Home » 7 Hacks to Navigate Walt Disney World Crowds Like a Pro

7 Hacks to Navigate Walt Disney World Crowds Like a Pro

Cinderella Castle with Blue Skies

Dealing with crowds can easily prove the most difficult part of any Walt Disney World vacation. The Most Magical Place on Earth is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world with an average of more than 56,000 visitors a day. Even divided between four parks, that’s a lot of people in one place at a time.

For many families who come unprepared, crowds can wreck a Disney trip and leave sour memories. Failing to know how to navigate hordes of visitors can cost you valuable vacation time, reduce the number of attractions you’ll see, and even prevent you from making dining reservations.

However, seasoned visitors know how to work their way around crowds with a few simple hacks. Most people never even try #4 or #6!

1. Know crowd trends (well before your trip)

Cinderella Castle with Blue Skies

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega (@mykingdomforamouse Instagram)

The severity of Walt Disney World crowds is inextricably connected to the time you choose to visit. While crowd trends have shifted somewhat since more and more visitors are avoiding the dreaded summer months, there are certain times of year where, no matter what, crowds are going to be intense. Planning your trip with this knowledge is crucial.

In general, the least busy times to visit are fall after Labor Day weekend has passed and the winter months (except surrounding holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, and President’s Day). While these seasons often have more rides under refurbishment, the trade-off in crowd size cannot be ignored. Not only are ride queues shorter, it is also much easier to get resort and dining reservations.

Crowd trends also affect different parks on different days. For example, any park that has “Extra Magic Hours” tends to be busiest that day (even with non-resort guests, oddly). Experts generally suggest that the parks are least busy on the following days:

  • Magic Kingdom: Tuesday and Thursday
  • Epcot: Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday
  • Hollywood Studios: Mixed reports across the board, but weekdays overall are best
  • Animal Kingdom: Tuesday and sometimes Friday (though this park is busier overall with the opening of Pandora)

Even on an hour-to-hour basis, smart guests can skirt crowds by avoiding peak times like lunch time and the evening during parades and fireworks. Speaking of which…

2. Hit the parks at opening gate

Little girl entering Epcot

Image: Disney

The best way possible to hack your Disney crowd experience is to arrive at opening gate. While the initial sight of crowds waiting for that opening countdown can prove intimidating, the number of people present at opening is almost always lower than any other point in the day.

There are several reasons for this. An obvious one is for non-early risers, getting up, coaxing the kids out of bed, schlepping together breakfast (if you’re using our money-saving hacks), catching Disney transportation, and getting to opening gate on time can prove a tall order. The temptation to sleep in on vacation is just too great. Also, Florida locals and passholders visiting from outside the immediate Orlando area (who may have a several-hour commute to get to Disney) often trickle in later.

Magic Kingdom entrance

The benefit of arriving at opening gate is significantly lower line queues and fewer crowds. You’ll have a much easier time navigating the parks, and many rides which might prove inaccessible the rest of the day might have short queues. By arriving and seeing most attractions early, families can take a mid-day break and withdraw from the parks during the busiest hours surrounding lunch then return in the evening. This break is a great time to explore non-park attractions like Disney Springs or for kids to catch a nap back at your resort.

Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are particularly important to hit early. Magic Kingdom takes an extra-long time to enter since guests who self-drive or use the monorail must pass through the Transportation and Ticket Center which isn’t even on site. Animal Kingdom is significantly further away than the other three parks, and guests have to battle against visitors eager to experience Pandora. However, getting to Animal Kingdom early has an added benefit: the animals throughout the park (and particularly on Kilimanjaro Safari) are most active in the morning.

3. Learn less-than-obvious routes through the parks

Festival of Fancy Parade - Peter Pan Float

Image: Disney

At Disney parks, the shortest distance is not always a straight line.

Particularly during parades and peak hours, there are times when the direct path from one attraction to another will take far longer than the scenic route. The park where this is most pronounced is in Magic Kingdom, where daily parades and fireworks draw massive crowds to Main Street and the plaza in front of Cinderella Castle. If you are trying to get from Fantasyland to Splash Mountain when fireworks are nearing, you’ll be far better off taking the long route from the Tangled tower past Haunted Mansion to the Rivers of America than you will cutting across Main Street which may be closed or impassible.

The same goes for Epcot, particularly on Extra Magic Hours nights. Perhaps it is because so many people use Spaceship Earth as a landmark, but the Fountains of Nations plaza and the path that stretches straight to World Showcase (pointing towards the American Adventure) is often the most crowded route you can choose. You’ll often be better off taking the winding path that passes the old Odyssey restaurant or the garden path near Journey into Imagination.

People walking through Pandora

Image: Disney

For the time being, Hollywood Studios is the most constricted of the parks, but even it has several alternate routes guests can use like Commissary Lane. This is the park with the fewest options and the most dead-ends, so be aware what direction you’re headed. Much of this will change in 2019 with the arrival of Star Wars Land.

Animal Kingdom is the most sprawling of the parks, offering dozens of routes to travel from one place to another thanks to its starburst shape. Because of its size, the streets don’t clog with crowds quite as badly, though some guests have experienced confusion navigating the new Pandora section. The best solution for finding alternate routes in this park and others is to never underestimate the value of paper maps.

Cast Members no longer hand maps to each guest, but you can grab one on the way into any of the parks. The My Disney Experience app is convenient, but its maps can prove confusing and slow to load due to constant jumping between Wi-Fi hubs. Having a good paper map on standby can make discovering alternate paths through the park a snap and save you vast amounts of time. They will also give you the times for all parades and entertainment. Knowing these times will allow you to avoid those areas if you’re looking to move fast.

4. Don’t “follow the yellow brick road” (aka don’t walk with your party abreast)

Stormtroopers lined up

Don’t do this…

We’ve mentioned this particular issue before on Theme Park Tourist as a cringeworthy habit of Disney parkgoers.

Picture if you will that you’re trying to make it to a dining reservation at the Rose and Crown Pub. Wisely, you choose to take the path towards Canada via Journey Into Imagination. Despite quick progress, your way is suddenly blocked by a family of six walking side by side. They slowly meander down the trail, eyes glazed and adrift, perhaps occasionally muttering about an appetite for brains. Other parkgoers begin to pool beside you, trapped behind the oblivious party. You finally manage to extricate yourself and get around them only to find another group doing the same thing ten steps ahead, lined up abreast like Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and The Cowardly Lion. If following the snail-slow parade isn’t difficult enough, they stop suddenly to take pictures of a topiary. You plow face first into them and the people behind you do the same, leading to an overall embarrassing kerfuffle.

Here’s the point—the larger your party is, the more you may need to vary your walking formation.

There are few things that annoy seasoned parkgoers more than this scenario. It’s understandable that some human-bumper-car situations will occur in a place as busy as Walt Disney World. Even in the off season, you’re going to trip over some toes and get stuck behind slow groups. However, by avoiding this naughty habit, you not only make the Disney experience more pleasant for those around you—you’ll have a newfound and powerful ability to zip through otherwise impenetrable crowds.

Seven Dwarves in a Line

Do this instead!
Image: Disney

Instead of walking hand-in-hand with a family of 3-6, pair off adults with children and travel in a flexible line—think a centipede formation instead of the March of the First Order. If necessary, hang onto the shirt or shoulder of the person in front of you and weave through the crowd in a fluid group. If you want to take a picture, signal each other and step off to the side if possible. If you have a large family with only two adults and a whole flock of kids, place one adult in the front, one in the back, and have the kids travel in a school-style line, keeping an eye on the person in front of them.

Instead of relying on walking in a row to keep your party safe, always have a rendezvous point set in the event anyone gets separated. Avoid setting your meeting point at obvious park centerpieces—no one can ever find their party in front of Cinderella Castle. Pick something easy to find but not as obvious as Spaceship Earth or the Tree of Life. We used to use walkie talkies or an app like Zello to help keep track party members, but for anyone with a phone, Life360 is a great option for getting a general idea where people are.

Direct kids that they should speak to a Cast Member if they ever get lost. Each Disney park has a “Lost Children” spot where they will be taken and watched after until you come pick them up. Cast Members can also radio each other to locate a missing child.

5. Cut through shops instead of fighting the crowds

Main Street Bakery Sign

Disney designed the shops in their parks masterfully so guests who enter one shop are swept through row after row of merchandise experiences. This means almost all Disney stores have multiple exits and many are interconnected. Particularly on Main Street, in World Showcase, and on Hollywood Boulevard, this can offer smart guests an easy way to skirt around crowds.

You’ll have to be quick on your feet and careful that you don’t bowl into anyone shopping. Cutting through shops can be a gamble if you inadvertently get stuck at a large family or an impassible line. Still, it is a convenient enough strategy that we use it regularly to get from one attraction or park section to another. If you happen to strike out, just exit back onto the main thoroughfare and follow the crowd. Eventually it will disperse, and you’ll be able to break off.

6. Be like water (aka vary your speed)

Two girls at Epcot Hawaii booth

Image: Disney

Seasoned parkgoers have a particular way of walking which makes cutting through crowds a snap. It works best if you are light of feet and on the lithe side, but the general theory can work for anyone. When moving through crowds at Disney, don’t pick a single pace you never deviate from. Instead, be like water and learn how to spot gaps in the crowd that you can move through briskly.

This trick goes hand in hand with the one about not walking abreast. By travelling in a flexible line instead of a stiff row, you can follow the rhythm of a crowd, slowing when you have to. When you spot a gap, turn your body sideways to weave through gaps in crowds ahead and bypass slow families. By staying alert and moving from gap to gap in the crowd, you can move far more quickly than you would if you just follow the group in front of you.

As with all things, be polite. This strategy is not an invitation to cut off other parkgoers (particularly those with strollers who may not be able to stop) or shoulder-shove your way to the front of a queue. Rather, the essence of this trick is staying alert and extra cognizant of your fellow guests, then using a little burst of speed to pass through gaps and get around slow groups without being rude.

You can also eek a little extra speed out of your walking using a few hacks. Swinging your arms slightly helps signal your feet to move at the same speed. Widen your stride beyond your normal step, particularly if you’re on the shorter side. You can also move slightly faster by pushing off from the balls of your feet, adding a slight spring to your step with each stride.

7. Know when to stop and burn some time

Little girl at Pandora

Image: Disney

There are times where even the sharpest Disney traveler will not be able to avoid crowds. The best solution for these moments is the wise philosophy of Timon and Pumbaa: Hakuna Matata.

If all other routes and hacks fail you, know when to wave the white flag and take a break.

Instead of getting stressed out trying to press through an endless crowd, (which may not even be moving if a road is closed due to a lifted drawbridge or a passing parade float) take a breath and look around. See if there’s a shop, café, or even a garden you haven’t experienced. Short films in Epcot and Hollywood Studios are a wonderful way to pass some time and let crowds disperse. Get yourself a Dole Whip or Cinnamon Roll and have a moment just enjoying the company of your family and kids. Step aside and take some pictures of cool details for social media. Get in touch with family back home. Burn some time and enjoy the moment instead of fighting it.

The goal is, when you truly can’t bypass the crowds, the best choice is often to find a comfortable place to retreat and catch your breath. An opportunity to press on will present itself, and when everyone else is feeling drained from fighting the Mouse-Ear horde, you’ll have redeemed that time with energy to spare.

What’s your favorite hack for dealing with Disney crowds?