How to Get the Best Experience During Peak Crowds at the Walt Disney World Resorts

How to Get the Best Experience During Peak Crowds at the Walt Disney World Resorts

With the summer months approaching and Covid-19 essentially behind us, the Walt Disney World Resort will be getting back to normal. When I say normal, I mean busy. Very busy. If you have a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth planned during these peak seasons that are becoming even longer and more prevalent in recent years, this is the blog post for you. From planning your daily strategy to knowing where to go when there are 60,000 people in the park, today I’ll be giving you the complete guide to enjoying (and staying sane) on your Disney trip during the busier seasons. 

In recent years, Disney has done a great job ensuring their theme parks are busy year-round. Unlike past years where a trip during certain months would guarantee you some lighter crowds, now that’s not the case. I’ve been shocked to see busy parks even in months like January and September. In my opinion the busiest peak periods for the year are during the summer (June-August) and the later months of October through December. The later months have grown more popular with the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot and expanded Christmas offerings into November. 

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Crowds
Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Crowds

Although some are better than others, there really aren’t any perfect months to go anymore without crowds. Essentially what I’m trying to say is that with the parks becoming so popular, a lot of these tips and tricks for crowded days are applicable whenever you go. 

This article is especially relevant for maximizers like me. No matter what, your trip will be a great time, and I encourage those that like to meander to do so. However, for those who want to see it all, or those who want to navigate the craziness when you get there, read on. 

Planning Your Day at the Disney Parks

To make sure you’re able to maximize your time in the parks, you need to have a little bit of a plan. Each part of a day at the theme parks is not built the same. If you’re looking to get on the big attractions without waiting for hours and melting in the heat, there are some ideal times to take note of. 

A rule of thumb for theme parks is to get there early. If you want to ride the biggest ride in the park for the shortest wait, you’ll need to get to the park about 15 minutes before rope-drop (Disney jargon for park opening). This is my sweet spot, but obviously the earlier you go, the less you’ll have to wait, and vice-versa. Sometimes they’ll open the park a little bit earlier too, so you won’t have to wait around for long. Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom are must-dos if you’re going to put in the extra effort to get up early. These rides have waits that usually won’t get under an hour for the rest of the day. 

Flight of Passage Ride
Flight of Passage Ride

The first couple hours of the day are a good time to use your energy to hit some of the big rides your group is most excited to do. In the days leading up to your trip, take the time to do some research of your own on the My Disney Experience app. If you do a quick scan of the wait times midday, you’ll figure out which rides you’d like to prioritize in the morning. This app will be your best friend during your vacation, so it’s good to become familiar with it sooner rather than later. By the time 11 A.M. or 12 rolls around, all guests will be arriving at the park, and the peak crowds for the day will hit. I’m going to skip this period for now, because I’ll have an entire guide for what to do during these hours further along in the article. 

Nighttime is another great time to get on popular attractions. After 5 or 6 P.M., a lot of families will be leaving for the day, lightening up the crowds a bit. If you’re able to take it easy during the afternoon (more on that soon), a second wind will allow you to do more while also not being drained by the sun. The parks are closing earlier than normal because of Covid (usually 7 or 8 P.M.) but normal hours have them closing at 9 or 10 (Magic Kingdom will even stay open till midnight occasionally). I’m a night owl, so I know that for some families going until park close may not be feasible, but staying a few extra hours can really pay off. 

Cinderella Castle at Night
Cinderella Castle at Night

If you structure your day by taking it easy during the afternoon and doing more at night, a late-night day is possible for at least a few nights of your trip. A quick tip for the late-nighters: the attractions themselves don’t close at closing time, just the queues. So if you want that one last ride on Space Mountain, as long as you get in line right before closing time you’ll get it. I tend to plan my nights around utilizing that extra line-time after closing. Something else to keep in mind for the other crazy insomniacs.

What to Do During Peak Crowd Times at Disney (Afternoons)

While I recommend maximizing your mornings and nights, the afternoon hours host crazy wait times and crazy temperatures. However, there’s several things you can do during this time to stay cool and chill. 

  • Watching the Shows: Disney has some great entertainment other than rides. The shows around the parks always have short waits, last 15-20 minutes, and best of all, are air-conditioned. They are a great way to eat up some time and keep out of the sun in the afternoon. The seats are comfortable, it’s nice and dark (nap friendly), and the shows are entertaining for the whole family. A few in particular that I recommend are Muppet Vision 3D in Hollywood Studios, Mickey’s Philharmagic in Magic Kingdom, Awesome Planet in Epcot, and It’s Tough to Be a Bug in Animal Kingdom. A/C, comfy chairs, and no waits, shows are perfect to hit midday.
Mickey’s Philharmagic in the Magic Kingdom
Mickey’s Philharmagic in the Magic Kingdom
  • Heading Back to the Hotel: It may sound crazy to some, but taking a few hours in the middle of the day to go back to your hotel and rejuvenate can be the key to enjoying a nice full day at the parks. All park tickets allow re-entry. Especially for those that are staying at a Disney resort and don’t have to worry about parking, this option is a good one. Take a couple hours to rest and enjoy the resort, and come back ready to hit the parks with some shorter lines and less sun. For people going on longer Disney trips, this tip can be great to keep everyone’s stamina up later on in your vacation. 
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort
  • Grabbing a Snack and Finding a Shady Area: With afternoon crowds all rushing around, the atmosphere is very go go go. I say do the opposite. When the shortest wait at the Magic Kingdom is 45 minutes, I take a deep breath, grab one of my favorite snacks, and find a nice area to sit down for a while. This tip can be used as needed. Every group will have a time where everyone is hot and exhausted. Taking a second to hit the brakes can make the rest of the day amazing and keep you sane. You can barely walk 20 feet without running into a snack stand in the parks. Grab an iconic churro, Mickey-ears ice cream (my favorite), or a frozen lemonade, and let the whole group take a load off. It’s not as glamorous as Rock N’ Rollercoaster, but it’s a necessity. 
Mickey Ice Cream Bar at the Magic Kingdom
Mickey Ice Cream Bar at the Magic Kingdom
  • High-Capacity Rides: If you’re choosing to stick it out and ride some attractions in the afternoon, here’s some tips to choose wisely. First, opt for fast moving lines. Rides that are “high-capacity” are rides that can move people through quickly. With these types of rides, the wait times are usually shorter than most. A specific example is Disney World’s Omnimover rides. This style of ride has vehicles that are constantly moving guests through the attraction. An example of this is the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom or Spaceship Earth at Epcot. Using the wait times displayed on My Disney Experience can also help your group figure out which waits are worth it. Another good tip is to choose rides that have an indoor queue. The sun is the quickest thing to wear you down, especially in the summer months. 
Omnimover Ride System at Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid
Omnimover Ride System at Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid

Dining During the Busy Season at Disney

Eating in Disney has changed a lot this past year because of Covid. As of right now (June 2021) all quick-service dining is available only through mobile ordering. For popular locations and meal times, time slots to pick up your food can fill up quickly, so I recommend placing your mobile food order earlier in the day and then picking it up later. Waiting until you’re ready to eat to place your order could backfire and leave you waiting hungry for a while. This is an easy way for your group to break down in the middle of the day. Trust me, I know. I get hangry. Choosing your pickup in advance for a time in the afternoon is also a good way to relax during this busier time, especially if you choose an indoor location (recommended). For the foreseeable future, make sure you’re on top of mobile orders, especially on busy days. 

If you’re more inclined to eating on a whim, I would try to aim for a more unconventional time-earlier or later than standard meal times. At these times, the eating areas will be a lot less crowded and you’ll have more time and space to hang out. 

If you’re hoping to make a dinner reservation for your trip, being early is crucial. Disney opens their reservations 60 days before the day of your trip. This is an important date to save. If your group is looking to dine at a specific restaurant at a specific time, try to make it as early as you can. 

Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom
Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom

Covid capacities also don’t help things either. I personally have yet to be able to make a trip back to Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge since the pandemic. The bar is reservation only, and all the time slots have been filling up the first day they open. The difficulty of getting into the great restaurants around property is an unfortunate side-effect of the rise in popularity Disney World has seen. Hopefully you’ll be able to use these tips to try to stay on top of things. If you’re unable to get the perfect reservation, don’t get too disheartened, there’s plenty of great dining at each of the Disney Parks. 

Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Final Remarks

Disney’s busiest periods are busy for a reason. For many, the summer months are the only time they can get the family together, and Disney is a mecca for many families around the holiday season as well. In this blog, I hope that I’ve given you some tips and tricks to make your experience even better during your time on vacation. Even if you’re not able to get everything in during your trip, the biggest thing that matters is spending good quality time with people. 

The Disney parks are right in the heart of the biggest convention and trade show scene in the world! If you’re in the Orlando area attending a convention and are in need of any assistance with a trade show booth, check out Everything Tradeshows! The one-stop-shop for all things trade show design and installation. 

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