Most major tourist destinations seem to have two seasons — high and low. For most of Florida, the high season stretches from late fall to early spring, the cooler months up North. Low season is the blisteringly hot summer, when Floridians who can afford it head North. Orlando, thanks to its multitude of family-oriented attractions, has five or six distinct "seasons," alternating between high and low, reflecting the vacation patterns of its prime customers — kids and their parents.
The heaviest tourist "season" is Christmas vacation, roughly from Christmas Eve through January 1. Next comes Easter week and Thanksgiving weekend. The entire summer, from Memorial Day in late May to Labor Day in early September, is on a par with Easter and Thanksgiving. There are two other "spikes" in attendance: Presidents' Week in February and College Spring Break. Various colleges have different dates for their Spring Break, which may or may not coincide with Easter; the result is that the period from mid-March through mid-April shows a larger than usual volume of tourist traffic. The slowest period is the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Next slowest (excluding the holidays mentioned earlier) are the months of September, October, November, January, and February.
Tourism starts to build again in March, spiking sharply upward for Easter/Spring Break, then dropping off somewhat until Memorial Day. It would be nice to know how theme park attendance rises and falls from month to month. That information is a closely guarded trade secret, but fairly reliable annual estimates are available. Here are annual attendance figures for Orlando area parks for 2012 as estimated by the trade groups TEA and AECOM Economics:
Rank* / Park / Attendance
1 The Magic Kingdom 17,536,000
3 EPCOT 11,063,000
4 Disney's Animal Kingdom 9,998,000
5 Disney's Hollywood Studios 9,912,000
6 Islands of Adventure 7,981,000
8 Universal Studios Florida 5,925,000
10 SeaWorld Orlando 5,358,000
12 Busch Gardens Tampa 4,348,000
*Numbers represent the parks' national rankings. Disneyland, California, was number two, Disney California Adventure was number seven, Universal Studios California was ninth.
In other words, on any given day, the largest crowds will tend to be at the Disney parks. If you've been a Disney regular, Universal Orlando will seem quite manageable by comparison. The best advice is to avoid the absolutely busiest times of the year if possible. The slow months of fall and spring are ideal. Even January can be enjoyable if you're not the sunbathing type. If you come during the summer, as many families must, plan to deal with crowds when you arrive and console yourself with the thought that Disney is likely even busier.
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