A Brit’s Perspective – Changing of the Seasons at the Orlando theme parks

| March 1, 2014 | 2 Replies

Whether its your first time or fiftieth time planning a trip to Orlando deciding upon the time of year can radically change your experience at the parks. Spring, summer, autumn and winter each bring unique events, weather, crowd levels and offers. In this blog post we will take a look at the different seasons and months of the year to see what they can offer to spice up your vacation time in Walt Disney World.

 

seasons

January

Weather  - Average Low 48ºF/9ºC  | Average High 73ºF/23ºC | Average precipitation 1.86 inches of rain. On average this is the coolest month so think about packing some clothes for colder temperatures especially during the evenings.

Marathon Weekend in January sees 50,000 runners and their families arrive at WDW to take part in one or more of the four races around property during this event. The four-day event sees four different races – a 5K, 10K, half marathon and a full marathon. All four can be attempted as part of the Dopey Challenge in which you will run 48.6 miles in total! WDW has to be one of the best places to run a marathon, getting to run through the theme parks, unseen backstage areas and being cheered on by Disney characters and other special entertainment along the route.

 

marathon

 

Other than Marathon Weekend and New Year’s, January is considered to be low season in Orlando. You can expect less queues and crowds but even in January it is now rare to find the Magic Kingdom feeling empty. As it is low season you can often find many attractions and areas behind walls for rehabs and maintenance. In particular, water rides tend to be taken for their annual rehab at this time year such as Splash Mountain, Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls,  Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and Journey to Atlantis. Similarly, water parks will often close due to incremental weather during this time year or be closed for annual maintenance.

 

February

Weather – Average Low 51ºF/11ºC  | Average High 76ºF/24ºC | Average precipitation 1.65 inches of rain.

One WDW area I’ve neglected to write about so far is the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. This huge 220-acre complex full of sports venues plays host to many amateur and professional sporting events throughout the year. One popular event is when the Atlanta Braves take residence at the complex during February for spring training. Ticket details and full event listings can be found on the EPSN WWOS website.

During February and March, SeaWorld runs Bands, Brew & BBQ at the weekend. A very simple recipe of country and classic rock concerts along with booths showcasing local restaurant BBQ foods and craft beers from across the USA.

February also sees the start of Mardi Gras event evenings at Universal Studios, which brings some of that fun and excitement from The Big Easy creating a family friendly version of the famed street party in New Orleans. The celebration starts off with an elaborate Mardi Gras parade containing colourful costumed performers and floats along with plenty of bead necklaces being thrown into the crowd. Once you’ve seen the parade, its time for the evening concert with a popular recording artist or band. But do also check out The French Quarter with its array of New Orleans fare such as gumbo, beignets and jambalaya. The French Courtyard also plays host to the soulful sounds of authentic New Orleans bands.

 

Universal_Mardi_Gras_Parade

 

Spring

March

Weather – Average Low 55ºF/13ºC | Average High 81ºF/27ºC | Average precipitation 2.5 inches of rai

Spring brings the annual Flower and Garden Festival to Epcot. The event from March to May celebrates the season of rebirth, regrowth and renewal with over 100 character topiaries spread around the park, 70,000 bedding plants around the lakes and 220 mini floating gardens. This year sees the debut of Kermit and Miss Piggy topiaries in anticipation of the new Muppets Most Wanted film. The event will also be bringing back the Outdoor Kitchens creating a mini Food and Wine festival around the World Showcase. Booths include the Smokehouse, which will be debuting Piggylicious Bacon Cupcakes to continue the Muppet theme.  On the weekend, you can enjoy the Flower Power Concert Series at the American Gardens Theatre with music from the 60s and 70s. Another highlight is Tinker Bell’s butterfly house that allows you to get up to close to Florida’s 180 species of butterflies. Other events at the Festival include daily gardening seminars, HGTV celebrity appearances and various children’s playgrounds.

 

Epcot-Flower-Garden

 

Seaworld offers the Just for Kids festival during March and April. The main part of the event is kid friendly concerts with acts such as the Imagination Movers and Choo-Choo Soul appearing in previous years. Kids can also play in Shamu’s Party Zone with family friendly games, DJs and character appearances. Special educational activities are offered around the park where kids can collect cards and stamps to redeem a prize. The event also allows kids to take part in the park’s animal encounters and tours for free with a paying adult. These include the dolphin and sea lions up close encounters and behind the scenes and family fun tours.

March 17th is of course St Patrick’s Day, a celebration of Ireland’s patron saint, heritage and culture. Raglan Road at Downtown Disney extends the celebration with its Mighty Festival of St Patrick’s Day lasting from March 7th to March 17th. Its usual house band Creel and Raglan Road Dancers will be joined by other Irish entertainers during the festival. Kicking off with The Willis Clan and ending with U2 tribute band Elevation. You can also put on your dancing shoes and try out Irish dance in a workshop led by Ronan McCormack, an Irish dancer, choreographer and original Riverdance cast member. The surrounding area of the pub and restaurant will be fully decked out in festival decorations with face painting, stilt walkers, competitions and giveaways to get everybody in the spirit.  Two special dining experiences with Kevin Dundon celebrity head chef of Raglan Road will be offered, a luncheon cookery demonstration and a signature dinner.

 

April

Weather – Average Low 58ºF/14ºC  | Average High 84ºF/29ºC | Average precipitation 2.01 inches of rain

Easter falls this year in April but it is a very low-key event compared to Halloween and Christmas at the parks. The core offering is the chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Bunny at the Magic Kingdom. Outside of the parks, Disney’s resorts and hotels will offer special Easter activities such as games, crafts and Easter egg hunts. Closer to the time, various on-site restaurants will announce special Easter dinners, buffets and brunch. One other thing to bear in mind with visiting during Easter and Spring Break is that this is one of busiest times in Orlando. Crowds at Spring Break in recent years have even rivaled the week with Christmas and New Year, which is traditionally the busiest time all year.

Throughout the year, various nature events are hosted at Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot. The main celebration event is on April 22nd at both locations for Earth Day. Animal Kingdom will play host to a Party for the Planet where guests and cast members will join together to celebrate the wonders of nature. Park activities usually include special talks and demonstrations from the park’s wildlife experts, event merchandise and themed food. This year’s event will also focus upon the release Disneynatures’s new adventure film Bears, which covers a year in the life of a bear family as young cubs learn about life. A full list of events this year can be found on the Disney Parks Blog.

After a few trips to Orlando, you will want to start exploring more of what the area has offer other than theme parks. A few miles south of WDW is Celebration, a small town planned and built by the Walt Disney Company. It offers many special events throughout the year, in particular for the holidays, such as 4th July and Christmas; a full list is available on their website. During April the town plays host to the Exotic Car Festival showcasing North America’s largest collection of exotic cars, race cars and Hollywood movie cars. All proceeds raised from the event are donating to children’s charities such as Make-a-Wish. The town has won many awards for its modern take on urban living. In some ways, it echoes Walt Disney’s plans for the original EPCOT (Environmental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow). There are around 2500 homes with a blend of co-mingled townhouses, apartments and estate homes. These are situated around a pedestrian friendly shopping area containing a health centre, school, post office, town hall, cinema, shops and a golf course. Disney sold the land and town in 2004, however it still contains the “Disney-esque” architecture and style. The town can feel like you’ve stepped into Pleasantville or The Truman Show due to how perfect everything is; residents have to follow the town’s official rules and covenants that are covered in a document over 100 pages long.

 

celebration cars

 

May

Weather – Average Low 65ºF/18ºC  | Average High 89ºF/32ºC | Average precipitation 2.37 inches of rain

May last year saw the Monstrous Summer All Nighter in which the Magic Kingdom was open to guests for 24 hours. Rumours suggest this could happen again this year and could even turn into an annual event. As last year was tied into the release of Monsters University, this year could see the event themed to the Maleficent movie, perhaps playing upon the popular Unleash the Villains event last year.

Another 24 hour event isn’t confirmed yet but May will definitely see the return of the Star Wars Weekends at Disney Hollywood Studios. These weekends are a celebration of everything Star Wars and are included with normal park admission. During the event you have the opportunity to meet some of the cast and crew from the franchise along with over 60 characters roaming the park. Disney characters also get involved with Jedi Mickey, Leia Minnie, Stormtrooper Donald and Darth Goofy. Children can also get involved in the live Jedi Training Academy show where participants are given Jedi robes and lightsabers and taught various routines. A special Star Wars Parade, including plenty of Stormtroopers, is conducted through the park.  There will be a nightly fireworks show this year during the event as well.  Hollywood Studios celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2014 and will have extended hours on May 1st along with a special fireworks ceremony at 9:30pm to commemorate the anniversary.

 

starwarsweekend

 

SeaWorld hosts the Viva La Musica festival during May to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. This festival features live concerts on the weekend from Latin musical artists along with special food booths offering Latin cuisine. Food is freshly cooked along the bay side offering flavorful food like Ropa Vieja, Seafood Paeilla, Picadillo, Chimichurri Flank Steak and Lechon Asado.

 

Summer

June

Weather – Average Low 71ºF/22ºC | Average High 91ºF/33ºC | Average precipitation 7.96 inches of rain. On average this is the wettest month of the year so you are advised to pack a light raincoat or you will be buying an expensive poncho in the parks.

Summer is all about those long hours of sunshine and late hours in the parks. SeaWorld celebrates with Summer Nights throughout June, July and August. As the sun sets SeaWorld kicks it up a notch with the rock ’n ’roll Shamu Rocks show. A completely different show to the daytime, it contains dazzling light effects, live musicians and of course the famous killer whales making a splash. Last year saw the addition of fireworks around the stadium adding even more flair and spectacular. You can also catch a special nighttime show featuring Clyde and Seamore called Sea Lions Tonight, which hilariously parodies the various attractions and experiences at the park. The late opening hours allow you to take advantage of riding SeaWorld’s fantastic roller coasters in the dark.

 

SeaWorld-SummerNights

 

Epcot schedules more acts for the American Gardens Theatre Stage with a season of concerts called Sounds Like Summer. These concerts are usually various rock tribute bands such as Slippery When Wet – The Ultimate Bon Jovi Tribute and Hotel California – A Salute to the Eagles.

Any car enthusiasts should check out the Cars Masters Weekend at Downtown Disney, which is scheduled this year over June 14th to 15th. Disney brings in a host of exotic, muscle and classic cars along with some character cars from Disney films such as Lightning McQueen. Over the last three years, the event has offered themed activities, food and merchandise, as well as photo opportunities with the latest new cars and the chance to meet auto personalities .

July

Weather – Average Low 73ºF/23ºC | Average High 92ºF/33ºC | Average precipitation 6.99 inches of rain. On average this is the warmest month, which means extremely hot and humid temperatures. Tips for keeping cool during the summer in Florida can be found here.

Summer is high season at WDW, which is to be expected really due to school holidays. You may find yourself battling the hot summer weather and all those Brazilian tour groups. But high season should see the parks open with long hours and rides are not likely to be closed for rehabs. In fact the summer season is when the parks tend to open new attractions and experiences to entice the crowds. Such as this summer will see the opening of the Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom should also be open by then.

The main event in July is of course the 4th of July, a celebration of Independence Day in the United States. You would be better off avoiding the parks on the 4th July, as this can be one of the busiest days of the year. But, then you would miss the large firework displays. All Disney firework displays are special but July the 4th is something else with Disney seemly trying to fire off everything available in their fireworks store. The two main displays to see are at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. At Epcot, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth features a 5-minute patriotic fireworks finale called The Heartbeat of Freedom, while the Magic Kingdom has the special “Celebrate America – A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” fireworks display. Both can usually be watched as the Magic Kingdom display is normally rehearsed on the 3rd of July and then you can watch the display at Epcot on the 4th.

 

4thjuly

 

August

Weather – Average Low 73ºF/23ºC  | Average High 92ºF/33ºC | Average precipitation 7.41 inches of rain

 

Typhoon-Lagoon august

August doesn’t really offer any extra special events apart from the tail end of some of the other summer months. It also marks the beginning of the peak hurricane season that runs from mid August to late October in Orlando.  The one positive to August is the crowds start to lessen off from mid August as US schools reopen for the new school year. This works particularly well for British families, as our schools don’t tend to go back until the first week of September or later. So for any families who have to travel during the school holidays, the end of August can be a good time to visit. It’s also worth mentioning that crowds mainly fluctuate due to school and national holidays. For any Brits below there is a list of the major US federal national holidays that will always cause peak crowds at the parks.

January 1st – New Year’s Day

Third Monday in January – Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Third Monday in February – Washington’s Birthday

Last Monday in May – Memorial Day

July 4th – Independence Day

First Monday in September – Labor Day

Second Monday in October – Columbus Day

November 11th – Veterans Day

Fourth Thursday in November – Thanksgiving Day

December 25th – Christmas Day

 

Autumn

September

Weather – Average Low 73ºF/23ºC  | Average High 90ºF/32ºC | Average precipitation 4.97 inches of rain

If there were to be a theme for September in Orlando it would probably be food, food and some more food. Starting off with the popular free Disney dining plan offer with hotel packages at Walt Disney World. Historically when this has been offered, the dates usually cover most of September and likely will again this year. It hasn’t been announced yet, but the best place to find out first and follow the rumours is on the DISboards. Continuing the food theme in September is Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. This event allows you try out some of Orlando’s best restaurants at a reduced price. Last year over 60 restaurants took part offering a special three-course prix fixe menu. To sweeten the deal, one dollar from each meal is donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida.

The final food offering of the month comes courtesy of the extraordinary popular Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. The event doesn’t start until mid September but now runs through to November. The festival brings the World Showcase culture experience to life with 30 different booths dotted around the lagoon allowing you taste a little bit of the world’s food and drink. During the event there are daily wine/beverage/mixology seminars and culinary demonstrations in the festival center presented by some of America’s and Disney’s best chefs and experts. You can also partake in one of the many special dining experiences and signature dinners hosted in the park’s restaurants or elsewhere around the WDW resort. To cap it all off, the American Gardens Theatre hosts another set of concerts called “Eat to the Beat.”

 

Epcot-Food-Wine-Festival-0101

 

Moving away from the food theme, we come to two special nighttime events usually hosted at the same time at both Universal Studios and the Magic Kingdom. At Universal, you will find Rock the Universe and at the Magic Kingdom, Night of Joy. These special ticketed events to the parks offer a similar mixture of contemporary Christian music concerts along with most the rides and attractions open to be enjoyed. This year both are scheduled for Friday 5th and Saturday 6th September.

September also sees the annual pin and vinylmation trading event at WDW. The theme for this year is “The Imagination Gala: A Magic Carpet Event” and will be hosted at Epcot from the 5th to 7th of September. The event will honour the best Disney films and attractions with Imagination Awards in the shape of a golden Figment. Nominees will be arriving in grand style by Magic Carpet instead of the traditional red carpet arrival. Along with the awards event expect to see lots of limited edition Disney collectibles, pins and vinylmation available to buy and trade.

 

October

Weather – Average Low 66ºF/19ºC  | Average High 85ºF/29ºC | Average precipitation 3.1 inches of rain.

October is probably my favourite time to visit Orlando as the temperatures begin to get more pleasant, you can still head over to Epcot for the Food and Wine festival and you can catch all the great Halloween events at the parks

Disney’s main offering for the Halloween season is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, or MNSSHP, a special ticketed kid-friendly event offered on select nights throughout September and October in the Magic Kingdom. Normally adults are not allowed to dress up in the parks, but during the party young and old can get dressed up in costumes to go trick and treating around the park to fill up a big bag with candy. The park is also specially decorated and lit during the party making areas darker and eerier than normal. You can also see the special Boo to You parade and HalloWishes fireworks. If that isn’t enough to make it worth the extra ticket, most of the rides are open and because tickets to the event are limited you can often walk on rather than queue. Hopefully this year Disney will capitalise on the popularity of the Unleash the Villians night limited time magic event last year and offer a more adult orientated extra regular event at Hollywood Studios.

 

MNSSHP-2013-24

 

Up the road at Universal you will find Halloween Horror Nights. This event is definitely not kid friendly or indeed for anyone who doesn’t like to get scared. The event is inspired from Universal’s long tradition of making horror films. Throughout the park you will find elaborate haunted houses and mazes themed to some of these famous horror movies and characters. While walking to these houses you will encounter scare zones full of actors dressed in costume and makeup ready to make you scream like a little girl. To take the edge off of being scared to death you can go watch one of the shows such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure which hilariously lampoons popular culture

Making an exception to the rule, SeaWorld offers their Halloween event as part of your normal admission. Halloween Spooktacular includes Penelope’s Party Zone in which countless bubbles fly around making you feel under the sea and has kid friendly game, music and colourful characters to meet. The normal Sesame Street show is swapped out with the special Countdown to Halloween musical. During the event over 1 million free trick-or-treat goodies are given out at a dozen sea treasure locations around the park.

 

November

Weather – Average Low 56ºF/13ºC  | Average High 79ºF/26ºC |Average precipitation 1.37 inches of rain. On average this is the driest month but you can probably still expect a few showers.

Blink and you will miss it, but if you time your trip correctly you can catch the end of the Halloween decorations and see the beginning of Christmas in one trip. November is very much a cross between the two seasons and there seems to be little to no downtime between the two nowadays.

Along with the start of Christmas, one weekend in November offers the great Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney. This event features work from some of the top artists across the country. You can guarantee this as all the artists chosen to take part in the festival have to have earned a primary award in a juried art festival within the last three years. All manner of mediums are covered such as digital, prints, drawings, jewelery, leather, wood, mixed media and collage, paintings, glasswork, sculptures and photography. Also during the weekend, amazing chalk masterpieces are created along hundreds of square feet of sidewalk. The award-winning artists are supported by the Emerging Artist area, which allows 30 newcomers to display their growing talents. Of course as you are at Disney you can meet, greet and watch some of their artists at work using all manner of styles featuring Disney characters. Downtown Disney restaurants get into the spirit offering up booths selling special tasters of their great food and drink.

 

Festival-of-the-Masters-2009-119

 

As Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party comes to a close, the Magic Kingdom begins to run the Christmas version, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Similar to the Halloween party there is a special parade and fireworks exclusive to the party, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and Holiday Wishes. However, these can be seen with normal park admission during the actual week with Christmas. Trick-or-Treat candy is swapped out for free hot cocoa and cookies around the park. One of the other reasons to go to these parties is because they usually have lots of characters available to meet around the park, including some rarely seen such as all seven dwarfs from Snow White.

SeaWorld really goes all out for its Christmas Celebration with the park coated in decorations everywhere you look. Take for example SeaWorld’s lake – it’s covered in a Sea of Trees that are each lit up and dancing to classic Christmas songs. The Wild Arctic attraction transforms into The Polar Express Experience based upon the book and film of a young boy’s journey of self-discovery on a train ride to the North Pole. In fact there is so much to do you may struggle to do it all in one day as there are five separate special shows just for the Christmas Celebration evenings. These include a Christmas version of some of SeaWorld’s popular daytime shows such as Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, Shamu Christmas Miracles and A Sesame Street Christmas.  Along with these is O Wondrous Night, which is a retelling of the traditional Christmas nativity story along with live animals and puppets. The fifth show is a holiday themed ice-skating spectacular, Winter Wonderland on Ice, performed in the Bayside Stadium with some highly talented skaters, water fountains and fireworks.

 

Winter

December

Weather – Average Low 51ºF/11ºC  | Average High 75ºF/24ºC | Average precipitation 2.13 inches of rain

If you are struggling to get in the mood for Christmas, Orlando is the place to head. Continuing on from the events discussed in November, Universal begins their Christmas activities. Islands of Adventure hosts Grinchmas with a live stage show of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. You will also find many residents of Whoville and the Grinch walking around Seuss Landing.  Then over at Universal Studios they run the Macy’s Holiday Parade containing many of the floats and balloons from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

 

Grinchmas

 

Epcot joins in with getting in the Christmas spirit with its Holiday Around The World season. As part of this you can learn from storytellers about holiday traditions at each of the countries around the World Showcase. One of the most popular not to be missed nightly event is the Candlelight Processional held in the America Gardens Theatre. This sees a celebrity narrator tell the story of Christmas in words and music alongside a full orchestra and choir made up of cast members and local school choirs. As usual, every day is capped off with Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, but just for Christmas, it has an extra Peace on Earth tag with even more fireworks. Finishing off the main Christmas extras at WDW is The Streets of America at Hollywood Studios that gets coated in millions of twinkling bulbs dancing to music as part of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. However, last year was rumoured to be the last appearance of the lights due to the area being bulldozed ready for a new Star Wars Land. But Disney has formally announced nothing about these plans and rumours now indicate this is on hold due to extra expenditure for MyMagic+.

As December comes to a close, so does the year and with it brings all the New Year’s Eve festivities, basically turning the night into a competition between the parks on who can use more fireworks than the other to ring in the New Year. Along with the fireworks you can expect to see various DJ parties set up.  The China pavilion at Epcot has a DJ stage set up with a fire and smoke breathing dragon. Along with a big party atmosphere expect to encounter huge crowds. New Year is often the busiest day of the year at the parks with the Magic Kingdom closing for capacity at times.

 

You are never going to feel bored in WDW but traveling at different times of the year can enhance your holiday. Perhaps book a different time of year for your next trip so you get to try out some of great annual events and festivals in Orlando.


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Category: Disney, Disney World, Universal / Sea World

  • Maxi-Geek

    I love going in october, not so much for the halloween.. being from Australia we dont have it, so its not a big deal for me.. but i love the cooler weather.. food and wine is also a great experience..

  • Mel H

    Thanks for this! Great article for us Canadians, as well!