How to avoid crowds at Walt Disney World by getting there early – but not too early

in Disney, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

One of the most important steps to making the most out of a day at Walt Disney World is to arrive at the park entrance before opening time. As simple as this sounds, a relatively small number of guests utilize this strategy. By arriving early, you will be able to ride almost any of the popular attractions at any of the parks with little or no waiting. There are a few notable exceptions to this, which I will talk about soon.

Due to the FastPass+ tiered system at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, it has become a necessity to arrive early if you don’t want to wait in a very long line for one of the headliners. Since guests are only allowed to reserve FastPasses at Soarin’, Test Track, or Frozen Ever After in Epcot, Flight of Passage or Na’vi River Journey in the Animal Kingdom and 1 of the 3 Toy Story Land rides, it is important to ride the other rides right at park opening. On an average day, each one of these attractions can have a wait time that is over an hour by 10:00 am.

FastPass+ Tier One Selections

I’ve left the Magic Kingdom for last because it is unique, and there are many reasons to get to this park early. Like the others, arriving before park opening will allow you to enjoy almost any of the popular attractions without a long wait. In addition, you can visit a good number of rides before the big crowds even show up.

Most of the time,  guests will see more attractions before 10:30 than many people see in an entire day. The reason for this is simple math. The majority of park guests arrive between 10:30 and 12:30, which equates to an additional 30,000 to 40,000 guests filling up the queues. This is why the average guest only sees between 5 and 7 attractions in a day at the Magic Kingdom. One more reason to arrive early is to see the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. It sets the mood for a fun day and features many characters including Mickey and the incredibly popular Anna and Elsa.

Typical Crowd at Magic Kingdom Opening Time

It is time to talk about the most popular attractions currently at the Magic Kingdom. Since it came to the par the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is consistently the #1 attraction. While the order of 2 – 4 varies Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is often followed by: Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, one of the top character meet and greets (either Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater or one of the Princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall).

First off, if you want these attractions, it is extremely important to make as many them a FastPass priority as you can. However, it is still difficult to reserve these FastPasses since they are so popular. If you are not a Disney resort guest, it is nearly impossible to reserve them, unless you get lucky. So, it would make sense to arrive at the Magic Kingdom extra early if you’d like to ride the Mine Train or experience one of the other top attractions, right? Wrong!

On a typical morning, there may be a few thousand guests waiting to enter the Magic Kingdom. As I’ve mentioned, this relatively small number of people means that most attractions will have very short wait times. However, currently, the vast majority of these guests go directly to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. They mistakenly think that heading there first will mean a shorter wait. Well, when 90% of the crowd is going to the same place, that location will have long wait times as soon as they open. It is common to see both it start right off with a 60-90 minute wait.

MK Entrance Tunnel

 

The “March Toward Fantasyland”

Now, there will be some who will argue that if you are near the front of the crowd when entering the park, you’ll be among the first to get to these two attractions. Well, unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to guarantee this will happen.

First off, you would need to get to the park more than an hour ahead of opening time to position yourself right in front of one of the entrance tunnels. The guests that do this are wasting an hour before they even start their day, and they won’t be able to see the welcome show from that position. After the park finally opens, guests are led up Main Street, USA by cast members, who prevent anyone from dangerously running to an attraction.

However, there are three points where the crowds merge during this 5 minute walk to Fantasyland. In addition, the path from the hub toward the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (via the Mad Tea Party) will open at some point during the march, which means that many guests toward the middle and back of the pack may actually get to the Mine Train ahead of the front! I watched this occur just a few days ago.

Separate Groups About to Merge for the Second Time
The Second Merge Point

The final factor involved in this equation is the speed at which different guests make this nearly 1/4 mile walk toward the Disney promised land. Young adults and teens seem to successfully weave through the crowd quicker than most and can be close to the front by the time the massive group reaches the goal riding Disney’s best coaster.

So, the family who arrived extra early with their young child may very well end up several hundred guests from the front of the sea of Main Street humanity. This means that they could still wait over an hour!

In addition, they could have easily enjoyed 4 or 5 attractions during that time, which will each have 30+ minute waits as the morning progresses. At that point, it could take 3 hours to enjoy 5 attractions that could have all been visited in the first hour!

Ok, so what if you really want to ride the Mine Train? It is time for a few tips!

My first suggestion is to avoid Seven Dwarfs Mine Train right after the park opens. You can enjoy almost anything else in the park with little or no waiting. You can also get through a handful of attractions before any lines even form. Then, plan on visiting the  Mine Train either around noon (which is when many folks head to lunch) or during the afternoon parade. Often times, the lines are actually shorter than right at the beginning of the day!

Anna and Elsa in the Parade

I hope you enjoy “Tour Guide Tuesday.” If you want additional tips while you’re in the parks, WDW Guided Tours is happy to help!

 

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