Tip of the week: Visit now, but check the refurb schedule first

September 25, 2012, 10:24 AM · Hey, just because it's the slow season for theme parks, and you're such wonderful, loyal Theme Park Insider readers, we're going to give you a two-in-one Tip of the Week this week.

You know how I mentioned it's the slow season for theme parks? Well, that's my first tip this week - go now. Heck, go any weekday when kids are in school around the theme parks you want to visit. Non-holiday weekdays between late August and mid-May see the fewest average number of visitors at the year-round parks in Central Florida and Southern California.

Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure
This is what you want to see - a nice, empty theme park street, such as the new Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure

Schools in Southern California used to run from early September until mid-June, but most major districts are moving back their calendars to match the same mid-August to late-May calendar you'll find in use in Central Florida (and around the country). That's also helping to tighten up the busy spring break schedule to mid- to late-March, instead of bleeding into mid-April as it used to do in Southern California.

With kids in school and their families at home, you'll often find nearly empty queues, wide open streets, and short to non-existent wait times throughout the parks. You'll also find abundant deals, include free dining plans at the Walt Disney World Resort, and reduced hotel rates for both on-property and nearby upscale hotels.

But there are a few tradeoffs. You'll also find great reduced operating hours, and reduced show schedules. Don't expect to find all the parades, street shows, character greetings and night-time spectacles that you'll find on the schedule if you visit in mid-summer. But sharp off season visitors usually report that they still can do even more visiting on a school day than they could on a July visit, even with the reduced hours and fewer shows.

So those aren't really that big a deal as tradeoffs. The tradeoff you really have to watch for is refurbishments. Theme parks use the slow season to fix and refresh their most popular rides, the ones they don't dare close to repair during the busy seasons, if they don't have to. That brings us to our second tip in this Tip of the Week - be sure to check the park's refurbishment schedule before you visit, if there's a specific ride you have your heart set on experiencing.

You can find schedule attraction closures and refurbishments on top theme parks' calendar pages:

I'd still encourage you to visit during the off-season, if you can. Popular rides can - and do - suffer unplanned closures during the busy seasons, too. So coming in mid-summer provides no iron-clad guarantee you'll get on that dream ride the day you visit, either. But visiting on a slow, off-season day gives you a chance to do more in a park, at a more leisurely, relaxed, enjoyable pace than visitors get to experience during the hot days of summer. If you don't have kids, or they're on an unusual school schedule, give an off-season visit a try.

For more tips and advice for planning a theme park vacation, visit our 100 Travel Tips for Visiting Theme Parks page.

Replies (8)

September 25, 2012 at 11:32 AM · Enjoying Disneyland right now. Midway Mania had a 5 minute wait. Weather is mid 80s and it is perfect. Septemberon the West Coast and January on the east. My favorite schedule.
September 25, 2012 at 12:54 PM · I live in central Florida and I would absolutely agree. Especially in early fall, you can hit your favorite attractions with little to no wait time, and have the opportunity to check out some special holiday events!
September 25, 2012 at 6:55 PM · Indy is being refurbished until December.
September 25, 2012 at 11:07 PM · This is absolutely the way to go at year round parks. In Southern California, I've been to most of the parks at various times of the year, and here's when I'd say are the best times to visit:

Disneyland Resort: Weekdays in Jaunuary, May, September, and early December (excluding holidays)
Knott's Berry Farm: Any weekday between Labor Day and Memorial Day, except during holiday periods
Legoland California: Any weekday when school is in session (check operating calendar...not open all weekdays in off season)
Universal Studios Hollywood: Any day between Labor Day and Memorial Day, except Saturdays and holidays
SeaWorld San Diego: Any day between Labor Day and Memorial Day
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Any Sunday during weekend-only operation (except holidays)

Yes, attractions will be closed, but unless you've never been to the park or you're going for one specific attraction, the low crowds make up for missing one or two rides (I'd delay a visit if three or more major attractions will be closed). However, at the seasonal parks or parks I've never visited before, I'd much rather visit in the middle of the season during daily operation and hope for low crowds. If it's crowded, I'll just buy the skip the line pass offered at that particular park (almost all major parks now offer some form of this).

September 26, 2012 at 12:46 AM · Off season is great. Did my last WDW trip during Sept 2007.

Oh, and yeah rides go down for refurbishments. Just want to gloat about the current Indy closure. Please read the comments on this post from two years ago.


September 26, 2012 at 9:26 AM · Hopefully EE can close for refurb so Disco Yeti goes away.
September 26, 2012 at 9:54 AM · Absolutely agree! Weekdays are the way to go if you can. Crowds are definitely the lowest you'll see all year, especially with kids back in school right now.
September 29, 2012 at 6:08 AM · working 10 months at the Walt Disney World Resort (5 months Pirates and another 5 at Expedition Everest). The only things I really saw in refurb that were huge was Typhoon Lagoon starting October 30th going under and Blizzard Beach coming out of refurb for the holidays. Splash Mountain was the biggest attraction to go into refurb during the holidays I think that was December through February. Other than that it was very good.

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