Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Disney Series Part 1: When to Go?

What I really want to do with my life--what I want to do for a living--is I want to be at Disney World. I'm good at it.

Not really. I am misquoting Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything there.

It turns out that being at Disney World is an even less realistic career goal than kickboxing.

But I do love Disney World. And we've been an embarrassing (cough*six*cough) times in the past several years, and, what with my weakness for obsessive research and all that, planning Disney trips (and, yes, being at Disney World) is one of the things I'm best at. This is a little sad. Because some people are best at coming up with new cancer treatments or feeding the world's hungry or writing the Great American Novel. Not me! We all have to work with what we're given.

So I thought I'd spend some time this summer babbling about Disney World. Stuff that might be helpful if you're planning a first (or first in a long time) trip, particularly one with kids. I'm thinking every Monday for the next six weeks, with these topics:

1. When to go? As in, time of year
2. Where to stay? Off property vs. on
3. Disney with a baby
4. Big(gish) families and Disney
5. Saving money
6. Food: dining plan, favorite restaurants, plus bonus gluten free fun

It just so happens that the trip we just took was 6 days, so, instead of a separate trip recap, I'll do a quick one day by day with each of these posts.

Okay! So! When should you go to Disney World?

This is kind of a sad question for me, because, even though we homeschool, we are tied down to the school schedule thanks to Dave, the teacher. Thanks a lot, Dave! At his old county, he had a very special fall break, around the third week of September, so we always went then. This year we decided our best option was to take off as soon as we could when Dave finished school for the year, right after Memorial Day.

So this is what I have personal experience with: September and late May/early June.

Now, the two big things to consider when you're deciding when to go are crowds and weather. And, of course, when you CAN go, if you are tied down to a school schedule like we are. There's also cost, but that's pretty much directly tied to crowds (i.e. prices are lower when it's not crowded).

Touring Plans maintains a day by day crowd calendar, giving each day (and then breaking it down to each park for each day) a crowd level of 1-10, going out for the next year. You need a subscription ($11.95/year to see the whole crowd calendar (and to access other features like the touring plans and the lines app with wait times). We've used Touring Plans for a few trips now, and it's a great resource.

Easy WDW is a free site with a good guide to best and worst times to go.

Basically, as you'd expect, any time school is out, it's crowded. So summer, spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and President's week.

So, if you can, you want to avoid those times. According to both Touring Plans and Easy WDW, September is pretty much the least crowded time you can go (I did a quick search of days rated as "1" for crowd level for the next year on Touring Plans. There are 31; 14 of them are in September). No one wants to pull kids out of school right after they start back in the fall AND it's still super hot and humid in Florida in September.

All of our trips except this past one have been in September. Our first couple of trips we felt like we had the parks to ourselves half the time. This was 2006-2007. I have pictures of my kids in front of the castle with pretty much no one else in the picture:

You have to work a lot harder these days to get this shot. There's really not a truly uncrowded time of year to go anymore. 

On the plus side, another thing to note is that Disney is set up to handle crowds so well that you can avoid long lines with a bit of planning almost any time of year. The parks can feel fairly crowded but you're still walking right on to Tower of Terror. We've gone to Six Flags on an ordinary summer weekday and only managed to get a few rides in because everything loads so inefficiently that there's nothing you can ride without waiting forever. 

So. September has a lot going for it: it's cheap (the rates for hotels are the cheapest all year, and, for the  past several years, Disney has offered the dining plan for free every September, which is a really amazing discount for a lot of families. More on that when I talk dining) and it's one of your best bets for low crowds. It's not unusual to walk on to all the rides except for the big headliners all day in September. This makes it very easy to do the big rides first thing or use Fastpasses for them and then be able to relax and enjoy an unplanned rest of your day. Or let your kids ride the Teacups 5 times in a row if they want to. That kind of thing. The big disadvantage (aside from the fact that you may not be able to go then if you have kids in school) is the weather. In our experience, Orlando Septembers are remarkably consistent: it's between 88 and 92 or so every single day, and it rains (briefly) more afternoons than not. We find the heat unpleasant but's often cloudy, so that helps, and you're going in and out of buildings all day as opposed to just standing outside baking. But we're from Georgia. YMMV. 

Other relatively uncrowded times of year are later in the fall (excluding Thanksgiving week), early December, post holiday break January into February (excluding President's Week), and then again after all the spring breaking is over up until schools start to get out in mid-late May. 

If we ever get a non-school-constricted trip, I'd love to try early December (low crowds + Christmas decorations!) or late January/early February. Generally speaking, you'll get pleasant weather in winter, but I also have friends who've gone during a cold snap and been miserable. At least you know what you're getting in September. Unless you get a hurricane. Which can happen. 

But then suppose you DO have to plan around school? The option we went with, and the one I'd do again, is to go at either the very beginning of your summer break or the very end. In our part of the country, schools get out in late May and start back up again in August. In the northeast, they go well into June, but don't go back until after Labor Day. So if you hit the very beginning of your summer break (if you're in one of the finished in May parts of the country) or the very end (if you're in one of the post Labor Day returning parts), you won't be competing for space with as much of the rest of the world. 

Our late May/early June week this year was mostly 5s and 6s on the Touring Plans crowd calendar. Our September trips have all been mostly 1s through 3s. We could definitely feel a difference, but it was doable. We very rarely waited longer than 10 minutes for rides, although it took more planning to avoid long waits than it would have in September. But the very next week, the crowd levels shot up to 8s, and they're supposed to stay in that 8-10 range until mid August. I wouldn't want to see a 9 or 10. It would make me cranky. Of course, the downside is, again, going to be the weather. Our May/June was pretty comparable to September....actually a few degrees cooler, but I think it's been an unusually cool spring. 

I have so much to say. I don't really know how to shut up, because Disney is a bit of an overwhelming topic, really. But, there. Shutting up. And moving on to part 2 of my ridiculously long post: trip recapping! More pictures, fewer words. In fact, no words! Except the captions.

We didn't have park hoppers this year, so it was one park per day for us. First up was Epcot. It's possible that Epcot's my favorite park. It's sort of hard to say. I love them all so very much. 

Abe about to go on his very first ride...ever! The Seas with Nemo and Friends. We were the first
ones on all day (because Dave went to get Soarin' fastpasses and then met us over there instead of us riding Soarin' first like the masses). The guy out front had to tell someone into is little walkie talkie thing: "first guests are coming in!" We felt pretty important.

THEN we road Soarin'

First Mickey bars of the trip!

World's cutest baby in world's cutest sun hat. But no Mickey bars for him. Next time!

There's a fun game in Innoventions involving this cute pig. It's supposed to teach you about investing and stuff, but I'm just in it for the cute pig.

Mid day break to swim and nap back at the house.

Back to the park for evening fun.

And of course, many posed pictures. Look how happy they always are to stop and pose for pictures for their mother!

Abe learns a lot about plants on Living with the Land.

You can sample Coke products from around the world at Club Cool. Like Beverly from Italy. It's fun to trick your kids into trying it. 

How about another picture, kids?!

Doing the Phineas and Ferb interactive....thing in World Showcase.

Norway gift shop. We're not even a tiny bit Norwegian, but he's totally pulling it off, don't you think?

We didn't buy these. Too bad.

Ending Day 1 with Illuminations. Abe's first fireworks!

Phew! Part 1: complete! Anyone have any Disney tips to share? Any topics you'd like me to cover that's not on the list (I will talk FOREVER about Disney World!) What's your favorite Lloyd Dobler quotation?

Linking with:
Give Me the Goods Monday
Inspiration Exchange
The Shabby Nest's Frugal Friday
Tatertots and Jello Weekend Wrap Up Party
Monday Funday


  1. If only we were closer to Florida! I would love to pack the family on the train and Amtrak it from Toronto to Orlando and see all the country in between. Alas, even then, getting all 5 of us there would be most of the budget. :( Maybe you have some tips for travelling to Disney on a budget as well.

    1. I'm planning on a budget post in a few weeks! But, yeah, the transportation costs will really get you, especially with a bigger family. The only thing that makes it somewhat reasonable for us is that we can drive there.

  2. Ok so when we go I will be referring to your blog and I might even send you an email! I never went as a kid so the thought of going with my 3 slightly overwhelms me! Wonderful pics of the boys as usual!! And Say Anything is one of my favs!!! Have a great week!

    1. Definitely send me an e-mail when you're planning! I love Disney planning (as you probably noticed ;))

  3. Ohhhh your family is so cute :) I love your boys! Solid advice on when to plan a Disney trip. Also, thanks a lot for making me crave a Mickey popsicle.

  4. I love all these tips. We made the mistake of going to Disneyland once on Memorial day weekend. We didn't sit down and say: Let's go on a holiday weekend. It was more like: Ok ok, we can go in 3 weeks, then upon arriving there 3 weeks later, we looked at each other and went "Oh cr.., it's Memorial day". Pretty much a line to get in, a line to get around and a line to get back out again. Never.Again.!!!

    B really wants to go to Disney World. I am thinking it would have to be on the way to Denmark sometime. Don't know. He does not want to go on any rides and he would not be interested in the Mickey bars, so I will stalk your series to see what's to do there that is not ride related :). Love the Norwegian sunglasses. Everyone should have a pair. Haha :)

    1. Yes, big crowds definitely take a lot of the fun out of it :(

      there's lots to do besides rides, although my kids are mostly interested in rides (and mickey bars ;)), so I don't get to do as much else as I'd like. Maybe I should go with B sometime ;)

  5. Great tips! We just went to Disneyland with the kids and preparation is key! Thank you so much for sharing at Give Me The Goods Monday!
    Jamie @
    Better With Age


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