Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    Hate Disney lines? Superfans share tips to avoid them.

    At a Disney theme park, some parts of the experience are guaranteed: Mickey Mouse ears will be everywhere, kids will melt down and lines will be long. So, so long.

    Even as admission prices continue their decades-long climb, the crowds keep coming for a piece of Mickey Mouse’s magic. Sometimes, those masses are willing to wait around two hours to climb on a fictional winged creature for a simulated flight experience.

    “When you use the phrase ‘time is money,’ there’s no better place to describe that than Walt Disney World,” said Conor Brown, owner and head tour guide of Magical Park Tours, which offers concierge tours of Orlando-area theme parks. “If you’re spending all this money, are you spending it just to wait in lines or are you spending it to have a good time?”

    Just because the lines form doesn’t mean you always have to wait in them.

    Multitudes of fan blogs, YouTube videos, Instagram reels and TikToks are devoted to helping park visitors navigate the happiest places on earth — without spending all day queuing up. And Disney offers several options to bypass crowds at a variety of price points.

    Some hacks don’t cost anything but an extra hour of sleep you lose for an early wake-up call. Others could set you back three months’ rent. At the very least, most require planning in advance, a well-charged smartphone and a little research.

    Arrive an hour before parks open

    Every Disney expert interviewed for this story emphasized the importance — nay, the absolute necessity — of showing up before a park even opens. The good news for early birds is that not everyone can swing this miracle of morning organization.

    “You can tell everyone to get there early and they’ll still show up late,” said David Vaughn, a theme park content creator based in Southern California.

    Brown, who is also a travel agent, blogger and podcaster, advises to arrive an hour before you’re officially allowed to enter. That means you’ll have time to park or take alternative transportation, make it to the gate, go through security and still be near the front of the line to enter — and among the first to get in line for rides.

    “In those early hours, you can knock out a lot,” he said. Visitors should know in advance what they want to ride, tackle popular options while morning crowds are still thin and build the rest of the day from there.

    Stay to the last minute

    Just because a park closes at 10 p.m. doesn’t mean you have to be walking to your car at 9:55. The lines close when the parks do — but if a ride is operational and you hop in line one minute before closing time, you can stay.

    “Regardless of the time the parks close, you will not be asked to leave any attraction as long as you are already in line,” wrote a panelist for planDisney, the company’s official source for planning advice. Lines can be much shorter just before closing because many guests have already headed out.

    Disney Tourist Blog founder Tom Bricker said the first and last two hours of the day are the best for avoiding long lines.

    “Even if doing so requires taking a midday break to rest and recharge, it’s worth it in order to be there for those times,” he wrote in an email, adding that “avoiding midday Florida weather is another upside.”

    Avoid peak seasons

    Don’t go at Christmas, during spring break or in the height of summer and expect a line-free experience.

    “Try to avoid when school is out at all costs,” said Brown, a former cast member. He said the end of August and early September are great for lower crowds, as is early January after the winter holidays and early May after spring break.

    Just remember to avoid holiday weekends or the big races that Disney organizes on-site, which get crowded. Bonus: the least-crowded times also tend to be the least expensive for tickets.

    Ditch the group

    Some rides offer a queue for “single riders,” who can be added to take an empty spot when a group traveling together doesn’t fill every seat. This can cut down wait times significantly. The downside is you’ll be split up from your friends or family — but maybe that’s also an upside during a long day?

    The option is typically available on four popular rides at Walt Disney World in Florida and eight across Disneyland Resort in California.

    Kids have to be at least 7 to participate. However, Melanee Berman, a registered nurse and Disney influencer who creates individualized itineraries for Disneyland, said she doesn’t typically recommend it for kids younger than 13.

    Learn the ‘rider switch’ hack

    This is less a skip-the-line tip than a don’t-wait-in-line-twice one. Many — but not all — rides at Walt Disney World and Disneyland have a “rider switch” option when groups have one or more members can’t ride an attraction.

    Visitors need to alert a Disney employee (or cast member) that they’re taking part in rider switch. One adult waits with the child or other member of the party who can’t ride, and when the other adult returns, they swap and the first one can go directly on the attraction without waiting.

    Disney World’s description notes that the person who waited alone can bring a guest with them when they ride — which Berman said means that an older kid who rides with one parent first can also tag along for the second round.

    Skip the parades and fireworks

    Maybe it’s your idea of a great time to watch costumed characters wave from moving floats or pyrotechnics explode over a castle. If so, this tip is not for you.

    If you’re willing to flee the special shows, head for the attractions while everyone else is distracted.

    Vaughn said the parade tip is especially useful for rides in the Fantasyland areas of Magic Kingdom in Florida or Disneyland in California, which are packed with rides that appeal to smaller children.

    “The lines, you’ll watch them drop,” he said.

    Mobile-order your meals

    Instead of waiting in line to order food at a quick-service restaurant at the California or Florida parks, visitors can order in advance through the Disneyland or My Disney Experience app. Pick the restaurant and an arrival time, order and pay. When the time arrives, get near the dining venue and hit the button that says you’re there. When the notification to pick up the food comes, go to the mobile order window.

    “It saves you a ridiculous amount of time,” said Berman, who created a beginner’s guide to the Disneyland process on Instagram.

    Ring up your own merch

    Some stores in Disneyland and Disney World parks allow shoppers to scan bar codes through the app and pay on their phones. They need to show the confirmation of a QR code to a cast member before leaving with the goods.

    “At the end of the night when the park starts to close down and everybody floods into the gift shop and the lines are crazy long, that’s a beautiful one,” Berman said.

    Get the official line-skipping tool

    A fairly new and controversial addition, the replacement for the once-free FastPass service is proving essential (if pricey) to knock out the rides you want during a visit.

    There are two elements: Genie Plus lets guests pay a daily fee to reserve expedited access to many rides. Individual Lightning Lanes charge a separate fee for quicker access to the most popular rides. Prices for both went up last month.

    At Disneyland Resort in California, Genie Plus now starts at $25, up from $20. In October, the price started at $15 but could be as much as $22, depending on demand; previously, it was always $15.

    “For as complicated as it is and for as costly as it is, it’s still worth it to use it,” Brown said. “You can get on some super popular rides.”

    He said guests should turn to someone who is familiar with the system — a travel agent or even friend with experience — to help them make the most of it because it has changed so frequently.

    Splurge on after-hours events

    Some parks on some nights offer separate ticketed events for night owls, with part of the appeal being “lower wait times,” according to the parks. In 2023, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom are selling tickets for dates early in the year at prices that rival a full day’s admission.

    “That is an enormous time saver,” said Jeffrey Merola, a Walt Disney World guidebook author and owner of Mouse Vacation Planning. “Disney limits how many tickets they sell. You could literally end up near the front of the line, very minimal waits.”

    Disneyland After Dark event dates have not been announced for next year.

    Stay in a Disney-approved hotel

    Merola recommends staying on-site, which gives guests entry into parks 30 minutes before the rest of the crowds. Of course that means tip No. 1 — set the alarm early and show up before the gates open — still applies.

    Visitors in Florida should check to see if their hotel offers the perk; Brown said some properties that aren’t official Disney resorts still get early access.

    Guests at certain deluxe hotels in Florida can also take advantage of extended night hours on certain dates.

    Pay (a lot) for VIP treatment

    This is the nuclear line-skipping option, the granddaddy of them all — and it doesn’t come cheap.

    Private VIP tours for up to 10 people buys access to a guide, a customized itinerary and “the ability to enjoy some of your favorite attractions efficiently,” according to the Walt Disney World description. In Florida, the cost ranges from $450 to $900 per hour for a minimum of seven hours.

    At Disneyland, the price starts at a total of $3,500, also with a seven-hour minimum.

    One big catch: Visitors still need to pay for admission separately.

    Merola said he has done a tour, though Disney paid for it: “You do a ton” he said. “Very little waiting.”

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.