Looking for an accurate crowd calendar to help you plan your visit to Walt Disney World or Disneyland?
Quit wasting your time.
Ten to 20 years ago, the smartest way to get the best deal on a Disney vacation was to plan your trip for the slowest times of the year. But with school calendars varying by district, not to mention conventions and special events skewing the number of visitors from out of town, would-be visitors needed more information to know precisely what days and weeks would see smaller-than-usual crowds at the parks.
That was the era of the crowd calendar. But it's over.
This week, I've noticed several posts from fans planning Orlando vacations who were confused by their inability to book hotels, make restaurant reservations, or book Fastpass+ return times during what the crowd calendars they'd found had told them would be a lightly-attended week at the resorts. They thought that they'd beaten the system... only to learn that there's no escaping it anymore.
Whether you plan your theme park vacation for the first week in February or the first week in July, your approach toward booking your trip ought to remain the same. There simply are no times of the year left that are so slow that you can just walk up and get on-site hotel and top restaurant reservations.
As I wrote in my newspaper column this week, "it used to be that Disneyland's daily prices stayed the same throughout the year, but the crowd level fluctuated. Disney now wants to flip that. The company wants the prices to vary so that the crowd levels will even out over the year."
And they've done it — in Anaheim and in Orlando. The "off season" is all but extinct in Anaheim, and on the endangered list in Florida. Even if you do encounter relatively smaller crowds in Orlando, shorter park hours, refurbishments, and light staffer levels will even out whatever benefit you might have gotten from those smaller crowds.
Smart use of the parks' time management tools provides you a much more powerful way to avoid getting stuck in long queues than any crowd calendar can these days. Yes, when you visit still matters — but that's for finding lower prices, not smaller crowds. And you don't need a crowd calendar to find those deals. Just search for the best airfares and hotel and ticket pricing.
Let pricing and your personal schedule determine when you visit Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, or Disneyland. Go for the best available price on airfare, hotels, and tickets during the possible dates you could visit. (Here is our page on finding discounted theme park tickets.) But be sure to book at least six months in advance if you want to book any of Disney World's table service restaurants, as that's when the reservation window for those open. The window for Fastpass+ reservations opens 60 to 90 days in advance for people staying on-site at Disney, and 30 days in advance for everyone else.
Because of those reservation windows, everyone else is going to be looking to book their Disney World rooms at least six months out, so if you wait until later than that, you're going to be lucky to find anything available at a less than exorbitant price... no matter when you want to visit.
Neither Disneyland nor Universal Orlando offers advance attraction reservations as Disney World does with Fastpass+. And their restaurant reservations aren't nearly as hard to come by as they are at Walt Disney World. But their hotels also often sell out far in advance, too, making early action to nail down your dates a must. If you haven't started booking for summer 2019, start now.
If you are visiting alone, use single rider lines to avoid long wait times. At Disneyland in California, download the official Disneyland app and upgrade to Maxpass (now $15 per day) to book Fastpass return times from your phone, allowing you to experience more attractions during the day.
No matter what park you visit, download its official app to check attraction wait times from wherever you are, so that you can make an informed decision about what to do next, before you set off walking across the park. Traditional rules apply: Get to the park before opening and do the most popular rides first, before the crowds get too bad. Save theater shows and big, high-capacity dark rides for the middle of the day. (Disney's Peter Pan is the trap here. It has terrible capacity for a dark ride, so do it early or late, if you must.)
Use those early access hours if your on-site hotel or ticket gives them to you. At Universal Orlando, staying at one of the resort's top three hotels also gives you unlimited front of line access to almost all of the parks' rides and shows at no extra charge. Consider that benefit when pricing the value of where to stay! Otherwise, if you have the budget for it, consider paying for the park's line-skipping option, if one is available and you want it.
The good news is: If you use the tools the parks now provide, even the totally free ones, you can enjoy a full day of fun and action... no matter when you visit.Tweet
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