EPCOT Rope Drop France Queue

Best Touring Strategy for Walt Disney World in 2024

When planning for a Walt Disney World vacation one of the biggest planning considerations is how to approach touring the parks. The conventional wisdom is that “rope dropping” is that best way to get a leg up on other guests. That means getting up very early, sometimes before 6am, to get to the park at least 30 minutes before park opening, queue up with thousands of other guests, and shuffle and elbow your way to the first attraction. Some people love it and it for years it mostly worked. But is that still true in 2024? For me, I don’t think it is; there is now a better way!

I’ll preface the rest of this post by saying that the best way to tour has a very personal element that shouldn’t be ignored. If your family gets up at 5am naturally and likes to be in bed by 9pm then absolutely keep dropping that rope. You’re up and energetic at that time so make the most of it. How you decide to approach touring should jive with how your party operates on a personal level. If you’re swimming against the tide for too long you’re just going to get tired and cranky, it’s just not worth it.

If crowds are objectively lower early in the morning then why am I moving away from rope dropping in 2024? There are a few reasons and they are all based on how things are today. First, my recent rope drop experiences have been poor because of ride breakdowns. There is certainly an element of luck here. Rides don’t always breakdown, but when they do the impacts are disastrous for a rope drop plan. It highlighted just how sensitive a rope drop plan is to a single point of failure. Our recent rope drop experience at EPCOT is a great example. You can read about that experience in depth here. The short version is that we got to EPCOT 30 minutes before opening with the plan to rope drop Remy’s. As it turned out, Remy’s did not open on time (and wasn’t open until several hours after opening) and by the time we got to Frozen, the closest attraction to Remy’s but still a 15 minute walk or so, we had lost the initiative on crowds. Our rope drop plan for EPCOT was ruined before it even started and our morning at EPCOT was spent waiting in lines like people who arrived after park open. We experienced no benefit from arriving early.

The next reason why rope drop isn’t our preferred method for efficient touring is Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes. This is the only sure fire way to ensure you minimize wait times. If the ride breaks down for your return time you get a replacement lightning lane that you can use elsewhere automatically – risk mitigation if you will.

There is a second aspect of Genie+ that makes it a superior option for efficient touring – something called “stacking”. Stacking is a strategy wherein you book lightning lane return times throughout the day with the idea of having several “stacked” for later in the day. Then you can arrive to the park at your leisure and use the stacked lightning lane return times to minimize waits at your preferred attractions. This does take some work. The first lightning lane can be booked at 7am, and you should if you care about an attraction like Slinky Dog or Peter Pan – the ones that go fast. Then you’ll need to stay diligent and book lightning lane every 120 minutes from 11am on. You will also likely need to walk lightning lane return times back throughout the day. As of right now, you are assigned the next available return times and that may not be at a time that works for your plan. For example, you may get a 1pm return time for an attraction but don’t plan to be in the park until 4pm. That’s fine, book it anyway. Once you have a lightning lane reserved you can modify it at any time. By booking every time the 120 minute window opens and then walking back you can have 4-5 lightning lanes by the time you walk into the park.

This approach is not without downsides, but to us they are acceptable. The first downside to this is that you have to spend considerable time on your phone and have at least a bit of structure around your down time. But let’s be honest. We are always on our phones anyway and if you’re at Walt Disney World you’re on it more than usual. You HAVE to be. And this is really a big deal if we’re being honest. Open your phone every hour or so, do a 2 minute task, and go back to your day. Trust me, it sounds more cumbersome than it is.

The second downside is cost. Genie+ is not exactly cheap, especially for a family. Add in individual lightning lane cost and you could easily spend an extra $150-$200 a day for this approach. I understand that this could make this approach a non-starter for some. If that’s the case for you then rope drop is still your best option. For my party of 2 however the value is 100% there. For us the extra expense translates directly to a more relaxed vacation without having to sacrifice riding our favorite attractions. That’s worth almost any cost to us.

The third reason I’m moving away from rope drop as a strategy is the parks are better at night. I’m a morning person by default. I’m up early naturally and I love the peace of the mornings. At Disney though, I become a night person. The vibe of the parks at night is unparalleled and it’s generally more pleasant for my northerner constitution. Rope dropping doesn’t preclude you from experiencing the parks at night, that’s true, but in our experience it does make it tough to go deep into the evening. Fatigue sets in, either physical or mental or both, and the resort room starts to call our name if we had or have an early morning planned. Besides the ambiance, nighttime at the parks is also a great time to tour with minimal crowds, especially if the park is open late. During our most recent trip the Magic Kingdom was open until 11pm with extended evening hours for deluxe guests until 1am. This is what main street looked like when we were walking our a little before midnight or when there is still more than 1 hour of operation left.

Main Street USA during Extended Evening Hours
Main Street USA

Yes, this was during a special event that not all can experience, but the point is as it gets later less people are going to be able to stay in the parks. Arriving early is one way to get a leg up on the masses, but so is staying later. The later it gets the less young kids will be at the park. Before you get your pitchforks out and yell at me for complaining about kids at Walt Disney World, let me provide some more context. It’s not really the lack of kids, it’s the lack of strollers. Strollers objectively take up more space and jam up walkways. When the number of strollers drops the walkways get much more open and you can move around the parks unimpeded. That’s just a fact.

So what would a day in the life of a Disney tourist using this strategy look like? As you can imagine that largely depends on what you want to get out of the day. I’ll assume the intent is to experience as many attractions as possible as efficiently as possible. For this hypothetical, we’ll assume we’re going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Toy Story Land at Dusk
Toy Story Land at Dusk

The day is going to start a little before 7am to purchase Genie+ for the day and prepare to make your first bookings. You can purchase Genie+ anytime after midnight, but you can’t use it until 7 so I just get up a few minutes earlier. So purchase Genie+ for your party and start watching the clock. If possible, bring up an official time keeping website on another device. As soon as 7am hits you’re going to want to reserve a return time for the most popular attraction for that park. In the case of Hollywood Studios that means Slinky Dog Dash. These return times go quickly so you’ll need to move fast.

After you’ve secured the Slinky Dog Lightning lane you’ll want to also grab an Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance if you want to experience that with little to no wait. You can reserve a particular time for ILL, but some times of the day be unavailable later. Knowing when you can experience the premier attraction for the park is going to give you a frame of reference for booking other return times. Use that information when booking the ILL.

At this point you have nothing to do until 11am, which is when you can book the next lightning lane. Go back to sleep or grab a cup of coffee and watch your resort come alive. One of the big perks of this approach is that you get a lot of free time to use as you please. For me, a slow morning at the resort has quickly become one of my favorite parts of a Walt Disney World vacation.

As 11am approaches pull up the Genie+ tip board and get a feel for what attractions have the later return times. That means they’re getting reserved more than others. You’ll want to secure a return time for those as a priority. Once you’ve reserved a return time you can modify the reservation as many times as you want to get the perfect time. At this point you’ll have 2 lightning lane return times and 1 individual lightning lane if you chose to purchase that as well.

Weather permitting, we like to go to the pool around this time. If it’s the dead of summer it’s probably already too late to get a prime spot, otherwise this is a great time to show up. It’s before most guests are taking their mid-day break and not yet the hottest part of the day. Grab lunch either at the pool area or elsewhere around the resort. Keep an eye on the clock and make sure you’re ready for the 1pm lightning lane time slot. Quick hint, the exact time you can make your next lightning lane will be displayed at the top of the tip board, but it should be exactly 1:00 if you’ve been following this plan.

Use the same general approach you used at 11am when selecting the attraction here. Look for the latest return time among the attractions you want to reserve and grab that one. If you need to move any previous lightning lanes back you can do that at this time as well. You’ll get a feel for how other guests are prioritizing their lightning lane reservations and how things are going to flow for the day.

At this point, it’s rinse and repeat every two hours as far as booking lightning lanes and modifying as needed. The idea is to keep booking and shifting so you have several return times lined up for the afternoon/evening hours in the parks. Note that return times can overlap. The app will tell you that you have overlapping plans but it won’t prevent you from making them. Also keep in mind that you can arrive up to 5 minutes early and 15 minutes late. Take full advantage of that as needed, you aren’t doing anything wrong.

What time you get to the park is entirely up to you. I’ve found that using this strategy I only need 4-6 hours in the park to do basically everything I want, including a table service meal. Plan for longer if you want to see several shows. Going back to this hypothetical day at Hollywood Studios. I’d have a table service meal reserved for around 4-5pm with a majority of my lightning lanes for 5pm on. I’d plan to stay in the park until closing, usually 9pm when I’m there. The last hour is a good opportunity to ride attractions in the stand-by line as crowds start to thin out. Remember that as long as you get in line before park closing you will be allowed on the attraction. So keep that in mind if you missed out on getting a lightning lane for any premier attractions or just want to ride Slinky Dog again!

As you wrap up your day make sure to soak in the ambience of a near empty park at night. This is my favorite aspect of this strategy – you get scenes like the one above and you aren’t dead tired from a 12+ hour day in the parks.

This strategy isn’t for everyone and I’ll never tell anyone they’re doing it wrong if they keep rope dropping. For us though, this has quickly become our preferred touring strategy that let’s us experience Walt Disney World at a relaxed pace without feeling like we’re missing out. In fact, we’ve learned to love the other aspects of a WDW vacation as much or more than the theme parks and think you will too with this approach.

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