Planning a family trip to Walt Disney World and wondering how to best spend your days in the parks? Deciding whether to get a jump on the day and head to the parks at ‘rope drop’? Or snoozing in a little bit so you can make it to the final ‘kiss goodnight’? You can go super early to the parks or you can go later in the day, but which is going to be right for you? Late vs. Early Start?
Both have perks, but if you have kids, there is only one correct choice.
Whatever works best for your family!
Probably didn’t expect me to say that. I know, I’m throwing you for a loop. Yet, truth be told, you know how your family operates best. You might be super early risers and heading to the parks early makes the most sense. Or you might be a family of night owls. Then spending the whole evening in the parks is the best fit for you!
While I can’t give you an exact answer to what is going to be the best fit for your time at the parks, I can help break down some of the pros and cons of starting early vs. starting later. Let’s jump in…
Kids Up Early
If you have little ones, odds are they like to wake at the crack of dawn. This may be one of the rare times that the unanticipated 6am wakeup call happens in your favor. With everyone up early, you can head to the parks early!
If you are staying on property, one of the perks is being able to attend extra magic hours. On certain days a park will open an hour early. The park opening early will be listed on the park times guide or the online parks calendar. Being up early and out the door early (this is usually where my family hits the struggle bus) helps you meet this extra early time.
Let’s say you want to head to a park that isn’t offering extra magic hours, should you still get there early if you’re early risers? The answer is a definite yes. By arriving to a park early, you’ll have an opportunity to ‘rope drop’.
What exactly is ‘rope dropping’? Rope dropping basically means you are one of the first guests to enter a certain area of the park at the start of the day. For example, the Magic Kingdom now allows guests on Main Street, USA before the park is officially open. Guests are allowed to go into the shops, get a Starbucks and enjoy a morning welcome show in front of the castle.
During this time, the different lands of the Magic Kingdom are blocked off by ropes until the park is officially open. If you have a ride in mind in one of the different lands, it isn’t a bad plan to line up behind the ropes. This way you can be ahead of the crowd when the rope is dropped and the land is opened. Roping dropping allows you to get over to a ride and have a potentially shorter wait. You won’t have to get a Fastpass+ for said ride either if you are one of the first people to get on board. This is because the wait time in the Stand-by cue won’t be too bad yet. One of my favorite rides to rope drop at the Magic Kingdom is the Seven Drawfs Mine Ride. Unless you rope drop it or have a Fastpass+, you can potentially have a couple of hour wait.
Be aware, especially if you plan to head to a park offering extra magic hours, the buses can be hectic in the morning. Buses start running 45 minutes before the park opens. Be sure to be at the bus stop an hour before the park opens to ensure you’ll catch that first bus.
During really high peek seasons, it might not hurt to get to the bus stop 30 minutes before the buses start running. At some resorts there are cues for the buses and the earlier you arrive at the bus stop you’ll be higher up in the cue. If your resort doesn’t have a cue, you’ll be able to pick a waiting spot closer to where the buses pick-up and drop-off. Basically meaning you’ll be one of the first guests to board.
Rope Drop and Fastpass+ Strategic Combo
Having an early start to your park day allows you to be very strategic with your rides. As mentioned above, if you are at the parks at rope drop you can usually get onto one, possibly two, rides rather quickly. Once your rope drop rides are completed, you can move onto your three Fastpass+ options.
In theory, if you start early, you might be able to get through five rides before lunchtime. If you are traveling with a family of four or five, everyone could have a chance to get their ‘must-do’ ride in. You could then eat a nice lunch and enjoy some shows afterwards, plus a few more rides. Or even call it good after lunch, head back to your resort for a break and then come back to enjoy the rest of your day at the parks. You’ve basically set yourself up for a great day at Disney!
As you know and I’ve mentioned a dozen times, the Florida sunshine can get extremely hot. This is especially true as you approach midday. There are tons of ways to escape the heat, but if you want to be outside, the best way is to plan your day to avoid the worst of it.
Cue the early morning start.
You might have guessed, but the sun isn’t as hot in the early morning hours as it is at, let’s say midday. (I know I’m full of super useful facts ;)). Therefore, if you start your day off early, you have a better chance of fitting more in before the temperatures become unbearable. If you do find yourself in the thick of the heat, you can always visit Casey Jr.’s Splash ‘n’ Soak Station
for a little relief.
Kids Need a Nap
Starting earlier means you’re going to need a break earlier. If you have super little kids you might be able to utilize the stroller nap
. If not, or if you’re feeling exhausted by lunchtime, you’re probably going to want to take a midday break. The midday break is great and strongly encouraged, but it can often be tricky to make it back to the parks if you have little kids. The best advice, as seen in this article,
is to make sure to prep every one of the plan before you head to the parks. If everyone is aware and knows there is going to be a break, you can hope things are going to run smoothly.
Don’t Have to Rush
Are you one of those rare families in which everyone can get up and out the door in twenty minutes? You are? Please teach me your ways.
I am not from a family like that. Sometimes I think it takes us three hours to get ready and get out the door. Unfortunately, I’m not really exaggerating.
If you also have a family that takes a while to get out the door, the later start might be of great benefit to you. Your kids and you can ‘sleep in’ for a little while, everyone can grab a quick breakfast in your room and then head out the door.
Avoid the Opening Park Rush
While I love being at the parks right when they open, it can be a little crazy. Some days are definitely better than others, but I’ve been at some rope drops that seem like mass chaos. Imagine a store giving away free TVs on Black Friday. People get crazy!!
Disney has identified this craziness by helping to ease you into the parks. At the rope drops, mentioned above, they slowly walk you back into the different lands so no one can do a mad dash. You can still feel the excitement and the desire to rush to the various rides, but it isn’t as crazy as it once was. If you come to the parks later in the day you won’t be a part of this often frantic time.
Use Your Fastpass+ Appropriately
If you plan for a later start, you might still want to have a set time you plan to get to the parks. It doesn’t have to be at the crack of dawn, but having a start time might help. Planning your park arrival in conjunction with your first Fastpass+ reservation helps to ensure you don’t head to the parks just to stand in a 90 minute wait line. You won’t get the benefits of a rope drop ride, but you’ll be able to head to your first ride without much wait.
Sneak in a Character Meal
Planning a late start to the parks doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start your fun later. Many of the deluxe resorts on Walt Disney World property offer wonderful sit-down meal options. Several of the options also include character meals. You’ll be able to meet some of your favorite pals at breakfast time!
One of the best parts of having a character meal first thing in the morning is you are most likely nice and refreshed. You’ve just had a decent night of sleep (hopefully) and you’re ready to go! Having the character meal at your own resort, means you can mosey on over to the location after you get up and ready. You won’t be fighting huge crowds of park goers attempting to get to rides or shows. It will just be you and the resort guests!
There ya go! Pros and cons of both an early and late start for heading to the Walt Disney World parks. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to do a little prep work the night before your trip. Having your bag packed and breakfast laid out (unless you’re planning on a character breakfast) for the morning helps the day start off smoother. Be sure to lay out everyone’s outfits and shoes. Basically, set everything that you are going to need the next morning up.
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