Trying to pick the best time to go to Disney World has always been tricky, but right now, there’s a lot more to consider than just finding the least-crowded dates.
If you’re thinking about planning to visit Walt Disney World in 2021, here are some things to keep in mind.
In this article (click to expand)
Planning your vacation
The entire planning process for Walt Disney World vacations is changing – at least for the time being.
Make sure you review the planning process and that you’ve verified Disney Park Pass reservation availability before you finalize non-refundable travel components like flights.
When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?
To find the best time to visit, you’ll have to decide what is most important to you.
In the past, that centered primarily around the dates with the lowest crowds and best weather.
But in 2021, there are several other things to think about, too – like health and safety measures, park and attraction capacity, and restaurant availability.
The tricky thing is that all those considerations are interrelated, meaning if one changes, you’re likely going to see an effect in the way the parks look and feel.
We have updated our Crowd Calendar with the information we know (and we will likely be updating it throughout the year), but before you get too far into choosing dates, make sure you review the travel considerations below.
If traveling with the lowest crowds is your primary concern, definitely stick to the first half of the year.
If you prefer the fall, September will likely remain a good choice, too. Especially in the weeks after Labor Day.
There are a few downsides to traveling during those months, though.
Disney typically schedules routine refurbishments (like those for Splash Mountain) during the first part of the year.
And although September is typically less crowded, the weather during this time of the year is hot and muggy (and in the middle of hurricane season).
Also, from late October to March, only 1 of the 2 water parks will be open.
So if you enjoy visiting those, during the late fall and winter you’ll only have one option to choose from.
An interesting thing about traveling right now is what we’ve seen happen to wait times.
Currently, it isn’t unusual to see wait times for the headliners like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at 45 minutes – which, all things considered, isn’t that bad on a “busy” day.
But, the weird thing is that at the same time, you may see the wait for an attraction like Carousel of Progress – which typically has low waits and is a great time-filler – be 45 minutes, too.
And that is definitely not ideal.
Since each park only has a handful of headliners, ideally, you need those time fillers to, well, fill up your day. And historically, the time fillers would have waits of 20 minutes or less, making it easy to see and do a lot.
Reduced capacity on attractions and routine cleanings have created a situation where it isn’t unusual for there to be pockets of time during the day where the wait times are equalized between attraction headliners and everything else.
With average high temps in the low 70’s and an average of around 6 days of rain each, those 3 months are some of our personal favorite times to visit.
If you are looking for nice weather and lower crowds, stick to January or February (outside of the holiday weekends).
December is great, too, but it will likely be a lot busier in 2021 than January or February.
Best Chance for Special Events
This one is a bit trickier to pin down right now, but here’s what we think:
If you love special events at Walt Disney World, in 2021 the Fall months will give you the best opportunity for that.
Now, of course, nothing is guaranteed.
But much like we saw in 2020, in 2021, we do expect to see Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival return.
In addition to that, we also expect there to be something special planned for the time around the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World on October 1st.
Plus there is at least a chance we might see Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party return in 2021.
That makes October look like a great time for anybody that loves a festival or party.
One caveat, October has also historically been one of the busiest months of the year. We expect that trend to continue in 2021, and, considering October is also in the middle of Hurricane season, the weather can also be a bit iffy.
Best chances for reduced guidelines
We know with near certainty that things will continue to look different for a long, long time.
And, some things may never return to the way they were “in the olden days.”
The further we go in the year, the higher the likelihood that we might see some things (like nighttime entertainment) come back.
Is it a guarantee? No.
But if you’re holding off on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, towards the end of the year you’ll have a much better chance of things being at a place where at least some of the health and safety guidelines might be relaxed enough to allow for the return of some things that have been suspended.
Keep in mind, however, that we do expect the crowds to get heavier the later in the year we go.
And with so much possibly happening next fall that means that these 3 months could play host to some of the busiest days of the year.
What about the Spring and summer?
For many people with school-aged children, summers and holiday breaks are the only time they can travel.
And although we expect the summer to be busy this year (especially compared to the first few months of the year), that doesn’t mean it will be a horrible time to visit.
There will be at least 1 water park (Blizzard Beach) open in March, which gives visitors something else to do outside of the theme parks.
On the positive, Summers also typically see fewer attraction refurbishments and longer park hours.
And, we have often found that summer visitors tend to plan less and “wing it” more.
Meaning if you do even a minimal amount of planning, you’ll be ahead of the game (and away from the long lines).
What we know, what we don't know, and what we *think* we know
What we know:
- No FastPasses or Extra Magic Hours (at least for the foreseeable future) paired with the new Disney Park Pass reservation system means that the crowds are more evenly distributed between the parks than ever before.
- According to guidelines and recommendations, all of the parks will have a maximum capacity, and capacity numbers for the parks and resorts will be adjusted (probably without a lot of warning or notice).
- The historically popular times of the year (like the holidays) will remain popular. Will they be as busy as what we have seen in a “regular” year? No. But will they be busier when compared to the other days *this* year? Yes.
What we don’t know:
- When capacity numbers will be increased.
- If or when health and safety measures (like masks) might be scaled back enough encourage those once-in-a-lifetime visitors to schedule their trips.
- Details on the 50th Anniversary Celebration, which are something many long-time Disney fans have been anxiously waiting for.
What we think:
- As we get further into the year, capacity limits will continue to be raised.
- Some holidays (especially those further out) may remain popular, meaning the parks have a higher likelihood of reaching capacity over those dates.
- Many people that delayed their trips in 2020 will be planning trips for 2021.
- The greatest chance for the easing of any restrictions will occur the later in the year we go.
Flexibility will be key. Keep in mind that everything is very fluid right now.
Just like we tell you when visiting the parks: the key to not getting overly stressed while planning your vacation during these unprecedented times is to stay flexible.
Who should visit in 2021?
It may seem odd that on a post all about choosing when to visit WDW that we’d be talking about our opinions on who should and should not plan to visit right now.
For us, it is the giant elephant in the room because we love Walt Disney World, and we’re surrounded by so many of you that love the parks, too.
But as much as we love it (and miss it when we aren’t there), we want people to be safe, and we definitely want to keep the Cast Members (who will be working hard to provide the best experience for guests as possible) safe, too.
For many people, Disney World is something they’ll do just once.
And while we love helping first-time visitors plan their dream vacations, we would never want to encourage people to take their dream vacation now while they can’t get the full Walt Disney World experience complete with things like characters and fireworks and parades.
So when people ask us if they should go, it is tricky, and it truly comes down to your own personal comfort level, but here are our thoughts:
If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, especially if you are traveling with little ones or small children, the 2nd half of 2021 is probably your better option.
But, if you are a frequent visitor and you:
- don’t mind that things won’t look “normal” and that some attractions and things like character interactions won’t be happening,
- are willing to wear a mask whenever you are out in public spaces,
- are not traveling with young kids that may struggle with the mask requirements,
- and you feel personally comfortable with travel (including any restrictions you may find when traveling from or returning to your home),
then at least planning a Walt Disney World vacation earlier in 2021 may not be a bad idea.