Friday, January 11, 2013

Dominating Disney: How to beat the crowds and get the most out of your day

Right after Christmas, husband and I headed down to Orlando with his parents and brother for a few days. This has been a biennial tradition to go on the years that we are not in Texas. As a self-proclaimed lover of all things Disney, I can honestly say that I enjoy it each and every time. The only thing about going this week of the year, is that it is hands down the most crowded time of year to go. I'm talking restaurants, outlets, parks, roads- everywhere. Usually, we try to spend a day at Magic Kingdom, just the two of us to celebrate my birthday (I know I sound like I'm 10). To most people, going to Magic Kingdom a couple days after Christmas sounds like torture, but I can honestly say that we had one of the most enjoyable days we've ever had there. I wanted to share some tips of what we did so that hopefully your next trip will be a spoon full of sugar.

1. Download the Disney Undercover Tourist free app to your iPhone (if you have one). They may have an android version as well, but I haven't looked. This nifty app includes all 4 Disney parks and will tell you the ride wait times and parade times. I found the wait times to be pretty darn accurate.

2.  Buy your tickets online ahead of time and either have them mailed to you or pick them up at will call. There was quite the line to buy tickets at the park.

3. Pack snacks for the day. I brought a few granola bars and packs of crackers for the husband and me. You can also bring in an empty water bottle and fill it up in the park at a water fountain (not the most sanitary thing, I know, but it'll save you $5). We snacked enough that we were able to eat a later lunch and and only pay for one real meal in the park. Obviously, you'll need more snacks depending on the size of your family.

4. Go EARLY. I'm talking, set your alarm and be at the park gate by 7:50 (when they open at 8). Make sure you allow about 20 minutes before that to pay for parking, park and take the tram from the parking lot to the gate. Now, you are ready to go when they open the gate (along with several hundred other people). Don't think you're the only one with this brilliant idea. But this still beats the tens of thousands that will pour through the gates as the day goes on.

6. Decide beforehand where you want to go first. We headed straight to Fantasyland, because it's just been renovated and we knew that it'd be a popular spot pretty quickly. We were able to ride all of the nostalgic little kid rides without having to wait longer than 5 min.

7. Now is when you'll need to start planning your fast passes. In case you're not familiar with this, most of the popular rides have what's called a fast pass. There are machines next to the rides that you insert your park ticket into and it spits out a separate ticket that tells you what time to come back to that ride and you won't have to wait in line. Each person is only allowed to have one fast pass at a time and you have to come back in the window of time it states.

The return times get later and later as the day goes on (obviously) so it's better to start getting them when the lines just start getting a little long (around 9:30 or so). We would get a fast pass for one ride and meanwhile, head to another maybe less popular ride where we would only have to wait around 10 minutes (because it's still fairly early). We would return to our fast pass ride as soon as it allowed us to and that enabled us to get more fast passes quicker (i.e. if it says to return between 10:30 and 11:30, we would get to the ride at 10:28). As soon as we rode it, we would head to get another fast pass and repeat the process.

8. The least crowded area of the park has got to be Adventureland. Because of this, we headed over there once the park started getting really crowded while we were waiting for our fast pass times for other rides.

9. Our longest fast pass delay (meaning time between getting the pass and using it) of the day was for Space Mountain, because this has got to be the most popular ride in the park. We got the fast passes around 1pm to return at 4pm. By the time we got back to the ride at 4pm, the wait time was 180 minutes. 3 HOURS to ride a 2 minute ride! We thought briefly about selling our passes to someone in the back of the line but I'm pretty sure there are rules against that...

10. A great ride to kill time on is the train that goes all the way around the park. There is rarely a wait. It's a great break where you can sit down and go around the entire park for as long as you want.

11. We ate lunch at the new restaurant in Fantasyland and this was probably the longest wait we had all day which was still only about 30 minutes. Eating around 1:30 or 2 will still be less crowded than trying to eat at noon.

12. When we finished lunch, it was time to head over and find a parade spot. Liberty Square has some great viewing spots and you can sit on the wall.

13. By the time the parade was over, we headed back over to Tomorrowland as our Space Mountain time was nearing. I believe the most underrated ride in the entire park has got to be the People Mover. You basically sit in this little compartment and it takes you along this above ground track around Tomorrowland, including inside the rides. So basically, you get to sit down for a good 5-10 minutes with your feet up and do some great people-watching. And the wait was never longer than 10 minutes. We rode it several times.

14. By that time, it was 4pm and we waltzed right into Space Mountain past all of the people wasting 3 hours of their life and had to wait maybe 5-10 minutes before we could ride.

15. After that, we trekked it back over to Splash Mountain to get a fast pass and finish out the day. As we waited for our time, we looked around some stores, sat down, had some ice cream (ok maybe this was only me) and watched how soaked people got on the ride. Tip: If you sit in the back of the "log", you won't get nearly as wet.

16. Now that it was dark, we watched them light the Christmas lights on the castle, took some pictures and strolled on down Main Street to head back to the parking lot feeling extremely accomplished as we got to ride everything (some even a couple times) without waiting longer than 15 minutes in spite of the fact that the park was probably at capacity around noon.

Now obviously, your day will look different if you have kids with you, but you can still use many of the same tips. With kids, I would still recommend riding all of the Fantasyland rides first and then tracking down your favorite princess or character for a picture and autograph. If you choose to take your little princess to the Bippity Boppity Boutique I recommend bringing her own princess dress, because they are ridiculously expensive to buy them there.

So, I hope you learned something new that will make your next trip to Disney as magical as it should be. This was specifically for Magic Kingdom, but you can visit any of the other 3 parks in the same way as they all have fast passes. If you have your own tips, feel free to share them in the comment section! For more pictures from our day, click here.

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