As a former cast member, I have been lucky enough to experience 365 days of Disney Parks magic. That’s right, I have been on Walt Disney property for every major holiday or travel time, and I’m going to tell you something that you may not hear from any other Disney lover.
I hate being in the parks during peak season.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing quite like seeing the parks dressed up for Christmas, or trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom. All of the guide books, travel specials, and Facebook photos from your co-worker’s recent trip to the parks will have you believing that you should be spending your holidays, summers, and spring breaks with Mickey Mouse. But there are really important, annoying side effects to Disney peak season travel that your co-worker didn’t photograph, and they could change how you plan your next Disney trip.
Don’t Even Get Me Started on the Crowds
Disney's Hollywood Studios New Year's Eve
Holy Mother of Bambi, these parks get crowded during peak season. So crowded, in fact, that some parks will even shut down by as early as 11am because there is no possible way they can fit everyone (I’m looking at you, Magic Kingdom). Sure, not being allowed into the park because it is full to capacity sucks, but think about how much more it sucks being in the parks during this time, or any other super crowded time. You can hardly walk through the streets because they are full of poorly parked strollers, families taking selfies in the middle of walkways, and hoards of people just milling about. Don’t even think about walking into a store to avoid the crowds, because all of the people that can’t fit into the streets are bumping into things in the stores.
Okay, so the streets are packed and you can’t even breathe in the stores. Why not head to a restaurant? Don’t get your hopes up, because all reservations will likely be full at the sit down restaurants, and wait times will be longer than you’re willing to wait. Quick service won’t be any better, so don’t bother waiting on those lines unless you don’t feel like eating until an hour from now. This leaves attractions, which will have ungodly wait times that are sure to make you shudder in horror (I still have nightmares about this).
The bottom line is that unless you are fully comfortable with spending your day standing on line for long periods of time waiting for things, you will be disappointed. However, most of us want to spend our vacation time at the parks running from place to place, eating at a leisurely pace and riding things multiple times in a row.
The Service Just Isn’t as Good
I will admit, I was not my cheeriest, most Disney-fied self during peak seasons. Actually, that was the most unpleasant time to work in Walt Disney World.
Think about it. Guests are yelling at cast members all day long, upset that the crowds are interrupting their vacations. In addition to angry guests getting in their faces all day long, the cast members have managers and coordinators who are stressed out and trying to have everyone to work as efficiently as possible to get those guests to stop being angry, which results in a tension filled work environment. On top of all of this, that cast member has probably worked 14 or more hours a day for the past week, and has been asked to stay a few hours later due to long lines or extended park hours.
During days like these, a cast member’s main focus isn’t on providing you with magical, Disney quality service as it is during a regular day. Their goal is to make it through the day without crying, yelling at a guest, or falling asleep at their position.
Peak Season Isn’t Cheap
Now, on top of all of the time you’ll spend waiting around, fighting crowds and dealing with moody or emotionally void cast members, you’re expected to pay extra for peak season tickets. Don’t you want to get more when you pay extra, instead of less?
Holidays at the Magic Kingdom
As a former employee during these crazy times, I understand why it is appealing to the Walt Disney Company to raise their prices. For one thing, they are going to make a lot of money off of people who just have to spend Christmas Day in the parks, but it is also a great way to regulate those crowds. By discouraging some people from visiting during peak season, it keeps the parks inhabitable for those of us who do travel there during busy times, but also picks up the pace on the slower season by booking more guests during non-peak times. Yes, paying more money sucks, but think about what a better experience the parks would be if they were filled with less people and you could actually do things.
You Can Experience the Same Novelty Events During Slow Season
Okay, being in Disney World during a holiday or popular travel time sucks, but there are plenty of great things that can only be experienced during this time, right?
Wrong! The key here is to plan your trip around the peak season, not during the peak season. For example, book your trip to Disney the week or two after Thanksgiving if you want to see the Christmas decorations and events. They start setting this stuff up as soon as Halloween is over, and the parks go into full-fledged holiday mode before Thanksgiving, so you can see everything and go to all of the events before the crowds start picking up in mid-December.
As a bonus, no one really travels that much between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the airports will be less of a headache, too.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Epcot Food and Wine Festival
Some other times to note are the beginning to middle of October for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
(they start the celebration way before Halloween), the first two weeks of November for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival
, traveling in February instead of spring break (the park is hardly ever crowded during this time), and visiting in the beginning of September instead of during the summer (most kids are going back to school at this time, so hardly anyone is traveling). The appealing thing about all of these trip swaps is that you are getting to see all of the things that you want to see, but you are getting there way before the rest of the world shows up.
Walt Disney World is a fun, magical place that everyone should visit at least once in their life, but don’t fall into the peak season trap. There is absolutely no need to pay even more money than you would already pay for a Disney vacation, when you can experience some of their unique holiday and other events for much cheaper during the slow season. Save the money you would be spending on peak season tickets and spend it on something that you’ll actually enjoy experiencing, like one of their more expensive dining options or a stay at a nice resort. You’ll have much more fun eating seafood at Narcoossee’s instead of standing on a two-hour line for It’s a Small World. Trust me.