Disneyland and Walt Disney World: FIVE TIPS for Beating the Spring Break Crowds

Magic Kingdom Crowds - Walt Disney World

It’s spring break, and with it comes very large crowds at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Here are five tips for beating the crowds and making sure your family has a great vacation during this busy season of the year:

Tip #1: Arrive Early!

This may seem obvious, but it’s listed first because I really can’t emphasize it enough. There are certain attractions in each of the Disney theme parks which get very busy very quickly (sometimes within SECONDS of the park opening), so arriving early is key to beating the crowds.

Spring Break at Walt Disney World - Low Crowds at Opening

The above picture, taken during another spring break season at Walt Disney World, shows the low crowds first thing in the morning.

Spring Break Walt Disney World - Fantasyland Crowds

Here is the same scene just two hours later.

Although these picture are a few years old now (you can tell by the FastPass machines on the left in the top image, which are no longer in use at Walt Disney World), the pattern remains the same. Lower crowds first thing in the morning, with very crowded walkways and busy attraction lines as the day progresses.

Another often-overlooked bonus of arriving early is that it helps you maximize your use of Disney’s FastPass system (or FastPass+ at Walt Disney World).

FastPass+ System at Walt Disney World

The image above shows FastPass+ (FP+) in use at Walt Disney World. Arriving early allows you to use your first three FP+ reservations earlier in the day, which opens up the possibility of obtaining more FP+ slots once you’ve used your first three. If you arrive much later in the day, it’s more likely that “good” FP+ slots will be sold out, leaving you at a disadvantage to those who arrived early.

Disneyland - Radiator Springs Racers FastPass Ticket

If you’re visiting Disneyland, arriving early is especially key. Consider the FastPass (FP) ticket above, which is for the most in-demand FP attraction at the Disneyland resort, Radiator Springs Racers. This image was taken last year before spring break began in earnest, near the end of February. Even so, the time stamp on the FP ticket shows it was obtained just before 11:00am, and the “return time” on the FP ticket is already 4:25pm. Had I attempted to obtain that FP ticket much later, they would have been sold out for the entire day, leaving me with little choice but to wait in a very long line.

The other huge advantage of arriving early related to FastPass is that early in the day, the return time on many FP tickets is just 40 minutes away, and once your first FP is valid, you can also obtain another FP ticket.

Contrast this with later in the day, when you might have to wait two hours before obtaining your next FP ticket. This puts you at a really big disadvantage compared to someone who arrived early!

Tip #2: Have a Plan!

Since I’m the main software developer behind RideMax, I’m sure you saw this one coming, and I’m also sure I’m biased in favor of using an optimized “game plan” to visit the attractions you want to see on any given day. But really, in this day and age when a computer can do the work of figuring out an optimized, customized itinerary for you, why would you NOT take advantage of this?

I know there are free “wait time” apps out there as well, but how much good does it really do you to pull up that wait time app in the middle of the day, only to be told that the wait for Space Mountain is now 90 minutes? I don’t know about you, but whether the wait is 90 minutes or 120 minutes, I don’t want to be waiting in that line. And to AVOID that long line, it helps to make your “touring order” decisions before you even step foot in the park.

Remember, you’re likely spending THOUSANDS of dollars on this trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Debating whether to spend another $15-$20 to help you make the most of your precious time in the parks seems almost silly.

Walt Disney World Crowds at Rope Drop

In addition to the itinerary itself, RideMax also includes some in-plan tips to help you navigate that plan. So, for example, if you’re facing a pre-opening crowd like the one shown in the image above, but you’re trying to visit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Radiator Springs Racers first thing in the morning, those tips can help you know where to line up and how to navigate that brisk walk to the attraction entrance in such a way as to boost your advantage over those crowds.

So yes, buy RideMax. Use it. Have a plan!

Tip #3: Have a Daily Rhythm that Helps You Stick to Tips #1 and #2!

Magic Kingdom Clock

If you’re visiting the Disney theme parks over multiple days, it’s easy to underestimate how much physical stamina this will require. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to wipe yourself out the very first day of your visit, making it nearly impossible to stick to Tip #1 (arriving early) the next day. And if you’re not following Tip #1, it’s easy to assume that Tip #2 (having a carefully-created game plan) has gone out the window as well.

World of Color - Disney California Adventure
Early mornings, full days, and late nights. Something’s gotta give!

OK, I know what you might be thinking. “But I’m so excited about this trip that I’ve been planning for months, there’s NO WAY I’ll get worn out being in those Disney theme parks. The thrill of being there will get me through the day, and I’ll be excited and ready to go the next day too!”

My advice: Just STOP! Realistically think about this for a minute, especially if you’re taking young children to the park. Even doing something as fun as a Disney visit, none of us is super-human. Just with all of the walking involved alone, you WILL get worn out if you’re not careful.

So, what is the best daily rhythm to help avoid burnout?

One key to having a relaxing visit to is purposefully include some “down time” in your plans. And since the crowds are at their peak (and you’re the least productive) during the afternoon hours, my recommendation is to arrive early in the day, but take an afternoon break back at the hotel during the busy afternoon hours.

If you create a RideMax plan which begins when the park opens and runs late into the evening, you’ll often find that it includes a large block of “free time” on the plan in the afternoon. This “free time” is the time left over after all of your attractions have been scheduled for the day. And the afternoon is also an ideal time to get out of the park and take a rest, whether you’re using a RideMax plan or not. Taking an afternoon break will allow you to return later in the evening re-energized, PLUS make it more likely you’ll be able to repeat the early arrival process the next morning as well.

Along with the afternoon break, if your schedule allows, I also recommend a two-day-on, one-day-off schedule for visiting the parks. That is, you’d visit the parks for two days, then take the third day off completely, before returning to the parks on days four and five. Taking this “day off” further increases your chances of having an enjoyable vacation, rather than something that feels like the Forced Death March to Dumbo.

Tip #4: Buy Your Park Tickets in Advance!

This tip applies especially to Walt Disney World visitors, because you need to actually have your tickets in-hand before you can go online and schedule your FP+ reservations. And since Disney hotel guests can set up their FP+ reservations up to 60 days in advance, it puts you at a huge disadvantage if you’re waiting until just a few days before your vacation to make your own FP+ reservations, since reservations for very popular attractions “sell out” early. It’s even worse if you purchase your tickets at the park gates, since many of the “good” FP+ reservations will be long gone by the day of your actual visit.

So, buy your tickets in advance and get a nice jump on those FP+ reservations. Waiting until you’re actually at the park to buy them is a very costly mistake in terms of making the most of your time in the parks.

Tip #5: Avoid Early Entry!

Disneyland Magic Morning

Disneyland hosts an early entry program for its hotel guests and special ticket-holders called “Magic Morning,” which is available on certain days of the week. At Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney World, the similar program is called “Extra Magic Hours,” or “EMH,” for short. Regardless of the name, these programs allow these special-access guests to enter the park one hour before the official opening time on selected days of the week.

Although Disney sells this early access as a “bonus,” the reality is that the program draws thousands of extra visitors into the park hosting early entry on any given date. So while I may not *always* recommend against visiting a given park on its early entry day, as a general rule of thumb, it’s a good practice to simply avoid it. This is especially true if you don’t have access to early entry yourself, since it can negate much of the advantage of following Tip #1, arriving early. You can’t get a jump on the crowds by arriving early if thousands of guests are already in the park by the time you’re allowed entry.

Note that Disneyland normally hosts Magic Morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with DCA hosting EMH the other days of the week. Again, I recommend visiting these parks on the days of the week when the OTHER park is hosting early entry. Walt Disney World’s EMH schedule (that is, which park is hosting EMH on any given date) can change from month to month or even from week to week, so I recommend checking the Walt Disney World website for the daily schedule during the date(s) of your visit.

Disney California Adventure Trolley

Have Fun!

I hope you’ve found these five tips helpful in making the most of your spring break vacation to Disneyland or Walt Disney World.

As always, be sure to check out RideMax to help you create optimized and customized game plans for visiting the parks.

If you have further ideas or suggestions for beating those spring break crowds, please share them in the comments below!

Oh, and have a great trip!


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