How to Pick the Best Park for Each Day of Your Walt Disney World Trip
Families often ask us to help pick the best park to visit for each day of their Walt Disney World vacation. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why we created our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar.
When we answer those questions, the first thing we try to figure out is what “best” means for this family, on this trip. To do that, we ask questions about when the family is going, how long they’re staying, how many times they want to visit each park, and so on. Once we know that, we can narrow down the list of choices and start talking about the pros and cons of each possibility.
Below is the process we use to pick the best theme park to visit on any day of a trip to Walt Disney World. It’s easy to extend this process to include days off, visits to water parks, or other theme parks. Let us know in the comments below if your family considers other things when visiting a park, or if you’d like to see another example with water parks and more.
When Are You Going?
The first step is to look at the Crowd Calendar for the entirety of your trip. For an example, let’s assume I have an upcoming trip for October 1-7, 2017.
Length of Tickets
Obviously, the number of days on your tickets will limit the number of days you can go to the parks. You may choose not to go to the parks on the day you arrive and leave. Others feel a partial day is a perfect way to start and/or end their trip. For my example, we have a 5-day ticket. We will arrive early on Sunday and want to go the parks. Departure day will be too short and we will not go to the parks.
At this point, October 1 is a required day at the parks, and October 7 is a non-park day. Now I need to find one other day to be a non-park day. October 6 will be our last day, so it is a required park day. October 2 has the highest Resort Crowd Level, so it is a good option as a non-park day. It also is our first full day. We would rather have a break later in the trip so we will also mark it as a required day. For now, I’m going to wait on picking the break day, but we have limited our break to be on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th.
How Many Days in Each Park
You will also have to decide how many days you want to spend in each park. If you have less than four days in the parks, Disney’s Hollywood Studios park should be skipped. Currently, there is not enough to do in a full day. For my example, I’m going to do two days at the Magic Kingdom, and one day each in the other three parks.
Extra Magic Hours
Extra Magic Hours (EMH) is a perk for guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, including the Swan, Dolphin, and Shades of Green. On selected days of the week, Disney resort guests will be able to enter a particular Disney theme park 1 hour earlier or stay in a particular theme park 2 hours later than the official park operating hours. EMH are shown on the crowd calendar in italic.
EMH is a great perk if you are going to use them. Otherwise, we recommend avoiding a park if it has morning EMH. We also recommend arriving at the parks before they open so you can take advantage of the shorter wait times of the day. Here is where it comes to your personal touring preferences. If you can’t or don’t want to go to morning EMH avoid them.
For my example, I’m going to split it into two scenarios. One will be for avoiding mornings, and one will be for using morning EMH. Even in the scenario that I will use morning EMH, we cannot make it to park opening on the first day.
Evening EMH has minimal impact on overall crowd levels. If you are not going to use evening EMH you should not automatically avoid a park with evening EMH. If you are a night person and don’t have little ones to get to bed, you should take advantage of evening EMH. In my ongoing example, I’ll show the days using and not using evening EMH.
Park Crowd Levels
Now is time to look at the park crowd levels. With everything else being equal, choose the day or park with the lowest crowd level. With the remaining available blocks on the Crowd Calendar, you want to pick blocks to minimize the overall crowd levels. Since there may still be many combinations, it will help to eliminate the day(s) with the highest crowd level for each park. There will be some give and take to find a schedule that will meet all your requirements.
With the example, we now have four scenarios. I will use the Crowd Levels to finalize the park selections.
This is the scenario that has the most work still to be done. We have excluded some parks and days, but nothing has been selected. We also need to determine what day will be the non-park day. We’ll start by looking at the days we know we’ll be going to the parks. On October 1, the Magic Kingdom has the lowest crowd level and looking vertically, October 1 has the lowest crowd level on all days. We can also see that October 2 and 5 have the highest Magic Kingdom crowd level so we’ll rule them out. October 2, we can do either Epcot or Hollywood Studios. Looking vertically, we see that Hollywood Studios has other days with a lower crowd level; Epcot does not. So for October 2 we’ll do Epcot. We’re done with Epcot. October 6 could be either Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. Both parks are a 6 and the highest level of the week. Looking vertically, Hollywood Studios has available days lower than Animal Kingdom. It’s a tough choice, but October 6 will be our Animal Kingdom day.
Now we are down to October 3, 4, and 5. One day needs to be the Magic Kingdom and one needs to be Hollywood Studios. We can rule out the Magic Kingdom on the 4th, and Hollywood Studios on the 5th, since those days have the highest park crowd levels. Now we have to pick October 4 or 5 to be the non-park day. If October 4, is the off-day we would do Hollywood Studios on the 3rd, and the Magic Kingdom on the 5th. If the 5th is the off day we would do the Magic Kingdom on the 3rd and Hollywood Studios on the 4th.
Use Morning Extra Hours
Here we start with three days already selected. We now only need to assign two days and the off-day. First, we will look at the days we know will be a park day. On October 1, the Magic Kingdom has the lowest crowd level and looking vertically, October 1 has the lowest crowd level on all days. October 3 and 4 both have Hollywood Studios with a crowd level 3. Pick one day for Hollywood Studios, and the other for the non-park day.
Avoid Mornings – Use Evening Extra Magic Hours
In this scenario, we start with October 3 and 4 already assigned. That leaves only October 5 as the non-park day. On October 1, the Magic Kingdom has the lowest crowd level and looking vertically, October 1 has the lowest crowd level on all days. That leaves October 6 for Animal Kingdom.
Use Morning and Evening Extra Magic Hours
In this scenario, we start with the most days already assigned. There are actually two problems. We have two days for Epcot and no available days for the non-park day. We need to pick October 3 or 5 to be our Epcot day; both days have the same crowd level. It comes down to preference, morning or evening EMH. The other day will be the off-day. That leaves October 1 for the Animal Kingdom.
Hopefully, this post will help you use the Crowd Calendar to pick your best park to visit. You can also include park hopping into the mix. If you take a mid-day break, park hopping does not cost you any extra time. If you are not taking a break, parking hopping will cost you a good hour of your time to travel from one park to another. Park hopping can be a benefit if you want to start in a park that opens early and then go to a park that closes late. And remember, if you arrive at the parks before they open and use a touring plan, you will save more time than just picking the lowest crowd level.
Have any additional questions about picking your best day? Do you have other considerations that you keep in mind when choosing a park to visit? Let us know in the comments.
10 thoughts on “How to Pick the Best Park for Each Day of Your Walt Disney World Trip”
I follow a very similar logic, though I also consider the flow of the holiday – I don’t want my two Epcot visits to be back to back or a late night followed by an early start. Sometimes options need a little rearranging to help the holiday also be a little relaxing. Water parks & time at Disney Springs are great ways to split up busy parks visits.
My wife, daughter, and I stayed at Pop Century last December. We had 5 day park hopper tickets for WDW and 3 day tickets for Universal. We spent 2 days going to parks, then a day off, and we had a whole day off the day before we departed for home (Indiana). Having the entire day to sleep in, shop, visit Orlando, etc., every two days really worked well for us. What we will not do again is try to see all of WDW AND Universal on the same trip. I have not had so many blisters on my feet since basic training! But we still had a LOT of fun. Our next trip is planned for February 2019. And we will be using touringplans again!!
I would add that you should check to see what events are at a park on specific days. For example, the reason Magic Kingdom has a lower crowd prediction a few of the days is due to MNSSHP. If my family didn’t have MNSSHP tickets, we would be expected to leave the park at 7 pm (or is it 6 pm now?). That means no fireworks or night shows in the park on that particular day.
Yes, park hours and special events should be taken into account. The trade off of no fireworks and shorter hours is lower crowds. Party days before 4 p.m. can be some of the best touring conditions all year.
Is there any crowd information available for the water parks? We have a toss-up between the two and would like to base our decision on which would be less crowded. We are looking at September 8th, October 31st, and November 1st.
We don’t have data streaming in like what we have for the theme parks. The WDW resort wide crowd levels is a good indicator if you want a crowd number. Crowds will be low at all of WDW the three dates you mentioned. September 8th will be warmer than October 31st and November 1st, and that will like make September 8th busier at the water parks.
Between Blizard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, I find Typhoon Lagoon to be the more popular water park.
Guest typically go to the water parks in the middle of their vacation. Since vacations typically start and end on the weekends, weekends will have slightly lower crowds. Weather will also have a big impact on the crowds. Cooler and rainy days will keep people away. The first sunny day will be more crowded.
Crowds will grow in the afternoon. As we recommend at the theme parks, arrive early to avoid the crowds.
I’d like to suggest a video tutorial for this process. I don’t think it’s as complicated as it sounds. If I hadn’t already been familiar with this process, this explanation would’ve scared me away. I’m a visual learner myself.
Great info as always! We are about to make dining reservations for our Feb trip. We have our daily plan of which park each day. My only concern is not knowing for sure which days Rivers of Light will be, if any. It looks like every other day at that time. I guess we’ll just have to switch reservations if it falls on a different day than we plan. So I’m more concerned with night shows than crowds!
I have a trip during the dates mentioned in your example. My AK day has been determined by when I could get FoP FP+!
I purchased the Water park option and now Disney has announced that Blizzard Beach will be closed. Sept 2019. Does that pretty much guarantee that Typhoon Lagoon will be busy? Disney water parks were something new for us to try but if the only one that is open will be very busy, I don’t want to go. Should I drop the water park pass because Typhoon Lagoon will probably be busy because Blizzard Beach is closed?