Is It Packed: Disney World in January
Planning a vacation to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fl can be a daunting task for anyone. There are so many decisions to make like where to stay, what to ride, what to eat and so many more.
One of the most important decisions that will likely inform all other decisions is when to go? For many people, their trip to Disney World is dictated by school vacations or available time off of work. Those are inevitably the most crowded times of year to visit; however, if you’re one of the lucky few who have some flexibility in when you can plan your trip, January is one of the best times to go to Disney World.
January at Disney World is a magical time because it falls after the craziness of the holidays (although some holiday décor typically sticks around for a few days) and before the craziness of Spring Break. This typically means fewer crowds, shorter wait times and for the planners of the family, maximum fun.
In addition to an overall less shoulder-to-shoulder atmosphere, January is one of the few months that Orlando actually gets cold, as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit when the sun goes down!While this is a curse to the locals and many of them stay away for that reason, the vacationers who are accustomed to the chillier weather are able to take advantage of it. In general, the high is around mid-70’s and the low is mid-40’s. It’s a pretty large range for one day but if you’re properly prepared, it can easily be the best time to visit.
If you are willing to brave the constantly changing weather, ticket prices are likely to be lower, making this one of if not the cheapest time to go to Disney World. Ticket prices are no longer set for time periods, which would often determine “peak” times to visit the parks.
Instead, Walt Disney World Resort now changes their ticket prices daily. If you go to a ticket window at the entrance to one of the parks, it is very likely that the price will change the following day. The exceptions to this rule are the multiple day passes.
These passes can be purchased at the parks or online; however, they are also sold in local shops like Target or drugstores. Each pass has a window of time that it can be used. For example, if a ticket is a Three-Day Park Hopper, this means that Guests can go to the parks for three days.
All of these days must fall into a certain time frame (most of January is included!) and can be used at multiple parks per day if desired. These are also an excellent indicator of estimated park attendance. The dates that are available for these tickets are likely going to be slower times of the year.
Many Guests refer to the ever popular crowd calendars that are cultivated and advertised by many different websites. The one from Undercover Tourist is popular. Some people also swear by this one, created by WDW Prep School. And another worth mentioning is this one. These sites also have some great tips and tricks to get the most out of your Disney World vacation so it’s worth a stop.
Overall, these crowd calendars are able to project a general idea of Walt Disney World Resort attendance; however, they are not foolproof. These sites are becoming so popular that parks, which are deemed to be the busiest, are occasionally the least crowded because all of the plan-focused families avoid them. Tread with caution and don’t be scared off simply because an online database told you to.
While the crowd calendars access and create user-friendly data based on past trends, they have nowhere near the amount of information that the company, Walt Disney World Resort, has access to. The company knows every school and tour group that plans on attending. The company knows every scheduled downtime, weather projections and any events that might take place. For example, while Epcot may not hold a festival during the second week of January, it is a popular place for marching bands to have workshops and shows.
Occasionally, you might see a marching band parading down the middle of the park. This means not only are their more Guests who are in the parade, but also parents, relatives and chaperones of the group are present. Walt Disney World Resort knows about these factors far in advance, so ticket prices reflect all of the tiniest details. Crowd calendars are a great place to start but shouldn’t be your only resource.
Something to take note of is that all of the pools at Walt Disney World Resort are heated to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (it sounds warm but it’s really not, especially if you’re swimming in 70-degree weather!); however, there are no indoor pools. This isn’t really a problem as long as you plan your pool times for the middle of the day.
My number one suggestion for anyone vacationing is to arrive to your preferred park when it opens (or half an hour before, ideally), do all of the rides with the longest queues, leave and go back to your resort a little after noon, and return to the park around 5 p.m. During that resort time you can swim, take a nap, have lunch, look around your resort (there are daily events at all of the resorts!) or generally recharge.
Most locals won’t bother to get up early and ride everything in the morning. Similarly, many people will leave around dinner time because their children (and sometimes themselves) are exhausted. It’s almost always worth going back to the resort in the middle of the day if you’re planning a stay in January.
If you are able to plan a vacation to Walt Disney World Resort in January, I would suggest looking at the two weeks in the middle of the month. Because January is often a slower month (especially after the busiest season of the year during the holidays), Walt Disney World offers deals and discounts if you book your stay during that time of year.
It is important to skip the first week because many Guests choose to extend their stays from the holidays into the new year. By the end of the first week, most of the holiday Guests have checked out. If you are unable to plan your trip before the last week of January, it’s worth nothing that Epcot will likely be more crowded than the other parks. They are attempting to attract more Guests by adding events like the Festival of the Arts in Epcot.
The Festival of the Arts
The Festival of the Arts is similar to the Food and Wine festival in the Fall or the Flower and Garden Festival in the Spring; however, it is all arts focused. It features music performed by Broadway actors and actresses, popular Disney artists, shows, interactive art and art-related foods and drinks (think a cookie that looks like a painter’s palette).
It begins toward the end of January and for the last few years has signaled an increase in attendance. This is partly because the festival and all of its additional activities are included in the normal ticket price. Unlike many Walt Disney World Resort events, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or any of the Park After Hours events, the Festival of the Arts is not a ticketed event and Guests are welcome to attend.
It should be noted that while the park opens at 9 a.m. the festival festivities do not begin until 11 a.m. This can be useful because it allows Guests to experience Future World (a.k.a. the part of Epcot that isn’t the countries) before visiting the World Showcase.
The best rides are in Future World. Soarin’, Test Track, Spaceship Earth and Mission Space, are some of the most popular. If you arrive at the park just before it opens, it’s possible to complete Future World before the World Showcase opens! Always start with Test Track, because it is the only roller coaster in Epcot so it gets busy early in the day. Follow that up with Soarin’ and then choose your preferred attraction destination after that.
One unfortunate disadvantage to visiting Walt Disney World Resort in January is that some attractions are likely to be shut down. Splash Mountain, Kali River Rapids and other rides involving water use this slower time to perform yearly maintenance or refurbishments.
The parks are normally pretty good at announcing this scheduled downtime far ahead of the date it will be completed, so take a look online and you’ll be able to pretty easily determine what will or won’t be closed.
Unfortunately, the parks still haven’t managed to create their own biosphere so of course, weather conditions will also affect those rides. One it starts to get chillier (around December), the water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard also are closed for yearly maintenance and refurbishment.
If you’re expecting to come to Florida and go to a water park, January (or the first few months of the new year) probably isn’t the best time to plan a visit. Here is a list of all of the scheduled maintenance and closures throughout the property.
Days of the Week
If you are able to book that sweet spot in the middle of the month, it is almost always best to begin your stay on a Sunday or Monday and check out on a Friday. If you do plan on staying the weekend, try to maximize your time and book as few days as possible.
Depending on your plans, you might even consider booking a nicer hotel (one of the moderate or deluxe options) during the week and a less desirable hotel (one of the value options) during the weekend.
Here is a list of the different resort options. It will equate to about the same per night, but you will only have to spend two of your nights there. If you do this, simply plan to spend less time at the value resorts on those days and spend your downtime at Disney Springs or one of the onsite spas.
If you are unable to book your trip in the middle of the month, I would highly recommend staying at one of the onsite resorts. These hotels offer Extra Magic Hours (EMH) into the parks, where resort Guests are able to enter the parks early or stay in the parks late depending on the day.
This is wildly useful for Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land (and soon to be Galaxy’s Edge) and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Pandora. Maximizing mornings and evenings are going to be the key to getting on the most popular rides and saving precious vacation hours.
For example, in January, many EMH Guests wait half an hour for a ride on Flights of Passage in Disney’s Animal Kingdom; however, if you were to go to the same ride in the middle of the day, the wait time could be upwards of two hours. That one small change could have saved an hour and a half, if not more. The same can be said for going in the middle of the month versus the beginning of January.
If we consider normal queue lines and EMH, visiting Walt Disney World Resort during the middle of January can save on average (sometimes more for the most popular attractions and sometimes less for the less popular) 30 minutes per roller coaster, simulation attraction or popular children’s ride.
If you are able to ride ten attractions in a day, that saves five hours of time per day! Considering the fact that many parks are open an average of eleven hours per day in January, this time saved accounts for nearly 50% of your time at the parks! Personally, I think it’s worth rearranging schedules!
Here are my top tips for planning a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in January:
Try to avoid the first week of January
Try to avoid the last five days of January (or at least Epcot)
Consider staying on property at one of the many resort hotels and taking advantage of their Extra Magic Hours
Find out what is going to open, closed and scheduled for maintenance
Know what time your favorite attractions open (some open later or close earlier)
Get to the park at rope-drop (when the park opens) and go back to your resort and take nap, go for a swim, get lunch, etc. before returning to a park in the late afternoon. The middle of the day is always the busiest!
Plan Fast Pass+ Reservations. Despite this being one of the slower months, Fast Pass+ Reservations are still important and will save lots of time.
Dress in layers. The weather can go from 45 degrees to 75 degrees. You’ll want a hat, jacket and maybe gloves for the chillier parts of the day but will want to remove them toward the middle of the day. Then at night, you’ll need them again!
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