January in Walt Disney World: A Primer

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TouringPlans logoAre you planning or considering a trip to Walt Disney World in January?  It’s not on a lot of traveler’s radar because people are often wrapping up other holiday vacations and kids are just getting back to school.  If you can swing it, however, the reality is that January can be one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World! Gone is the oppressive heat of the summer, depending upon when you go, you can encounter some of the lightest crowds of the year, and the experience delivers the magic you can expect any other time of the year.  So, should you go?  Read on to find out about the pros and cons of a January trip! 

Mild (if unpredictable) Weather

 

One of the most frequent questions I get about January travel to Walt Disney World is about the weather — what to expect, what to pack, etc. The good news is that the weather tends to be pretty mild this time of year, and it’s honestly one of the best reasons to plan a trip in January. Historically, the average highs during this time of year are around 70° F, with lows around 50° F. Also of note: the 3 o’clock rain showers that are common during the summer months are not really part of the January experience — it can rain, but January is one of the drier months, and it’s not like you expect it to rain, like you do during other times of the year. 

 

Accuweather's January Forecast 2017
Accuweather’s current guesses for part of January 2017 in Orlando

 

The bad news, however, is that there can be wild variation in the weather during the month of January.  You might experience weather that is uncomfortably hot, or uncomfortably cold, and you might even experience both on back to back days.  I can remember on one of my first January trips heading to what was then Downtown Disney wearing shorts, but by midday, it was cold enough that people were running around in hats and gloves.  Part of that, of course, is the comically panicked reaction that Floridians have to temperatures that start with a “5,” but it was still a significant temperature swing in just a couple of hours, and it left me pretty uncomfortable. Lesson learned.   

Packing

 

Deciding what to put in these is one of the toughest parts of a January trip
Deciding what to put in these is one of the toughest parts of a January trip

So, with the weather being wonky, how do you pack for a trip like this?  I generally suggest that people wait as long as they can to pack, and then pack for the most up to date forecast you have available to you.  If you’re one of those folks that like to pack weeks or months in advance, it would be strongly recommended that you take a look at the forecast and compare it to what you’ve packed a day or two before you leave to make sure it all still makes sense.   

With all due respect to those in the meteorological community, however, forecasts for Central Florida that are more than a couple of days out are basically guesses anyway, so you should not treat them as gospel.  I always tell people to pack for the forecast, but make sure you have at least one outfit on both ends of the weather spectrum so if (read: when) the weather goes all cattywampus on you, you don’t need to take time out of your vacation to go shopping for something to wear.  

In terms of appropriate attire, it’s all relative, of course, but most people will probably find that shorts or pants and short-sleeved shirts work well during the day, and long pants and something long-sleeved work well in the evening.  Specific things to pack are of course up to you, but in general, the ability to layer your clothes is a good approach. It is unlikely to get so cold that you would need a ski coat or anything that heavy; a t-shirt plus a sweater plus a light coat is more than sufficient for anything that January in Orlando can throw at you, and any of those things would work fine on their own for most January weather in Central Florida.  

Do you need to pack a swimsuit?  We often see questions about the pools and whether you can swim in January.  Walt Disney World resort hotel pools are all heated, and you will likely see people swimming in January regardless of the temperature outside. Interestingly, on cold days, it is actually a bit more comfortable to be IN the pool than on the pool deck — the water is warmer than the air, and as long as you’re in it, it’s generally pretty tolerable.  That said, make sure you have a towel nearby for when you get OUT of the pool, because the air temperature is the air temperature, and Disney can’t really do anything about that.   

A Tale of Many Crowds

 

Plenty of elbow room in parts of January! Photo Sara Rosemergy
Plenty of elbow room in parts of January! Photo Sara Rosemergy

January is often an interesting month, because the first few days mark the end of one of the busiest times of the year, it contains two high-volume weekends with the Marathon and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, but it also sees some extremely low crowds at other times. Here’s how the month breaks down this year:

  • The first few days of the year will be quite busy, as some kids will not be back in school until January 9.  Expect holiday-level crowds for the first few days of the year that slowly taper off until Sunday, January 8, when even the last of the holiday travelers head home.  
  • ©Disney

    Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend falls early enough this year that it actually overlaps with the expected end of the holiday season. Marathon Weekend is interesting from a crowd standpoint, because there are a LOT of people at the resort for the event, but they tend to not have a huge impact on the wait times at attractions. For example, we show the crowds at Level 3 on January 8, the day of the marathon itself. With that said, traffic and congestion in the transportation system, especially around race time, will be very high even though the lines for attractions are not overwhelming.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend has gone from being a pretty under-the-radar time to visit to a legitimately busy time. While the crowds aren’t as busy as they are during Christmas, Spring Break or the middle of summer, as compared to the remainder of the month, it is a relatively busy time to visit. While we are predicting 6-7 level crowds this year, we have seen 10-level crowds in years past.
  • Are you going during some other time of the month? Congratulations, you’re going to visit Walt Disney World at one of the least busy times you can! Most days have crowds in the lower half of the spectrum, and you’ll encounter some 2-level days!  

Want more detail about crowds for January?  Check it out day-to-day on our Crowd Calendar!

Differences in the January Experience

 

Because January has traditionally been a slower month and one where the temperature can be cooler, Disney often views it as a good opportunity to refurbish some of its rides, particularly its water rides. Kali River Rapids and Splash Mountain are frequently closed for part of January, and Disney typically only has one of its two water parks open in January. This year, for example, Kali is closed from January 3 to January 30, and Typhoon Lagoon is closed the entire month (and then some — check out the complete and up-to-date list of refurbishments here). Accordingly, if these attractions are an integral part of your trip, January might not be the best time to visit. Similarly, January tends to see shorter park hours than busier times of the year — you might see later close times at the Magic Kingdom on the weekends, but the normal (read: excluding Extra Magic Hours) close times for the parks are usually between 7 and 9 pm.  

The early part of January is also noteworthy in that there are a few days when you can still see all of the Christmas decorations up. It’s a bit of a crapshoot as to when Disney will start taking down the decorations, but they traditionally stay up for at least a week after New Years. This year, for example, the new Starbright Holidays drone show at Disney Springs is set to run through January 8, 2017, so that’s a reasonable estimate for how long Disney will keep the resort in holiday mode.  

Finally, the installation of the Christmas decor is a big project, and the removal is no different. You can likely expect to see a big crane in the background of some of your photos as Disney removes the icicle lights from Cinderella Castle. We know, no fun, but better to know that it’s a possibility in advance.        

New Stuff

 

There is some new stuff on tap this January, too, that might enhance your trip. Specifically, it was recently announced that Epcot will be getting a new winter festival to join the spring’s Flower & Garden Festival and the fall’s Food & Wine Festival — Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts will kick off this January 13, 2017.  The festival will run on the weekends, and will feature visual and performing arts, in addition to opportunities to sample artistic culinary creations. Take a look at Rikki’s recent preview for more details! 

This isn’t really a January-specific thing per se, but January does usher in some changes to the Disney Dining Plan, so it’s probably worth mentioning here.  In years past, both the Quick Service and Standard Dining Plans included dessert with their quick service meals.  Now, the Quick Service meals no longer come with dessert, but Disney does give you one extra snack credit, such that you will have two rather than one.  This is actually a nice bit of extra flexibility, especially if you’re not the sort of person that wants to eat dessert with every single meal.  

Whether this changes impacts whether or not the dining plan is actually a good value for you, however, is an entirely different question that depends upon your situation and the way you eat.  Also of note, Disney is changing the pricing of the plan: the Quick Service and Standard Plans both see price increases of $2-3 dollars each, while the Deluxe Dining Plan actually sees its adult price decrease from $115.08 to $103.57 (the child price increases slightly from $35.49 to $37.62).

 

So, have you been to Walt Disney World in January before?  What do you think of it as a time to visit?  Any pros or cons that I may have missed?  Let us know in the comments!

James Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

5 thoughts on “January in Walt Disney World: A Primer

  • December 20, 2016 at 9:49 am
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    This January will be our third time in six years to travel the week after MLK weekend.
    I can’t say enough how great a time of year it is to visit, especially with younger kids.

    Reply
    • December 20, 2016 at 7:43 pm
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      Have you been the Sunday before and the Monday of MLK Day? What are the crowds like those 2 days? Thank you.

      Reply
      • December 21, 2016 at 3:46 pm
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        They are certainly a couple of the busiest days of the month. With that said, you’re talking about 6-8s, not 10s (although we did see a 10-level crowd this past year), and lighter than the post-NYE holdover crowds.

        Reply
      • December 21, 2016 at 8:12 pm
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        We were at Epcot on MLK Sunday weekend. I have never seen it that busy. Horribly crowded. Busy on Monday also. Will avoid in the future. I am sure all parks are very busy this weekend. Quite a few foreign school groups were there.

        Reply

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