Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Go or Not To Go... That Is The Lovely Steph Leann's Question

Got a inquiry from a friend of ours in Sunday School Life Connection at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) that simply asked: 

"In your opinion, when is the best time of year to go to Disney (least crowded)? Its time to start thinking about taking big girl!"

I thought this would make an excellent blog post, though, so rather than just popping up an answer, I asked The Lovely Steph Leann to give her thoughts on the subject.  And she came through...

The Lovely Steph Leann writes:

Having visited Disney World a respectable 18 times (perhaps more, but I was too young to remember), friends of ours somehow presume that I am knowledgeable enough to provide advice regarding travel to “The World,” as I choose to call it.  They wouldn’t be all that incorrect in their presumptions;  however, I always give the caveat that my advice is my advice only, it doesn’t necessarily translate into information that works for everyone. 

In fact, I was reading an article from the All Ears newsletter just the other day where an avid WDW visitor “deconstructed” her “Top 10 list” explaining how some of her favorite tips might not work for some people.  With this in mind, I am here today offering one tip (so make of it what you will): the best time of the year to go to Walt Disney World – with children. 

Now, some of you may be thinking to yourself, d$ and s$ don’t have children.  How can they give advice on the “best time to go to The World with children” when they’ve never actually had this experience?  My thought is simple.  The best time to go is the best time to go, children or not.  So there, all you naysayers. 

Anyway, back to my thoughts.  The months of February, early March, September, early October, November and early December are currently my favorite times to go.  The majority of these months may have unpredictable weather, in that it can get quite chilly in Florida, but I enjoy going then.  The crowds are generally lighter, which is the common denominator with all the months I mentioned.  I like to wear jeans and preferably tops with ¾ length sleeves (or even better, lightweight sweaters).  I burn easily, and this means less skin surface to block with SPF 100 sunscreen.  Also, my incredibly charming, handsome, kind, sweet, courteous, unselfish and good lookin' husband is more likely to carry a backpack in these cooler months, which means I can ask him to carry around my water bottle and a couple of odds and ends that won’t fit in my camera bag.  (note:  I added a little to this paragraph... d$)

While I have never been over Labor Day weekend in September, I hear it is a fabulous time to go.  Most children are back in school and the crowds are some of the lightest of the year.  Also, having an extra day as a holiday does help with how long your children will be out of school.  A few other things about September and October are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the International Food and Wine Festival (which takes place in Epcot). 

The party is a lot of fun, but is an added cost.  Some people use it as their “day” in Magic Kingdom, so they don’t have to use a day on their multi-day pass.  However, if you’re going to be there many days, the extra day on the pass is much cheaper than the party tickets.  So, now you should just go to the party for the characters, the cool parade and special fireworks show.  Up to you whether it’s worth the extra cost. 

The festival may not be significant to those with children, but it’s there all the same.  It can cause crowds to be pretty thick at Epcot, so be aware if you are thinking of going in late September when the festival begins.  In November, you have Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.  I have been during both times of the year, and Veterans Day is a little lighter on the crowds.  However, Thanksgiving week (just prior to the actual holiday) is fabulous in both weather and crowd control, so if you can afford the extra, consider it. 

This is a carousel, and its made of chocolate.  It
was awesome.
December is one of my all time favorite times to go.  The park is completely “decked out” for the holidays.  Several deluxe resorts have a “gingerbread competition” each year, showcasing a gingerbread tree (Contemporary), a 16-foot gingerbread house (Grand Floridian) and a gingerbread carousel (Beach Club). 

Magic Kingdom has Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (again, think about the additional cost) and Epcot has the Candlelight Processional.  The Processional is free with Epcot admission, but you may wish to consider the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package which allows you to see the show from reserved seating, after having enjoyed a fabulous meal at one of the very fine Epcot restaurants.  March has the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, and the beautiful topiaries around the park make that time of year another fabulous reason to go then.  February is great because it’s cheap (so is September, for that matter). 

So, ok, I know I’ve overwhelmed you.  But, in a nutshell, just don’t go during the summer, or Christmas week.  Summer is too hot (and sunny, remember the whole sunscreen dilemma) and too crowded (reference d$'s blog about the internationalis groupus when we went in July) and Christmas week, while the weather may be just fine, it is just way too crowded as well (worse than even in the summer, ask and we’ll tell you about the 305-minute wait time we heard about for an attraction in Epcot).


So that's The Lovely Steph Leann's piece...  Here's what I can tell you.  I haven't been 18 times, I've only been 14 times, so I am definitely not the expert... but there have been occasions when she and I have gone without each other.

June is hot.  June is stinkin' hot.  I have been two Julys in a row, and to me, June was the hottest trip I've ever taken... that's not to say that July is a cool day in paradise--on the contrary, its stinkin' hot too.  Both June and July crowds tend to be pretty heavy at times.  The Internationalis Groups is real, and is to be avoided at all times. 

February has been wonderful for us, because not only is it lighter crowds, its also value season.   If you make it a February trip, make sure your trip ends on or before Presidents Day Weekend, because it gets busy, fast.  MouseSavers.com has a great list of 2011 room rates and such, and will give you an idea when value season turns into regular season turns into holiday season turns into peak season... translation?  Manageable turns into pricey turns into expensive turns into 5th mortgage.

I also took a trip in the first week of October of 2009, with a couple of other guys... now keep in mind, it was me, who knows where to go and what to do to make it a worthwhile trip, and come college guys who can move fast and follow directions well... and it was awesome.   In four days, we did just about every major thing at all four parks that can be done--but no kids with us. 

Watch event calendars for Walt Disney World as well, to make sure you don't end up during Cheerleader Week (some time in mid-February), and know that the annual "Gay Day" weekend is sometime at the end of May or early June... depending on how you want to approach it, let me say that I've heard from several people that "Gay Day" is a great time to go.  Find out what the "schedule" is for the groups, and... well, go to the other park.  I've heard that the crowds tend to be a little lighter, at least compared to most summer crowds.  With kids, though, you might want to rethink it.

The week between Christmas and New Years, aka right now, is the most expensive and busiest week of the entire year.  A room at the French Quarter in Port Orleans that will cost The Lovely Steph Leann and I a rate of $154 in February when we go will actually cost $239 between December 23rd to 31st.  And busy?  Holy crap, yes.  They actually will open up backstage areas to allow crowds to exit the park easier, because the Main Street street is just not big enough.

The reason this picture is a little fuzzy?  Its snowing.  On Main Street.
And referencing what she said above, we heard a story on a podcast that the longest reported wait at Soarin' in Epcot was 305 minutes.  That's just north of five hours waiting for a four minute ride.  Five hours.  When?  Christmas week, that's when.  Thanksgiving Day can also be horrible, but the days leading up to it are great.  As the Turkey Day gets closer, the crowds get bigger, and I'd recommend that if you are there on Thanksgiving Day, go to the Magic Kingdom.  Get there early, and stay there, because it will "max out"--when it maxes out, they don't let anyone else in.  You don't want to be at Animal Kingdom and run out of stuff to do, then not be able to enter any other parks.  The Magic Kingdom has enough to do to keep the whole family busy all day.  By the way, how many people does it take to "Max Out" capacity at MK?  There are no official numbers available to the public, but rumor has it anywhere between 55,000 and 60,000 people.  In one single park.  
She's right though... Christmas at Disney... there is nothing like it.  Nothing.  Like it.   Early December is a great time to go, before it gets unbearable.  And the more weekdays you can have on your trip, the better.

As far as how many days to go, what restaurants to visit, what shows and rides are kid friendly, which resorts to sleep in, so on and so forth, thats another blog post entirely. 

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