Disney Spring Break: Three Tips for Beating the Crowds at Disney’s Theme Parks

It’s that time of year again when folks start planning spring break vacations to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Although crowds during this time of year can be very heavy, there are a few simple things you can do to help beat those crowds. I’ll expand on each of these below, but to cut right to the chase, my three tips are:

  • Arrive early
  • Have a plan
  • Choose the “right” park for your visit date

Let’s hit each of these in more detail.

Tip #1: Arrive Early

Regardless of whether you’re visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World, it’s very important to arrive well before the park opens for the day so that you’re among the first group of guests in the park right when it opens for business.

Consider the two pictures below, taken last year at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-8f7jvBt/0/X2/i-8f7jvBt-X2.jpg

Now, check out the following picture taken two hours later:

Magic Kingdom Spring Break -- Mid-morning

Not only are the lines for the attractions lower first thing in the morning, arriving early also gives you an important advantage in using Disney’s FASTPASS (FP) system at Disneyland, or in using the FASTPASS-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World.

To explain more, first thing in the morning the FP “return windows” for most attractions at Disneyland and at California Adventure are just 40 minutes away, and this is also the time at which you can get your next FP ticket. Contrast this with later in the day, when you may have to wait two hours to obtain your next FP ticket, if they’re even available at all.

Similarly, at Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use, arriving early gets you quicker access to the FP+ kiosks which are scattered throughout the parks.

Arriving later in the day could result in a line for the FP+ kiosks that looks like the following picture from the Animal Kingdom, taken at around 11:00am during another busy season of the year (the way some of these folks are camped out makes it look like they’ve been waiting a while):

FP+ Kiosk at Animal Kingdom

Tip #2: Have a Plan

OK, I know this one is self-serving, since I earn my living from the RideMax custom itinerary planning toolBut even if you don’t use RideMax, I recommend you at least do some planning before you leave for the park, even if it’s just to sit down and make a list of priority attractions and their general location within the park. (And if you are visiting Walt Disney World and don’t feel like you need the detail that RideMax offers, you can also find good touring advice at the easywdw website. No affiliation, BTW.)

Tip #3: Choose the “Right” Park For Your Visit Date

Radiator Springs Racers

In addition to arriving early, it’s important to choose the “right” day of the week to visit a given park. For example, the above picture shows the empty line for Radiator Springs Racers first thing in the morning, right after the park opened for the day.

The catch is that for the majority of guests, this scene is only possible on certain days of the week.

What’s important to remember is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some sort of “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 Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Walt Disney World also normally hosts early entry at one or more of its parks on any given day, but the exact day of the week is not always as predictable as it is for the Disneyland resort. (RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Disney World website for the early entry information as well.)

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 don’t even attempt to visit Peter Pan on an early entry day for Disneyland if you don’t have early entry access yourself!)

During a busy season like spring break, a similar scenario can play out at the Disney World theme parks, with hotel guests streaming into the park hosting early entry (or “Extra Magic Hours” (EMH), as Disney calls it) well before the park opens to the public. To start your day with lower crowds, I strongly encourage you to visit a non-EMH park instead.

Do you have a favorite crowd-beating tip you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments below!

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The End of an Era: FASTPASS Removed from the Magic Kingdom

As of today, the traditional FastPass system which been in use for more than ten years at Walt Disney World, is no longer available at the Magic Kingdom. If you look for the FastPass machines, this is the scene you’ll see all over the park:

With this change, the Magic Kingdom joins the Animal Kingdom in only offering the new FastPass “plus” system, or “FP+” for short.

Disney has offered FP+ to hotel guests as a “test” for several months now, but until today, the system was unavailable to off-site guests and annual passholders not staying at a Disney hotel.

Now, instead of the traditional FastPass machines, Disney has FP+ kiosks installed in four locations around the park. These can be used by folks like me who aren’t staying at a Disney hotel to make FP+ reservations on the day of their visit.

FP+ kiosk sign
This sign marks the FP+ kiosk location near PhilharMagic

Before Liesle and I visited the park today, I created a RideMax plan that utilized FP+. Once inside the park, I went straight to a FP+ kiosk and made the FP+ reservations shown below. I matched the time slots on the reservations to the times shown on my RideMax plan for the FP+ attractions:

FP+ kiosk screen

I may write more detail about our day in a future post, but overall, the day went smoothly, although the park was very uncrowded today, so I’m sure that helped.

What are your thoughts about FP+? Is it a good thing, or was the old system better?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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