Vermin05 Ultimate Disney World Guide *Updated November 2021*
Coming back to update this, its amazing how much has changed in less then 3 years. I was going to hold off on this until I experienced another trip now that Genie+ and LL is being fully used (and selling out) which was not the case in late October, but Ive gotten a lot of requests to update this recently and with the holiday weekend I had some free time.
This is from my experience visiting these parks multiple times, however I must admit that the foundation to my knowledge when I was first going was from reading the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, I would highly suggest picking one up if you are super serious about this as they are going to be a lot more standardized then my plans. I have however not picked up that book in quite some time, what follows is going to be my own personal recommendations based on my own bias I don’t think there will be too much overlap because of that, in fact I know that my plans are nothing like their current plans as someone showed me one recently. I love all things Disney, and view attractions like the Country Bear Jamboree and The Enchanted Tiki Room to be as essential to my Disney experience as Space Mountain. I trend more towards the “Disney Commando” touring as I’m generally there open to close, but most days I park hop in the middle of the day and also make sure I have either a late lunch or early dinner at a sit down restaurant which allowed a good 2 hour break in the middle of the day. While I do plan with dinner reservations, and the first couple of rides I don’t have a set plan after that. I also love the Disney night shows, and make sure to see at least one every night. Also, I’m not going to describe every attraction at Walt Disney World nor am I going to go into detail about every restaurant or hotel either, if I did that I may as well write my own book. There are plenty of websites and books that do that detail if you want but, this guide is long enough.
As an addition, I have yet to buy Genie+ or individual lightning lane. Its not that I am against upcharge skip the line programs, I almost always use them at Universal (because it comes free with my hotel stay) and will use them at Cedar Fair parks or at places like Dollywood if the crowds warrant it. I even used Disneyland’s MaxPass every trip I went while that program existed. My problems with the new program are many but in short, I have a fundamental issue with having to pay $15 for an individual ride, I do not consider any ride (including Rise of the Resistance) worth paying $15 to get in an expedited queue (which still may be 30+ minutes of waiting.) This is coming from a person who has rented a plaid (VIP tour) that cost a considerable amount of coin but the nickel and dime thing bugs me and I refuse to do the individual lighting lane because of that. Genie+ on a surface level seems a lot like MaxPass though so why did I choose to not get it? Easy, the best rides aren’t included, if you don’t get lucky at 7am you are going to either miss out on the most useful LL rides (Slinky sells out in seconds, but the other parks quickly run out too) or have to wait until the afternoon for your return time. That’s important because with current uses, the good fastpasses are almost all taken before 12 noon, most even before 11am per reports and almost certainly they will be later in the evening. It’s a service that isn’t for me as I open the park, close another and really slow down midday doing shows, hopping, eating a table service meal, and sometimes going back to my hotel. Thankfully, due to resort early entry I don’t have to rely on it to do my riding. If you are staying off site, you probably are going to have to buy G+ however, what follows below will be my recommendations based on not using Genie+ or ILL using early entry.
Table of Contents:
1. Don’t forget about Disneyland
2. When To Go
3. Where to Stay
4. Planning for the trip/Deals
5. Disney Theme Park 101
6. My rope drop plan for each park
7. Universal Compendium-How to do the competition
Don’t forget about Disneyland
This is mainly going to be about Disney World but before I go all in, I feel like most of us (being mainly Midwest and East Coast based) completely forget that there is another Disney Resort located in America, and if you happen to be in the Midwest it is generally not much more money or time to fly to California then Florida. Disneyland consists of two theme parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure) vs four theme parks at Disney World (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom.) Each resort has roughly the same amount of attractions, and each resort has most of the classic attractions you expect to ride at a Disney Resort (Space, Big Thunder and Splash Mtn, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Dumbo, Peter Pan, it’s a small world, etc) so you are not missing that quintessential Disney experience no matter where you go. Some of the positives of DL is that its smaller, you can do this resort in 3 days as opposed to a week, the weather is nicer, its located in California where there are plenty of things nearby to do that aren’t theme parks, and for the most part if a ride is located at both resorts its generally better in California. For the Disney nut, Disneyland is the only park that Walt Disney was personally involved in making and visited. Because its smaller, it can be significantly cheaper to go to California as you can stay off site and save a lot of money and still be walking distance from the resort. I personally think Disneyland Park is the best Disney Park in the country, but I much prefer the Walt Disney World Resort to the Disneyland Resort as I prefer the variety of the four parks, the nicer hotels, sit down restaurants and the waterparks. However, in recommending a resort to families willing to go to both I will generally recommend Disneyland to families who have kids less then 6 years old, and Disney World for 6-12 years old.
When to go to Disney World
As you planning your trip you need to keep two major things in line when deciding when to go, one is the crowds, the other is the weather. Let’s talk about the latter first, Florida is oppressively hot from mid-May-mid September, if you go during that time then you should expect temperatures and humidity to be in the 90s, with afternoon thunderstorms virtually every day. From mid Sept-mid Nov and March-mid May is when Florida is at its best weather wise mid 70s-80s and generally dry. “Winter” in Florida is mid Nov-Feb, for us northerners it will still be warm for the most part, just not swimming weather, while you may get lucky and get a week of 70s-80s, you are more likely to get 50s-60s and occasionally it can dip lower than that. Finally, let’s not forget that Florida does usually get hit by hurricanes at least once a year, hurricane season occurs from March-October with peak late Aug-early Oct.
Now that we have that out of the way, lets talk about the crowds, Disney has taken an aggressive marketing strategy to try and spread out the crowds using discounts and special events to draw people outside of the traditional times. They have been very successful with this such that there are no longer any “dead” times, there are pretty much crazy crowded times, busy crowds with regular prices and busy crowds with discounted prices. However, you can assume that times when kids are out of school (Summer, holiday weekends, and Christmas) will be very crowded and if you can avoid them you should. Seeing as there is no way to avoid at least some crowds, you should take into account the special events that occur throughout the year and plan your trip to coincide with one of them. Here is a list of Disney Events that occur that are not self-evident to most people:
-Disney World Marathon Weekend: This occurs the first weekend after the New Year and is immensely popular, if you are not taking part in this event I would avoid this week at all costs as the crowds will be up, but park hours are generally short making it hard to do everything.
-Epcot’s Festival of the Arts: Mid Jan-Mid Feb. Epcot has become the park of Festivals, this is the first of the year for that park and its quietest and newest festival. Artists from all backgrounds (painters, chefs, Broadway performers) will have demonstrations and performances throughout the day and additional food booths are set up. It’s a nice festival, I wouldn’t specifically plan a trip to see this one, but if you are there its nice to have more to do in Epcot.
-Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival: March-Mid May. This festival turns Epcot into a beautiful garden full of flower beds and full-sized topiaries of Disney characters, this is truly the time of year when Epcot looks its best. Additionally, food booths are set up with special foods and demonstrations will occur to help people learn how to garden. As a whole, I have to say I prefer this festival to the more popular Food and Wine festival in the fall but what hurts this festival the most is that there is no special event occurring at the same time at the Magic Kingdom like Food and Wine has.
-4th of July Fireworks: Disney is the second largest purchaser of explosives in the world (second only to the US Army) and they put on a phenomenal display for Independence Day. At the Magic Kingdom on both the 3rd and 4th they will explode Fireworks in the round (i.e. 360 degrees) around Main Street and the 7 Seas Lagoon. I’m really glad that I saw this once, it was amazing, but I have no desire to see it again. Also, of note Epcot puts on an equally spectacular 4th show, if for some reason you choose to brave the weather and the crowds this week. I highly suggest being at the Magic Kingdom the night of the 3rd and then Epcot the night of the 4th so that you can take in both shows.
-Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival: Mid Aug-Mid Nov. The original Epcot Festival, over 2 dozen extra food and drink kiosks throughout the park along with wine tasting and cooking tutorials as well. Of note this is an extremely popular festival with locals so if you are in WDW during this festival you should avoid Friday and Saturday nights (mornings and early afternoons are still ok) to avoid the crowd of drunk locals.
-Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (did not occur in 2021 and not expected to be back in 2022 either, just keeping this here for historical purposes in case it comes back after the 50th): Select nights mid Aug-weekend after Halloween. Starting in mid Aug and carrying through mid-December 3-4 nights a week the Magic Kingdom will close for the holiday parties. The official party occurs from 7-12pm. These are extra costs over your day ticket but party holders can enter the park at 4pm, so to save money you can schedule a morning of either sleeping in, having a character breakfast and pool morning or a morning at a waterpark or Disney Springs. During the party, everyone (including adults) are encouraged to dress in costume and free trick or treat stations will be available throughout the park. Also, you will be able to meet some of your favorite Disney Characters in Halloween costumes and special characters who are not usually out during the day including all 7 Dwarfs, Jack Skellington and Sally, Disney Villains and Moana. Lines for these characters can be very long, but rides for the attractions are all generally less than 30 min (exceptions being Peter Pan, 7 Dwarfs and Space Mtn all night long and early on the Haunted Mansion will also be busy.) The highlight of the night however is the special entertainment. 3-4 times during the night there will be the Villain Spooktacular in front of the castle where the Sanderson Sisters (from Hocus Pocus) will call on Dr. Facilier, Oogie Boogie, Malnificent and other Disney Villains to create the perfect Halloween party. Twice during the event the Headless Horseman will lead the Boo To You Parade, my absolutely favorite Disney parade, down Main Street; other parade highlights include the Disney Villains, a Haunted Mansion segment featuring grave diggers that will send sparks flying with their routine, and a massive Pirate section featuring both the Peter Pan characters and Pirates of the Caribbean characters. Lastly, Jack Skellingtom will host the Not So Scary Spooktacular, the special Halloween Fireworks featuring Mickey and the Gang getting lost in a haunted house and feature a finale where fireworks will explode in a 180-degree semi-circle behind Cinderella Castle.
-After Hours Boofest: This was the (completely inferior) replacement for Not So Scary in 2021. This event was more expensive, and had a much smaller crowd level but only went from 8-12. Like the Halloween party, guests could dress up in costumes, and trick or treating occurred. Entertainment was slashed however, there was no special firework show (but the normal show did occur for all guests at 8) and no castle show. Instead of the full parade there were themed character cavalcades. Due to COVID there was also no character meet and greets. I did not pay for this event, and don’t plan to unless they turn boo fest into an event similar event the Christmas After Hours event is this year.
-Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (did not occur in 2021 and not expected to be back in 2022 either, just keeping this here for historical purposes in case it comes back after the 50th): Select nights 2nd week in Nov-mid December. Hours are exactly like the Halloween Party. Cookie and Hot Chocolate stations take the place of trick or treat stations and Christmas outfits and characters like all the Princes meeting with their princesses, Sandy Claws, Nick and Judy from Zootopia, and Scrooge McDuck meet; character lines continue to be long. Special Entertainment during this event includes, A Frozen Holiday Wish-Twice during the night Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Elsa will light the Cinderella Castle Christmas lights in a special projection show that is spectacular (and done even on non party nights.) Later in the night again 3-4 times throughout the night Mickey’s Merriest Celebration will find Mickey and Minnie inviting all their friends to a holiday party in front of Cinderella Castle. Twice during the night, it will snow on Main Street USA as Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas Parade takes place, highlights include a winter ball with all the princesses and princes in their winter outfits, the Toy Soldier band, and of course Santa and his reindeer. My favorite part of this party though is Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime, the Christmas firework show. Minnie MCs a show full of Christmas cheer, and again the finale has 180-degree fireworks behind the castle.
-Merry and Bright Disney After Hours: This is the replacement for Very Merry this year, it runs from 8-1 am. Again, less guests, and you still get the Christmas goodies and can wear holiday apparel. Also, the park will shoot off the regular firework show at 8am. Unlike Boo Fest, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade will run twice throughout the night, there will be a modified castle stage show (the first since the pandemic) and Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime fireworks will go off as well. So that means that on party nights, the Magic Kingdom (and party guests) will be able to watch two full firework shows at the Magic Kingdom. When I go in a few weeks, I will be attending this event despite its high price tags, because Im willing to pay for the extra entertainment.
-Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays: Thanksgiving week-Dec 30: Believe it or not, as great as the Magic Kingdom’s Christmas Party is, this is my favorite part of going to WDW for Christmas. Much like other Epcot festivals Food booths and décor will be set up around the park. In each country they have folk storytellers who will tell the stories of each country’s holiday festivities (for Christian countries this usually is about that country’s version of St. Nick, and for non-Christian countries it’s about their New Years Celebrations.) The absolute best part of this festival however is the nightly Candlelight Processional, my favorite show in any theme park. 3 times a night a celebrity narrator (I’ve seen NPH, Whoopi, and Edward James Olmos, so b or c list) will read the biblical Christmas Story accompanied by a full orchestra and choir. This show is incredibly popular, and unless you want to wait up to 2 hours prior to it in line I highly suggest looking into the Candlelight Dining Package, for a flat rate you can eat at one of Epcot’s sit-down restaurants (meal will include non-alcoholic beverage, appetizer, entrée and dessert) and then receive priority seating at a show. Epcot’s restaurants are some of the best in all of WDW, when your book a reservation make sure that it is labeled Candlelight Dining otherwise you will not be able to change your reservation to a Candlelight once at the restaurant. Unlike prior years, there is currently no announced Christmas Bonus Tag to Harmonious currently.
-The Last 2 weeks of December: Ill say this again, if you can avoid coming during these two weeks I would highly suggest it, this is the most crowded that the parks will get and on some days the Magic Kingdom will literally close for capacity. However, if you are here, know that all the entertainment that is restricted to the Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom earlier in the month is now done during normal park hours (unknown if this will happen in 2021 yet.) Also, just like the 4th of July the Magic Kingdom does an equally big special 360 firework show on Dec 30 and 31 and Epcot has a special show on the 31st. However, you will never catch this uber Disney nerd in those parks during those weeks so long as I’m planning the trip.
Part 3: Where to Stay
There are currently 3 big categories about hotels to stay at, on site hotels, On site or just off site partner hotels who get some of the benefits usually afforded on site hotels, or off site hotels. I normally stay on site, and I don’t own DVC so my experience with the other categories is limited. Disney has started extending some of the biggest perks to hotels not owned by Disney but near the property, if you stay at one of these hotels you can get access to morning early entry and the 60 Day dining reservation window, however I still would recommend staying onsite if you can. Disney World is the size of Manhattan, even from within the resort it regularly will take you 30-60 min to get from your hotel to a park, staying off site will increase those times.
Therefore, I’m going to focus on the onsite regular hotels, others can add experiences with Disney Vacation Club (and renting points) and off site hotels. In addition to being closer, there are clear benefits to staying on site, Disney’s Magical Express (DME, which is going away January 1, 2022), MagicBands entry to your hotel and ability to charge via them, Free Transportation to the parks and the 60-day Dining window. DME is a shuttle bus that will pick you up for free at MCO airport and transport you to your hotel and then return you at the end of your trip. If you are not planning on leaving Disney property this can be a huge money saver as you will not need to rent a car or call an Uber. MagicBands are your key to everything at Disney World, they are plastic wristbands with an RFID chip in them and will function as your room key, your theme park tickets, your Fastpass ticket, and if you so choose your charge card. While you can purchase them if you are not staying on property to function as your fastpass and theme park ticket, you will still need your charge card as they can’t link it without a room. Disney gives you a discount on magic bands you preorder before arriving if staying on site. Additionally if you stay at a deluxe hotel (or the Swan, Dolphin, 4 seasons or Shades of Green) you will have access to Evening Magic Hours (2 hours extra at MK on Wed, Epcot on Monday.) Early Entry allows access to all 4 parks 30 minutes early every day. The lines will be significantly less during this time and allows you more time in the day to experience the attractions. Disney has a fleet of buses, boats, a skyway and the famous monorail to ferry resort guests to parks from their hotel. Transportation generally runs every 15-30 min and will transport you right to the front gate of the parks, all included in your hotel stay.
Disney is currently reshuffling their categories of hotels and benefits so they are harder to categorize I will first summarize each category by the old categories (Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and DVC) but then present the resorts by transportation options (Bus Only resorts, Disney Springs Hotels, Skyway Hotels, Crescent Lake Hotels, Bay Lake Hotels and Monorail Resorts.) The old categories are based on the build and amenities each hotel has, the new ones forming are focused on transportation options to the parks.
Value Resorts: Fort Wilderness Campground, Art of Animation, Pop Century, All Star Music, Sports and Movies. These places are the cheapest places to stay on property, the Campground has tent spots, RV hookups and some cabins. The other resorts are motels, they have small rooms with double beds, outdoor corridors, over the top large plastic statues as décor on each building and a food court as the only meal option. Usually these rooms are >$300 unless that room is a suite.
Moderate Resorts: Carribean Beach, Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, Coronado Resort and cabins at Ft. Wilderness. These are the middle ground resorts, they have more sophisticated theming based on real world locations, they have queen beds, are larger in size (some even have a sleeper sofa or day bed as well) and may have an actual restaurant in addition the food court. These rooms are usually >$400 a night.
Deluxe Resorts: The Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Swan and Dolphin (are actually Marriot hotels located on property, they do not have access to DME or Magic Bands and have their own transportation but otherwise have the same perks,) Animal Kingdom Lodge. These are the top resorts, in addition to having fine dining, indoor entry to rooms, the largest rooms on property, and intricate theming these hotels are for the most part the closest to the parks and other then Animal Kingdom Lodge will give you access to a non bus transportation to some of the parks (Animal Kingdom Lodge instead has contained savannahs full of African animals grazing just outside your window.) Rooms in this category are going to be in the $400-900 depending on if you get a club level room and what resort you stay at.
Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Resorts: Nearly every deluxe hotel on property has a satellite resort attached to it of Disney’s Time Share program. Rooms here can be 1-2 bedroom condos with a full kitchen and laundry appliances inside or studios which will have a king bed, kitchenette and sleeper sofa or studios with a king bed, kitchenette and sleeper sofa. Disney does rent these directly, but as has been mentioned before you can save a lot of money by going through DVC rental agencies to rent points directly from owners. In addition, two resorts near Disney Springs, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs are all DVC resorts with no regular rooms. There is also the brand new tower Rivera Resort that is located within the Carribean Beach Resort.
As I said, these old categories and are breaking down so its probably better to categorize resorts based on their location and transportation options, the better the latter is, the more money you are going to spend. It is however, important to keep the old categories in mind so that you know the amenities you will find in the hotel. I’ve arranged them from most affordable to most expensive categories.
Bus Only Resorts: All-Star Resorts, Coronado Resort, Port Orleans French Quarter, Animal Kingdom Lodge: These hotels will only provide bus transportation to all 4 theme parks.
Disney Springs Resorts: Port Orleans Riverside, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs: While these hotels will still rely on buses to all 4 theme parks, they do provide boat access to Disney Springs.
Skyway Resorts: Carribean Beach Resort, Rivera, Pop Century and Art of Animation: The newest transportation option, this gondola network connects these four resorts to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Of note, Carribean Beach Resort is a sprawling resort that has an internal bus system so if you are not near the skyway station or the Rivera DVC tower you will still need a bus to get to the station. Also, the 4th station in the line is at the Art of Animation Resort, Pop Century is across a small pond from Art of Animation and Pop Century guests will have to walk to Animation to ride the gondola.
Bay Lake Resorts: Ft. Wilderness Campground and Wilderness Lodge: These resorts are located by the Magic Kingdom on Bay Lake. Each resort provides boat access to the Magic Kingdom. Please realize that Ft Wilderness is a sprawling resort with an internal bus line to get to parts of the resort, you will not be by the dock, nor will you be by the bus stop for park busses, you can however rent a golf cart so that you do not need to wait for the internal bus.
Crescent Lake Resorts: Yacht and Beach Club, Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin: All of these deluxe resorts are located on Crescent Lake and have boat access (and a walking path) to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, These are the only resorts within walking distance of Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Monorail Resorts: Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary: These are the big three, these are the largest and most expensive resorts on property, and contain some of the most popular restaurants on the property. What you get for this is access to Epcot and Magic Kingdom by monorail, and a boat (GF or Poly only) or walking path to the Magic Kingdom (Contemporary is the closest, Grand Floridian is still reasonable, Polynesian is on the other side of the Lagoon, do not walk from there.)
Onsite properties I’ve stayed at:
Polynesian Resort: Pure Tiki Kitsch a nice pool, and on the monorail. As I typically spend the most time at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, having a hotel on the monorail is the best place for me to stay to minimize transportation time. I stayed here in 1989 but not since, while it is really nice to stay at these resorts but the price can be really steep, I’m not willing to spend 700-900 dollars a night when there is another monorail resort for almost half as much (more on that later.) However, this resort has my favorite theme on the monorail and has a very relaxed vibe throughout.
Old Key West: Growing up the couple of times we went we stayed here, as we were a group of 5-6. This resort has the largest rooms on property, its an all DVC resort and we would rent a 2 bedroom condo. It was really nice to have a full kitchen and laundry along with two bedrooms. It too has a very nice relaxing theme (Key West) but this is one of the largest resorts on the property and has 6 internal bus stops, which makes traveling via Disney Transportation longer then normal. If you have a large family and want to save some money by having a few meals in it’s a nice place to stay.
Wilderness Lodge: This resort is probably my favorite theme of any of the hotels. It is heavily inspired by the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone and its lobby is nearly as grand. This is one of the least expensive deluxe hotels on the property and while the rooms are a little smaller than those of the monorail resorts, they are still plenty big enough. You also get to take a boat over to the Magic Kingdom, which is by far the most majestic and impressive way to head towards the Magic Kingdom, first you pass over the “water bridge” that connects Bay Lake to the Seven Seas Lagoon and after which you pass right in front of the Magic Kingdom to arrive at the dock. That dock also happens to be the closest transportation option to the front gate. Unfortunately, you have to take a bus to the other three parks. Where I stay currently when I go to WDW comes down to this and the Contemporary, if I can get a room at the Contemporary for a similar price to the Wilderness Lodge I’ll stay at the former, but if it is significantly more expensive then I stay at the Lodge. If they ever expanded the monorail to this resort, I would stay here every time.
Contemporary Resort: This is likely the one hotel that you are familiar with even if you have never been to WDW as this is the hotel that the monorail passes through. The original hotels were designed to be extensions of the different lands of the Magic Kingdom, and this hotel was influenced by the original Tomorrowland. It makes for a kind of dull theme, which is disappointing compared to other places I’ve stayed at Disney World, but what it lacks in charm it makes up in other aspects. This hotel has the largest standard rooms on property and is close enough that you can walk to the Magic Kingdom. It is also a monorail ride away from Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. I generally will walk the Magic Kingdom in the morning (you have more energy, and you have to make the entire loop around the monorail to get to the Magic Kingdom) and take the monorail one stop back at the end of the day. It also has one of my favorite backdoor ways to save a lot of money from the typical prices of other monorail resorts, they have an auxiliary 3 floor wing off of the A frame, about 100ft away called the Garden Wing. If you are willing to have a short outdoor walk you can have the same size room as an A frame room but for $200-400 less then the A frame.
The Grand Floridian: This is the flagship resort of the property. Thanks to a renovation and a very nice Annual Pass Rate I got to stay there in 2019 twice. While the lobby gives off a stuffy (but gorgeous) vibe its really just like any Disney resort. It has a Victorian theme and is the second closest resort to the Magic Kingdom, I don’t usually walk from here to MK however, mainly because the MK is only one monorail stop away in the morning, and Im too tired to walk back at the end of the day. If you take the boat back this resort is the first stop.
The Yacht Club: Themed to a Yacht Club (think Caddyshack) this resort shares the best hotel pool on the property with the Beach Club (New England style Beach resort) that is really a mini water park (multiple slides, pools and even a lazy river) it’s a very nice place to stay and it is super convenient to go to Epcot from here where you can either walk or take a boat to the International Gateway. Hollywood Studios is a longer walk away, but if you do it you will be the very first people arriving at DHS in the morning, which as that park has the newest rides is really fantastic. Just not as fantastic for me as having easy access to the MK and Epcot, especially since those parks currently have the only night shows showing. I currently end my day at these parks and can get back to my hotel in under an hour (and often under 30 min) at the end of the night.
Planning for the trip/Saving money
Disney Resorts open up for reservations for the entire calendar year sometime in Late June/Early July. If you are going at some of the most popular times and going to the most popular resorts it would be very beneficial to book as soon as possible. There are two ways to book, room only and packages. I would highly suggest at least initially booking room only as packages have non refundable deposits and are harder to modify and room only rates have a 1 night 100% refundable deposit up to 5 days prior to your arrival. Packages are rarely a deal, and usually cost the same as all the components bought separately. If there is a deal where a package is less expensive, you can always switch to it later. Also, at the time of booking, download the MyDisneyExperience app and link your reservation to your account. As for deals, the first thing you should do is sign up with Disney to receive a free planning CD, that way you are on their list and you may be offered a targeted deal (known as a pin code) through the mail. The second thing you should do is sign up for the www.mousesavers.com newsletter, every Monday they will email you the latest deals, you can also check in regularly to that website to see if any new deals have arrived throughout the week. Disney makes it very easy to modify a reservation to take part in a deal. While deals have been predictable for some time (Room rate discounts Jan-Feb, April-mid June, Nov-early Dec and free dining Aug-Sept) they have all but stopped since the 50th anniversary started. My suggestion is that you should plan a trip not expecting a discount and if you get one later, it’s a great feeling just don’t go in expecting it. Either way the first big date for you is 60 days prior to your trip.
At 60 days out dining reservations open up at 5:45 am eastern time. If you are staying at a Disney Resort you will be able to book every day of your vacation 60 days out from your arrival day. Extremely popular restaurants will book up 60 days in advance, so its really important to make those plans, especially if like me food is important to you. In order to book a restaurant, you first need to figure out what parks you will be at. Thankfully, Disney publishes hours that far out, once schedules are out they may be modified but almost always the modification is an extension of park hours not a reduction. The question is where do you want to go. If you are staying onsite at a deluxe hotel, I highly suggest that you do evening Extra Magic Hours as they can significantly help you get a park done quicker, but only if you are willing to be there for the entire EMH, see below for my attack plan. If traveling during the last 5 months of the year and the holiday parties return, know that the Magic Kingdom will be very crowded on the few days that don’t contain a holiday party, if you have a hopper plan for your Magic Kingdom mornings to occur on a party day as the park will be significantly less crowded. However, if you want to spend time in the park after dark without going to the party or see the normal evening entertainment you are going to have to fight the crowds on those 2-3 days its open late to normal guests. If you are going for a typical week-long trip, with adults or older kids I recommend spending 2 days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, 1 day at Hollywood Studios and 1 day at Animal Kingdom. If you plan on doing the waterparks, they take a ½ day each. I personally prefer to park hop, this does cost extra but I find it allows me to maximize EMH when I use it and more importantly it provides some variety to the day and is a break from theme parking that helps reenergize me. Since I enjoy ending my day with explosions my typical 6 day trips currently consist of 3 evenings at Epcot (including the arrival day when I usually arrive in the parks by 1pm,) 3 evenings and one morning at MK, 2 mornings at DHS and 2 mornings at AK.
In planning for meals I highly suggest planning to have a meal either at the park you are at or at a resort that is attached to the park with non bus transportation, so for Magic Kingdom that means a monorail resort or Bay Lake resort, Epcot is a monorail, Skyway or Crescent Lake resorts (although I don’t know why you would leave the park as the best park restaurants are in this park) and for Hollywood Studios that would be the Crescent Lake or Skyway resorts. The one exception is if you want to dine at Animal Kingdom Lodge you can do it on your Animal Kingdom day. There is plenty of websites in addition to Disney posting menus on their site directly that I will not try to influence you either way, look for a place that has a menu you find appealing and then check with reviews online to make sure its got a good reputation (most do.) Disney Springs has a lot of really good restaurants, but please know that it takes about 1 hour to get to and from them (so when you factor in meal time you are talking 3-4 hours) relying on Disney transportation. Due to this, Disney Springs is a great thing to do on your arrival day if you aren’t heading right to a park, however I would not recommend going there on a park day. Finally, if you are not at a Disney Resort, you will only be able to book each day 60 days out (so you’ll be making one reservation a day for however long you will be at Disney World.) Once you have your dining reservations, make your park reservations so you don’t forget. That is the park you have to enter first, and you cant hop until 1:50pm.
Disney Theme Park 101
This section is to provide some general tips to enjoy your day at Disney Theme Parks. Here are my simple rules to enjoy your day at Disney:
1. Be at the gate (not in the parking lot, not on the bus, at the gate) no later then 30 min prior to park opening, if you are at a Disney Resort, I would suggest being at the bus station no later than 1 hour prior to early entry time. Buses officially start 60 min prior to early entry, but can arrive 10 min early. You want to be on that first bus to be at the front of the line, and if you miss the second one you will not arrive prior to early entry starting. This will allow you get you near the front of the crowd when rope drop occurs. Disney generally opens the gates to the park about 30 min prior to early entry. Every park has a different opening protocol I will go into in detail in my plans. Except for DHS there will be a rope manned by a cast member to hold you back from part of the park prior to early entry. At opening a cast member wall will force everyone to walk to their first destination and funnel people towards the typical locations. If you are at the front of that crowd not only will you ride the most popular ride of the day with little to no wait, you will also now be ahead of everyone behind you and you can move on to other popular attractions that will have long waits throughout the day. If you can polish off 3-5 attractions in the first 2 hours, you will be set for the rest of the day.
2. Think long and hard about getting in any line that is longer than 30 minutes, and never wait more than an hour: I generally do not get in a line that is longer than 30 min except for at the end of the night (if you are in line for an attraction at park close you get to ride) it’s the last ride I plan to ride before hopping, or to watch a night show except on very rare occasions. There are enough things to do at any Disney park that you should never waste that much time in a line. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to that say they had a horrible time at Disney because they were in 2+ hour lines multiple times a day, that’s not fun and most of the time not worth it, if you follow my plans that shouldn’t happen to you. However, Disney has started massively inflating ride wait times since reopening for COVID and doubled down with Genie Plus so its much harder with no experience to really know how long the lines are, you are probably safe dropping the wait by 20-25% provided the Lightning Lane queue is not overflowing and spilling onto the midway, if it is then Disney is pretty much only letting through those guests and the wait time is real. The absolute worst ride for an overinflated ride time is Rise of the Resistance, unless the Lightning Lane queue is full you can probably half your wait to the first preshow (which is when I stop counting.)
3. If you can’t party open to close, plan for a mid afternoon nap. Mid afternoon is the most crowded time of the day, whereas opening is the best time to be in the park and you can be the most productive and, in the evening, Disney puts on amazing night shows that you do not want to miss. Optimize your time and take a break mid-day, with kids who won’t nap at least go back and have pool time to allow them to decompress.
4. Do not miss the Disney Night Shows. Disney puts on the most impressive night shows, they are amazing and well worth seeing. They put a great cap on your day and leave you “feeling that Disney Magic” below is a description of each show and how best to experience them, Ill list my favorite show first and go from there
- Harmonious (Epcot): This is a brand new show that is the most pyro heavy regular show at WDW. You will notice 4 large taco barges and a centralish stargate float in World Showcase lagoon throughout the day. This is the new tech for this 15+ minute show. It’s a celebration of (Disney) stories told around the world and features Disney Songs sung in the native languages. After a very neat opening chanting number, the body of the show consists of 9 sections (How Far Ill Go/Go the Distance mash up, Morroco-Aladdin, India-Jungle Book, China-Mulan, Africa-Lion King, France-Beauty and the Beast and Hunchback, UK-Brave, Mexico-Coco, US-Princess and the Frog) followed by an amazing finale to Somewhere from Hunchback of Notre Dame. Im going to review the show in another post but this show starts off on shaky grounds, but really improves as it goes on. The strongest section by far is the Coco section, its seriously rocks, but the Lion King, Princess and the Frog, Brave and Mulan sections are also very good. The finale is absolutely incredible, if you saw Illuminations you know that show had a “trick” that was saved and used twice in the finale (weather permitting) well Harmonious also saves that trick for the finale but cranks it up to 11 with nearly a minute of that going off constantly along with its traditional aiding roll in the final shoot off. Also, do not dash after the finale, there is a really nice fountain post show. For about 2 minutes the fountains will be stationary and a chanting version of Somewhere plays, but then suddenly Simba will reappear in the stargate and an electronnica variant of the Lion King, Jungle Book, Aladdin and Coco section will play and the fountains reanimate. The entire post show is 10ish minutes. As a finale the 50th anthem “The Magic is Calling” will play. In addition to getting some good pictures, and enjoying the fountains one last time this will allow time for the massive crowd of humanity to disperse and you can stroll out of the park without feeling like you are part of the Running of the Bulls.
Enchanted (Magic Kingdom): This is the latest iteration of the world-famous castle firework show, complete with Tinkerbell flying out of the Castle. If you never saw the last show, Happily Ever After you are going to love it. If you did see Happily Ever After, this show will be a minor disappointment. Its not that it’s a bad show, it just isn’t Happily Ever After. Standout sections include the opening number “You are the Magic,” “Into the Unknown” and a rock and rollified version of “Night on Bald Mountain.” I personally feel the best place to watch this show is inside the “hub” of the Magic Kingdom in front of the castle, just make sure you are as center as you can on the castle and make sure that you are the behind Walt and Mickey statue in the center of the hub, if you get too close to the castle then it will block some of the fireworks, if you are too far back on Main Street then its harder to see the projections on the castle. Being in the Main Street half of the hub is the sweet spot where you can see both. I would line up 45-30 min before the show, know that they will make everyone stand up to watch the show and they will try to squeeze you forward as show nears, so I usually first start standing very near to the bridge to Main Street and usually by show time I end up ½ way between said bridge and the statue.
-Fantasmic! (Hollywood Studios, currently on hiatas but will be returning with brand new sections sometime in 2022): This is a live special effects laden show where you go on a dream with Mickey that is heavily based on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. After a Lion King, Pocahontas and Princess segment, the Disney Villains take over the dream and turn it into a Nightmare with the ring leaders being the Evil Queen, Jafar, Chernabog and Malnificent (who will turn into a dragon.) Of course, Mickey will get his courage and defeat the villains and usher in the finale where Mickey will recreate the dream sequence from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The best way to see this show is to book a Fantasmic! Dinner Package, this is a package meal at either Mamma Della’s Italian Eatery, Hollywood and Dine Character Buffet, or the Brown Derby. Other then the buffet, this meal includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert for everyone in the party and afterwards you will get a ticket to the best section in the theatre. Not only that, but because your seats are saved you can arrive 30-45 min before. If you don’t have a dinner package and want a seat you will need to line up 90-75 min before the show. Regardless of the section, I suggest sitting near the top of the section to avoid getting wet and allow you to exit the stadium at the end of the show so you can quickly walk to the Chinese Theatre and see the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Show that will begin 10 min after the end of Fantasmic! The show is over when Mickey utters “Some Imagination, huh?” and if you spring up and start exiting right as you hear that you can make it to the other show right as its beginning.
Star Wars A Galactic Spectacular (Hollywood Studios, currently on hiatus with no announced reopening): This is projection show augmented by low level fireworks that occurs on the Chinese Theatre and surrounding buildings. This will feature themes from every Star Wars Movie and the soundtrack is a tour de force of John Williams best, where this show suffers is that the fireworks are off to the side and not super impressive, ideally you want to be in the courtyard in front of the theatre so that you can enjoy the projections. I typically can get a really great spot by beating the crowd from Fantasmic back to Hollywood Blvd. I usually am not quite there as the show starts, but am in my spot just as the Star Wars Fanfare concludes. I much prefer Fantasmic! to this show, and am willing to skip this show if I can hit another park’s night show after Fantasmic! (which I can in the winter)
-Tree of Life Awakenings (Animal Kingdom): This is a really neat projection show that occurs on the Tree of Life where the animal carvings on the tree come alive and present quick little 5 min shows approximately every 15 min from dusk until park close, sometimes they even have a show or two after park closing.
Theme Park Plans for Opening and Evening EMH:
These plans are what works for me, and again were done before Genie+ was fully utilized so they might not still be true, its why I held off on doing this revision initially but too many people asked for me to do it so here it is, I will revise it after my December trip if it no longer works. I can usually do everything I want to do in these parks with them, but as I like and can ride everything on the property this is a plan that is best suited for older kids or all adult parties who do not need to meet with the characters and are willing to do all the thrill rides. If you have a character obsessed child, good luck, as you will need to make a choice between riding the big rides early in the day or hitting the meet and greets. As that is not something that I typically do, I don’t know enough to include plans like this here. Of note, Disney World is currently in a building boom with 2 E-ticket (Disney speak for blockbuster rides) attractions in 2 different parks (Tron lightcycle coaster at Magic Kingdom, Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster at Epcot. When either of these 2 rides open my plan will be outdated for the parks they open at, and until I experience the new norm at those parks it will be hard to come up with a new plan. Also, the front half of Epcot is currently a mess as they redesign future world, since Epcot opens later then any park and I like to be there at night I have not rope dropped Epcot since the pandemic, so my plan may be outdated for that one. Every other park’s morning plan (and the two evening plans) I executed on my last trip
Finally, if while you are following this plan you run into a line longer then 30 min or a broken-down ride, skip that ride and move on to the next, try to double back later and hopefully the wait gets less shorter.
Magic Kingdom Rope Drop Plan:
1. Arrive at the gates of the Magic Kingdom no later then 45 min before early entry, once let into the Magic Kingdom walk through Main Street towards the castle, as you enter the hub follow the signs and cast members pushing you to the right for your resort ID check and then continue counter clockwise around the hub until you exit at the 1 o clock position towards the Mad Tea Party. You will eventually hit a rope, try to position yourself as close to the rope as possible and ideally directly in the middle horizontally.
2. Find the cast members that are wearing green medieval garb one of them will be the designated Dwarf Mine Train line lead (they will have a bullhorn to point this person out to you) follow them. At the Mad Hatter Tea Party you will branch to the left, once you make that branch stay as far to the right as you can as the entrance to the line is on that side and the cast members will quickly form a wedge to force the mob into a line shape. Enjoy Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train.
3. After leaving the mine, provided it is prior to opening proceed to down the pathway past the carousel to Peter Pan’s Flight, get in line, pay no heed to the wait time, its wrong and will be less then 30 min and will not be any shorter the rest of the day (due to Lightning Lane)
4. If you aren’t able to do early entry, when you arrive at the hub, turn left and find the entrance to Liberty Square (9’oclock) enjoy the opening stage show where Mickey and Company will welcome you to the park. When the fireworks go off head into Liberty Square enroute to Frontierland. For EE folks, as you exit Peter Pan continue walking out of Fantasyland, past the Haunted Mansion and riverboat and then turn Right towards Frontierland, its time to go mountain climbing, head to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
5. Zip a dee doo dah across the courtyard and ride Splash Mountain
6. Walk back towards Adventureland and join the Pirates of the Carribean
7. Backtrack back to Liberty Square and experience the Haunted Mansion
8. Thus ends the exact tour, check the app, and start doing attractions with 30 min or less waits. At some point you are going to want to ride Space Mountain, even when the line is spilling out into the midway I have yet to wait more then 30 min since COVID. This ride is actually 2 rides (mirror image twins) so this is the one ride where the LL does not matter for your wait. Get in line and as long as you enter the mountain in less then 15 min youll be on the ride in less then 30. Also do not miss the Country Bear Jamboree, Enchanted Tiki Room or Carousel of Progress if you like cheezy animatronic shows. Mickey’s Philharmagic 3D movie is also a must do especially if you love the Renaissance movies. Don’t forget to ride the Peoplemover. Jungle Cruise has recently become very popular and has ridiculous waits, if that is a must do try to do it at night, the wait will be shorter.
*Please note that this plan will be out of date whenever the Tron Coaster opens*
Evening EMH at Magic Kingdom Plan:
1. Enjoy Enchanted then head to Frontierland and ride Splash Mountain, it wont be open during evening EMH so you need to get in line before official close. If you get there quickly, you could potentially ride it twice.
2. Ride Big Thunder Mountain while you’re there, if there is no wait and you want to re ride
3. Go ride the Pirates of the Carribean
4. Go ride Haunted Mansion
5. Go ride Peter Pan’s Fight
6. You now have a choice, pick 2: Seven Dwarfs, Space Mountain, Winnie the Pooh/Little Mermaid/Dumbo or Buzz Lightyear/Speedway. Just make sure you are in line for your last ride before official close.
7. After your last ride linger in front of the castle until a 15 of the hour, each night starting at closing through about 1 hour after the Magic Kingdom will play the Goodnight Kiss. It’s a short 5 min light show set to When you Wish upon a Star as Mickey and the Voice of Disney World say good night to you. It’s the perfect cherry to the end of your day. If a 15 time goes by without it starting, walk out they have already stopped playing it, they sometimes forget to program the extra shows for EMH.
*Please note that this plan will be out of date whenever the Tron Coaster opens*
Epcot Rope Drop Plan:
1. Wake up and make sure that you have your app, opened around 6:55. Click on the lower Right corner to pull up the menu screen. Click on virtual queue. Click join virtual queue for Ratatouille and confirm your party, using your cellular clock, click that final join virtual queue the moment the clock strikes 7:00, hopefully you are successful and you get to ride the Rat later in the day. If you fail, you can try again at 1:00 provided you are in Epcot.
2. Arrive to Epcot’s entrance 45 min prior to opening, walk under Spaceship Earth and go to the left following signs for Test Track/Mission Space, at some point you are going to find a rope. Wait there until opening. After that continue heading back in the park towards World Showcase. Once you hit the lagoon, go clockwise. The first pavilion you pass will be Mexico, continue walking and walk past a Stave Church then turn left. Ride Frozen Ever After
3. Walk back, if you are willing to ride single rider head to Test Track next, if not follow to step 4
4. Walk across the park to the other half and World Nature and go to the Land pavilion, enter it and head down to the basement level and get in line for Soarin.
6. Congratulations, you have now ridden all three long wait rides at Epcot, start hitting other rides like Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Mission: Space.
7. Once you’re done with the first half of the park its time to head back to World Showcase and start enjoying the best part of Epcot. Every country in World Showcase will have shops, restaurants and street shows. They are also all staffed by college students from that respective country. In addition, Mexico has a slow-moving boat ride, Norway has Frozen Ever After and an Anna and Elsa meet and greet. The US has a really impressive 45 min animatronic show that goes through US history. China and Canada have a 360-degree Circle Vision theatres and France has a 180-degree film. I would start moving around World Showcase in a clockwise motion and just wander around and take in the sights, sounds and tastes of World Showcase. Eventually you will complete the loop, once you have, do the attractions you missed in Future World. Be sure to line up around World Showcase Lagoon to watch Harmonious 45-30 mins prior to the show.
**This plan will be out of date whenever the Guardians of the Galaxy Roller Coaster or Ratatouille Ride opens**
Epcot Evening EMH Plan:
1. Line up to watch Harmonious, the best place to watch it is the concrete plaza directly across from the American Adventure between Mexico and Canada. Once that show concludes follow the narrow path towards the Imagination Pavilion and the Land, go and ride Soarin.
2. If you are able (everyone is older then 7) and willing to use the single rider line then feel free ride other attractions until 1 hour after close, but be careful about choosing Spaceship Earth as that ride is over 20 min long and you only have 2 hours in the park. If you aren’t willing to use the single rider line, go to step 3.
3. Proceed directly to Test Track and ride using the single rider line if you can
4. Head back to Norway and ride Frozen Ever After, if you complete this before the end of EMH feel free to pick one last ride, but remember it’s a long walk to other attractions, if you have less then 15 min left I would probably just re ride Frozen or call it a night, Frozen by this time usually has a really small wait and I’ve been able to in the past ride it up to 3 times in the last 30 min.
*This plan will be out of date whenever the Guardians of the Galaxy Roller Coaster or Ratatouille Ride opens*
Animal Kingdom Rope Drop Plan:
1. Arrive at the park gate 45 min prior to early entry, get a park guide or check your app to note when Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical will be showing. These are both 30 min shows that are some of the best shows in the parks, you don’t want to miss them make sure you see both.
2. The gate will open at 30 minutes prior to early entry, proceed to the left pass where your resort ID will be checked, then proceed down the path and eventually the Tree of Life will come into view. When the park opens follow the cast members and bank to the left once you reach the shops, take the first pathway that branches off to your left from the main path, if you pass by Pizzafari or a Starbucks you have gone too far. Follow the mass of humanity into Pandora and stick to the right side of the path, there should be cast members guiding you about which massive line to get in, you want to follow the vast majority of the crowd and get into the Flight of Passage line on the right.
3. After experiencing Flight of Passage, go across Pandora and experience Navi River Journey so long as early entry isn’t over. If you don’t have early entry, start following the guide here by heading back to Africa.
4. Follow the narrow pathway leaving Pandora towards Africa, go and experience Kilimanjaro Safari. This ride is best experienced early in the morning as the animals are all most active then.
5. Now its time to get wet, proceed out of Africa and head left to Asia. After entering Asia turn left just past the bird show theatre and proceed to Kali River Rapids. If you enjoyed the ride, ride again. This ride can soak you, so be prepared.
6. Walk out of Asia and head across the bridge to Discovery Island, continue on the path and enter Dinoland USA. Head back to Dinosaur and ride that, again if the line is short reride.
6. This is now the part of the plan where seeing Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo the Musical comes into play. You only have Expedition Everest left to ride, and that thing is a capacity machine, even with Lightning Lane and a full queue youll be on in <20 minutes. Plan the rest of your day around the two shows and make sure you line up for those shows about 20-30 min prior to the show. Expedition Everest has a single rider line that is normally as fast as Test Tracks line, use that to ride (in my case multiple times) if you want to face the Yeti faster.
7. As crowds grow, don’t forget to see its Tough to be a Bug, it’s a cute 3-D film but honestly the most impressive thing about that attraction is that it is located in the roots of the Tree of Life, and the queue will take you very close to the Tree itself where you can admire the craftsmanship of all the animal sculptures sculpted into the tree trunk.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop Plan
1. Arrive at Hollywood Studios 45 min prior to early entry, once let into the park walk down Hollywood Blvd towards the Chinese Theatre, once you reach the hub in front of the theatre look for a short stairwell at the 1 o’clock position go down it and then turn left down Mickey Ave. Take your first right just past Walt Disney Presents to head into Toy Story Land, just past the giant Woody statue the path will curve to the left, stay on the right side and you will eventually see a bunch of giant cocktail umbrellas, keep following them and eventually you will either reach a line, or have to turn right to go over a bridge to Slinky Dog Dash. At opening they will open the ride, enjoy.
2. After riding Slinky Dog, ride Toy Story Midway Mania. You should get off right around official opening.
3. Backtrack back to Hollywood Blvd and then head down Sunset Blvd towards Tower of Terror, my favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World. I love this ride so much that I’m capable of riding this ride multiple rides in a row, so at this point in the day I will jump in the regular line so long as the wait remains less than 20 min, if you cant see the end of the queue from the ride entrance, its less then 20 min.
4. Walk back to Sunset and head towards the giant electric guitar, Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
5. Now you have run out of short waits and you unfortunately still have 3 rides to ride that will command over 30 min waits, because this park is incredibly unbalanced. Personally, Im not a fan of Millennium Falcon Smuglers Run so I often skip it as I think it is far inferior to the rides you have already rode and the two rides you haven’t yet. Walk down Sunset Blvd towards the Chinese Theatre and get in line for Mickey’s Runaway Railroad, this line will look huge, but it moves very quickly and provided the ride does not break down you should be on it in 20-40 min.
6. As you exit check the app to see if Rise of the Resistance is open or is down. If it is down, you are going to have to do something for the next 1-2 hours. I personally would recommend that you see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, see Muppet Vision 3-D (Jim Henson’s last Muppet project and an absolute gem,) ride Star Tours, or even see Frozen Sing A Long (which is way more entertaining then it should be because the two historians who host the show are allowed to improv.) I personally think that the Beauty and the Beast show is incredibly outdated and not worth seeing. If Rise is open, then proceed directly to the ride, as you are about to enter the line, look to see if the Lightning Lane line is contained in its queue or if it is spilling out onto the Midway, if the latter is true turn around and do something else as the wait for that ride is currently accurate (and the ride just came back from a breakdown) if the LL queue is short, get in the line and you should only wait 45 min max. Ride then do the other stuff.
A Journey to the Dark Side-Experiencing Universal Orlando
I love going to Universal Orlando, it takes a lot less planning than Disney, and they have much more thrilling rides. The major attractions at this resort are themed to properties like Marvel, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Men in Black, The Mummy, etc. If you don’t think your kid is ready for these movies, then they are not ready for this park. Also, this park is not for people who can’t handle simulators and major coasters as there is not very many rides that they can ride if those categories are too much. The three water rides at Islands of Adventure are some of the best in existence but other then Jurassic Park River Adventure will get you completely drenched (like you just jumped in a pool wet) so come prepared. Universal also has a brand-new waterpark Volcano Bay that is a blast to visit. You can probably do this resort in 3-5 days. As for where to stay, that is easy, I recommend you stay at whatever hotel is the cheapest of these three Universal Hotels: Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, or Royal Pacific Resort. Why do I recommend those three resorts? Well for one they are really nice hotels that have free water taxi service to the two theme parks, but mainly because for every day of your stay at one of these resorts you get free Universal Express to the two theme parks. Express is Universal’s cut the line system, and is available for every ride but Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motobike Adventure and the Velocicoaster. You simply flash your room key and go in the Express line on every other ride, as many times as you want, without a reservation, all day long. Youll get so spoiled that a 15 min wait will cause you to be frustrated, it is so wonderful. The prices for rooms are also much closer to Disney’s Moderate Resort prices. That’s it, so for park planning my recommendation would be arriving 15-30 min before IOA opens, and then rope dropping Hagrids and then proceeding to Velocicoaster, after that do whatever you want the rest of the day. As for food, the best counter service in the parks is in the Potter Lands, but Springfield is not bad either. A trip to Universal is not complete without having at least one butterbeer product a day, that stuff is amazing in any form. The best table service restaurants are in City Walk (my personal favorites are Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Cowfish, and Bigfire.) Typically, since these parks usually close no later then 9pm except in the fall, I eat a lunch at a Potter tavern and dinner at park close in City Walk.
Universal has two night shows that run throughout the year, a projection show at Hogwarts Castle and the Cinimaspectacular Fountain show on the lagoon at the Studios. The Hogwarts show pretty much happens 365 days a year (but does change to a Dark Arts show for Halloween and the Christmas show in Nov/Dec) but the fountain show is usually restricted to Spring Break, Summer and during Horror Nights. Universal has seasonal events throughout the year just like Disney. From mid Feb-March they have their Mardi Gras event, where a bunch of Cajun food booths will be operating at the Studios park, and every night there will be a Mardi Gras parade as well. Fri/Sat a musical act will preform at the halfshell in the Sudio park as well (and sometimes these names can be very big.) Halloween however, is the best time to visit Universal. At Islands of Adventure, every night at dusk Death Eaters will take over the village of Hogsmeade and the Dark Arts projection show will occur on Hogwarts. The major event of the fall however is Halloween Horror Nights, the nations best Halloween theme park event at an amusement park. This is a separate ticketed event, and I highly suggest if you go you buy Express (which is not included with a hotel stay) to avoid 2 hour line for haunted houses. The heart of this event is the 10 haunted houses which are incredibly themed, approximately half of them will be themed to famous horror movies (Ive seen Freddy vs Jason, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, etc) and the other half will be original designs that can be incredibly creative. In addition, there will be 4 scarezones, a special fountain show, and another show. This past year it was a fire dancing/arealist group which was amazing. If you love horror movies, you need to go to this event. However, this is an adult event, and no one under high school age should go. Finally, during Christmas, a shorter version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade runs at the Studios (and yes there are balloons,) also during the first two Fridays and Saturdays in December Manheim Steamroller will preform for free in the halfshell. At Islands of Adventure Seuss Landing transforms into Whoville and hosts a 30 min Grinchmas show multiple times a day which is fantastic, and at night the Christmas at Hogwarts is the best projection show of the year shows. At both parks most of the live entertainment will do Christmas themed shows and the areas are dressed in their holiday best.