Choosing When To Visit DLR: Summary of High and Low Season and When Each Happens

Discussion in 'Disneyland (California)' started by HydroGuy, May 3, 2010.

  1. HydroGuy

    HydroGuy DIS Veteran

    Jun 5, 2005

    A recent post inspired me to write this thread. The poster thought she was going in high season (she wasn't) and would not have to worry about refurbs on their first trip to DLR. She found out too late their #1 priority ride would be down that week for refurb.

    There are threads around here that discuss when high season happens at DLR, but I decided to make a dedicated thread on this topic with the hope that the situation just described can be avoided as much as possible.

    I have written some posts on High Season and Low (Off) Season that are frequently linked on this forum. Be sure to check them out as there are tradeoffs:

    "What You Should Know About Off-Season at DLR"

    "HydroGuy's High Season/Off Season Tradeoff Rule"

    Also, DLR now has a page on their website that gives their take on choosing when to visit: When to Visit

    What Are High Season and Low Season? And Why Should You Care?

    High season at DLR are time periods when DLR expects larger crowds. Low season is thus when they expect lower crowds. Each has advantages and disadvantages for park visitors.

    Summary of what happens in high season

    High season is of course more crowded. Disney handles the extra crowds by extending park hours. DL is open 8AM to Midnight. DCA is open 8AM to 10PM or 11PM. On Magic Morning/Extra Magic Hour Days DL and DCA open at 7AM.

    Disney also handles crowds by making sure they have places to put people. That means having all rides, shows and restaurants operating at maximum capacity.

    Summary of what happens in low (off) season

    With lower crowds Disney reduces park hours. At lowest season DL is open 10AM-8PM and DCA is open 10AM-8PM (with Magic Morning/EMH at 9AM). This is OK because the lesser number of people can more easily fit into the fewer park hours.

    Disney also runs many rides at lower capacity. For example, rides like BTMRR can run five trains at a time in high season. In low season they may only run two or three trains. So lines for rides like BTMRR may move more slowly. Haunted Mansion has two stretching rooms they run in high season, but in low season they may only operate one - thus cutting the ride capacity in half. What this means is that the lines for many rides are shorter. But they also move more slowly.

    This lower ride capacity does frustrate some guests. They are happy to enjoy lower crowds but sometimes disappointed that the lines do not move quickly and the ride capacities are reduced.

    Another issue are refurbs. DLR does need to maintain rides, shows and restaurants and sometimes improve them. To do this they need to shut these down. They do this during low season to minimize impact on guests for the simple reason that there are less guests in the park.

    Remember that rides, shows and restaurants are people eaters. They give Disney a place for people to be without crowding walkways. When refurbs happen they have less people eaters. When crowds are less they need less people eaters and so that is when they take them down.

    Another low season issue is that DLR takes some rides down for seasonal makeovers. Haunted Mansion goes down every September (during low season) and IASW goes down every October/November (kind of average season) to add holiday overlays. They both go down in January to remove them. Space Mtn goes down for a few days in September for the same reason and again in early November to remove its overlay.

    Because crowds are less, DLR does turn off some FASTPASS machines during low season days because they are not needed.

    You should care about high season and low season because if you do not pay attention you may either be swamped by crowds you were not expecting or you may miss rides and shows you hoped to be able to see.

    When Exactly Does High Season and Low Season Take Place?

    In a sense, high season happens year round on weekends. Maximum entertainment and hours happen on most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays year round. And rides are run at high capacity to handle weekend crowds.

    However, during low season the refurbs take place as already discussed. Refurbs that last for more than a few days will impact weekends with more rides down.

    You can get a good idea of when high and low season occurs by looking at historical park data:

    "Historical DLR Park Hours, Entertainment and Refurbs" -

    In general high season occurs in three main time periods:

    Spring Break - mid-March to mid-April
    Summer - mid-June to late August (and sometimes all the way until Labor Day in early September)
    Holiday - Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years (Thanksgiving and Christmas are often lumped together as "Holiday" high season because they are only separated by a few weeks)

    Here is a list of high season periods since 2008 for reference (determined by looking for periods when DL is open maximum hours on weekdays and/or major entertainment like fireworks and/or Fantasmic happen nightly):


    Friday, March 7 - Sunday April 13 (Spring Break - note Easter on March 23)
    Friday, June 6 - Sunday August 24 (Summer)
    Friday, November 21 - Sunday, November 30 (Thanksgiving)
    Thursday, December 18 - Sunday, January 4 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 13 - Sunday, April 19 (Spring Break - note Easter on April 12)
    Friday, June 12 - Sunday, August 23 (Summer)
    Friday, November 20 - Sunday, November 29 (Thanksgiving)
    Thursday, December 17 - Sunday, January 3 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday March 12 - Sunday, April 18 (Spring Break - note Easter on April 4)
    Friday, June 11 - Sunday, August 22 (Summer)
    Friday, November 18 - Sunday, November 27 (Thanksgiving)
    Wednesday, December 15 - Monday, January 3 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 11 - Sunday, May 1 (Spring Break - note Easter on April 24 - this year was unusual because of Easter happening so late in April)
    Friday, June 3 - Sunday, August 21 (Summer)
    Friday, November 19 - Sunday, November 28 (Thanksgiving)
    Wednesday December 14 - Monday, January 8 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 9 - Sunday, April 15 (Spring Break - note Easter on April 8)
    Friday, May 25* - Sunday, August 26 (Summer)
    * This year Disney started nightly entertainment and extended park hours on May 25 - much earlier than usual - but there were some refurbs such as Matterhorn and the DCA Cars Land and Buena Vista Street areas that opened on June 15

    Friday, November 16 - Sunday, November 25 (Thanksgiving)
    Wednesday, December 19 - Sunday, January 6 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 22 - Sunday, April 7 (Spring Break - note Easter on March 31)
    Friday, May 24* - Sunday, August 25 (Summer)
    * This year Disney started nightly entertainment and extended park hours on May 24 - much earlier than usual but the same as in 2012

    Friday, November 8 - Sunday, December 1 (Thanksgiving)
    Friday, December 13 - Sunday, January 5 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 21 - Sunday, April 20 (Spring Break - note Easter on April 20 - this year was unusual because of Easter happening so late in April)
    Friday, May 23* - Sunday, August 24 (Summer)
    * In years past DLR did not start summer hours until mid-June but in 2012-2014 they started on Memorial Day weekend (the Friday before the last Monday in May).

    Friday, November 21 - Sunday, November 30 (Thanksgiving)
    Friday, December 12- Tuesday, January 6 (Christmas/New Years)


    Friday, March 13 - Sunday, April 12 * (Spring Break - note Easter on April 5)
    * Best guess based on previous years.

    Friday, May 22 * - Sunday, August 23 ** (Summer)
    * In years past DLR did not start summer hours until mid-June but in 2012-2015 they started on Memorial Day weekend (the Friday before the last Monday in May). This summer of 2015 the DL 60th anniversary celebration will start on May 22 as announced by Disney in January, 2105.
    ** Best guess based on previous years.

    Friday, November 20 - Sunday, November 29 * (Thanksgiving)
    Friday, December 11- Tuesday, January 5 * (Christmas/New Years)
    * Best guess based on previous years.

    Long Term Refurbs and High Season

    Refurbs that take only a few days or few weeks will almost always happen in low season. But some refurbs take 3-5 months such as the Rivers of America refurb in 2010 and Splash Mtn refurb of 2011. Thus there is no way to complete such a refurb without impacting at least one high season period. Summer high season is generally the most untouchable time period and it is very rare to ever see a refurb in the summer.

    To minimize the impact on high season that usually means to schedule the 3-5 month refurbs over Spring Break high season. That way the refurb only impacts one high season and can be completed before summer with usually some time to spare in case it happens to run over schedule. Such refurbs usually start on a Monday or Tuesday in January right after the Christmas/New Years high season period. They last until complete - often into May and sometimes June. The 2010 Rivers of America refurb started on Tuesday, January 4 was completed right before Memorial Day weekend in late May.

    Refurbs over Thanksgiving week and during Christmas/New Years high season are just about as rare as summer refurbs.

    Finally, there are very long duration refurbs that may take 8+ months such as the IASW refurb in 2008 and Space Mtn from 2003-2005. IASW was closed all year long in 2008 and such lengthy refurbs will of course impact multiple high seasons.

    Which Season Should You Choose?

    This question is highly personal. If you have complete schedule flexibility and low crowds are the highest priority, then low season offers a lot of advantages - smaller lines and cheaper hotel rates among them. This may be especially good for families with small children who do not care about large thriller rides and missing school is of less importance. People with mobility issues may also prefer low season.

    Which low season time to choose is then often driven by weather and one's sensitivity to heat, cold or rain (see "Detailed Weather Data for DLR"

    IMO May and early June are the best low season times to visit DLR. The weather is warming up but is not that warm yet. Rain is infrequent. And major refurbs are generally complete in preparation for summer. October may be the second best low season time to visit. Again, this is a highly personal decision and I am only offering general advice. As they say, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

    Low season visits are especially attractive for more frequent visitors. For those who visit twice a year or more, then the disadvantages of ride refurbs are a minor setback because the rides will likely be up and running the next time.

    Choosing days of the week at this point depends mostly on how important entertainment is. My personal opinion is found here What You Should Know About Off-Season at DLR and quoted below:

    Note the info below only applies to low season visits...

    So why would anyone go to DLR during high season?

    There are many reasons. First may be because schedules are inflexible because of vacation policy or older kids less able to miss school. With four young adults and teens (college and high school) I fall squarely into this camp.

    Further, less frequent visitors (once a year or less) and especially those on a "once-in-a-lifetime" trip will want to have maximum ride and entertainment offerings. That happens in high season.

    Which high season should you choose? Well, as discussed previously Spring Break High Season is the most susceptible to refurbs. Spring Break is more risky.

    Summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the least risky high season choices.

    Is it even possible to enjoy DLR during high season with all the crowds? Absolutely!

    Remember, DLR is more of a "locals" resort. The majority of visitors (I believe 70%) are from Southern California and on day trips to DLR. If you have a nearby hotel you have a lot more flexibility than most of the other visitors - easier to get to the parks early, easier to take afternoon breaks and take a nap (and cool off in the summer), easier to stay out late and close the parks down, and (hopefully) multiple days to work around things. This thread talks about summer high season in particular - "Getting The Most Out of a Summer Visit To DLR"

    Be aware that when going in Spring Break or Summer High Season that park offerings are at their maximum every day of the week. Since there are no disadvantages to weekdays in high season, weekdays are preferable to weekends and especially holiday weekends. In general. Not true 100% of the time but is true more often than not. We avoid weekends on our summer trips whenever possible.

    If you do decide to go in high season, some high season days are extremely crowded. This has happened in June in recent years because of the enormous growth of the DLR Annual Passholder (AP) program. Be sure to check on AP "blockouts" when choosing days to visit DLR - see "Understanding AP Blockouts and Impact on Crowds"

    I hope this thread helps everyone have a more magical trip to Disneyland Resort! pixiedust:
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2015 at 10:37 AM
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  3. 3Minnies1Mickey

    3Minnies1Mickey <font color=magenta>Just wanted to add, this is no

    Apr 8, 2009
    ANother great analysis!!
  4. Belle Ella

    Belle Ella DIS Veteran

    Jun 30, 2007
    Great information as always!
  5. rentayenta

    rentayenta <img src=

    Feb 28, 2007
    :thumbsup2 Thanks!

    High seasoner here. Cannot imagine going and not seeing the fireworks or F! :wizard:
  6. specialks

    specialks Quickly becoming a Disney addict!

    Apr 22, 2009
    Not sure if you mentioned this (can't get one of the links to work for me) -- but, as a low seasoner (2 mid/late Sept trips) something we learned from a CM is that they close some fastpass machines during low season. He told us that they do this so that there are not too many people on the walkways. He explained that the lines for rides are actually used to handle crowd numbers and keep walkways less full.
  7. HydroGuy

    HydroGuy DIS Veteran

    Jun 5, 2005
    Good point. I added it. And fixed the broken links. :)
  8. skiingfast

    skiingfast <font color=teal>Has had no bacon<br><font color=b

    Mar 12, 2010
    If you find a rate calendar for the Disney resorts it can tell you if the days you are going are by High or Low season crowds by looking at the prices of particular days, weeks or weekends.

    It makes sense when something like President's Day Weekend comes along. Though while during low season it may by a very busy few days in the park, and the hotel rates reflect this.

    I don't know of a current link to a page like this but maybe another user does.

    Also, another thing that can affect the season is promotions. The popularity of free dining plans at WDW has taken the fall when kids are back in school from a quiet time to regular crowds in the parks.
  9. heather_sue_98

    heather_sue_98 Mouseketeer

    Nov 20, 2009
    Here's the thing. I think some people think that you have to be of one opinion or the other. We went in prime time high season December 17-19, 2009, and I absolutely loved it! However, I went knowing it would be a madhouse, knowing we wouldn't do even close to all that we "wanted" to. It was so fun, and it reminds me so much more of the Disneyland from my childhood when it's crazy busy during high season.

    We went again just last month, April 14-17th, 2010. Totally different story. We just missed the Spring craziness, and were able to move a little more leisurely. And I loved this too. It provided multiple times to ride rides (TSMM 3 times in a row with no wait, 5 minute wait, and 10 minute wait), optimal character experiences (We caught Stitch just as he came out a side door, and he held my DD4's hand as they skipped to where he was doing his meet and greet), and plenty of time to relax.

    I think the with the debate of high season vs. low season, you really just need to be prepared and go with the right attitude. Both can be so much fun. I could never decide between the two.
  10. liesel

    liesel DIS Veteran

    Oct 27, 2008
    Another great thread!

    I think it might be worth mentioning that many socal schools do not start until the week (often the Tuesday) after labor day and end the second week of June. I've found this to be suprising to many who are from different parts of the country. This can influence what the locals consider to be the start of the summer (as opposed to Memorial Day weekend, which is around the time that many other schools end).
  11. HydroGuy

    HydroGuy DIS Veteran

    Jun 5, 2005
    After thinking about I think I will leave that out as schools are not an indicator of DLR high season - it is park hours and entertainment. They do have some overlap, but I would not trust a SoCal school schedule to indicate to me whether they might be showing fireworks or not when I am there. :)
  12. blackjackdelta

    blackjackdelta <font color=darkorchid>Uncle had an "in" with Walt

    Jul 23, 2005
    I have to agree.

  13. Judy from Boise

    Judy from Boise <font color=teal>Watch out – might take away your Moderator

    Aug 24, 1999
    Fabulous as always, I really enjoyed the link to the weather page, hadn't read that one before. I am so curious if WoC will follow the same seasonal pattern as fireworks, or whether it will be a "game changer".
  14. tanyaewa

    tanyaewa Just can't get enough!

    Jan 23, 2010
    I love your comprehensive overviews. They are so well thought out!
    It's such a help for poeple who don't have access to the info you provide.
    Very helpful - thanks for the efforts!!

    I am in the *tourism industry* in a ski resort. We have similar highs & lows so it's easy for me to comprehend the ebbs & flows of Disney. One of my industry inside secrets is to choose the very tail end of high season at any resort. It's perfect for our family. You get the benefits of full season hours & attractions - but with the lesser crowds. I'm lucky though - that's EXACTLY when my vacation time can be (since we follow the same patterns) We were in DL similar to OP - April 13-18 and it was PERFECT for us since Easter was so early this year. But honestly, as mentioned as long as you have a good frame of mind - any time is a good time!!
  15. Kenttz

    Kenttz Mouseketeer

    Jun 9, 2008
    Once again you have outdone youself with another excellent post.:thumbsup2
  16. liesel

    liesel DIS Veteran

    Oct 27, 2008
    Sorry, I was thinking more in terms of crowd patterns (since DLR is such a locals park) rather than entertainment schedule.
  17. bellazachmom

    bellazachmom DIS Veteran

    Aug 25, 2007

    Thank you!!

    As a frequent WDW visitor who knows all the ends and outs but is now planning our first DL trip this thread is VERY helpful!!
  18. nemofans

    nemofans DIS Veteran

    Oct 25, 2007
    We are thinking of going to DL the 2nd week in Oct., probably Sat thru Thurs. We like low crowds & not too warm weather. I am hoping this will be a good time. I know the Halloween party may affect 1 night, but what else would?
  19. DLR29

    DLR29 We create happiness

    May 30, 2006
    2nd weekend of October will have high crowds and relatively warm weather. Keep in mind that the 10th is Columbus Day and a lot of schools have "fall break" around that time. I went a few years ago and was surprised at how much more crowded it was than I had thought. It has only gotten worse as Halloweentime has increased in popularity.

    HOWEVER, this does not mean that it will be a bad time to go. If you plan a lot and use FP you will be surprised at how much you can do even with the high crowd levels. Also, the weekdays will be not as bad (Tuesday-Thursday), but they will also have shorter park hours and might not have Fantasmic or fireworks.
  20. Albort

    Albort ODV Crew

    Oct 9, 2006
    i think half of October is really really busy...
  21. HydroGuy

    HydroGuy DIS Veteran

    Jun 5, 2005
    There us also the UEA week during that time. See last years calendar

    If you are looking for low crowds you may be looking at the wrong time.

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