Surviving the Crowds
Strategies and tips for a stress-free vacation
Friday, January 28, 2005
by Sue Holland, staff writer
Photo by Sue Holland.
When thinking of places that can be notorious for having
large crowds of people, most likely Walt Disney World comes to mind. And
during certain peak seasons such as the two weeks surrounding Easter Sunday
and the week between Christmas and New Year's, the Disney parks can be
shoulder-to-shoulder with visitors. Even on the best of days, the Magic
Kingdom tends to be unbearably crowded (by my standards), but it is possible
to survive the crowds with a little advance planning and knowledge.
A visit to Walt Disney World can be broken down into at least the following
three main componentsyour resort, dining, and the parks. Big crowds
can threaten your enjoyment in any of these areas, although it is most
likely to be a problem in the parks.
The singlemost important piece of advice to remember if you want to minimize
dealing with crowds is to arrive at the park of your choice by opening
time. Particularly at the Magic Kingdom, the crowds later in the day can
be horrendous, but it is possible to get quite a few attractions done
in the early morning hours.
Typically my Magic Kingdom days begin at 9 a.m. at park opening and I
am leaving by 11 a.m. At that time the crowds of people entering the park,
pushing their way down Main Street is truly awfulparticularly compared
to how uncrowded it was during my visit. The same is true at the other
parks, but to a lesser degree than the Magic Kingdom.
Granted, most people visiting Walt Disney World are not going to be satisfied
with only spending two hours at the Magic Kingdom, or leaving any park
as soon as it starts getting busy. After going to the expense and trouble
of making the trip, they need to see as much as they can.
In recent years Disney implemented a system called Fastpass, where visitors
can essentially reserve a window of time during which they can ride a
popular attraction while bypassing the regular line. Unless you enjoy
standing in a 30-60 minute line, chances are Fastpass will enhance your
vacation if you choose to use it.
Fastpass is computerized and tied to each person's park admission media.
Certain popular attractions in each park have been designated as Fastpass
attractions, and a bank of machines is set up outside each location. The
specific attractions are designated on the guide map for each park, as
well as on the tip board and at the attraction itself. Visitors insert
their admission pass into the machine, where it is read and a Fastpass
ticket is issued. Families or groups traveling together can have one member
of their party obtain Fastpass tickets for the entire group, but that
person will need the admission pass from each individual person. Children
younger than 3 years of age who do not have a pass do not need a Fastpass.
Fastpass machine. Photo by Sue Holland.
The Fastpass ticket will have a window of time (generally an hour) during
which the holder can return to enjoy that ride or show. There is a separate
line for people returning with the Fastpass, which takes them almost right
to the boarding area without any significant wait. Visitors can obtain
a Fastpass for another attraction 5 minutes after the window of time on
the current Fastpass opens, or at the time stated on the ticket itself.
On a busy day if you pick up a Fastpass at noon with a return time of
6 p.m., most likely you would be able to get another Fastpass somewhere
else around 2 p.m.
It's always a good idea to see which attractions have Fastpass. If nothing
else, this is a clue to which attractions are most popular and are therefore
likely to have the longest lines later in the day. Not all busy attractions
have Fastpass, however. Slow-loading attractions such as Dumbo in the
Magic Kingdom generate very long waits, but since capacity is so low on
rides like this Disney evidently has chosen not to add Fastpass there.
Upon entering a park, pick up a Fastpass for the attraction most important
to you, then concentrate on seeing as many of the slow-loading or low-capacity
attractions as possible during the first 90 minutes to two hours.
At the Magic Kingdom this would include almost all of Fantasyland, which
gets more crowded than any other area of the park. In Animal Kingdom the
rides in Dinoland will develop long lines, so I usually head there first.
Once they are out of the way, you can pick up a Fastpass for the Kilamanjaro
Safari and the nearby Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a convenient
and pleasant way to spend the time waiting for your Fastpass window to
At MGM Studios the attractions that draw the biggest crowds are Tower
of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Fortunately they are located in
the same area, which makes it easy to pick up a Fastpass for one and then
go stand in the stand-by (regular) line for the other provided you get
there at park opening.
Epcot seems to handle crowds better than the other parks, although during
busy seasons it is necessary to arrive early to get a Fastpass for Mission:
Space or Test Track before they run out for the day. Many visitors to
Epcot stop at Spaceship Earth and get in line, but it is almost always
uncrowded (enough to walk right on) by mid-to-late afternoon. If you'll
still be in the park then, I would save Spaceship Earth until later if
the line is very long when you first arrive.
Rides such as Dumbo are notorious for long lines and big crowds. Photo
by Brian Bennett.
Several of the Walt Disney World guidebooks identify those attractions
that successfully handle large numbers of people versus those like Dumbo
that handle far fewer people over a set period of time. Save the high-capacity
attractions for the busiest time of the day, and focus on the others during
the uncrowded first two hours of the day. Use Fastpass as appropriate
to get some of your major attractions done with minimal wait time. Most
importantly, thoughget there early!
In some areas there are multiple lines to choose from, and quite often
people just follow the person in front of them without even looking around
to see a better option. Particularly at the turnstiles, most of the time
when I am entering a park there are long lines at several yet there are
some open with nobody in line at all! Look at the turnstile, and if you
see a green arrow, that means it is open. Too often the cast members are
busy helping other people and do not have time to tell people in line
that there is an open turnstile right next door. Always be aware of your
surroundings, and look for a less crowded line.
During the longer summer operating hours, some families find it beneficial
to be at a park when it opens, then leave by lunch time to spend the afternoon
relaxing at the resort or doing some other activity (see a movie, swim,
shop). They then return to the parks for the evening, and while it will
still be quite crowded at least they are avoiding the worst heat of the
Sometimes it is possible to avoid crowds by taking advantage of whichever
park is open earlier or later exclusively for Disney resort guests. Be
sure to check to see which attractions will be open during that time,
as that particular park will be busier than normal that day and it does
not make sense to put yourself in that position if the rides that are
open extra hours are ones you would normally skip.
When dining, long lines can wreak havoc on a family with hungry children
or anyone with a medical issue that requires them to eat on any particular
schedule. If possible, plan to eat before or after the common meal times.
Portions tend to be large, so a late lunch combined with a light snack
at dinnertime might be all you need. Disney does not take reservations
for their restaurants, but does offer priority seating. This
works very much like a reservation, however. My experience has always
been excellent, getting seated promptly at my assigned time. Others have
not been so lucky, and sometimes have to wait for their table. The closer
your time is to that meal's start time, the less likely you will have
Lunch or dinner at a full service restaurant can be a terrific respite
from the crowds. Photo by Sue Holland.
During busy seasons, booking a priority seating in a full-service restaurant
can be especially beneficial. The counter service places will be mobbed,
lines will be long, tables may be difficult to find, and patience wears
thin. A leisurely meal in an air-conditioned restaurant will cost more,
but for many people it will be worth it for the chance to relax and recharge
before heading back out into the park. The Disney resorts with full-service
restaurants are also an excellent choice for a relaxing and uncrowded
At the Disney resorts it is safe to assume most (if not all) rooms will
be booked during your stay, which can result in big crowds waiting for
transportation and having breakfast before the parks. The food courts
at the value and moderate resorts get extremely busy during breakfast
hours. Planning to head to a park early will force you to the food court
earlier than most guests, which will help minimize the crowds you will
experience. Depending on close your room is located to the food court,
one member of the family can be sent to buy breakfast and bring it back
to the room.
Most Disney resorts have a main themed pool as well as one or more quiet
pools. People wishing to relax at the pool away from crowds should head
to the quiet pools. These pools do not have water slides, but they are
generally very nice and have the added attraction of usually having very
few people there.
While no visit to Walt Disney World will ever be free of crowds, it is
possible to still get a lot done even on the most crowded days.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Sue here.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since
her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning
more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in
1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at
the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but
she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly,
and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head
for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children
and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers.
Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
Get the latest info about the resort at Park
Update: Walt Disney World.