I love riding all of the incredible attractions at Walt Disney World… but I hate waiting in line. Even though the waiting areas (aka “queues”) for some attractions at Disney are incredibly themed and interactive, I personally never want to spend more than 10 minutes of my vacation time waiting in line for anything.
After 20+ trips over the past 30 years, I’ve figured out how to ride everything I want to and never wait in line!
In this post I’ll share my strategies for avoiding long waits at Disney World, so you can spend your vacation enjoying all the parks have to offer instead of waiting in line.
#1) Use a Crowd Calendar to Plan Your Park Days
No matter what time of year you visit, there will be crowds at Disney World. It is the world’s #1 vacation destination, so there are always thousands of people at the theme parks. The key to having the best possible vacation experience is to avoid these crowds as much as possible!
Luckily, some wise folks have figured out crowd patterns for you. I regularly use a free crowd calendar that shows recommended parks to visit and parks to avoid for each day of the year, such as this one published by Undercover Tourist.
My goal on every trip is to visit only recommended parks each day. This is particularly important at Magic Kingdom, the smallest and most popular park.
Here is an example of how powerful the crowd calendars are. Against my better judgment, we went to Disney World over Christmas about five years ago to celebrate my birthday (I was born on Christmas day). Christmas is likely the busiest day of the whole year at Disney World.
Using the crowd calendar as our guide, we visited the recommended park, Animal Kingdom, on Christmas Day and were shocked to discover a practically empty park! We rode all the attractions with little wait and roamed freely around the park – on the busiest day of the year.
That same day Magic Kingdom was filled to capacity and had to close its gates around noon. So do not underestimate how much using a crowd calendar can affect the quality of your vacation experience!
#2) Take Full Advantage of the FastPass+ System
Lots of folks going to Disney for the first time (or the first time in many years) ask me how much the FastPasses to ride attractions without the wait cost. The FastPass+ system, which allows you to skip the line for three or more attractions each day, is included with park admission at no extra cost! I think people get it mixed up with Universal Studio’s front-of-the-line passes, which range in price from $20-$50.
Another misconception is that you must be staying at a Disney resort to take advantage of FastPass+… also not true! Anyone with a valid admission to one of the Disney World theme park can take advantage of the totally free FastPass+ system!
Here’s how it works… first, buy your tickets well in advance of your trip (I recommend at least 2 months before your trip from a trusted ticket broker such as Undercover Tourist).
Then visit the My Disney Experience website or app and connect your park ticket to your Disney account.
30 days before your visit (60 days if you are staying at an on-site Disney hotel), you can select FastPasses for up to three attractions at a single park for every day of your trip. You will select a one-hour window for each attraction during which you can ride it with little to no wait.
I know it seems crazy to plan when you will ride an attraction 60 days before your visit, but a little planning in this department will make your vacation SO MUCH BETTER.
You don’t have to plan your every step of the day, just roughly where you will be when to take advantage of skipping the lines on the most popular attractions. If your plans change, you can update your FastPasses on the go with the mobile app or at kiosks in the parks. And after you use your first three FastPasses, you can get more during the day.
It makes sense to use a FastPass for attractions that have long “stand-by” waits. That means that the wait time to ride the attraction without a FastPass regularly gets above an hour or two.
The attractions I list below are just those with the longest waits, so keep in mind that they may or may not interest you personally! Here are my suggestions for the best use of FastPasses in each park:
Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Peter Pan’s Flight
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Big Thunder Mountain
Any character Meet & Greets that interest you
Frozen Ever After*
Test Track* (you can also use a “single rider” line to avoid long waits)
*You can only choose one of these attractions per day at Epcot
Flight of Passage (read why I wouldn’t suggest a FP for this attraction here )
Nav’i River Journey
Expedition Everest (also usually has a single rider line option)
Kali River Rapids
Toy Story Mania
Rockin’ Roller Coaster (also usually has a single rider line option)
Tower of Terror
3) Get to the Parks Early (Sorry, It’s True)
You’ve likely heard the advice to get to the theme parks early to avoid long lines. Maybe you are hoping this actually isn’t true, and there’s no reason to set your alarm on your much-needed vacation.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but getting to the parks before they open is likely the single best way to avoid long waits at Disney World!
Most people like to sleep in on vacation. I would estimate that the vast majority of people arrive at the theme parks after 10 am.
If you can manage to be in the theme parks during the first hour they are open, you will be able to ride many attractions with little to no wait. If you were unable to score FastPasses for any of the above attractions, just get to the parks well before they open and you will likely be able to ride many of them in succession!
On regular days, the published opening time for the parks is 9 am. However, parks other than the Magic Kingdom have been known to open before the posted opening time.
As an example, when I visited Epcot last month we were let in at 8:40 am when the park supposedly opened at 9 am. We were on and off of Frozen Ever After by 9:10 am!
Lots of folks ask me about Extra Magic Hours, too. Every day, at least one theme park opens an hour early or stays open a few hours later than normal. During these times, only guests who are staying at an on-site, Disney-owned resort can enter the park.
My family has had so much fun during morning Extra Magic Hours (EMH), especially at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. We have ridden Expedition Everest 5+ times in a row with no wait and had our pick of any ride at Magic Kingdom! We aim to be at the park by 8 am if we are taking advantage of morning EMH.
However, here is one warning about visiting the park with EMH: the overall crowd level will be higher than normal throughout the entire rest of the day. The park with EMH tends to NOT be the recommended park to visit that day according to the crowd calendars for that reason.
So I only recommend taking advantage of morning EMH under these circumstances: you have Park Hopper tickets and can visit a less crowded park later in the day, or you plan to leave the parks after lunchtime anyway.
We often just visit the parks in the morning, head back to our resort for a nap/swim, then eat dinner at one of the resort hotels. We can still get a solid four hours in at the parks and enjoy them when they are the least crowded!
4) Take Your Vacation During Off-Peak Times of Year
My last tip for avoiding long waits at Disney World is to plan your visit during a less-crowded time of year. When you visit can make a huge impact in the overall crowd levels at the parks and therefore how long lines get.
You can read all about my recommended times to visit Disney World in this post. I’ll share the least-crowded times of year to visit the parks below, but be warned: they all take place when kids are traditionally in school.
Now I will tell you what I told my students and their families if they informed me they would be missing a week of school to visit Disney World (I was a public school teacher for 10 years): Your kids will learn far more during a week at Disney World than they would have in school that week.
Blasphemous, right? But honestly, your kids will get SO MUCH out of a trip to Disney World in terms of new knowledge and life experience.
It is the best possible learning situation for them, so please don’t feel bad or hesitate to take your kids out of school to travel to Disney. Just ignore anyone who says otherwise and send them my way for convincing. 😉
So here are the overall least-crowded times of year at Disney World:
- January (except for marathon weekend)
- February (except for President’s Day weekend)
- After Easter until Memorial Day
- After Thanksgiving until mid-December (though this time gets busier every year due to promotions Disney has been running)
If you visit during these times of year and use the other strategies I mentioned above, you can easily ride every attraction you want to at Disney World and never wait for more than 10 minutes.
Want more help planning your Disney World vacation? Click here to get a free quote from Destinations in Florida, my recommended Disney travel planners, who can help you plan FastPasses, dining reservations, and more.
If you have any questions about avoiding crowds at Disney, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!