Offsite Options: Rope Drop Rules

by on September 16, 2014 36 Comments

Filed under: Transportation, Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

As avid Disney fans know, the Unofficial Guide recommends arriving at the gate of Walt Disney World’s theme parks 30–40 minutes before park opening during mid-summer months, and 45–60 minutes before park opening during the holiday season. The introduction of FastPass+ into touring strategies, however, may lead some to question whether arriving this early, i.e., for rope drop, is as important as it used to be. After all, if you can make your attraction selections in advance, why go through the “hassle” of arriving at the crack of dawn?

Though I would argue getting to the parks early is important for all guests, this article will examine why it is especially important for offsite guests. I’ll identify some of the benefits to “rope-dropping” as an offsite guest, and encourage you to at least give rope drop a try during your next Walt Disney World experience.

First!

First! – © John Kivus, 2013

Everything is Simpler

Using “everything” in an opening headline may not be the best way to start most analytical articles. In this case, however, I think it is appropriate. Everything really is simpler when you arrive for rope drop.

Benefits at Arrival

To be at the turnstiles 45 minutes before park opening, an offsite guest must leave the resort early enough to drive to the day’s desired Walt Disney World Park; park in the appropriate lot; and either walk to the turnstiles, or, in the case of the Magic Kingdom, take transportation to the gate and then walk to the turnstiles. These additional steps most likely mean budgeting an extra 30–45 minutes before the prescribed rope drop arrival time depending on just how far offsite you are staying.

Let’s break this down a little more to examine the benefits gained during the arrival part of your day:

Driving to the park: I drive Interstate 40 on my commute to work everyday. If I leave my house at 8:30, it takes me 20 minutes to get to the office. But, if I leave at 8:40, it takes me 30+ minutes. Traffic on certain, well-travelled roads is tricky like that sometimes. Take this concept of “the more you’re late, the more you’ll wait,” turn it up to 11, and you’ve got Orlando. The highways around Walt Disney World’s parks go from cruising without another vehicle in sight to standstill within half an hour. If you leave your hotel early enough to be at rope drop, you’ll face lighter traffic on the roads leading to the park. Traffic will be discussed more later.

 

I think I'm in the First Row

I think I’m in the First Row – © John Kivus, 2013

Parking: Have you ever driven onto Disney property at 7:30 a.m. (i.e., an hour and a half before the parks open)? Trust me when I tell you that it’s pretty wonderful. It is calm, peaceful, and, though these benefits are not guaranteed, you will generally wind up with short to no lines at the parking toll-booths, and prime parking very close to the park entrance (or the Transportation and Ticket Center if you’re headed to Magic Kingdom). If you’re very early the attendant may not even be there yet to demand the parking fee.

Walking to the turnstiles: You’re going to walk a lot on your Walt Disney World vacation regardless of where you park, but it’s nice to save the majority of the walking for inside the park itself. The closer you park to the turnstiles, the easier that is to do.

Benefits at the Park

One of the benefits of staying on-site is the 60 day FastPass+ booking window. By comparison, offsite guests who purchase their tickets in advance only receive a 30 day booking window. When you arrive at rope drop, regardless of your on- or off-site status, you normally get an hour to an hour-and-a-half of nearly line-free touring (depending on the season of course). Everyone else is still sleeping, or stuck in traffic, or unloading the stroller from their rented Dodge Caravan. If you weren’t able to secure the exact FastPass+ reservations you wanted as a result of the shorter advance booking window for offsite guests, those early hours with low-wait touring time are extremely valuable.

Relatedly, you probably won’t need any FastPass+ reservations in the first hour to hour-and-a-half after park opening. There will be exceptions, of course – currently, the main exceptions would be Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall, but most attractions will have minimal-to-no wait in the early hours. As the Unofficial Guide says, “[t]he same four rides you experience in 1 hour in early morning can take as long as 3 hours after 10:30 a.m.” Speaking from personal experience, my wife and I have ridden Toy Story Mania twice in a row through the standby line in about 20 minutes thanks to rope drop (I won both times).

In addition to the shorter waits, there is also a social aspect of rope drop (that is, if you’re not as introverted as I am). Those who make it to rope drop are die hards. They live and breathe Disney and are there to make the most of their day. You can kill time waiting at the turnstiles by chatting with other fans or learning interesting information from the cast members manning the metaphorical rope (if you didn’t already know, there isn’t actually a rope to drop anymore).

Benefits at Departure

Though my wife and I are fans of the occasional all-day, guerrilla touring experience, it is more common to find us leaving a park in the early afternoon to head back to our resort to recharge (usually by the pool). Of course, staying offsite may mean that your resort is not as closely located to the Disney parks as Walt Disney World Resorts are, and this could result in a longer trip back to your resort. Fortunately, you rope-dropped and got a great parking space. That prime parking is just as helpful when you are leaving as when you are arriving. Avoid the tram and just make the quick walk to your car. If you’re not leaving at midday for a siesta, you’ll be even more grateful for the close parking spot as you exit the park later that evening, undoubtedly exhausted.

Avoiding Traffic while Coming and Going

As I mentioned above, traffic around Walt Disney World is usually non-existent at 7:30 a.m. (of course, 6:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. park opening is even better.) Even the dreaded Interstate 4 (a road so notorious for its traffic hassles that the Unofficial Guide has a section discussing “[t]he I–4 blues.”), is usually empty at that time of day.

Normal Traffic

Normal Traffic

If you enjoy taking a midday break after a few hours of touring, then arriving at rope drop also usually results in lighter traffic heading back to your resort. For example, heading back to the J.W. Marriott – one of the four-and-a-half star hotels in the Unofficial Guide’s “How Hotels Compare” rankings – around 1:30 p.m. is usually traffic-free, even via I–4. Heading back around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., however, usually means at least “normal” traffic (see the image on the right), or, just as often, the dreaded “red line” on your mapping application (i.e., heavy traffic). Nothing takes the relaxation out of my midday break faster than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for 20–30 minutes when the drive back to my resort should only take 10.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Though I make the above time-based traffic comparison, I always check the traffic before heading to or from my resort. Even if I leave at the most opportune time of day, I never know when there might be an accident or other event that could result in some kind of traffic issue. Google Maps’ most recent updates are helpful too – showing you shorter options while you’re already en route.

Summary

To many people, the thought of getting up at 6:00 a.m. to make rope drop goes against the entire idea of “vacation.” As we all know, however, a trip to Walt Disney World is not your average vacation. As the Unofficial Guide says, it is “the vacation that fights back.” Thankfully, by getting to the parks early, offsite guests of Walt Disney World put themselves in the best position to win that fight. Getting up early also makes it that much easier to make the dreaded transition back to your normal work schedule.

Posted on September 16, 2014

36 Responses to “Offsite Options: Rope Drop Rules”

  • I can’t agree more. Being there for Rope Drop, makes life at a Disney Park SO much easier. Wouldn’t do it any other way.
    Went early December 2013, and never had to wait inline. If we did wait (Haunted House and Laughter floor), it was because the crowds weren’t ‘moving along’ as cast members were suggesting. And those 2 waits we did have, were still only 15 maximum!
    And with two little kids, aged 5 and just 8, it saved on the ” my legs are hurting” moans.
    We even could have ridden some of the rides twice without waits like you mentioned.
    Besides, the chatting to the cast members, watching the arrival shows, collecting sparkly Mickey mouse confetti (thrown by CM), counting down and seeing the mini fireworks are just part off the fun and memories.
    My advice… “DO IT” you WON’T regret it.

    • Jayne,
      Out of curiosity, what week in December did you go? We’ll be there this year 12/15-22 and I’m wondering about crowds. The calender here is a huge help, but it’s nice to hear what people have to say about their experiences. If you’re saying not much waiting, that makes me feel even better!

      • Hi Jayne – sorry to chime in – my family went in Dec last year from Wed the 18th to Monday the 23rd – Wed, Thurs & Friday were easy navigating the parks – Saturday was busy, Sunday very crowded and Monday insanely crowded. It looks like you planned perfectly imo – your last 2 days will probably be crazy though. ENJOY! It was our best time ever at the World – I would say if you can – do the Christmas party and the Candlelight processional- both were awesome and worth the extra $

        • I love when people chime in! That sounds like what I was expecting. We would have liked to do a few days earlier, but I want to see Marlee Matlin do the Candlelight Processional (I’m a sign language interpreter and teacher) and her first performance isn’t until 12/21. We already have our ADR for the reserved seating. We also have MVMCP tickets for 12/16. It’s our first Christmas time trip and we are SUPER EXCITED! We are not planning to visit any parks on 12/22 because we’re leaving early to make the 14 hour drive back home and because I heard that’s when the crazy crowds really kick in.
          Thanks for the info!

          • Hi Krissy We saw Trace Adkins at the processional last year – I’m not even a country music fan, but he was awesome and really brought out the spirit of Christmas as I’m sure Marlee will too. I’m sure you know this, but you must, must, must see the Osbourne Spectacle as well. Happy for you as it will be the trip of a lifetime – ENJOY!

      • Hi Krissy, I sent you a reply. I Hope you got it. I think it went via email. Jayne.

      • Hi Krissy ,
        We arrived at WDW on the 2nd of December 2013 and stayed for 14 nights.
        The only encounter we had, was when we visited ‘the studios’ on Dec 10th(Tues) .
        There was a huge group of South America cheer leaders (probably 200-300 of them) that visit the park that day. Hollywood tower of terror had a 180 minute wait. Lucky we had Fast passes.
        You may want to check into when the international cheer leading competition is being held and if it’s at Disney world again (ESPN sport venue).
        Also last December the Christmas parade was filmed over 2 days at the MK (fri 6 & sat 7th). That didn’t affect our visit on the Friday, as we arrived early. But it might be something to take into consideration for you visit.
        But as I mentioned we literally walked on to everything right away because we got there at Rope Drop. We were even the first to be at the ticket /wrist band stands.
        We toured fantasy land and tomorrow land on our first day at MK. We had been on and seen everything by 11:00 am!
        We visited Adventure land and frontier land two days later. The same again, we had done it all well before lunch (I think about 11 again ) including a trip to Tom sawyers island. 15 minutes was our max. That was for the Haunted mansion.
        We even ate at ‘Pecos Bills’ before the crowds in the restaurant and the seating was empty.
        Hope that helps. The calendar sure was a help in out planning too.
        Good luck and lots of fun.
        Ps don’t forget your disposal ponchos for splash mountain. : )

  • Another perfect post! I can attest to the accuracy of every well-researched point you shared. We’re big fans of the atmosphere pre-park opening with other die-hards and Cast Members, not to mention the excellent opening ceremonies at each park. 🙂

  • I’m excited reading this article since we are headed to Disney in 2 weeks. I’m wondering though, if we get the MK parking lot by 7:30, will we be able to get to the turnstiles early enough with the delayed schedule of the Monorail? I know the ferry and buses have been running, but do they run that early? We are major planners who use TouringPlans and this has got us a bit worried. Thanks!

    • Seth recently did a post that mentioned some of the hassles involved with the lack of monorail function in the morning: http://blog.touringplans.com/2014/08/29/observations-magic-kingdom-frozen-meet-greet-guest-lunch-queue-updates/

      He felt the buses were a slower option than the ferry. The problem, however, is that the ferry doesn’t usually start running until 8:15-8:30.

      Let me see if I can get some updated information for you on when the buses start running.

      • Thank you! I did see that article, that’s what started to make me wonder what was the best way to get there. I have even thought about dropping my party of three young girls and my sister at the contemporary to they could walk over and I would go park in the MK parking lot and walk over myself if that’s what it takes. HA!

        • We found that the best way to Magic Kingdom with the reduced monorail schedule is to just take a bus directly from your hotel (assuming you are staying on site at a Disney resort). The hotel staff can tell you what time the first bus to MK arrives at the hotel in the morning.

          This means some extra travel time, and some extra waiting on tired legs when it’s time to return to your hotel, but we thought the “door to door” from hotel to gate was easier than navigating the reduced AM transportation options at the TTC.

          The ferry is fine, but feels like an agonizingly long wait if you’ve just missed one.

        • Brittney – Here’s a quick update:

          They start selling tickets at the Transportation and Ticket Center at 7:30, and the current understanding is that they start running the buses that time as well. We are going to try to confirm that this weekend.

          • I checked at work this morning, the buses and ferryboat start running at about 7:30. The first Guests arrived at 7:00, but they were turned away back to the parking lot (so we could all finish getting the TTC clean and ready). The bus line is usually shorter/faster moving than the ferryboat line, though the ferryboat is much easier to board if you’re in a wheelchair.

          • Britney – It appears the monorail will be back to more normal hours starting next week (September 27). These are the alleged new hours:

            * Magic Kingdom Resort beam – 7:00 am until 1 hour after the park closes
            * Magic Kingdom Express beam – 8:30 am until 1 hour after the park close
            * Epcot beam – 8:00 am to 11:00 pm OR 1 hour after the Magic Kingdom closes (whichever comes first).

          • Thank you! Am I reading that right, though? The monorail won’t get us to the turnstiles until 8:30? What do we do if we have early breakfast reservations?

          • Britney – Assuming the alleged schedule is correct, you can take the Magic Kingdom Resort beam to the Magic Kingdom from the Transportation and Ticket Center starting at 7:00am.

            That is pretty much how it worked before this period with the shortened monorail schedule as well.

          • Thanks John. I didn’t realize the resort monorail stopped at the TTC. That will work great! Only 9 more days! We are so excited!

        • I was there in August and the monorail was often down. Because of the way traffic flows were coming off the parking lot trams everyone was heading toward the ferry producing huge and slow moving lines. We went to the bus and got on immediately, was able to sit, and it took us only about a quarter of the time it took us to get over via the ferry. But yes, if you are staying on site the quickest of all is to take the resort buses.

  • Yes Joe, I did lots of planning and research ; )
    I followed TouringPlans advice by not visiting the magic Kingdom on a Monday, as that is the busiest day of the week, next to weekends.
    also the 2 weeks before Christmas (25th) is one of the busiest times of the year to visit the MK.

  • I have to chuckle a little. In about a dozen visits to WDW, we have never, not once, made rope drop. And we have always enjoyed a pretty good vacation, with no fastpass and few long waits. Admittedly, the last few visits have been at low-attendance times: mid-September, first week of December, week after the marathon. The new order, with the World much more “connected”, may change our approach. We shall see.

  • On August 27th the MK opened at 9, we were at the turnstiles at 7:45 (staying on site). Enjoyed speaking to Mike from Greece the CM on our side. By 10 AM we had done, AE, PP, HM, SM and by 10:30 PoC and FC. All with no FP+.

  • We’ve been to The World many times, but always at low-season times of the year and never bothering with rope drop. Our next visit is during Christmas holidays, one of the busiest times, so we are actually going to attempt it. My question — If guests are staying on site and are going to attempt rope drop at a park with morning Extra Magic Hours, do they want to be at the park 45 to 60 minutes before the regular opening time or the EMH opening time? Thanks in advance!

  • Agree completely with the idea of being there for rope drop. We also went at Christmas last year (12/26 – 1/2), and even with the busy Christmas crowds, crowds are light at 8:30 in the morning, LOL. On our two days in Magic Kingdom, we rode 2 mountains, Under the Sea, and the majority of Fantasyland rides within the first 2 hours — both days. So a touringplan and being there for park opening has a LOT of advantages. We were at Hollywood Studios for New Year’s eve and it was absolutely nuts. I’m thankful we were there for rope drop as well. Got HTOT and RARC done within the first hour.

    For people asking how crowds will be. Realize they will be busy. I did notice some days were not as busy as others. But New Years eve I could feel and see the difference. New Years Eve will be chaos — no two cents about it. Just manage with a touring plan as best as you can. Last year, for New Years Eve, WDW was at capacity by 12:00pm and by 3:00pm they were turning away resort guests, which I had never heard of before.

    Ironically for us — New Years day was not busy.

  • When calculating the amount of WAITING in a touring plan, does UGTWDW factor in the actual waiting for the “rope” to “drop”?

    If I stand around waiting for the rope to drop, isn’t that waiting?

    I would be curious to see at what point the “unnecessary” morning wait out weighs the wait savings after the 9 am opening.

    • Ron, one thing to keep in mind is that if you wait for 75 minutes early in the morning in August it is generally more comfortable and you have more elbow room until the show starts. By 10 AM the summer heat can really start bearing down on you and waiting 75 minutes at 3 PM for Peter Pan will take a lot more out of you than the 75 minute wait in the morning. It’s also a great time to put on your sun screen and review your plan for the day.

      • Basically, my question is what is the “PERFECT” time to show up for rope drop. Is it to time it so that you get through the turnstile at 8:50 for a 9 am opening. Or is 8:30 the perfect time to go through the turnstile. Obviously, sometime is too early.

        What about the ultimate early bird? When does the parking lot generally open? Bring a motorhome at 4 am and nap in the parking lot until 8:45?

        • The Unofficial Guide recommends being at the turnstiles 30–40 minutes before park opening during mid-summer months, and 45–60 minutes before park opening during the holiday season. I agree with that assessment.

          For non-Magic Kingdom parks, my wife and I normally normally try to be pulling through the parking booth about 10-15 minutes before those above listed recommended turnstiles arrival times. Usually, that means we’re there among the first 10-15 people. Sometimes, it means we are the first people there.

          For the Magic Kingdom, we build in another 15-20 minutes for travel around Bay Lake. (Please note the the previous comments-discussion, where we’re trying to determine the current transportation schedule as a result of the shortened monorail schedule.)

          There used to be issues with the Animal Kingdom where the parking lot did not open until much closer to park opening time, but I have not heard about any such issues recently.

          For Star Wars weekend this year, my wife and I got to Hollywood Studios at 4am one day. There were already a bunch of people there (in fact, we saw people putting down mattresses as we were leaving the night before so they could spend the night.) The “benefit” to arriving this early was that there was no one stationed at the parking booth, so we could drive right in. I’ve heard of people getting to the Transportation and Ticket Center super early, and then walking from there to the the Contemporary and then to the Magic Kingdom. That sounds a little extreme. I think the idea of being at the turnstiles 45-60 minutes before parking opening is usually sufficient.

  • Totally agree about arriving in plenty of time for rope drop. You can get so much done in the first hour, a 30 minutes wait for the turnstiles to open can save you an awful lot of queueing later.
    I am not really sure why the article is concentrating on offsite guests though, surely its just as important for everyone?
    Having compared my timings (whilst standing waiting for rope drop!)with onsite guests who arrived at the same time as me, I always left my offsite resort by car much later than the onsite guests who had arrived by bus.