If you go to Disney World, you have a lot of choices: resorts, parks, attractions, restaurants ... And, everything changes so quickly, you'll never see it all. BUT there is a way to ensure you see more than the average guest. How? It's simple: Wake up early.
Now, you may be thinking, "I'm not a morning person, especially on vacation." Well, guess what?! Most people would agree with you. Which is EXACTLY why the morning is the best time to get to the parks. The crowds are lower, which means the lines are shorter. You could fit in more attractions before lunch than the average guest will fit in all day! Seriously.
In the Disney fan community, this strategy is called "rope drop." Here's how to do it:
- Depart for your chosen park at least one hour to 90 minutes prior to opening. This might seem insane, but you really do need that much time to drive/park or wait for Disney transportation, then get through bag check/security.
- Line up at the gates. Cast members will usually start letting guests scan their MagicBands and head inside about 30 minutes before the official opening time (depending on the park/day ... during peak times, they might even let you in earlier).
- Wait at the rope. In most cases, you'll be allowed to walk partway inside the park before you get stopped behind a rope or line of cast members. At the official park opening time (sometimes a few minutes earlier), they'll drop this rope or tell you to follow them further inside, hence the term "rope drop."
- Head to a headliner. Pick a popular attraction and head straight there for the lowest wait times of the day. Depending on what time you arrived, you could be first in line! Be sure to look at a map in advance so you're in the right spot and don't have to ask for directions.
- Do as much as you can. Ride the adrenaline high and ride as many attractions as you can before lunch. Depending on the park/day, you might even schedule a few FastPasses for later in the morning as the crowds build.
- Eat lunch and head back for a nap. No matter how old you and your children are, naps are extremely beneficial on a Disney vacation, especially if you're waking up for rope drop. Even if you don't fall asleep, a break will give you a chance to get out of the sun and crowds for a while. Then you can head back in the evening, refreshed and ready to see more.
As an example, here's how rope drop paid off for us on our first day at the Magic Kingdom.
- The park was scheduled to open at 8 a.m., so we woke Kenlee up at 6 a.m. and got to our resort bus stop by 6:30 a.m. We got lucky - a bus was there in just a few minutes and we were the only people on it!
- We arrived at the Magic Kingdom and got through bag check. Surprisingly, we were NOT the first people there! But the crowd was small enough that we took a few pictures in front of the train station and let Kenlee play some hopscotch on the bricks before lining up.
|Bright and early at the Magic Kingdom!|
- After scanning our MagicBands, we headed straight for the rope to the left side of the train station. We didn't have the best view of the Welcome Show, but we could still see it and enjoy.
- As the characters counted down, I picked up Kenlee and Kyle was ready to follow me, pushing the stroller. (If we put her in the stroller she wouldn't have been able to see much of Main Street in the crowd.)
|Excited to head down Main Street!|
- We did our best Black Friday speed walk toward Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which is where you can meet Anna and Elsa. This character meet is the most popular in all of Disney World, so we weren't lucky enough to secure FastPasses in advance. This was likely our only chance to see the Frozen sisters without a minimum one-hour wait.
- Despite taking a wrong turn in front of the castle instead of walking behind the castle (study those maps!), we were the FIFTH party in line to meet Anna and Elsa! Woohoo!
|Rope Drop ... WORTH IT!|
- After Kenlee met her ALL-TIME FAVORITE characters, we did the all of the following attractions before lunch at 11 a.m.:
- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
- Jungle Cruise
- Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain (this was our first FastPass).
I should note that this is a LOT of attractions in just a few hours - some people don't do that many in an entire day. AND, it the crowds were a 10 out of 10 at the Magic Kingdom that day. Boo-ya!
I'll admit, this sort of park touring is not for the faint of heart. If you can't handle Black Friday, you won't be a fan of rope drop. It's not violent, I promise, but it is a bit ... intense ... at least for your walk to the first attraction. After that, it's smooth sailing for an hour or two when the rest of the crowds will start arriving.
If you don't do rope drop, know this: showing up two hours after park opening and complaining about the crowds is just like showing up two hours into a Black Friday sale and complaining that all the flat screens are gone. Sorry! The early birds get the worm (and the shortest lines).
NOTE: If you're not sure which attractions you should visit in the morning, the TouringPlans website and app can help you! You sign up for a subscription ($12.95 for one year, plus you can find discount codes online), then you can enter your trip details and select which attractions you want to see. Based on their database of wait times and other information, the system will give you a custom plan for park touring. It will even suggest which FastPasses you should select, allow you to incorporate meals/breaks into your schedule and so much more. It's a great tool!
Because I didn't know what to expect, I made touring plans for each of our park visits but remained flexible. They were more of a guide than a schedule. But without them, I know we would have wasted time wandering around, trying to decide what we should see/do next.
Also, I should mention Kyle and I appreciated our nap times just as much as Kenlee! We didn't always fall asleep, but sometimes we needed to! When we went back in the parks, we were re-energized while everyone else was getting cranky from being out all day. (OK, sometimes we were cranky, too, but not as much as we would have been!)
So to repeat my No. 1 piece of advice: You might not be a morning person on a regular vacation, but you should be at Disney World! Rope drop is definitely the way to go if you want to see/do as much as possible AND have time to rest.