January is a hot-and-cold month for Disneyland, and not just because of the temperature (expect the chance of rain, highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s). As far as crowds go, January brings weeks where it is absolutely jam-packed and other weeks where it’s pretty much a ghost town.
Of course, this has a lot to do with the Christmas season coming to an end, but there are other factors that make January a unique and tricky month to gauge crowds. We’re here to take a look at not only avoiding crowds and bad weather, but making the most of what the parks have to offer in this low-season month.
Here are some of the factors you should take into consideration when planning a potential January visit.
New Year’s Day itself is an immensely popular date, only slightly less popular than New Year’s Eve, which in some years has caused Disneyland to fill to capacity. Getting there very early might avoid morning crowds as people sleep off last night’s party, but it will fill up as the day goes on. The vibe will be great though, and this is an instance when crowds definitely add to the party atmosphere.
The first week of January won’t be quite as crowded as the very first day of the year, but with people off work and school and still enjoying the holidays, most Disneyland crowd calendars advise avoiding January 1-6. Crowd calendars are an invaluable resource to carefully planning your Disney trip. Take a look at one of these calendars before selecting a date: Is It Packed, Disneyland Tourist Blog, or Undercover Tourist
Disneyland “decks the halls” in November and doesn’t take down holiday decorations and themed parades until around the second week of January. This includes the Christmas Fantasy Parade, the Festival of Holidays in California Adventure, and the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare, which is a complete reworking of the classic ride to showcase The Nightmare Before Christmas.
If you can’t get enough of Christmas, braving the crowds in early January might mean a little extra magic. Plus it’s your last chance to get holiday treats such as gingerbread churros, Santa hat macarons, candy cane beignets, and other seasonal favorites. These change every year, but the 2018 releases will give you a good idea of what they might have in subsequent seasons and years.
If you’re sick of Christmas and want to avoid crowds, you’ll want to skip the first week and a half of the year.
Weekly Crowd Levels
In the later weeks of January, attendance drops steeply. The Is It Packed crowd calendar gives January the most “Ghost Town” days out of any month.
These are some of the least busy days at Disneyland throughout the entire year, all of them falling Monday-Thursday. Weekends will obviously bring in more crowds than weekdays, but it’s worth noting that a non-holiday winter weekend will be significantly less packed than a Saturday in spring or summer. Winter is just less busy for tourist attractions all across the nation.
Remember that Disneyland has a much bigger local scene than Walt Disney World, and many Southern California residents have Annual Passes. Tom at Disney Tourist Blog has a great tip for using the blockout calendars (Passholders cannot use their passes on certain dates): If the Deluxe AP level is blocked out, you can be pretty sure the park officials are expecting high crowds in that time frame.
If you’re coming from out of state, you could consider checking California’s school calendars. The schedules of the University of California, Cal State, and public school systems all impact crowds. However, a good crowd calendar will have factored that in when making their estimates, so you don’t have to do it yourself.
Crowds don’t just mean shorter lines for rides and attractions; they could mean getting a reservation at a hard-to-book restaurant, or a good time for a character meal. Ever wanted to try the Blue Bayou on the banks of Pirates of the Caribbean, or the swanky Carthay Circle?
January is a good bet. You’ll still need to book ahead of time but the chance of being disappointed is more slim.
January does have one weekend that should be avoided, and that is Martin Luther King Jr Day. MLK’s birthday was on the 15th, and is celebrated nationally on the third Monday of January.
Again, MLK Day doesn’t bring in nearly the same level of crowds that a holiday like Labor Day does, and is a great way to make use of your time off. But if you’re looking for a crowd-free experience, avoid the long holiday weekend, Friday to Monday.
Disneyland only publishes the next two/three months of official park hours, but you can get a good sense of what they will be by looking at previous years. Hours tend to be shorter in the winter months, especially Mondays through Thursdays.
This is not always the case, however, and no matter what month you visit in, check the hours of the days you’re planning to visit on . No one wants to arrive at the park too early and have to wait an hour to be let in, or be ushered out three hours before you thought you could leave. Of course, if you like to sleep in or go to bed early, this may not matter.
Make sure you check both the hours for both parks since California Adventure tends to close earlier than Disneyland.
Flexibility is helpful in determining whether January is right for you. If you’re able to have wiggle room with both the week and day of your visit, you’re likely to find the sweet spot between visiting in a low crowd week on a day that has longer opening hours (likely a Friday or a Monday in mid or late January).
The only snow you will find at Disneyland is on the Matterhorn.
Southern California has really great weather all year round. Californians may think that January and February are cold, but to most of the US, a Disneyland winter day is akin to a cooler day in spring or fall. It is likely to be partly cloudy and may rain unexpectedly.
While January is one of the rainier months for Southern California, precipitation for the whole area is much less likely than most places around the country, including Walt Disney World.
In numbers, Anaheim averages a high of 71°F and a low of 48° across the month of January, with about 5 rainfall days.
Preparing for this is pretty simple, and are steps that you should probably take at any time of year:
- bring layers that easily pack into a bag
- bring a sealable plastic bag for electronics
- plan on eating inside for dinner (it gets cold when the sun goes down)
- have a “inside option” in case of downpour (also great for hot days when all you need is a little A/C)
- Disneyland Railroad or Monorail
- Great Moments with Mr Lincoln
- Main Street Cinema
- Animation Academy
- Mickey and the Magical Map show
- Fantasy Faire Theater
- Disney Junior Dance Party
- Frozen Live at the Hyperion
The parks sell ponchos at a steep markup. Try stocking up on dollar-store ponchos so that you can still enjoy water rides if the sun isn’t out to warm up in. (In a pinch, a trash bag with a hole in it works just as well.) They take up barely any space and even if the forecast is clear, you might want them at nighttime.
Other Things to Consider
- Ride Closures: These vary year to year but you can count on “it’s a small world” and the Haunted Mansion to shut down for a week or so while they take off their ‘Christmas costumes’. Other rides often undergo maintenance during the winter so they are ready for the crowds in spring and summer (Grizzly River Run is an annual shut-down).
- Cultural Celebrations: Over in multicultural California Adventure, the festivities don’t stop. Around January 6th you can find a weekend dedicated to Three Kings Day or Dia de los Reyes, the Latin American holiday also known as Epiphany. Then in late January comes Lunar New Year, which continues into February. This celebration of Chinese culture is full of traditional food, decorations, and the rare chance to meet Mulan and Mushu, who don’t often feature in meet-and-greets.
Check out a YouTuber’s upload of what Dia de los Reyes celebration looks like at Disneyland:
- Discounts: Sometimes Disney will offer incentives to boost numbers in historically low weeks. Check their page for these and potentially save money while enjoying low crowds.
- Valentine’s Day: Like Lunar New Year, this event often starts in late January and extends to the holiday itself. Enjoy new releases of themed foods and snacks, fun activities, and keep an eye out for “romantic getaway” specials at hotels and resorts.
- Local and national events: Check the news regularly for the dates surrounding your trip. Even if you have already chosen a day or weekend to go to the parks, it’s helpful to keep informed and prepared. In early January 2019, for instance, the Los Angeles public school teachers held a massive strike. An influx of locals may have affected crowd numbers for that year, but shouldn’t be taken into consideration when planning a subsequent trip.
- Star Wars Land: With the highly anticipated opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in summer of 2019, several websites are predicting astronomical crowds for both parks in 2019 with the first lull coming in… you guessed it, January 2020.
Is January a Good Time to Visit Disneyland?
Choosing a month to visit Disneyland all depends on what you as an individual or group are looking for. Since everyone has different routines, schedules, and preferences, no one month is perfect for everybody. Here’s a quick recap of the factors that affect January at Disneyland:
- very low crowds once holidays are over
- relatively mild California winters
- chance for Christmas and Lunar New Year seasonal treats
- potential discounts
- busy first week of the month
- unpredictable, if mild, weather
- ride closures
- shorter park hours often accompany low crowds
If you want a Disneyland experience full of warm sunshine and balmy days, January probably isn’t the right time for you to go. If you’re happy wearing or carrying around a light jacket, you’ll probably be fine. Likewise, if someone in your party just HAS to go on Haunted Mansion or it’s a small world, they might be disappointed.
However, in the big scheme of things, January otherwise has lots and lots of positive things going for it, making it a month to seriously consider. Southern California is a wonderful place to visit all year round, and you’ll likely have no problem in terms of weather, with a little preparation. Even if you can’t go on one ride because of a closure, the low crowds will probably halve your waiting-in-line time for several other rides.
You might have time to find a new favorite ride! Lower crowd numbers also make for a more relaxed and enjoyable visit, and a stress-free Disneyland experience is priceless. January really has two sides to it – holiday buzz and excitement or leisurely, crowd-free fun – making it a good month for whatever you’re looking for.
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