MONEY Tourism

Why You Should Postpone That Trip to Disney World

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Summer never fails to attract big crowds to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Peter Ptschelinzew—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

After crunching the numbers, researchers concluded that the most expensive weekend of the summer in Orlando is just about here.

Specifically, the last weekend of June. As for the cheapest time of the summer in theme park central, that supposedly takes place on the second-to-last weekend in August—in other words, the weekend before Labor Day.

This is all according to the folks at dealnews, who asked Priceline to dig into its reams of data and figure out when families would get the best deals on hotels in Orlando for a summer vacation. Based on 2013 numbers, Priceline determined that Orlando hotels cost an average of $93.54 on the last weekend of June, compared to $82.08 on the second-to-last weekend of August. When looking strictly at three-star hotels, the differential was bigger: $94 at the end of June, versus $76 for the August weekend.

The main reason given for the price differential is that by late August, many kids are either already back in school, or their families are in the throws of hectic back-to-school preparations, so it’s not an ideal time to haul the brood to Orlando for a big vacation. The July issue of MONEY backs this theory up, in an article quoting Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider, who says that crowds thin out and on-site hotel prices dip 25% to 35% in mid to late August.

The end of June, by contrast, is when most kids are freshly released from the clutches of teachers and principals—the perfect time to reward kids for all their work in school, and also for moms and dads to make their case as Best Parents Ever.

Just be aware that you’ll pay a hefty price for visiting Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and the rest of Orlando anytime from the end of June through early August. This is peak summer season in Orlando, and while the hotel rate premium indicated above may not seem like all that big of a deal, lodging is but one vacation cost.

Arguably far bigger “costs” are the ones that don’t technically cost you anything out of pocket: weather and crowds. The Disney fanatics over at MouseSavers.com are among the many theme park enthusiasts who list the peak summer season (end of June to mid-August) as one of the worst times of year to hit Walt Disney World. “Expect it to be very busy and extremely hot, with heavy humidity,” the site warns. Likewise, Frommer’s cautions, “Summer is when the masses throng to the parks. It’s also very humid and hot, Hot, HOT.”

On the other hand, Mouse Savers names the period of late August through September as among the very best times for families going to Orlando, in particular because of “rock-bottom deals” at off-site (non-Disney) hotels and lodging packages that include “free” meals for guests staying at Disney properties.

Many news outlets jumped on the hotel pricing data released by dealnews and Priceline and announced that August was the least expensive and overall best time for visiting Orlando. But that’s misleading. The second-to-last weekend in August isn’t the cheapest time of year in central Florida. It’s just the cheapest weekend in the summer. And hey, based on the hotel rates listed, it’s not all that much cheaper than the most expensive weekend of the summer.

There are generally much better deals to be had—in terms of lodging, as well as lodging-meals-and-pass packages—during the off-season periods of late fall (with the exception of Thanksgiving weekend) and just after New Year’s (with the exception of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend). By visiting during one of these periods, you’ll not only save on lodging and other expenses, you’ll also avoid the end-of-summer hurricane season, when torrential downpours and lightning (if not worse) are to be expected.

Yes, we know that summer is when kids are out of school, and that’s when you want to take the family to the famously family-friendly destination that is Orlando. But there’s so much upside to hitting Disney and the rest in the true off season, it’s worth considering taking the kids out of school for a visit in, say, early December. That’ll make it even easier to stake your claim to the title of Best Parent Ever.

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