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Lani Teshima, editor

Beating the Crowds

Get ready for the start of the summer (and the Memorial Day weekend) with tips from our MousePlanet staff. This article, which originally ran a month ago, is back by popular demand.

Are you planning a trip to the parks this summer? If so, beat the crowds with these tips from our MousePlanet staff.

A large crowd at the Mickey and Friends parking structure awaits a tram to Disneyland.
A large crowd at the Mickey & Friends parking structure awaits a tram to Disneyland.

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix:

Buy your admission media in advance:

  • From your local Disney Store,
  • From your hotel
  • From your travel agent
  • By coming the night before you want to visit the park

On crowded weekends, ticket booth lines can extend all the way to the tram unload areas and take an hour or more to navigate. If you get on site without tickets, consider buying them at the Downtown Disney Monorail station - the lines are always shorter, and you can hop the Monorail into the park.

If you for some reason are buying your tickets at the ticket booth, then buy stroller vouchers at the same time. I believe you can also buy them at the parking booths. On busier days, guests with vouchers can bypass the regular stroller line and pick up their stroller in alternate locations, such at the Showcase store on Main Street.

Since so many people buy Annual Passes during holiday weekends, there are tons of people trying to renew them a year later. Take advantage of mail-in renewal, and save yourself the hour-plus lines to process your renewal in the park.

Visitors shop at the Rizzo's Prop Shop in Disney's California Adventure park.
Visitors shop at the Rizzo's Prop Shop in Disney's California Adventure park.

Shop in the mornings when the stores are not so crowded, and take advantage of the Package Express program, even though in its current format, it requires you to take the merchandise to the front of the park yourself. If you must shop later in the day, your best bet is during the parades and fireworks, but not immediately before or after.

Use the "hidden" bathrooms such as the Enchanted Tiki Room, Tour Guide Gardens (behind the AAA counter at the entrance-end of Main Street), Big Thunder BBQ, even Indiana Jones Adventure or Central First Aid if it is really urgent.

If you know you are coming on a busy weekend, you need to accept that you will not be able to see everything. Get copies of the park maps before you visit, and let every family member choose one or two items they simply cannot miss. Plan your day to hit those important attractions, and take advantage of Fastpass. You still will not see everything, but everyone will get to do their favorite things.

The second showing of the parades and Fantasmic are always less crowded. If you prefer not to stay for such a long stretch, consider going to your hotel for a nap and dinner, then returning for the parade/show. However, the final showing of Blast in Disney's California Adventure is often the most crowded, so be sure to pick up a Fastpass ticket for your preferred showtime.

Sue Holland:

Get to your park of choice at least a few minutes before it opens, and head immediately to the attractions that have the longest lines later in the day. You can knock off quite a few big attractions in the first hour or so, before the crowds get really bad.

Use Fastpass...this is a no-brainer, but it seems many people simply do not take advantage of this system.

If you are not leaving the park for an afternoon at your pool, at least schedule a leisurely lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant to get you out of lines for an hour or so.

Consider shopping in the mid-afternoon, when attractions lines are longest.

Splash Mountain at Disneyland, a popular attraction that offers Fastpass tickets.
Splash Mountain at Disneyland, a popular attraction that offers Fastpass tickets.

Watch parades in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom from the Frontierland area, rather than from Main Street.

Make priority seatings for any full-service restaurants you want to visit before you start your trip.

Brian Bennett:

My tips are from the Afternoon Break section of MousePlanet's Walt Disney World guide:

After lunch, I strongly suggest that you plan to take a respite. I cannot emphasize the importance of this too much. I really hope you get the message, though, since this is one of my strongest opinions about planning a day at Walt Disney World.

Take a break every afternoon for a couple or more hours.

Every day.

Without fail.

Even if you are only going to be at WDW for a few days.

No exceptions allowed.

Really!

The break does a lot of things:

  • It gives everyone a much-needed change of pace from the hectic frenzy of the parks.
  • It allows you party to have a chance to literally cool off from the heat of the day.
  • The various people in your group can get away from each other for awhile. The break from each other can be as important as the physical break from the crowds and heat.
  • It provides a golden opportunity to do and see some of the lesser-known things at WDW.

One of the swimming pools at the Grand Californian Hotel.
One of the swimming pools at the Grand Californian Hotel.

Here are just a few of the things you can do during the break:

  • Go to your room and take a nap (my personal favorite)
  • Take a swim in your hotel's pool
  • Go visit another resort and just soak up the atmosphere...and the typically uncrowded vistas
  • Play a round of miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens
  • Rent and watch a video tape
  • Read a book
  • Use the hot tub...and try to talk your spouse into a foot massage (good luck on that one)

You might think that taking a break everyday is a waste of precious time. But trust me. You will enjoy your days much more if you have such a siesta. For one thing, everyone in your party be more refreshed and able to do late night activities. Also, you can get up early in the morning and beat the worst of the crowds at the parks. Your feet will be less sore (a common malady at WDW). Everyone in the group will be less tired, less likely to become irritable, and be more fun to be with (especially on hot days). Last, any children in the group will have a chance to get back to familiar surroundings and reduce the "input overload" problem (the hotel room is more familiar than the many new vistas they will see in the parks every day).

If you take any of my advice, do this. If you do not, you will wish you had. Besides, the other members of your group will probably wish you did. Do not play Disney-commando. It simply is not worth it. Besides, vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right?"

Kevin Yee:

I would also emphasize taking a break. I might add that it is important to return after your break. The shortest lines of the day are always in the period just before closing, especially at the parks that are open late.

There are conflicting schools of thought on making a plan of attack. Personally, I do this at some point early in the day (usually the first line). There are often time-saving pathways through amusement parks, created with an eye for knowing which lines are longest (to know that, do your homework ahead of time on the Internet). However, Fastpass messes with the logic of such a plan and adds entire layers of complication. This does not mean that you are better off without Fastpass. Use it, and incorporate it intelligently into your plan of attack. Use the early morning and late evening hours for the big lines without Fastpass, and use the time in-between for the attractions that use the Fastpass system.

Visitors in the queue for Disneyland's Autopia in Tomorrowland, another attraction that uses Fastpass.
Visititors in the queue for Disneyland's Autopia in Tomorrowland,
another attraction that uses Fastpass.

Caveat: not all Fastpass attractions are created equal at Disneyland. A Fastpass is necessary on Autopia, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and usually on Indiana Jones Adventure. Fastpass is not necessary however, on the non-holiday versions of "it's a small world" and Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or Pirates of the Caribbean. And the final hour of the day usually has no lines anywhere, so do not bother getting a Fastpass for that hour unless you sense the park will stay busy, as it sometimes does during Spring Break.

The other school of thought says not to have such a plan because it guarantees you will feel stressed and hurried, and might result in frustration if you cannot keep to your plan. Playing it cool and just being spontaneous might be more fun. There is no way for me to tell you which way is better; just look deep inside yourself and decide whether you would rather be spontaneous and possibly miss attractions, or be thorough but risk stress.

Walk single-file through crowds. You get to your destination three times faster.

Mickey and Pluto greet visitors from a parade float.
Mickey and Pluto greet visitors from a parade float.

Know what time the parades are scheduled for because that affects your ability to cross the park. There are crossings of course, but it is better to avoid switching sides of the Park during parades. Use that time to stay on the fringes where crowds are lightest.

Eat a very large breakfast before arriving at Disneyland. This will give you energy and also enable you to enact an intelligent food plan. Since most restaurants open for lunch at 11:00, you can be there right at 11:00 before they get busy. Otherwise, grab something quick and easy (or do without) until 3:00. Restaurants are slowest from 3:00 to 4:00; use this moment to eat, escape the sun, and avoid long lines at rides.

Unless you have children, avoid fireworks and parades in favor of attractions. Lines always go down in the hour (or more) before fireworks and parades, as people camp out for prime viewing locations. If you can do without, you can enjoy some smaller lines!

If you do have children, do not force them to do anything. Nothing is worse than cranky children and grumpy parents on crowded days. Let the children decide what they would like to do next, and you will find that everyone is happy that way. Also, do not rush - visit the parks at their pace.

Al Lutz:

Some people can only visit the parks during the busy season. Even with all your precautions and preparations, you may still end up elbow-to-elbow in a crowded park. When that happens, there are still some things you can do to avoid getting into a bad mood:

Be nice . To both your fellow park visitors and the staff who work there. Don't let things get to you. Maybe you can provide a spot up front for a small child to better view a parade, or not linger too long at your table when you notice fellow diners looking for seating as they carry heavy trays of food. Being nice doesn't mean you have to let a pushy family in along with the small child to the parade curb, or gulp your meal in order to let others sit down: being nice means being considerate.

No matter how frustrating you get at the park--whether from not running enough ride vehicles to keep the queue moving, or suddenly shutting down a favorite attraction without notice--the cast members you interact with have little or nothing to do with such problems. Most of the time, they are being honest when they tell you what they do know, and a ride queue is not the place to remind them about how expensive this trip has been for you.

Disneyland's City Hall, where visitors can go to air their views.
Disneyland's City Hall, where visitors can go to air their views.

Should you need to file a complaint at City Hall, be firm, but remember to smile, speak in a normal tone, and let its staff know that you are not blaming them personally for the problem you experienced.

One technique that may get matters dealt with more seriously, if not promptly, is to turn down make-goods offers, such as a free meal coupon or ride pass. Cast members are authorized to hand out such ducats under the appropriate circumstances, however, I've found that they tend to give your complaint more weight if you clearly indicate that you wish to see your problem resolved by filling out a form describing it, instead of just getting a freebie. This approach also works outside of Disneyland, and my guess is that there are people who try to shake the trees until something falls, even if everything is just hunky dory.

By being nice, you may find that you are rewarded in unexpected ways that almost seem like magic. Trust me on this one: Disneyland is full of such little miracles each and every day.

Finally, some not-so-obvious tips from me.

Consider bringing a small folding stool. You can find a couple of different models -- a walking cane that has a seat that you can fold out... a "tripod" type lightweight stool that you can carry with a shoulder strap. These don't weigh much, and can be very helpful when you need to rest your feet when you just have to sit down.

Spend at least a month (if not longer) before your trip getting in good physical shape. You will feel much better later in the day so the crowds do not tire you out quite so much. If you are not used to any exercise, start with a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away at the supermarket parking lot, and such. Build yourself up to at least three sessions a week of at least 30 minutes of exercise. If your form of exercise is walking, build up to walking briskly. In particular, getting in shape makes a tremendous difference on multi-day park trips, when your exhaustion becomes compounded over time.

Do not sweat the small stuff. That is, do not go to the parks expecting to be able to do everything. Be flexible. Figure out the few things you believe you and your family must absolutely experience (perhaps one per person?) and don't worry about the other stuff.

Princess Aurora visits with some young fans.
Princess Aurora visits with some young fans.

Make arrangements with all the members of your party in case you get separated. Cast members are trained to know how to handle lost children, but know that there is a Lost Children office. Make sure your children are identified (a piece of tape on the inside of their shirts with permanent marker would suffice) listing your cell phone number, name, and hotel where you are staying. If your children are old enough, make sure they know your first and last names as well.

Be willing to separate into smaller groups within your party if people want to experience different things, and you lack the time for everybody to do all of them. Make specific arrangements for how and where to meet afterwards.

Many families carry family radio service (FRS) two-way radios, and this may be a great way to stay in touch with members of your party when you are split up. These radios do have their pitfalls however, and some may prefer to simply use their cell phones. For more information, see " Keeping in Communication on Vacation ," a "Parenting in the Park" article by Adrienne Krock.

Avoid carrying backpacks, purses and large bags into the park if you can. Make use of the lockers both outside and inside the park so you can avoid lugging things around during the day. The additional weight will make you more tired, and you will not be as easily mobile when you are lugging extra things around. Consider using a belt bag or fanny pack, a photographer's vest with multiple pockets, or a small sling wallet with a long shoulder strap you can wear across your chest.

The entrance to Plaza Inn, a restaurant in Disneyland.
The entrance to Plaza Inn, a restaurant in Disneyland.

Unless you are not interested in maximizing ride time, and you are primarily interested in people-watching and relaxing, do not bother with eating breakfast in the park. You are wasting valuable attraction-riding time by doing so. Purchase breakfast rolls, donuts, and juice items at a supermarket on your way to the hotel, or hit a nearby convenience store. If your hotel room does not have a mini-fridge (or you do not want to pay if they charge extra for it), use a cooler filled with ice from the hotel. Most rooms have coffee makers so you can even enjoy coffee with your breakfast. Have folks munch as they are getting ready (for example, people can eat while others are showering) to maximize time as well.

Consider bringing some small snacks. Dry cereal, raisins, fruit rolls, granola and such items can be easily packed, and will help everyone from getting too hungry during the times of the day when the lines for food get unbearably long. Note that Disneyland's official stance is that you may not bring outside food into the park, so I do not recommend you bring your entire picnic lunch into the park. On the other hand, consider bringing a cooler full of lunch, and have a relaxing picnic lunch outside the park in the picnic area adjacent to the outside lockers.

Beating the Crowds

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.

When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.

In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).

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