Summer is here, school is out, and it’s finally time to take that Walt Disney World vacation! The only problem is that everyone else from here to Yew Nork City on Planet Zork has the same idea.
During the summer months, crowds at Walt Disney World can be overwhelming, but that does not mean that you cannot still have a great time there. You simply have to know a few secrets and tips to make the most of crowded days.
You could study the crowd calendars and develop detailed touring plans (or use touring plans from any number of websites), but even the best of them will, at times, miss the mark on super crowded days.
This “top ten” list for beating the summertime crowds will help you make the most of your Walt Disney World vacation.
1. Arrive at the Parks for “Rope Drop”
During peak times, the crowds at the parks build throughout the day. On occasion, by mid-day, some parks have to close because of capacity. If you aren’t already in by that time, you won’t be getting in.
If you plan to arrive a half-hour to forty-five minutes before the park opens, you won’t escape a crowd, but you will be able to head straight to your favorite attractions and experience them with minimal wait-times.
To make it to rope drop, first make sure you keep up with the park hours. When you planned your trip in February, My Disney Experience may have said that Magic Kingdom opens at 9:00 AM. As the date of your visit approaches, however, you want to make sure that there haven’t been any changes to opening or closing times. Second, you need to plan your transportation accordingly. If you are staying on property and relying on Disney busses, you will want to leave your resort a good hour early (or more). If you are driving your own car, remember to take into account the time it will take to pay for parking, park, take the tram, the monorail, the ferry, etc. to the park’s front gate.
2. Use Your FastPass+ Opportunities
It doesn’t take long for lines to build on crowded days, but FastPass+ gives you the advantage of being able to skip the line and step right onto your favorite attractions. Disney Resort Guests can log into My Disney Experience up to sixty days before your vacation (for off-property guests, it’s thirty days) and select up to three attractions for FastPass+.
Make sure to get on the site or the app as soon as you’re your eligibility opens because some of the headliner attractions (like Seven Dwarves Mine Train and the Anna and Elsa Meet-and-Greet) get booked up quickly.
Typically, if you arrive prior to rope-drop, you should be able to get a lot done in your first two hours without FastPasses. Plan your FastPass experiences for two hours or later after park opening, and once you have completed all three, head to one of the convenient FastPass+ kiosks to see if you can book another for a little later.
3. Make the Most of Extra Magic Hours
Extra Magic Hours are a special perk for on-property guests that grant either early entry or extra time after park closing to experience attractions. If you are staying in a Disney Resort, take advantage of the opportunity to beat the crowds into the gate by showing up for Extra Magic mornings or staying late on Extra Magic evenings.
If you are not staying at a Disney resort or you just don’t want to pull those early mornings or late nights make a plan to avoid the parks that have Extra Magic Hours. You can expect much larger crowds in the parks with Extra Magic Hours because, in addition to many “general public” guests, there will be a higher concentration of Disney resort guests in those parks on Extra Magic Hour days.
4. Know Your Way Around
Each Disney Park has that eye-catching, iconic feature standing inescapably in the center of the park. Cinderella’s Castle, the Tree of Life, the Chinese Theater, and Spaceship Earth have a magnetic draw for every guest who walks into the park gates.
If you want to beat the crowds, however, you will do well to know shortcuts to other areas of the park to skip the congestion that occurs around those focal icons. Throughout the day, as you want to go from one point to another, or even one park to another, know that there are almost always multiple ways to get there. Study those park maps beforehand and make the most of those timesaving, crowd-skipping shortcuts!
5. Find a Place of Refuge
Some days, you just need a quick break from walking elbow to elbow at a slow pace or being rammed by strollers. In every park, there are areas that are either little known or less popular where you can find a few moments of serenity. I would tell you about them, but then I won’t have my own secret places! Just kidding!
Here are few of the best ones.
- In Magic Kingdom, head over to Tom Sawyer Island, hop aboard the Peoplemover, or visit The Carousel of Progress.
- In Epcot, duck into Innoventions, visit the art and culture exhibits in several World Showcase pavilions (for example, the art exhibit way back at the rear of the Japan Pavilion), or take in one of the films in World Showcase (my favorite is Impressions de France).
- At Animal Kingdom, take the train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, or take a leisurely stroll through the Discovery Island trails, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, or the Maharajah Jungle Trek.
- At Hollywood Studios, step into the Writer’s Stop for a snack and a beverage, or peruse the façade windows on Streets of America.
There are some other great areas where you can seek refuge from the maddening crowds, but half of the fun is finding them on your own so that they become your own little secret places.
6. Park Hop Strategically
Some guests prefer Park Hopper tickets and some packages require them. Park Hopping can be something of a mixed blessing because it can complicate how you plan out your days and your meals.
On a day when the parks are at capacity, however, the ability to Park Hop can help you maintain a little bit of sanity. If you find yourself unable to move through Main Street U.S.A. or if you are faced with great wait times, check your My Disney Experience app to see what the wait times are like in other parks.
Alternatively, you could plan to use your Extra Magic Hours (if you are a Disney Resort Guest), and hop to other parks once the regular park hours begin. You could also Rope Drop one park and make FastPass+ selections for a second park that you will visit once the lines get longer. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, you may as well make the most of it and use it to help you deal with the summer crowds.
7. Keep Your Cool
Not only does summer bring high crowd levels at Walt Disney World, it also brings high temperatures. An already hot day feels even hotter when you are surrounded by the body heat of a dense crowd around you.
Keeping cool will help you keep your cool! Step into the shade, take in an air-conditioned attraction, or plan a dining reservation for the hottest part of the day. Use cooling cloths, misting fans (even a small spray bottle full of cold water will do the trick), or a well-timed, icy-cold beverage.
Many guests are not aware that most Quick-Serve dining locations will give you a free cup of ice water just for the asking.
Take advantage of these tips, and make sure to check out Episode 27 of the World of Walt Podcast, in which Herb and Aaron share their top six ways to beat the heat!
8. To Break or Not to Break, That is the Question
Some Disney veterans will tell you that there is nothing like taking a break in the hottest and most crowded part of the day to go back to your resort for a nap, a meal, a dip in the pool, and an escape from the park crowds. Other Disney veterans will tell you that you are wasting precious hours to experience the park attractions.
There is no right answer. You can determine what works best for you and your family, but if the crowds have you at your wit’s end, you might do better to miss a few hours in the park to unwind at your resort between lunch and dinner.
9. Resort Hopping
When you call or go online to book your Disney vacation, the very helpful Cast Members will say, “To go along with your seven-night stay, we will set you up with seven-day Park Hopper tickets, with the water parks and extra perks as well.” Many are unaware that you can say “No thanks!” to this offer.
Not only will you save money, but you will have time in your schedule to experience some of the best kept and most magical secrets of Walt Disney World. Plan a few days of your itinerary to not include park tickets and enjoy your resort – its restaurants, pools, and amenities – and other Disney resorts!
If you are staying at the Art of Animation, for example, walk over the Generation Gap Bridge and take a stroll around the grounds of Pop Century or drive over to the Polynesian to enjoy a Dole Whip while you walk along the beach to the Grand Floridian, and then take the monorail to the Contemporary. Survey the savannahs at Animal Kingdom Lodge and stroll the Boardwalk around Crescent Lake (make sure to dare your family to try a Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream). Catch Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long over at Fort Wilderness after meandering the beautiful trail from the Wilderness Lodge. Take in a poolside movie at any resort (but you can only swim at your own!). Catch a YeHaa Bob show at Port Orleans Riverside.
Some of the best Disney dining, most unique theming, and most memorable and fun opportunities at Walt Disney World are found outside the parks! You will have a great time, and avoid much of the summertime crowd.
10. Pack Your Patience
This may be the most important tip of all. In summertime or anytime (because, let’s face it, there is no true “off-season” crowd anymore at Walt Disney World) it helps you to expect crowds and plan to be patient – very patient!
High crowd levels mean that you may not get to do everything you want to do. “Magical Moments” may be fewer and farther between. Your favorite restaurant or attraction may not be an option this time around. Transportation may take longer. It’s okay. You’ve packed your patience, and you aren’t going to let these frustrations ruin your Disney vacation! Remember, you could be at work! A hot and crowded day at Disney is always better than that!
Many people will never have the opportunity to experience such a wonderfully magical place, but you do! Don’t let impatience steal the joy from you, your family, and your fellow Walt Disney World guests. Pack your patience, because you are going to need it.
How do you beat the summer crowds at Disney World?
Leave your comments below.