Friday, September 5, 2014

Disney World: Touring Strategies

It is very wise to have a strategy for how to tour the Disney World parks.  There is so much to do and so much to see and so far to walk and so many people everywhere!  A plan can help ensure that you are able to do what you want to do in a timely manner.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who walk into the parks with no plan at all.  That can probably work for you if:  1) you don't mind waiting in line, 2) you don't have a list of Disney must dos at each park, and 3) you like to walk.

Actually that was Daniel and I when we went to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party last year.  We went without kids, so I thought we could just wing it.  The crowds were pretty low, and we didn't have anything really on our must do list.  It worked out okay and we had a good time, but we walked aimlessly around the park a lot and ended up walking WAY more than was necessary.

This year we are going in with a very specific plan of attack.  I am making a specific plan with the idea of being flexible with it once we get there.  We may completely abandon our plan once in the parks, but I think having the plan on paper will be a good start.  Plus, with meal reservations and Fastpass+ reservations, we are kind of forced into sticking with a fairly specific schedule.  I will share our touring plans in the next post, but for now, I want to talk about some general touring strategies for all the Disney World parks.

Rope Drop
I think most all Disney World veterans would say that getting to the parks for Rope Drop is the best strategy for touring Disney World.  Rope Drop is the time when the parks open.  As many people don't like to get up early, the first hour or two at all the parks are usually fairly empty with short wait lines.  The parks generally open at 9:00 am.  To be at the front of the rope drop crowd, it's  a good idea to plan to be there by 8:15 am.  Several of the parks have opening shows that begin around 8:40, so everyone is allowed into an area that is roped off.  After the show is over, the Disney cast members "drop the rope" and allow you to enter the park.  Right now in several parks, they are actually leading guests in a parade like fashion behind a rope into the parks to avoid stampedes.  It can be a little crazy at Rope Drop, as some die hard fanatics are determined to be first in line for their favorite attractions!

This link will give you a lot more details about how rope drop works in each park.  If you can manage to get there early enough for rope drop, I'd say this is the number one strategy for being able to tour Disney World without the huge crowds.

Many people choose to do rope drop, tour the parks until about noon, then head back to the hotel to rest and relax before coming back to the parks for the evening hours and fireworks.  This is a pretty smart plan, as it allows you to avoid the afternoons which are the busiest (and hottest) time of day at Disney.  (Even though it's smart plan, we are not actually planning to follow this strategy, but I will share more on why later!)

Crowd Calendars
 When I was making our plan, I needed to decide pretty early what park we would want to visit on what day as this affected our dining plans and Fastpass+ reservations.  I used a couple of different crowd calendars to help me make the decision on what park to visit each day.

My first source was  Scroll through and find the month you want to visit.  Then you will see a monthly calendar with all kinds of info on it!  There is one line that is green and red, which lists the park in the most preferred order for that day (green means go, red means don't go), for example:  MK, AK, EP, HS.  Then if you continue to read below the calendar, he gives you an explanation of why that park is recommended or not recommended for each day.  It's nice to know the logic behind his recommendations!  I am following his advice and choosing the recommended days on all but one of our days. 

I also used to consult their crowd calendar.  Touring Plans has some free features, but there is also a paid subscription option.   The full crowd calendar is a part of the subscription, which is $10.95.  Touring Plans also has an app that is helpful when in the parks.  So I decided to go ahead and get the subscription.  I like Touring Plans' crowd calendars, which are based on historical data, because they give each park a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as an overall resort crowd level for each day.  For our park days, the crowd levels are as follows:
Magic Kingdom, Day 1:  4/10
Epcot:  5/10 (the food/wine festival is going on at Epcot, and crowd levels were predicted at least 5 or higher for our whole trip)
Magic Kingdom, Day 2:  3/10
Hollywood Studios:  4/10 (this is the day that was not recommended by
Magic Kingdom, Day 3:  1/10 (I'm interested to see what Magic Kingdom is like on a predicted crowd level of 1 day!)

 Extra Magic Hours
If you are staying onsite at Disney, then you have the option of going to the parks during Extra Magic Hours, additional park hours either in the morning or evening for Disney resort guests.  The idea is that you will be allowed in early or allowed to stay late and visit the parks when they are least crowded.

If you read the site listed above, he usually does not recommend going to the park with Extra Magic Hours.  Those days are usually more crowded at the parks, as many resort guests choose to go to that park on that day, making the parks more crowded for that whole day.  However, during the Extra Magic Hours time period, the parks should be considerably less crowded.  So you have to weigh the advantages to the less crowded EMH time versus the possibly overcrowded times later in the day.  If you have parkhopper, you could hop to a different park and still take advantage of EMH, but we are not doing parkhopper for our trip.

We are choosing to do EMH on only one day, at Hollywood Studios when they have an 8:00 am EMH.  Since my kids are early risers, we are going to try to get to the park super early at 7:30 and if we are feeling ambitious, we are going to try to ride the extremely popular Toy Story Mania during the EMH rope drop.  I've heard it is like a stampede to that ride at rope drop, so I may chicken out from trying this...we'll see!!

Make a List
Once you have decided on which park to visit each day and whether or not you want to use the EMH, then it is time to decide what you are going to do in the parks.

It can be overwhelming to get started with this, as the possibilities are endless!  I found it helpful to make a list of what we wanted to do at each park.  I just looked through all the attractions at each park (available on the Disney website) and categorized each attraction into what we MUST do, what we would like to do if time, and what we don't want to do.

Then I used those lists to help me make a touring plan for each park day.

 Touring Plans
The site listed above also gives a ton of touring plan options based on your interests, ages and thrill seeking level.  I found it interesting to look through all of these pre-fabricated touring plans, but I didn't find any that were quite right for us.

You have the option of customizing any of the pre-fabricated touring plans.  Or you can start from scratch and make a touring plan all on your own.  I started by using one of their suggested touring plans, which I think helped me have a good understanding of what to do in what order.  But then I just ended up making all of my own plans from scratch. lets you save your custom plans, and you can access them from the website or from the app, and you also can print them out.

There are a few features to these touring plans that are a lot of fun.  For each attraction that you add to your plan, the website will give you a list of times which include:  how many minutes you will wait in line, how many minutes the attraction will last, how much free time you will have in between attractions, and how many minutes it will take you to walk to that attraction.  Obviously, these numbers are all based on data and are just predictions, as no one can see the future and give an accurate number in advance.  I am curious to see how close these estimates are to reality though!  For our big day at Magic Kingdom, where we plan to be in the park from 9:00 am-4:00 pm with a total of 18 attractions on our plan, the total wait time they predict for the WHOLE DAY is 83 minutes.  Considering that often people can wait in line for 83 minutes just for one attraction, that sounds pretty good to me!

Also, once you have added all the attractions to your plan, you can then tell the website to optimize your plans.  This means they will put them in the order that will save you the most time/walking.  I found this to be helpful in getting me started with putting attractions in the right order, but still I made adjustments on my own after the optimizing was done.

For someone who enjoys  planning park days, Touring Plans is a fun way to customize your plans for each day!  For those who don't enjoy planning, checking out one of the suggested touring plans might be an easy way to plan your park day with very little time or effort.

Next Up:  Our Detailed Touring Plans for September 2014


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