Anytime is the perfect time to visit the world-class theme parks in my home region, Central Florida. From the soda drinking at Epcot (at Walt Disney World, of course) to the dive coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, they are the best venues of family fun. Of course, just as with any other theme parks, they have the potential to drive minimal to throngs of crowds. As a Florida local myself who have been to the parks time and time again, I analyze the factors that impact crowds, along with tips to deal with them.
You bet my bottom dollar that for kids, there’s a time and place to do Disney (or Universal or the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment crowd, and off-school is the best time to do just that. Several times, I’ve been to the parks on those days when they are off school, and one time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, I noticed many children lining the curbs for that cheesy Block Party Bash and queuing up on the lines, and it baffles me, as school was usually in session on that day. I found the truth on my school district’s site – Thanksgiving Week is one whole week: all five weekdays have no school. Luckily, I have a Seasonal Pass, and the block-out dates give me the upper hand (as well as cabin fever). You can obtain the same pass as I did or do it on a less hokey season, like in February.
Monthly and Seasonal Fluctuations
There is a month and season for everything, and the crowd levels vary throughout the year. Spring Break is judged by numerous travel experts (especially those with experience with the Orlando tourism industry) and me the worst case scenario when romping about at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and SeaWorld Orlando. Christmas is a great time to see the trees and holiday bric-a-bracs, but you’re better off taking photo-ops of park landmarks and décor than doing, say, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or the recently-refurbished Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom. Summer is a crazy season crowdwise – I have been to the parks during that time and was appalled by sheer crowds (Queues are especially gut-wrenching on the water rides: imagine waiting 75 minutes on Splash Mountain, Journey to Atlantis, Stanleyville Falls, or Popeye’s and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges!) and the number of turismos (explained later). Again, do the Orlando/Tampa parks at a less crowded month or season, like the fall or January.
Competitions and American Youth and School Groups
There are many youth or school groups who would die for a field trip at any Central Florida theme park. I had been to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay with my class three to four times and to Epcot with them once. Obviously, several groups of schoolchildren on field trip hit the parks late May or early June. Also, dance teams, cheerleaders, marching bands, and other youth performing groups also affect crowds. One notable dance team competition is the Universal Dance Association’s National Championship held at Walt Disney World, and it draws crowds (at least the qualifying dance teams) to the attractions. Another Disney draw is Pop Warner Little Scholars, whose national championship takes place early December. Although many events of the like occur what is considered off-season, a touring plan and ride reservation system usage (explained later) is suggested.
Popularity of the Attraction
I have discovered even at low-to-moderate seasons that wait times can exceed an hour or even 100 minutes, and it’s due to the popularity of the attraction. I have seen over an hour’s wait for Soarin’ (Muetti’s favorite ride) and Toy Story Mania, both of which are fan favorites. Especially during the summer and other peak seasons, the high-liner rides can harbor an over-an-hour’s wait time. I can imagine the sheer crowd levels, even stratospherically high ones, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure when the new themed land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opens. Take advantage of ride reservation systems or ride solo via single-rider lines.
Many foreign visitors visit the Central Florida parks, but no group of them compares to the turismos. (See my article on Hubpages about them.) The term stems from both the Spanish and Portuguese term for tourism, and they describe a group of teenagers averaging 15 years old, celebrating their quinceaneras en masse. They usually wear matching backpacks, tops, or both and are guided by chaperones with flags (usually pendant-like). I split them into two categories – Argentinean youth herds and the more notorious (as read over the Internet and as discussed in forums and blogs on theme parks in Central Florida) Brazilian tour groups. They tend to invade them in the summer and winter, when school is out. I describe them as “frenemies” because they are profitable to the theme parks as they are annoying due to randomly bursting out in soccer-match chants. If you have the chance, visit the parks in the fall or late spring, when the rowdy teens are all but absent, or head the opposite direction of them.
Perennial Travel Tips
All year long, there are many tips to make your next Central Florida theme park vacation enjoyable. Arrive at the parks early, at least 30 minutes ahead of actual opening. Use ride reservation systems if you can. (Walt Disney World’s FASTPASS is complementary with admission to the resort’s theme parks, but you have to stay at a Universal Orlando onsite hotel or buy at front desk for a Universal Express pass or buy a Quick Queue pass at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or SeaWorld Orlando.) Travelling solo? Take advantage of single-rider queues – a bulk of them are available in most attractions at both parks at Universal Orlando and they are available at Expedition Everest (Disney’s Animal Kingdom), Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and Test Track (Epcot). Also, take breaks from the parks and arrive later or do what I’m doing – live near them!
Whether it’s turismo season or dance team season, you can navigate the theme parks in Central Florida with those tips in mind.