Michaela: Andrew and I approach Disney Parks very differently. I am very ride-driven, and try to fit in as much into my day as I possibly can. He on the other hand enjoys the more boring parts of the parks, like the scenery and general splendor. Since his priorities aren’t in getting on the most rides, and also sleeping, he generally does not participate in rope dropping.
For those of you who don’t know, rope dropping is when you get to the park long before it opens, and are prepared to speed walk (I would say run but you’re not ‘supposed’ to) to the first ride you want to get on. In most cases this allows you to get onto one or two popular rides before any sort of line forms.
I use the strategy of rope dropping almost every day of my Disney vacations, and I’m here to tell you why I think you should too. Andrew may disagree with me on this, and tell you how wonderful sleep is, but I would much rather ride Space Mountain twice with no wait than sleep in on my lumpy hotel mattress.
Here are some of the benefits of rope dropping:
1. You get the absolute most out of your park ticket.
If you buy an all-day pass, then you start wasting money if the park opens and you’re not passing through those gates. If you get to the park (any park) before it opens, then the second it does you’ll be getting in. In some cases the parks will open their hub areas before the actual opening of the park, so you can start enjoying the atmosphere beforehand. I can’t remember which parks open their hubs and which don’t, maybe Andrew could help me out on that.
2. Amazingly low wait times
If you’re like Andrew (and most other people) you enjoy sleeping in. I get it, the bed is warm and walking takes effort. But, if you can force yourself out of bed then you can cash in on the low wait times throughout the parks early in the morning. Since people don’t enjoy getting up early, many do not hit the parks until ten or eleven a.m. That gives early risers a solid hour or two to ride a bunch of attractions while everyone else is asleep.
I used this technique the last time I went to Disney World. We were able to only wait 30 minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (a freaking miracle, that ride is incredibly overrated but that’s another post) and my dad and I were able to walk on to Flight of Passage. All because instead of getting up at 9 we got up at 7. Two hours less of sleep is totally worth all of the amazing memories you’ll be making!
Andrew: Hello Michaela. Nice to talk to you too! Oh, how am I doing? So glad you asked. I was fine and then all of a sudden was put in front of a verbal firing squad without even getting a chance to say a word. Allow me a few quick follow-ups, I’ll use the bullets you just fired at me as points:
- Not all hotel mattresses are lumpy and we have plenty of reviews to prove it! (Shameless plug)
- All castle parks will let guests into the hub before the scheduled opening. Most other parks will do this too. They will rope off other lands but all of the Main Street stores are open and you could get your morning coffee or a quick breakfast. I think Michaela and I would both agree that you should skip the stores and breakfast in the morning and just get as close to the front of the line as possible.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is overrated.
More important than any of that is… I agree with YOU! Yes, I signed up to fight a losing battle. So before you start lobbing accusations quicker than a politician, know that I’m mostly in agreement. Thinking back to my last 10 days in the park, I’ve been at the gates for park opening for 6 of them. Furthermore, every single itinerary I’ve written for this site (another shameless plug) starts with getting to a park before opening. Now that I’ve defended myself at least a little bit, I’ll play devil’s advocate starting with just one point that doesn’t even have to do with sleeping.
Disney Parks are better at night!
As Michaela so lovingly laid out, I’m a night owl and that works in my favor when in a theme park. Why? Because the nighttime is far more (grimaces while using a token Disney term) ‘magical’. If the early morning is for fitting in as many rides as possible, which it admittedly is, then the night is about ambiance. I’m not talking 7 PM either, more like 11 PM after all of the major shows have ended. If you’re rope dropping then that generally involves trying to beat out the sweaty herd that has gathered behind you. At night, you can simply stroll around a nearly empty Fantasyland experiencing just as many attractions while not dealing with the masses of humanity. Even if you are a ride junkie, the wait times are typically low in the last hour of park operation often equaling what you’d find at rope drop. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve run around in the last hour of a park being open, fitting in 5 or 6 rides in 60 minutes. Whether you want to ride as many attractions as possible or just soak in the atmosphere, the nighttime is cooler, less crowded and generally more beautiful at the parks.
I think we can agree that the goal should be to experience both times. Unfortunately, that’s not always realistic if you’re traveling with young ones or don’t enjoy being on your feet for 12+ hours a day. I’d ultimately recommend taking a break in the middle of the day by going to rest at the hotel pool or taking a nap. Again, that’s not always an option so if I had to pick between early morning or late night at a Disney Park I’d go with late night about 80% of the time.
Before I drop a few more counter-points, I’ll kick it back to Michaela along with a few questions. Do you have any tips for rope dropping? Are there parks that need to be rope dropped more than others? (We’ll stick to the U.S. Parks in this post although I’ll say now that both Tokyo Parks should be rope dropped, as well as Disneyland Paris and Shanghai.)
Michaela: Well, this is surprising. I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything you said above. I do apologize for firing perhaps one too many bullets, I came expecting a fight so thought I should be prepared!
I would like to bring up one small counterpoint: There can’t be a sweaty herd at rope drop because it’s the first thing in the morning! One, cooler weather, and two, most of them (hopefully) have just taken showers!
I 100% agree with Andrew’s recommendation to take a break from the parks in the middle of the day. I would say between noon and 3 pm is the busiest block of time most Disney Parks have, which also means that resort pools will be less full of screaming children, because most of them will be in the parks. I have used this block of time to return to the hotel room and take a nap. As someone who NEVER naps, they can be some of the most refreshing activities on a Disney vacation. And, taking a nap means you’ll be much more able to enjoy the late night park offerings.
To answer your questions, I do have some tips! For Disneyland specifically, you cannot schedule out your fast passes before you enter Disneyland or California Adventure. Even if you spend the extra $15 on the DisneyMaxPass, which allows you to make FastPass reservations on your mobile device, you still have to make those reservations in the park.
I recommend planning to head to one ride, and picking up your first set of FastPasses on the way. For example, if I want to ride the Matterhorn first, I may stop off and pick up Space Mountain fastpasses on the way. This lets you ride the Matterhorn and then have time to ride Space once or perhaps twice before a line forms, and then boom you have a FastPass to skip whatever line has formed! Genius.
When I think of Disney World, my main strategy for rope dropping there is targeting rides that I don’t have a FastPass for. Since you can reserve them 60 days in advance, I already knew which rides we would have a hard time getting on without a long wait. For my last WDW trip that was Flight Of Passage and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. So, two mornings of our trip were dedicated to rope dropping Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom for the sole purpose of getting on those rides.
I would definitely say that every park is perfectly fine to rope drop. It really just depends on what you’re most interested in. If there is a ride you really enjoy that isn’t one of that park’s most popular, say for example Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, then using this strategy you could probably ride that ride 5+ times in that first hour. Pick what you love, and what you want to do a lot, and spend a morning doing just that. Or, scratch a couple must-dos off your list that would be more difficult with a park full of people.
What do you think Andrew? Are there any other tips and tricks you have up your sleeve when it comes to rope dropping? Are there any other pros to the strategy other than low wait times?
Andrew: Good stuff! You bring up a good point about the cooler weather in the morning. Although I still have nightmares of stepping outside at 7 AM in Florida and starting to sweat immediately thanks to the 85 degree heat and 100% humidity. That said, the weather is far more pleasant than a few hours later in the day.
I do think there are a few positives to rope dropping outside of low wait times and the weather. While I’m not a big fan of the hysteria that comes with rope dropping and rushing to an attraction, it’s good to keep in mind that even if a large crowd has formed there will be even more people in the park later. Like Michaela mentioned, if you’re able to grab a FastPass for one of the park’s most popular attractions either ahead of time or first thing then that gives you a chance to visit a land with next to no one in it. As someone who likes to take photos, that’s very appealing.
Along those same lines, rope dropping may get you a chance for a Disney Parks white whale of sorts. Once in a while the park hours will be early enough that guests can catch the sunrise from inside the park. Obviously this happens more during the winter, when the days are shorter, but it’s a beautiful sight and one worth taking advantage of once in a while. Outside of seeing a castle park covered in snow (a dream that I’d love to see in person), catching the sun rise over Sleeping Beauty’s or Cinderella’s castle is rare and well worth it.
I have two tips and one more small counter-point. The first tip is specific to parks that have an Extra Magic Hour. If you’re going to take advantage of that then show up before that hour begins and use it, then park hop. If you aren’t able to take part in the Extra Magic Hour then avoid the park that has it that morning at all costs. You won’t be rope dropping, you’ll be an hour behind most guests at that point. Honestly, I generally try to stay away from Extra Magic Hours even if staying on-property as I think it draws everyone to the same park and you can likely get more done by rope dropping that park on a different day.
The next tip is kind of a bridge between mine and Michaela’s point of views. I like to sleep. What do I like almost as much as sleep? Food. Make an early breakfast reservation inside of one of the parks that you want to rope drop (this isn’t applicable to every park). Make it as early as you can and then try to finish eating before the park officially opens. Not only will this give you an unabridged view of Main Street or whatever park you’re in, it will also get you out in front of the crowds without having to wait with them for long.
Finally, and then I’ll send it back to Michaela to close us out, one last point that I feel I should bring up here and there on this site. You and whoever you’re traveling with should do what you want on your vacation. Yes, Michaela and I are in agreement that rope dropping leads to the most successful itinerary when it comes to touring a park. You know what isn’t successful? Running everyone ragged for a week straight to the point that your whole group is yelling at each other by 10 AM. If you get to day 3 and everyone in your group wants to sleep a little more then just sleep a little more. The biggest issue I hear about and see people have at Disney Parks is that they’re in a panic to stay on schedule. Once in a while dropping that strict schedule is the way to make everyone happiest.
Alright, Michaela. I know you came in ready for a debate but I jumped the aisle and think we teamed up pretty well. Any
parting shots you want to throw my way final words of wisdom you have for our loyal Wanderers?
Michaela: I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but listen to everything Andrew just said (Andrew’s note: She did manage to fit in a parting shot). Make sure you don’t run your party ragged, because I have experience with that, and it’s not worth the extra couple of rides you get on.
If I were to boil everything noted here into one advice-filled line it would be this: Make a plan, get there early, and make sure you enjoy it! It may not go exactly how you planned depending on which rides are operating and how hard it was to get up, but at the end of the day you’re on a Disney vacation and the most important thing is to have fun.
With that I wish you good luck, and may you find the shortest lines!
Do you enjoy rope dropping parks? Let us know your thoughts, as well as any questions you might have, in the comments below. If you’re planning a trip to a Disney Resort, check out our planning guides to help you out along the way. Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney! Please subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email and like our Social Media pages, both of which you can find on the right side of this page. Have a great day!