Walt Disney World Park Plan

Learn when to visit, how to beat the lines, catch the best rides and keep all family members happy during your Disney World family vacation.

I question my kids upon entering the pearly gates of Disney World during yet another Orlando family vacation: “What ride do you want to do first?” “Splash Mountain!” I hear the three sing in unison. It’s always the same answer. But at least it’s just 9 a.m. sharp, which means no lines. And I’m a pro at Disney World, meaning I am a master of lines or, more importantly, the lack of. So, I know how to work the parks.

Some of Disney World’s rides are only three minutes’ duration. Walk right on those rides, and it’s amazing the territory that can be covered in a few hours; go at the peak times of year, and you can wait 40 minutes for that three-minute ride. But, I love Disney World just about any time of year, as long as I have a plan. I’ll share that plan but this article must self-destruct after you’ve read it since my tips are only intended for the privileged few. So here it goes.

Best Times to Visit...Or Not

Optimal: Visit after Labor Day. The best advice ever—though I cringe at divulging it: Go to Disney World in the couple of weeks after Labor Day. Most of the nation’s children have just returned to school and are not on Splash Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight or any other ride. In those weeks, Disney World can be like a ghost town. And I know, having made the parks a ritual at that time every year. It’s noon, and my kids and I look quizzically at each other, perplexed as to which rides we should repeat.

Second choice: November to mid-December. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving through to mid-December, while not optimal like post-Labor Day, can be manageable times to visit Disney World without the craziest of crowds. But visitor momentum picks up from then on through the summer.

Avoid if possible: Summer. Even though summer is when most families go on vacation and the kids are out of school, it’s about the worst time to visit, with Florida at its hottest. But if you can’t go at a choice time, then make sure to have a park plan in place.

A Plan for the Parks

You have four choices of parks at Disney World:

Magic Kingdom—where Cinderella resides—always the most crowded of the four with tons of wonderful rides including Splash and Space Mountains, Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear, in addition to Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and other young'en rides. Then there’s MGM Studios, more focused on sit-down movies and shows with less worry about lines (most shows fit everyone in). Animal Kingdom, a third park, abounds in nature and wildlife with quite a few shows and a few rides including the new Mount Everest Expedition (44-inch height minimum). And finally Epcot, which used to be more adult oriented with its world showcase of dining, but it has become increasingly kid-friendly. One highlight is a new, interactive show with Nemo’s talking-turtle friend Crush, a screen dude that recognizes and chats with kids in the audience.

Now, here’s how to work it.

How to Make Dad Happy

My husband swears that if he ever gets married again, it will be in the pre-nup that he does not have to go to Disney World. So how to keep Dad happy? If you're like me, your husband is not keen on singing “A Small World” for the umpteenth time, a suggestion: Agree on some swapping.

Let Dad sleep in at the hotel and watch football, play golf or attend a spring-training game in the area while Mom and the kids enjoy princes and princesses swirling around Cinderella’s castle.

When the kids tire with the afternoon parade, Mom deposits the kids with Dad for a few hours of cooling off in a pool with huge waterslides while she does some strategic shopping at any of Orlando’s great outlet malls. When Mom returns laden with goods, then it’s time for family dinner before Mom and kids collapse, and Dad can then hit Downtown Disney for an evening of fun.

This works for me every time. I’m happy (and have new clothes); Dad’s not complaining about sitting through the Lion King yet again, and the kids just love it all.

Now, that is one successful outing to Disney World!

Destinations: Florida, Orlando

Themes: Amusement Parks, Family Travel