Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 – Hyperlapse Video Tour

I expect to post more about Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in a future update, but since the festival just opened yesterday, I thought it would be nice to provide a high-level overview of what’s available this year around the World Showcase. I hope this video gives you a feel for where those food kiosks and topiaries are located in relation to one another.

I also should say that as I shot the video, I tried to pause briefly at each kiosk so you could see the menus, but looking at the video now shows plainly that I didn’t pause long enough. Keep your mouse on the “pause” button if you want to gaze at the menus for more than about a second each, lol:

Note that if you’re using RideMax to plan your visit to Epcot and want to take in the Festival, my advice is take one of two approaches when creating your plan.

The first approach is to simply try creating a plan that begins when the park opens and which closes in the evening, with no scheduled breaks in the plan. This should typically leave you with a large block of “free time” on the plan, which you can use for touring World Showcase, viewing the topiaries, and sampling the food at the various kiosks.

The second approach is to use one of the activities listed in RideMax as “World Showcase, 3 hr Clockwise,” or similar, depending on how much time you want to spend here.

I suggest you experiment with both approaches or play “what if” for a while, until you arrive at plan you’re happy with.

Bon Appetit!

Disneyland and Walt Disney World Spring Break 2015 — Four Tips to Reduce Your Wait

Here we go again — it’s the time of year when people start planning that spring break trip to the theme parks. Whether you plan to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, here are four tips that can help you avoid the crowds and have a successful, fun vacation:

  • Arrive early, well before the park opens for the day
  • Buy your tickets in advance
  • Have a game plan
  • Choose the “right” park for your visit date

Let’s elaborate on these in more detail.

Tip #1: Arrive Early, Before the Park Opens for the Day

When visiting Disney’s theme parks during crowded seasons of the year especially, it’s important to be at the front gates well before the park opens for the day.

Consider the two pictures below, taken a couple of years ago at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-8f7jvBt/0/X2/i-8f7jvBt-X2.jpg

Now, compare this to following picture taken two hours later:

Magic Kingdom Spring Break -- Mid-morning

Arriving early gives you access to the shorter lines right after the park opens, as you can imagine. But another huge advantage of arriving early is that it helps you get the most out of the FastPass-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World, and the FastPass (FP) system at Disneyland.

At Walt Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use (with no paper FPs in use at all anymore), arriving early allows you to use your FP+ reservations earlier in the day, opening up the possibility of obtaining more FP+ slots once you’ve used your first three.

At Disneyland, arriving early is even more critical for efficient FastPass (FP) use. For those who aren’t aware, after you obtain your first FP ticket, you can’t obtain another one until either two hours have elapsed, or until the “ride window” for that first FP ticket has arrived, whichever comes first. Early in the day, those FP windows can be as close as 40 minutes away from the time at which you obtained the FP ticket, allowing you to get your next FP ticket 40 minutes after the first. Contrast this with later in the day, when the return windows for some of the more popular attractions can stretch out to several hours away instead, forcing you to wait the full two hours before you can get your next FP ticket.

The other significant thing to note about the Disneyland FP tickets is that they can “sell out” by midday for some rides (depending on crowd levels), so arriving early helps you to not get “locked out” entirely from getting FPs for certain attractions.

Tip #2: Buy Your Tickets In Advance

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World especially, it’s critical that you buy your tickets well in advance of your trip.

Disney allows you to make your FP+ reservations 60 days in advance if you’re staying onsite in a Disney hotel, and 30 days in advance if you’re staying offsite. And FP+ reservations for popular attractions and time slots can sell out very early, so it’s important to secure those FP+ reservations as far in advance of your trip as you can.

The catch here is that you have to have your actual tickets in hand before you can make those FP+ reservations. Once you have your ticket numbers, you can create an account on Walt Disney World’s My Disney Experience website and “link” these tickets to your account. Once that’s done, you can make your actual FP+ reservations.

Note that if you’re using RideMax to create and optimize your itineraries, the RideMax plan will tell you when it thinks it’s best to actually use those FP+ tickets. So the idea is that once you have your RideMax plans created, you then go into My Disney Experience and adjust your FP+ reservations to match the times shown on your RideMax plans.

The point is that the earlier you make your FP+ reservations, the more likely it is that you can get the time slots you want (or which your RideMax plan specifies). So buying your tickets in advance is critical.

For Disneyland visitors, the same “buy tickets early” advice applies, but it’s not nearly as important as it is for WDW guests. If you buy your Disneyland tickets in advance, it can save you some hassle the first morning of your visit, since you won’t have to wait in line at one of the ticket counters. You can also get access to one of Disneyland’s Magic Morning hours if you’re purchasing a 3-day or higher ticket online. This in itself can be a huge advantage if you wish to take advantage of Magic Morning.

Tip #3: Have a Basic Game Plan

OK, you probably figured this was coming, since I earn my living from the RideMax planning tool. But even if the detailed planning that RideMax allows isn’t quite your thing, you’ll still benefit greatly by mapping out at least a partial game plan in advance of your trip. Give at least give some thought to which attractions you want to start your day with, and then go from there.

Visiting your attractions in an efficient order can literally make or break your day, especially when the park is crowded, so I’d advise spending at least a few minutes before your trip thinking this through. This will help keep you from wandering around the park with your head buried in the park map trying to figure this out on the fly later.

Tip #4: Choose the “Right” Park for Your Visit Date

Radiator Springs Racers

In addition to arriving early, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you choose the “right” park for your visit date.

The example photo above shows absolutely nobody in front of me as I made my way to Radiator Springs Racers. The catch is that for most guests, this is only possible on certain days of the week.

The reason for this is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some an “early entry” program for their hotel guests, which gives these guests access to one of the parks one hour early on specific days of the week. For example, Disney hotel guests are normally allowed early entry to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

If you’re not staying at a Disney-owned hotel and still want to get a jump on the crowds by arriving early, the best way to do this is to simply avoid the park hosting early entry on the day of you visit, and go to another park instead. For example, the picture above was taken on a Tuesday, when Disneyland, and NOT DCA, was hosting early entry. Had I gone straight to Radiator Springs Racers when the park opened to the public on a Monday instead, I would have found a large line for this attraction right at opening time. (And do yourself a favor and steer clear of Peter Pan on an early entry day at Disneyland, unless you have early access yourself!)

You’ll see a similar scene play out at Walt Disney World, which normally hosts “Extra Magic Hours” at one of its theme parks each morning as well. (Walt Disney World RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Walt Disney World website for the early entry schedule also.)

So, do yourself a favor this spring break and avoid the crowds by arriving early, buying your tickets in advance, having a game plan, and choosing the right park for your visit date. I think you’ll be glad you did!

Are you planning a spring break visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Disneyland – Huge Crowds on October 17th?

Disneyland Fall Break - Scary Crowds?

When I’m working on estimating crowds at Disneyland for the RideMax planner, October is one of those months that is always sort of dicey. One day things can be just fine, but other days can have absolutely crazy crowds.

The past few years, in order to help with these October crowd estimates, I’ve researched school fall break calendars, especially for schools in some of California’s neighboring states. And this year, I’m seeing something of a perfect storm of crowds shaping up for Friday, October 17th.

Why October 17th?

Well, first of all, I expect the entire week to see larger crowds than you might expect for the fall. Both Columbus day and Canadian Thanksgiving are on Monday that week, and sometimes the “holdover crowds” from these holidays can spill into the week. There are also schools in Arizona which will be out the entire week on fall break as well.

The real icing on the cake is UEA break, however, when schools in Utah are on break Thursday and Friday (the 16th and 17th), and Utah’s Alpine and Provo school districts are out on Monday, the 20th, as well.

You may discount the idea that a school break in the state of Utah, which doesn’t actually even touch California, could have a large impact on the crowds, but consider this: Utah has the highest percentage in the nation of homes with children. And you can bet that many of those families will be headed to Disneyland for fall break!

Given that the Utah break doesn’t start until Thursday, I don’t expect crowds to be nearly as bad Tuesday and Wednesday (though I expect the AZ break will make even those crowds larger than normal for fall weekdays).

The crowds should peak on Friday, the 17th, with UEA break in full swing. I flat out expect the 17th to be the most crowded day for the entire month of October. Adding to the craziness, Disneyland itself closes early that night, at 6:00pm, in order to make way for the Halloween party that evening. As such, you can expect DCA to be extremely (extremely!) crowded that evening, as all of the local annual passholders come into the park expecting a nice Friday evening visit, likely unaware of the crowds that await them.

As if this weren’t enough, the other thing that could make the crowds seem larger-than-normal is if Disney itself is unprepared for Friday’s madness, and doesn’t bulk up the staff that day. Some attractions that rely on employees for throughput rate (i.e., Jungle Cruise), could see much longer lines if Disney doesn’t anticipate the crowd levels adequately.

Unlike Friday, Saturday is blocked out for both types of Southern California annual passholders, so the crowds should actually be somewhat lower on Saturday than on Friday. And both parks will be open late Saturday, allowing the crowds to spread out more than on Friday. (Add to this the fact that many folks from AZ and UT will also use Saturday as a travel day home.)

OK, so in an effort to not be all gloom-and-doom here, if you are visiting on the 17th, is there anything you can do to help salvage the day?

I’m sure you expect a shameless plug for RideMax here, so let’s get that out of the way first: Yes, by all means, use RideMax. This will at least set you up with a basic game plan for the day, which sure beats wandering around with your head buried in the park map trying to get everyone to agree on where to go next… meanwhile, the precious morning hours just tick away and the crowds continue to build.

The other, significant thing you can do is arrive early Friday morning, well before the park opens for the day. I really can’t stress this enough, so let me say it again with emphasis: ARRIVE EARLY FRIDAY MORNING!

Because the Disneyland park doesn’t host Magic Morning on Friday, you can especially get a jump on the crowds at Disneyland if you arrive well before opening time. (DCA, on the other hand, will have crowds already in the park at opening time, due to Extra Magic Hours on Friday morning for hotel guests. So the early advantage isn’t as great at DCA unless you have access to Extra Magic Hours yourself.)

As an added “early-arrival” bonus, the parks both open at 8:00am on Friday, and given that many folks have a much harder time getting out of bed for an 8:00am opening than a later one, this is a case where the early bird really does get the worm.

I hope this helps you anticipate and plan your week if you’re heading to Disneyland for fall break. There really are a lot of great things about Disneyland in the fall, and some of my favorites include the cooler weather and the holiday makeover of the Haunted Mansion (something I really wish Disney World would also do in Orlando).

So if you are visiting on the 17th, don’t let the crowds discourage you. Anticipate them, do a little advance planning, and arrive early to beat them!

“Frozen Summer Fun” Added to RideMax

Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios has added a set of “extras” this summer, all under the banner of Frozen Summer Fun. I stopped by earlier this week with Liesle and my daughter to check it out, and we found that we enjoyed it more than I had expected to. Although it’s nowhere close to a Star Wars Land, it adds to the experience of a park that’s long overdue for some sort of update.

(Note: Click on any image in this post for a larger version.)

Get tickets before the show for the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

Our first stop of the day was to get tickets for the lengthily-titled show, For the First Time in Forever: A “Frozen” Sing-Along Celebration. At 10:45 there were still plenty of tickets available for the first show of the day at 12:30.

A short line to get tickets for the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

The line to get tickets for the show is in the Streets of America. Look for the green umbrellas set up on the “side street” off the main thoroughfare. Based on the queue set-up, it looked like they were expecting much larger lines for this than actually existed.

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios

We planted ourselves off to the side of the Sorcerer’s Hat for the 11:00am Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome, which turned out to be sort of lame, actually, and was our least-favorite activity of the day. It consisted of Anna and Elsa in a carriage, along with Kristoff and a handful of dancers, all making their way down Hollywood Boulevard to the Sorcerer’s Hat. Granted, we didn’t have a great vantage point from where we stood, but I’m not sure being up-close would have helped that much.

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The festivities included Anna and Elsa being handed flowers by someone dressed up like a Disney manager. Not sure what more to say about this.

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Sing Along

On the bright side, we did get to sing-along with Let It Go. (This is sarcastic or not, depending on your own level of Frozen fatigue.)

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Finale

And the guy in the suit helps wrap the whole thing up.

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Kristoff

With the brief festivities at the hat concluded, the processional continued down toward Star Tours, where I could see the characters a bit better. If you don’t care about the stage show, this location offers a better view and is less crowded. To give you an idea of the overall brevity of the show, this picture was taken at 11:12am.

Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Say Goodbye

“Say goodbye, to the…” well, you know the rest.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen T-Shirt Red

I thought these Olaf t-shirts were pretty cool (sorry). $21.95.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Olaf T-Shirt Blue

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Olaf T-Shirt White

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland

We next made our way over to Wandering Oaken’s Frozen Funland. This is located in one of the old “sound stage” buildings between Toy Story Midway Mania and the Backlot Tour. We didn’t have to wait at all to go inside, but the individual activities inside did include some waiting.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland

The longest wait by far was for the “snow ground” playground area, which included real snow. This was a real treat in Florida in July.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland Ice Skating

Folks also seemed to be enjoying the small ice-skating rink in this area, which is available for an extra $10.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland

Frozen-themed treats are also available here.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun Treats

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Frozen Summer Fun - Cupcakes

A close-up of the cupcakes.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

By now, it was time to use our tickets for the 12:30 show of For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.

As someone who downloaded the soundtrack for this show before I was even home from the movie theater — two days after the film was released — (and before every 9-year-old girl in the country had the lyrics memorized), these songs are near and dear to my heart. We really enjoyed this sing-along. It was fast-paced and fun, despite the fact that they left out one of our favorite tunes, Fixer Upper.

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

The show included segments of live acting…

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

…as well as a bouncing snowflake for the lyrically-impaired. (Not us!)

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration - Anna

Sounds good, Anna!

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

The grand finale…

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration - Finale

As I said, all in all, we really enjoyed the sing-a-long. (And hopefully we didn’t annoy anyone around us too much with our boisterous rendition of the lyrics.) I’ve given this one a fairly high rating in RideMax, and would definitely recommend adding it to your RideMax plan.

Note that the actual showtime came in at around 30 minutes, and this is how we’ve listed it in RideMax, despite Disney’s Times Guide indicating a 20-minute show length.

As a bonus, both the sing-along and Wandering Oaken’s Frozen Funland are a great way to get out of the heat and enjoy some *very* cold air-conditioning. In fact, both Liesle and my daughter were downright cold by the end of this show.

Frozen living up to it’s name, I guess.

We didn’t stay for the evening Frozen version of the fireworks, but I hope to see that in the near future.

For RideMax customers, you’ll find four of the “Frozen Summer Fun” activities listed in RideMax now through September 1st, so feel free to add these to your RideMax plans:

  • Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome
  • Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
  • Wandering Oaken’s Frozen Funland
  • Frozen Fireworks Spectacular

What about you? Have you seen or do you plan to see the new “Frozen Summer Fun” activities yet? Do people really smell better than reindeer? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below!

 

“The Disneyland Book,” by Betsy Malloy, Plus a RideMax Review

 

The Disneyland Book

Along my journey with RideMax, there have been a few significant milestones, and I have Betsy Malloy to thank for one very important one. For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Betsy is the California Travel Writer for About.com, and very early in RideMax’s life, she discovered it, put it to the test at Disneyland, and wrote about her positive experience with RideMax on her website. Though most of our RideMax “PR” has been word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers, Betsy’s early review helped to kick-start this process, and I’m grateful to her for being willing to write about RideMax before it was well-known.

Betsy has released a unique guidebook for Disneyland, titled The Disneyland Book: 101 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Add Wow! to Your Vacation. One thing I like about Betsy’s book is that she relies a lot on pictures, rather than lengthy text, to drive home the tips in the book. It covers a lot of basics for those not familiar with Disney’s parks, including one tip from yours truly, and even contains some information that was new to me. Be sure to check out her book if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland this summer.

Earlier this spring, Taren, Jason, and Terrance over at the EarzUp! podcast also did an episode which included a RideMax review. Check it out if you’re on the fence about subscribing to RideMax, and while you’re there, check out the other fun Disneyland-related podcasts and blog posts on their site as well!

 

 

Beating the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Crowds at Park Opening. Festival of the Lion King Opens in New Harambe Theater.

Magic Kingdom - Seven Dwarfs Mine Train CrowdsAs you can see in the image above, Disney is now using a new “follow the rope” procedure when they open the Magic Kingdom in the morning. This is used to help prevent guests from running to the very popular new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, as well as to the Anna and Elsa meet and greet.

I visited the Magic Kingdom yesterday, and followed pretty closely behind the Cast Members leading the way, as the picture above — and the one right below — shows.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Park Opening

What may not be obvious from these pictures, is the HUGE crowds following behind. I somehow managed to hold my camera over my head, pointing backwards, and caught the following amazing sight (click on any image for a larger view):

Magic Kingdom Crowds

With most of these folks attempting to get to these new attractions, you can see how important it is to both arrive early and to know what you’re doing once you get there. The first one is up to you, and if you’re a RideMax subscriber, we’ve added an in-plan tip (our longest one yet) to help with the second one.

New Lion King Theater in Africa

I also hopped over to the Animal Kingdom yesterday to check out the new Festival of the Lion King theater, which has been built in Africa, replacing the old location in Camp Minnie-Mickey. As you can see in the picture above, the standby entrance is on the left, with FP+ access on the right.

Festival of the Lion King - New Theater Location in Africa

Just to put the new location in context, this is the wide-angle view from the bridge leading into Africa. Kilimanjaro Safaris is straight ahead on the right-hand side of the picture, with the new Lion King theater on the very far left-hand side of the image.

New Lion King Theater

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, just hang a left here to get to the new theater.

New Festival of the Lion King Theater in Disney's Animal Kingdom

Here’s the view of the theater building taken from the far end, looking back toward where the previous picture was taken.

Festival of the Lion King

Festival of the Lion King

It’s the same great show as before, one I consider a “must see” attraction!

A final note is that in my observations yesterday, there is no need to use FP+ to visit the FOTLK. For the noon show, you could still get in standby by showing up just 15 minutes before showtime. Arriving a half-hour early should be a safe bet on all but the busiest days of the year.

 

Three Tips to Reduce Your Wait at Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Spring Racers at Disney California Adventure

Even though Cars Land opened almost two years ago, the crowds can still be pretty intense, especially for this new land’s centerpiece attraction, Radiator Springs Racers.

Here are three tips to reduce your wait.

Tip #1: Use FastPass (duh!)

This may seem obvious, but using the FastPass system is a good way to reduce your wait on this ride. The trick, however, is that because the attraction is still so popular, FastPass tickets can run out very early in the day. So in order to take advantage of this tip, you’ll need to get in line for the FastPass machines no later than about 40 or 50 minutes after the park opens. You might get away with later than this on days of very low attendance, but why push your luck?

Another less-obvious point here is that the lines can start out very long just to get a FastPass ticket, with the line forming near the Carthay Circle Theater even before the park has opened for the day. After about 30 or 40 minutes though, the line to get FastPasses will normally start to die down. As a result, if you’re using RideMax to plan your visit, you may find that the plan doesn’t have you get in line for the FastPass tickets until after you’ve already visited another attraction, while you wait for the FastPass line to die down a bit here.

Tip #2: Use the Single Rider Line

Radiator Springs Racers Single Rider Line Entrance

A perhaps less well-known fact is that Radiator Springs Racers offers a separate “single rider” line. For those unfamiliar with the single rider concept, you can use this line to avoid most of the wait, but the cost is that your party will most likely be split up, so that you ride in separate vehicles. The picture above shows the entrance to the single rider line, which is just to the left of the main attraction entrance.

The single rider line likely won’t be an option for you if you have very young children who would be uncomfortable riding with strangers. But for older children and adults, it offers a very viable alternative to standing in a very long standby line. We’ve sometimes found ourselves even lucky enough to either ride in the same vehicle with someone else in our party, or — and this is even more fun — racing against someone in our group who happened to be seated in the car we “competed” with as part of the ride experience.

Tip #3: Arrive Early on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday

Radiator Springs Racers - No Line

You may have read this tip and thought, “OK, I can see the logic in arriving early, but what is so special about Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday?

Disney offers “Extra Magic Hours” (EMH) to its hotel guests, where they are allowed to enter DCA one hour before the “official” park opening time. EMH for DCA takes place on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. So even if you arrive early on one of these days of the week hoping to beat the rush to Radiator Springs Racers, you’ll find hotel guests already in the park, many (most?) of which will try to visit RSR during the EMH hour, making for a long line right at park opening time.

One common misconception here is that park-hopper “bonus” ticket holders sometimes think that their one-day “Magic Morning” privileges apply to DCA — they don’t. Magic Morning is ONLY available for use at Disneyland. If you want access to DCA’s EMH, you’ll need to stay at one of the Disney hotels.

You know I have to save something for subscribers, so if you’re a RideMax subscriber, please also be sure to check out our “Tips & Hints” pages within RideMax itself, where we give some very detailed advice — complete with pictures — regarding this particular tip, including where to position yourself once inside the park. That advice can help you further beat the crowds to Radiator Springs Racers right at opening time.

For those of you who have visited DCA since Cars Land opened, what did you think? Do you like the new attractions? What is your favorite?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disney Spring Break: Three Tips for Beating the Crowds at Disney’s Theme Parks

It’s that time of year again when folks start planning spring break vacations to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Although crowds during this time of year can be very heavy, there are a few simple things you can do to help beat those crowds. I’ll expand on each of these below, but to cut right to the chase, my three tips are:

  • Arrive early
  • Have a plan
  • Choose the “right” park for your visit date

Let’s hit each of these in more detail.

Tip #1: Arrive Early

Regardless of whether you’re visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World, it’s very important to arrive well before the park opens for the day so that you’re among the first group of guests in the park right when it opens for business.

Consider the two pictures below, taken last year at the Magic Kingdom during spring break. The first shows what Fantasyland looked like just after the park opened for the day:

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-8f7jvBt/0/X2/i-8f7jvBt-X2.jpg

Now, check out the following picture taken two hours later:

Magic Kingdom Spring Break -- Mid-morning

Not only are the lines for the attractions lower first thing in the morning, arriving early also gives you an important advantage in using Disney’s FASTPASS (FP) system at Disneyland, or in using the FASTPASS-Plus (FP+) system at Walt Disney World.

To explain more, first thing in the morning the FP “return windows” for most attractions at Disneyland and at California Adventure are just 40 minutes away, and this is also the time at which you can get your next FP ticket. Contrast this with later in the day, when you may have to wait two hours to obtain your next FP ticket, if they’re even available at all.

Similarly, at Disney World’s theme parks, where the FP+ system is now in full use, arriving early gets you quicker access to the FP+ kiosks which are scattered throughout the parks.

Arriving later in the day could result in a line for the FP+ kiosks that looks like the following picture from the Animal Kingdom, taken at around 11:00am during another busy season of the year (the way some of these folks are camped out makes it look like they’ve been waiting a while):

FP+ Kiosk at Animal Kingdom

Tip #2: Have a Plan

OK, I know this one is self-serving, since I earn my living from the RideMax custom itinerary planning toolBut even if you don’t use RideMax, I recommend you at least do some planning before you leave for the park, even if it’s just to sit down and make a list of priority attractions and their general location within the park. (And if you are visiting Walt Disney World and don’t feel like you need the detail that RideMax offers, you can also find good touring advice at the easywdw website. No affiliation, BTW.)

Tip #3: Choose the “Right” Park For Your Visit Date

Radiator Springs Racers

In addition to arriving early, it’s important to choose the “right” day of the week to visit a given park. For example, the above picture shows the empty line for Radiator Springs Racers first thing in the morning, right after the park opened for the day.

The catch is that for the majority of guests, this scene is only possible on certain days of the week.

What’s important to remember is that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World host some sort of “early entry” program for their hotel guests, which gives these guests access to one of the parks one hour early on specific days of the week. For example, Disney hotel guests are normally allowed early entry to Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and to DCA on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Walt Disney World also normally hosts early entry at one or more of its parks on any given day, but the exact day of the week is not always as predictable as it is for the Disneyland resort. (RideMax subscribers can find our “Which Day, Which Park?” recommendations in the RideMax “Tips & Hints” pages, or you can consult the Disney World website for the early entry information as well.)

If you’re not staying at a Disney-owned hotel and still want to get a jump on the crowds by arriving early, the best way to do this is to simply avoid the park hosting early entry on the day of you visit, and go to another park instead. For example, the picture above was taken on a Tuesday, when Disneyland, and NOT DCA, was hosting early entry. Had I gone straight to Radiator Springs Racers when the park opened to the public on a Monday instead, I would have found a large line for this attraction right at opening time. (And don’t even attempt to visit Peter Pan on an early entry day for Disneyland if you don’t have early entry access yourself!)

During a busy season like spring break, a similar scenario can play out at the Disney World theme parks, with hotel guests streaming into the park hosting early entry (or “Extra Magic Hours” (EMH), as Disney calls it) well before the park opens to the public. To start your day with lower crowds, I strongly encourage you to visit a non-EMH park instead.

Do you have a favorite crowd-beating tip you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments below!