If you haven’t visited Disney World when crowds are very high, then you may wonder at the point of this article. So what if it’s crowded? You’ve been to crowded theme parks before and survived, right? How different can it be?
Short answer: very.
Disney World in Orlando Florida is the most visited theme park in the world. Magic Kingdom alone has over 20 million visitors a year.
Let that sink in a little. Over 20 million. In one year. In one park.
Feeling a bit nervous about your planned trip? Don’t be. I’m going to help you prep as much as possible. If you’re new around here, I’m a Disney World local. I live 10 minutes from the castle and it’s kind of my job to go to the parks. So after going several times a week, every week, for two years now, I can safely say there’s very little I haven’t seen or experienced first hand.
So I’m going to walk you through this and make sure that no matter where you’re at in your trip planning process you’ll find some helpful information. Whether you’re a WDW newbie who’s just starting to research for an upcoming trip, or an Annual Passholder Pro who’s just never visited during high crowds and looking for a few pro tips. (Newbies read through to the end of this article for ways to connect with me for more info that’ll help with your trip planning.)
When is Disney World most crowded?
Short answer: during Holidays. When school is on break the parks are most busy because these are the times people plan vacations to not miss school or work. It’s also when Disney World has lots of special Holiday entertainment to lure you into visiting during those times.
If you’re looking for the best way to avoid going to Disney when it’s crowded, you need to read this article, “When is the Best Time to Visit Disney World” and grab that free eBook that’s linked there while you’re at it.
I’m going to assume you have already planned on visiting Disney World when it’s going to be crowded. As I type this we are heading into the very busiest time of the year, the Holiday season of mid-December- early January.
Sometimes the busy season is the only time we can go, and that’s fine. You can still have a magical time. Here’s what will help you.
Before You Go
1-Plan as much as you can in advance.
Setting up dining reservations, hotel plans, and deciding which park you’ll go to on which day will really help you make the most of your time. You won’t in the park moving in a huge sea of people trying to walk upstream while googling what restaurant your starving family can eat at RIGHT NOW and HURRY BECAUSE DAD’S GETTING HANGRY.
2-Check crowd levels.
Crowd levels fluctuate a lot, even within the same week, so it can help to choose which park you’ll go to each day by checking a crowd calendar. There’s a free one at Undercover Tourist, and an even better, more accurate one at Touring Plans for a small yearly fee.
3-Figure out where you’d like to eat.
If they take reservations then go ahead and make dining reservations. My top picks are here.
4-Get your Fastpasses on the My Disney Experience App.
Once you know what park you’ll be at, you can make FastPasses. These will allow you to enter a shorter line to minimize your wait time. Here’s a handy list of the top rides you’ll want to get them for, in order of wait times. Feel free to save it to your phone to refer to it.
If you’re having trouble getting Fastpasses for the rides you want, you need to check out this article, FastPass Tips and Tricks. I even have a video where I’ll show you my best tricks for getting even last minute passes for the most popular rides.
While You’re There
Yes it means getting up early even though you are “on vacation”. I know. I know. But trust me on this. It’s necessary anytime but especially during high crowd times.
Besides, if you wanted a nice relaxing vacation you wouldn’t be going to Disney anyway, right?
On a typical vacation, I try to arrive about an hour before official opening time at least one day for Magic Kingdom, one day for Hollywood Studios and one for Epcot. If you haven’t been to Pandora (the new land at Animal Kingdom) plan to arrive early or stay late until closing at least one day for that. So that means three/four days of an average week-long vacation I will be getting up early and hitting the park at “rope drop”. The other days I will have a slower morning and stay out later at night instead. Usually I try to alternate these early mornings with slower ones. It works out well.
By the time other people are meandering into the park you will have already done the most popular rides. Don’t you look like a Disney pro? 😉
Like I said, this is a good idea always, but if you’re coming during the Holidays, or Spring Break it’s a deal-breaker.
6-Escape during the afternoon.
Even if you don’t go back to your hotel, take some kind of break in the middle of the day. It’s a sanity saver. This is an endurance race not a sprint, so pace yourself otherwise you will completely fall apart at some point and want to go home. And you’ll likely end up one of the rude people from #8.
7-Don’t try to do it all.
I’m looking at you little type-A planner with your color coded lists and excel spreadsheets. I can say this because I used to be you. I get the need to obsessively try to fit it everything you want to see in your limited time. And planning ahead is needed and encouraged. But don’t try so hard to fit everything in that you make everyone miserable while you’re doing it.
They call it a “World” for a reason. It’s HUGE. And you need to accept this cold hard truth right now:
You will not see it all.
You won’t. I don’t care how much you plan or how fast you move, or how long you stay. I’ve lived here over two years, and I go all the time and I still haven’t done it all. There’s no way you will and THAT’S OKAY.
Say it with me now: “I won’t see and do everything while I’m a Disney World and that’s okay.”
You know why it’s okay? Because Disney World isn’t going anywhere. It’ll still be here years from now. It’ll be here when you decide to visit again, and it’ll be just as magical.
So slow down. Enjoy it. And leave some things for next time.
8-Try to be gracious, even
if when people are rude.
Okay this one is hard. And I’d be a total hypocrite if I didn’t tell you guys I struggle with this one sometimes. Because people can be unbelievably rude.
It may shock you. And it can make you want to dish it right back to them because really. Shoving your child in front of a group of people who’ve waited for this parade spot for over an hour because you thought you could walk up two minutes before it started and grab a good spot is just not cool. I know they’re little and want to see but that’s just not the way to go about things.
So, the best thing you can do is anticipate things will happen. If you’ve taken all my earlier advice than know that you’re better prepared, more well rested, and less stressed than the rude people.
Try hard to shake it off. Because letting it ruin your mood and kill the magic of being at Disney is just not allowed. You deserve better.
Keep in mind Castmembers often have people be super rude to them. For some ideas of ways you can help bring some magic to their day read the article Saying Thank You to Castmembers.
9-Plan extra time to do everything.
This will apply to things you might not think of. Like stopping for a bathroom break. Any kind of transportation. Renting a stroller. Getting ice cream.
Give yourself extra time to travel places. When you have a show that you know you want to see and have a good spot for, then plan on grabbing a spot at least two hours early. If you aren’t sure if that’s enough time, or you want to make really sure you get the spot you want, ask Castmembers working the area when you should arrive. Or message me and ask. (all my social links are at the top and bottom of the page)
10-Concentrate on what’s important.
Here’s what I mean. I get a lot of messages from people who’ve been to Disney World before at other times of the year, but really want to experience the Holidays. And they do offer some amazing entertainment, events, and ambiance that you can’t get any other time. If that’s you, then focus on the special stuff. The things that you haven’t seen or done before, that are only offered during a limited time. Make a must-do list for those things. Keep your expectations realistic. And then focus on those. Make sure your arrival timing is ideal for those things. And everything else you get done is bonus.
Going into it with that mindset can make a huge difference in how you feel about the trip.
11-Don’t be a typical tourist.
I walk around Disney World every week and I watch the tourists. I see them yelling at each other. Screaming at their kids. Frustrated with traffic and crowds. Furious with the rules Castmembers are trying to enforce. Lost and confused. Absorbed in their phones and never looking up to see what’s around them. Ignoring their kids who are tired and fussy in their strollers. And generally looking miserable.
It’s so sad.
You’re at the most magical place on earth. You’ve paid a lot of money to be here. You’re in a place that many people in the world would love to visit and will never get to see.
So remember to be thankful that you’re there. Enjoy the time with your family, friends, and loved ones. Create memories that will last you forever. Have fun. Act silly. Be a kid again. That’s what it’s all about.
If you can do that, not only will you have an amazing time in spite of the crowds, but you will come away feeling like it was worth every penny.
How Can I Help?
I am here to make sure that every person who visits Disney World has the best time they possibly can. That’s what I’m all about. And hey, if you’ve read this far into the article then we’re basically friends now, right? So now you have a friend who’s a Disney local. Please let me know if I can help you in any way. I can point you in the right direction of getting the info you need. You can email me here.
You also really really need to sign up for my weekly newsletter. It will give you all the latest updates on what’s happening here. It comes out once per week. And you get a free eBook when you sign up. Get the newsletter here.
And, lastly, if you’ve got an upcoming trip you should really follow me on social media. I say this because I truly do give out good tips and info all the time. You will learn a lot just by scrolling thru my feed, and seeing what I’m talking about each day.
Thanks for reading friends! And if you do visit Disney World, look for me in the parks and say hello!