If you’re visiting Walt Disney World during Spring Break, Holidays, Special Events, Parties, or sports competition times, there will be crowds. Lots of them. In the parks, at the bus stops, at rides, at restaurants, and in gift shops. They will drive you crazy, and you’ll wonder where all these people came from. Luckily, some good problem-solving can give you options regarding what to do to handle the Disney World Crowds. From leaving the parks, to planning the best days to visit each park, here are all our best suggestions to help you make your Disney Vacation more magical.
Ahhhhh, the crowds at Disney World. What can we say? While we eagerly await the low crowd levels of 2013, we don’t have any hope that those days will return. While we adore the special events that take place at Disney World all year, including the Disney Annual Festival and Parties, and are as guilty as anyone attending them, we’ve had to become strategic to handle it. By figuring out the Best Days to Visit each Disney World Park, and eliminating weekends. And evenings at EPCOT, we’ve become kind of good at avoiding the crowds at Disney World when we can. But even then, we make a lot of changes to the way we vacation to manage that.
If you’re wondering why Disney World is always so crowded, or how you can better plan your Disney Vacation to avoid the crowds, here are our best tips. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t need to adhere to them all. Even adjusting just a few of the ways you vacation, helps.
- 1 Head to the Parks Early
- 2 Start Late and Stay Late
- 3 Have Backup Transportation Options
- 4 Invest in a Disney After Hours Party Ticket
- 5 Leave the Parks
- 6 Plan your Meals Ahead of Time
- 7 Plan your Rides Strategically
- 8 Choose your Disney Resort Wisely
- 9 Consider Using Lightning Lane
- 10 Know Where to Expect Crowds
Head to the Parks Early
And by early, we mean to be at the park gates really early. Think 7 AM. Check the Walt Disney World Parks Calendar for opening times. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort you have access to Early Theme Park Entry, which allows you access to the parks 30 minutes before other guests! This is a great way to get a head start on your day. And tackle those must-do Disney rides ahead of time. Throughout the holiday season at Walt Disney World hours vary, but crowds tend to die down after 10 PM. Check the park hours and plan to stay late if you can, just grab another cup of coffee and keep going.
You may be surprised how many rides, and attractions you can tackle when you start early, and have a plan. Especially if we focus on one park. Disney Park Hopping can take up a lot of transportation time. And if we plan to leave by dinner time, we skip all the bus line crowds at closing and can grab a great meal back at our resort. Sure you may miss the Nighttime Fireworks, but you could plan that on another day when stay late, instead of starting early.
Disney Pro Tip: Out best tips here are to Arrive at the Parks Early, Have a Plan, At One Park, and Plan to Leave around Dinner Time.
Start Late and Stay Late
Contrary to our first tip about Disney World Crowds, we also sometimes just start late and stay late. This keeps us out of the 10 a.m. park entry rush, and away from the early morning race to rides. As such, we can fill our morning with a great Breakfast at Disney World, generally found at Disney resorts, and ease into the day. We like this best if we’ve had a late night the evening before. Also, it helps keep you out of the Disney Crowds, because if you arrive by lunch, then you can tackle rides while everyone else is eating. It also gives us enough stamina to last through the evening shows, and really get the whole park day experience.
Something to consider for this strategy is where you’re staying. Disney Deluxe Resort guests get an extra hour in the parks on select nights, called Extended Evening Theme Park Hours. These work best if you’re planning a park day that has a ride requiring a virtual queue, like TRON or Guardians of the Galaxy, as both rides become available to those guests at a 6 p.m. drop, which you can find in your My Disney Experience App. But only if you’re staying at a Disney Deluxe Resort.
Disney Pro Tip: If a few late nights are in your plan, prioritize Disney Resorts that have great transportation options. And pick the option closest to the parks you may be visiting most. For instance, only certain Disney World Resorts in Walking Distance of the Parks, will help you avoid crowded bus lines late at night. Alternately, Disney Boardwalk Resorts in walking distance of Hollywood Studios and EPCOT, or Monorail Resorts Close to Magic Kingdom are great options to avoid evening crowds at Disney.
Have Backup Transportation Options
We can’t tell you how many times we hear that the Disney buses are “supposed” to show up every 20 minutes no matter what. In reality, Disney transportation is complimentary and not set to timelines. During spring break, the holidays, and party times, you can wait for an hour or more for a bus when the parks are busy, so build in this time. Thankfully, Walt Disney World has several transportation options to get you where you’re going.
They include the Monorails to and from Magic Kingdom, the TTC Parking Lot, and Epcot. The Disney Skylinerto Epcot and Hollywood Studios from select resorts, and buses to and from Animal Kingdom. You can also catch a ride on Ferry Boats to select Disney Resorts and the TTC. While all transportation options will be busy and have waits remember you can always call an Uber, Lyft Minnie Van, or a good old-fashioned taxi. Disney Transportation is complimentary and as a result, runs when it can run to the best of its ability but is by no means obligated to get you anywhere based on your schedule.
Disney Pro Tip: Choose your Disney Resort based on transportation options. As ridiculous as it may sound, the amount of time you spend traveling across Walt Disney World, and the crowds at certain high traffic times of day makes it worth it. Try Pop Century Resort, Art of Animation Resort or Disney’s Caribbean Resort for easy access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via the skyliner.
Invest in a Disney After Hours Party Ticket
We’re not big on suggesting you Pay More for anything. As Disney After Hours events can range between 129-199 dollars a ticket, this Crowd Avoidance Strategy may not be for everyone. BUT, hear us out! You can skip the busy parks during the day and head to Disney Springs, or take some much-needed resort downtime.. If you’re visiting during the holidays you can see the Disney Resorts Christmas Decorations during the day. This tactic to avoid daytime crowds can work for any Disney Party. Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party, Jollywood Nights at Hollywood Studios or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are all paid events that offer less crowds than during the day.
Disney Pro Tip:Check the party arrival times before you go. Often a holiday party has a 4pm arrival at Magic Kingdom arrival, while an After Hours Party lets you arrive at 7pm. Either way, this gives you extra hours to be in the park, before your event starts and can help you maximize your time, without worrying about the crowds.
Leave the Parks
Sure you’re at Disney to enjoy the parks but you also just want to enjoy your vacation. If you can’t handle the crowds, use the heavily crowded afternoons to take a break from the parks. Head to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge by boat for some much-needed downtime. Or grab a bus over to Animal Kingdom Lodge to see the animals and grab a great lunch at Disney World while you’re there. We love The Mara for zebra domes and flatbreads, and a refillable mug station.
Disney Pro Tip: If you’re traveling through the holidays, leaving the parks is one of our favorite things to do. You can see all the Disney World Gingerbread Houses. Check out the Holiday Decorations at all the Disney Resorts or the Christmas Tree Stroll at Disney Springs. There is no shortage of fun, free, things to do at Walt Disney World during the holidays.
Plan your Meals Ahead of Time
Planning your Meals at Disney World is a great way to manage your time in the crowds. Whether you’re grabbing a sit-down breakfast, or heading to a resort for lunch, the fact that you’ll have a break from crowds is a mood booster. Have all your Advanced Disney Dining Reservations been made? We suggest you have at least one table service meal booked for each day of your vacation. Or at least a few times throughout your trip. This forces you to take the time to eat, sit down, and refresh before returning to the hustle and bustle of vacation. Check out all our favorite Disney Restaurants in Each Park to try.
Disney Pro Tip: For on the go food, be sure to pick the best quick service restaurants at Disney World. Plan to Mobile Order your quick-serve meals throughout the day. Standing in line at restaurants, especially during meal times, is unnecessary. Check the My Disney Experience app for participating restaurants.
Plan your Rides Strategically
Don’t want to wait in line with the Disney World Crowds? We’ve rounded up the best Disney Ride Strategies, simply because we don’t like waiting in lines. Or paying money. Some of our best tips are to plan the most popular rides for when people are eating. And alternatively, plan your meals for when people are riding. By eating lunch and dinner earlier or later and planning to ride rides at 12 noon, you avoid the restaurant and ride lines. Aim for lunch at 10 am or 2 pm, and dinner at 4 pm or 8 pm. This can also help you get those hard-to-get Disney Dining Reservations since you’re not vying for the times that everyone else wants. Also be aware of the Disney Rides with Virtual Queue, as these rides do not have a standby line. As such they must be “reserved” at drop times in the My Disney Experience App.
Disney Pro Tip:Popular rides at Disney World almost always have lines in the morning. If you’re discouraged by the lines, plan to head those rides right before closing time. The lines are always naturally shorter at nighttime, and as long as you’re in line before the park closes, you’ll be able to ride it before you leave.
Choose your Disney Resort Wisely
We always recommend staying at one of Walt Disney World’s Resorts for ease and convenience. During the busiest times the Disney Deluxe Resorts are often the least crowded. We most like the Disney Boardwalk Inn to keep us close to the action and away from the crowds. Check out all the Disney Resorts at Walt Disney World to figure out which one would be best for your family. Note that the Disney Value Resorts and even some Disney Moderate Resorts are booked to the max at certain times of the year due to groups, and schools visiting.
Disney Pro Tip:For your best chance at staying out of crowds at your Disney Resort, check out the Walt Disney World Events Calendar. Here you’ll get details on visiting groups, and holidays to be aware of that may affect your visit.
Consider Using Lightning Lane
The rollout of Disney’s new planning app, Genie+, has caused a stir with its Lightning Lane options; but we wouldn’t rule it out as a ride strategy. Although it can definitely be considered a splurge at between $15-$30 per person per day. It also can be really helpful for managing ride wait times during higher crowd levels. Spending less time in line will help you enjoy your vacation. And while we generally prefer to travel to Disney World on a Budget, we also value our time, and Lightning Lane may be a good option.
Disney Pro Tip: Lightning Lane and Genie+ may cost a pretty penny, but if you know how to stack your rides, and choose the earliest timed rides available the day you visit, you can choose more rides once your initial ones are finished. This means, you can have a days worth of amazing rides lined up, if you choose those first rides of the day for early times.
Know Where to Expect Crowds
Typically all the Walt Disney World Parks are busy during the holidays. But it does make a difference if you know the Best Days to Visit Each Park, which will naturally put you in the parks with lower crowds on certain days. That said, there are also typically crowded times that you can avoid.
- In EPCOT, festivals will be busiest from Thursday- Sunday. Avoid evenings and the weekend to make the most of those events.
- Magic Kingdom is the busiest park during the holidays. And is best in the early morning before 10 am, and evenings after 7 pm. Avoid Mondays in Magic Kingdom, as this is when everyone starts their vacations and is always extra crowded on Mondays.
- While Hollywood Studios doesn’t have specific events that cause crowds, you will find crowds to be heavy throughout Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.
- Animal Kingdom doesn’t get as crowded as other parks, simply because it has a lot of ground to cover. Crowds here tend to gather in Pandora due to the Flight of Passage ride, but most other areas are safe.
Crowds at Walt Disney World
When it’s crowded at Walt Disney World it’s simply a matter of knowing your options. When to go, what times of year are worst and which parks to avoid on certain days. Get the important planning out of the way ahead of time, and you should be good to go!
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.