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Six reasons why theme park fans should welcome the end of summer

August 15, 2016, 4:23 PM · So when do your kids go back to school? My son goes back this week, as August means the start of the new school year for millions of children across the country. And with kids going back to school, regional amusement parks are cutting back their hours and getting ready to close for the season.

But the end of summer doesn't need to mean the end of the fun for theme park fans. Even as the seasonal parks begin to call it a year, there's plenty left to look forward to for all theme park fans this fall. Here are six reasons why theme park fans should welcome the end of summer:

Kids in school mean fewer people in the parks*

No, this won't help you if your favorite park is closed, but even limited weekend crowds for this last month aren't as bad as the mid-summer crowds at many regional parks. And in Orlando? Well, this might have been a down summer for Central Florida's parks, but the first few weeks after kids head back are always among the least crowded days of the year. If you can get away to visit a park, now's a great time to go.

Oh, and that asterisk? Okay, readers in Southern California, we'll get to you next.

End of the summer blockouts

Many Disneyland and some Universal Studios Hollywood annual passholders have been blocked out from visiting the parks since June. But that's about to change. Many limited USH passes lift their blackout dates this week, and Disneyland's SoCal Select APs come back next Monday.

Which means, in Southern California, the return of kids to school also means the return of crowds to the parks — flipping the script from pretty much everywhere else in America. And with the wildly popular Disneyland Forever fireworks and Paint the Night parade closing on Sept. 5 (at least for a little while in the case of Paint the Night), look for the biggest crowds of the year on weekdays at the Disneyland Resort between Aug. 22 and Sept. 5.

But for local annual passholders, being at a crowded park beats not being able to visit at all.

Halloween is almost here

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party kicks off at the Magic Kingdom on Sept. 2 — that's less than three weeks away. HalloweenTime starts Sept. 9 at Disneyland, and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights starts Sept. 16 in Orlando and Hollywood. So we're just about a month away (or less!) from some of the most popular seasonal entertainment of the year. Pretty much every major regional park has something going for Halloween — extending the summer fun well into fall.

Don't forget the Food and Wine Festival

The 21st Epcot International Food and Wine Festival starts its record 62-day run on Sept. 14 this year, with more than 30 marketplaces serving food and drinks from around the world to park guests. Yeah, the place will get busy during the first few days of the festival, and on weekends throughout the run, but that's because this is one of those theme park traditional that fans circle on their calendars every year as a "don't miss."

Free dining at Disney World

If you're taking advantage of this offer, you had to have booked it weeks ago, but many Disney fans have made a tradition of taking advantage of Disney World's free Disney Dining Plan offer with qualifying vacation stays in late summer through fall at the resort. Fans can debate the value of the Disney Dining Plan over the years, but this deal's done a great job for the resort in bringing visitors during what used to be a sleepy time of the year for the resort's hotels.

It's worth noting that Disney is offering "bounceback" deals to resort visitors that include the free Disney Dining Plan offer on select weeks in the spring and summer next year. We'll see if that extend to the public offer for free dining next year or not. But for now, free dining remains a popular fall tradition at Disney World.

More attraction announcements

No matter where you live or whether the parks near you are staying open or not, you've got to be looking forward to all the new attraction announcements we will be hearing over the next few weeks. Six Flags usually rolls out its full line-up of new attractions for the chain in early September, and many other regional parks will be making attraction announcements over the next few weeks, as well. For Disney fans, the company just announced that Avatar director James Cameron will be introducing more details about the upcoming Pandora: The World of Avatar land at Disney's Animal Kingdom during the Destination D event at Disney World this November. So no matter what time of year it is, it's always a great time to talk about theme parks!

Got a question about theme parks? Robert's starting a mailbag column. Send your question/comment/conspiracy theories to themeparkinsider@gmail.com and we'll answer the best ones in an upcoming post.

Replies (7)

August 15, 2016 at 4:58 PM · Wow...back to school already. Here in Canada, the east coast provinces at least, return to school has always been the Tuesday after Labor Day in September. Interesting. Anyway...we have been to WDW in the late summer and early fall, and as you note, it's a great time to visit. Going again this October
August 16, 2016 at 6:45 AM · we live in the northeast and are going on vacation from late August until Labor Day.

We will be at Universal Orlando for 3 nights and then spend a week on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.

Virtually all parks are closed everyday except Sat/Sun - and we are traveling on Sunday. At least Sea World was supposed to be open on Friday - Sep 2, but apparently this week they decided to close it that day. SO, many parks to go to, but open only 1 day, same day. So, NO I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT THE WINDING DOWN!

August 16, 2016 at 7:54 AM · It is the same here in Oregon. Not until after labor day does school go back. But they don't get out until second week of June to start their summer.
August 16, 2016 at 8:33 AM · In my neck of the woods, most schools start next week. They used to start the day after Labor Day, but that has become a thing of the past due to the school year getting longer. Most schools here are out by the end of May though.
August 16, 2016 at 10:49 AM · In the uk kids go back to school first or second week of September but I bet the USA breaks up before the uk as the uk kids finish then end of the third week of July.
August 16, 2016 at 10:57 AM · "And with the wildly popular Disneyland Forever fireworks and Paint the Night parade closing on Sept. 5 (at least for a little while in the case of Paint the Night), look for the biggest crowds of the year on weekdays at the Disneyland Resort between Aug. 22 and Sept. 5."

I'm visiting from NY the week of the 29th. That's not what I wanted to hear.

August 18, 2016 at 9:29 PM · Many Six Flags (and now Cedar Fair) parks now have a Christmas season too. SF "Holiday in the Park" is one of my favorite times of the year to visit. My home SF park is open through the first weekend in January (yes...January!)

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