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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Holiday crowds and park closures

It's time for another Tip Tuesday!

As we approach what is, without a shred of doubt, the busiest time of year at Walt Disney World, I'm often asked about how to deal with the gigantic crowds at the parks.

While it's true that the parks are crowded during this time of year, it's also generally true that they're not insanely busy for every single second that the parks are open.

DisneyDaddy veterans will know what I'm about to say (and will probably say it with me):  Get there early!

I can't stress enough how important it is to get to the park well before park opening (no less than 30 minutes).  These days with many of the parks no longer having a formal opening ceremony (Magic Kingdom excepted), cast members often open the turnstiles several minutes before the official opening time. 

What you get by arriving early is a few hours of relatively low crowds.  If you examine crowd levels by the hour, you'll notice that the crowd amounts start to sharply increase around 10 a.m. and become insane before Noon, so those few hours become critical.  This is the time to get initial rides in on those attractions you or your family are most interested in experiencing.

After those golden hours are gone - what do you do next?

You've got some decisions to make and a bit of a roll of the dice as well.  Given that these are the most crowded days of the year, the parks often do (for a time) reach capacity and close to guests in phases.  While Disney won't officially say how they decide to institute a park closure,  it's suspected that when crowd levels get to the point when overall guest safety and enjoyment is becoming affected, Disney begins to limit the number of people coming into the park.  This goes in a series of phases, from 1-4.  The phases are believed to be implemented in the following ways (source:  Touringplans.com):

Phase 1 Closure
Casual visitors are turned away at the automobile toll plazas. This means that people without tickets, those with one-day, single-park tickets, and those intending to use cast member passes will not be allowed to park.  The following types of guests may enter:
  • Those with multi-day or multi-park tickets
  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those "hopping" from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation
Phase 2 Closure
Those included in Phase 1,The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:
  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those "hopping" from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation
Phase 3 Closure
The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:
Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
Phase 4 Closure
The park and parking lot are closed to all arriving guests.

It's important to stress here that while a park may (and often does during busy times of the year) go all the way to a phase 4 closure, such a closure doesn't automatically last all day.  It's possible that later in the day and into the evening, the crowd levels may have diminished to the point where Disney will decide to scale back the closure level or lift the closure completely.

So as you can see, depending on which criteria you meet on the list above, you could be impacted by even a phase 1 closure.  So if you decide to leave the park once the crowds get high, you very well may not be able to get back into the park, at least for a while.  This is where the roll of the dice comes into play.  If you decide to head back to your hotel/resort for a while or go off-property for a bit, will you be able to later enter the same or another park?  That's a tough call.  I can tell you that if you want to be in the Magic Kingdom for those incredible New Year's Eve fireworks, you'd better be at the Magic Kingdom in the morning and plan to be there all day long.  If you leave, you're not getting back in.

If you do end up getting shut out of one park, don't assume that all the parks are closed.  It's quite possible that you can get into another park.  Even if you can't get into a park, you can always find a lot to do at the various resorts or Downtown Disney (keep in mind that parking might be limited, so be prepared for a bit of a walk).

Also keep in mind that you don't have to be at the Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks.  There are great viewing locations along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon, especially at the Polynesian Resort.

No matter how you decide to handle the crowds, please be calm and courteous to your fellow guests.  There may be a lot of people who are tired and grumpy, but there's no need for anyone to be rude or mean to each other.  You're in the happiest place on Earth - try to keep it that way!

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