We recently went to Disney World for 4 nights with our 14 yr. old daughter. We went during spring break, which we knew would be very crowded, but our options were limited so we took the plunge and went anyway.
Here are some of my tips on beating the crowds at Disney:
1.) Obviously, if possible go on 'off-peak' season, if there is such a thing for Disney. We've gone two other times in October and the crowds were much more manageable. Not an option? Read on.
2.) Use your Fast Pass. Every travel book and web site on Disney talks about this but some people still just don't get it. Anyone with a ticket to the park can use this feature.
What it is:
Fast pass allows you to go to select (not all) rides/attractions and get a time frame when you can return and bypass the lines. Instead of an 80 minute wait, you may wait 5-15 minutes (we never waited over 15.)
What you do is go to the Fast Pass distribution station near the entrance to the ride. Have ALL of your parties park tickets. Insert each ticket into the fast pass machine. It will return your ticket, plus another ticket with a 'return' time. Come back during that time and you will be allowed into the fast pass line - bypassing the hundreds of people waiting in the standby line.
We LOVED fast pass.
Things to know:
Once you have a fast pass, you cannot get another one until the time frame for your current one has arrived. So, let's say it's 10:00 am and you get a fast pass for Space Mountain. Due to the crowds your return time isn't until 4:30 that afternoon. You cannot get another fast pass until 4:30.
Sometimes your return time is only 60-90 minutes, so it's not too bad. But if you don't manage your passes carefully, you won't make full use of the system.
Have one person (aka DAD) be the fast pass manager. My husband kept all of our tickets. When our return time was up, instead of going immediately to the ride, he would go get fast passes for the NEXT ride. Then we would all go on our original ride together. (the whole time walking by rows and rows of people in line and saying to ourselves "I LOVE FAST PASS").
You have one hour to use your fast pass. That is, your return time is a one hour window. Your ticket may say - return between 1:10 and 2:10. You can come any time during that window.
3.) Stay on property and use the extended hours.
If you stay on Disney property (we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge), then you have access to extended park hours. Each day one park will either open 1 hour early, or stay open 3 hours late. I think one day we had one of each.
USE THESE HOURS
Don't be fooled - the parks will still be crowded - but not nearly as crowded as when they open to the public.
This means you get up at 6:30, get ready, have breakfast and get to your bus to the park by 7:15 so you are in line BEFORE 8:00 if the park opens early.
Then - determine the rides you want to do the most. Send 'DAD' off to get a fast pass for that and the rest of you RUN (at least jog) to the second most favored ride.
We did this at Epcot. We got into the park at 8:00. My husband immediately took off for Soarin' and my daughter and I sprinted to Test Track. We had a 5 minute wait and my husband came back and had fast pass tickets for us for 9:30 at Soarin.
Note - Not all rides/attractions are open during extended hours.
Note 2: If a park opens early it will be even MORE crowded then usual that day - so keep that in mind.
4.) Don't be afraid to leave a park if it is too crowded. We did this more than once. We went to early opening of Magic Kingdom, and by noon it was so crowded we could hardly get around. We did what we really wanted to do with fast passes, and then went back to the lodge for a while. We had hopper passes - so that evening we went to Hollywood Studios for a while.
5.) Set your expectations, and especially those of your children before you go. My daughter is 14 and she was just glad to be at Disney World. We warned her ahead of time that it was going to be VERY crowded. We told her she may not get to ride every ride she wanted to, and that we may leave the parks early some days if it was too crowded.
My daughter is great to travel with and she was fine with the limitations for the most part.
There were only a couple of great rides that we were allowed to ride twice - even if we were at the park ALL day.
Hope this helps some of you planning a trip to Disney. While I wish the crowds were less, we kind of knew what to expect and were very glad we went. While I think we would have more fun during an off-peak time, Disney World is still Disney World and is just plain a FUN place to be.
Comments/questions are welcome!