When you imagine your vacation to Disney World, lots of pictures might come to mind: seeing Cinderella Castle, meeting Mickey Mouse, riding the monorail…
And yes, possibly the crowds.
The truth is, even during the “slow” times, you’ll still find crowds. But crowds don’t have to mean that your trip is ruined because with a little planning, you’ll be able to handle the crowds at Disney World like a pro.
Take a look…
Set realistic expectations about the crowds at Disney World
We wish we could tell you that the crowds you’ll find on your next trip will be just like the ones you encountered on your “very first Disney World vacation back in 1995.” The reality is that Disney has gotten very, very good at spreading out the crowds during the entire year.
Between the well-timed discounts, tiered ticket pricing, cheer/dance competitions, and runDisney races, Disney has filled in most of the big gaps where you could expect low crowds and little to no lines.
One comment we sometimes hear from readers is that they are surprised that a week they traveled that was “green” on the crowd calendar was as busy as it was.
The reality is that even the green times are going to have crowds and lines – it is just that the super busy times (like the holidays) are going to see the heaviest crowds with the longest waits for everything (attractions, shows, food, transportation, etc.).
So be realistic about what you can expect in regards to crowds.
Listen to some of the first-timer reports on the WDW Prep to Go Podcast to hear what other people have said. Having realistic expectations before you even leave can make it much easier to avoid frustrations when you arrive.
Make a plan, but be flexible
The best way to handle the crowds at Disney World is to have a plan.
And, depending on what time of year you go, you may need to have a back-up plan (and maybe even a back-up to your back-up plan). The more you can prepare before your trip, the better off you’ll be when you are there.
Touring the 4 parks has certainly changed since the temporary closure and the 2020 reopening of Disney World.
So much so, that our touring plans with FastPass+ suggestions are officially out the window.
Now that FastPass+ is retired, you have to factor in Disney Genie+, the new paid FastPass+ style system at Disney World, along with individual Lightning Lane selections.
Keep in mind that if a ride breaks down or if the crowds and lines at an attraction are too much, flexibility is key to keeping your day on track.
Don’t be afraid to try something not on your plan. Some of the best memories can come from those spontaneous moments, so instead of stressing during the times when things go differently than you had anticipated, embrace them.
Become familiar with the parks before you go
When you visit any of the parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, pay attention to how many people walk 20 steps inside and then stop in the middle of a walkway to consult a map or their phone.
So many people do this!
We don’t expect you to memorize every park and every attraction, but even having a basic knowledge of the lands at each park can help you out a ton.
Not only does that keep you from being one of the people with their faces in their map, but it also helps you out if you find that something you want to do is closed or has a long line.
Instead of wandering around aimlessly wondering what you can do instead, your pre-trip studying makes it easier to figure out how to adjust your plans.
One of the best ways to get familiar with the parks is to look over some of the Disney World maps. Even just a little exposure to the layout of the parks will help you once you arrive.
Learn how to use the My Disney Experience app
In addition to looking through maps to get an idea of the layouts of the parks, learning how to use the My Disney Experience ahead of time will make your life much easier when you are in the parks, too.
Trust us on this one:
You will use the My Disney Experience app for so many things!
Inside this one little app you can: check wait times on attractions, snag dining reservations, mobile order food, access Disney Genie+, and join the virtual queue for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (just to name a few).
There are also maps, links to make Park Pass Reservations, access to PhotoPass photos, and lots of into on your resort (including bus wait times).
If you want to stay ahead of the crowds, this one little app will be invaluable. So make sure you get familiar with it before you arrive before your trip.
Know when to leave
Sometimes the best approach to handling the crowds is to know when to leave.
Not surprisingly, the middle of the day is generally the most crowded. And, if you are traveling during the summer or fall, it is also the time of the day the heat and humidity can become stifling (which can make even moderate crowds feel heavy).
Instead of being miserable, whenever possible plan to not be in the parks during that super-crazy middle part of the day. Use that time to rest and relax or even to swim. That way you’ll be ready to head back in the evening when the temps make the crowds easier to handle.
What about if the parks close because of the crowds?
With the new Park Pass Reservation system, park closures look a little different from what they used to.
In the past, during the busiest days of the year, Disney World would restrict entry into one or more of the parks. This was most commonly seen at Magic Kingdom. Unless the closure was the highest level (which very rarely occured), all guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort would be allowed into the parks; however, depending on the closure level, some offsite guests would not.
But now Walt Disney World has a Park Pass Reservation system that requires you to make a reservation before you can enter the parks, and the capacity is (in general) controlled through that.
So, now in most cases, you can see before you even set foot in the park if that park is at capacity.
And, because spots are limited, once all the available reservations for a park are taken, your only option to enter the park would be via Park Hopping after 2:00 pm – but that Park Hopper access is NOT guaranteed. If the park you want to hop to is at capacity when you arrive, you won’t be allowed to enter.
There are three categories of park availability: one for ticket holders, the second for select resort hotel guests, and the final for Annual Passholders.
You definitely want to check the theme park reservation availability calendar before purchasing tickets/booking a vacation package (and snag your Park Pass reservation ASAP, too!).
The early morning hours are usually the best for park touring. During the day, the crowds (and possibly the heat) will only continue to grow.
Even if the lines to get in to a park look long, they are a drop in the bucket compared to what the crowds inside the park will look like a few hours later.
That means whenever possible, you’ll want to get to the park gates at least 45 minutes early. In most instances, guests will be let into the parks ahead of the actual “rope drop“. You can use the time while you wait to double check your touring plans or look over a map. It is also a good time to eat a snack that you brought with you.
If you are using Disney transportation, make sure you take into account the amount of time you’ll need for that.
Disney often recommends allowing at least an hour. If you plan to drive, or use a Minnie Van (not currently available) or take an Uber, you would need to leave your resort parking lot 30 minutes or so before you want to be to the gates of the park if heading to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom.
If driving, allow 45 minutes before if heading to Magic Kingdom.
Keep in mind that sometimes buses run anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes prior to official park opening. If your goal is to be on the first bus of the day, show up to the bus stop no later than around 1 hour before the park opens.
You should also always give yourself at least 60 to 90 minutes for all forms of Disney transportation. You never know if there will be delays, long lines, etc.
What about Early Theme Park Entry?
You also want to consider “Early Theme Park Entry,” the new version of Extra Magic Hours.
Early Theme Park Entry allows Disney Resort hotel guests (as well as guests from other select hotels) the chance to enter any of the 4 theme parks 30 minutes before non-Disney resort guests. (During especially busy times of the year – like the holidays, Disney may extend that to 60 minutes).
Thirty minutes might not sound like a lot of time, but an extra half-hour is always a good thing at Disney World, and for most people that will allow them to ride one of the most popular attractions in the park with a minimal wait.
Or, stay extra late
The busiest times of the year will often find the park hours extended later into the evening. It isn’t unusual during the holidays and school breaks for Magic Kingdom to be open as late as 11 p.m. or later.
If you are a night owl, those last couple hours of an extra late evening can be as good for touring as the first couple hours of an early morning. The crowds will continue to thin out the later into the night you go, so if you can stay up late, consider giving that a try.
There are even Extended Evening Theme Park Hours available on select evenings for guests staying at a Disney Deluxe or Deluxe Villa resort, plus a few other select resorts.
These hours allow eligible guests to stay at a park (usually only Magic Kingdom or Epcot) 2 hours past official park closing.
Try dining at a Table Service restaurant
Table Service restaurants are a fantastic way to get a break from the crowds. The nice thing about dining at a Table Service restaurant during a busy time of the year is that you don’t have to worry about trying to find a seat or waiting in a line to order.
Instead, you’ll be shown to a seat and you’ll have somebody to bring your drinks and food to you. The hour or so that it takes to eat a Table Service meal is a great break if you’ve been out battling crowds.
Don’t forget that you can begin booking Table Service dining reservations up to 60 days in advance.
Or, dine during an off peak time (and use Mobile Ordering)
If your plan is to dine at a Counter Service or Quick Service restaurant, you’ll want to pick an off-peak time to do that.
For lunch, we recommend trying to eat between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Yes, 10:30 a.m. may sound early, but since you likely started your morning quite early and walked around for hours, you’ll probably be ready to eat.
For dinner, try to avoid the time period between 5 p.m. and about 7:30 p.m.
Many of the Counter Service and Quick Service locations now offer Mobile Ordering, so choosing a place to dine that offers that is a good way to help avoid the long lines you’ll often find at the cash registers.
And, get your order in EARLY. It isn’t unusual for popular Quick Service locations to have their available pickup windows pushed into later afternoon or evening before lunchtime even hits. So, as soon as you have an idea of when you want to eat, go ahead and snag yourself a pickup time and put your order in.
Use the daytime and nighttime entertainment to your advantage
If you don’t mind missing the cavalcades/parades and nighttime entertainment offerings, you’ll often find lower crowds throughout the rest of the park while they are happening.
If you are planning to be in a park more than 1 day, or if cavalcades/parades and fireworks aren’t your thing, head to the attractions while everybody else is heading to watch the show.
Consider paying a little more for some things
Sometimes it might make sense to pay extra to experience those must-do things.
In addition to the dessert parties and dining packages, Disney offers several tours that can provide you access to attractions.
We are firm believers that you don’t have to pay extra to still have a magical time on your visit, but if it is within your vacation budget, then adding on one of those extras can definitely help you with crowds.
Have any concerns about how to handle the crowds at Disney World? Let us know in the comments!
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