Time is Money: Tips When Arriving at a Parkby Margie Binder, contributing writer
Saving time is not just about saving money, but also about creating less aggravation so you can more thoroughly enjoy your trip to Walt Disney World. Time in the parks is the highlight of most people’s vacation, and this article presents tips for getting you off to a great start in the morning when you arrive at one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks.
Arriving prior to park opening is a must for effective touring, particularly if your family is interested in the most popular attractions. For all parks, plan to arrive at least 20 minutes prior to opening except if you are arriving at the Magic Kingdom by car. In that case plan to arrive at least 40 minutes early because you must park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and take the monorail or ferry to the Magic Kingdom main gate.
Start with the end in mind
Few things create more frustration than not being able to find your car or heading to the wrong bus stop after a long day at a park. If you arrive by either of those methods, temper the giddiness of being at the park for a few moments to take mental notes of your surroundings, so that when you're ready to return to your resort, you can find your car or the correct bus stop easily. If you drive, write down or take a picture of your parking location and make other observations about the area, such as side of the parking lot, nearest tram stop, and what signs are close to your spot.
If you are staying on property and using the Disney bus service, you will be dropped off close to, or less than a quarter mile from, the park’s entrance. Regardless of park, the bus may drop you off at a different spot than the pick-up location for your resort, so always check signage after you disembark and start walking towards the main entrance. The driver normally tells passengers what stop to look for, but in my experience that notice is often missing or drowned out by the noise of a busload of people disembarking.
The dreaded security line
Before you can get to the turnstiles, you go through a bag check, set up at each park’s entrance. This check is required whether you have a backpack, purse, waist pack, or camera bag, and can take anywhere from 10 seconds when there is no line, to several minutes at park opening. Although you will save potential aggravation by not carrying a bag, if you are planning a full day at the parks and/or have children, then it may be difficult to avoid not taking a bag for snacks, water, weather gear, and other essentials. I almost always carry a light day pack so I am prepared for the inevitable weather changes and can be flexible if we have trouble finding a place to eat.
The bag check area is well-marked and consists of a small row of tall tables (or counters) with a security officer at the end of each open table. Both sides of each table are available for bag checks, so watch for a table with a line on only one side or a short line on one side. Beware however, that a short line may take longer if those ahead of you are carrying large packs. Prepare your bags ahead of time by unzipping and unsnapping all pockets, and although you do not need to show a park pass to move through the security line, it is wise to keep your ticket out because your next stop is the entrance turnstile.
Watch for signage to a centrally located line, usually much shorter, if you choose not to carry a bag. For larger traveling parties, have an adult or teenager go through the bagless line if that individual needs to purchase tickets, use the bathroom, or gather maps. Some travelers to Walt Disney World swear by travel vests or vests designed for photography to avoid the bag check line and allow for hands-free touring. Models such as the Scott eVest, Magellan’s Trinidad Vest, and L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Travel Vest have multiple pockets, although they may feel too warm for summer trips.
If you leave your resort early enough to get to the park before it opens, you might wind up with some spare time should transportation from your hotel to the park entrance run smoothly. Use that time to take care of last-minute tasks, like filling water bottles, applying sunscreen, renting a stroller, and making a trip to the bathroom. Pick up a park map and times guide by the turnstiles or from a stand, or ask a cast member where to find one. The times guide lists the times and locations for shows and other entertainment around each park. Use that and the map in the time before opening to build excitement for the day’s itinerary and plot routes for picking up Fastpass tickets. Use the map for an "I spy" game to keep younger kids occupied.
Each park opens with a short show, then a somewhat controlled walk behind a rope led by cast members to the major attractions. Magic Kingdom is the only park with a consistent opening show location, held at the Walt Disney World Railway Station; a small cast member troupe and the mayor announce the arrival of Mickey and Friends and a guest host family on the train. Disney occasionally varies entrance times and show locations depending on the size of the crowd it expects, so if you are visiting a park during a peak season, it pays even more to arrive early because the parks may open before the official posted times.
A smooth and efficient start to the morning helps create a more stress-free day of park touring. Arrive early, pay attention to where you need to go at the end of the day, and take care of all of those small last-minute things like filling water bottles and making bathroom trips before entering the park. The time saved may not be extraordinary, but the sanity savings will be great, particularly if you are traveling with a large group—resulting in more thoroughly enjoyable magic at the Walt Disney World theme parks.