts, local water parks, beaches, or any number of other local attractions, Disney World tends to draw a very large crowd. If a person judged the entire month of September looking solely at Labor Day weekend crowds, they would expect the entire month to be jam-packed with crowds.
These crowds are exceptionally large, and park-goers can expect long wait times with like-minded people trying to get a little extra out of their summer vacations. Anyone going to the parks over Labor Day weekend, should expect to be part of large crowds.
This is not to say that going for that weekend would be unmanageable, but it would definitely make it more difficult to get as much accomplished as you might wish. Bigger crowds will make wait times longer, and reservations and FastPass + harder to secure. If Labor Day weekend is just a small part of you larger Disney World vacation, there are ways you can make the most of it.
As always, different parks are busier on certain days. Making sure to plan accordingly will make Labor Day weekend slightly easier to navigate. When people picture Disney World, the first thing that tends to come to mind is Cinderella’s Castle and the image they saw on television growing up. This tends to mean that on weekends like Labor Day, people will flock to Magic Kingdom. If you have more than the weekend, it would be advisable to avoid Magic Kingdom that weekend.
Yes, everyone wants to go to Tomorrowland and ride Space Mountain, or Fantasyland to take a spin on the teacups at the Mad Tea Party, but those things aren’t going anywhere; lucky for you, the crowds are.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios should also be expected to have larger crowds. This is the park thrill-seekers are more likely to visit, as they will be able to ride some of Disney’s more extreme attractions. These include Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, which takes riders on a fast paced, twisting, turning ride in a “super stretch limo.” Jettisoning from zero to fifty-seven miles per hour, riders are taken through loops and a corkscrew, all while enjoying some classic Aerosmith music. New additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios are an even bigger draw than the older, although still great, attractions.
Hollywood Studios has been undergoing some major renovations and the new additions draw constant crowds. The new Toy Story Land offers something for everyone, and people are very interested in having a spin on the Alien Swirling Saucers, and riding along on Slinky Dog Dash, which, like most things at Disney World, is loved by kids and adults alike.
In September of 2019, the long awaited “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” opened, drawing huge crowds. The experience is a one-of-a-kind step into the places people have seen in Star Wars movies for decades. As Star Wars has a large fan-base that may not have otherwise been interested in Disney World, this new audience is keeping the park filled.
Labor Day weekend provides a perfect opportunity for Star Wars fans to drop into Hollywood Studios, meaning that might be a park to skip that weekend if at all possible.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom may seem like a park that could be expected to draw a lower attendance than the others, but much like Hollywood Studios, it has undergone several improvements over the past couple of years. Animal Kingdom has welcomed Pandora- The World of AVATAR.
This themed offers an immersive view of the land seen in the Avatar movie. The new addition to Animal Kingdom offers two well-themed rides. One ride, Na’vi River Journey, is a dark boat ride through the Kasvapan River. Guests can expect to see bioluminescent plant life, and animatronic depictions of animals from the 2009 movie.
As most new attractions, this is sure to attract newcomers to Disney World, but the big one is Flight of Passage. When asked to choose Disney World’s Best Ride, many guests would unwaveringly choose Flight of Passage. Everyone will have their own opinions, but for that reason alone, crowds can be expected to be a little heavier at Animal Kingdom.
It may seem like going to Disney at all over Labor Day weekend is a lost cause, but not all is lost! Although the other parks tend to be very busy that weekend, it also offers a perfect time to go to Epcot. This park can provide you with plenty of entertainment and ding options for the day, and it will be considerably less crowded than the other parks over the weekend.
The day can even be split into two main parts, as you can tackle Future World first, and then move on to the World Showcase later in the afternoon. This will give you ample time to experience the completely different feeling that can be had in each part of the park.
Future world offers faster rides, like Soarin’ , Test Track, and Mission Space. Adrenaline junkies are sure to have a good time, and with low crowds, they may even have the chance to ride more than once. There are also lots of mellow, and arguably educational, attractions to visit while in Future World.
Taking a journey through the ocean with Nemo and Friends is a nice, air-conditioned option that can follow your time visiting the aquarium. One place that will be even more incredible for animal lovers when the park has lower crowds, is visiting the manatees. Guests can watch them roll around in the water and full soak up the majestic quality of these giant animals just lounging in the water.
Once you’ve experienced the fun of Future World, it’s probably a good time to head over to the World Showcase. Kids can get their passports ready and stamped at each country you visit throughout the showcase. Each country will allow you to experience a little slice of what the country is truly like.
There are no language barriers holding visitors back, and it offers a view of the countries that is as authentic as possible for park-goers. Visit Norway to have a chance to meet Anna and Elsa, before journeying on “Frozen Ever After,” a Viking boat ride through the land of “Frozen.” Lower crowds will make getting to experience this attraction easier.
The World Showcase also offers a special event that is on-going from the end of August through November. The Food and Wine Festival, will give you plenty to do and is a great thing to take advantage of when the crowds are low, as they are predicted to be on Labor Day Weekend.
Weekday Crowds in September
Labor Day Weekend is a special circumstance when It comes to crowd levels at Disney World in September. Once the weekend is over, and kids are back in school, parents back in their routines, the crowds at Disney World tend to dwindle. This is not to say the parks will suddenly be ghost towns and you will have your run of the place.
There are some days that are better than others, and if you take a little time to plan ahead, you can find the perfect breakdown of days for your visit. Weekends in general tend to be busier year-round at Disney World, so it is no surprise that the crowds are smaller during the week.
The smaller crowds will be beneficial for all visitors to the parks. Meet-and-greets with characters, like Mickey and the rest of the “”Fab 5” will be easier to find, and have shorter lines. These smaller crowds will help make your experience a lot more enjoyable.
One factor to consider is Disney’s Extra Magic Hours that are offered to guests staying at a Disney World Resort Hotels. Disney is offering to provide guests with a little extra time in a park before or after all other guests have left. With the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney extended Extra Magic Hours. Daily, through the month of September of 2019, Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers extra magic hours from 6-9 a.m. This is great for an area of the park that is going to attract large crowds, if you’re an early bird, of course.
However, Extra Magic Hours tend to be a big draw for crowds. As some people will plan their trips around getting those couple extra hours in a given park, and spend the entire day at the same park, that park will likely have larger crowds and longer wait times than other parks. For example, if Animal Kingdom has Extra Magic Hours on September 17, it might be a good idea to plan to visit a different park that day.
On paper, it makes sense to take advantage of what looks like a bonus hour in the park, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Although you will technically have extra time, you may lose more time in line at that park than you gained. It is not an exact science, and there will be days that parks with Extra Magic Hours are not exceedingly crowded, but when trying to take full advantage of short lines so you can get as many things done in one day as possible, it is a factor to keep in mind.
If you want to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours that are offered at night, and you have invested in a Park Hopper ticket, those may not be as unmanageable as the morning hours. It would be a good idea to visit a different park with lower crowds that day, and head over to the park with Extra Magic Hours later on. This will allow you to see and do more, with smaller crowds. Like everything else, there is an exception.
On days when a park offers both early morning and late-night Extra Magic Hours, it is likely the park will not be too busy, as guests are spreading their time out a little more. Early morning and late-night Extra Magic Hours are not the only “extra” factors that you should be aware of when it comes to crowd size. September is a month of “extras” at Disney World. There are parties and festivals that you can take advantage of, or avoid, depending on what experience you are looking for.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
One of Disney’s most popular after-hours event is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This is exactly what it sounds like. Kids and adults alike, wear incredible costumes, trick-or-treat, enjoy one of Disney’s most raved about parades that features the Headless Horseman, and get some great character interactions.
All of your favorite Disney Characters put on costumes of their own to join the fun. The photo opportunities are endless, and of course photographers are there to get some extra special shots for you. Photopass Magic Shots are a lot of fun to show friends and family when you’ve arrived home for your vacation.
Of course, you may not want to waste too much time standing in line to get a picture taken. The party tends to have a lot of photographers out and about, so waiting will be at a minimum. The Magic Shots are ones that are not available during regular park hours, so that is something to keep in mind. If, for example, you love The Haunted Mansion, you’ll love the Hitchhiking Ghost shot.
This after-hours party is not included in your park tickets, even if you have a Park Hopper. The ticketed event is priced in the $80 range, depending on the night you decide to attend. Like the parks, September parties are not expected to be as crowded as October parties. This is not to say they won’t be crowded, because they will be, but they may not be entirely sold out. The closer we get to Halloween, the more likely it is that the parties will sell out.
People with tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are also able to enter Magic Kingdom without a separate ticket before the party officially begins. This will factor into crowd size at Magic Kingdom that day. However, party days tend to be a little less crowded at Magic Kingdom, because people who are attending the party later don’t necessarily want to spend a day there when there will be low crowds and shorter wait times when they are at the party.
Food and Wine Festival
The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival draws a lot of attention from park-goers. This is your chance to try food from around the world, attend cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and get an even more authentic feel for the countries that are on display at Epcot’s World Showcase. Food and wine are purchased from kiosks set up around the park and feature foods that are not typically available at Epcot.
If you are a foodie, love wine, or are just curious to see what types of food and drink are native to certain countries, the Food and Wine festival is worth checking out.
The Food and Wine Festival runs from the end of August through the end of November, so there are ample opportunities for people to experience everything it has to offer. Unlike the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, there is no extra cost for admission to the festival. It is fully integrated into the World Showcase.
In fact, if you are not paying close attention, or haven’t visited Epcot before, you might not realize there is something extra happening. Even with no extra ticket purchase required for the festival, you can still expect to spend a little extra money.
Small portions of different foods and drinks are sold, and if you want to fully enjoy what the festival has to offer, you will need to spend a little money. Of course, if you time it correctly, you can just say the money spent at the food and wine festival paid for your lunch or dinner. Prices will run around $8 a dish depending on what is being offered.
The festival does have an impact on crowd size, though. Earlier we looked at Labor Day Weekend, and recognized that Epcot was your best option for a park to visit on Labor Day. That is a bit of an outlier. Local Floridians will often stop by the Food and Wine festival on weekends, adding to the crowd. If it is possible for you, your best option would be to avoid going to Epcot on Saturdays in September.
Generally speaking, weekends are going to be more crowded in all of the parks, but the crowds will make it hard to enjoy everything the Food and Wine Festival has to offer if you visit on a Saturday. When you take advantage of slower times at the Food and Wine festival, you will have an opportunity to look at the offerings and make an informed decision about what you want to try out.
With long lines and crowds, you may be driven to skip it altogether, or just settle for whatever kiosk has the shortest lines. Don’t let hunger and the frustration of larger crowd sizes keep you from getting the most out of this festival!
Heat, Humidity, and Hurricanes
With all of the awesome extra things Disney offers in September, you may be wondering why the crowds are low during the month of September. The easy answer is the weather. Extreme weather can scare even the bravest Disney lovers away from Florida. Florida is almost always hot, so people tend to be prepared for that. It’s a given that when you go there, you should be ready for the heat. But everything can be handled, within reason.
The weather in Florida during the month of September is very warm. In Orlando, the average temperature in September is 90°F. Yes, July and August are hot as well, but combined with the humidity, this heat can be miserable. It is very uncomfortable, and with all of the walking that most visitors to Disney World are doing, it can be unbearable.
Even for people who are not afraid of heat and humidity, there is an even more important weather factor that has to be considered. September is prime hurricane season in Florida and that poses a big risk to a Disney vacation. Disney World is very prepared and can provide its guests with safe and comfortable accommodations in all sorts of situations, but if you are paying the money to go to Florida and soak up the sunshine with Mickey and Friends, you probably don’t want to be stuck in a hotel room.
Disney prides itself on never needing to close down, but there have been a few weather situations that have forced Disney World to close for the safety of its guests and cast members. Disney World has only closed a few times since its opening and those circumstances were five extreme cases, only four of which were weather related.
- Hurricane Floyd in 1999
- Terrorist attack on September 11, 2001
- Hurricane Matthew in 2016
- Hurricane Irma in 2017
- Hurricane Dorian 2019
These closures were necessary and not long lived. They may have only amounted to early closures and not full days lost, but it is a possibility people should be aware of.
Even if the parks remain open, as they are likely to do, there is still the matter of canceled flights and unpleasant weather if you do make it to Disney World despite the treacherous weather conditions. It’s just another factor to consider.
Should You Go?
Disney World always has a lot to offer, even when conditions are less than ideal. Whether or not you should risk battling the weather conditions is just a small part of the decision-making process when planning a Disney vacation. A vacation in September will definitely mean shorter lines, less waiting around, and more experiences.
There are plenty of extra things for you to enjoy when you head to the parks in September, and because of the small crowd size, so long as heat and humidity don’t scare you off, September is an excellent time to visit Disney World.
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