About ten years ago, simply visiting the parks during non-peak season (September through the first two weeks of December) would be enough to avoid crowds and long lines. Every year Disney adds another festival at Epcot or another room promotion during the off-season to keep rooms full and the money flowing in. And every year the ticketed events like the Christmas and Halloween parties get more popular. On top of all that, in the next two years, both Disneyland and Disney World will open Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which will pull in a whole different crowd of park guests. I’m not trying to scare you! The parks are still very accessible during certain times of the year, and there are a few tips I can give to make the most out of your Disney experience.
The big tip here is to try and plan ahead of time. This will help you feel organized. On the other hand, don’t get stressed if everything doesn’t go precisely to plan. Take the day as it comes. There might be a time when you can’t make it to your next FastPass due to Disney transportation or ride breakdowns, but don’t stress about it. Remember to breathe through these mishaps and remind yourself that you’re on an awesome Disney vacation with your loved ones.
- FastPass+ (Disney World): If you’re staying onsite at one of the Disney hotels, you can schedule your FastPasses 60 days in advance. If you’re staying offsite, you can book 30 days in advance. I highly recommend using this to your advantage. Especially if you want to try the new Pandora rides at Animal Kingdom. Plan which rides you’d like to schedule for each of your days and get up early on your 60-day mark. If you’re out of luck, and the reservations are all snatched up, try again later. A lot of people luck out the week before their vacations due to people changing their reservations.
- MaxPass (Disneyland): Park goers are annoyed that you have to pay $10 per person per day for a pre-reserved FastPass at Disneyland when it’s a free service at Disney World. Paper FastPasses are still available at the kiosks if you don’t want to pay for this feature. I will say that at Disneyland, you probably only need to use a MaxPass for a day or two. At Disneyland, it’s a little easier to get to all of your desired attractions. I did find the MaxPass very useful, so if you have the budget, I’d say go for it. Instead of running around from ride to ride getting return passes, you can book your attractions from your phone, much like Disney World. It also allows for unlimited Photopass photos, which is a huge bonus. The website will try to make you buy the pass for all of your days. You have the option to add it one day at a time once you enter the parks.
- Extra Magic Hours and Rope Drops: Another perk of staying onsite is the fact that you have access to the Extra Magic Hours or Magic Mornings. This is when you can enter a park one hour or early or stay an hour late. If the park is not offering an early morning, getting there right when the park opens also helps. Bolt for the rides that usually have the longest lines like Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and Seven Dwarfs Mine at Magic Kingdom.
- Dining Reservations: Try your best to make reservations for table service restaurants at Disney World. It can be challenging making same-day reservations at popular restaurants. For onsite guests, reservations become available 190 days before your first vacation day. For offsite, 180 days in advance. If you can’t get your desired restaurants at the 180-day mark when reservations are open, try at 60 days when people start to schedule their FastPasses. As always, check 1-2 weeks before your vacation begins. Since there is a cancellation fee of $10 per person, guests have more of an incentive to remove their dining reservations if they don’t plan on attending. It’s a much different scene at Disneyland, I was able to make a same-day reservation at Napa Rose, the nicest restaurant the park has to offer. That said, I still suggest making an Advance Dining Reservation if there is a restaurant you don’t want to miss. ADR’s are available 60 days in advance for onsite guests only.
- Mobile Meal Orders (Disney World): The My Disney Experience app contains all of your dining, FastPass, and resort reservations, and now allows you to pre-order from many locations around Disney World. Pre-ordering your meal will lessen your wait time considerably. Order during the lunch rush and grab a table. Right now, this feature is not available at Disneyland, but like most things, it may make its way over to the west coast soon. See all of the restaurants offering mobile ordering here.
- Character Breakfasts: Meet n’ Greet lines for characters can be up to an hour long, especially in Disney World. If you’re interested in meeting some characters, booking a character dining experience is the best way to go. For some restaurants, it can also create a more intimate experience. As a former friend of some of the characters, I’ve experienced some extremely slow mornings at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios where the characters spent a lot of time with each family. Crystal Palace, however, is fast-paced and you’ll likely only a get quick shot and autograph. The characters only have about an hour to see each table, so please be patient with them. They’re doing their best!
- Rides After the Last Firework Show: Once the first shows are over, a good chunk of the crowd will leave the parks. Families tend to rush out of the park after the last firework show, creating massive lines at the bus stations and trams. If you’re a night owl, plan on getting their late in the day so you have the energy to stay late, ride more rides, and have an easier time getting home.
- Rides Right at Close: If you’re in line before the park closes, they will not kick you out of line. Meaning, if a ride like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has a 20-minute wait and the park closes at midnight, you can get in the queue at that time and stay in line past close.
- Avoid the Summer: During the summer, the lines are much longer and the heat is oppressive. My favorite time to go is September through the beginning of October and the first two weeks of November. Most kids are in school and the weather is still nice.
- Use a Minnie Van or Ride Share (Disney World): The new Minnie Van taxi service powered by Lyft picks you up at your resort and takes you anywhere on property for $20. Seeing as parking costs $20, I’d say this is an ok deal. It drops you off at the front of the Magic Kingdom, so you don’t have to wait for the monorail or ferry. It also provides two car seats for families. If you’re not staying on property, you can order a regular Lyft. Here’s a link to the app if you don’t have already it.
- MaxPass Bus System (Disney World): The Disney bus systems have been a regular complaint at Disney World. Th busses tend to be unreliable and crowded. The new MaxPass offer is like a FastPass, but for the bus! It costs an extra $30 per week, but many have said it is well worth the money as it allows you to spend more time in the parks and less time waiting for the bus. It also takes you through the back roads of Magic Kingdom, so you’re going through security quicker and avoiding main entrance traffic.
Using some of these tips will help greatly in reducing stress and waiting. And of course, if planning ahead isn’t your thing, please feel free to contact me. I can help book dining and attractions reservations, which will help you get to the places that you want to see the most.