When’s the best time to visit Universal Orlando? For our family, it’s the week after Thanksgiving

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Our family has always gone to Orlando during the “off season.” The combination of easily available accommodations, comfortable weather, and smaller crowds at the parks makes it a no-brainer for us. The week after Thanksgiving is consistently reported as one of the slowest weeks of the year for the parks. So this year, our family Christmas present came early, and we headed to Orlando after the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

As we had hoped, this turned out to be a great week for enjoying Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. The reputation for being a slow week indeed turned out to be true. And the added benefit of the “third day free” ticket currently offered by Universal (learn more) meant we could spend three days there, enjoying the parks at our leisure.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly how slow a “slow week” is at Universal, here’s a glimpse of our low-crowd vacation. Note that the week after Thanksgiving meant we missed both the crowds of people enjoying the parks on the long Thanksgiving weekend, and the crowds for the Christmas festivities, which hadn’t yet begun at Universal.

Arriving at the parks, we did not get there an hour in advance of opening, as is suggested, particularly for the busier seasons, but we did get to Islands of Adventure about 30 minutes early on our first day at the parks. Lines were forming on only one side of the entrance, and even those were quite short. I had tried to make reservations at Guest Services for our lunch at Mythos and was told they weren’t taking reservations, that we’d be able to walk right in. That put to ease any concerns I might have had about the crowd levels.

Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

When we were admitted to the park, about 10 minutes before the official opening time, we had time to stop and consult a park map, head straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and, following the expert advice at OrlandoInformer.com, first get in the line for Olivanders. The wait was short, and we were in the shop as soon as the group in front of us was out.  After having seen some pictures of huge crowds at the Wizarding World, we were delighted to find that we had ample time and space to pose for pictures in front of the Hogwarts Express, look in the shop windows, and then simply walked onto Forbidden Journey with perhaps a five minute wait. Later in the day we were able to walk into the Hogs Head Pub, walk up to the bar and be served immediately, and enjoy our Butterbeer in the quiet of a nearly empty pub.

Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The rest of the day saw similarly short lines, all of them no longer than about five minutes. Oddly, the longest line we had to wait in was for the High in the Sky Trolley in Seuss Landing. My only guess is that everyone else also thought that after lunch was a good time to take the kids on the slow trolley ride.

Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Toon Lagoon became a bit more busy in the afternoon that first day, which is understandable, as the midday to afternoon hours are known for being the busiest. That day just also happened to be the warmest forecasted that week, so it made sense that many of us were trying to get all of those water rides done on the warmest day possible. We did laugh that perhaps our second longest wait was for the People Dryer!

Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The rest of the afternoon saw the crowd level remain low, which meant repeat rides on some favorites, namely Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge. Even shopping in Port of Entry on the way out of the park, typically a busy time and place for souvenir shopping, was enjoyable. And though we left with the closing of the park, we drove right out of the parking garage with no lines at all.

Our subsequent two days, spent hopping between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, were similarly easy, crowd-free days. On both days we could hear the opening announcements as we approached the entrances, and truly just walked through the turnstiles after the waiting “crowd” had already gone in. Our Wednesday visit to Universal Studios Florida saw us walking into the park, walking right into Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, and essentially everything else we did (like riding MIB Alien Attack about a half dozen times in a row). Check out the “crowd” at Rip Ride Rockit, the Blues Brothers show, and Universal’s Superstar Parade:

Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida.
Universal Studios Florida.

Okay, yes, that’s my own little crowd. But you can see that we had no trouble finding a comfortable spot for ourselves on the sidewalk.

Our third day at the parks saw the same low crowd levels, easy waits, and for us, the opportunity to ride favorites over and over again. Marvel Super Hero Island did get a bit busy, though, with the appearance of the super heroes and the subsequent lines for autographs and pictures.

All in all, the week after Thanksgiving proved to be an excellent week for our Universal vacation. Crowds were light, lines were short, and the weather was pleasant. If your only experience with the Orlando theme parks is the crowds and long lines of the busier seasons, consider the off-season. It provides the freedom to arrive at the parks later in the morning, eat lunch at your leisure (instead of before or after the crowds), ride your favorite rides over and over again, shop without constantly bumping into people, or any combination of your favorite perks. However you look at, experiencing the parks with a low crowd means more enjoyment for everyone.

For estimated crowd levels at Universal Orlando, be sure to check out OI’s crowd calendar. Oh, by the way, a follow up question to “When is the best week to visit Universal?” is often “When is the best day of the week to visit Universal?” OI has a page all about that too.

Reminder: The 2013 holiday festivities at Universal Orlando run December 7 through January 4 — learn more.

 

[sws_author_bio user=”JenniferWatson” size=”105″ authorposts=”More OI posts by Jennifer” name_format=”About the author”] [/sws_author_bio]

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Llabona
Llabona
December 10, 2012 2:57 pm

I think that yes, there is definitely a sense of excitement that is built when the parks are jam packed.  However, I can remember being a kid and going to Disney World on a slow day, and it was better than Christmas.  We just ran around and rode 3 or 4 times as many rides as we would normally.  Also, I am not a huge fan of lines.

JenniferW
JenniferW
December 10, 2012 3:13 pm

I suspect a lot of the difference between preference for busy excitement and preference for low crowds may be dependent on age. Just a guess on my part. Where my husband and I might enjoy the hustle and bustle and excitement and energy of the crowds, I don’t think it would translate the same to my kids. The lines would equal whining. Of course, I have more kids than average, so the whining would be increased over the average, and that may lead to my bias. 🙂 Being able to run onto rides over and over again is a huge… Read more »

Glenn
Glenn
December 10, 2012 3:19 pm

I have enjoyed going to Orlando, starting Thanksgiving day and staying eleven days, for the past five years.  My excitment comes from getting the most for my dollar and this is an IDEAL time to visit.  The low travel season offers up lots of discounts especially with hotels and vacation rentals.  I got a three bedroom house with private pool for $55 a night!  My only issue is I do not get the newsletters till late and have problems identifying my passholder benefits for both Universal and Seaworld for the month of December.  An example is Seaworld always gives a tree ornament to… Read more »

Jim
Jim
January 9, 2013 9:35 pm

Early December is the real way to go here. You get warm enough days to go swimming but it’s normally not 100 degrees out every day and it’s after hurricane season. This allows you to see all the amazing holiday shows with maybe….maybe 1/10 of the crowd. Everybody and their mom (pun intended) wants to be in Orlando on x-mas day, but why? You can spend less money see the same shows and really get to have a time that is memorable not horrible. These parks are awesome, but whatever you do and I mean this as a travel agent… Read more »

Serena
Serena
January 17, 2013 1:16 pm

You don’t even know how jealous I am – last time I went was on New Year’s, and a two hour long wait for some of rides was common. Not to mention, I’d been so excited to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and barely got to enjoy it because it was too crowded to move and we had to wait 45 minutes to eat at the Three Broomsticks. I’m definitely taking your advice and going during a slow time next time. Easier to enjoy the rides when you don’t have to wait like ten years to go… Read more »

Chuck S
Chuck S
September 27, 2013 12:22 am

Jennifer, thanks for your post. Really helpful. Did you purchase Express Passes or are they not terribly necissary the week after Thanksgiving?

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer
November 29, 2013 10:34 am
Reply to  Chuck S

Chuck S Definitely not necessary unless you only have a couple of hours in the park and you want to be able to walk directly on the rides.

OrlandoInformer.com
OrlandoInformer.com
November 29, 2013 10:45 am

In addition to this article, OI contributor Jennifer has some other “classic” articles you shouldn’t miss, including “Theme Park Shopping: The benefits of letting kids budget & spend their own money”, “Preparing your kids for their Universal Orlando adventure – a clever mom’s guide”. View her articles here: http://bit.ly/1adtlsg.

Matt Wyatt
Matt Wyatt
November 29, 2013 10:48 am

3rd & 4th weeks of January in our experience.

David Dixon
David Dixon
November 29, 2013 10:57 am

With 3 of the major rides at IoA being designed to get you soaking wet, I can’t see how late fall through mid-winter could possibly be some of the best times to visit… unless you just enjoy a mild case if hypothermia.

Mathew Riddell
Mathew Riddell
November 29, 2013 11:07 am

September. Right after Labor Day. Everyone’s back in school. Everyone’s back to work. Lines are virtually NON-EXISTENT, and it’s still warm, so the flume rides can still be enjoyed. 🙂

Emma R Wallace
Emma R Wallace
November 29, 2013 11:19 am

May is a brilliant time to visit; hot but not too hot and not that busy either.

Johnpaul Murray
Johnpaul Murray
November 29, 2013 11:31 am

ive been in june ,july sept ,and october the best time has to be in october the weather was magic and the parks were very bearible the down side to that the parks shut early because of halloween horror nights the summer months are and will a no go for me , sept is in between so to speak

LandonTombstoneTaylor
LandonTombstoneTaylor
November 29, 2013 12:31 pm

I’ve gone on Valentine’s Day weekend and it was great. Low crowds. Even when I went during spring break, it wasn’t really that bad.

NikkiK
NikkiK
November 29, 2013 3:13 pm

We went the week that Halloween fell in, this year, and I think our crowds were smaller than that. The only line we waited in was for the Pteranodon (sp?) flyer, which was about 40 minutes (and definitely not worth it to our 8 & 9 year olds). I will definitely always go at the end of October!

Lucy Batochio
Lucy Batochio
November 29, 2013 3:43 pm

We’re going October 30 – Nov 11th. I hope for smaller crowds and mild weather. Since we’re staying onsite we can always run to RPR to a quick change after hitting the water rides.

Penny Woodard
Penny Woodard
November 29, 2013 7:09 pm

We were there the week before Halloween this year, and I didn’t think the crowds were that bad at all, with the exception of Harry Potter, and for horror nights but even then it wasn’t that bad.. the time before that was days before Thanksgiving and it was pretty unpopulated as well.. We love Universal Studios!!

Whotony
Whotony
November 30, 2013 9:31 am

I’m confused.  Was this from last year since the week after Thanksgiving hasn’t happened yet?

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer
December 2, 2013 1:24 pm
Reply to  Whotony

@Whotony Yes, this report is based on the week after Thanksgiving in 2012.

Jan Pote
Jan Pote
November 30, 2013 7:35 am

we rode splash mountain at Disneyworld in early December of 1996 and stayed cold rest of day

CaptainAction
CaptainAction
December 2, 2013 8:43 am

Thanks for the great report. This is our favorite time for our family of 5 to attend as well. We love all the Christmas Decorations and music, etc. We used to go right after Thanksgiving and before the Christmas rush began. Got a hitch now that our oldest son attends University now. Due to his rigid and different schedule we ar going right after New Years. We have WDW annual passes only to their waterparks and DisneyQuest as all the rest of our time is always spent at Universal now. Doubt we will hit the waterparks but we like to… Read more »

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Taylor Strickland is the owner of Orlando Informer, the internationally awarded independent resource for guests visiting Orlando. In this position, he leads the website's overall direction and day-to-day operations, working with a team of writers, editors, developers, and producers.