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In an ideal world, we would all like to plan our Disney holiday to coincide with when it doesn’t cost a lot, the weather is warm, the schools are off and the crowds are low… Because who doesn’t want the lot when you are shelling out so much money, right?
However, you are rarely going to find that particular combination unfortunately.
But take our word for it when we say, getting 2 out of 4 isn’t bad going!
So the reality is that if you are going to Walt Disney World during one of the peak times (Summer holidays, Easter, Spring Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc) you need to accept that you will likely be paying extra and that the crowds will be bigger.
This DOES NOT mean that it should impact on your enjoyment of WDW though, or that you have to miss out on certain things because of it.
All it DOES mean, is that you should take a little extra time to get organised!
While we understand that not everyone enjoys regimented itineraries etc, a trip to Walt Disney World WILL be enriched by some forward planning.
1. Staying on-site
This option is often a luxury that a lot of people can’t always afford, and we include ourselves in that category, but even if you can work in a split stay which means you get some times staying on-site at Disney then you will get a lot of extra benefits that can make your holiday a lot easier at the busiest times.
Staying on-site means you get many perks which non Disney residents do not.
Briefly, the benefits include...
When you stay on-site at Disney you get to book fastpasses for rides, shows and character meets and restaurants before they are on general booking to non Disney on-site guests.
Resort guests can book FP+ at 60 days in advance of check in for the duration of their stay on Disney property, in comparison to 30 days out for each day they plan to visit WDW. This means that on-site guests are usually the lucky ones that get their Flight of Passage or Slinky Dog Dash fastpasses.
This does not mean that if you are not staying on Disney property you won’t get them, it just makes the process a little more tricky as they are highly popular.
Restaurants can be booked from 180 days, the same as off site guests, however the bonus for staying on-site with ADRs is that you can book at 180 days for y our entire stay, whereas if you are not a Disney Resort guest then you can only book at 180 days one day at a time.
Another great benefit of staying on Disney property is that you get extra time in the parks when they are otherwise closed for non Disney resort guests, and this is known as Extra Magic Hours. This is either an hour before the park opens or two hours after it closes. At least one park per day will offer EMT. This will impact on the crowd levels if you are not staying on-site, as Disney Resort guests will head there ready to take advantage.
After a long flight, and what sometimes feels like an even longer security check, you are finally on your way to the magic, and Disney makes sure it begins straight away! As an on-site guest you get to leave the airport aboard the Magical Express without a care in the world! Disney will collect your luggage complimentary from the luggage carousel (domestic passengers only) and deliver it to your room, so no need to wait around to lug heavy suitcases up to the room, along with the kids and everything else you have with you!
The Magical Express will also take you back to the airport on your departure day, although that journey usually doesn’t feel as magical! Boo-hoo!
Once in your resort you can use the complimentary Disney transport to all parks, there are buses, monorails and even boats that take you to each area of Walt Disney World.
This is a big one, and one that can save you a lot of money when booked correctly! Disney offer a few Dining Plan options – ranging from Quick Service to Deluxe, and trust us when we tell you, it is A LOT of food! The UK and the US currently offer FREE Disney Dining during very specific times of year, but we have noticed that these times seem to be reducing with the introduction of things like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge etc.
The reason for this is that Disney obviously feel that these new attractions are going to draw the crowds regardless, meaning that they don’t need to offer as many incentives for people to visit.
However, even if you do not get free dining included in your booking, you can still purchase it as an add on to your on-site Disney stay at an extra cost, which if you are planning on doing Character Meals or Signature Dining then this could still work out beneficial to saving money and is definitely worth looking in to.
Using a Magic band saves time and effort in many ways, you can use the band to get on to rides with your reserved Fastpasses, to add your food and drink from your Dining Plan package, or you can add a credit card to your Magic Band to charge all purchases to your room, meaning you do not have to carry money with you when in any of the Disney parks.
After charging your purchases to your magic band, you can also get them sent directly to your room so that you don’t have to carry them around the park with you for the rest of the day. Which is a great benefit as the less you have to carry around in the Florida heat, the better, it leaves your hands free for all those delicious Mickey shaped snacks and cooling drinks!
2. Make a day by day guide.
As previously mentioned, we know that not everyone likes to have their days militarily planned months in advance and lots of families prefer to go with the flow and see how they feel on the day, which is what most holiday makers tend to do in all other walks of vacation life. But when you visit Disney, especially during peak periods, the very best way to make the most of your time there is to plan it, even if it is just a rough guide, you will benefit SO MUCH from knowing which park you will be in on which day.
To make this plan, we advise that you use Crowd Calendars and Busy Day Guides to see which parks will be ‘less busy’ on which days. We say ‘less busy’ because you are going during high season, ALL parks will be busy. But using knowledge gained from these tools, you can plan your park visits to coincide with when each park is statistically usually a little quieter.
If you are staying on-site, use your EMH to your advantage and use the park when it is open early/late for Resort guests only, this will mean during the Extra Magic Hours, the park will be a lot quieter than when it is open to the general public as well.
If you are not staying on-site, then we recommend that you check the EMH day guide, and plan your days in parks that ARE NOT offering EMH. This is because by the time you get to a park with EMH, it will already be full of on-site Disney resort guests who have been there/will be there for their extra magic hours.
3. Make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
Although you may think that you have no idea where and when you will want to eat up to 190 days before you leave for your holiday, if you can decide then you will save A LOT of time and effort once inside the parks.
Many table service restaurants are fully booked out by people who have made Advanced Dining Reservations, so if you decide you are hungry and would like a sit down meal, you WILL struggle to get into anywhere. Quick service restaurants are walk up for everyone, but ADRs apply to all restaurants that are Table Service, and/or Character meals.
A lot of these restaurants are hugely sought after, and the only way to get a table is by booking in advance.
A benefit of staying on-site on Disney property is that you get to make your reservations at 180 days PLUS 10, so you can make dining reservations up to 190 days before leaving. As an off-site guest you too can make reservations at 180 days, but you do not get the benefit of the extra 10 days, so you need to book each day one day at a time starting from 180 days out.
4. Utilise your FastPass+
Once you have a rough guide of which parks you will be visiting on each day and have your ADRs booked in, then the next big countdown is the 60 or 30 day Fastpass+ booking window. A BIG thing that can make your day go much smoother and much more enjoyable, is utilising your Fastpasses.
Nobody wants to be queueing for hours on end in the blistering heat with irritable kids (or partners!) and the best way to not be stuck doing just that is by booking your Fastpass+ in advance.
Again, it goes without saying that staying on-site at Disney gives you a head start with this, as you get to book Fastpasses at 60 days, which is a full 30 days before they open to the non-Disney staying folk. This obviously usually means you are more likely to get the more popular attractions, such as Pandora’s Flight of Passage, or Toy Story Land’s Slinky Dog Dash, for example. However, even if you don’t get these rides, you can book three rides which guarantee that you will miss the stand by line and get on the ride much quicker than those who are queueing without a Fastpass, A good example of this is on our last visit to WDW we had Fastpasses for FoP, and while the standby line was at 2 and a half hours, we done child swap and both got to ride it with Junior Ticket Ranger in half an hour. That included the Fastpass queue twice and the ride twice. Now if we had wanted to do that without fastpasses you are looking at way more than 3 hours.
Why anyone wouldn’t book their Fastpasses, that they get at no extra cost, is beyond us – even if it is just in the car on the way to the park in the morning.
And also, don’t worry if you don’t get the elusive rides, always keep checking on your MDE (My Disney Experience) app, we have got every ride we have ever tried for, whether it was at 60 days, 30 days or a couple of weeks before arriving or occasionally sometimes even on the day.
5. Don’t try to do everything!
As tempting at it seems to try and cram as much as humanly possible into your holiday, you CANNOT do everything. This is not an opinion of ours, it is a fact. You can not do everything, so as much as you plan to, you won’t. And that’s OK. Walt Disney World is made up of 4 theme parks and 2 water parks, as well as Disney Springs and a whole host of entertainment and specialised dining in their resorts.
Visiting Disney World is not a relaxing holiday – it is all go and there is a LOT of walking, so make sure to factor in rest times, and general down time too. Water parks are a good way of making the most of Disney while actually having a bit of a chilled day, or if you are staying on-site, you could split your days up so that you have some time at the parks and then sometime back at the hotel, making use of the pool and resort facilities.
Even if you just try to factor in rests WITHIN the parks, taking time to just stop and sit down and take in what is around you while having an ice cream or a cool drink you will feel the benefit from it.
6. Get there early!
You are visiting WDW during one of the busiest times of the year, and, if you are visiting from Britain or a different time zone, then you are going to be jet lagged. While this may sound like a silly thing to focus on, it can actually be a big help with making the most of your Disney time. Jet lag means when we visit Florida, we are usually wide awake at about 4.30am! The best thing to do, instead of laying around unable to get back to sleep, is to make the most of this time by getting up and getting ready, having breakfast and heading to your chosen Disney park for as early as possible, rope drop if you can make it!
This will give you a head start on those queues, and hopefully, you will be able to get quite a few rides done in the time before the park begins to get full. This works well if you are hoping to break your days up, as you will have got lots of things done in the morning so you can head back to your villa/hotel/resort later on in the day for that much needed downtime, knowing full well that you have made the most of your park time and you are relaxing ready to get there early again the ne xt day!
Basically, you are gonna need another holiday to recover from this holiday…! Haha, it is a busy vacation, but it is SO worth it!
What are your best tips for making the most of your time at WDW during peak times? Have we forgotten anything? Tell us in the comments :)