Why to Visit Disney World in January

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Earlier this year in January, I took my very first solo trip to Walt Disney World. I learned two valuable lessons on that trip. Number one is that solo trips rock. Number two is that traveling to Florida in January is absolutely fantastic. Up until then I had only traveled to Disney World in the spring, fall, and early summer. There are so many benefits to making a vacation work in the month of January.

The most obvious reason for traveling to the parks in January is that the weather tends to be much more comfortable. With an average high in the low to mid 70′s, you will not have to worry about sweating your tush off when you are just sitting still.┬áIt can actually get quite cool in the morning and evening. It is important to remember to pack a sweatshirt or jacket, and maybe even a hat and gloves. During my January trip, I found myself wearing jeans most of the time and only needed a sweatshirt for when I was watching nighttime fireworks. The best tip I can give you when packing is to be prepared.

With school back in session after the holidays, January tends to be really forgiving when it comes to crowds. The only major exceptions to this are the first week of the month when the holiday travelers are still lingering, and during Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend. When the parks tend to be less busy, Disney offers some great discounts and promotions to get people to visit and stay on property. Aside from the couple of holidays and Marathon Weekend, the entire month is considered a value season.

Less travelers means a better chance of nabbing those coveted Advanced Dining Reservations. If you think that you do not need a reservation during low crowd time periods, think again. Disney’s most popular restaurants are still a challenge to get an Advanced Dining Reservation for. However, do not lose faith if you do not succeed. Make sure to try getting a walk-up reservation as soon as your choice restaurant opens. With less people to compete against, that means that it will also be easier to pop into restaurants and bars that do not allow reservations. So, if you pined over a tasty margarita from La Cava del Tequila during the Food and Wine Festival, but didn’t want to wait in line to get in, January is perfect.

Keep in mind that it is always smart to utilize Disney’s FASTPASS and TouringPlans.com’s step-by-step touring plans, even when it is less busy in the parks. There is no use wasting your precious vacation time standing in unnecessary lines. Hopefully, you might feel less pressured to get your every move exactly right when using a touring plan, given that overall length of the lines should be much shorter than usual. January is a great time of year to ride your favorite attractions over and over without having to wait an extreme amount of time.

The only major holiday you will encounter is New Year’s Day. Crowds are absolutely nuts around that time, but there is a huge plus to braving the large masses. Holiday decorations usually remain up through the first week of January. Try arriving at the tail end of the holiday season. As the week goes on, the crowd level should decline. The other super exciting Disney event going on in January is the ever-popular, Marathon Weekend. Runners young and old from around the world take part in a variety of events. Even I will be running in my very first race ever next month!

It is worth mentioning that there is a slight downside to visiting Disney World at a less busy time of year. The park hours are shortened and nighttime shows are often limited. Disney also tends to refurbish attractions during January and February. So, if missing a key attraction will break your trip, think about waiting until a refurbishment is complete.

How many of you have ventured to Disney World in the month of January? What was your experience like? Drop us a line in the comment section!

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Posted on December 11, 2012

30 Responses to “Why to Visit Disney World in January”

  • We have only ever gone in January (my husband is a marathoner) and I honestly wouldn’t consider going any other time.

  • We used to always go in January, taking our kids out of school for a week to go. But now that my eldest is in middle school we’ve had to stop that, as it’s too difficult to catch up on missed work. But I miss those low-crowds January trips!

  • When we lived in Minnesota, we would either go for (the now defunct) Mousefest, or in January or the very beginning of February (now we have a kid in School)

    It is a great time to go, but Disney has done a good job in filling up excess capacity with groups and events. You are never going to find the parks empty, but you have a better chance at that time, and when Minnesota is -10, 50+ degrees in Florida is downright balmy.

  • We went Dec 31st to Jan 12th this year and had the best time ever. You get to see the Christmas decorations without the Christmas crowds. Being able to stay on rides that usually have an hour wait is amazing.

  • I love going in fall, this will be my first January trip and I’m having trouble deciding what to pack. Many people says “layers” is the key. Can’t wait to be there! :)

  • We are going this year for the first time in January! My eldest is turning 6 the Friday before MLK day so we are arriving the Wed before and leaving the day after MLK day. From your reports – Thur and Fri won’t be that bad! The weekend won’t be great but not the worst ever. I cannot wait!

    • You’re absolutely right, even MLK Day won’t be nearly as bad as summertime or Christmas. Just remember to get to the parks early on those busier days and use a touring plan. You’ll be good to go!

  • Shhhhhh… those of us that regularly travel in January would prefer that the secret not get out… ;)

  • by Bookish Belle on December 11, 2012, at 3:58 pm EDT

    You hit the nail on the head! My family loves Disney in January. I’m an academic so I can only travel when college isn’t in session and for me that’s summer and January. We love everything you name — and my husband LOVES speeding through the queue areas — I call that his favorite ride :-)

  • A big problem with January (and late December and early February) is that Orlando occasionally has abrupt cold spells where the temperature can dip into the 30′s. Many restaurants and indoor rides do not have adequate heating and insulation to handle such spells. Going under Davy Jones’ mist on Pirates of the Caribbean with 45 degree indoor temperatures is very thrilling and chilling. But, imagine trying to warm up at the Crystal Palace only to discover indoor temperatures in the 50′s. You can prepare by bringing a winter coat, hats and gloves. But, Disney is the only place I’ve ever seen people wearing winter coats and hats while dining at a fine restaurant.

    • Thanks for the tip! I have not personally noticed this in attractions, mainly because I actually find all Disney attractions very cold from the air conditioning, no matter what time of year. When Florida gets to be unseasonably cold, it is definitely not rare to see folks walking around with coats and winter accessories.

  • We will pretty much only go to WDW is late January and early February. Any other time of the year is too crowded and hot for us.

    We’ve had January trips that were pretty chilly (which I loved.) And others when it was even a bit too hot for me. We never really know what it will be like until we get there. So we pack shorts, pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts.

    Since the weather can change a lot throughout the day, we always rent a locker to put our sweatshirts (and often raincoats) in. Much better than carrying them all day.

    • Your advice on renting a locker for sweatshirts/coats is a great idea. I have never rented a locker before but for my upcoming trip I think that it might be worth it just so I will not have to weigh down my backpack with sweatshirts.

      • And remember if you are a likely park hopper, locker rental is good for all parks for the day, just bring your receipt and it’s a painless switch.

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! We went in January of this year and had a GREAT trip. Weather was fantastic, crowds were fantastic, it was amazing. The only other time we had been was during Spring Break/Easter week when it was 90 degrees every day, so January seemed like heaven in comparison. While it was kind of a drag that some rides were down for refurbishment and there were fewer showings of various nighttime entertainment, we kind of enjoyed the shorter schedules. The longer hours made it kind of exhausting! For example, during Spring Break MK had morning EMH ever day and Wishes was at 10 every night. OMG it was crazy trying to do rope drop AND Wishes! So that was actually an unexpected plus for us.

    • You are so very right! On my solo trip in January, I was able to be in bed by no later than 10:00 every single night. If you do that when the park hours are long, you feel really guilty for not utilizing the full day. I am glad that you love the more relaxed, shorter days too!

  • I love going in January! The last two years we have gone the sunday of the marathon to Saturday and it is great!Last year we never waited longer then 25-30 minutes and those waits were rare. Two years ago it got cool but coming from the northeast as long as it’s over 40 it feels warm that time of year lol. You have to pack heavy b/c of sweatshirts and pants but if it’s colder you will be glad you did and if it’s warm like our trip last year its great!

  • My wife, daughter and I drive to WDW from Toronto every January and have for the past 8 years. A few points from our experiences:

    1) Weather: Expect the gambit! weather in the high 80′s (low 30s to us Canucks) and also in the low 30′s are all possible…in fact, some years you see all of the above in a 7 day trip. Bring your layers, swimwear, and parkas. It means packing more (one of the main reasons we drive, to save money on flights but also on increased baggage allowance

    2) Lines: Save the MLK long weekend, and Marathon weekend, the lines are always favorable compared to other times in the year (September after labor day is nice too). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you can walk on to Toy Story Mania at 6:00pm, the newest rides still have new ride lines, but your chances of getting a 15min lineup on the Pooh ride is certainly possible

    3) Availability: Get into reservations for busy restaurants and also busy resorts. We booked our trip on Dec 1st and are staying at the Animal Kingdon Lodge with a savannah view and we have reservations at all the restaurants we wanted at prime times without worry. The only reservation we tried for that (as yet) we have not been able to land is dinner at “Be Our Guest” which it seems is akin to hitting the lottery twice in the same week…. (still trying though!!!)

    This year, we are arriving on the 3rd and staying until the 11th. This allows us to wait out the Christmas/New Years crowds, but still get out before the runners arrive.

    Thanks for a great blog!!! ./d

  • I’ve been to Disny summer, fall and winter. January is the best! One of my children has special needs and the smaller crowds, shorter lines and cooler temps make this time of year a win-win for us!

  • Our last 4 Disney trips, ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’12, have been in January, and we love it! We are returning again in, you guessed it, January of 2013. We’ve mainly had nice weather, but I’m a northerner, so my tolerance is probably better than a few others. We’ve experienced low crowds mostly, but on 2 of the trips our dates coincided with the Super Bowl which affected crowds. Going to Disney in January is just a nice way to start a new year. I can’t imagine going at any other time!

    • We’ve gone in January ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’12, and we are fans, too. Be forwarded though, we bring our parkas, ski gloves, etc.
      After waiting in the Magic Kingdom for an extra 1/2 hour
      (because we didn’t know the fireworks time had been moved)
      FREEZING – literally (the water park was closed, as were the pools and any rides where you really get wet, because there as a “hard frost warning”) we now always bring all our winter gear with us.
      I’m never standing there waiting for fireworks freezing again!
      (If swimming is your primary reason for going, you might want a more reliable time of year for warmer weather.)

      Also, the marathon does not make the parks a lot busier, but it does impact the traffic around the parks. And we no longer go to the Studios on the marathon day. Too hard to explain to kids why we can’t cross here, or we can’t go there. They set up cones to mark the marathon route, and they allow you to cross at certain intervals after waiting – but if your kids don’t understand, it’s just not worth it to be in the same park as the runners.

  • Stacey, I’m still trying to figure this sentence out: “Mornings can actually get quite cool in the morning and evenings.” I’m guessing that mornings must be truly magical in WDW, since they also happen in the evening! ;-) Must be some great pixie dust going on in January!

  • I love reading the comments, We are going the last week in Feb.-March, I hope that we have low crowds & good weather. We went last yr in May too Hot 96 degrees everyday! Magic Kingdom crowds was to much, we went on a Monday. I checked the crowd checker for last yr & that was the worst day to go that week,LOL!! It was a Make a Wish Trip, I did not know anything. For this return trip, I bought your 2012 book & checking out this site & anything I can get my hands or eyes on,LOL!!! I am hoping to be better prepared. My daughter is in good health, & has been wishing to go back to Disney World & eat at Cinderella’s castle, & I have Reservations this time. We could not get in last yr.
    I checked this site before booking, unfortunatly we could not go in January or the beginning of Feb.

  • We are suprising our kids for Christmas and heading to WDW on 1/4/13. Our Disney trips have all been in late September, so your article was great! My biggest concern has been ‘what to pack’ and I guess now I have a good idea of what we will need. Thanks a ton!!

  • I will be going to Disney world in January for a soccer tournament MLK weekend. The tournament is Saturday and Sunday so those days we wont be able to go to the parks. Is it better (in terms of less crowds) to go to the parks the Thursday and Friday before MLK weekend or the Tuesday and Wednesday afterwards? Hollywood Studios is our favorite so we want at least one full day there.