Planning a Disneyland trip? I bet you've heard that it's best to visit during the off-season.
Many sources, including me, advise families to visit during the off-season to avoid peak crowds and peak prices. It's good advice, but I'm seeing it so often that I feel that someone should point out that there are important benefits to visiting Disneyland during peak season.
Furthermore, off-season at Disneyland is not as clearly defined as off-seasons in most other places. If you truly want to avoid crowds at Disneyland, you need to know what “off-season” really means.
Don't be scared away from peak season if it's the best time for your family to go. You can have a wonderful time, no matter what time of year you visit Disneyland. Whether in peak or off-season, knowing what to expect and planning ahead will help you make the most of your trip.
Here's what you need to know about peak season vs. off-season at Disneyland.
True off-seasons are short
Disneyland's off-season isn't what it used to be. Disneyland feels crowded most of the time and some “peak season” days are no worse than some “off-season” days. Here are a few reasons:
- Word has got out that off-season is the best time to go.
- Disneyland has more special events like Halloween and Holiday celebrations that draw Disney fans year-round.
- Many Southern California residents have season passes with blackout dates during peak seasons. Locals fill in the gaps on off-peak days.
Crowds can vary noticably from day to day. Use a crowd estimator like isitpacked.com to get an idea of how crowded your dates are likely to be.
If you truly want to avoid crowds, consider the weeks right after Halloween, New Year's Day or the start of school – while Disneyland is taking down decorations from the last event and preparing for the next. Aim for weekdays and avoid long holiday weekends. Be aware that you'll miss some important benefits of peak season.
Peak seasons are convenient
When my kids were little, it wasn't a big deal to take them out of school to travel. Now that I have a teen, she doesn't want to skip school days because they are a lot harder to make up.
Schoolwork isn't the only problem. My kids do youth theater, which follows our school calendar. When they are in a show, we can't miss many practices without causing problems for my kids and others. Traveling during school breaks is so much easier.
Disneyland's peak seasons align with school breaks like spring break, summer vacation and winter holiday. Disney crowds can be a hassle, but so is arranging for kids to miss school and extra-curricular activities. It's nice to have more days to plan a more leisurely vacation in the summer, or during a longer school break.
More rides are open
If you only get to Disneyland once every few years or even once in a lifetime, it can be heartbreaking if a favorite ride is closed during your visit. More rides are open during peak season than off-peak season.
Disneyland takes advantage of off-peak weeks to maintain and update its rides. They want everything to be open when the park is packed, so expect a few top attractions to be off-line when it isn't.
Longer park hours
Disneyland opens earlier and closes later on busy days. So, if you have to spend more time in line, Disneyland tries to make up for it by giving you more time in the park.
On these days, you'll find that crowds are lighter early in the morning and late at night. Plan to hit the most popular rides during those hours. Consider purchasing MaxPass to maximize your FASTPASS opportunities. Go back to your hotel for pool time or a nap in the afternoon when crowds are the worst.
Not only does Disneyland give you more time in the park during peak season, they give you more fun things to do. Expect more parades, more shows, more character greetings, more street performers, more fireworks and more open rides to help visitors have a good experience on the busiest days.
Special events like Halloween Time at Disneyland Resort and Holidays at Disneyland Resort have turned off-seasons into peak seasons at Disneyland. They can be really crowded, but they mix holiday magic with Disney magic, which makes the whole experience so much more… um, magical.
Major new attractions like 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy ride and 2018's Pixar Pier tend to open right before summer or Christmas, which means that peak season visitors are the first to see them. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will be a game changer when it opens in 2019.
New attractions are crowd magnets, so do what you must to arrive early, get FASTPASSes, etc. for that attraction and enjoy lighter crowds in other parts of the park while lines at the new attraction are extra long.
Peak-season often brings bigger crowds at Disneyland, but there are benefits to visiting the parks at busier times. You can have a magical Disneyland vacation at any time of year if you plan for it.
Subscribe to my free Disneyland email series and visit my California page for more tried and true strategies for planning the best Disneyland trip for your family. In addition to money-saving tips for Disneyland tickets, you'll also get my best tips for cutting your wait times for top Disneyland rides when you subscribe. We rarely wait longer than 15-30 minutes for any ride, any time of year.
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