When I visit Disney World, I like to maximize my time as much as possible. Although Disney has done a great job of adding interactive exhibits to the queues, when you have children under the age of 5 you still want to be minimizing the time waiting in line.
You can use a service like Touring Plans (my impressions), but what I have found is with young kids you don’t even need to resort to that. Here are my suggestions for how to maximize your time with young kids at Disney, including suggestions for how to maximize FastPass+. For the purposes of this post I’m defining “maximize” as “get on as many rides as possible”, though there are plenty of things to do besides ride (but that’s another post).
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I’ll keep things in the Magic Kingdom for this post, though the same concepts apply to every park!
1. Avoid early morning Extra Magic Hours, go the day after late night Extra Magic Hours
The first thing to do is to pick a good day to visit the Magic Kingdom. While the park is always busy, in general, it will be less busy the day AFTER late night Extra Magic Hours (the extra time people who are staying on site in a Disney hotel have to stay inside the parks).
Even if you are staying on site you might want to avoid Extra Magic Hour days because the overall attendance ticks up that day.
If you are not staying on site, you definitely want to avoid going to the Magic Kingdom on a morning Extra Magic Hours day if you can help it – by the time you get into the park it will be full of people who went early in the morning. Instead, pick a day without morning Extra Magic hours and…
2. Plan to be in the parking lot 30 minutes before park opening
If you want to skip the lines, nothing is going to save you more time than arriving at the Magic Kingdom early. This is affectionately known as “rope drop”, when cast members drop a literal rope to allow people into the park. They generally start letting people into the parks around 15 minutes early, so you want to get to the parking lot as soon as possible. It will take about 15 minutes to get from your car to the entrance since you have to ride the ferry or monorail.
If your child is tall enough to ride some of the coasters like Seven Dwarves Mine Train or Space Mountain, you’ll want to get to the parking lot even earlier, because you want to be one of the first people in the park. If you rope drop, you can get onto Seven Dwarves with a ten minute wait even without a FastPass+. Since that is the premium coaster at the Magic Kingdom right now, the lines at the others will remain shorter early in the morning.
While this seems early, don’t forget if you have young kids they are probably waking you up before you’d like anyway. Use it to your advantage!
3. Ride the kid rides early in the morning
Since everyone is rushing to the roller coasters, you have your pick of the more children oriented rides at 9 AM. Name a kids’ ride, you can probably walk straight on. You can get more done ride wise between 9-11 AM with a young child at the Magic Kingdom than you can between 2-8 PM.
I’d suggest hitting rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid, or Peter Pan. Those rides consistently have longer lines during the midday hours and are some of the favorites for young children.
If your child is into things like Tomorrowland Speedway or the Astro Orbiter, be sure to hit those before 10 AM as well. Pick some rides you think your child would like or focus on the characters they know.
4. Know the rides where lines are a big issue (and the ones where they aren’t)
There are rides where lines are almost always an issue. Peter Pan is at the top of the list, as is Seven Dwarves Mine Train of course. Either get on those rides super early or use FastPass+. The Jungle Cruise is also a ride that consistently has long lines.
On the other hand, rides like Mad Tea Party and Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel usually are on the low end line-wise. And don’t forget Dumbo has the play area that doubles as a ride queue – so waiting in line there feels like going to the playground! There are also rides like Stitch’s Great Escape (which I could personally do without), Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Carousel of Progress, and the Peoplemover which pretty much never have a line.
5. Grab a map and bunch rides together
If you have young kids, you probably don’t want to drag them all over the park. Take a look at a map before you go and bunch rides together in the early morning (remember, you won’t be dealing with too many lines).
For example, you could go from Winnie the Pooh to Mad Tea Party to Tomorrowland Speedway in quick succession. Or if Tomorrowland is your thing, you can go from Space Mountain (height permitting) to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and then end at Astro Orbiter all before 10 AM if you rope dropped. Jungle Cruise => Aladdin’s Flying Carpets => Pirates of the Caribbean. Etc., etc.
6. Save your Fastpass+ reservations for after 1030 AM
If you are visiting the Magic Kingdom as an adult, you want to use your Fastpass+ reservations early and often since with the new My Disney Experience App you can book reservation after reservation after you have finished your initial three (for a brief rundown of the new app read this).
If you’re visiting with young kids, they’re not going to have the stamina to keep up all day. So I’d recommend making FastPass+ reservations for after 10:30 AM or even 11:00 AM – when the lines start getting bigger.
By 11:00 AM you’ll probably want FastPass+ reservations for Peter Pan (definitely, unless you want to wait 80 minutes), all the coasters, The Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, and pretty much any of the marquee rides outside of It’s a Small World (if you’re waiting more than 10 minutes for It’s a Small World you’re doing it wrong, just keep an eye on wait times in the My Disney Experience app).
Just make Fastpass+ reservations for the rides that you won’t have gotten to yet: even at a slow pace you can hit 6-8 rides from 8:45 – 11:00 AM (my three year old and I hit ten). If you think you’ll be tired by 11:00 AM, save your FastPass+ reservations for the afternoon after lunch and a nap. Speaking of which…
7. Make an Advanced Dining Reservation for character meetups
My daughter loves getting characters’ autographs but for the most part character meetups can be a huge time sink. Avoid the characters by the front entrance (they’re there to slow you down!) and Mickey at Town House Square (everyone goes there first).
A better idea is to make an advanced dining reservation at one of the character dining restaurants. Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort is a short walk or monorail ride away and features the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald). While I’m not a huge fan, you can meet the Winnie the Pooh characters at The Crystal Palace for brunch or lunch, or if princesses are your thing you can make a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
By making an advanced dining reservation at a character meal you kill two birds with one stone and cut down your times in line. If your child insists on meeting some of the other characters, plan ahead, but you can knock out a lot of autographs in one meal! Remember you can make reservations up to 180 days in advance, and if you’re staying on site you can make reservations for your entire trip 180 days before your first day in Orlando!
The one except I’d make is I feel Enchanted Tales with Belle is worth a Fastpass+ reservation – it’s a great experience.
If you haven’t picked it up from my manic tone, I love maximizing my time in the Magic Kingdom. But it’s very important to understand the value of rest. I generally would recommend going back to the hotel and taking a nap after lunch and then returning to the park (you’ll also naturally avoid some of the busiest times if you do this). Or if your kids are really young, just calling it a day at 1 PM. You can pack a lot into a trip to the Magic Kingdom between 845 AM – 1 PM: probably more than their little hearts can handle!
A Sample Itinerary
Here’s an idea of what you can do:
8:30 AM – Park at the Ticket and Transportation Center
8:55 AM – Get through the turnstiles and into the Magic Kingdom
9:00 AM – Ride Winnie the Pooh (walk on)
9:10 AM – Ride the Mad Tea Party (walk on)
9:20 AM – Ride the Tomorrowland Speedway (10 min wait)
9:45 AM – Ride Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin (10 min wait)
10:00 AM – Ride the Astro Orbiter (10 min wait)
10:20 AM – Ride the Peoplemover
10:45 AM – Ride Peter Pan (FastPass+)
11:00 AM – Ride It’s a Small World
11:30 AM – Eat at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary (Advanced Dining Reservation)
12:30 PM – 4:00 PM – Nap and rest at hotel
4:00 PM – Enchanted Tales with Belle (FastPass+)
4:15 PM – Little Mermaid (25 min wait)
4:50 PM – Dumbo (20 min wait in the circus tent playground)
5:15 PM – Jungle Cruise (FastPass+)
6:00 PM – close – do whatever you want until Wishes
I know for sure that you can accomplish the morning part of this itinerary – my daughter and I did it on a day where park crowds were rated as an 8 out of 10 by Touring Plans. The afternoon I am more guesstimating the times from experience but I think that they are pretty accurate. Besides, you are using your FastPass+ reservations mostly in the afternoon to ensure your child has to wait as little as possible!
You might not be a planner, and that’s fine. But even if you take only some of the advice in this post, I’m fairly certain you can save a lot of time in the parks. Think of it this way: every minute in line is another minute where your child gets bored. A few minutes of planning up front might help her experience feel that much more magical. Happy trails!