Long-time visitors, and those who read up on Disney World before arriving, know that getting to the parks early enough to be some of the first guests entering is good touring strategy. This is called rope-dropping, and it can save you a lot of time waiting in lines. In another post, I’ll talk about how to make the most of your time at rope drop once you get into the park. But today, we’re going to focus on transportation: getting to the rope on time. Let’s start out with a question: what time is “on time”?
How Early Do You Need To Arrive For Rope Drop?
As a general rule – yep, covering my rear here – for Early Entry, you should arrive at the tapstiles 30 minutes before the Early Entry time. Consider leaving an extra 15 minutes for the Magic Kingdom, which draws one of the biggest rope drop crowds. If you’re not using Early Entry, aim for a little more than half an hour before the regular opening time no matter which park you’re going to.
If you’re visiting at an exceptionally, very high crowd time of the year, try to add an extra 15 minutes. But transportation start times can be a challenge to achieving this, and the half-hour rule of thumb will generally still be effective. That’s because when crowds are high at spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc., Disney opens the parks earlier. The resorts might be stuffed to the gills, but many of those extra people aren’t willing to wake up extra early.
Why so far in advance? It turns out that you won’t spend all of that extra half hour waiting for the gates to open. Going through the tapstiles in a crowd can be slow; if Early Entry begins at 8 and you pull up to the tapstiles right on the hour, you might find that it’s 8:15 before you’ve tapped in. You’ll have spent half of your precious Early Entry time waiting in line at … the gate. Disney knows this, and they open the tapstiles at each park before Early Entry begins. So guests who arrive before time will get into the park and be ready to get onto attractions (or in line for them) right away when they begin running.
Your Rope Drop Transportation Plan
By the way, “arriving for rope drop” does not mean pulling into a parking spot. It does not mean getting off the monorail. You have not “arrived” for rope drop until you have gone through security and you are standing in the line at the tapstiles. To make it on time, you’ll need to know how you’re getting there and when you need to leave.
It might seem like I’m being dramatic, (OK, I am), but it takes 5-10 minutes to get to and through security after you get off Disney transportation. If you drive that increases to 10-15 minutes with a tram ride (or walk) from the parking lot. Except at the Magic Kingdom, where you’ll be parking at the Ticket & Transportation Center and it takes about 30-35 minutes to get to the gates after exiting your car. If your goal is to be at the tapstiles half an hour before opening, a 10-minute difference is a lot!
When Do Disney World Transportation Systems Open?
All Disney transportation, which is buses, monorails, boats, and Skyliner, officially starts 45 minutes before theme park opening. That means 45 minutes before Early Entry, not the regular opening time. In practice, we find they often start a bit earlier, about an hour in advance. In busy times of the year they may start earlier still. Minnie Van service begins at 6:30 a.m.
For those who are driving, the theme park parking lots for Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT will be open at least 45 minutes and more usually an hour before the park opening time. At Magic Kingdom, parking is at the Ticket and Transportation Center, which usually opens at least an hour before the park opens.
What’s the Best Mode of Transportation for Rope Drop?
If you’re staying offsite, your options will be similar for each park. Your resort may offer a shuttle, but the frequency and reliability of provided transportation at non-Disney hotels varies a lot. You’ll need to do some investigating to decide whether it will get the job done for you. Otherwise you’ll be arriving by car; either one that you’re driving yourself, a taxi, or a rideshare such as Uber or Lyft.
There are a couple of exceptions to this. Guests of the Disney World Swan, Dolphin, and Swan Reserve can use the Disney Friendship boats to access EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, and are also within walking distance of those resorts. Additionally, guests at the Swan, Dolphin, Swan Reserve, Four Seasons Orlando, and Shades of Green can use Minnie Vans.
If you’re staying onsite, you may have some choices to make. Walking (if it’s an option) and driving have the most consistent travel times, followed by the Skyliner. That’s because you won’t have a “waiting for the bus/boat/monorail to arrive” step, which adds variability. But all forms of Disney transportation, except buses, are generally at least as fast as a car from a resort to a theme park. If your Disney transportation is the bus, then a car is a more reliable choice for rope drop if you happen to have one handy. There are two exceptions to these general guidelines:
- From a monorail resort, driving is faster than taking the monorail to the TTC and transferring to the EPCOT monorail. If you can easily walk to the TTC, then the monorail may still be faster to EPCOT than driving.
- If you’re going to the Magic Kingdom, a bus will be faster than driving as it goes directly to the park.
When To Leave for Rope Drop
Soooooo … once you’ve decided on how you’re going to get there, when should you leave your room? This is where crowds might come into play. If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that some recommendations below don’t match up with “official” transportation start times. These recommended times are based on our experience, and include consideration that:
- you may need to be there not just before your bus (or boat, or monorail, or Skyliner) starts running, but also with enough time to be at the front of the line.
- as noted above, Disney makes changes to operations when the parks are crowded. If they feel the buses need to start running 75 minutes in advance so that lines at the bus stop don’t get too backed up, then that’s when Disney will start running them.
If you’re walking, do the walk in advance to figure out how long it will take and plan accordingly. You can use a Google Maps estimate if you aren’t able to do it beforehand. But many guests find that they walk more slowly than usual in Florida’s heat and humidity, or after they’ve been tromping around the parks for a few days and their feet are tired. Assume that you will need about 5 minutes to go through security and get to the tapstiles after you’ve “Google-maps arrived” at the park.
If you’re taking the Skyliner, plan to arrive at the station an hour before Early Entry if you won’t have to transfer, and 75 minutes in advance if you will. If you’re visiting at a very busy time, add an extra 15 minutes to account for lines that may form around its opening.
If you’re taking a Friendship boat, arrive at the dock about 65 minutes before Early Entry. That should put you on the first boat of the day unless it’s a high-crowd time of the year. In that case, add an extra 10 minutes.
Monorail riders for the Magic Kingdom should arrive at the resort monorail stop about 65-70 minutes before Early Entry. That gives you time to go through security on the platform (there may be a wait) and still make it onto an early train.
For bus transportation, lines can be a significant factor, depending on your resort. Plan to be at the bus stop a minimum of 75 minutes before Early Entry. If you are staying at a Value or Moderate resort and it is a busy time of the year, leave at least an extra 15 minutes as bus lines can start forming early. If you are staying at a resort with multiple pickups, such as Coronado Springs, you may want to walk to the first pickup spot.
If you’re driving, you can use a Google Maps estimate to figure out how long your drive will take. Plan to pull up at the toll plaza 25 minutes before you intend to arrive at the tapstiles. At the Magic Kingdom, plan on 45 minutes. When transferring from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, the Ferryboat and the monorail take about the same amount of time.
Some of the times above are specified as “minutes before Early Entry”. Be cautious when trying to use those to calculate travel times; as the hour grows later the transit time will increase. Using buses as an example: if Early Entry is at 8, then at 6:45 you’ll likely be on the first bus that shows up after you get to the stop. By the time 7:30 rolls around, you could need to wait through two or three buses before getting on one. There are two important takeaways here:
- If you’re visiting at a high crowd time, your best strategy is to ask about when transportation is currently opening and adjust accordingly. Others who are concerned about the crowds will have made this effort, and you might find yourself in a long line behind them if you assume the general recommendations above are the best available advice for your specific trip.
- If you’re staying on property and not targeting Early Entry, your departure time will be much more dependent on the exact resort you’re staying at and the planned transportation method. You’ll probably need to do a bit of asking around to figure out what time you need to leave your room to meet your target arrival time, unless you’re driving or walking.
How Much Do Minutes Matter at Rope Drop?
The recommendations in this article are aimed at getting you there in plenty of time to make very good use of Early Entry, but they won’t guarantee you a spot right at the very front of the pack. If that’s your goal, you’ll want to check with Cast Members, figure out exactly when transportation is running at the time that you’re there, and make sure that you’re one of the first ones on. Aiming to have your knees at the rope comes with a significant risk of arriving earlier than you actually need to. So how much does that actually matter? And how much does it matter if you show up 10 minutes later than even the time we’ve recommended here?
The answer here is different for Early Entry and regular park opening. In both cases you will still save time in lines. It is not true that if you can’t use Early Entry then you might as well buy Genie+ and show up as late as you want. I mean, you may find that improves your vacation if you’re not an early riser, but the value of your sleep time is a totally different question.
For Early Entry, it depends on your goals. If you’re targeting a short wait at a super-headliner, it matters a lot. We have some modeling results implying that just a few minutes at the very beginning of rope drop can turn into differences of an hour or more in total touring time. (See: Ahead of the Pack: Making the Most of Disney World Rope Drop)
The good news is that if you’re not targeting that super-headliner, a few minutes will have less of an effect. You’ll still get a lot out of Early Entry if you arrive only 25 minutes in advance, instead of 30. For regular opening, Early Entry guests have already been in the parks for half an hour. So a few minutes one way or the other aren’t critical.
What’s your strategy for rope drop at Disney World? How early do you leave to get there on time? Let us know in the comments!