When you set out to plan your vacation to Walt Disney World, one of the first thing you probably think of is how busy the parks will be during the dates/times you choose. Rightfully so! There used to be a time when the parks had low capacity levels and the crowds were minimal (I’m talking 5-minute wait times on all attractions!), nowadays that is not the case. There are very few (or fewer) times during the year that crowds are low. It’s just the new reality. But that doesn’t mean it has to ruin your vacation! Let’s take a look at the ways you can work around heavy crowd levels.
It goes without saying that some events/times during the year automatically draw heavier crowds to Walt Disney World. Disney has done a very good job at spreading the festivals and events throughout the year and throughout the parks, so one park may be more crowded at any given time than another, but overall crowds are generally higher almost all the time. Know this before going into it. There are still a few sporadic weeks throughout the year where you may encounter lower crowds, such as January, late April/early May, and September. But other times such as Spring Break (March/April), July 4th, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve experience the heaviest crowds throughout the year. Being realistic and prepared will help you to manage the people and crowds and avoid frustrations.
I’ve said many times before in many different cases, your best bet when going to Walt Disney World is to be flexible. There can be such a thing as over-planning, certainly during extremely crowded times. It’s great that Walt Disney World offers FastPass+ and Advanced Dining Reservations and you should absolutely take advantage of those (especially during heavy crowd times), but I highly recommend the rest of your day be flexible to enjoy whatever comes your way during your visit. Have a general guideline or plan, but be prepared to accept hiccups in that plan if it all doesn’t fall into place as hoped. Sometimes the unpredictability leads to the best memories.
Need more information about FastPass+? All your questions answered here!
Need more information about Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) or the Dining Plan? All your questions answered here!
Become Familiar with the Parks
I’ve given this tip before as a “tip of the day”. Become familiar with the parks and understand what is offered in each – attractions, shows/events, dining, etc. Review park maps ahead of time and know where things are in the park. This will help save some time wandering around looking for something – you’ll have a better idea of what direction you need to go when you get there.
Parks Maps as of November 2019
Arriving early gives you the best head start to seeing as much as you can earlier in the day. I often advise arriving to the parks 30-60 minutes ahead of park opening so you can “rope drop”. This means you will be there as soon as the gates open and get a jump start on the day. Keep in mind during extra busy times of the year or during special events (such as the opening of a new land or park), Disney will often open the gates even earlier. They have been known to open up to an hour early in some cases. Also take note of Extra Magic Hours (EMH). If the park has EMH on the day you are visiting, it may be opening even earlier. Refer to the Walt Disney World calendars for the times/dates that each park is offering EMH. Factor those into your planning.
Always factor in Disney transportation as well. Buses generally start to run about one hour before park opening, sometimes they will start earlier if there are specially events happening. You can always drive, Uber or use a Minnie Van – those may get you to the park quicker.
OR Stay Late
The other option (if you are not early risers) is to stay extra late. You can get in any line for an attraction all the way up until a minute before park closing. So if the park is closing at 9:00 PM, you can get in line at 8:59 PM and they will allow you to ride the attraction. Take advantage of this. Typically, you will experience lesser wait times later in the evening and the crowds tend to thin out as the night goes on.
Staying later into the evening also gives you a better opportunity to take awesome park pictures with few people in them. If photographing the parks is something you enjoy, consider staying late. Security typically does not bother you for up to an hour or so after park closing, sometimes even longer. Take advantage of this. They’ll nudge you when it’s time to leave.
Know When to Take a Break
If you are visiting during a busy time and the crowds get thicker as the day goes on (mid-day usually tests everyone’s patience if it’s crowded!), take a break! Head back to your hotel or a surrounding hotel near the park and relax. You have to know when it’s time to leave. You can always come back later when the crowds lighten up.
During the busy holiday season, you will most likely experience park closures (certainly during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day). Magic Kingdom is usually the first to put this into effect. Read more details here on what this means and how it’s handled.
Dine at Table Service Restaurants
Need a break during the day to sit down and rest your weary feet? Or just need some space from all the people in the parks? Consider dining at a Table Service Restaurant. I mentioned earlier in this post that it’s important to take advantage of Advanced Dining Reservations – and it’s for this reason. You will at some point need a break and to get away from it all – eating at a sit-down restaurant is the way to do it. Make sure you make a few reservations during your planning stages, during busy times it will be harder to get a reservation on the spot.
OR Dine Quick Service During Off Hours
My other recommendation if you don’t have Table Service pre-planned, is to dine at Quick Service but during off hours. Lines will be shorter and there will be plenty of tables available for you to eat and relax.
Take advantage of Mobile Ordering as well. Many of the Quick Service restaurants at Walt Disney World offer this now and it’s great to be able to order ahead and pick up your order at the window when it’s ready. During busy times, I also recommend using this during off-peak hours, otherwise it may not feel as if you’ve saved any time as everyone else will be using it as well. For details on how Mobile Ordering works, click here!
Take Advantage of Fireworks and Parades
Use the fireworks and parades to your advantage. If you are not someone that loves the parades or fireworks, or you’ve seen them before, use that time to ride the attractions. While everyone is busy watching the fireworks and parades, you can maximize that time and try to get as many attractions in as possible!
Remember, this is vacation! The crowds can be intense, frustrations will run high (believe me, we’ve all been there), but you are in the Most Magical Place on Earth! There is no place better to be. Breathe, count to 10, find a quiet area in the park to close your eyes and relax for a few minutes, it will all be okay!