As the holidays approach, we’re taking a look today at ways we’ve attempted to manage the crowds at Walt Disney World during the busiest times of the year. As a family with two school teachers who typically travel with us, we’re rather limited on when we can travel and unfortunately those times typically tend to correspond with the most popular vacation dates of the year at Disney. However, while it’s not always the best case scenario, we’ve found ways to manage the crowds over the years and truly make the most of any and all opportunities to travel to the parks that we come across. If you have any tips of your own that we may have overlooked in our list, be sure to share them in the comments on your favorite social media site not only to share with us but also to help anyone else who may stumble across them. You never know when your simple (or complex) tip may drastically improve someones vacation experience.
In this particular case, I’m going to recommend something a little bit rare and go against our 5 Simple Fastpass+ Tips That Could Better Your Vacation Experience. In that article, I recommended booking your fastpasses early in the day to help maximize the potential of the revolving 4th fastpass+ selection. Well, if you’re traveling at peak times it’s best to do one of two things. First, book your fastpasses during the heart of the day (typically 1-3pm) in order to guarantee at least a few attractions without long waits during the most crowded times of the day. Additionally, and ideally, schedule your fastpasses around one (or more) table service meals. Which leads us to the next tip…
Schedule a Table Service Meal Within Park
For many of you this seems like common sense to schedule meals in the parks, but to me it is particularly important to schedule a table service meal on peak crowd level days. Throughout the day, inevitably you’ll reach a point where you no longer want to be engulfed by crowds wherever you go. A sit down meal in the park is the perfect way, and oftentimes the only way, to get a few moments of personal space and enjoy a great meal with friends and family along the way. Beyond the seating area itself, a good meal has a way of “recharging” you and allowing you to gear up for the rest of the day. Also notice how I said a meal within the park. If you’re traveling on specific holidays and the park fills to capacity there is no guarantee that if you leave the park for a dining reservation elsewhere that you will be granted access back into that park. Unfortunately, we learned that lesson the hard way when we attempted to head to Fort Wilderness for a quick meal at Trails End on New Years Eve. Thankfully we were advised to change the reservation and actually managed a walk up reservation at Crystal Palace by sheer luck.
Arrive Early and Stay Late
When considering peak seasons and holidays, there tends to be very few options in regards to arrival windows. If you get there too late you’re going to face potential guest capacity limitations and may or may not be granted entrance into that particular park. Nobody wants to be denied entrance for a special holiday celebration and Disney never intends to do so, but as with any area, there is a safety limitation to how many guests are allowed to enter the park at one time. The earlier you arrive the better.
As the main gates open and the park welcomes guests it will likely start to fill very quickly, and even more so that a typical Disney day. As a result, attraction wait times will grow exponentially as the minutes pass. The more you can get done in the first hour or two, the better off you will be. If you are traveling on an actual holiday, I highly recommend a park hopper pass. The price difference is fairly negligible from discount ticket sellers and even when you buy from Disney when you consider how many additional options it opens up.
If you get into Magic Kingdom (or get there after the park fills to capacity) and it’s overwhelmingly crowded to your travel group you can simply head to another park. Typically Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are far less crowded that Magic Kingdom if you truly just want to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Personally, I see Epcot as an excellent option as well. It typically draws large crowds, but Epcot tends to hold the crowds better that the other parks. We spent the 4th of July holiday there this year and really enjoyed the vast variety of things to do that didn’t require a wait time at all. I’ve always been a huge proponent of touring the world showcase and the little details but it gives you so many options when the crowds are larger that normal.
Prepare for the Traffic
This is one of those aspects of Disney holiday planning that is rarely talked about but largely a factor in touring the parks at peak times. After experiencing New Years Eve, you quickly realize that holidays can drive insane crowds to the parks, but the entrance and exit structure of parking lots and roads have a tough time holding the crowds as they arrive all at once. Don’t get me wrong, Disney does an incredible job managing people and parking cars. To be quite honest, they’re the best of the best when it comes to that type of a situation. However, nobody can successfully deal with that many people arriving all at the same time. It’s a logistics nightmare but if you leave a little earlier to get to the parks that you typically would you should have plenty of time to get to the main gates before they open for the day.
Prioritize Your Top “Must-Do” Attractions
Before you arrive at your desired park, you’ll want to create a list of “must-do” attractions. Poll the family or whatever group you’re traveling with and find out what the one or two things that each individual wants to do more that anything else. That way, at the end of the day everybody is happy no matter how much else you get done. Prioritizing your plans for the day can make all the difference when the crowds can be a bit overwhelming.
Avoid Driving to the Park If You Can
If at all possible, I highly recommend using Disney’s transportation on holidays (Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving) rather that attempting to drive your own vehicle to the park. Disney really has the transportation and specific transportation routes down to a science and as a result can typically get you to your desired destination much faster that you will be able to do on your own. You’ll get to avoid parking booths and the tram system delays trying to get to the front of the park and will likely spend less time in route that you would otherwise. If your resort offers a monorail, the monorails are nearly always your fastest source of transportation. All in all, I know not everyone will have this option available to them, but it’s certainly something you may want to consider. If you’d like to learn more about the monorail resorts and costs associated with that, contact our friends over at Destinations to Travel for their free booking services as an authorized Disney vacation planner (it also helps us out a bit as well).