When should you visit the Disneyland Resort in California? You will find many different opinions on this question, but what it really comes down to is this: what do you want to do while there?
The Disneyland Resort has two seasons, on season, and off-season. On season is considered summer starting in late June and ending Labor Day, Christmas (a two week period beginning the week before Christmas, ending New Years Day), and Spring Break. Off-season is every other time of year.
If you want to ride every attraction, don't mind large crowds and higher hotel prices, the on season is the time for you. If you don't mind attraction closures, want shorter lines and cheaper hotel prices; the off-season is what you are looking for. That being said, there is more information below on each season to clarify questions you may have.
During the time periods Disney considers on season, you will find the crowds considerably higher than other times of the year. Children are out of school, on breaks, or for the summer, and it is prime vacation time for families all over the world. With larger crowds you of course have longer lines for both attractions and meals; but you also will have a larger selection of things to do and more time in which to do it.
During the on season, there will be more entertainment; such as Fantasmic!, parades, and fireworks. Both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure have longer opening hours, entertainment is high, and you will often see characters roaming around. Attractions are rarely closed for refurbishment during the peak season.
Even though the crowds are high during peak season, you can still enjoy yourself, and with the use of Fastpass, you can enjoy many attractions without a large wait in line. If you want to do it all, and see it all, this is the best time to go to the Disneyland Resort.
The off-season is also a great time to go for various reasons. While the operating hours at the Disneyland Resort are shorter during slower times, so are the crowds. With shorter hours, the main sacrifice is entertainment. Evening shows, such as Fantasmic! and the fireworks may not be running because the parks are closing earlier. Many times though, the entertainment will be in full swing during longer weekend hours, even during the off-season. Also, the slower season is the best time for rides to be prepared for the busy season. Various attractions will be closed throughout the off-season for repairs. One guarantee is that each January, both Haunted Mansion and It's A Small World are closed for a few days to remove the holiday decorations.
While the bulk of the year is considered off-season, it is important to note that all holidays can be busy, especially those with a 3-day weekend.
If you don't mind some attraction closures, and little entertainment, the off-season has one great reason to go to the Disneyland Resort. Crowds are very minimal, and many times you will find that attractions have little or no wait time. For many, this is the biggest reason to go to the Disneyland Resort during non-peak times.
Off Peak Season - Least Crowded
January Through Late February (Presidents' Day)
April Through the Week Before Memorial Day
Mid-September (After Labor Day) Through Mid-October (Columbus Day)
After Thanksgiving Through The Week Before Christmas
Late February Through the Week Before Easter
Sundays except for Summer and Holiday Weekends
After Memorial Day Till Schools are out for Summer
After Columbus Day through Thanksgiving
Peak Season - Most Crowded
3 day Holiday Weekends
Week Before and After Easter
Summer (Schools are out) through Labor Day
Week Before Christmas through New Years
For 2011, there are specific dates that Southern California resides with the Southern California or Southern California Select Annual Passses can't visit Disneyland. This means two things for you.
First, Disney expects these days to be very crowded.
Second - they are, in a way, less crowded because locals can't come unless they have a Deluxe or Premium Pass.
This specifically applies to the whole month of July. In addition, the Deluxe Annual Pass has blackout dates on every Saturday in the summer. Saturdays are typically the busiest day in the week.
It is very noticible in the crowd levels if you are there on a blackout day, and then see a non blackout day as well. You will notice much heavier crowds on the non - blackout days.
If you would like to look at the 2011 blackout dates before picking your travel dates, you will find them here.