Last Updated on August 25, 2023 by Happily Ever Park Hoppers
The Military Veteran Guide to Disney Crowds
So you’re planning a Disney vacation for you and your Military family, but you’re a little apprehensive about long lines and big crowds. You’re not alone. The number one statement I hear from Service Members when talking about planning a Disney vacation is “I don’t do well in crowds”. Lets be honest. Who does? But for Military Service Members and Veterans I know that large crowds can be especially difficult.
This guide is here to help Military Veterans learn all the tips and tricks of how to manage Disney crowds.
Before your trip, there are several things you can do to make your Disney trip a little more manageable. The first is, pre-planning (what you’re doing now) and research. One pre-planning tip I always tell people is to book your trip during the “off-season”.
Nowadays, at Disney, there really isn’t an “off-season” anymore. The parks will be busy no matter what. But if you can help it, plan your trip during the school year. Holidays, school vacation weeks, marathon weekends, 3-day weekends, and the summers will always mean busy parks (and most likely sold out theme park reservations).
January and September are great months to travel to Disney (and coincidentally those are the months Honorably Discharged Veterans can stay at Shades of Green) because those are the months right after school is back in session. Most people don’t plan their vacations directly after summer break or Christmas vacation. These will be the months that you can expect the park crowds to be at their lowest, as well as other weeks throughout the year.
Familiarize yourself with the parks
Another pre-planning tip is to familiarize yourself with the parks. Get a lay of the land by looking at the park maps on the Walt Disney World or Disneyland maps page. You can also view the maps on the My Disney Experience app or Disneyland app. Knowing where things are located and how to navigate the parks will definitely help ease the stress, especially once it starts to get crowded.
Knowing where to go in the parks is key. There are many places in the parks where you can go to get a little reprieve if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just need a less crowded place to sit.
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You can download Disney’s Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities at Walt Disney World and Guests with Cognitive Disabilities at Disneyland.
At both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, you can utilize the “Quiet Rooms” which can be found in the First Aid locations. Be sure to take the time to look at those break spots or quiet rooms and locate where they are in the parks before you go. That way, if you end up needing a break, you know exactly where to go.
Plan your dining reservations with a purpose
Advance Dining Reservations are a great pre-planning tool that you can take advantage of and put to good use. By making your dining reservations during peak times when the parks are very busy and crowded, this give you a guaranteed place to sit, and allows you to break away from the crowds, sit down and regroup.
Peak times will be from around Noon through dinner time. You can expect the crowds to start to pick up right around lunchtime and wont die down until after the fireworks. So scheduling dining reservations for lunch and/or dinner are the ideal times for a planned in-park break.
At both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Advance Dining Reservations can be made 60 days in advance. This is a great way to map out your park days long before you arrive and strategically plan those much-needed breaks.
Pre-Register for a DAS pass
If you foresee you or anyone traveling in your party having a difficulty waiting in the standby lines for an extended amount of time as a result of a disability, including non-apparent cognitive disabilities such as PTSD, Autism, Anxiety etc., consider registering for the DAS program.
The Disability Access Service is a program that is offered at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. And is intended for Guests who have a hard time waiting in the conventional standby line for an extended period. The DAS pass allows the Guest to set up a time to return to a ride (after waiting a comparable time to the current wait) and avoid the standby line and enter through the Lightning Lane. DAS passes are given out on a case-by-case situation but the majority of the time if a Guest relays to a Cast member that waiting in an enclosed space for an extended period of time is not feasible, a DAS pass should be granted.
You can now virtually pre-register for a DAS pass between 2 and 30 days prior to your arrival. You can also register at any Guest Relations inside the parks at Walt Disney World virtual registration and Disneyland.
Rope drop & take a mid-day break
Arriving to the parks first thing in the morning and rope dropping is going to be THE best time for low crowds and shorter standby lines. If you are staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel or at Shades of Green, you will be able to enter any of the four theme parks 30 minutes before regular park hours with Early Theme Park Entry. Even at Disneyland, rope dropping is still going to be the best time for smaller crowds and shorter standby lines.
By lunchtime, the parks start to fill in and the lines start to get longer. If you didn’t make a dining reservation for lunch and the crowds are starting to be come overwhelming, head back to the resort. This is a great way to not only decompress from the crowds, but you can cool off in the pool, let the little ones take a nap (and maybe even take one yourself) and/or take advantage of some of the amenities your resort has to offer. Then you can return to the parks refreshed and ready to go.
Pay for Disney Genie+
Depending on the type of tickets you purchase, you either pre-pay for Disney Genie+ or you can purchase it each day the day of. If you don’t know, Disney Genie+ is a new add-on service that allows you to make Lightning Lane selections and skip the standby line.
Using Genie+ and making Lightning Lane selections is a great time saver, especially if you are in the parks on a day that it’s super busy. I know for my family, any line past 30 minutes is a no go. So for us, paying for Genie+ was well worth it because we were able to ride everything we wanted and never once waited in a long standby line.
The only downside to Genie+ is that it requires you to be on your phone a lot. And you need to be persistent if you are there on a busy day and it doesn’t appear to be any available time slots. If you are willing to persevere and get a Lightning Lane for a specific ride, you can “pound the app” by refreshing the Tip Board over and over. It’s not a guarantee, but if you keep trying, you might be able to book a Lightning Lane selection for a ride that previously wasn’t showing.
TIP: If you are attempting to pound the app for a specific ride, do not have a Lightning Lane currently booked. By the time you cancel it and go to pick up the ride you want, it will be gone.
Pace yourself, know your limits
My final piece of advice is to pace yourself and know your limits. Know when you need a break, take advantage of one of those break spots. Also, don’t feel like you have to stay in the parks all day. All that leads to is stressed out parents and cranky kids. You will have such a better time when you game plan for some sort of break.
If you are only in the parks and you really don’t want to leave in the middle of the day, get some food at a Quick Service location. There are so many great low-key spots where you can sit down and relax for a little. I wouldn’t suggest going to a Quick Service location right at lunchtime because they will definitely be busy.
Another great reason to plan on dining at a Quick Service location is because there is A LOT of walking at Disney, and not a lot of places to sit. And, depending on what coast you’re on and the time of year, it might be REALLY hot. There are many locations that are indoors, but there are also many that are not. Again, familiarize yourself with the parks and get an idea of what Quick Service locations you might want to go to.
If you have any specific questions that I did not address in this post, please do not hesitate to drop a comment below.
Spreading magic one post at a timeKristin