When to Go? (Part 1 of 2)

By Steve Russo, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 17, 2007 Issue #408 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: In this first of a two-part series, author Steve Russo takes a look at the importance of planning your Walt Disney World vacation, emphasizing the most important factors to consider when deciding when to travel to Orlando.)

You've made the important decision -- you've decided to re-mortgage the house, cash in those savings bonds you've had since high school and go to Walt Disney World.

Now what?

There's a certain percentage of the population that will make some flight reservations, book a room, and leave it at that. Hey, it worked for that family trip to the Jersey shore, didn't it?

Many people consider the planning process for a Walt Disney World trip to be enjoyable -- an extension of the actual vacation. Researching restaurants and attractions, reading trip reports and laying out a preliminary itinerary often has a vicarious trip feel to it. On the other hand, some folks consider it just short of an un-anaesthetized root canal.

Whatever your feelings, some level of planning is necessary. An unplanned excursion to Walt Disney World, unless you are a true veteran and very experienced in all-things-Disney, is doomed to resemble a Griswold family vacation-without the good parts.

Not convinced yet?

Walt Disney World is a million square miles and is larger than most planets. In the summer, the temperature often exceeds that of the surface of the sun. During holiday weeks, three-fourths of the population of mainland USA is in attendance. If you don't make a dining reservation six years in advance, you have no shot at eating anything during your entire trip. That's all hyperbole but there's a point to be made. Some level of planning is absolutely necessary for a successful trip. (Read that last sentence aloud several times. Go ahead... I'll wait.)

After deciding to go, the next logical question is, "When?" How do you pick the dates for your vacation? Do you book the resort before airfare or is it the other way around? How far in advance should you reserve? All good questions and they each have the same answer: it depends.

But, hey... I promised you some help, not more questions, so let's get started. When do we start our planning? If you want to visit during the most crowded week of the year, say Christmas Week, you can't expect to call on December 15 and find your choice of resorts available. Well, you can but your chance of success is similar to my prospects of dating Keira Knightley -- slim... very, very slim.

Likewise, if you're planning on attending during a less crowded time, say September after all the kiddies are back at school, there's probably no need to make reservations a year in advance. This planning stuff is easy, isn't it? So what types of things need to be considered when selecting the right time to go on that Walt Disney World vacation?

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THE SEASONS
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Yes, there are four of them and they each offer something different for your vacation:

-- Spring is a great time to go. The weather will be warm and make its way to hot by the end of the season. It's not a particularly rainy time and crowds will generally be manageable unless you're there for Spring Break, Easter Week or whenever the schools let out.

-- Summer can be an excellent time to visit if you like stifling heat, high humidity, enormous crowds and violent daily thunderstorms. Those puddles on Main Street are melted tourists -- many others simply combust spontaneously. And don't forget... it's hurricane season. But your kids are out of school.

-- Fall. Now we're talking. It will start out a bit warm but get more comfortable as time goes on. The kids are back in school so the crowds are generally lower. Watch out for the crowds during Thanksgiving weekend.

-- Winter is a bit chancy but can be very nice. The holiday season (roughly slightly before Thanksgiving through slightly after New Year's Day) is beautiful and offers many extras for entertainment, but the weather is iffy -- as in shorts and tees one day, parkas and mittens the next. January and February are generally not very crowded, except for Presidents' Week, but, as a result, park hours are reduced and some top attractions could be scheduled for rehab.

There are mixed blessings in every alternative. I've visited in spring, fall and winter -- never summer. My favorite is winter for several reasons, not the least of which is that I live in the Northeast and a January trip to Florida is a welcome respite from an Upstate New York winter. Face it, even when Orlando is hovering in the mid-fifties, it beats the heck out of sub-zero temperatures and a foot of snow. Additionally, December and January (not counting Christmas Week) offer fairly light crowds. If you visit in December, you also have the benefit of the holiday attractions and decorations.

Many people won't consider visiting in the winter months because of the shorter park hours that exist for certain periods. My feeling is that the shorter hours only impact the Magic Kingdom and the Disney-MGM Studios -- and the lighter crowds mean I can do more in less time. Shorter hours don't bother me a bit.

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SCHOOL VACATIONS
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If there's a week, or several days, when your kids are on a school vacation, the chances are good that another area of the country is also on hiatus. This is obvious for the major holidays like Christmas, Presidents' Week, Easter Break and Thanksgiving -- some others, like New Jersey week, less so. (If you're wondering, New Jersey Week is a week in November when all residents of the Garden State must leave and visit Florida. I'm not exactly sure of the reasoning but I think it involves a general dusting and cleaning of the state and this is, apparently, easier than asking twelve million people to simultaneously "lift your feet.")

For several years, we restricted our visits to February's Presidents' Week. Our kids had the week off but so did most of the civilized world. We knew the parks would be crowded and there would be things we wouldn't be able to do, but we ventured forth anyway. After several of these visits, we cheated a bit and pulled our kids from school on the Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. This gave us a head start on the unwashed masses and offered two or three days of relatively light crowds in the parks.

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TO TAKE THE KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL, OR NOT... ?
THAT IS THE QUESTION
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Do I advocate pulling your kids from school for a Walt Disney World vacation? No. OK, maybe. All right, if you put a gun to my head, yes -- but only if it makes sense. Jeez. Nag, nag, nag. What the heck is he talking about? Is it possible to pull your child from a few days of schooling without condemning them to an uneducated lifetime of ditch digging?

It's an individual and very student-specific issue. The factors to be considered would include your child's age and grade level, how they're doing in class, their school's policy or philosophy, the time of year and their teachers' willingness to accommodate. In a perfect situation, the teacher is supportive and provides outlines of the work your child will miss. Your child works extra hard before, during and after the vacation to ensure that the lessons are read and understood and the work is completed. The child returns to school after vacation and integrates seamlessly back into their curriculum. It is possible.

However, not every school system and/or teacher is open-minded about this and may give you a ton of grief for even considering such a thing. They will make it clear that you are a bad parent and should never be allowed near a child, let alone have one of your own. Can you imagine the weight and volume added to the parental guilt gland?

A partial cop-out is to arrange your vacation to surround a minor school holiday (e.g. Martin Luther King Day, teachers' conventions, Columbus Day, etc.). You can get the benefit of less crowded parks while reducing the number of days that your child actually misses school. We've done this before over Martin Luther King Day in January and received the added benefit of two snow days while we were gone. This gave us a week at Walt Disney World with only two missed school days.

Think long and hard about it and make as informed a decision as possible. Don't let anyone talk you into or out of it. They're your children. Others have done it and lived to tell about it. Our children all completed high school and college (well, the last one is a senior as I write this, but I'm optimistic) and seem to have become bright, informed and reasonably well-adjusted adults.

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Watch for Part 2 of When to Go? by Steve Russo in the coming weeks. In Part 2, Steve will discuss holidays, special celebrations, prices and rate seasons, as well as a few other factors to consider when deciding when to make that Disney trip!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Steve Russo, an IT Consultant who lives in East Greenbush, NY, made his first trip to Walt Disney World in 1984 and was immediately hooked. Now a Disney Vacation Club Member, Steve and his wife Barbara have three grown children, a grandson and a black lab named Gunnar.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.