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We get it. Nothing will take away the magic of Disney parks faster than the wait times and crowds. Luckily for you, we have all the tips to avoid Disney World and Disneyland crowds that’ll have you on rides instead of in lines.
We’ll list all the best Disney crowd calendars, what the deal is with the new Lightning Lanes and Disney Genie, and when you should eat.
Plus, we have so many other Disney vacation hacks that can save you time and money.
1. Check Disney Crowd Calendars before you buy your tickets.
The best way to know when the least amount of people is in the park is through crowd calendars. There are several online, but here are a few of our favorites:
- WDW Prep School: Provides an explanation for each season and why certain dates are optimal for your Walt Disney World vacation.
- Is It Packed: Let’s you know the day-by-day estimate of the number of people in the park. It also gives you recommendations for the best times to go into the park.
- Undercover Tourist: Not only gives you the best days to go into the park, but it also lets you know the events that are going on in each park.
2. Avoid summer and the holiday season; instead, visit the parks in January and September.
While the crowd calendars are handy for specific days, if you’re generally looking for the least-crowded days of the year, you’ll want to plan your Disney parks trip for January (except for MLK weekend) and September (except for Labor Day weekend).
Plus, ticket prices fluctuate throughout the year, and the cheapest prices are January, February, August and September (with the exception of holiday weekends). During “Value Season” you’ll easily save up to $20 per ticket over the peak season prices.
3. You can hold a spot in line for your group — IF you tell a Cast Member.
OK, story time: While we were riding Star Tours, a member of our group got in line for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. When we met up, we sheepishly slid into line with the other member of our party.
A Cast Member promptly found us and said that our party could reunite in line, but in the future, we’d need to tell a Cast Member so we could be properly escorted to our spot.
It’s generally frowned upon to do this, so use it sparingly — but we were blown away that this was actually the policy!
We also know several Goofy Disney Park tips that won’t work, so you won’t be fooled when you get into the parks.
4. Ride when people typically eat or are watching fireworks — the lines are much shorter.
This really works! We’d always have really strange eating times — like an 10 a.m. breakfast, a 3 p.m. lunch, and a late dinner (if necessary). When regular mealtimes would hit (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and like 5-7 p.m.), people would be stuck in long lines for dinner, while we’d be blazing through the standby line on rides.
This tip is even stronger during the nightly fireworks shows; a two-hour wait for It’s A Small World turned into a walk-on ride (see photo above).
Plus, there are several Disney dining tips that the Mouse doesn’t want you to know.
5. Budget at least $20/day per person for the Lightning Lane.
Look, we get it. You already spent a pretty penny just getting to Disney and into the park. Why spend more for Genie+ Lightning Lane access?
The photo above says it all; on the left is the standby line for Space Mountain. On the right — Lightning Lane. You made it this far, what’s another $20 per person, per day so you don’t spend your Disney vacation waiting in lines?
You can add Genie+ when you buy your tickets, or once you arrive at the park. Then, when parks open (or 7 a.m. if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel), use the Disneyland or Disney World app to reserve your Lightning Lane time slot.
Some things to know:
- You can only book a Lightning Lane reservation once per ride, per day
- High-demand rides book up fastest; make your reservation as soon as possible
- Not all rides offer Lightning Lane; the app will tell you which ones have it
- Some rides offer Individual Lightning Lane tickets, which cost $7-$20 per person, per ride, depending on the season. For example, the Webslingers Individual Lightning Lane costs an additional $7 per person, on top of the Genie+ service.
6. As soon as you check into your Lightning Lane reservation, book a new one.
Lightning Lane is just like FastPass was, in that you can only schedule one Lightning Lane at a time. But as soon as you check in — using your phone, MagicBand, or ticket card — open the app and reserve your next Lightning Lane ride.
The sooner you do it, the better, because Lightning Lane windows get booked quickly — and supply is limited. You’ve also got to use some strategy: Do you want to book the most popular ride later in the day? Or bounce from Lightning Lane to Lightning Lane, knowing you might miss out on your favorite ride’s Lightning Lane.
7. Keep an eye on ride wait times using the park’s app.
One of the best parts of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps is the map feature, which lets you keep tabs on current wait times. If you’re waiting for your next Lightning Lane — or not doing one at all — this will help you figure out where to go for the shortest wait.
Tip: If you put your must-see attractions into Disney Genie — the free planning tool within the Disney apps — they’ll tell you the best times to get in the standby line.
8. Get into the parks early by staying at a Disney hotel or by making a breakfast reservation.
If you make a breakfast reservation before the parks open, you’ll be able to get in 40 minutes earlier than anyone else. You’ll have to make the reservation months before you get into the park, so make sure to book it as soon as possible.
But if you’re staying at a Disney resort hotel, you’ll often be able to get into the park an hour early or stay an hour late. But these “Magic Hours” have a dark side. . .
9. Skip the food lines; order ahead by using the park app.
You can order all your food ahead of time (and pay!) via the park’s app. This way, you can skip long lines for your turkey legs and Dole Whips.
All you have to do is order the food, check in when you’ve arrived during your dining window, and pick it up from the counter.
10. Don’t go to the parks on Magic Hour days — they’re super busy.
For now, thanks to Covid, Disney Parks aren’t doing Extra Magic Hours — which gives resort guests an extra hour at the beginning or end of the day. (But they are doing Early Entry; see the last tip.)
Although Extra Magic Hours seem really great if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, they make the parks more crowded. So any time you save by getting in early gets gobbled up by bigger crowds.
So, for future reference, stay away if you can. For example, if the Magic Kingdom’s Magic Hours happen on Monday, you should go to Epcot instead for shorter wait times.
To find out when Magic Hours are happening, check the Disney park calendar, and it’ll let you know which parks are offering them on which days.
11. Get to the parks about an hour before they open for the ‘Rope Drop.’
Disney parks technically open at 8 a.m., but if you get to the parks an hour early, you’ll be there for the “Rope Drop” — which means you’ll get into the park before the official opening time.
When the Rope Drop happens is dependent on the Cast Member in charge, but it’s typically 30-60 minutes early.
Tip: Once you get into the park, get in line for a popular ride and save your Lightning Lane reservation for later in the day.
12. Save time in larger gift shops by using mobile checkout.
When you’re at one of the bigger gift shops at a Disney park (or even shopping areas like Downtown Disney), keep an eye out for signage that allows you to check out using the Disney World or Disneyland app.
The app lets you scan the items you’re buying, and then you can pay using the payment card associated with your account. Then, you show your checkout screen to a Cast Member waiting near the exit doors. Save the waiting in line for things that matter — like rides!