There's not a bad time to go Disney World, but there are certainly are times that are better than others. The Fall and Holiday seasons are those times for me - and I combine them together intentionally because one season rolls right into the next from late August till the new year.
This year, that roll over and transition will feel even more quick and it makes planning a trip to see multiple seasons and events super easy. This post will go over all the details, dates, and advice you need to know as you start planning your trips for the end of 2019.
This post includes the following events:
- Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Opening
- Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
- Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
- Fall Decorations at Disney World
- Halloween Horror Nights at Universal
- Illuminations/Epcot Forever Closing/Opening Dates
- Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
- Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
- Christmas/Holiday Decorations at Disney World
- New Year's Eve Celebrations
I'll start by going month by month with start dates and end dates in those month, or things continuing on for the whole month. Later in the post I'll give some possible vacation dates you can use based on what you want to see and do from the list above.
Not So Scary Party - August 16, 20, 23, 27, 30
The Halloween party (separately ticketed) at Magic Kingdom starts earlier every year, and this year the first one will be on August 16th. There's a few dates before the other August events start, so plan accordingly depending on if you want to see Star Wars/Food & Wine during this trip. August dates for the party are much less crowded than October dates, so this isn't a bad time to go if you can somehow get into the Halloween spirit this early.
It's on August 16th when Fall decorations will show up in Magic Kingdom, because they decorate primarily for the Halloween party. Merchandise for it will also appear at this point too. Other parks don't do much at all to decorate for Fall outside Magic Kingdom.
Star Wars Galaxy's Edge - land & 1 ride opens August 29th
The day you've all been waiting for (not me, sorry). Hollywood Studios suddenly becomes the park everyone wants to visit when the highly-anticipated Star Wars land opens. If you aren't interested in it, go before August 29th to avoid higher crowds. If you are interested in it, and just can't wait for the crowds to die down, go any time after August 29th.
Epcot Food & Wine Festival - starts August 29th
Yes, Food & Wine starts on the same day Galaxy's Edge opens. You've got to pick between drinking around the world on day 1 or standing in line to ride the Millennium Falcon for who-knows-how-many hours on day 1.
Labor Day Weekend - August 30 - September 2
I include this because this weekend is always crowded, and this year will be even more so with Star Wars opening this weekend as well as Food & Wine. Food & Wine did open this weekend last year, so that's not so new, but Star Wars will add a new layer to this weekend's crowds. It's a good time to go because most schools are out and adults often have the day off, though.
Not So Scary Party - September 2, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29
Several dates in September will feature the Halloween party. This is a great time to go before October crowds kick in and it's a bit later in the year and more like Fall/Halloween at this point.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal - September 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29
Not Disney, but worth noting because it is a major event in the Orlando area and theme park community. Universal has extended their dates and is starting HHN earlier this year - looks like a whole extra weekend. Going in September will beat the October crowds and also be cheaper - you can do a pass for the first x days for a considerable discount to buying individual tickets as well.
Epcot Food & Wine Festival - continuing all month
Go any time, it's happening when the park is open! This is probably the best month to go because it's after opening, and it's got awhile before it ends. Go later in September to escape the opening crowds at the start of the month.
Peak Hurricane Season - month of September
Hurricane season in Florida is technically June through November, but September is the peak. For at least the last two years, a major hurricane came through in September that cause the park to close for a day. Be aware of this as a possibility when planning your trips. You're fairly safe at Disney and their facilities are built to withstand the storm, but you might be stuck in your hotel for a day.
Last night of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth - September 30
After two decades, the current Illuminations nighttime spectacular at Epcot is going way and its last showing will be on September 30th of this year. You can expect some larger viewing crowds saying goodbye and booking special trips to see it one final time (Wishes' last night at Magic Kingdom was super packed). Locals and passholders will fill the park for sure. If you want to see this show before it leaves, book a trip before the end of September.
Not So Scary Party - October 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31
You've got lots of options for this party in October. Again, earlier is better to have a chance at less crowds. Though, I went around the 24th this past year and didn't have too much of an issue (it was rainy, which did have an impact on crowds all day).
Epcot Forever premieres - October 1
Replacing Illuminations is the new show Epcot Forever! It's a temporary filler before they premiere the new show that will last indefinitely (coming around the time of the 50th anniversary of Disney World most likely). This has been said to feature music from the park's attractions, will have flying kites/drones, and use other enhanced technology. I'm personally excited for this and okay to see Illuminations go - Epcot needs to update a lot of things, including this nighttime show. Epcot Forever will continue each night until its replaced by the new(er) show, so you can see the rest of this season after October 1st as well.
Halloween Horror Nights - October 2-6, 9-13, 17-20, 23-27, 29-31
They've got several dates for HHN in October as well, and fortunately there's several that are close to but don't completely overlap with Disney's Not So Scary party so you can do both in the same trip without too much of a hassle in planning. Note that there are November dates for HHN as well after Halloween (unlike Disney's party), so this isn't your last chance.
Epcot Food & Wine Festival - continues all month long
Including it for the sake of covering everything. You'll be able to do Food & Wine any time this month, no need to worry.
Halloween Horror Nights - November 1, 2
The first two days in November will be your last chance to do HHN so you can go even if you get in late in October and just do Disney, or come in on November 1st or 2nd for more after that. Crowds might be less, but passholders and die-hard fans will likely be out this weekend for one last trip through the houses so you'll likely still see some crowds like you would in late October.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - November 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22 and 24
Starting earlier this year as well, is the Very Merry Christmas party. It's similar to the Halloween party, but Christmas themed obviously. I prefer it, except for the lack of costumes in the park, honestly because it's just so magical and I love Christmas. Going earlier, like the other events, is best before you get into December.
Fall Decorations Come Down, Christmas Decorations Go Up - by November 8th
While the Halloween party ends in October, Fall decorations at Magic Kingdom (and any elsewhere) likely will stay up a bit in November. They'll be down before that first Christmas party on November 8th, likely the day/night before. Disney does it all overnight in one night. Christmas decorations are better and more popular anyways, so it's a good thing they're going up so early this year. Other parks likely won't decorate this early, but Magic Kingdom's are great to see on their own.
Epcot Food & Wine Festival - ends on November 12th
Food & Wine will finally come to a close in mid November, which is a bit later it seems than in the past. The last weekend/day will be crowded, but before that usually isn't too bad. The early November period between Halloween and Thanksgiving isn't too bad because people have either already gone for one holiday or are waiting for the next. If you aren't interested in the special events, you can take advantage of this and go during this time frame before Food & Wine ends.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays - starts November 29th
Epcot's next festival will start late November, after Thanksgiving, and this is a great option to see. Christmas time at Disney is super magical and Epcot has a lot of the things to see and do with a whole festival for the holidays. It won't be too busy early on in November, it gets busier closer to Christmas and once schools are out on winter break. This is when you can be sure Epcot will put up its Christmas decorations, and when other parks will as well if they don't do it with Magic Kingdom earlier in the month. Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail will also start around this time.
Very Merry Party - December 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20 and 22
Lots of options, but do note that they don't do the parties on Christmas Eve/Day and don't continue after Christmas. Decorations stay up, and they also do the parade and shows from the party for regular guests on Christmas, so keep that in mind (you just don't get the food, merch, or characters that party guests get).
Epcot Festival of the Holidays - ends December 30th
This will continue most of the month, but won't be happening on New Year's Eve (there's plenty more to do and see, don't worry).
Christmas - December 25
One of the busiest days in the year, but a good option if you want Christmas shows and parades without doing the extra party ticket because they do those things throughout the day on Christmas if you can stand the crowds.
New Year's Eve - December 31st
The last day of the year is the busiest, for sure. Magic Kingdom will hit capacity, at least in some phase and be closed to some guests, so get into the park early or have a dining reservation/fastpass booked to be sure you get in. I did this on New Year's Eve 2017 (going into 2018). One time was great and I suggest you do it once - I would probably do it again if I was local, but it's not something I'd plan a special trip for. The fireworks are usually live streamed online and the crowds are so crazy. You've been warned.
Best Times To Go
Now that we're through all those dates and logistics (I know, it's a lot), let's look at some possible date options for your trip based on what you want to see and do.
Halloween Focus - Late September
If you want all things Halloween in your trip, I recommend going in late September. This way, you'll get a Not So Scary party that isn't super crowded, a cheap and low-crowd night at HHN, and you'll get to do the Food & Wine Festival that is very Fall-like as well. You'll save the most money and have the smallest crowds for these things.
Christmas Focus - Late November/Early December
If you want all things Christmas, late November after November 29th when the new Epcot Festival starts or early December (because there aren't many days left in November at this point) are best. I recommend going before December 10th to avoid college/K-12 winter break dates and therefore have the least amount of crowds possible.
Halloween & Christmas Mix - Early November
If you want a bit of both holidays, go in early November. You can see the last couple HHN events and stick around for the roll over to Christmas at Magic Kingdom and to the Very Merry Christmas Party. If you come in a day before November, you can do the Halloween party as well. All of this can happen in a little more than a week (Oct 31-Nov 8) which is really awesome.
Food & Wine Focus - October
If you only care about Food & Wine, or want a general Disney trip without the special events, October is a good option. It's the middle of the festival, so no opening or closing crowds to deal with and they've worked out any kinks at this point. The weather is great in Florida at this time of year, and you miss out on peak hurricane month in September. You can still add in another event from the list for Halloween if you want, there's plenty of date options, but there's of course plenty regular things to do as well - like all the #NowMoreThanEver events they added just for 2019 before it goes away.
Obviously dates are determined by more than just crowd sizes and best times to go, and sometimes you have to go during a busy time because of various life circumstances (that's why they're often so busy). Be mindful of your 30/60-day FastPass booking date and your 180-day dining reservation date (this is coming up fast if it hasn't already passed for some of these dates) so you can make plans ahead of time and secure some experiences.
When am I going?
In full transparency, I wrote this post in part to help me plan out dates and start figuring out when I want to go for some of these events. I have the added special event - the most special of all - because my birthday falls during this time period on October 21st. I've spent my birthday at the parks the last three years and intend to keep that trend going, so that influences my decision a bit.
I'm currently looking at a 7-9 day vacation in late October including the full week of my birthday (on a Monday) and the weekends before and after. That will let me experience the Mickey's Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights, along with Food & Wine and the new Epcot Forever show.
While I would like to see Illuminations on the last night, I can't justify a trip when I also want to be there for my birthday. I'll see it one final time in June when I'm down for a quick visit instead.
I'm also looking at doing a Christmas week/into New Year's Eve trip to spend the holiday season at Disney/in Florida. I work at a university, and it's closed during that time and so it's free vacation time for me. Plus, some things in my personal life are making me not want to go "home" for the holidays this year and spend at my other home instead! I'll embrace the crowds and have a magical holiday and ring in the year 2020 too!
Are you planning a trip to Disney World at the end of the year? When are you going and what do you want to see?