#RWA17 Disney Park Touring Strategies and Attraction Overview (AKA The Guide for Those Who Despise Waiting in Lines)
Since you obviously don’t want to miss out on all the awesome conference events at #RWA17, by now, you’ve padded your stay with extra time to also explore the Disney Parks. If that’s not the case, no worries. RWA recently announced a Disney Park Event that promises to be fun and…magical! I also recently hooked you up with ideas on how to enjoy Disney magic if not visiting the Parks.
This latest guide is a precursor to my next one. Before I can give you the ins and outs of making FastPass+ reservations, you’ll probably find it helpful to have an idea of what awaits you in each Disney Park so you can get your plans in place. If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World Resort in some time or ever, familiarize yourself now with Disney’s free FastPass+ service.
Keep in mind, for those of you staying at the conference resort, “Swolphin,” or a Disney-operated Hotel resort, you will be able to secure FastPass+ reservations starting 60 days in advance of your check-in date. That means for most of you, your FastPass+ window will open later in May. For those of you staying elsewhere, you will be able to make reservations 30 days in advance. Here’s a handy tool to determine when your FastPass+ window opens based on your arrival date.
If you haven’t thought about your schedule during RWA, now’s the time. You’re going to need a plan in place before you make FastPass+ reservations. Do the work now and you’ll be thankful come July.
Here’s your homework! If you do this now, you will be all set on the technological side when your FastPass+ window opens.
- Look at your arrival and departure dates. If you haven’t yet purchased your Disney Park tickets, determine what days are free to fit in Park time. This will help you decide how many days of Park admission you should buy. Keep in mind, the more days you add to your park admission, the cheaper each subsequent day becomes. For example, to go from a 4-day ticket to a 5-day ticket is $19 more. Even if you aren’t going to spend the entire day at a Park, it’s something to consider if you have an additional (or part of a) day free.
- Purchase your Disney Park admission now. If you haven’t read my guide on tickets, do so now so you are familiar with your options. You must have Park admission to make FastPass reservations in advance.
- Create your account at My Disney Experience (MDE). Download the app to your mobile device. If you have friends and family traveling with you, be sure to create profiles for them or link up with them in MDE. You’ll need to set up profiles for children as well. Important: You will need to do this to assign tickets to them as well as make FastPass+ reservations together. Be sure to use legal names (no pen names). Here’s some information to guide you in this easy process of connecting with others.
- Once everyone is set up in MDE, assign your Park tickets to you and those traveling with you. To assign tickets, use the ticket confirmation number that will come via email (if you’ve purchased your Disney tickets online). You must have valid admission linked to your account to make FastPass.
- For those staying at the conference resort, RWA will be sending out your hotel confirmation numbers shortly. Be sure to add this hotel confirmation number at MDE by clicking where it says “Link My Resort Reservation.” This will ‘prove’ to Disney that you are staying at a resort that provides you with the benefit of making FastPass reservations 60 days in advance.
Make Your Park Visit Schedule
Congrats, you are now all set up! But there’s more to do. Go get yourself a calendar and a pencil. Yes, we’re going old school. Highlight the days you want to visit a Disney Park while at Walt Disney World during RWA. Use this Disney calendar to pick which Park you’ll visit each day, but keep in mind operating hours are subject to change. If the hours do change, it will typically occur about a month in advance and you’ll find operating hours are extended. I bet we’ll see Magic Kingdom closing later than the currently scheduled 9 PM on most nights.
Tip: Historically, the parks with evening Extra Magic Hours tend to attract the most crowds, so some opt to skip those Parks until the next day. However, I often find that by visiting during Extra Magic Hours (whether morning or evening), I can pack in a lot of rides. If you are not staying at Swolphin or a Disney-operated resort Hotel (only guests at those resorts are eligible to participate in this benefit), then I’d suggest skipping parks that have Extra Magic Hours scheduled on the calendar.
When choosing which Parks to visit on your schedule, remember any in-Park dining reservations you might have already made. You will need Park admission to dine at restaurants located within the Parks.
Also, review my guide on New Disney Experiences. There are so many new attractions and shows being announced weekly, that I recently updated my post!
How to Tour a Disney Park With the Least Amount of Time in a Queue
To make the most of your visit to a Disney Park, you must plan. Even if you were going in the slowest part of the year (January and September), I’d still suggest doing the following.
- Book FastPass+ reservations in advance, preferably the morning your window opens. FastPasses to popular attractions such as Frozen Ever After and the new Pandora rides will go quick. My next guide will walk you through making your FastPass+ reservations.
- Review Park maps in advance and familiarize yourself with the locations of the attractions. Plan what attractions you want to see in those lands and jot them down. Your tired feet will thank you if you do not criss-cross the Parks several times throughout the day.
- Allow for enough time to get to the Park. Check out my guide on transportation. Ensuring you have ample time to get to the Park is key because you’ll want to…
- Get to the Park before it opens! Aim to be at the Park at least 25 mins before it opens. Many of the Parks actually open a bit earlier than the scheduled time. They’ll let you gather at a central meeting space before Cast Members perform “rope drop” which permits you to go where you please. At Magic Kingdom, you can enter an hour before opening. You won’t be able to enter the lands, but you can shop and dine on Main Street, U.S.A. (Psst, there’s a Starbucks there!) By entering the Parks early, you will take advantage of the lowest crowds you’ll see all day. If you want to hit as many attractions as possible, this advice is key.
- Assuming you’ve entered the Parks early, aim for as many headline attractions (in which you do not have a FastPass+) as you can in those first two hours. Many of these attractions will have hour+ waits by late morning. Therefore, at Magic Kingdom, if you don’t have FastPass reservations for Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight, make those attractions your first stops (in that order). Adults and older children might want to capitalize on small lines on the thrilling “Mountain” attractions. If with little ones, visiting Fantasyland early will be huge. At Epcot, book it to Soarin’, Test Track, or Frozen Ever After. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, walk briskly to the new Pandora – The World of AVATAR. Make Toy Story Mania!, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, or a visit with characters from Guardians of the Galaxy as your top priority at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- During the first couple hours in the morning, do not waste time stopping to smell the roses. That means – no selfies in front of the Castle/Tree/Chinese Theater/Spaceship Earth, no shopping, and no pee breaks. (Sorry, I’m so strict!). Avoid all shiny and bright things for later. If you do as I suggest, you’ll be rewarded with less time in line so you can peruse the shops, take photographs, and rest your feet.
- If you plan to be an early riser and arrive for rope drop, go ahead and reserve your set of three FastPasses in advance for late morning through early to mid-afternoon. Disney allows you to make up to three FastPasses per day in one Park in advance. Once those three passes have been used (or the time allotted for them has passed), you can make a fourth pass while in the Park (or if park-hopping, at a different Disney Park). Once that one has been used, you can aim for a fifth, etc. Of course, it might be difficult to score a major attraction FastPass on the day off, but you never know. However, by finishing your first three FastPasses in early afternoon, you’ll have the greatest opportunity to score more FastPasses the rest of your day!
- Plan your meals during non-peak dining times (lunch at 11:20 or after 1:45 PM, dinner in early or later evening) or book dining reservations in advance. Unless you have a breakfast reservation that is no less than an hour prior to official park opening, do not book a sit-down breakfast. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on precious time during the least crowded part of the day.
- Know attraction wait times. Since you will have already done your homework above, you’ll have the My Disney Experience app loaded on your mobile device. (Note – Disney has free wifi throughout its entire Resort.) This app is awesome while inside the Parks because you can access maps and attraction wait times. You no longer have to walk across the Park just to find out your desired attraction has a 90 minute wait time.
- If you don’t care about parades or fireworks, then aim for major attractions at those times.
- It’s Florida; it’s going to rain! While a downpour will make guests run for the park exit, put on your poncho and embrace it. You’ll be rewarded for your perseverance with shorter wait times.
What Not to Miss at the Disney Parks
In my next guide, I will discuss what are the priority FastPass+ attractions. For now, I’ll provide a brief synopsis (or an elevator pitch) on why you should visit each Disney Park. Show times, character meets, and other operating hours can be found on the Walt Disney World website and My Disney Experience mobile app.
When most people think about Walt Disney World, the iconic Cinderella Castle comes to mind. Magic Kingdom opened in October 1971 and has welcomed millions of guests in its 45 years. Divided into six themed lands — Main Street, U.S.A.; Adventureland; Frontierland; Liberty Square; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland — this Park exudes Disney magic.
Magic Kingdom has the most number of rides of any of the Disney Parks at Walt Disney World. There is a daily parade and an all-new, nighttime fireworks/projection show, Happily Ever After. Classic Disney characters can be found throughout the Park.
My must-dos at Magic Kingdom include: making the tough choice between a Citrus Swirl or Dole Whip in Adventureland, riding all the “Mountains” (Splash, Big Thunder, and Space), taking a spin on Dumbo (especially with it all lit up at night), talking along with the soundtrack on Haunted Mansion (don’t worry, I whisper), and soaring over London on Peter Pan’s Flight. When my feet are tired, I head for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover or watch, in air-conditioned theaters, Country Bear Jamboree, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, or Mickey’s PhilharMagic. I have been known to choke up on “it’s a small world” and during the fireworks show.
Bottom Line – if you can only do one Park during #RWA17, I’d go here OR to the next Park I’m discussing.
Opened in 1982, Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is described by Disney as an ever-changing international and discovery showplace covering 305 acres. Split into two sections, Future World and World Showcase, Epcot has a World’s Fair vibe with its vast pavilions. Future World focuses on science and progress and has the most rides. World Showcase features 11 countries with dining, shopping, daily entertainment, and character meets. The pavilions for Norway and Mexico each have popular rides.
For those staying at the Swolphin (or nearby Disney’s Beach/Yacht Club and Disney’s BoardWalk resorts), you’ll be able to enter Epcot via the International Gateway entrance. This will place you in World Showcase between France and United Kingdom. I love being able to just walk to Epcot, and you will, too! You can easily spend a day in World Showcase alone. Don’t fret about calories when feasting on all those great meals, treats, and drinks. Remember, all that walking will help burn them off. At least that’s how I convince myself.
Aside from the rides, some of my favorite things to do at Epcot include: purchasing a margarita at La Cava del Tequila and watching Mariachi Cobre (aka “my boyfriends”) perform, grabbing a pint in the United Kingdom pavilion and seeing British Revolution do a set, getting teary in the American Adventure, and staring wide-eyed at the massive aquariums in the Seas pavilion. I also love the quick line at Epcot Character Spot to get fun pictures with Mickey and friends.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Opened in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the youngest of the Parks at Walt Disney World. While it might be the youngest, it is also the largest, sprawling over 400 acres. There’s lots of walking and this Park tends to feel the hottest, so dress comfortably. Animal Kingdom is gorgeous and features lush landscaping and gardens, lakes, exotic animals, and a safari tour that is not to be missed. The Tree of Life is the focal point here and it even comes alive at night. You can rest your feet during incredible shows such as Finding Nemo – The Musical and Flights of Wonder. If you have children, by all means, give them some free time to enjoy The Boneyard and meet with the numerous characters situated throughout the Park.
Pandora – The World of AVATAR will be open by the time of the conference, and from what I’ve seen online, this new land is not to be missed. The level of theming in the two attractions and land overall appears to be Disney at its very best. [And you’ll need FastPass+, so pay attention to my next guide!]
Must-dos include: being delighted by the cast in Festival of the Lion King, dashing by the Abominable Snowman while on Expedition Everest, photographing animals on the numerous walking trails or while riding Kilimanjaro Safaris, cooling off with an adult Dole Whip (rum!) at Tamu Tamu Refreshments, and ending your evening watching the all-new Rivers of Light.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
This park opened in 1989 as Disney’s MGM Studios, but changed names several years ago. The emphasis at this Park is on Hollywood movie magic. This Park is currently going through some major refurbishment as the much anticipated Star Wars Land is constructed for its 2019 debut.
Have no fear. Despite construction walls, there are still plenty of attractions to enjoy. Fans of Star Wars, the Muppets, Frozen, Pixar films, Indiana Jones, and Disney Junior will be delighted here. I know I can’t wait to post photos on Facebook with me posing with Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and Star-Lord and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
My favorite Park activities include: aiming for the highest score on Toy Story Mania, laughing (yes) as I drop several stories on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and learning about Walt Disney at One Man’s Dream. Be sure not to miss Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage and the nightly, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.
Tip: Keep an eye on this list of Walt Disney World refurbishments. As of now, the only attraction scheduled for refurbishment closure in July is Mission Space at Epcot.
Some Words to the Disneyland Fans
This section is for those who visit the Disneyland Resort often but haven’t been to Walt Disney World ever (or for some time). Let’s chat about some of the major differences. For starters, the Disney Parks at Walt Disney World are significantly larger, so prepare yourself for a lot more walking. Wear comfortable shoes and pack a poncho. Rain may be rare in Anaheim, but not in Central Florida in July. You also might be thrilled by the monorail as it’s actually used for major transportation here.
Touring these Disney Parks is a bit different. The paper FastPass machines you are used to at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure are no longer utilized at these Parks. True, while you can make day-of FastPass+ reservations with your phone or at a kiosk, you will want to make advanced reservations to secure the most popular attractions.
Study the map to the Magic Kingdom. It might appear to be a carbon copy of Disneyland, but it’s not. I learned this quickly during my first visit when I tried to walk behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to get to Fantasyland. While at this Park, Cinderella Castle will be your reference point instead of the Matterhorn’s snowy peak.
For Disneyland old-timers, while at Magic Kingdom, you will get a thrill riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover again, soaring from a rocket atop the PeopleMover entrance, climbing the stairs to get to the Swiss Family Treehouse, and watching the Country Bear Jamboree. A raft visit over to Tom Sawyer Island will remind you of the days this island was not invaded by pirates. Also, while Disneyland might have the original “it’s a small world” from the ’64 New York World’s Fair, you’ll find the classic Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress from the same Fair at Magic Kingdom. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can still enjoy Muppet*Vision 3D.
While there are several “repeat” attractions on both coasts, many are worth a visit. Here are the attractions that I believe are stronger or unique at Magic Kingdom: Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Jungle Cruise. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tower of Terror remains in its original form sans Guardians of the Galaxy.
If you have limited time, in my opinion, you can safely skip the following attractions. Magic Kingdom: Pirates of the Caribbean, “it’s a small world,” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Peter Pan’s Flight, Under the Sea~ Journey of the Little Mermaid (although queue much cooler here!), and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Epcot: Soarin’. Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Star Tours – The Adventures Continue and Fantasmic!.
Lastly, dining is a much bigger deal at Walt Disney World and advanced reservations are key. Check out my post on dining.
If you’ve read this post, then you know that next up I’ll be sharing how to secure FastPass+ reservations and strategies. Until your window opens later in May (or June if staying off-site), do your homework as I described above. Get your plans in place so you’re all ready to go.
I’ll get back to you right away if you have any questions in the comments section.
Visit here if you’ve missed other topics in this planning guide. There, you’ll find a calendar to help you keep track of key dates. Be sure to also heck out my Pinterest Board which complements this planning guide.
This unofficial guide is not associated with Romance Writers of America®. I am not receiving any compensation or gifts for these blog posts.
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All photos were taken by yours truly.