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A trip to Walt Disney World is high on many family vacation lists but attendance in the parks can jump during school breaks and the summer months, and especially during special event weeks at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Want to spend less time waiting in line and more time enjoying your favorite attractions during your Disney World vacation? Try these five tips for avoiding crowds and maximizing enjoyment during your next trip!
One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t always choose your travel dates – sometimes the world tells you when you have to go. Take our last trip to Disney World for example – we were visiting the parks because my husband was attending a conference on site and my daughter had Fall Break that same week. It was great that we had that overlap! But it also happened to be one of the peak travel times for Disney. Both Mickey’s Halloween Party AND the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival were taking place during our 3 day stay.
My TMOM handle of Nature Traveling Mom will tell you that I’m not a big person for crowds. And my husband, well … let’s just say that his goal is to retire in a lighthouse one day 🙂 It wasn’t our first trip to Disney; we’ve visited the parks a half dozen times during both low peak and high peak traffic days so I knew I should implement my “crowd avoidance strategies” if we wanted to enjoy our vacation. Here are a few tried & true secrets I use to keep our trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth” happy:
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Disney World Tip #1: Do NOT eat meals in the parks!
I just can’t say this enough – when everyone is hungry, it makes waiting in line so much harder! And the restaurants are super busy when the parks are crowded. This was one of our BEST strategies on our last visit – eat a good breakfast, plan a snack in the park and head to a resort for lunch!
It doesn’t have to be your resort – take the boat from Magic Kingdom over to Whispering Canyon for lunch. Or hop on the monorail and find a quick service lunch option at the Polynesian or Contemporary resorts – quiet lunches help everyone regain their energy. Plus, see a new resort while you’re there!
If you’re park hopping, plan for lunch or dinner in between parks at one of the restaurants in the Boardwalk area or at your resort. The back gate at EPCOT has both a pathway and boat shuttles that lead to the Boardwalk area where you’ll find a number of places to grab a quick lunch or dinner. And bonus: this entrance is never crowded so getting in and out of the park here is quick!
Disney World Tip #2: Find the path less traveled
Disney World parks do not have the luxury of a lot of green space, unlike Aulani, Disney’s resort in Hawaii where you can find many hidden pathways that allow for breathing room. But it is possible to find quiet in the concrete jungle of an amusement park!
For example, in Magic Kingdom there’s this quiet pathway that runs from Tomorrowland over to Fantasy land that’s located behind the Tomorrowland Speedway. We grab fruit smoothies at Auntie Gravity’s in Tomorrowland and then take the path. While it’s a longer walk than circling to the center of the park and through the castle, it’s a much less used area so you don’t have to fight crowds (especially if people are lining up for the show at the Castle!)
In Animal Kingdom, when crowds get thick, head to the Maharajah Jungle Trek or the pathway behind DINOSAUR for some peace and quiet.
For EPCOT, the World Showcase gets extremely busy in the afternoons once all the countries open at 10 am (only the front of the park is open before that time) so plan to spend some time in The Land or Imagination! located in Future World West where walkways begin to open up as the crowds start heading to the showcase areas.
At Hollywood Studios, we found that attending shows or riding some of the longer rides like the Great Movie Ride during mid-day hours helped us to avoid a lot of the crowds – you especially want to stay away from the Center Stage/Echo Lake area during the mini shows if you’re not a Star Wars fan.
Disney World Tip #3: Early Hours are your friend (and then your foe)
No matter what time of the year it is, we’ve learned that families like to sleep in on vacation. My husband does not sleep in so we always head to the park during magic hours which are a lot less crowded. But beware of staying there all day because once all those families wake up, the crowds begin to form. It might be a good idea to park hop to a different location in the afternoon or evening (back to tip #1, grab lunch outside the parks when you hop).
Magic hours in the evening are very crowded until about 10 pm – we plan an afternoon nap and then have dinner at a resort before heading back to the park for longer & later hours after the first firework show is complete. Families with young kids head back to their hotels so if you have older kids or young kids who have had a good nap, you’ll be able to fit in quite a few rides in those late hours.
Disney World (Tech) Tip #4: Download a Ride App & Have a Back-up Plan
Crowded parks usually mean that fastpasses go quickly – and since you only can reserve 3 initial FastPasses, you may not get any others that day if they are all claimed. So if you really want to ride Snow White’s train but the line is a 2 hour wait, have a back-up ride and then check the wait status for Snow White again.
We rode every ride at Magic Kingdom with this method – instead of waiting in long lines, we went to a nearby ride or show with a minimal wait and just kept watching the wait times for more popular rides on our apps. This helps you to avoid super crowded ride queues and cranky kids who keep asking ‘how much longer’.
TravelingMom Tip: Lines are usually shorter for rides during parade times and firework shows.
And if you’re wanting to attend a parade or fireworks show, know that being ‘close up’ isn’t always the best option. So hoping on a ride and then joining the parade or show from afar works too!
Disney World Tip #5: Read up on Special Events even if you’re NOT attending
As I said earlier, we were visiting the Magic Kingdom during Mickey’s Halloween Party AND the EPCOT Food & Wine festival but we weren’t planning to attend either event. Yet, I still looked at the schedule of events to plan our day.
For example, I knew that Magic Kingdom opened to guests of Mickey’s Halloween Party at 4pm (earlier than the event would begin) so I knew we should park hop that evening to get out of the way of the crowds that would be coming into the park.
For EPCOT, the Wine Festival hours are more crowded in the afternoon and evening plus the stops are located in the World Showcase area of the park – so we did 2 things to avoid those crowds
1. We did NOT plan to eat in the park for dinner (too crazy!)
2. We planned to do rides in the front of the park that afternoon.
It’s also good to remember the back entrance to EPCOT which leads out to the Boardwalk area. If crowds get too heavy, you can always leave the park through that area and take a boat or walk to Hollywood Studios.
TravelingMom Tip: Know that no matter how well you plan, you will be in SOME crowds during your visit, especially during the popular nightly shows.
Surviving Star Wars
The Star Wars show at STUDIOS is awesome but the crowds leaving the park were insane! Worst I’d ever seen — it took us a half hour to get out of the park and then we had a 45-minute wait for the bus back to our hotel — so just be prepared for these times when you just can’t avoid the crowds. You may want to prepare for those – carry a snack with you in case someone gets hungry, play an I-spy game with your kids while you wait, etc.
And just remember, no matter how many people are at the parks with you, you’re still AT THE Parks! So don’t let a few crazy moments get in the way of you enjoying your visit.