Here we go again — it’s the time of year when people start planning that spring break trip to the theme parks. Whether you plan to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, here are four tips that can help you avoid the crowds and have a successful, fun vacation:
- Arrive early, well before the park opens for the day
- Buy your tickets in advance
- Have a game plan
- Choose the “right” park for your visit date
Let’s elaborate on these in more detail.
Tip #1: Arrive Early, Before the Park Opens for the Day
When visiting Disney’s theme parks during crowded seasons of the year especially, it’s important to be at the front gates well before the park opens for the day.
Consider the two pictures below, taken a couple of years ago at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:
Now, compare this to following picture taken two hours later:
Arriving early gives you access to the shorter lines right after the park opens, as you can imagine. But another huge advantage of arriving early is that it helps you get the most out of the FastPass-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World, and the FastPass (FP) system at Disneyland.
At Walt Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use (with no paper FPs in use at all anymore), arriving early allows you to use your FP+ reservations earlier in the day, opening up the possibility of obtaining more FP+ slots once you’ve used your first three.
At Disneyland, arriving early is even more critical for efficient FastPass (FP) use. For those who aren’t aware, after you obtain your first FP ticket, you can’t obtain another one until either two hours have elapsed, or until the “ride window” for that first FP ticket has arrived, whichever comes first. Early in the day, those FP windows can be as close as 40 minutes away from the time at which you obtained the FP ticket, allowing you to get your next FP ticket 40 minutes after the first. Contrast this with later in the day, when the return windows for some of the more popular attractions can stretch out to several hours away instead, forcing you to wait the full two hours before you can get your next FP ticket.
The other significant thing to note about the Disneyland FP tickets is that they can “sell out” by midday for some rides (depending on crowd levels), so arriving early helps you to not get “locked out” entirely from getting FPs for certain attractions.
Tip #2: Buy Your Tickets In Advance
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World especially, it’s critical that you buy your tickets well in advance of your trip.
Disney allows you to make your FP+ reservations 60 days in advance if you’re staying onsite in a Disney hotel, and 30 days in advance if you’re staying offsite. And FP+ reservations for popular attractions and time slots can sell out very early, so it’s important to secure those FP+ reservations as far in advance of your trip as you can.
The catch here is that you have to have your actual tickets in hand before you can make those FP+ reservations. Once you have your ticket numbers, you can create an account on Walt Disney World’s My Disney Experience website and “link” these tickets to your account. Once that’s done, you can make your actual FP+ reservations.
Note that if you’re using RideMax to create and optimize your itineraries, the RideMax plan will tell you when it thinks it’s best to actually use those FP+ tickets. So the idea is that once you have your RideMax plans created, you then go into My Disney Experience and adjust your FP+ reservations to match the times shown on your RideMax plans.
The point is that the earlier you make your FP+ reservations, the more likely it is that you can get the time slots you want (or which your RideMax plan specifies). So buying your tickets in advance is critical.
For Disneyland visitors, the same “buy tickets early” advice applies, but it’s not nearly as important as it is for WDW guests. If you buy your Disneyland tickets in advance, it can save you some hassle the first morning of your visit, since you won’t have to wait in line at one of the ticket counters. You can also get access to one of Disneyland’s Magic Morning hours if you’re purchasing a 3-day or higher ticket online. This in itself can be a huge advantage if you wish to take advantage of Magic Morning.
Tip #3: Have a Basic Game Plan
OK, you probably figured this was coming, since I earn my living from the RideMax planning tool. But even if the detailed planning that RideMax allows isn’t quite your thing, you’ll still benefit greatly by mapping out at least a partial game plan in advance of your trip. Give at least give some thought to which attractions you want to start your day with, and then go from there.
Visiting your attractions in an efficient order can literally make or break your day, especially when the park is crowded, so I’d advise spending at least a few minutes before your trip thinking this through. This will help keep you from wandering around the park with your head buried in the park map trying to figure this out on the fly later.
Tip #4: Choose the “Right” Park for Your Visit Date
In addition to arriving early, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you choose the “right” park for your visit date.
The example photo above shows absolutely nobody in front of me as I made my way to Radiator Springs Racers. The catch is that for most guests, this is only possible on certain days of the week.
The reason for this is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some an “early entry” program for their hotel guests, which gives these guests access to one of the parks one hour early on specific days of the week. For example, Disney hotel guests are normally allowed early entry to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
If you’re not staying at a Disney-owned hotel and still want to get a jump on the crowds by arriving early, the best way to do this is to simply avoid the park hosting early entry on the day of you visit, and go to another park instead. For example, the picture above was taken on a Tuesday, when Disneyland, and NOT DCA, was hosting early entry. Had I gone straight to Radiator Springs Racers when the park opened to the public on a Monday instead, I would have found a large line for this attraction right at opening time. (And do yourself a favor and steer clear of Peter Pan on an early entry day at Disneyland, unless you have early access yourself!)
You’ll see a similar scene play out at Walt Disney World, which normally hosts “Extra Magic Hours” at one of its theme parks each morning as well. (Walt Disney World RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Walt Disney World website for the early entry schedule also.)
So, do yourself a favor this spring break and avoid the crowds by arriving early, buying your tickets in advance, having a game plan, and choosing the right park for your visit date. I think you’ll be glad you did!
Are you planning a spring break visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear your comments below!