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Disney trip planning

5 Crucial Steps to Avoid Crowds at Disney World

Are you planning the ultimate Disney vacation and trying to figure out how to avoid crowds at Disney World? Your ultimate guide is here!

avoid crowds at disney world

1. Go in the off season

Thinking of a Disney vacation when the kids are off of school for Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, or summer vacation? Unfortunately, so is the rest of the world! These are when you will find peak crowds at WDW.

The week from Christmas to New Years sees the absolute highest crowds of the year, frequently causing Magic Kingdom to close due to capacity (Magic Kingdom holds an estimated 100,000 guests!) Even minor holidays like Columbus Day and Presidents Day will surge crowds for that week.

avoid crowds at disney world

Christmas crowds at WDW Photo credit: MouseSteps

Are you telling me to take my kids out of school?

That’s a personal choice that depends on a lot of factors. Consider things like: how many other absences your children have, their age, ability to catch up on missed work, and the school’s policy on absences. It may or may not be a good choice for you.

Also consider how big a vacation this will be for your family. Is this your one and only Disney vacation where you want to fit as much in as possible? Or do you go every year and plan on taking it easy?

If you’re still on the fence, sit down and look at your child’s school calendar. Are there any days off that most of the country won’t have off? A random fall break, teacher development days, or February recess? That might be your opportune time to go without missing as much school.

What if I have no other choice than to go during these peak times?

In my book, a crowded day at Disney World still beats a regular day at home. If you must go during high crowds, follow each my other points to the letter, and make the best of it.

So when is the best time to go?

Gone are the days when the parks are ever “empty”. Even during the low crowd times of year you will see substantial wait times for the most popular rides. But the average wait times will be significantly lower if you go in: January, February (except the week of President’s Day), April (except Easter week), early May, late August, September, October (except Columbus Day), November (except Thanksgiving week), and the first half of December.

avoid crowds at Disney world

2. Avoid the park that has Extra magic hours

You’re staying in a Disney hotel and you want to take advantage of all the perks. I get it. But the key to avoid crowds is to zig when everyone else zags.

For those who don’t know, each day one of the four parks has “Extra Magic Hours”, or EMH, meaning it opens early or stays open late for guests who are staying at a Disney hotel. People love to feel like they’re part of something exclusive! They also want to take advantage of all the perks that go along with the big bucks they dropped on their Disney hotel. That means the park that has Extra Magic Hours is going to be the most crowded park that day. Avoid that park!

The funny thing is, most people don’t even end up at the EMH park during the bonus hours. They either end up sleeping through the early morning hours, or being too tired to stay out for the evening hours. But people still see EMH as Disney telling them which park to go to that day, and they listen!

The only exception to this rule: There is ONE situation where I recommend EMH parks. If you have park hopper tickets, and you actually get up early enough to enjoy the early morning extra hours, by all means go to the that park for those hours. You will enjoy a couple low-crowd hours. Then, once the rest of the pack arrives, hop over to a less crowded park.

3. Rock rope drop

In the first hour the park is open, you will be able to accomplish as much as you would in 3-4 hours in the afternoon. Unless you are a family of super late risers whose vacation would be ruined by setting an alarm, I’d recommend putting the effort in to arriving at the park 30 minutes before it opens.

avoid crowds at Disney World
T and Z in empty Animal Kingdom after arriving 30 mins prior to rope drop!
Tips for making this work:
  • Carry breakfast with you and eat it outside the park entrance while you wait for it to open. We get groceries delivered through Garden Grocer so all we need to do is grab a banana, yogurt, granola bar, or single-serving dry cereal box and throw it in our bag.
  • Don’t light the candle at both ends. Plan your days so the ones that start early, end early. It’s not enjoyable to try to do parks from open to close, especially if you have little ones.
  • If you are trying to do morning and evening hours, make sure to take that afternoon nap/break.

4. Use FastPass wisely!

Do NOT miss your booking window to select FastPasses! Book your FastPasses 60 days from your check-in date if you’re staying on Disney property, or 30 days from the start of your trip if you’re staying off site. Log on to MyDisneyExperience to book your FastPasses starting at 7am EST.

Hit that sweet spot when selecting the times of your FastPasses. You don’t want to use them the first hour or two in the morning, because crowds are already low then. Wait too late in the day, and you won’t be able to take advantage of the extra FastPasses you can get after using your initial three.

11am to 2pm is generally the ideal time to book your FastPasses.

It’s also critical that you’re making your selections wisely. Your kid might love It’s a Small Word, but don’t waste a FastPass on it! Use your FastPasses on attractions that have the longest waits so they save you the most time.

FastPass priorities for each park:

Magic Kingdom

  1. 7 Dwarfs Mine Train
  2. Splash Mountain
  3. Space Mountain
  4. Peter Pan’s Flight
  5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  6. Enchanted Tales with Belle

Epcot

  1. Frozen Ever After
  2. Soarin’
  3. Test Track  (note you can only choose ONE of these three due to the tiering system)
  4. Spaceship Earth
  5. Mission Space
  6. Character Spot

Animal Kingdom

  1. Avatar: Flight of Passage
  2. Na’vi River Journey (choose ONE of these two due to tiering system)
  3. Expedition Everest
  4. Kali River Rapids
  5. Kilimanjaro Safari

Hollywood Studios

  1. Rockin Roller Coaster
  2. Toy Story Mania (choose ONE of these two due to tiering system)
  3. Tower of Terror
  4. Star Tours
  5. Frozen Sing Along
avoid crowds at disney world
You want to be in the line on the RIGHT. Photo credit: The Mouse for Less

5. Make a quick getaway

Last but not least! Some of the longest, most stressful lines are not for attractions at all, but for buses back to your hotel after the park closes. After the evening spectaculars, you along with tens of thousands of others are all trying to exit at the same time. When you’ve had a long day and the kids are falling asleep in their strollers, the last thing you want to do is get elbowed in a sea of people and have to wait an hour for a bus back to your hotel. Here are some tips for an easier getaway:

Strategically place yourself near an exit

The train station balcony by the exit of Magic Kingdom is a great place to watch fireworks and puts you right by the exit for an easy getaway. Another good option is the hub at the beginning of Main Street by the flagpole. This is also a good place to see the parade.

At Epcot, you can watch Illuminations from the entrance to World Showcase (by the two merchandise buildings) and you’ll make it out of the park before the herd.

Take a different route to the exit

If you do find yourself by the castle for the fireworks, here is a trick to get to the exit faster. Most people don’t know that the shops all along Main Street are interconnected on the inside. When everyone is making their way down at a snail’s pace, you can walk right through from shop to shop.

Epcot has an advantage because it has two exits. In addition to the main entrance, there is the International Gateway located in between the France and UK pavilions of World Showcase. For anyone staying at the Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan, or Dolphin hotels, this exit puts them at an easy walking distance to their hotel. Even if you aren’t staying at one of these, exiting via the International Gateway and then calling an Uber to your hotel might be a good option for those looking to avoid a crowded bus.

Other important notes about Uber

Getting around Disney World via Uber can be a great option if you’re in the time crunch. Typically rides from place to place within the World will cost $8-$13.

Be sure to download the Uber app before your trip if you’ve never used an Uber before. This will save time and have you all set to go when you’re leaving the parks.

If you want to get $5 off each of your first 4 Uber rides, (and support Real Mom Recs!) use the code johnp37188ue when you sign up for your Uber rider account.

If you’re taking an Uber from Magic Kingdom, you’ll need to meet it at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Only Disney authorized vehicles can drive right up to the entrance of the park.

For those who need a car seat, it is possible to order an UberX with a car seat for about $8 more than the regular rate.. Check out Uber’s website for more details on this.

Disney has also partnered with Lyft and launched the new Minnie Van service but at this time it is only available to guests of the Boardwalk, Yacht Club, and Beach Club. I will update if/when they expand to all the resorts.

A final note about crowds at WDW

Don’t be that parent that lets the stress of crowds ruin a good time for you and your kids. Some amount of people-herding is inevitable during this type of trip. The more relaxed you are about it, the better your children will deal with it, too.

Guide to Walt Disney World Attractions: Height Restrictions, Fright Factor, and Motion Sickness Potential

height restrictions in disney

Wondering how tall your child needs to be to go on the rides at Walt Disney World, Florida? Here is the complete guide to height restrictions in Disney World including all 4 parks and the 2 water parks!

The good news for us Moms is, Walt created Disney World with families in mind. Even the “thrill rides” at Disney are mostly geared towards children. You won’t find the biggest or fastest roller coasters in the world here. His vision was for the whole family to enjoy the parks together. For this reason, there are plenty of attractions have no height restriction. And most of the rides with a height requirement are 40 inches or less, which means a typical 5 year old can ride all but a handful of attractions.

Height Restrictions

Here are the specifics for each park:

Magic Kingdom

height restrictions in disney
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: Somewhere in between a thrill ride and a kiddie coaster
  • Tomorrowland Speedway- must be 32″ to ride and 54″ to ride without an adult
  • Barnstormer (Great Goofini)- must be 35″ to ride
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train- 38″
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad- 40″
  • Splash Mountain- 40″
  • Stitch’s Great Escape- 40″
  • Space Mountain- 44″

Epcot

  • Test Track- 40″
  • Soarin’- 40″
  • Mission: Space (Earth/Green Edition): 40″
  • Mission: Space (Mars/Orange Edition): 44″

Hollywood Studios

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror- 40″
  • Star Tours- 40″
  • Rockin’ Roller Coaster- 48″

Animal Kingdom

height restrictions in Disney
Nope, it’s not a zoo! Several attractions have height restrictions
  • Kali River Rapids- 38″
  • DINOSAUR-  40″
  • Avatar Flight of Passage- 44″
  • Expedition Everest- 44″
  • Primeval Whirl- 48″

Blizzard Beach

height restrictions in Disney
Don’t forget, water parks have height requirements too.
  • Chair lift- 32″ (no infants)
  • Tike’s Peak- Must be UNDER 48″ (children’s play area)
  • Downhill Double Dipper- 48″
  • Slush Gusher- 48″
  • Summit Plummet- 48″

Typhoon Lagoon

  • Ketchakiddee Creek- must be UNDER 48″ (children’s play area for ages 2-5)
  • Bay Slide- must be UNDER 60″ (children’s slide)
  • Crush n’ Gusher- 48″
  • Humunga Kowabunga- 48″

Guidelines for pregnant women

All of the rides that have a height restriction also come with warnings for expectant mothers. If an attraction doesn’t have a height restriction, anyone can ride including infants and pregnant women. Always use your best judgement and consult your doctor beforehand if you have concerns.

Fright factor

height restrictions in disney
The haunts of Disney’s Haunted Mansion may be silly to some but scary to others

The elaborate theming of Disney attractions is designed to give you an emotional reaction, and some may be scary for children. You know your child best, so use your judgement about what they might find spooky. And please, don’t be that parent who forces their child on rides when they are screaming they don’t want to go on! That’s not fun for anyone.

Magic Kingdom

  • Haunted Mansion- ghosts, ghouls and creepy music can scare children
  • Pirates of the Caribbean– pirate scenes may be frightening to some small children as well as skeletons and canons being fired
  • Splash Mountain– even if they aren’t afraid of the drop, the dark part where the animatronics get creepy might get to them
  • Space Mountain– not the most intense roller coaster, but still potentially frightening since it’s completely in the dark

Epcot

  • Mission Space- either version may induce claustrophobia
  • Spaceship Earth- this ride is slow and tame but there are prolonged periods of darkness
  • Soarin’– scary for those who are afraid of heights

Hollywood Studios

  • Fantasmic (evening show)- villains, loud noises, and special effects may frighten small children
  • Tower of Terror– creepy voice and imagery, this ride is designed to scare you
height restrictions in Disney
Hint: if it has the word “terror” in its name, it might frighten your child

Animal Kingdom

  • DINOSAUR– In-your-face angry animatronic dinosaurs are intense, as well as periods of darkness
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug– 3D movie features bugs and spiders jumping off of walls and dropping from the ceiling; can even frighten some adults
  • Kali River Rapids- some riders will get a little wet, while others will get completely dumped on with water. If your child is afraid of having water poured on their head, don’t chance it.
  • Expedition Everest– your 5 or 6 year old may be tall enough to ride, but that doesn’t mean they should! It is intense, jerky, appears as though the track has been ripped up, then goes backwards, and is centered around a scary monster (the Yeti) in the mountain.

Motion sickness potential

height restrictions in disney
The teacups: innocent kiddie ride, or your worst nightmare? Photo credit: Disneydining.com

If you or one of your kids is prone to motion sickness, look over this list and figure out which ones you’ll want to avoid. Some people are bothered by spinning, while other people can’t handle simulators or going upside down. You likely won’t need to avoid this whole list, just the ones with the type of motion that bothers you.

Magic Kingdom

  • Mad Tea Party (the Teacups)– Spinning. Lots of spinning.
  • Space Mountain-  fast roller coaster with some sharp turns
  • Dumbo, Astro Orbiter, Magic Carpets– these are all tame, but may affect those who can’t take spinning

Epcot

  • Mission Space (Mars/Orange Edition)– most notorious ride in all of WDW for inducing “protein spills”. Centrifuge ride with G forces can make people sick who aren’t normally prone to motion sickness.
  • Soarin’– gentle ride but might be problematic to those very sensitive to motion simulators

Hollywood Studios

  • Star Tours- a jerky motion simulator that makes you think you’re traveling wildly through space
  • Tower of Terror- sudden drops, free-fall sensation
  • Rock n’ Roller Coaster– high speed roller coaster with 3 inversions

Animal Kingdom

height restrictions in Disney
DINOSAUR could leave you queasy AND terrified
  • DINOSAUR- super jerky and rough with sudden stops
  • Primeval Whirl– nicknamed “Primeval Hurl” due to spinning and hairpin turns
  • Expedition Everest- high speed roller coaster which also goes backwards, leaves lots of people green
  • Flight of Passage– motion simulator with some drops

For more on Disney attractions, check out my list of 5 most underrated rides at Disney World!

5 Most Underrated Attractions at Walt Disney World

underrated disney attractions

If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, chances are you’re planning on riding the biggest, fastest, newest, and most popular attractions. While some of these are spectacular, there are also some underrated attractions you probably overlooked in your guide book. Whether not as new or not as thrilling, these are still fantastic attractions you don’t want to miss! (Bonus: These underrated Disney attractions will have shorter lines!)

1. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover (Magic Kingdom)

underrated Disney attractions
Photo Credit: wdwinfo.com

Where to find it: Walk down Main Street USA and take a right when you get to the hub. This is the entrance to Tomorrowland. Continue straight and go just past Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, but not as far as Space Mountain. You will see escalators going up, and this is the entrance to the Peoplemover.

Why we love it: Walt created this to the be mass transit system of the future, hence the name “Peoplemover”. In reality it isn’t used to get anywhere because it just goes around in a loop. But the Peoplemover is one of my favorite rides in all of Disney World, and here’s why:

  • The whole family can ride together. We can fit all 5 of us in one section comfortably. Considering most rides we needed to break up into 2 and 3 (and with 3 people being squished), it was really nice to all be together.
  • It is 10 minutes long. Perfect for when you have a little extra time to kill before a FastPass or dining reservation.
  • You can rest comfortably. Everyone lets out a nice “Ahhh” when sitting down in the comfortable seat. It’s totally relaxing with the breeze hitting you as you spin around Tomorrowland. Your feet will appreciate a break from all the walking too.
  • It has some cool history. This ride has been around since 1975 and was the brainchild of Walt Disney himself.
  • The views of Tomorrowland are really cool! You can usually see characters like Buzz Lightyear signing autographs below, you ride right over the cars of the Tomorrowland Speedway, and best of all: riding through the building that houses Space Mountain.
  • No wait! The Peoplemover runs continuously and people just get on and off. I have never seen a line here at all, which is pretty huge for Magic Kingdom! They will even let you stay on and ride again after the loop is complete. My two year old and I once rode 3 loops back to back without getting off while my husband and 2 older kids went on Space Mountain.
  • Toddlers will love it. My 2 year old absolutely adored this ride. With a short stretch in the dark and a couple gentle turns, it was just fun enough for her. She loved looking at all the sites going by. Just look at her joy in this shot I got:

Tomorrowland Transit Authority people mover

For more tips on surviving Disney World with a toddler, don’t miss this post!

2. Kali River Rapids (Animal Kingdom)

Kali River Rapids Animal Kingdom
Photo credit: disneydaybyday.com

Where to find it: Enter Animal Kingdom and go straight. Veer right at the Tree of Life and follow signs for Asia. When you get to Asia you will hit Yak and Yeti and Kali River Rapids is tucked around the corner. (Sidenote: am I the only one who finds Animal Kingdom confusing to navigate even with the plethora of signage???)

Why we love it: This ride gets NO love on popular Disney forums and I can not figure out why! It has been the highlight of Animal Kingdom for me on each of my trips there. A great hybrid of thrilling and family-friendly, this attraction has a 38 inch height restriction, so an average sized 4 year old can ride.

In addition to the excitement of bobbing down the “river” (which does have one pretty thrilling drop), there is also a thrill in how wet you might get. It is a bit like Russian roulette because of the 12 riders in each boat, ten will get a little bit splashed and two will come out completely soaked like they showered with their clothes on. As the sign says upon entering: “You will get wet. You might get soaked.”

If getting wet is a great concern for you, just pack a change of clothes in a backpack and enjoy this ride!

3. The Great Goofini’s Barnstormer (Magic Kingdom)

Barnstormer Disney
Photo credit: disneyworld.disney.go.com

Where to find it: In the New Fantasyland section of Magic Kingdom. It’s tucked in the back corner of the Storybook Circus area where you’d never see it unless you were looking for it. Look for a small roller coaster where the car looks like a little airplane. Casey Junior Splash n Soak station is directly across from it which is great for toddlers who are overheating or just need to hop out of the stroller and burn some energy.

Why we love it: Known as a “junior roller coaster”, this short and sweet coaster is great for many reasons. The height restriction is only 35 inches, meaning a typical 3 year old and even some tall 2 year olds can ride. This makes it a great consolation prize for the little ones who can’t ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40 inch height restriction) or 7 Dwarfs Mine Train (38 inch height restriction).

Barnstormer is also great because it can be a “test coaster” to see how small children react to thrill rides. While it is a kiddie coaster, it does have some speed. If your child has never been on a roller coaster before, this is a great one to start them out on and see if they will be able to handle the bigger, faster rides. It’s also super short, about 1 minute long, so if your child panics at least it will be over with soon.

My son who was too afraid to go on Mine Train absolutely loved Barnstormer! And with the short line, he was able to ride it several times with only a few minutes of waiting in between.

4. Living with the Land (Epcot)

Epcot the Land Pavilion Living with the Land
Photo credit: allears.net

Where to find it: Go straight through the entrance and veer right at Spaceship Earth (the giant silver golfball looking thing, or as my kids call it “The Epcot Ball”). Take a right into Future World West and follow signs for “The Land”. Once inside the land pavilion, don’t follow the herd that’s running to Soarin’. Instead head to the right and you’ll see the entrance to Living with the Land.

Why we love it: This gentle, 14-minute long boat ride is both educational and fun. A nice break from the hustle-and-bustle, this attraction focuses on farming and sustainability rather than characters and movies. Glide along through four greenhouses and an aquacell. Don’t worry, the voiceover isn’t too dry! Disney is even able to make crops interesting for kids. Mine loved seeing pumpkins and tomatoes grown in the shape of Mickey’s head and inspecting the huge tanks of strange-looking fish. The adults marveled over the “Creative House” section which shows how to grow crops in different ways including hanging in the air and with no soil.

Living with the land Epcot Disney world
Photo credit: bestoforlando.com

Overall, just one those really neat, engaging, underrated Disney attractions.

5. Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Magic Kingdom)

Mickey's Philharmagic Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
Photo credit: disneyphotoblog.wordpress.com

Where to find it: Go straight down Main Street and through the castle. When you hit the carousel, turn to your left and you’ll be looking at Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

Why we love it: When you hear “animated 3-D movie”, you might think this attraction is skippable. Don’t make that mistake! It is a delight for the whole family (and yes, I even enjoyed it during my adults-only Disney trips). My kids always want to see it several times each trip and I’m happy to oblige.

The show is funny, fast-paced, and incorporates sights, sounds, and smells. With your 3-D glasses you really feel like you’re in the center of the action. You might even get water spritzed on you as part of the show.

Similar to the Peoplemover, Philharmagic is a fantastic way to escape the heat and rest your legs. You also shouldn’t have much of a wait. At 15 minutes long, even if you enter the waiting area when a show has just started, you won’t have to wait too long for the next one.

Mickeys Philharmagic
Photo credit: disneyworld.disney.go.com

Make sure to add these 5 underrated Disney attractions to your touring plan, and come back here and tell us what you think!

 

For more help with planning your Disney vacation, check out my 7 most useful websites for planning.