When's the best day to visit a theme park?

December 8, 2016, 12:32 PM · When's the best day to visit a theme park?

That's the question I address in my Orange County Register column this week. As the founder and editor of Theme Park Insider, I'm part of a publishing niche built on providing a sometimes overwhelming level of information and analysis to encourage people to spend their time, attention, and money to get the answer to this question.

So I understand the financial and social risk in actually telling you this... the best day to visit a theme park is any darned day you want.

Forget crowd calendars. Forget trying to find some secret day when it's convenient for you to visit but that no one else will want to go to the park. They don't exist, if they ever did. The "off-season" doesn't even really exist at Disney theme parks anymore, not with all the special events, conventions, vacation package deals, and annual passholders filling the parks on even weekdays during the school year. When you arrive at the park and what you do inside it matters more these days in helping you avoid unnecessary waits than the specific day you choose to visit.

Now, allow me to shoot theme park planning website publishers (like tme!) in the foot one more time by saying that you don't need some fancy step-by-step attack plan when you visit a theme park, either.

I've seen waaaay too many people get more stressed trying to keep to their plan than they ever would have been having to spend time in a queue. Heck, if the point of a vacation is to spend time with your family, a theme park queue actually forced you to do that. (Well, at least it did in the time before everyone had a cell phone to divert their attention.)

The point of visiting a theme park is to have fun. And the most important tool to help you do that is not a crowd calendar or a step-by-step plan. It's your attitude. If you come into your day looking for fun, you are far more likely to find it than if you come into your day looking for challenges — whether they be avoiding crowds, maximizing your number or rides, or getting the most photos and autographs you can.

Yes, all that stuff can be nice. But they are supposed to be the means to the end of having fun. When those goals become the end in themselves, too often the fun of visiting a theme park gets lost.

So here's my message to everyone thinking about or planning a theme park vacation in the year to come — chill. Don't worry. Plan to go on the day you want, that's convenient for you, when you can get there early. Get your tickets in advance, then go enjoy your day. The number of rides you go on doesn't matter. If people waited less time than you did doesn't matter either. It's not a competition.

Do what looks good and if you don't get to everything today, don't worry. Just have fun so that everyone in your family will want to come back and do more again another day.

Read Robert's column:

Replies (18)

December 8, 2016 at 12:47 PM · Part of my enjoyment to a trip to a theme park is the planning! I love going to websites to determine the best touring plans, and this includes visits to the local park that I have visited dozens of times.
December 8, 2016 at 1:07 PM · There are obvious days to not visit, but my Annual Pass has blockout dates to ensure I don't visit the worst times. So make use of the AP blackout calendar.
December 8, 2016 at 1:22 PM · Jan. 24. You're welcome.
December 8, 2016 at 1:50 PM · While this is true, I try to visit disney the first two weeks of december. It's not as crowded as christmas, but the decorations are up and the weather is not miserably hot like the other 95% of the year.
December 8, 2016 at 2:09 PM · The key to enjoying yourself is to get there early. If you stay at a Disneyland resort and hit the early magic morning hours right when they start, you can literally ride 5-10 rides in that first hour (as long as you skip Peter Pan).

Typically, by two hours we've ridden half of what we wanted to see, and we sit down to have a character breakfast and relax, we're already light years ahead of the game.

December 8, 2016 at 2:12 PM · Tuesday - the Tuesday that comes after Monday but before Wednesday.. Yea that one..
Best day ever!
December 8, 2016 at 2:32 PM · Went to Great Adventure on a Tuesday in December last year... I walked up to the gates and there were maybe 25 people there. They aren't open that day this year...
December 8, 2016 at 4:03 PM · If you enjoy planning, by all means, do it! But if you're getting stressed by all the extra work, or even feel yourself working instead of enjoying the park, I just want everyone to feel like it's okay to ditch the plan and go with whatever you feel like doing.

I feel like the Internet bombards fans with the message PLAN! PLAN! PLAN! NOW! NOW! NOW! And I want to back off and let people know that they're not failing if they reject that message. It's YOUR vacation, not anyone else's to manage.

December 8, 2016 at 5:48 PM · Robert, I completely agree with this sentiment. Crowds are unpredictable - I've encountered crazy busy weekdays and relatively quiet holidays. Crowds are also nothing to be scared of, in fact I'd argue that a completely dead park is less fun than a busy one. And there's certainly no point ruining a park day by trying to cram everything in, or stressing out over the rides you might be "missing out on".

That in mind, there are some easy strategies to make the most of a very busy day at any park. Arrive early, head to the back of the park first, eat early or late, and in case lines get really bad, know what single rider/front of line pass options are available ahead of time.

December 8, 2016 at 5:53 PM · Enjoying planning is one thing, but be sure the whole family is on board. I work with someone who is obsessed with planning her family's visits to BGW, scheduling everything down to the minute. When they have to wait in line longer than expected, she rushes them to the next thing on the itinerary. They all hate it, and she thinks it's funny that they hate it. End result, she raised a couple of kids who hate going on vacation.

I think a lot of people need to read your post, Robert. It's not a competition.

December 8, 2016 at 6:01 PM · I just visited Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom on Mon. 12/5. We had reservations for Tiffins (the only plans I've ever made!) and meandered over to Magic Kingdom for a little of the night life. Don't get me wrong, it was very busy when I arrived at 7pm, but the wait times in queues was less than 30 minutes. Usually it was 10-15. The point was just to enjoy Disney at night. Most of the people were finding spots to enjoy the parades or light shows and paid very little attention to the rides. And at this point all the young kids are falling asleep and their harried parents are ready to leave. If you're a passholder and can stay up late, do it.
December 8, 2016 at 11:01 PM · When picking a day to go, I usually think it is better to simply avoid the busiest days rather than specifically trying to go when it is least crowded. The reality is that there is some degree of unpredictability with any theme park, and if you plan everything assuming low crowds and wind up with anything else it will throw off your day. Instead, plan for moderate/high crowds and hope for less, as you can easily adapt to lower crowds without any complications.

The other big mistake I see people make is to create a rigid plan that can be completely ruined by a single miscalculation. I've heard of people with plans so precise that an unscheduled stop at a drinking fountain may result in missing an attraction. How can that be fun? My general strategy is to plan a rough sequence of attractions for the first two to four hours of the day, then decide the rest of the day on the fly based on a priority list. While I do not advise anyone to visit a non-local park with no plan at all, you should be sensible about it. If you're not enjoying yourself, you're doing it wrong.

December 9, 2016 at 11:52 AM · "Jan. 24. You're welcome." We will be at WDW then actually, thanks for the conformation.
December 9, 2016 at 12:50 PM · The best days to visit are when the kiddies are in school.
December 11, 2016 at 8:17 AM · Great article Robert. Although we enjoy every trip, I find the days leading up to our trip to be just enjoyable. A rough day at work, the many chores around the house, stop and think, we only have a few months, weeks or days till we leave. We use a countdown clock on our phones to just remind ourselves of the joy and excitement that awaits. No matter how busy and crowded it may be, we find some of best moments are when we take a break and sit, watch and take in all the sites and sounds around us. Seeing the smiles on all the families as they come in to the park or the tired expressions as those leaving from a fun filled day of riding eating and shopping. So as Robert said, any day is the best day.
December 12, 2016 at 6:01 AM · Hello Robert,
there is actually nothing I could aggree more on than your plead for enjoing without the planning-devil on your heels !
"...I feel like the Internet bombards fans with the message PLAN! PLAN! PLAN! NOW! NOW! NOW!..." > is not just the "Internet", but it's (alas) also the parks themselves.
Over the past 20 years, parks pushed (and invested) ever more into stuff for "planning" : Fast Pass, reservations for all kind of stuff, even smartphone "planning apps"... The theme parks are turning the leasure experience THEMSELVES into classic workfloor agenda frames. It's wrong ! Way wrong !
(They just disguise their own park design/operational failings regarding proper capacity distribution, for instance...)
December 12, 2016 at 1:48 PM · That being the case, it is important to plan now more than ever to get your money's worth! The parks make the rules. We have to adjust our games now.
December 12, 2016 at 10:22 PM · The best days to visit theme parks won't be found on any calendar. Go on a day when it has rained until about 11AM to noon or so. Most parks under these conditions will be virtually empty the remainder of the (hopefully rain-free!) day. Granted this will not help vacationers visiting a destination park but this is great strategy for locals or those with flexible schedules.

Otherwise, I could not agree more with Robert's approach here. Cheers....

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive