The number one complaint about Disney parks I always hear from non-Disney-obsessed people is that they’re too crowded. The number of people in the parks at any given time is oppressive, and it makes enjoying yourself a near impossibility. False. But while I can’t magically erase a person’s agoraphobia (or, more specifically, enochlophobia), I can perhaps point out a few reasons that the crowds aren’t as bad as you might think.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the Disney parks are crowded, and visiting any of the Disney parks with the misguided expectation that the crowds and lines will be a minor inconvenience says more about a person’s ability to think rationally than it does about the vacation experience. Having to explain to someone that he or she needs to take crowd size and line wait times into account during his or her vacation is like having to explain to someone that if you enjoy surfing off the southern coast of South Africa amongst a crowd of tasty looking seals, you might end up in the belly of a great white shark. Do just a little freaking research! Dealing with the crowds comes with the territory, but I think there are some scenarios in which the crowds actually add to the excitement of the Disney experience. Seriously.
Do you enjoy the frenetic pace and bustling excitement of the holiday season, especially around malls and shopping centers? I sure do. It’s intoxicating and lends a sense of inevitability to the approaching joy, like a holiday countdown that only increases in intensity as the moment of celebration draws closer. (I’m not talking about Black Friday madness, though. Middle-aged parents throat punching each other over deals on Playstations is hardly the holiday spirit.) I love walking around the Mall of Georgia — one of the biggest mall complexes in the country — the week before Christmas and soaking in all of the holiday energy. It feels great to be surrounded by people quickly trying to find the perfect gift for their loved ones, becoming equally saturated in the holiday excitement. Visiting Walt Disney World between the week before Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day is like that times ten.
Once the holiday decorations go up, the crowds become energized with a positivity that simply isn’t present during any other time of the year. The joy children feel visiting the parks is amplified by the excitement they feel towards the approaching holiday season. Parents are sharing in that joy, and the special events combined with the unique decorations around every corner put everyone in a great mood. I’ve never experienced such warm and genuinely fun crowds as we saw two years ago when we visited the week before Thanksgiving. It was spectacular — even considering that Rad Hallie got strep, which I will argue would have been far more miserable at any other time of year. The weather was perfect, the decorations were amazing, and the Magic Kingdom the day before Thanksgiving was a crowded hub of people bursting with happiness and love. Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but I challenge you to visit during the holiday season and tell me that I’m wrong.
A close second, of course, would be during the Fall when the Halloween decorations go up. Halloween is just a fun holiday in general — I’m biased, of course, because it’s my birthday — and adding spooky decorations and the ability to dress up while visiting the parks just increases the fun and makes everyone wear their spirit on the outside. It doesn’t hurt that Dapper Day also falls during this time period, giving guests a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in an event that, while increasing overall park capacity, lends an air of wonder to the look and feel of the parks for just one day. It’s an event that we’ve never been able to take part in, but I’m hoping that the Rad family will one day get to stroll through the parks in our most dapper attire — which will probably be new because we currently own no dapper attire.
And let’s not forget festivals, especially Flower and Garden and Food and Wine. Even though many of the festivals are unique to Epcot, they are seasonal breaths of fresh air and give guests something else to experience that’s not directly related to an Epcot attraction. In fact, I would argue that the festivals have a positive effect on crowd size because they can help bleed off attendance from some of the more popular Epcot attractions and might allow you to sneak in with a relatively low wait time. We visit Disney often during Flower and Garden, and the Rad girls love the creative topiaries and the butterfly enclosure, which usually has more than a few bunny guest stars as well. Like the aforementioned seasonal themes, the Epcot festivals make a special place even, uh, “specialer” and help to disperse the large crowds among many different points of interest. On our last trip, our most relaxing day by far was our day at Epcot, strolling around the World Showcase and enjoying the sights, the good food, and the topiary photo opportunities. Walt Disney World was very crowded that week (as I’ll explain in a second), but walking around Epcot was refreshing. From the back near The American Adventure, it was almost impossible to discern how crowded the park was up front near Spaceship Earth. Because we were there early for rope drop, we hit all of the attractions up front before noon and had the rest of the day to enjoy the World Showcase at our leisure.
But what about Spring Break, you say? One of the absolute worst times to visit Walt Disney World because it coincides with many states’ Spring Breaks as well as Europeans’ Spring holidays, right? (The absolute worst time is typically thought to be near the beginning of April when many school districts are out and the Easter holiday is approaching, which is when the largest volume of European travelers arrives as well.) You’re not wrong, but hear me out. We’ve traveled to Walt Disney World on Spring Break more than at any other time of year, mainly because we have to due to my work schedule. (We’re both teachers, but I work all summer because, well, we’re both teachers. #teacherlife) Yes, the crowds on Spring Break are simply massive. On our last trip, the Magic Kingdom reached its maximum capacity on a Wednesday. I didn’t even know that was a thing! I mean, obviously, there is a limit for how many people can safely be in one place at one time, even in the Most Magical Place on Earth, but I didn’t know it was a measly one hundred thousand people. I thought it would have been something closer to ten million people, or maybe nine billion people, but one hundred thousand people? That’s about how many fit inside Sanford Stadium when the Dawgs are kicking the crap out of Tech (Go, Dawgs!). So what did we do when we heard that they were turning people away at the gate? We enjoyed our day! There’s something that makes me smile when you’re seeing the worldwide phenomenon that is Walt Disney World in person. There are large family groups or tour groups from a variety of
countries running around the parks, many of them seeing it all for the first time. You can’t begrudge anyone a moment of absolute childlike wonder when visiting a place like the Magic Kingdom for the first time, no matter how large the group of people he or she is with is. Yes, wait times stack up and the Orlando heat is bearing down on, but many of the large groups on Spring Break behave predictably — meaning they plunge in and endure wait times rather than meticulously planning out their FastPass strategy. (I imagine it’s exceedingly difficult to manage FastPasses for more than ten people.) This allows you to plan out your day to maximize your experience while simultaneously enjoying the happiness of thousands of first-timers descending on the parks. It’s exhilarating and endearing, yet we never waited for more than a few minutes for any attraction that day, despite sharing the park with 99,996 other guests. (Pro Tip: many families and tour groups from outside the country are keen to ride the most popular rides and meet the most popular characters, so you’ll find attractions such as the Carousel of Progress as empty as you would on any other day.)
Look, if crowds just aren’t your thing, none of what I’ve said probably makes any difference to you, but I congratulate you on reading this far and improving my blog numbers. The overall point is that the thing we’re often trying to avoid when we visit Disney can sometimes add to the experience, or even enhance it, in ways that we might not be expecting. In terms of objections related to visiting the parks at various times of the year, I would personally rate the weather far higher than the expected crowd size. The Florida weather is fickle and can turn on you in an instant, rendering your best-laid plans null and void, but for the most part, you can always expect the Disney crowds, regardless of size, to be there for the same reason: to experience the magic of Walt Disney World and share it with some people they truly care about.
Rad Dad, out.
Thanks to @magicalshannonmarie and @dougdoesdisney for the photo assist! Check them both out on Instagram!