With spring break crowds at Walt Disney World, finding ways to save time in line is more important than ever. This post compares the best & worst options–Genie+, Lightning Lanes, standby, extra hours, etc–for beating high wait times at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. (Updated April 9, 2022.)
Now that the dust has settled on all of the time-saving options that debuted, our goal is to find the ideal times to use standby lines and/or Lightning Lanes. Spoiler: there’s no one-size fits all answer for all people or all parks. That’s the big thing we’ve learned while extensively visiting the parks extensively for the sake of research to test various strategies.
Even many longtime Walt Disney World fans are overwhelmed by the options, so we’re here to provide insight into reducing friction from your days in the parks. As the ole tantalizing teaser goes, “…and the results will surprise you!” But seriously, they will. What we accomplished (or didn’t) with some of these approaches actually caught us off-guard.
Before getting going, we want to stress the importance of this strategy for Walt Disney World trips between at least now and May 27, 2022 (that’s when Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens and it’ll change the approach to Epcot). It’s relatively long, but it’s arguably more valuable right now than anything else on this website. If you only read one post on this blog, make it this one. Not to set unrealistic expectations, but this strategy should save you several hours per day at Walt Disney World (and it should save you money, too!).
The big benefit right now is longer park hours, which are the earliest published opening times Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios have had in over 2 years. At present, these hours have been extended through (at least) April 30, 2022. Walt Disney World adds hours on a rolling basis, so it’s likely May 2022 hours will be extended in due time. We tested all of the below strategy with these earlier opening times, so our advice takes the current calendar into account.
Next, let’s do a quick run-through of the various mainstream ways to save time at Walt Disney World. This isn’t comprehensive, leaving out the priciest options–like doing VIP tours for the duration of your trip or renting out the parks–for what should be obvious reasons. Even though it’s safe to assume Kanye West, Oprah, and Carrot Top are loyal readers of this blog, most of you probably aren’t that big of high rollers.
The first option is the controversial paid FastPass. By now, you’re likely familiar with Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes, which offer one way to skip standby lines. Unfortunately, these come with a cost–not just a monetary one, but also with frustrations, back-tracking, getting up early, and the steep learning curve of mastering the new system. (For that last point, look no further than our ~4,500 word Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQ, which still doesn’t answer all of the questions readers have asked.)
Sticking with the pay to play options (of sorts), there are two other recent additions that debuted for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary: Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours. These effectively replaced Extra Magic Hours, and have likewise been controversial among longtime fans.
Next, there’s tried and true rope drop. A time-honored “tradition” for diehard Walt Disney World vacation planners since…I’m not sure–literally as long as I’ve been alive. I remember doing this in the 1990s when my mom was our family’s chief strategist, orchestrating our itinerary with military precision.
For those unfamiliar with this inside baseball-esque term, rope drop is simply when the lands and attractions officially open, which is synonymous with the published park opening time. (It’s literal–there’s a rope that is dropped, opening the lands to guests.) Since the front gates usually admit guests before park opening (and because we like to overcomplicate everything), Disney fans have demarcated the two times with this rad term. In practice, rope drop is pretty much anytime during the first hour of regular operations.
Finally, there’s the end of the evening, which is usually the last couple hours of regular operations. We don’t have a rad term for this one, but I feel like that’s a huge missed opportunity for a cryptic moniker. Just imagine how many of the uninitiated we could confuse by referring to this as “rope rise.” (Get it? Because they drop the rope at the beginning of the day, so it stands to reason that they pick it–you know, nevermind.)
If we did call the end of the night “rope rise,” no one would know what the heck we’re talking about, so fewer people would take advantage. In any case, wait times tend to be shorter towards later at night. When and by how much they fall varies by park, and is often not fully reflected in posted wait times.
Got all of that? Good. Now let’s go park by park and discuss which approach is best right now, as of April 2022, based on our recent testing of every single strategy…
The good news is that any approach will work to some degree at Magic Kingdom. Let’s start with Early Entry, which we’ve found less successful here than at any other park. This is probably due to a mix of higher demand (we haven’t done head counts, but it sure seems like more guests show up for Early Entry at Magic Kingdom than any other park) and only Fantasyland and Tomorrowland being open. Following along with our most recent Magic Kingdom Early Entry Photo Report as compared to others, you can see we didn’t have quite as much success.
The plus side is that regular rope drop is more viable because Frontierland and Adventureland are not open during Early Entry. This makes rope drop alone, or Early Entry plus rope drop a great approach. If you’re only eligible for rope drop, doing Frontierland and Adventureland first and saving Fantasyland until later in the day can be a workable approach. There are also enough worthwhile secondary attractions in Magic Kingdom that you can round out the rest of your day with relaxing, low wait shows and more. Many of our smartest and sexiest readers enjoy filling out the middle of their days by watching Country Bear Jamboree on repeat.
With all of that said, it’s Genie+ that works best at Magic Kingdom and it’s really no contest. In the recent My Day Using Genie+ Lightning Lanes for Spring Break 2022 at Magic Kingdom I detailed just how much I was able to get done–pretty much everything. Thanks to a high worthwhile attraction count available via Genie+ Lightning Lanes, Magic Kingdom is the one (and only) park where we highly recommend buying Genie+.
Critically, Magic Kingdom is also the park where Genie+ is easiest to use and presents the fewest headaches. While my aforementioned day isn’t the best example, you can book Lightning Lane ride reservations around walking less. There’s also less competition with Genie+ at Magic Kingdom, and the lower-stakes nature leads to fewer frustrations than at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Next, there’s the end of the night. Like every other park, wait times at Magic Kingdom do fall off in the evening as guests grab spots for the Disney Enchantment fireworks. You can enjoy shorter waits if you’re willing to skip those, or watch them from a last-minute location in Fantasyland.
The drop-off isn’t quite as pronounced as the other parks, but it’s still significant. That plus queueing up for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one minute before park closing is a great approach if you don’t buy Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes.
Finally, there’s Extended Evening Hours for those who are eligible. We’ve done this a handful of times, so our sample size is still relatively limited, but our success rate is 100%. Low waits everywhere and blissfully uncrowded parks.
Even if you take advantage of one of the aforementioned approaches and “conquer” Magic Kingdom before this late night perk, do it anyway. It’s a delightful way to enjoy Magic Kingdom, offering a serene experience that’s a great way to decompress from the earlier chaos during peak season.
If you read our recent Early Entry at Epcot: Better Than Genie+, this one has already been “spoiled” for you. At least while Epcot has moved forward its official opening time to 8:30 am, Early Entry is the best way to beat the crowds here. That’s doubly true if you’re arriving via International Gateway, as you’ll be able to do Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure with a 10 minute wait or less.
From the Rat Ride, it’s entirely possible to do Frozen Ever After as a near walk-on, Test Track with minimal wait, Soarin’ Around the World with minimal wait…and everything else in the new neighborhoods with no waits. It’s a lot of walking, but that’s par for the course at Epcot, and you could modify this approach to minimize steps if you’re staying the full day.
Those arriving for regular rope drop will still enjoy success and time savings pretty much everywhere except Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and that’s easy enough to save for the end of the night. Off-site guests who aren’t eligible for Early Entry aren’t at too considerable of a disadvantage at Epcot.
Speaking of which, the front of the park empties out at Epcot in the evening hours, because guests eat and drink around the World Showcase, and secure spots for Harmonious. Hitting these rides the last two hours of the day can be a smooth move, especially since it’s not imperative that you get a front row view for Harmonious.
Extended Evening Hours at Epcot are as delightful at Epcot as Magic Kingdom, but the lower ride count and more obvious top priorities means wait times for the trio of headliners don’t fall as dramatically. With good strategy, you can still accomplish Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, and Test Track during this post-closing perk, but it does require determination (and luck).
Finally, there’s Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. Epcot is our least favorite park for the line-skipping service, and we don’t recommend it here unless you’re Park Hopping or cannot take advantage of the aforementioned strategies. The equation could change once Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens–that blockbuster attraction will upend all other Epcot touring strategy–but for now, Genie+ is more of a hassle than it’s worth at Epcot.
We’ve been saying for the last two-plus years that Hollywood Studios is the most frustrating park at Walt Disney World. Among other things, this is due to the top-heavy nature of its attraction lineup, and lack of secondary rides. There was a point during the phased reopening when this was particularly problematic, but it has gotten much better with the return of most stage shows and entertainment.
Nevertheless, crowds crest and wait times peak earlier at Disney’s Hollywood Studios than any other park at Walt Disney World. So far during this month, the highest wait times of the day have occurred around 10:30 am, averaging 69 minutes. Even Animal Kingdom, which opens earlier and is commonly derided as a half-day park, doesn’t see its longest wait times of the day until afternoon.
Against this backdrop, the best option for beating the crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Early Entry. In large part, this is because Early Entry encompasses all important, high-wait attractions at DHS and also because it usually ends up being much more than a 30 minute head-start.
That’s especially true if you prioritize Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, with the added upside of doing this first being that you’re less likely to encounter a breakdown while you’re in line for it. Check out our report on Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that covers our experience knocking out both that and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway before the park opened to regular guests.
The worst strategy for Disney’s Hollywood Studios is relying on traditional rope drop. This should be pretty intuitive for the two reasons identified above: wait times peak early and all headliners are open for Early Entry.
If you can’t enter DHS until regular park opening time, you’re going to get maybe 1-2 attractions done with below average waits. Your likelihood for frustrations–and thus leaving before the end of the night–will also be higher.
Instead, consider an afternoon arrival and staying until park closing. One reason that wait times peak early at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is because there’s (currently) no major nighttime spectacular, which results in many guests leaving DHS for Epcot. This dynamic will likely change in a big way when Fantasmic returns, but it’s good strategy for now.
Posted wait times are lower in the last two hours of the day at DHS, but that only tells part of the story. Actual wait times are often dramatically lower, particularly for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and other headliners. The only caveat we’ll add here is that this approach with the unreliable Rise of the Resistance is risky–if you only have one shot at it and the ride goes down in the last two hours of the day, you might be out of luck. Plan accordingly.
In a nutshell, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes can save you a ton of time at DHS, but the system is aggravating for some of the same reasons identified above. DHS has a top heavy lineup, and essentially, you need to be Genie+ power user to score the most-coveted ride reservations. Even then, bad luck or technical difficulties might sour the experience. We’ve heard from many readers who have only been able to book 1-2 Lightning Lane ride reservations with Genie+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Think of Genie+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as an option of last resort. If you can’t do Early Entry or don’t want to stay late for whatever reason, you should purchase Genie+ and probably an Individual Lightning Lane for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It can be headache-inducing, but not any more so than standby lines, which are just brutal at DHS.
We go from the most frustrating park to the easiest one. Strategy for Animal Kingdom essentially amounts to “don’t go during the middle of the day and stand in long lines,” which seems to be what the vast majority of guests do for some odd reason.
Going early, staying late, or using Genie+ are all solid strategies. Almost equally so. We’d give the edge to Early Entry, especially as Disney just moved Animal Kingdom’s opening time during peak season dates to 7:30 am. That is absurdly early, and a huge barrier for most guests.
Traditional rope drop also works, so long as you prioritize something other than Avatar Flight of Passage. Again, most people aren’t up and out the door this early in the morning on vacation, and that applies even to regular park opening time at Animal Kingdom. (With the peak season 7:30 am official opening, you might be able to hit Flight of Passage with minimal wait even at traditional rope drop.)
Personally, I’m a fan of doing Animal Kingdom later in the day. Subjectively, this is nice because Animal Kingdom is the hottest park at Walt Disney World, and hitting it when the sun is lower knocks a good 10-20 degrees off the feels like temperatures. The atmosphere at sunset and night is also fantastic, and something few fans see.
Unfortunately, wait times aren’t plummeting towards the end of the day like they were about a year ago, which is likely due to more entertainment having returned. While most other rides will be walk-ons or close to it, you can still expect lengthy lines for the two Pandora – World of Avatar attractions.
At this point, Genie+ is the objectively better option at Animal Kingdom than staying late. Even though the lineup is limited, most eligible attractions have availability well into the afternoon.
Genie+ becomes an even easier recommendation when Park Hopping. Avatar Flight of Passage can be worth the cost of the Individual Lightning Lane, but we usually hit it early, late, or during the lunch lull instead.
Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to beat the crowds at Walt Disney World, and that applies even during the peak weeks of spring break and beyond. Strategizing has definitely gotten more complicated in the last year, and we’ve heard from countless long time visitors who feel left behind or overwhelmed. The bad news is that there are more pay-to-play options and they’ll either cost extra or have less eligibility.
The good news is that there’s actually greater accessibility to saving time at Walt Disney World. If you read this ~2,500 word post the night before visiting Walt Disney World, you could take advantage of many of these tips. That simply was not possible at this time two years ago, when pre-booking FastPass+ up to 60 days in advance closed the door for a lot of first-timers who, quite understandably, had no clue ride reservations were booked months in advance.
Now, tactics are uneven and inconsistent among the parks, but there’s pretty much something for everyone. Whether you want to pay extra, not pay extra, rise early, or stay late. As always, we highly recommend our Walt Disney World Park Itinerariesfor more granular, step-by-step advice for planning out your entire day.
About the only thing you can’t do is sleep in, visit the parks from 11 am until 4 pm, and leave early. This has always been the worst way to do Walt Disney World, and that remains true to this day. Yet, for reasons beyond me, that continues to be the “preferred” approach for so many guests. If you simply don’t do that, you’re automatically ahead of the pack!
Thoughts on our suggested strategies for each of the Walt Disney World theme parks? Do you prefer rope drop, “rope rise,” Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, or Genie+ and Lightning Lanes? Or, do you favor a miss of approaches when touring the parks? How do you do things differently in each park? Any other feedback on arriving early or staying late at the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!