Most travelers arriving for a vacation at the Walt Disney World WDW) Resort will be arriving either by driving or by air transportation. AMTRAK does provide some service from New York but this is limited to that area so we won’t cover it here. If you are interested in using AMTRAK, you can find more information at their website: www.amtrak,com or by contacting a travel professional.
The two most important considerations people weigh in deciding whether to drive or fly are time and cost. Driving for a larger family may be more cost effective than flying but, depending on how far you are driving, you may lose several days in both directions just getting there and returning home.
Most people assume that if they fly, they will need to rent a car or use a shuttle bus at the destination to get from the Orlando airport (MCO) to WDW which would incur more cost. In general, this need not be the case. Disney’s Magical Express (DME) is a free service of WDW that will take you from the airport, drop you off at your resort and return you to the airport at the end of your stay. The only stipulations are that you must be staying at a Disney resort and it does need to be scheduled at least 10 days in advance and provide DME with your flight arrangements. The scheduling can be done on line at: www.disneyworld.com. Other options are to call 407 W-DISNEY or reserve through your travel professional. DME will provide you with baggage tags for your luggage that you attach before you check your bags at the outbound airport. You won’t need to touch your bags again. They will be collected at baggage claim by DME and placed “Magically” in your resort room. Your bags may not arrive via DME at the same time as you do to the resort so it is a good idea to do a carry-on of anything you might need immediately such as a swimsuit, medications/toiletries or a change of clothes as needed to get you through until your luggage arrives.
If you are planning on spending all of your time at WDW, Disney Transportation will handle getting you around the Parks and you won’t find a need for a car during your stay. If you plan on visiting other destinations in the Florida area after your WDW stay, you can obtain a rental car from Alamo and other car rental agencies on property at the Disney Car Care Center and at the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. There is no drop-off charge for returning it to the airport as you prepare to return home.
When to Go
The question of when to go depends on several factors: weather, crowds, your own availability and finally event considerations. If you are constrained to a particular time of year because of work or other considerations, you may not have much choice as to when but at least the following information will help you in knowing what you will have to deal with.
The chart above shows the average temperatures and rainfall for each month of the year at WDW. The lowest rainfall is from Jan thru May and again in Oct thru Dec. The summer rains usually are brief but intense afternoon showers that can be escaped by doing some longer indoor activities or shows (Ellen’s Energy Adventure in EPCOT is a good example). Afterward, the humidity is up but the sun is out and you can go on with sightseeing. Disney knows how to handle the weather and at the first sign of dark clouds, every store and gift shop in all the parks have plastic ponchos for sale for around $7.50 plus tax. This year (2012) for June has been exceptional with day long deluges and rain measured in feet rather than inches! We managed to tough it out slugging through 4-5 inches of standing water with water shoes and our ponchos. This is rather unusual but does indicate that the summer months tend to be the wettest.
Temperature-wise late May through mid September can be VERY hot and humid. Fortunately many of the attractions at WDW are inside and air conditioned. Early morning and late evening also finds the temperatures more bearable. Even though it can be somewhat unpleasant in the heat and humidity, unless you have a health problem with it, most people just carry-on in spite of it.
The period from mid-September through mid-November usually has pleasant temps and low rainfall. The time just before Thanksgiving through February can still be pleasant though some years do have very cool temperatures. That is certainly not a problem for general sightseeing but can make it less desirable for going to a water park or hotel pool. The mid-January Marathon Weekend last year found the runners starting the race with sleet! Again, not usual weather but possible.
That brings us to crowd levels. When WDW is crowded, it can be very crowded. The good side is that most of the time at least one park will have low attendance at any given time even when others may be somewhat crowded. Crowd patterns have changed over the last few years and the window of really small crowds has gotten rather small. This is due in large part to the additions Disney has made with the inclusion of the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival in the fall and to a smaller extent, the EPCOT Flower and Garden Show in the spring. As a simple rule of thumb, anytime the kids are out of school, it will be crowded. This includes June thru the 3rd week of August when most are back in school. It also includes Major holidays such as Thanksgiving week and Christmas week as well as the week of President’s day. Spring Break time is usually very crowded which is late March thru late April. Marathon Weekend.in mid January is also crowded.
Average crowds are found the week just after the New Year, the end of February until Spring Breaks start in the 3rd week of March and from the last week of April until the end of May. Crowds are average to heavy all throughout the Food and Wine Festival but are more concentrated in EPCOT and less so in the other parks. Star Wars Weekends in May and June affect the crowds in parts of Disney’s Hollywood Studios but in general does not affect the other parks.
The least crowded times start from the 2nd week of January until the first week of February(except for Marathon Weekend), the last week of August until the start of Food and Wine, after Food and Wine closes until Thanksgiving week and what may be the lightest crowds: the week after Thanksgiving until Christmas week.
I think the sweet spot to plan your vacation if possible is the time after Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas. The weather is usually delightful with warm days and cool nights and the crowds are low. Some attractions may be closed for refurb and the parks are not open as late but this is easily outweighed by the weather and crowds. Taking your kids out of school in the lower grades is not usually a problem and even older kids can get some work done early or turned in later after they return. I have had good luck working with teachers in both cases. Another good choice is just before Halloween.
The last consideration in deciding when to visit WDW is the special events that are on the Disney calendar. The WDW website has a list of yearly activities and the dates as soon as they are announced. Some of my personal favorites are:
EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival
Star Wars Weekends – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
EPCOT Food and Wine Festival
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party – Magic Kingdom
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Magic Kingdom
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Candlelight Processional – EPCOT
and if you are a runner: WDW Marathon Weekend
One of the advantages of planning a trip in the time just before Halloween is that you can see the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, and the end of the Food and Wine Festival. A vacation after Thanksgiving can give you a trifecta of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in the Magic Kingdom, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Candlelight Processional in EPCOT as well as seeing all the Christmas decorations throughout the parks and resorts.
Our family has visited WDW at most of the seasons of the year and we have never failed to have a great vacation. Like the old adage “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working”, any vacation at WDW will be a fun time for all.
Next time, we will cover where to stay and all the considerations surrounding dining at Disney.