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Tourism

Theme Parks Growing in Popularity in the Off-Season

November 26, 2023

In 2022, tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World largely sold out by the end of October. And as of this writing, only one day has tickets remaining – December 14, 2023.

More families are visiting theme parks as destinations outside the traditional summer travel season. In return, the parks are providing more to see and do beyond the popular vacation calendars.

Over the past few decades, parks like Walt Disney World have added more winter offerings to meet demand. Its flagship holiday event, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, has grown from a single night in 1983 to this year’s lineup of over two dozen nights, but only one night still has tickets available. In January, EPCOT hosts its Festival of the Arts, first launched in 2017 to accommodate winter tourists.

Not everyone can visit their local parks year-round. Theme park enthusiasts who live in the northern half of the United States are accustomed to their local parks closing up shop for the winter. With inclement weather and increased tourism to warmer climates, operating an outdoor theme park in the winter is not feasible. Regional parks have, however, extended their operating season further into those cooler months.

Disney and Universal: Open 365 Days a Year

Theme park juggernauts Disney and Universal are open throughout the calendar year. That means regular business hours on major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. In fact, those dates draw in some of the busiest crowds seen all year. Once the holiday season subsides, visitors will find pleasant temperatures and lower crowds in the winter months.

As Mickey Visit founder Gavin Doyle explains, visitors will find that the off-season is an ideal time to travel to Disney and Universal. He notes, “Not only are the Disney and Universal parks on both coasts far more comfortable weather-wise during the couple of months throughout the off-season, they all offer great seasonal events that make this one of the best times of the year to visit. Visiting during Christmas at Disneyland is by far my favorite time of year to visit.

After the holiday crowds subside, there is still plenty to see and do during winter. At Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, the theme parks ramp up with seasonal festivals. Doyle adds, “Disney also has great early spring offerings with special food festivals like the Festival of Arts at Epcot and the Food and Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure.”

Smaller Parks With Year-Round Thrills

Disney and Universal are not the only theme park brands that offer families a winter getaway. Legoland, for example, has two properties in the U.S. open year-round: Carlsbad, California, and Winter Haven, Florida. Six Flags, a nationwide brand that recently merged with Cedar Fair, also operates several properties in milder climates year-round.

Doyle recommends families think outside the box and consider smaller regional parks to visit in the off-season. He says, “Legoland and Cedar Fair properties provide nice options for a winter getaway. The Legoland offerings, particularly in San Diego and Orlando, are great options for families with younger children.”

Companies have needed to be creative in finding solutions for theme park fans looking for a spin on a roller coaster during the winter months. Many have opened indoor attractions, like Nickelodeon Universe. Located in East Rutherford, New Jersey, it is the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere.

Regional Theme Parks Are Emphasizing Their Off-Season

Across the nation, theme parks challenge the notion that they are simply a summer destination. Scott McConkey, founder of Miles with McConkey, explains that Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, is “renowned for its award-winning Halloween Haunt.” And the operating season continues from there. He adds, “From late November through December, Kings Island transforms into a winter wonderland where guests can admire holiday lights, ice skate, watch parades, and enjoy rides.”

While theme parks located further North are not year-round operations, extending the season into December and beyond has become more common in recent years. As Sarah Gilliland, travel editor and writer for On The Road With Sarah, explains, some of the top-visited regional parks, like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, are popular during the holidays. She highlights some of the recent extensions to Dollywood’s operating calendar, noting, “Smoky Mountain Christmas extends past January first now, and next March, they are opening with a musical writing festival called I Will Always Love You,’ which celebrates new musicians and honors the legacy of Dolly Parton’s incredible music writing talent.”

Legoland also has a seasonal location in Goshen, New York, a little over one hour north of New York City — the largest Legoland theme park to date, according to USA Today. Monica Fish, founder of Planner at Heart, notes that her family bought season passes soon after the New York location opened. The times that are considered the off-season are popular in her family, and she says, “We kick off every December and get into the holiday spirit with a visit to their Holiday Bricktacular. My kids love to roast marshmallows, write a note to Santa, and hand it to the elves to mail to The North Pole and ride Lego Ninjago one more time before the year ends.”

Whether a park is open year-round or adds more to the calendar in the late fall and early winter months, families have more options than before when it comes to the ideal time to visit. Outside of the summer, they will find top-rated Halloween and holiday offerings, cooler temperatures, and, in many instances, lower crowds.

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Carly Neil | Wealth of Geeks undefined

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