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)
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
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.
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.
Eat in-park meals at off times. While other families are crowding into restaurants during the noon hour and dinner hours, enjoys the less crowded streets and queues. When those families finish eating and head to the attractions, you can then grab a bit at the lesser crowded restaurants.