Walt Disney World and Disneyland have times of year that are notoriously busy. Spring Break, Easter, July 4th, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s all come to mind immediately. I’ve heard people say, “you couldn’t pay me enough to visit during those times of year.” Up until late last year, I fell into a similar camp (it would never come to the point that someone else would have to pay me to visit a Disney theme park; even a busy day at Disney is better than most good days at home!). Some people, due to school and work schedules, don’t have the luxury of avoiding these busy times. Actually, a lot of people don’t have that luxury. That’s why these times are busy in the first place. If your only option is visiting during one of these crowded times, is it worth visiting at all? Will you be miserable the entire trip?!
Luckily for you, we visited Walt Disney World the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve about a month ago, and I hold the answers to these questions so that you don’t have to waste your valuable vacation dollars testing for yourself. Unluckily for you, I rarely speak in absolutes. The answer is “it depends.” That said, it was one of the best trips we’ve ever had. With busy seasons fast approaching on both coasts, I thought I’d share some of our strategies we utilized to keep our sanity on this trip.
1. Owls are Wise: In just about every children’s fable, Winnie the Pooh included, owls are wise creatures. It thus should come as no surprise that being a night owl is a wise move. After all, the term “night owl” probably derives its name from the wise nature of staying up late, not because owls are nocturnal. During these busy times of year, the parks will be open extremely late, sometimes with Extra Magic Hours concluding at 3 or 4 am in the Magic Kingdom. Even during the busiest times of year, most attractions have very short waits after 1 am. On New Year’s Eve (technically New Year’s Day by the hour we rode them), we walked waited 10 minutes in line at Toy Story Mania and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Sorry, Grandma, but that “nothing good ever happens after midnight” advice you gave me certainly doesn’t apply at Walt Disney World and Disneyland!
2. The Early Bird Gets the Elephant: Eating worms is disgusting, so I’ve never quite understood that adage. Most birds don’t eat elephants, so my adage doesn’t really make sense, either, but my point stands. Unless you enjoy standing in line for hours to ride Dumbo or Peter Pan’s Flight, arrive at the park for rope drop and follow a Touring Plan. We’ve been stressing this ad nauseam since like 1985, but that’s because it is such sound advice that so few people follow. On New Year’s Eve morning, we arrived at the Magic Kingdom at 6:30 am for 7 am opening. Not only did our group breeze through the queue for Space Mountain and ride Peter Pan’s Flight with no wait, but we also saw the sunrise over Cinderella Castle, which was especially magical. For me, that was a highlight of the trip! Not many guests get a chance to see the sunrise in the Magic Kingdom, and it was truly a special experience.
3. Practice the Principles of the Panamanian Night Monkey: This is turning into “Tom’s Critter (Post-)Christmas,” but only because these animals are smart! TouringPlans.com has long suggested taking a midday break to relax and swim, etc. I’m taking that a step further. You may be wondering how to reconcile my “owl” advice with my “bird” advice, since following both only allows for a few hours of sleep per night. The solution is that you do your sleeping during the day, much like these sly monkeys, if possible. The middle of the day is the busiest, hottest, and most crowded time, anyway. Skip it. On the first night of our trip, I was the very last guest out of the Magic Kingdom and then one of the first half-dozen to enter the park the next morning. Not only did I manage to take a lot of photos during these peaceful hours, but I completed dozens of attractions (easily exceeding Disney’s reported “10 attraction average“) during the course of only a few hours. This was on a “10″ day on the Crowd Calendar, on one of the busiest days of the year, too!
4. Reside in the Dam Nearest the River’s Mouth: Take it from the mighty Beaver; be close to the action. We stayed at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort during our trip. I realize it’s a bit unreasonable to make the suggestion that everyone stay here when it’s busy, but if you can, do it! Walking only 10 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom definitely has its advantages, and if you can spring for this location, it’s well worth it during busy times of year. It means you don’t have to get up as early to allow for transportation, and it also makes for easy mid-day hibernation. If the Contemporary isn’t in the cards, at least stay on-site. Disney transportation is pretty efficient really early in the morning, and utilizing Disney transportation means you don’t have to hassle with parking issues and the crowded Ticket & Transportation Center. Staying on-site also means you have access to Extra Magic Hours, which are crucial during busy seasons. I will admit that I have an on-site bias, but I think during busy times of the year, you’re much better off staying in a Value Resort than potentially accommodations off-site.
5. Mellow Like a Manatee: Have you ever seen a manatee? If not, check one out the next time you’re in the (Living) Seas. They just float around, eating cabbage all day. They have no natural predators (although boats have become their arch nemesis). If you’re visiting during these crowded times, you need to go with the flow like a manatee. You will get bumped into. You will be pushed “through.” People will cut you off. You will hear crying children in “surround sound.” People will randomly stop in thorough-fares blocking traffic. You cannot let these types of things make your blood boil! Just take a deep breath, remember that you’ve already hit 12 attractions that day because you followed tips one through four, and drown out the crowds by focusing to that pleasant background music. Soak in the details. See some of those unpopular attractions that you love that have little-to-no-waits. Drink around the ‘World at Epcot or at Disneyland Resort. Have fun just being there!
Obviously these tips aren’t one-size fits all. Not everyone is going to be able to stay in the park until 3 am and get up before 6 am. Not everyone is going to be able to stay on-site. The over-arching point, though, is that planning ahead and using the TouringPlans.com resources will enable you to see and do more, regardless of when you visit! If you go into your trip during a busy time of the year with the right attitude and strategy, you’ll have an amazing time. If you go in expecting no crowds and to be able to walk onto Soarin’ at 3 pm, you will have a bad time.
What do you think? Is my advice unreasonable and suggesting “too much” to most guests, or is this a great way to tour the parks during busy seasons? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!