How to Tour the Parks – Zigging and Zagging Your Way Around Disney
One of the most important things to know when planning your days at Walt Disney World is that you may need to adjust your itinerary based on the habits of the other guests. Learning to zig while others zag is based on experiencing the parks on different days and at different times of the year with varying crowds. There are many books and phone apps available that speak directly to planning your day in the parks. They are helpful as far as crowds, but I have been to the park on uncharacteristically-crowded days 3 times this year alone. The crowds are growing, so flexibility might help. In other words, plan your time for less stress and more fun by not going with the flow. I am referring to modifying your plan when you are faced with the unexpected. There are many ways to conform to your unique travel circumstances whether at the resort or at any of the four Disney parks.
If you have planned to have breakfast at 7:00 on your first day at the resort and you are greeted with no tables at which to sit, long lines of guests waiting to order and to pay for food, or a loud and chaotic environment, then you might want to rethink your breakfast time on day two. In this scenario, you may wish to plan to sleep in a little while, have breakfast at the resort at 9:30 or 10:00, and then stay at the park later. Conversely, you may want to get up extra early, have breakfast in the room then head out to early extra magic hours. The choice is yours.
During my trip for Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary, our itinerary for Friday included Hollywood Studios from opening until around 5 p.m. and then to Downtown Disney for some shopping. We went out to the bus stop at Port Orleans Riverside and there was a massive crowd waiting for the Hollywood Studios bus, so I quickly thought and asked my friend if she wouldn’t mind flip-flopping our day and while all the crowd zigged to DHS, we zagged on a bus with just 3 other people to Downtown. After we finished our shopping, we dropped our packages at the resort, filled up our mugs and caught an empty bus to the Studios. When we arrived there (mid-afternoon), most of the crowds had already left and we had a very enjoyable evening with short ride lines.
Two more specific tips I can provide are based on your choice of resort and your choice of park ticket. If you are staying at a Disney resort, taking advantage of extra magic hours is a great idea. But, if you are not staying on Disney property, you will want to avoid the selected Extra Magic Hour parks on those days. Also, having park hopper tickets provides maximum flexibility, so if you can purchase these, I highly recommend it.
Times to zig when touring the Magic Kingdom might be when everyone is lining up to watch the parade and you have either seen it before or will be watching it later. Take advantage of this opportunity by riding the most popular rides during parade time. If you will be visiting MK for two days, you may want to watch the afternoon parade and use the evening parade time for this purpose on the first day, then do the opposite on your second day in the park.
Learning to zig at Disney Hollywood Studios will save you a lot of aggravation with the right planning. For instance, it is never a good time to head for the Backlot Tour line when Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show has just let out. Traditionally, guests head to the Backlot Tour immediately after the show ends, as it is in close proximity. The times guide for the park lists the show times for the 33-minute stunt show so follow this guideline – unless you are seeing the show, avoid the backlot area if it is 1 to 1 ½ hours after the scheduled start time of Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show! There are only 2-3 shows per day so this should be easy enough.
Also, many people think that right after the parade ends on Hollywood Boulevard is the perfect time to ride The Great Movie Ride so you should do this before the parade or at least an hour after, if possible.
There are a few high demand rides at Epcot that may warrant some zigging. Both Soarin’ and Test Track get very crowded very quickly and they also run out of fast passes by early afternoon. When entering Epcot during park opening, pay attention to the flow of the crowd. If it looks as if most of the crowd is heading toward Soarin’, ride Test Track first. If it looks like more folks are heading toward Test Track, then ride Soarin’ first. Either way, be sure that after you are off the first ride you head straight to the other to grab a fast pass for later. My family usually rides Test Track first, regardless, because of the limited capacity vehicles making the line go slower.
The Animal Kingdom has an opening show 15 minutes before the park opens, so I would suggest making that if you can. First thing in the morning, you will want to head to your favorites so you can ride them before the large crowds arrive about mid-morning. If the crowds build early and you don’t want to wait out the lines, just zig over to a show. I have found that the most crowded times of the day also happen to be the hottest part of the day during Spring and Summer months. Saving the indoor shows and rides for the middle of the day, then, will serve you well for a few reasons: it will give you relief during the hottest part of the day; it will provide you with a place to sit and rest and enjoy a show; and the shows are in large capacity facilities so many people can attend at one time.
In late afternoon, go back and ride all the rides you had to skip earlier. If too many people are following along with the same advice and it is just too crowded, then regroup and go back to the resort for a swim; tackle the park in the evening another day.
If dealing with the crowds starts to steal your magic, don’t let it. There are places at each park where you can rest, cool off and spend time with your family in a less-crowded spot:
At the Magic Kingdom, ride the railroad or the Tomorrowland Transit Authority; go enjoy some time on Tom Sawyer Island, or see a show at the Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, or Carousel of Progress (one of Walt’s originals).
At Epcot, ride Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, or Universe of Energy; or see a show such as the American Adventure or any of the live street shows throughout the park.
At Disney Studios, escape into One Man’s Dream or The Magic of Disney Animation; or enjoy Beauty & the Beast or the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
At Animal Kingdom, disappear on the Wildlife Express or peruse the Conservation Station; or head over to see It’s Tough To Be a Bug or Flights of Wonder.
Your own travel patterns will change as your family gets older, so things that work for you this trip may not be feasible during your next visit. Since my kids are older now, we like to head to the parks in the mornings only on morning EMH days. The rest of the time, we head over around 2:00. Evening EMH are our favorite time and we head to the park around 6:00 p.m. and stay until the parks close (even in the wee hours of the morning). It makes no difference since we can sleep late the next day. Few people are following along with this plan so it has worked out nicely for us.
The main thing is to be flexible enough to be able to zig your way to great trip memories. A big part of enjoying your trip is being able to breathe it all in and enjoy the wonder and magic of Disney. I hope these tips will be helpful to you when planning your magical family vacation.
- How to Tour the Parks – Dancing through Hollywood Studios (chipandco.com)
- How to tour the Parks – Splitting up Epcot (chipandco.com)
- How to Tour the Parks – Floating through the Magic Kingdom (chipandco.com)