The best and worst times to visit the Disney parks

The Disney parks are great to visit all year round. However, if you want avoid overly crowded restaurants and extra long lines for rides (and whining kids), there are a few specific times you should consider planning your trip. 

Family-focused online travel agency Undercover Tourist took a look at the busiest times to go to both Disneyland and Disney World and recently revealed a list of recommended times to visit to avoid the crowds.

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8 insider secrets for the best Disney World vacation ever
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8 insider secrets for the best Disney World vacation ever

Stay on-site at a Disney hotel

Staying on site can be a timer saver, says Shani Wolf, a travel consultant specializing in Disney vacations. Not only can you use Disney’s transportation to get from park to park, purchases made in the parks can be delivered to your room and Disney’s Magical Express will transport you from Orlando International Airport to your hotel—you don’t even have to wait for your luggage. There are hotels at every price range from the budget Disney's All-Star Sports Resorts to the luxury Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

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Take advantage of early Extra Magic hours

Another advantage to staying at an on-site hotel: you’ll have access to Extra Magic Hours at select parks on certain days. Although these hours can be in the morning or evening, Tom Murray, a 20-year Disney travel expert, says that it’s best to go in the morning. “Guests have the flexibility of moving at a slower, more relaxed pace and can then save their FastPass+ reservations for later in the day when the crowds and wait times increase,” he says. Before the park opens to the general public, you’ll have already experienced Space Mountain or Rockin’ Roller Coaster (where wait times can normally exceed two hours) and can enjoy a leisurely breakfast while the masses charge at rope drop.

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Eat at unusual times

Eating your mid-day meal at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. can pay off. Sure, you’d rather eat lunch at noon, but so would everyone else. Wolf suggests eating at non-peak times to cut down on time spent waiting in line to order your food. Here are some things you should make sure to book in advance of your Disney World trip.

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Miss a fireworks show or two

Fireworks and parades are something special at Walt Disney World, however, if you’re willing to miss one or two, Murray says show times are the best time to check out popular rides. “These are key opportunities to get in line for your favorite attractions, since most guests will be gathering to see these events,” he says.

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Don't follow the crowd

The excitement of entering Epcot or the Magic Kingdom for the first time might lead you to the closest ride right away. Of course, that’s where everyone else is headed, too. Instead, Wolf suggests walking a bit further at the beginning of the day. “Earlier in the day, it’s a good idea to start visiting the attractions in the back of the park and work your way forward,” he says.

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Book a breakfast reservation before park opening

Several restaurants inside the Magic Kingdom open an hour earlier than the park for breakfast. Some even offer character breakfasts, which Murray says can save your family time later because you’ll already have that much-needed autograph and won’t need to wait in line to meet Cinderella or Minnie Mouse. This trick works for the other parks, too. Do note, though, that reservations at popular breakfast places (like Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom) can be booked up weeks or months in advance, so it’s best to make your dining reservation as close to the allowed 180 days out as possible. (Set up an account at Disneyworld.com to make reservations.)

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Use the services of a Disney vacation consultant 

You might be used to traditional travel agents who charge fees, so here’s a surprise: “Authorized Disney vacation consultants such as myself do not charge a fee for their services,” Wolf says. “Disney makes sure I get compensated so that their guests are not out a cent.” Using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner can save you time because they can make reservations, help with special needs, and walk you through technology like the My Disney Experience app. Check out these secret spots in Disney parks you never knew existed.

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Take a break

Your Disney vacation shouldn’t be all go, go, go. In fact, you should try to go back to your hotel for a swim or rest mid-day, Wolf says. This tip might seem counterintuitive if you really want to get the most out of your vacation, but it makes sense. Wolf says you’ll return to the parks feeling refreshed and able to stay through until closing, long after many guests have left, thus leaving rides with shorter wait times.

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Not surprisingly, weekends tend to be the most packed, so the agency suggests finding time to go during the week if possible. They also advise avoiding major holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving and long weekends over Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.

If you plan to make the trip to Disneyland in California, UT says the best times to go include the first few days in March (up to March 9th), weekdays in the second half of April, weekdays in May, weekends during the last two weeks of August and Monday through Thursday in November and the first half of December (excluding Thanksgiving). 

If you're planning a trip to Disney World in Florida, the agency recommends going anytime between February 25th and March 8th, the second half of August, most days in September, most weekdays in October and weekdays in November and December (again, minus major winter holidays). 

One thing to keep in mind if you're traveling later in the year is that both Disneyland and Disney World will be opening the highly-anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy Edge in the fall. The section in each of the parks will be dedicated to the sci-fi saga with rides, costumes and more. So, anytime after that may be busier than usual.

Of course, no matter when you go, Disney parks will always be full. However, you can check in with Undercover Tourist's crowd calendar to check on any dates that you may be looking to visit.

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Secrets about Disney cruises
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Secrets about Disney cruises

The cast-to-guest ratio is impressive

With 1,250 staterooms, the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream can each accommodate 4,000 guests—and each ship has 1,450 cast members (Disney's name for its parks' employees). That means that when the ship is at full capacity, the ratio of cast members to guests is 1 for every 2.76 guests.

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Cast members come from all over the world

Just like in the Walt Disney World parks, cast members on the cruise represent almost every nation around the globe. On a recent sailing, there were cast members from 66 different countries, ranging from Poland and Serbia to Indonesia and Jamaica.

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Your server will speak your language

Those international cast members come in handy when it's time to order dinner. When you register for the cruise, you'll be asked which language you speak. You'll then be paired with a server who speaks the same language. And if you're American? No worries. All cast members, no matter from which continent they hail, are required to speak English. These are the three words Disney cast members can't say (in any language).

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Your servers will rotate through the restaurants with you

Don't be surprised to see a familiar face or two each night at dinner. Your head server, server, and assistant server rotate through the three main restaurants—Enchanted Garden, Royal Court, and Animator's Palate on the Fantasy—with you each night. "That helps us get to know your likes and dislikes," says a head server. "For example, if you like lemon with your water or your child wants apple slices, we can have it waiting at the table when you arrive." Heading to the park? These are the 10 new foods at Disney World you must try.

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Tipping is optional

On the Disney Cruise Line, tips are automatically added for dinners, beverage purchases that aren't included with your fare (alcohol, specialty coffee, fresh juices at the spa, and smoothies), room service, and spa treatments. In addition, your stateroom host will be tipped at the end of the cruise. Even though the tips are automatically included, guests can opt to have that amount lowered or raised at guest services at any point during the sailing. Don't miss these 14 ways to save on your next Disney trip.

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Your server is a wealth of info

Because tipping is optional, a good server will go out of his or her way to find helpful tips to share with you. "We know where the best spots on the ship are to view the fireworks on Pirate Night (always on the starboard side) and which of the shows are worth catching (Don't miss Aladdin on the Fantasy or Frozen on the Wonder)—or skipping," says a cast member. Here are 12 etiquette rules Disney employees need to follow.

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The ship's decor is a secret code

Not sure if you're on the starboard or port side, or facing forward or aft? (That's boat speak for "left," "right," "forward," and "back.") Look to the doors and the carpet. The staterooms on the starboard (left) side have fish sculptures as door markers, and those fish are swimming aft (toward the back), while the staterooms on the port side has seahorse sculptures that are also facing the rear of the ship. As for the carpet, the point of the star and the North point on the compass are pointing to the ship's front. Speaking of secrets, discover the hidden spots you never knew existed at Disney.

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The kids' clubs are a hot spot for unique character spotting

If your children are big fans of a Disney movie or show, including Toy Story, Star Wars, or Doc McStuffins, make sure they're in Disney's Oceaneer's Club or Edge during the activity corresponding to the movie, like Space Ranger training or Jedi recruitment. Beloved characters will often make a surprise appearance, so your little one just might get to be face to face with Toy Story's Jessie or Star Wars's BB-8. Unfortunately there are no autograph books or cameras allowed, so this is one experience at Disney that will live on only as a happy memory.

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You can skip the photo package

At $149 for ten photos, the professional photos the ship's photographers take are one of the items on the ship with the biggest markup. Instead of shelling out for the official photo of your child meeting Anna and Elsa, stand behind the photographer and take the exact same shot with your camera or smartphone. Learn what else you should skip (or splurge on) during Disney cruises.

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We get eight weeks vacation

The majority of crew members are on a four-to-five-month contract, after which they must take a mandatory eight-week vacation. "Let's face it, it's hard work being 'on' six days out of seven. It's good to go home and see our families and recharge our batteries," says one crew member. They do also work on different ships and might be asked to change ships at a moment's notice.

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They eat a lot of chicken

Each week before setting sail, the ship is loaded with about 12,000 pounds of chicken, 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of beef, and 10,000 to 12,000 bottles of wine, according to Disney Cruise Line hotel director Alberto Boscoe.

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You can order off any of the restaurants' menus

If you loved the chateaubriand from Royal Court so much that you want it again the next night in Animator's Palate, even though it's not on the menu, chances are, your server will give it to you. Check the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to get a preview of the nightly menu.

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Working in a specialty restaurant is a coveted job

With only 12 servers each, Palo or Remy (on all four of the Disney Cruise Line ships) are the most desired restaurants for servers, but the job does come with an added challenge. "Because there are only 12 of us, it can be hard to get along," says one Palo server. "The benefit of being in the larger dining room is that if you don't like someone, you don't have to work with them."

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Your opinions count

On the last day of the cruise, guests are asked to rate all their servers and stateroom attendants on a comment card. "Our managers really do read all of those, and if we've made a guest unhappy, we'll definitely be reprimanded," shares one cast member. On the other hand, share if they did something that made you happy, because praise counts too.

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White uniforms don't signify we're steering the boat

Unlike on many other ships, wearing a classic white uniform doesn't mean staffers are the captain or even first mate; it means that they're managers, explains one cast member. The epaulets hold a clue as to which department they're in: theatrical masks are for entertainment, a propeller is for traditional ship crew, and an oval means they're part of the deck team. Learn about 10 dress code rules all Disney employees have to follow.

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Skyline Bar holds some surprises

The backdrop of the bar Skyline changes every 12 minutes, rotating through the European cities where the Disney ships have port calls, including London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. If you look closely, you'll see that the people on the city streets are actually characters from Star Wars. "My favorite is London, where Darth Vader has the flat above Mickey Mouse," shares a cast member. Check out these other awesome perks adults will love about Disney cruises.

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Even we don't know about the next top-secret ship launch

Only very senior cast members know the name and itinerary of the ship that will be launched in 2019—and they're very tight-lipped! "I'm hoping for Japan," shares one server. Only time will tell. Don't miss these other 23 secrets Disney employees won't tell you.

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