July 1, 2010
by Aaron DelPrince (ADP on the DISboards)
DIS Contributing Columnist
It’s summer in Orlando, and here’s a news flash - it’s hot and crowded in the theme parks! Temperatures can easily climb into the 90's with a heat index into the 100's. Crowd levels at the theme parks can build throughout the day. For many theme park veterans this is not surprising, but for the first-time visitor or the family who only visits Orlando every 10 years heat and crowds can catch you off-guard, especially if you haven’t done your research and planning before leaving home.
So, what are you to do to minimize the impacts of the heat and crowds? Granted, there are some obvious, simple solutions like spending time in shaded areas, or checking wait times at the attraction entrance. These simple solutions, although they help, are very reactionary. To minimize the impact of heat and crowds you really need to take a more proactive approach to visiting the theme parks.
During a recent trip to Orlando’s theme parks I mentioned to my wife how it seemed more and more visitors have discovered some of the tips and strategies I’m about to mention. It’s become apparent more guests are planning and becoming more proactive to avoiding the heat and crowds during their summer visit. For instance, during a Wednesday morning visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) our family arrived early before the park opened. Our hope was to catch two quick rides on Toy Story Mania before the lines grew to be unmanageable. When we arrived at DHS we were shocked to see the lines at the turnstiles to be well past the marquee entrance. When Cast Members began allowing guests into the park, we knew to go to the right rope area near the Hollywood Brown Derby. Most guests wait on Hollywood Blvd. and do not know there is a roped-off entrance near the Brown Derby, which makes it less crowded. However, we were surprised to see a good number of visitors waiting in this area. It didn’t appear to be a secret any longer.
Here are some good (somewhat secret) tips and strategies to consider before visiting the Orlando theme parks this summer. They will help make your vacation more enjoyable during the height of the summer heat and crowds.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a family happy, healthy, and wise.
Sure, this sounds very cliché and simple, but so many families come to Orlando with the thought of arriving to the parks early and getting to bed early, but get caught staying in the parks too late and can’t answer their wake-up call the next morning. It’s hard to stay disciplined on vacation. You feel a certain level of freedom and staying out late is one of your indulgences. For those families who can answer their wake-up call and get to the parks before opening, they will be able to enjoy some of the theme park’s best attractions with little to no wait. It's true most families are not early risers; especially if they are not disciplined to get to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening. Your family can take advantage of this by arriving early and enjoying the most popular attractions before the heat of the day creeps into the theme parks. You will be amazed at what you can enjoy and accomplish before 1:00 pm. Around this time you should exit the theme park. You may feel like a fish going upstream as most guests are pouring into the park; you will be one of the few guests leaving. At this point you should head back to your resort for an afternoon swim, relax in your room (a nap comes to mind), or to just hang out in your resort’s lobby area. Later, around 6:00 pm, you could choose to head to a different theme park for a nice meal, an evening parade, or to catch a couple other attractions. By choosing to use this touring strategy your family will have avoided the Orlando sun during its peak, and the largest crowds and wait times of the day. Your family will be happy to know they avoided the heat and crowds. Healthy because they are well-rested and avoided the heat of the day. Finally, you will feel wise knowing the strategy you just used maximized your day. A sense of satisfaction comes over you in a place where outsmarting other guests is difficult.
Evening Extra Magic Hours are a blessing…..Really?
I’ll admit it right now; I’m not a fan of evening Extra Magic Hours (EMH) at Disney World. However, I say that begrudgingly because they can drastically work to your advantage in the summer. Not in the traditional way. Enjoying three extra hours in a theme park at night with just resort guests may seem like paradise, but trust me, that’s not the reason to jump for joy over evening EMH. There is a crowd consolidation effect when it comes to evening Extra Magic Hours at Disney World. Basically, as the other theme parks close somewhat earlier for the evening many resort guests will choose to flock to the park with evening EMH. This creates large crowds in the evening EMH park. So, attending the evening EMH park really makes no sense if you are going to wait in long lines for attractions.
How can evening EMH work to your advantage?
Since a good number of resort guests will visit the park with evening EMH the night before, it’s a safe bet those same guests will choose to visit a different park the next day. This is where you can take advantage of evening EMH. Your family should choose to visit the park that had evening EMH the night before. Crowds should be smaller since many guests will be at a different park, allowing your family to enjoy shorter wait times and more comfortable conditions at attractions and shows. Don’t underestimate this strategy. It’s one our family uses on a consistent basis that works time after time. It makes a noticeable difference in our enjoyment of the theme parks.
Fastpass two step – A multitasking approach
I’ve always believed that it's a good thing whenever you can do two things at once without sacrificing enjoyment along the way. Disney’s Fastpass system was designed to reserve your place in line while you went out and enjoyed the rest of the theme park’s attractions and amenities. So, how can you maximize this benefit further? There are a couple actions your family can take to use the Fastpass system and save more time along the way.
Let’s face it, not everyone in your family is suited for every Disney attraction. Some family members may enjoy Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while some little ones may feel it’s too intense. This type of example can hold true in all of the Disney theme parks. This potential problem could work to your advantage. While a couple of your family members are enjoying one attraction the other family members can head to a Fastpass attraction and retrieve fastpasses for the entire family. Make sure to have a designated meeting spot before splitting up. You can use this strategy throughout the day provided fastpasses are available for the specific attraction and you have waited long enough to retrieve additional fastpasses. This strategy works well and can dramatically cut down on your wait times at more popular attractions.
There are areas within Disney’s theme parks where very popular attractions are close to each other; for example Rock N’ Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror at DHS. Who knows if it was done intentionally or unintentionally by the powers at Disney? Either way, it can work to your advantage. When you arrive at the area where the popular attractions exist get Fastpasses at one attraction and head to the stand-by line at the other attraction. You may find when you are done with the stand-by attraction it could be time for your Fastpass attraction. However the chips may fall, this strategy will certainly save you time and steps in the theme park.
Secondary routes and avoiding the masses
Getting around the theme parks can be like maneuvering through a corn maze as you dodge other guests in the crowd. There are even times when you wish you would have brought your helmet and shoulder pads to defend yourself against those who bump into you. There are other alternatives to maneuvering the crowds. When trying to get around a crowded Main St. U.S.A, or Discovery Island in the Animal Kingdom after a parade or when the park is closing, consider walking through the gift shops to enter or exit the parks. It may save you time and energy trying to avoid other guests. Over at EPCOT try and use the International Gateway (back entrance) to enter and exit the park. It’s usually less crowded than the main, front entrance. Lastly, consider booking one of the first breakfast ADRs in the theme parks. This way, you are already in the park when it opens. After your breakfast is finished you can easily walk to your first attraction choice of the day just after the park has opened to other guests.
Water and shade everywhere, it’s a good thing too.
Many of us already know how quickly you can become dehydrated in the Orlando theme parks. What is surprising is how fast dehydration can creep up on you without you even knowing it. It can simply start with you being in a state of malaise. Then you can become weak, and within minutes you can be down for the count. Don’t let this happen to you. You can choose to bring bottles of water with you to the parks, but sometimes that may not be enough. There are water fountains inside the parks, so be sure to stake them out and refill your bottles. It’s also good to know you can get a free cup of ice water inside each counter service restaurant if you can’t locate a water fountain nearby. Just go to a cast member at a cash register and ask for it. What’s even more satisfying is to know you can rest inside the air-conditioned, counter service location with your water if you need a break from the outside elements. Taking a break from the heat and crowds with a cup of ice water can make a difference in how you feel inside the theme park. Make sure to pace yourself throughout the day to maximize your energy and enjoyment.
One thing the Orlando theme parks offer that most other parks across the country don’t offer is indoor, enclosed attractions and an abundance of shops. As you would expect these indoor attractions and shops are air conditioned and protect you from the sun and humidity. If you do find yourself inside an Orlando theme park in the afternoon try and visit the indoor shows, attractions, and shops. It will help keep you energized as the day progresses.
Last, but not least
There are many other strategies and tips to use in the summer months at the Orlando theme parks so you can avoid the crowds and heat. As I mentioned in the beginning some of the secrets to summer touring in the Orlando theme parks are not much of a secret anymore. Many guests are becoming more and more educated on what to do and where to go. However, there are still some secrets we can share (or not share if we wish to keep them secrets). Websites like the DIS and its members are helping all of us better prepare for our summer Orlando vacation. Feel free to share your summer touring tips and strategies in the discussion forum below. We’d love to hear your ideas.
I find that if you use a see through bag or back pack you can get thru the turnstiles a lot faster and the security guards really appriecate it. Also, if you use any of the touring plans or books, alot of them have sites where you can download the book to your smartphone. Thats a lot less weight to carry around all day.
| Lorraine carmichael
We have just arrived home from 10 days at Disney. We are nit used to the heat as from the UK. after queuing for 1 hour for the new Harry Potter ride which is amazing! Thought we would take a chance on single rider option. I have boys aged 9 and 12. Can't recommend this highly enough 2 of us got in the same carriage as did the other 2 after only 10 mins. We applied this to all other rides in the end and done so many rides in a short time we will never que for hours again. Our hotel had no fridge so I packed a cooler with ice and filled it with water, juice etc even ham and took sandwiches into the parks. So much cheaper for a family. It makes Orlando affordable.
We have gone every summer for years. We have several touring plans. Park Opening till noon-lunch in air conditioning, return to hotel for rest and swim and then re-enter for nightime fun. If you want to stay in any park during the heat of the afternoon- go to all the indoor air conditioned attractions at this time. Come out for parade (MK, AK, DHS)and then head right back. Take it easy, use sunscreen, wear a hat, and cool off by soaking your hair whenever possible. Summer is the best...have fun!!!
| Philly Jen
Kristy, we use orlando stroller rental. We have a 7 and 5 year old and will be renting a double to cart them around next week at Disney...Great company to deal with, delivers right to your resort. I know how miserable it can be when the kids tire out...get the stroller!
Pack a light breakfast (granola bars or PB&J) and eat it while you're waiting for rope drop. In the Magic Kingdom, start at Space Mountain and work counterclockwise.
Our family has traveled to WDW in July/Aug for the past 7 yrs. Use most of great suggestions supplied. We purchase large bandanas in advance. At the parks, we stretch oppoaite corners, spin around after wetting them in restroom sinks, water fountains and tie around neck. Very soothing, especially if you dunk bandana in melted ice where sodas are sold. Ice cold bandana to wipe your face and/or wrap around your neck is awesome in summer!!
On our last trip we went to the Magic Kingdom the day after Halloween and it was practically empty until the afternoon. We figured that everyone went to the Halloween party the night before. I'm sure this would be the same for the Christmas parties.
I am a big breakfast eater.....in the winter. A summer early breakfat in the park i a bad, bad idea. Here's why I can't think of any one adr in the parks, with the exception of CRT, that is not a buffet. Akrshus, tusker house, hollywwod and vine, all buffets. You are paying a premium to eat at these buffets in the summer... so breakfast will usually be in the $30.00 range per person. So what are you going to do when you just spent $30.00 on breakfast? Eat just toast and coffee? I think not. If you load up with protien and carbs, in 90+ degree weather, you just set yourself up for a bad day. You are not going to fell very well by 11:00 am. I disagree with this tip. Many families are going to spend a lot of money on theme park admission, only to feel lousy all day.
| Ghost Host
One more fast pass tip for larger groups traveling with strollers and kids ... Appoint one or two runners to collect tickets from your groupnand run ahea to get fast passes for the popular attractions. It takes our large group quite a while to get the strollers and bags repacked after security, and a large group of 16 tends to move slow .... So we give all the tickets to one or two of the teenagers who can walk briskly through the park to line up fast passes for the next ride while the rest of us walk to our first "stand by" line.
Great tips as always. I am a big guy...6'2" 325lbs. I drink as much as I can before I leave the resorts and head to the park. This way, I know I am hydrated when I start the day. Also, our kids are now old enough to go without a stroller. The cost to rent a stroller has become excessive. Definately buy an umbrella stroller before you leave home. One final tip, that may not be useful again until the Dumbo circus train station opens. End your MK day in Frontierland about 45 minutes before the fireworks. Take the train around the park to the front enterance and view the fireworks from just outside the turnstiles. This has worked great for us. We get to see the fireworks, and then get right on the bus for our ride to the resort.
Bags are checked in each park at security tables. We've never been told our water or snacks are not allowed. They do go through all zippered areas so no need for a fancy style. Also consider a small down scaled wallet with just what you need and use the backpack as a pocketbook. I've been known to use my camera case which is larger then most as a wallet as well becouse of it's zippered compartments inside. You are actually allowed to take your backpack on many rides. I place it on the floor and put one leg through the straps to keep it firmly in place. I put all our touring guides, glasses, water bottles and hats inside as well to keep them from flying off. Some rides require that you remove cameras, glases and backpacks. They are left were you board and return. I've never had a problem with anything missing. I also do not ride some of the rides esp. rollar coasters. Consider taking motion sickness meds. if that has limited what you can ride. You can always escape from getting on a ride. Sometimes when I get closer I chicken out. Tour of Terror for instance, allows you to walk through the hotel up until you board the elevators. You get to enjoy the beginning of the ride and then exit to the place the riders will come out moments later. However I'm not sure about Rocking Roller Coaster. I use a touring plan which you might want to consider since your waits would be shorter (The Unofficial Guide to Disney World). We've averaged 10 minute waits in the past with a few exceptions, which would be good for both of you.
What happens to your bags and water bottles when you go on rides. Also I'm chaperoning 13 yr olds, if I do not want to ride can I wait in line with them and just wait for them to exit ride?
Our family has been to Disney World 3 times and are currently planning our 4th with our now teens. Our large family of 5 has a limited number of hotel options within the park. We have stayed each time at the Fort Wilderness Cabins. Our full kitchen has allowed us to bring in snacks but more importantly water! I purchase large plastic chug bottles (the type without straws). I half fill the bottles with water and place them in the freezer over night. In the morning we add water to fill them to the top and bring them in the park. They defrost during the day and when we come back for a break we load up the remaining 5 and bring them in for the evening. We've never paid for water in the park! The water bottles run about $3 each which is what it would cost to buy one water bottle in the park and for every 5 water bottles we drink we save $15 dollars. I firmly agree with taking the afternoons off. We've always used a touring plan, arrived at the parks first thing (which is usually 30 minutes before the park opens) on non extra magic hour days and managed to get on all the major attractions by 1 PM. We've managed all this on April vacations, athough this years summer trip will be the true test.
How hot do you think May would be for going?? Ive never been good with heat, but im a trooper, so I think ill make it!! :)
I find that keeping hydrated and making frequent stops in the giftshops or quick-service air conditioned seating areas is a God-send after walking around all day in the heat. Also, to save money from buying frozen lemonade and sodas all day, we are bringing our boys' "Toy Story" water bottles and filling them with water throughout the day, and getting the free cups of ice from quick-service restaurants. We are bringing those Ocean Spray "on the go" packs to mix with the water so they won't be begging for something better than water all day. Haven't tried this one before, but we'll see how it goes!
Life-long Disney vet, taking my 4 and 7-year old step-sons this June for their first time. Just wondering about strollers, I saw links to rental companies that deliver to your resort, but I have also seen that the strollers Disney rents out can fit kids that are up to around 9years old... Any tips for what to do with my boys? We plan on bringing a backpack with all of the "essentials"- snacks, sun lotion,etc. and we really don't want to carry that all day long either, as we know that makes for a miserable day! Any advice?? Our boys aren't toddlers, but we know how they can get from taking them to Six Flags last summer...HELP??!?
Regarding trying to stay hydrated in the summer months, my husband and our kids each uses a hydration backpack. Backpacks are sold for toddlers as well in cute colors and can be found at any target or camping store. We fill it up with cold water/lemonade/etc, and whenever the children need a cool drink, they have the sipping hose in the back.
hi great advice.we recomend going to wdw in sept as the queues haven't seemed as long as other times of the year and the weather is just right,not to much rain .The only bad thing is taking the children out of school.
Our experience with EMH is just the opposite. We have enjoyed smaller crowds and shorter lines. We have had the pleasure of riding attractions several times with out have to exit.
| aleicha williams
hi Aaron , when do you think is a good time to visit, as we live in ireland, and visiting disneyworld next year , with the heat, rain ,what season off the year is the best , your thankfully aleicha williams dublin
| Maria B from Addis, La
Just got back from a 10 Disneyworld vacation 07-16-10 at Port Orleans Riverside.....It is hot....but, I think it is hotter in Louisiana today
Love the tips but I always found if you head to the back of the park first thing and work your way forward you are working your way against the crowds. Everyone else always stops in the front and works backwards. By the time you get to the front most of the first rush is gone. I've done this for years and it's been a great time saver. I hope others enjoy this tip. Remember, drink plenty of water and stay cool in this heat we are having right now. Enjoy!
Another Fast pass tip: Even if your entire party does not wish to ride an attraction, get the Fast pass for them. Someone else can then use it.
The best thing I found to do is bring a washcloth - the ones from the Disney Resorts work great, just make sure you return it! I will wet it and "wipe down" several times a day. I have tried the fans, the cooling neck thing and this has worked the best for my family
Hey, great article. I have a question and another tip. First, the question. What about morning EMH? Does it make sense to make use of the morning EMH then leave the park around 1:00 as suggested, or will it just be incredibly crowded? Second, the tip. It never ceases to amaze me how many folks don't realize thet the second time on your FP can, essentially, be ignored. So long as you come after the first time they will let you use it. Just to be sure, on the first day of a trip I always ask a CM "what if I miss the end time on my FP?" I hear that on really crowded days they do adhere to the end time, but it's never happened to me. So we spend the early morning collecting FPs to use later.
| Lisa B.
Loved the article Aaron. I consider myself a WDW veteran and I took away some tips for my next vacation. Thanks for the info.
Very interesting article, well thought out and some good ideas...THANKS!
A great tip for visitors to WDW is bring your own umbrella stroller ($5 at discount stores) for children ages 6 and under to ride in. You save the wait and cost of a WDW stroller and it gets the youngster through the park quickly. There is no charge on airplanes for strollers and at the end of the trip you can dispose of it if you want.
| Kristie A
Invest the money in one of those water fans. Also, if you have children in a stroller, buy one of those clip on Mickey Mouse fans (I bought mine in Epcot by the International Gateway but I'm sure you can buy them everywhere on property). It makes a big difference when trying to keep a baby\toddler cool.
hi walt disney world magic kingdom. to magic kingdom from tinkerbell
I LOVE the tip about going to the same park as EMH the night before. I have never thought of that and it makes total sense! Thanks for a great article, Aaron!
Great tips Aaron!