To illustrate just how crowded it can get inside Disney World when this many people visit the park, check out this video that went viral on Twitter yesterday:
Grit lock at magic kingdom park so packed no one can move. Hopefully no emergencies. Unsafe. pic.twitter.com/i5RY8vCRQm— Juanluca (@Juanluca14) December 25, 2017
Granted, the stretch between It's a Small World and Peter Pan's Flight might be the most notorious pinch point in the entire Walt Disney World Resort. The video reminded me how rarely I actually walk through that stretch — my years of experience working in and visiting the park have conditioned me to avoid it if at all possible. But what do you do if you're stuck in a crowded park like this? How do you salvage some value from all you have spent on your family theme park vacation?
Days like today are why we preach advance planning here on Theme Park Insider. Ideally, you made your Walt Disney World dining reservations six months ago, bought your theme park tickets in advance, and made your three Fastpass+ ride or show reservations a month ago (or two, if you are staying at a Disney resort). Even if you didn't do that, you still can have a great time at Disney... or any other crowded theme park.
The key is to skip to the final step in the stages of grief and embrace acceptance. There is nothing you can do about these crowds. You cannot make them go away. Accept that the park is packed, and accept that you will find fun ways to deal with that.
No, waiting in hours-long queues is not fun. So let's find ways to avoid them, even on crowded days. Here, your mobile phone is your best friend. You are going to need the park's official app to help you avoid lines in the park. This advice applies not just for Walt Disney World, but also for Disneyland, Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood, or any other slam-packed park you visit. Go to the App Store and download the park's free official app, then create an account and log in.
You can associate your account with your theme park ticket, and with Disney's app, link all your friends' or family's tickets as well. If you don't have tickets, you can buy tickets via the app, saving you from having to wait at ticket booths at the park. You also can use the app to reserve Fastpass+ return times so that you can skip the long standby queues for select attractions, to book dining times, and even to order food at select counter-service restaurants without having to queue at the registers. (At the Disneyland Resort in California, I would recommend paying the upcharge for its Maxpass feature so that you can manage Fastpass times via your phone, instead of hiking across the park to check in for those reservation times. Disneyland does not yet have mobile food ordering, however.)
Fastpass+ and dining reservation times might be hard to find on the day of your visit, but some will be available. (All Fastpass times are made day-of at Disneyland. That's why there's no "+" after Fastpass there. The plus sign is for the advance reservation capability.) You will need to get on that app and start looking for return times, though. Mobile ordering at counter service restaurants might be a better bet than looking for a reservation at a sit-down restaurant on a crowded day.
All park apps also include a park map, which will show your location. Remember that nasty pinch point at Small World in the Magic Kingdom. Study the park map to find alternate routes from where you are to where you want to go in the park. (I never enter Fantasyland from the Liberty Square side, for example. I always come in from the much more open Tomorrowland side.) The shortest distance between two points in a crowded theme park is almost never a straight line.
In between your Fastpass return times, use the park app to see the wait times for other attractions in the area, and pick the ones you can get on and through in time to make your next Fastpass time. Busy days are not the ones to play favorites and try to get on only the "best" attractions. You take what you can get during Christmas week. Fortunately, the Orlando and Southern California theme parks are the nation's most popular because they offer pretty consistently solid experiences. There aren't many dogs to spoil your day.
If you're visiting alone, as a couple, or in a small group, consider using single rider lines to reduce your wait times, too.
One of the things that can help with your embrace of acceptance on days such as these is to focus on what you are doing instead of regretting what you cannot. Any wait time under an hour is a good one. Don't count on everyone leaving the park in the evening, either. It ain't gonna happen this week. So don't pass on a relatively short wait time in the hopes that it might become a walk-on later in the evening. Again, play the hand you are dealt, not the one you wish you had or will get.
Here are my favorite attractions in each park that rarely have crushing wait times, even on the busiest days in the park.
Help your fellow theme park fans here by sharing your picks for go-to attractions on crowded days, in the comments.
More theme park planning advice:
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