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Mike Scopa

The Fourth of July at Walt Disney World

Surviving one of the most crowded days at the resort

Friday, June 18, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

First-time visitors to Walt Disney World are sometimes overwhelmed with the task of planning their first adventure to Orlando and developing an itinerary or touring plan for their trip. Anxiety may also come into play for Walt Disney World veterans visiting Orlando for the first time during the Fourth of July holiday.

In this session, let's look at the possibilities for a Fourth of July visit to Walt Disney World. The options before us are based on my own experience as well as others who have had first hand knowledge as to what you can expect on this national holiday in the happiest place on earth.

Planning Ahead

Before leaving home, determine what your dining plans would be for the Fourth of July. The Walt Disney World theme parks experience some of the highest crowd levels this time of year, and you need to be as proactive as possible to deal with the number of people you will be competing with for both attractions and restaurants.

Even before focusing on places to eat, determine what and how many meals will be the order for each particular day. Some guests prefer two meals during the day surrounded by small snacky meals. Others prefer the basic breakfast, lunch, and dinner format. You also need to be flexible with your dining schedule. Sometimes it's necessary to adjust according to the availability of the restaurant. Priority seating is essential for the Fourth of July so once decisions are made, the next step is to make priority seating arrangements as early and as far in advance of that day as possible.

The Early Bird Rule

You've heard it before, and the Fourth of July is no exception. Everyone needs to be especially early on the morning of the Fourth of July, as the crowds build fast.

Those who plan well should be heading out for breakfast and getting early seating for this most important meal. On the Fourth of July, it's easier to get Priority Seating for an early breakfast than for any other meal.

There are so many options for breakfast, but on this day, my suggestion is to head for Trail's End at Fort Wilderness for a number of reasons.

Trail's End offers an early start to the day. We have always learned that an early start to a visit to any Walt Disney World theme park offers the best opportunity to get in favorite attractions before the crowds arrive. With expected high numbers the Fourth of July especially dictates a jump-start as early as possible. Try to get the earliest seating possible for breakfast.

Breakfast at Trail's End is one of the best deals on the entire Walt Disney World resort. The last time I checked, this breakfast was about $10 per adult and $6 for children. A breakfast buffet that offers many choices for breakfast at a good price certainly meets most guests' needs.

The cast members at Trail's End are some of the friendliest you will encounter, and they always seem to know what's going on in the World. While enjoying breakfast, strike up a conversation with your server and ask about any special events occurring this day, especially in the Magic Kingdom.

Finally, it is the Fourth of July, so why not start celebrating the holiday early? After breakfast, you can walk outside and see the annual Fort Wilderness Fourth of July float contest. Every year guests decorate their electronic carts in patriotic displays in hopes of winning the coveted first place blue ribbon. There's plenty of red, white, and blue at Fort Wilderness on this day. Guests are also treated to a special ceremony outside Pioneer Hall that includes some patriotic songs and a word or two from Uncle Sam himself.


Fort Wilderness guests ready for Annual Fourth of July celebration. Photo by Mike Scopa.

A trip to Fort Wilderness and Trail's End will get your Fourth of July off to a great start.

Morning to Mid-Afternoon: Which Park?

Of course once breakfast is done, the next question is where to spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon. Which of the four parks is best to visit on this national holiday? Remember that a factor to consider is where to spend the Fourth of July evening. So let's take a look at the options:

The Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is packed on the Fourth of July. Guests can expect to encounter some of the longest lines of the year for this theme park. It is a very popular park for this day.

This also means that the Fastpass distribution times will be quite different than normal. For instance, you could possibly go to the Splash Mountain Fastpass distribution station at 11 A.M. and find that their Fastpass window may be sometime around 3 P.M. With that in mind you can also expect that the FP databases for many of the attractions may be exhausted earlier than normal.

Let's also not forget that “it's a small world” in Fantasyland is closed until early 2005. This attraction handles high volume, which means that without it, that high volume must be absorbed by other attractions. Thus Fantasyland attractions will no doubt have extremely long lines on this Fourth of July.


The Magic Kingdom and the Fourth of July spells CROWD. Photo by Mike Scopa.

Since it's the Fourth of July, if you are in the Magic Kingdom, you may want to think about visiting some attractions that may not experience some long lines. What better place to visit than the Hall of Presidents on the Fourth of July? We could approach this day with patriotism in mind and head straight for the Hall of Presidents, one attraction that may not be as overcrowded as others. Also, why not try the Liberty Square Riverboat?

However, any attraction touring in the Magic Kingdom on this day will present a special challenge and you should especially take note of Fastpass distribution times.

The Magic Kingdom is a popular Fourth of July destination because it is absolutely draped in red, white and blue. The Town Square will have patriotic bunting, and Main Street, U.S.A. may be lined with red, white, and blue balloons. You might also expect to see a few more U.S. flags than normal on this day.


Fourth of July patriotic bunting decorates the Magic Kingdom’s Town Square Train Station. Photo by Mike Scopa.

It's important check in at City Hall regarding any special events planned for this day, as well as the times for these events. You never know if there may be something special planned for Main Street.

There's a good chance of some Fourth of July celebration on Main Street. In 2003, Main Street witnessed a special celebration in honor of the Armed Services.


Main Street USA celebrates last year's Fourth of July with a special tribute to the armed forces. Photo by Mike Scopa.

If there is a special event to take place plan on being in your “spot” to watch the celebration at least one hour before the scheduled start.

It is a real treat to be in the Magic Kingdom on the Fourth of July to see the patriotic fanfare that takes place on Main Street, USA.

Epcot

If the larger-than-normal crowds at the Magic Kingdom is a concern, then Epcot might be the better park to visit on the Fourth of July. Epcot may not see as large of a jump in guest attendance during the day as the Magic Kingdom probably because the Magic Kingdom has that Americana mode. Guests may find attraction touring much easier in Epcot than the Magic Kingdom.

Those planning on visiting Epcot in the early morning may want to consider securing a priority seating at the Storybook Princess Breakfast at the Norway pavilion. After breakfast, you can tour World Showcase and eventually work your way back to Future World and see much of the park by 2 or 3 p.m. This will allow you plenty of time to go to another park if you were not planning on spending the evening at Epcot.

One special note regarding Epcot on the Fourth of July: A rare combination performance by both the American Vibe Singers and the Voices of Liberty. These two vocal groups, usually seen in the American Adventure rotunda, perform at the America Gardens pavilion right around the Fourth of July holiday. Fans of either group will find the combined voices especially thrilling as they perform a series of songs that will raise anyone's patriotic spirits.

MGM Studios

MGM Studios also sees a slight increase in crowds but again not as much as the Magic Kingdom. MGM Studios is another option for those who want to enjoy a somewhat normal day of attraction touring. The crowds will grow, however, as night approaches.

Keep in mind that with this theme park, attractions and shows start a little later in the morning than the other theme parks.

The Stars and Motor Cars Parade may have a special patriotic flare on the Fourth of July with some flag-waving characters.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

This theme park is probably the last theme park on most lists for a Fourth of July visit. For those who really want to do some serious touring this day, the morning is an ideal time to do just that.

Those who elect to visit this theme park should plan on an early start, schedule a Priority Seating at Donald's Breakfastsaurus, and plan to leave around 2 p.m. for the park of their choice for evening festivities.

Mid-Afternoon Decision

As the day moves into mid-afternoon, you are faced with an important decision. As the day approaches mid- to late-afternoon, you should decide in which park you prefer to spend your Fourth of July evening. It's no easy decision because there are many options.

The Magic Kingdom becomes so crowded on the Fourth of July that the Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza has turned cars away as early as 4 in the afternoon. If you wish to spend the evening at the Magic Kingdom, you may need to be in the park no later than 3:00 p.m. The festivities for the Fourth of July may be a special presentation of Wishes! fireworks show, with a finale that many of the locals come to see, which adds to the number of guests for this day.

MGM Studios, and not Epcot, is very much the second choice of theme parks for the evening of the Fourth of July. This is due to a special performance of Sorcery In the Sky fireworks shown that evening. This rare showing draws many guests to the park. Hollywood Blvd. in front of The Great Movie Ride attraction, will have wall-to-wall people. A patriotic “Tag” or a few minutes more of fireworks with patriotic music flaring usually follow Sorcery, Beware that the crowd in MGM for this evening will most likely be the most crowded night all year at MGM. The other reason for the popularity of this park is that you not only get to see Sorcery but also can finish off the evening with Fantasmic.


Fireworks from MGM's Sorcery In the Sky produce a Silhouette of MGM palm trees. Photo by Mike Scopa.

Although Epcot is a large theme park and can accommodate many guests, the crush of the crowd is far less on the Fourth of July evening than it is in the Magic Kingdom or MGM. For that reason it is seen as being the least crowded of the theme parks for that night. The Illuminations fireworks will offer a bit extra; a patriotic tag with music for the enjoyment of everyone. Again, you can assume that Epcot will be more crowded than usual but probably not as much of a crush as the other two parks. If you are going to Epcot this evening, find your Illuminations viewing spot along the world Showcase Lagoon at least 90 minutes before the scheduled start.

How to Decide

The best way to plan out your Walt Disney World Fourth of July itinerary is to work backwards. Decide where you will spend your evening and work backwards from there. For many guests, the evening festivities are the most important, so it's best to determine where you will spend your evening and figure out the best logistics for the day.

Break the day up into three parts: early morning, mid-morning to mid-afternoon, and evening.

Plans should be in place well before that day arrives, and don't forget that those plans should include when and where you will eat.

Finally, give yourself plenty of time on this day, as high-level crowds will add time.

Next Time

So have you ever thought about solo touring in Walt Disney World? Is it for you? What is different about being alone in Walt Disney World? Next time I'll share some of my experiences on a recent solo trip to Walt Disney World.

Class dismissed.

Correction

In “Howie's Angels: Part III,” I mentioned that Cinderella's Round Table was the only Priority Seating that required a credit card. Such information is constantly changing; the Storybook Princess Breakfast in Norway and the Fantasmic Dinner Package, when booked far in advance, also require a credit card. As always, it is best to call the Walt Disney World resort to get validation on any of these and other Priority Seating requirements.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


ABOUT PRIORITY SEATING

A Priority Seating request at a Walt Disney World eatery differs somewhat from a typical restaurant reservation. In a normal reservation, the establishment puts a table on hold for you, not allowing anyone else to dine at that table until you show up.

In a Priority Seating system, restaurants do not hold tables aside for anyone. Instead, your Priority Seating assignment gets you to the head of the line when you show up. In that sense, Priority Seating (also referred to simply as a “PS”) is very similar to a Fastpass attraction ticket that allows you to bypass the stand-by line.

Since the host must still wait for a table to clear in order to seat you, it is best to show up at least 15 minutes before your designated Priority Seating time (especially if you are part of a large group, and during busy season).

Priority Seating requests can be hard to come by for busy seasons, including most major holidays such as the Fourth of July. Beware that restaurants have differing lead times for when they start accepting PS requests; some as early as a year in advance.

To make your Priority Seating requests, phone (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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