The Disney parks are wonderful places. There are so many amazing things to see. This means there is also a lot of people going. There are ways to optimize your time and avoid some of the massive crowds to have a great time.
When to Go
The first key element for a smooth time at a Disney park is to choose the right time of the year and days of the week to go.
You may be planning a specific trip to Disney or happen to be in the vicinity during an unrelated trip and what to go for a day or two. In the first case, try to schedule your trip during the low season. It varies based on the location. Avoid Christmas and New Years, Spring Break, and summer/school vacation. China and Japan are not exactly on the same schedule. You also have to consider Chinese New Year’s and other asian national holidays. I’m sure this is not news to you or a big revelation but it does make a huge difference. If you are choosing a day of the week to go, try to go between Tuesday and Thursday. Gray and rainy days are even better if you hope to go on a lot of rides. Weekends are extremely crowded, even more so in Tokyo.
The first time I went to Walt Disney World resort in Florida, it was January 6 to 13, 2005. It was right after the Christmas and New Year's rush. It was much calmer. There are still plenty of people but the wait time is a lot more decent and you have room to walk around comfortably.
In early September 2005, I went to Disneyland Tokyo during a Typhoon. The typhoon was in the south of Japan. Tokyo was safe but really rainy. There was pretty much no one there. We were able to do Journey to the Center of the Earth 8 times and Indiana Jones 10 times. We would run out of the ride and right back in. Obviously this is an extreme case. There are no parades, shows, or fireworks during such extreme conditions. It all depends why you are going there.
When you arrive at the park, you need to purchase your tickets. There is often a very long line to get in. You can purchase your tickets online or at a Disney store ahead of time and skip the line.
At my last visit to Tokyo DisneySea, I purchased my tickets two days early at the Disney store in Shibuya, Tokyo.
When you already have your tickets, the only line left is the bag check prior to entering the park. It's not very long, but it cannot be skipped. Get there early.
I cannot stress this enough, get there at the opening time. Some tickets in some parks also give you access to magical hours either before the general public opening or after the official closing time. This is often part of vacation package deals.
Make sure to check the opening and closing hours for your specific dates. They vary quite a bit depending on the day, season, theme park, and country.
The reason to get there at the opening time is that less people are there and it gives you a chance to get a Fastpass for your favourite ride and even get in line right away for it. On a very crowded day, Fastpasses are gone within the first hour.
Everyone goes for their favourite ride first. Then the crowd fans out to various locations. People come in gradually and a noon it peaks.
What are Fastpasses? They are passes allowing to skip the regular standby line and go into the fast line. They are free. You usually skip the long line (often one or two-hour wait time) and join in at the last possible point, resulting in a 15 to 20-minute wait time.
There is a limited number issued. You use your ticket to get a Fastpass at the automated booth of the ride you want a pass for. The pass indicates a time range when it can be used. It's usually a couple hours later. It all depends how many Fastpasses were already issued to visitors during the day. There is a maximum number issued per time range block. When there is a lot of people, the passes are gone really fast.
There is a minimum of 2-hour interval to get another Fastpass, and you can only get one Fastpass per ride until the pass you are holding becomes valid.
All that to say that they are a great way to save a ton of wait time. Looking into it and doing a bit of time management will be quite beneficial.
The Disney parks present several shows and parades per day. Depending on your priorities, you may want to use this time to line up for rides. In Tokyo, a good portion of the visitors attend the shows. It's a great moment to get in line for your favourite ride.
If you want to see the shows, which are fabulous, get the program early in the morning and select which ones you want to see. For a good spot, you have to stand or sit where you want to be ahead of time, sometime 30 minutes to one hour prior. Factor that in as some downtime to relax your legs and feet and just look at all the joyful and dressed up people.
Downtime is important to pace your day and not feel like you were run over by a truck at the end of your visit.
Lunchtime and dinnertime are great moments to take a break. It's worth it to spend a bit more money on your meal to sit down in a restaurant instead of lining up at the food carts for a piece of junk food. You will see that these junk food lines are really long while the lines in sit down restaurants are generally shorter. Consider sitting down and resting while eating for an hour or so.
There are priority seating restaurants that can be reserved a few days before or on the day. One of the most common one is The Blue Bayou located in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The other theme parks also have their priority seating restaurants such as Tokyo DisneySea with the S.S. Columbia ship and the Magellan’s. You can call or reserve online ahead of time or on the day. They have a quantity of seat for prior reservations and on the day reservations. On the day, you have to go online early or go to the restaurant directly as soon as you arrive. The spots get taken fast.
The nice thing about priority seating is that you have your table reserved at a specific time. There is no need to wait in line or find a place to eat or sit down. It's all taken care of. You will have a great meal, great service, and a good break.
You can also bring your own picnic. There are designated areas outside of the parks to eat. You have to consider going back to your car and getting your picnic when it's time to eat. You can't bring it in the park.
It's really fun to stay until the last minute, but when everybody leaves at the closing time, there is a bottleneck to exit the park, as well as to get on the train or exit the parking lot. It’s a massive crowd. If you don't mind it, you can stay until closing time and see Mickey wave goodbye from the train station (this doesn't happen in all the parks). You can also see the fireworks (check the schedule. It’ not every night.) and last shows of the evening, but you can also leave 30 minutes to one hour before the closing time and avoid some of the crowd.
I tested these tips myself many times. Over the years, I tweaked them to get more relaxed and efficient. Let me know if you have more tips or if you tried any of these outs!
Have a magical day!
Who Am I? I'm many things. I'm passionate about tons of stuff. I love travel. I love self-improvement. I'm a sucker for optimization, efficiency, and minimalism. I renewed with mathematics and science, those are so amazing. Astronomy and chemistry are just plain awesome! I'm a student, a mentor, a traveler, a learner, an artist, an animator, and Disney brings me tears of joy! I love to grow and I will never stop! So who am I? All that and everything else I have not discovered about myself yet. It's a never ending answer!
Qui suis je? Je suis beaucoup de choses. Je suis passionné des tonnes de trucs. J'adore voyager. J'adore la croissance personnelle. Je suis vendue à l'optimisation, l'efficacité et le minimalisme. J'ai renoué avec les mathématiques et les sciences, des mondes tout simplement incroyable. L'astronomie et la chimie sont tout simplement génial! Je suis étudiante, mentor, voyageuse, artiste, animatrice et Disney m'apporte des larmes de joie! J'aime me pousser à fond et je ne cesserai jamais! Alors, qui suis-je? Tout cela et tout le reste que je n'ai pas encore découvert de moi-même. C'est une réponse sans fin!