How our family survived the crowds at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and You Can Too (hint: FAST PASS, Disney App and more)
Summer. The Magic Kingdom. Visions of cheerful, laughing kids come to some minds, while sweltering Florida 98F heat, hurricane-like mini afternoon storms and lots of people (not all smiling and laughing) come to others- oh yes, and lines, lots of lines. As a Florida family, we tend to save the theme parks for the quieter, somewhat cooler (though not by much) September-October time of year, but we were given the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, in the height of summer, and how could we turn down the visiting what they tout as “the happiest place on earth”?
With three teenage to tween-aged kids, and armed with water bottles and sunscreen, we headed to the Magic Kingdom for the 9am opening (we arrived at 9:30 via monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center). We by-passed the Main Street Crowds and headed back towards the newest Disney addition in Fantasyland- the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster (all of these kids are roller-coaster fanatics). The wait time: 105 minutes and no FAST PASSES left (even at that early hour!) The kids love roller coasters, but not the wait, so we continued back towards the Frontierland and the other thrill rides, stopping to check out Ariel’s Under the Sea Adventure (for younger kids, but we WALKED straight onto the ride- no wait!).
Splash Mountain already had a 60 minute wait time and the FAST PASS rules had changed since our last visit to the park (years ago!), so after a heat-dehydration mishap- seriously, 98F is impossible heat- watch yourself and kids! We found the FASTPASS kiosk (located in Frontierland in the Frontierland-Adventureland passage), and booked ourselves onto Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain and our third choice was unavailable, so Buzz Lightyear.
At the FAST PASS Kiosk, you choose 3 rides for fast passes. Alternately, you can download their official Disney App (it’s free!) and just do it from your smart phone (my phone is not so smart). Then you can enjoy your day and show up at said ride or show at set time and waltz past the lines, straight to the ride. Standing in lines with kids is no picnic, so utilize the free FAST PASS option and choose the rides with the lesser wait-times to catch up on family-time. The Disney App also has up-to-date wait times for the rides & shows, and if you have never been to Walt Disney World before, it can pair up rides and shows according to your tastes and kids’ ages. How cool is that? If you do use the Kiosk, jot down your Fast Pass times or take a screen shot, because they do not give up a paper with them! (I had to go back later and recheck the times- I am so forgetful!) If you are not using the free FAST PASS options, you are losing out!
We chilled out in the cool and cavernous Pecos Bill for lunch and to wait out part of a thunder storm, then headed over to brave the ghost and ghouls at The Haunted Mansion, afterwards nipping to Fantasyland for the It’s a Small World Ride (that was my daughter’s surprising request). A very sedate boat ride through the nations of the world-my husband’s dad helped build the ride, (Cinderella’s Castle, Space Mountain, The Contemporary Hotel too!)so this is a family tradition. The sky stayed cloudy, but the rains had taken away the high temperatures (yay)!
We braved the line for Space Mountain. They have added games along part of the way to keep kids and adults temporarily amused, but the kids all agreed that FAST PASS was the only way to go! After a birds-eye view of Tomorrowland on the no-line People Mover, we headed back towards Frontierland, stopping off for a quick jaunt on Tom Sawyer’s Island- walking straight onto the raft to the island.
Both Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain were walk on rides with our Fast Passes (yay!). And then, because we had Park Hopper tickets, we nipped over to EPCOT, where there were NO wait times at Spaceship Earth, Mission to Mars (Green & Orange lines) and the Mexico boat ride!
This was my first time of Mission to Mars, the Orange Simulator, and because of our recent trip to Kennedy Space Center and my curiosity of the red planet, Mars, together with my son’s insistence, I braved the Mars landing with him. Luckily, he was our navigator, as I told him later, otherwise with me and my sense of direction, we may have ended up on Jupiter!
After a dinner in the World Showcase, the park began filling up with everyone wanted to see the 9:00 firework & laser show. We took our cue, heading back out on the monorail as the amazing lights hit the sky, and headed back to the Magic Kingdom in time to ride the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Very smooth! Very cool! And the perfect ending to our day at Walt Disney World.
Avoiding the Crowds at Walt Disney World
Things to Know Before You Go:
1. Parking at the Transportation and Ticket Center is $17
2. If you stay in one of the many Walt Disney World Resorts, you can purchase tickets there, ride their busses & monorails and have really cool early and late hour park options.
3. Download that Disney App before you go! It saves times, lines and you can do your Fast Passes early!
4. Buy your tickets before you get there! (This saves you from the ticket lines)
5. Check out the maps of the park or parks you plan to visit before you go. Just to give you a basic idea of where you want to go and where you might want to eat (they have menus on-line too & you can make reservations ahead of time!)
6. They have bag check lines (purses included) for each park. No bags? No line! (I always have a purse so I always have this line).
7. Use your FAST PASS options! Seriously. Why wait in a line when you don’t have to wait? Your kids will thank you, your spouse will kiss you and you can do far more stuff- really cool stuff.
8. If you want to get to the back of the park & by-pass the Main Street meet & greet character crowds, take the train! Saves the walk and will let you out right next to Splash Mountain in Frontierland!
9. Kids need to run off energy? Consider an escape to Tom Sawyer’s Island in the Magic Kingdom. (More on that later)
10. Mid-day storms are the norm in this part of Florida. And they close the outside rides if there is lightening, but rest assured, it never lasts long. Shows are a good bet (Country Bear Jamboree and Monsters Inc Laugh Floor are a couple to start with, and lunch is always a good idea too. (We ate at Pecos Bill and braved the drizzle to The Haunted Mansion). An employee informed us that if the Steam Boat is running, the outside rides are still running, so watch that Steam Boat!
11. If you have the Park Hopper Option on your ticket, you can always head to Epcot, Disney Studios or Animal Kingdom. We found that Epcot is the least crowded of them all, but we are biased, cause we all like EPCOT! Dining options are awesome! Lunch in Morocco, dinner in Japan anyone?
12. Alternately, if you are staying at the resorts or nearby hotel, considering going for a swim (maybe even a nap!) To recharge for a later evening. The Magic Kingdom was open until midnight the day we went and an insider told us that after 11pm, the rides have the least lines!
13. Drink water! Yes, there are water fountains throughout the park, but having a bottle in hand is so- handy! We went through two 16oz bottles each. Florida in the summer is no joke. Soda and tea will not hydrate you like water.
14. And on note #13, watch yourself and your kids for heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion & heat stroke. We had a near miss that might have ended our day. Headache, nausea, excessive sweating with cold skin are all signs of heat exhaustion. Take said person to a cool place immediately-have them sit down and give them water- wet a paper towel and apply to back of neck, wrists. (I am not a doctor, so seek official advice!) Some official heat stroke/ exhaustion advice here. (Link to Nemour’s Children’s Clinic first aid health tips)