According to the latest statistics released by the Themed Entertainment Association, the Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida entertained 51,500,000 guests in 2014. That’s a whole lot of Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars! The Magic Kingdom alone is estimated to host approximately 53,000 visitors per day. (It should be noted that these numbers come from a reliable third-party source. The Walt Disney Company does not publish its theme park attendance statistics.)
So why would any family wish to rub sweaty elbows with that many people? Why join the masses juggling for the best spot to see the fireworks? AND spend many of their hard-earned dollars to do so?
Well for one thing, it’s a matter of logistics. A topic widely debated on online Disney fan sites is whether or not parents should take their kids out of school for a Disney vacation. As you can imagine, this can draw quite a bit of divided opinions. But from the numbers noted above, you can understand the dilemma! Personally, I prefer the take-the-kids out approach. However, once my kids entered middle school, it became abundantly clear that this practice would create considerable stress for them and would put a damper on their vacation. Their classes move too fast for them to easily catch-up—even though they’re both National Honor Society students. So we had to grit our teeth and plan a vacation over this past Spring Break. Fortunately, I’m a Disney-planning guru and set about talking to my experienced Disney friends and researching the bejeezus out of managing Disney crowds. I have to say the planning paid off and I’d like to pass along my experience to you.
Here are the strategies I followed during our recent Spring Break trip that helped us enjoy the parks without losing our cool!
- FastPass+ is your friend! Since our family visits the Walt Disney World Resort frequently, I tend to get lazy about booking our FastPass+ attractions. Well, this time around I was on it, and it paid off in spades. Instead of the 200 minute wait for Tower of Terror (I kid you not), we waited for less than 10 minutes. It was almost too fast for me to enjoy the backstory and beautiful theming! I promise you, this was not an isolated experience. We booked our must-do favorite attractions before our trip and once we blew through them, we booked our next ones. If I had to name the top strategy for dealing with crowded Disney conditions, this is it.
- Stay away from the parks hosting early Extra Magic Hours. Generally speaking, you want to do what the other guests do not. With over 30,600 rooms at Disney’s on-property resorts, that’s a whole lot of families eligible to take advantage of these bonus hours. Experience tells me that going against the grain and visiting a different park pays off. Also along the same line, avoid the Magic Kingdom on any holiday! That always seems to be where everyone wants to be and when the park typically closes due to capacity.
- Don’t hit the parks until late afternoon and stay until closing! I admit, this strategy won’t work for every family, especially if you’re travelling with young children. But a dear Disney friend of mine whose family goes to Disney every Christmas break, tipped me off to this approach. Now, our typical attack plan involves getting to the park first thing for rope drop, but I was desperate enough to avoid the Spring Break hordes to give this a try. And it worked beautifully! We actually slept in on this vacation. Not only were we better rested, but I didn’t have to pry my kids out of bed each morning. Also, we spent time at the resort pool earlier in the day when most families are at the parks. We entered the parks around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon before our FastPass+ selections, had a quick dinner and then explored. Many families with young children leave the park after the parade and fireworks, so crowds tend to thin out. Plus, since this is a busy time of year, the parks stay open later. I can’t even begin to describe the Magic Kingdom at closing time! (The only exception to this in my experience would be Epcot’s World Showcase. Due to the dining and adult beverages available there, crowds do not seem to thin out the later it gets.)
- We stuck mostly to quick service meals. We love Disney table service restaurants just as much as the next Mouseketeer, but the experience takes up a lot of time. Disney has spent the last several years upgrading the quality and variety of offerings at their quick service locations, so we’ve found there’s something for everyone to enjoy at each of the parks. Especially if you eat a bit earlier than most, you can be done eating by the time you would have just placed your order for a table service meal. Now, go enjoy the attractions while others are eating!
With summer crowds fast approaching, I hope you find these tips helpful. Disney crowds are inevitable, but they don’t have to ruin your magic. All it takes is some pre-planning and savvy strategies. Happy planning!
Denise Long is that Disney junkie who turns every conversation into a Disney vacation anecdote. Every picture she shows you of her kids involves either a character or Mickey Ears. She’s the friend who gets more excited for your Disney vacation than you do. A frequent Walt Disney World guest and the Chief Disney Planner for her family and friends, please join her at ADisneyfiedLife.com where you can snag your free copy of Ten Sneaky Ways to Save for your WDW Resort Vacation.