No one should wait more than 15 minutes for any Disney theme park attraction…no matter what season, day, or park. Touring Disney line-free can be done, even during the busy Spring Break, summer, and holiday seasons. In fact, my kids were unaware lines even existed at DisneyWorld and Disneyland until they were well into their school-aged years, and that’s exactly as it should be for great family Disney vacations. Below, I’ll show you how to avoid Disney lines in five steps by providing a ‘real world’ example of how we toured Disney Studios during Spring Break with ride lines under 15 minutes (so you can, too).
Get to the park at Rope Drop.
Sorry, late-risers, but this is non-negociable. If your park of choice opens at 9 am, as Disney Studios did the day we toured it, you need to be passing through the ticket stalls no later than 8:45 am. (Remember, parks have ‘soft’ openings; their main streets and entrance areas open earlier than their ‘lands’.) Park crowds snowball (and alarmingly fast!), and it’s important to stay ahead of the curve in the morning, to ensure you’re still ahead by midday. (Trust me.) If you’re arriving to your park by Disney transportation, I recommend leaving your resort one hour prior to park opening. During our Disney Studios day, we left Animal Kingdom Lodge at 8:15 (a bit late, but we had good bus karma), arrived at Disney Studios at 8:30, and were through the ticket booth five minutes before 9 am.
Disney’s FASTPASS is key to avoiding lines, and I’m always amazed to encounter park guests who still don’t realize what it does and that it’s free. Here’s how FASTPASS works, in a nutshell:
1. For rides offering FP (look on your park map for the FP emblem), locate the FASTPASS Distribution kiosks. They’ll be next to the ride entrance or exit.
2. Insert your Key to the World Card or park ticket (whatever you used to enter the park), and the kiosk will issue a FASTPASS ticket (and your own ticket back). You can gather up your whole family’s tickets and do them all at once.
3. Check the FP ticket for your return time. It will be an hour window. Disney Cast Members will tell you you need to return to ride within that window, but we have found you can return any time after the first time listed (they don’t ‘expire’). However, I’ve heard this may change, if it hasn’t already, at least at DisneyWorld.
4. Your ticket will also show a time you may secure your next FP or set of FP. (That’s important too, as you’ll see below.)
5. Return to the ride at your appointed time window, and enter the FASTPASS Return line. You’ll need those tickets, so hang onto them.
6. Bypass the stand-by line, and enjoy the ride!
Prioritize your FASTPASS ride options.
Before you enter the park, you’ll want to identify your top four priority FastPass-enabled rides. Obviously, your choice will depend on your family, their needs (and their heights). On our Disney Studios day, our FP plan was: Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours. Our goal: to ride all four, with a 15 minute or less wait, and visit other attractions in-between, all before noon. Here’s how we executed it:*
1. Upon entering the park, we went directly to Rock ‘n Roller Coaster (next to Tower of Terror). We secured FP times for RnR (return time of 9:35-10:35), then walked right over to Tower of Terror and rode stand-by (5 minute wait). Upon exiting Tower of Terror at 9:15, we noted that the stand-by line wait time was now 30 minutes (and we’d note that by 9:30, it had grown to 70 minutes). Remember that snowball effect? It’s never more pronounced than during Spring Break or holiday times!
2. After exiting Tower of Terror at 9:15, we grabbed some breakfast at the nearby counter service restaurant (no lines or crowds at this hour), and while everyone was eating, I walked across the park to Star Tours to secure our next set of FPs, even though we’d yet to use our first set. (Remember, you don’t have to wait until you’ve used your previous FPs to secure new ones. The time you’re ‘released’ to secure new FPs is printed on your most recent FP.) After I returned, we walked over to RnR at 9:45 to ride.
3. After exiting RnR at 10:00, we headed toward Star Tours, pausing to let the kids play at the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play lot in the shade until our allotted FP time (10:25-11:25). While they played, I watched the clock in order to cross the street to Toy Story Mania as soon as we were allowed another set of FPs.
4. Once I’d secured the Toy Story Mania FPs, we walked over to Star Tours and rode at 10:45. After exiting at 11 am, we caught the MuppetVision 3-D show (stand-by wait: 5 minutes), and exited at 11:30, just in time to use our Toy Story Mania FPs (11:45-12:45).
5. We rode Toy Story Mania, and were ready for lunch, having (peacefully) enjoyed all our ‘biggies’ at the park, by 12:05 pm.
*To execute our plan, you’ll need either two adults, or one adult and one tween or teen who’s willing (and trusted) to traverse the park.
Save shows, parades, and ‘low priority’ FP rides for the afternoon.
With all your high priority rides done, you’ll be able to spend time in the afternoon watching shows that don’t include a wait time or taking in a parade. Or better yet, go back to your hotel for a swim or a nap!
If you know you’ll want to ride an attraction twice, make it your first stop.
If you’re sure you’ll want to ride something twice, secure FPs for it, then immediately ride it stand-by (your first ride should be your only stand-by ride all day during busy seasons).
If someone’s too short for a ride everyone else enjoys, do the parent swap on top of your FP.
To utilize the Parent Swap, simply tell the Cast Member outside the FP line of your intention. Proceed through the FP line, then have one adult wait with the child while the other members of your party ride. Afterward, the first parent can immediately ride while the second parent supervises the child, ensuring he or she doesn’t have to wait as long (and you don’t need to wait in even the FP line twice). As a bonus, the other members of your party can often ride twice in a row.
An exception for parents of small children:
If your children are small and the bulk of your time in the park will be on non-FP attractions that garner long lines (such as rides in Fantasyland, ToonTown, or California Adventure’s Bug’s Life), ride as many as possible directly after rope drop before the wait time reaches above 15 minutes. (In our experience, this rule of thumb ensures 30-45 minutes of ride time before Fantasyland and Co ‘snowballs’.) Once the ride lines creep above 15 minutes, get out and grab FPs! Better yet, send one adult to grab FPs while the other adult plays in Fantasyland.