Summer Touring Tips and Strategies in Orlando

| July 3, 2010

It’s summer in Orlando, and here’s a news flash; it’s hot and crowded in the theme parks!  Temperatures can easily climb into the 90s with a heat index into the 100s.  Crowd levels at the theme parks can build throughout the day.  For many theme park veterans this is not surprising, but for the first-time visitor or the family who only visits Orlando every 10 years heat and crowds can catch you off-guard, especially if you haven’t done your research and planning before leaving home.

So, what are you to do to minimize the impacts of the heat and crowds?  Granted, there are some obvious, simple solutions like spending time in shaded areas, or checking wait times at the attraction entrance.  These simple solutions, although they help, are very reactionary.  To minimize the impact of heat and crowds you really need to take a more proactive approach to visiting the theme parks.

During a recent trip to Orlando’s theme parks, I mentioned to my wife how it seemed more and more visitors have discovered some of the tips and strategies I’m about to mention.  It’s become apparent more guests are planning and becoming more proactive to avoiding the heat and crowds during their summer visit.  For instance, during a Wednesday morning visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) our family arrived early before the park opened.  Our hope was to catch two quick rides on Toy Story Mania before the lines grew to be unmanageable.  When we arrived to DHS we were shocked to see the lines at the turnstiles to be well past the marquee entrance.  Once Cast Members began allowing guests into the park we knew to go to the right rope area near the Hollywood Brown Derby.  Most guests wait on Hollywood Blvd. and do not know there is a roped-off entrance near the Brown Derby making it less crowded.  However, we were surprised to see a good number of visitors waiting in this area.  It didn’t appear to be a secret any longer.

Here are some good, somewhat secret tips and strategies to consider before visiting the Orlando theme parks this summer.  They will help make your vacation more enjoyable during the height of the summer heat and crowds.

Early to bed and early to rise makes a family happy, healthy, and wise

Sure, this sounds very cliché and simple, but how many families come to Orlando with the thought of arriving to the parks early and getting to bed early, but get caught staying in the parks too late and can’t answer their wake-up call the next morning.  It’s hard to stay disciplined on vacation.  You feel a certain level of freedom and staying out late is one of your indulgences.  For those families who can answer their wake-up call and get to the parks before they open, they will be able to enjoy some of the theme parks’ best attractions with little to no wait.  It’s true most families are not early risers, especially if they are not disciplined to get to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening.  Your family can take advantage of this by arriving early and enjoying the most popular attractions before the heat of the day creeps into the theme parks.  You will be amazed at what you can enjoy and accomplish before 1:00 PM.  Around this time you should exit the theme park.  You may feel like a fish going upstream as most guests are pouring into the park and you will be one of the few guests leaving.  At this point, you should head back to your resort for an afternoon swim, relax in your room (a nap comes to mind), or to just hang out in your resort’s lobby area.  Later, around 6:00 PM, you could choose to head to a different theme park for a nice meal, an evening parade, or to catch a couple other attractions.  By choosing to use this touring strategy your family will have avoided the Orlando sun during its peak, and the largest crowds and wait times of the day.  Your family will be happy to know they avoided the heat and crowds.  Healthy, because they are well-rested and avoided the heat of the day.  Finally, you will feel wise knowing the strategy you just used maximized your day.  A sense of satisfaction comes over you in a place where outsmarting other guests is difficult.

Evening Extra Magic Hours are a blessing…..Really?

I’ll admit it right now; I’m not a fan of evening Extra Magic Hours (EMH) at Disney World.  However, I say that begrudgingly because they can drastically work to your advantage in the summer.  Not in the traditional way.  Enjoying 3 extra hours in a theme park at night with just resort guests may seem like paradise, but trust me, that’s not the reason to jump for joy over evening Extra Magic Hours.  There is a crowd consolidation affect when it comes to evening Extra Magic Hours at Disney World.  Basically, as the other theme parks close somewhat earlier for the evening many resort guests will choose to flock to the park with evening EMH.  This creates large crowds in the evening EMH park.  So, attending the evening EMH park really makes no sense if you are going to wait in long lines for attractions.

How can evening EMH work to your advantage?  Since, a good number of resort guests will visit the park with evening EMH the night before it’s a safe bet those same guests will choose to visit a different park the next day.  This is where you can take advantage of evening EMH.  Your family should choose to visit the park that had evening EMH the night before.  Crowds should be smaller since many guests will be at a different park allowing your family to enjoy shorter wait times and more comfortable conditions at attractions and shows.  Don’t underestimate this strategy.  It’s one our family uses on a consistent basis that works time after time.  It makes a noticeable difference in our enjoyment of the theme parks.

Fastpass two step – A multitasking approach

I’ve always believed whenever you can do two things at once without sacrificing enjoyment along the way it’s a good thing.  Disney’s Fastpass system was designed to reserve your place in line while you went out and enjoyed the rest of the theme park’s attractions and amenities.  So, how can you maximize this benefit further?  There are a couple actions your family can take to use the Fastpass system and save more time along the way.

Let’s face it, not everyone in your family is suited for every Disney attraction.  Some family members may enjoy Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while some little ones may feel it’s too intense.  This type of example can hold true in all of the Disney theme parks.  This potential problem could work to your advantage.  While a couple of your family members are enjoying one attraction, the other family members can head to a Fastpass attraction and retrieve fastpasses for the entire family.  Make sure to have a designated meeting spot before splitting up.  You can use this strategy throughout the day assuming fastpasses are available for the specific attraction and you have waited long enough to retrieve additional fastpasses.  This strategy works well and can dramatically cut down on your wait times at more popular attractions.

There are areas within Disney’s theme parks where very popular attractions are close to each other; for example Rock N’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror at DHS.  Who knows if it was done intentionally or unintentionally by the powers at Disney?  Either way it can work to your advantage.  When you arrive at the area where the popular attractions exist, get Fastpasses at one attraction and head to the stand-by line at the other attraction.  You may find when you are done with the stand-by attraction it could be time for your Fastpass attraction.  However the chips may fall this strategy will certainly save you time and steps in the theme park.

Secondary routes and avoiding the masses

Getting around the theme parks can be like maneuvering through a corn maze as you dodge other guests in the crowd.  There are even times when you wish you would have brought your helmet and shoulder pads to defend yourself against those who bump into you.  There are other alternatives to maneuvering the crowds.  When trying to get around a crowded Main St. U.S.A, or Discovery Island in the Animal Kingdom after a parade or when the park is closing consider walking through the gift shops to enter or exit the parks.  It may save you time and energy trying to avoid other guests.  Over at EPCOT, try and use the International Gateway (back entrance) to enter and exit the park.  It’s usually less crowded than the main, front entrance.  Lastly, consider booking one of the first breakfast ADRs in the theme parks.  This way, you are already in the park when it opens.  After your breakfast is finished, you can easily walk to your first attraction choice of the day just after the park has opened to other guests.

Water and shade everywhere, it’s a good thing too

Many of us already know how quickly you can become dehydrated in the Orlando theme parks.  What is surprising is how fast dehydration can creep up on you without you even knowing it.  It can simply start with you being in a state of malaise.  Then you can become weak, and within minutes you can be down for the count.  Don’t let this happen to you.  You can choose to bring bottles or a thermos of water with you to the parks, but sometimes that may not be enough.  There are water fountains inside the parks, so be sure to stake them out and refill your bottles.  It’s also good to know you can get a free cup of ice water inside each counter service restaurant if you can’t locate a water fountain nearby.  Just go to a cast member at a cash register and ask for it.  What’s even more satisfying is to know you can rest inside the air-conditioned, counter service location with your water if you need a break from the outside elements.  Taking a break from the heat and crowds with a cup of ice water can make a difference in how you feel inside the theme park.  Make sure to pace yourself throughout the day to maximize your energy and enjoyment.

One thing the Orlando theme parks offer that most other parks across the country don’t offer is indoor, enclosed attractions and an abundance of shops.  As you would expect, these indoor attractions and shops are air conditioned and protect you from the sun and humidity.  If you do find yourself inside an Orlando theme park in the afternoon, try and visit the indoor shows, attractions, and shops.  It will help keep you energized as the day progresses.

Last, but not least

There are many other strategies and tips to use in the summer months at the Orlando theme parks so you can avoid the crowds and heat.  As I mentioned in the beginning, some of the secrets to summer touring in the Orlando theme parks are not much of a secret anymore.  Many guests are becoming more and more educated on what to do and where to go.  However, there are still some secrets we can share (or not share if we wish to keep them secrets).  Websites like the DIS and its members are helping all of us better prepare for our summer Orlando vacation.  Feel free to share your summer touring tips and strategies in the discussion forum below.  We’d love to hear your ideas.


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