In the land of Disney Park information, the park map gets all the glory. It’s colorful, glossy, and practically throws itself at you when you enter the park. But I’m here to champion the unsung hero of park particulars: The Times Guide.
The Times Guide is a free supplement to the park map, giving details about restaurant, event, and attraction schedules, as well as daily planning tips. The Times Guides are updated and replaced at least weekly, sometimes more often during holiday weeks or if something unique is happening such as a park anniversary or special guest appearance.
There are at least five different Times Guides that will be floating around at any given time – one macro Times Guide for all of Walt Disney World, plus individual Guides for each of the four main theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Additionally, you may find a dedicated Times Guide for Downtown Disney or, again, a supplement if there is a unique or special event happening.
You can find the macro all-parks Guide in a stand on the front and concierge desks of the Disney resort hotels. You’ll also likely be given one when you check into your Disney hotel. The park Times Guides are always located next to the maps in the display racks at the front of the parks. You can also find them scattered around the parks in stands at some food/merchandise register locations and at the Guest Relations offices. You shouldn’t have any problem finding one, but if you miss them just ask and a cast member should be able to get you one quickly.
For all Times Guides, there is information printed on the front and the back of the document, so be sure to check both sides.
Disney is quite good about making sure that only current Guides are out for display, but you may want to give a glance at the top of your guide just to double check that you’re looking at the right week. The Guides usually cover a Sunday to Saturday time span. If you’re staying from one week into the next, you’ll need to pick up a new Guide to have accurate information.
THE ALL PARKS TIMES GUIDE
There’s a lot of data packed into this little 4″x9″ space!
Some particular things to note:
- The park hours are not the same for each day of the week. Be sure you’re looking at the right day’s information.
- The macro Times Guide includes the resort and express monorail hours for that week. If you’re looking to use the monorail to get to rope drop at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom, an early tour, or an early character meal at the Magic Kingdom or a monorail resort, pay particular attention to this information. (See #1) Strangely, this information is not mentioned on the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Times Guides.
- The major parade and fireworks times are listed. (See #2)
- Extra Magic hour times are noted. These times are for Disney World resort guests only.
MAGIC KINGDOM TIMES GUIDE
The park-specific Times Guides obviously go into more detail about the timing of specific in-park events. It seems straightforward, but there is some language you may want to give extra attention.
- The Guide may give information about parade routes. This can help with your planning in where to sit/stand for the parade, as well as giving you hints about how to plan you meal and FastPass+ reservation times. In the example below, note that the Festival of Fantasy Parade and the Main Street Electrical Parade do not start in the same place. If you’re at the end of a parade route, it could take 15-20 minutes before the parade gets to your spot. (Thus the origin of the infamous “What time does the 3:00 parade start?” question.)
- Some characters appear “intermittently.” Often this means that they will not be present during parade times, but other interruptions may exist as well. If you’re walking across the park to meet a specific character, it may be worth asking a cast member exactly what “intermittently” means on the day of your visit.
- Some character appearance listings are vague. What does “Out of This World Friends” or “Disney Friends” mean? If you want to know in advance, ask a guest relations cast member to interpret for you.
- Note that this Easter week Times Guide mentions appearances by the Easter Bunny. During holiday or event weeks, keep an eye for bonus characters like this.
- Many attractions run at non-standard hours. It’s worth taking a glance at this section of the Times Guide if you’d like to visit a second or third tier attraction at the beginning or end of the day.
- Many restaurants also have unique hours. Of particular note is the schedule for Be Our Guest. It often opens quite early in the day. Arrive early and make it a late breakfast stop for greatly reduced lines.
- Keep an eye out for additions like the Diamond Horseshoe. This quick service location is typically only open during the busiest park weeks. Not everyone knows it’s there, so this may be a good option.
EPCOT TIMES GUIDE
As with the Magic Kingdom Times Guide, the Epcot Guide will note attractions and restaurants with non-standard hours. Also look for call-outs about new events (the Dessert Party) or special appearances (Flower Power Concerts). If you’re at Epcot during a special event such as the Flower & Garden or Food & Wine Festivals, there will generally be a separate guide booklet or addendum expanded details about the offerings. These will typically also be located with the maps near both park entrances. If you don’t see it, be sure to ask.
The Epcot Guide covers character greeting times slightly differently than the MK Guide. (Why? Who knows?) Rather than stating that some characters appear intermittently, here the characters are given specific appearance times. This sounds great, except that only a start time is given for each meet & greet. Sure Belle shows up at 11:00am, that much is clear, but how long does she stay? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? More? Less? The answer may vary depending on the weather, crowd levels, and a number of other factors. If one of these character greetings is a must-do for you, stop by Guest Relations and get more details.
Also note the fine print on the bottom of the front page of this, and all, Times Guides. “Park hours and information is subject to change without notice.” This warning is particularly important at Epcot because many of the character greetings and World Showcase entertainment takes place outdoors. If you’re visiting during inclement weather, ask a cast member if you don’t spot what you’re looking for right away. There may simply be a venue change, not a cancellation.
ANIMAL KINGDOM TIMES GUIDE
Much is similar here to the other parks’ guides: special restaurant and attraction hours, show times, and both timed and intermittent character appearances. Here too there are mysterious character classifications. What does “Canine Pals” mean? Or “Wilderness Explorer Friends”? Why do they say “The #1 Duck” instead of mentioning Donald by name? Is some other duck gunning for position? I have so many questions. If you do too, be sure to ask a cast member to interpret.
Also note the mention of the Gardens Kiosk. The Animal Kingdom is the only WDW park with a dedicated food allergy resource venue. This is fantastic, but be aware that it’s not open in the evening.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS TIMES GUIDES
Again, the same type of information is covered as for the other parks. Pay particular attention to the fact that Fantasmic is performed once on some evenings and twice on others. It’s almost always easier to get into the second show on nights where there are two.
The restaurant closing times are particularly variable at DHS. During a seven-day week, there are four different closing times for Pizza Planet.
Another interesting tidbit is the inclusion of a phone number for American Idol Experience audition information. If it’s late in the day and you’re just getting a yen to perform, give a call before heading over. Also important is the note that youngsters must be present in order to register for the Jedi Training Academy. Mom or Dad can run ahead to get a spot in line, but the rest of the crew needs to be not far behind.
A helpful addition to the DHS version of the Times Guide is the notation of performance durations. Understanding that Little Mermaid show is much shorter than the Lights, Motors, Action show can aid in planning.
At DHS, only one of the character greeting opportunities has a moderately cryptic name: “Stars of Disney Junior.” While that nomenclature certainly gives the essence of the experience, when it comes to the preschool audience of Disney Junior, specificity can be mission critical for a family. If your son NEEDS to meet pirate Jake and he encounters Princess Sofia instead, full-scale meltdown may ensue. Be sure to ask Guest Relations or a character handler for specifics of the schedule. This is one area where you don’t want to mess around.
As I mentioned, I have occasionally seen a Downtown Disney version of the Times Guide, and there are often “special editions” for holidays or big events. Keep an eye out for these for informational purposes as well as for their status as collectables.
Also be aware that there are sometimes folded versions of the Times Guides. For example, this All Parks Times Guide during a recent marathon weekend opened up to reveal bus transportation information for runners and spectators. If you encounter something like this, take a good look at the fine print. For example, this Guide includes important information about use of the Epcot International Gateway and shows that some resorts have multiple pickup areas while others have just one.
PRINT VS. ELECTRONIC
Of course, much of the information contained in the Times Guides is available through the TouringPlans Lines app, as well as through Disney World’s official My Disney Experience app. I will use the times information from both those sources if I already have the app open, but sometimes I find it easier to just glance at a slip of paper, particularly if I want to compare hours without clicking around. I also find that the Times Guide can be easier for older adults and younger kids to process. Another benefit of the paper Times Guide is that it makes a nice addition to a scrapbook page – providing temporal context for a visit.
Are you a fan of the Times Guide? Do you use it when you’re in the parks? Do you prefer to get your information electronically? Do you have an personal Times Guide tips? Let us know in the commments below.