Getting The Most Out of a Summer Visit To DLR

HydroGuy

A Pirate's Life For Me
Joined
Jun 5, 2005
Updated March, 2014

In recent weeks there have been a number of theads related to visiting DLR in the summer. I have been writing some of the same information over and over, and decided to collect my thoughts into a single thread. So here it is.

On the Disney forums there is a wide range of opinions on visiting DLR in the summer. On the one hand you have the “It is the best time to go” crowd, and on the other you have the “Never again” crowd. This post is intended to help summer visitors (and high season visitors in general) experience all of the advantages of summer visits while avoiding the disadvantages as much as possible.

Let me explain what I am not trying to do here. I am not telling you to be a Disney Nazi park commando. Who wants to visit DLR with a person like that? What I am trying to do is explain the trends at the parks so you can use this information to your advantage. Should you follow this advice at all times? Well, even I do not do that. On some occasions we do things like ride FastPass rides early in the morning through the standby lines even though that is not the “best” use of time. But it is what the group wants to do at that time, so in that sense it is best. The advice here should be used as guidelines to maximize your experience, not as rules that should never be broken.

With that, let’s first talk about the advantages and disadvantages of a summer visit.


Advantages of Summer Visits

o Maximum number of rides are operating (DLR closes rides for refurb in off season, not summer)
o Shows, parades and fireworks are at their maximum frequency
o Park hours are at their maximum (16-17 hours per day at DL, 12 hours per day at DCA)
o Lots of daylight
o The weather is generally good (rarely cold, infrequent rain, no humidity)
o Water rides and activities are enjoyable (little fear of getting wet)
o Easiest time of year for most groups (or families) to get free time for everyone


Disadvantages of Summer Visits

o More crowded (longer lines for everything, harder to move around)
o Weather is hotter
o More expensive hotels


Overcoming the Disadvantages

If you accept the advantages, then what can be done about the disadvantages? First, nothing can be done about the greater expense of hotels in the summer. That is part of the landscape. But something can be done about crowds and heat. Fortunately, the same strategy which helps you avoid crowds is the one that will help you avoid the heat.


How Hot Is It Really in Anaheim, CA?

"Detailed Weather Data for DLR" www.disboards.com/showthread.php?p=23004158

June: Average High 81F (27.4C), Average Low 61F (16.3C)
July: Average High 87F (30.7C), Average Low 65F (18.5C)
August: Average High 89F (31.8C), Average Low 65F (18.5C)

On occasion, it does reach 100 degrees F (38C) at DLR. But overall it is more typical for the high temperatures to be in the low to upper-80’s. Some people are very sensitive to heat, and these temperatures are too warm. But most people would not consider these temperatures excessively hot. Even so, if you follow good touring strategies you will not experience these high temperatures. The following graph appears to match the above link fairly well.

Graph #1
http://www.scottware.com.au/theme/feature/atend_weather.htm


How Do Crowds Build At DLR?

The following graph shows how crowds build throughout the day at DLR. The graph assumes an 8AM park opening, which is typical for DLR in the summer except for Early Entry at DL days which are at 7AM. You can see here that crowds are low for the first couple hours of the day, and also low near the end of the day.

Do not let the graph scare you. If you take the right approach and understand how and why crowds build, you can usually be one step ahead of the crowds.

Graph #2
http://www.scottware.com.au/theme/feature/atend_daily.htm


How Do Summer Crowds Compare To the Rest of the Year?

The following graph shows DLR crowd level throughout the year. What it does not show is the difference between crowds on weekends and weekdays in the summer. The differences are significant. For point of reference, a typical summer weekday at DLR will handle 50,000 people. The most people in the park at any time will be 40,000-50,000.

Graph #3
http://www.scottware.com.au/theme/feature/atend.htm


How To Deal With the Crowds

To the best of my knowledge, 70% of DLR visitors are local visitors making day trips. The trick is to understand what most everyone else is doing, and then do the opposite.

As a point of comparison, DLR keeps track of how many rides people go on so they can calculate the average number of rides per visitor. Based on visitor feedback, DLR knows that guests will be happy if they experience 8-9 rides per day. Thus Disney shoots for that number. Note that if you get on more rides than 8-9 rides in a day, you are above average.

Most day trippers go to DLR on weekends. So if you go on weekdays (Monday-Thursday) the crowds are significantly less than on weekends. Since show schedules are at the maximum all summer long (except for early June and late August), there is zero advantage to going to DLR on weekends in the summer. Note that this is not true in off-season, when many shows are only performed on weekends – and weekday visitors cannot see them.

What are the habits of the summer weekday day trip visitors? First, weekdays in Southern California means massive traffic on the freeways in the mornings and evenings. Except for those who live very close to DLR, getting to DLR on a morning weekday will be tough. That means they will have to awake extra early to get to DLR and fight their way through traffic.

The most likely scenario for day trippers is that they will arrive inside DLR sometime between 9AM and Noon.

So use this to your advantage. Get to the park gates at least 15 minutes early (30 minutes is better for DL, 40 minutes for DCA). You will be into DLR shortly after it opens and have short lines for most everything (except for the currently massively popular RSR.

Compared to the day trip visitors who had a significant commute, you will have been able to sleep more than they did in your nearby hotel and will be fresher and have more energy. The day trip visitors will not have a hotel and thus most of them will just push on through the park all day long. Thus the crowds will continue to build as late arrivers come in.

Note that the 30% of visitors who are not locals still have a hard time getting themselves out of bed and getting to the parks early. Thus many of them will sleep in, eat a long breakfast, and still get to the parks 1-2 hours after they open.

Besides the short lines you will experience in the early morning, there is another advantage. You can ride all of the slow loading rides when the lines are very short, and save the fast loaders for later in the day. Hence you will always be one step ahead of the late arrivers.

It is also important to understand the effect of late arrival. It is not just that you miss the short lines in the early morning. What happens is that late arrivers get stuck in a cycle of progressively longer lines. For example, a late arriver who goes to ride Peter Pan or Dumbo may have to wait 40-60 minutes if they go to that ride first. While they are waiting in that line, all other lines are continuing to build. Thus if they go to the next ride on their list, the line will be even longer than when they arrived at the park. The early arriver experiences all of these rides first thing in the morning with short (or zero) lines, and thus they can get in lines progressively until lunch that have not yet built up. Thus early arrivers are always in front of the crowds, rather than behind the crowds and waiting in progressively growing lines all day.

It should be obvious by now, but going shopping or something similar during the first 1-2 hours of the day is not the best use of time. The time to shop is anytime after maybe 11AM at DL when the lines for rides are getting long and the shops are relatively empty. See Graph #2 above for crowds at shops. Try to avoid shops later in the evening.

Some lines for characters can build very long throughout the day. For example, Mickey’s House in ToonTown will get a very long line soon after TT opens. Thus on some days you may want to visit characters earlier in the morning when the lines are short.

Lines start to get much longer after 11AM at DLR. If you want to get on more rides, focus on rides exclusively for the first 2-3 hours of the day at DLR. That does not mean commando. It just means focus as much as possible. After this start your shopping, or take a lunch break, or listen to music on Main Street and Buena Vista Street, or take some pictures. After 11AM you no longer need to focus on rides. If you have FastPasses, you may want to start using them around this time. It is not generally good use of time to use FastPasses before 10AM at DLR.

Sometime after 11AM but before 2PM it will be time to return to your hotel. While most other visitors are staying at DLR during the maximum crowds and heat, you can return to your hotel and take a swim. Everyone (including adults) should take a nap in their air conditioned hotel room.

After you wake up, then return to the parks sometime around 5-7PM. At this time all of the day trip visitors will be hot and tired and cranky, and will be leaving to go home. Even the non-locals with nearby hotels who stayed all day will be hot and tired, and many of them, especially those with younger children, will be leaving at this time. The lines for rides will start to go down after 5-6PM. Do not get in longer lines in the early evening. Eventually all of the lines will decrease, with the possible exception of Peter Pan which manages to often have long lines all the way until midnight.

In any case, if you can make it until midnight at DL or 11PM at DCA – and after a 2-3 hour nap it is not that hard for many people – then you will have short lines for most everything after 10PM at DL. If you have younger children you will of course have to be careful with late hours.

Also you will likely want to see World of Color and Fantasmic. The current summer fireworks show at DL Magical is not especially good but lots of people do watch it. Be aware that these shows suck up a lot of people (Fantasmic can handle 9,000). And hence lines for rides will further decrease during these shows. The first Fantasmic show is at 9PM, but people start gathering before 7PM for this show. The fireworks are shown at 9:25PM, but people start gathering by 8:30PM. So this will suck people out of lines for rides, also contributing towards shorter lines.

If you want to see Fantasmic, then each summer night it is shown twice nightly. Go to the second show at 10:30PM. You should be able to get a decent spot 30 minutes before it starts. If you have young children that cannot stay out that late then you will either have to skip Fantasmic or deal with the more crowded 9PM showing.


Ride Capacities at DLR

The rides at DLR have different abilities to handle visitors based on loading techniques. Rides like Dumbo are extremely slow loaders because they must come to a complete stop, let everyone off, load everyone on, and then start again. While the ride is operating, everyone else has to wait. I believe the ride capacity for Dumbo is 300-600 people per hour. These are called “cycle loaders”.

Another type of loading technique is the “continuous loader”. The Haunted Mansion (HM) is a good example of this. The “doom buggies” that you ride in come in a continuous stream. HM can handle 2600 people per hour.

The highest capacity ride at DLR is Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC). With the POTC boats it is not exactly a continuous loader, but it can handle 3400 people per hour. POTC is known as an “interval loader”.

The length of lines at the DLR rides is a function of the demand for the ride and the capacity to load guests. When the demand exceeds the capacity, wait times increase. Note that it is not the length of the line that is important, but the length of the wait. A line at Dumbo will take 5-10 times as long as the same length of line on POTC because POTC has higher capacity.

I cannot take space to explain here how every single ride builds its lines throughout the day. But here are some general guidelines.

The DL Fantasyland rides are almost all slow loaders. Thus they all build up significant wait times during the day. These rides are best done in the early morning. Many of them also have shorter lines later in the evening. None of the FantasyLand rides have FastPass, so if you want to ride them without long lines you need to know when to ride them.

The ToonTown attractions, except for Roger Rabbit, are very slow. Gadget’s Go Coaster has only a single train, and long lines will build up on this ride. Mickey’s House will also build long lines very quickly. Roger Rabbit is the exception in ToonTown, in that it has higher capacity but it also has FastPass. Thus there is no reason to ever wait in a line for RR.

Even though POTC and HM are popular rides, the fact that they have such high capacity means that their lines build very slowly in the morning. As long as you get to them by 10AM the lines will be at most 10 minutes long (even though Peter Pan will be 45 minutes long by then). Small World is another high capacity ride whose line builds slowly and never really gets that long because of its capacity.

And then there are the FastPass (FP) rides. These rides are usually headliners, and many people have the strategy to ride them through the standby line first thing in the morning. Now I admit that sometimes we personally do this, but not because we know it is the best thing to do from a time management point of view. It isn’t. If you can get a FP, then you can ride that ride any time of day with a short line. Why use precious morning time going on a ride that you can ride any time of day with a short line (using FP), when there are many other rides that you can only ride early morning or late at night with a short line? Well, we do it because we want to. But we do not do it often. Only sometimes we just cannot wait until later in the day to ride that ride – but this is typically after we have already ridden the slow loaders on other days and we are not sacrificing those to ride this FP ride through the standby line.

Last but not least are the “afternoon filler” attractions. These are attractions whose lines never seem to get long. Even better, many of the filler rides are air conditioned. The two at DL that come to mind first are Tiki Room and Captain Eo. The two that come to mind first at DCA are the Disney Animation Studios and Its Tough To Be a Bug (ITTBAB). All four of these are air conditioned. And they are not “bad” attractions. They are just attractions that tend to not ever have long lines. I think one thing they have in common is low re-ride value. This just means I would be surprised to hear that people experienced these twice in the same trip. The best time to do these is as close to mid-day as possible when all other lines are long. If you get your early start at DLR, then it is best to do these at 11AM-1PM or early evening 5-7PM after your hotel break.


FastPass

Since DLR started enforcing FP windows it is harder to leverage FP to your advantage. Here are some ideas on using FP:

"Thoughts on Maximizing FASTPASS in Today's Disney Parks" http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?p=50089263


Touring Plans

If you are uncomfortable with your knowledge of how lines build at DLR, consider subscribing to RideMax (www.ridemax.com). RideMax will create a custom touring plan for you at DL or DCA, and account for most of the things discussed in this topic. The Touring Plans website also offers customized touring plans - www.touringplans.com.

Some people are not comfortable following a touring plan all day long. That is fine. One can use RideMax or TP for parts of the day, and then not follow it the rest. Or one can decide to ignore it altogether. But it can help people who feel like they need help.


Personal Summer Experience

Four Day Trip, first week of August, 2005:

o High temperatures were in the low to mid-80’s
o Stayed at BWPPI, the closest good neighbor hotel
o Saw all the shows at DL and DCA
o Rode every ride at DL once
o Rode all of the headliners at DL and DCA 2-4 times
o Rode 29 rides one day
o Averaged 17 rides per day
o Rarely waited in line for a ride more than 10 minutes, and never more than 20
o Averaged 11.5 hours per day inside the parks
o Spent part of every day at each park, sometimes hopping more than once
o Took 4-5 hour breaks every day

Day Trip, first week of August, 2006

o Much less crowded than same week in 2005
o High temperature was 82-85F
o No chance for a hotel break because it was a day trip
o Took an afternoon break at Disney Animation Studios at DCA for 30 minutes to cool off and relax
o Rode 22 rides
o Saw three shows – The DL fireworks, DL’s Parade of Dreams, and DCA’s Block Party Bash
o We started at DL at 8AM, hopped to DCA at 10AM, hopped back to DL at 2PM, hopped back to DCA at 5PM, and then hopped back to DL at 6PM
o We were very tired when we left at 10PM

Three Day Trip, last week of June, 2007

o High temperature was low 80s F
o Stayed at BWPPI, the closest good neighbor hotel
o Spent part of every day at each park, sometimes hopping more than once
o Took 3-5 hour breaks every day
o Did not keep a ride count but it was similar to August 2005 trip

Day Trip, first week of August, 2009

o High temperature was 85F
o No chance for a hotel break because it was a day trip
o Took an afternoon break as part of lunch at RainForest Cafe for about 90 minutes to cool off and rehydrate
o Rode 25 rides
o Saw one show – Fantasmic
o We started at DL at 8AM, hopped to DCA after lunch at 3PM, and then hopped back to DL at 7PM
o We were very tired when we left at 11:45PM
 

AmyK

Mouseketeer
Joined
Feb 1, 2007
Thank you again! As I'll have a 6 and 8 year old when we go, I'm sure we won't be closing the park very often, but they are early risers and accustomed to an earlier time zone. I KNOW we can be there early. lol

Thanks for the tips. I need to start printing these out and keeping them on file!

Amy
 

blackjackdelta

<font color=darkorchid>Uncle had an "in" with Walt
Joined
Jul 23, 2005
Trey:
As per usual and excellent job done. Thanks for the hardwork.

Jackpirate:
 
  • Adi12982

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 3, 2006
    THANKS SO MUCH - I am subbing and saving this for our trip. We are going in the summer because it is our first trip and wanted to be able to experience all the major attractions without worrying about them being closed (i.e. Splash Mountain). PLUS, we are used to crowds at WDW (we usually go in July) and were able to handle christmas through new years without waiting more than 15-20 minute sfor anything. . . so I figure with your tips we will be fine :)
     

    Amy&Dan

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 19, 2004
    Thanks Trey, as usual you are right on the money! You are going to love GCH btw!
     
  • c&m

    Love the Mouse but love my DH more for taking me t
    Joined
    Apr 24, 2000
    Thanks for all the great info and links! We're going in mid-July, Mon-Wed.:cheer2:
     
  • tinkerbelt

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2007
    Also keep in mind that a lot of annual passholders will show up in the evening after they get off of work. Crowds usually pick up a bit after about 5pm, especially on Friday evenings.
     

    Sally95

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Feb 28, 2007
    You Rock Hydroguy! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.
    It was so intimidating to even think of planning my trip. Now, I have a place to start.
    Thanks again.
     

    Kailua's Belle

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 1, 2007
    The bad news is I've discovered your wonderful thread AFTER I just returned from DL, which was during the ONLY busy week in Feb. :sad2: I was expecting short lines and wasn't too concerned that I didn't have too much of a game plan. Heck, I used to work there! I thought I was sooo smart. Boy, was I wrong! I had no idea you could use a FP after it expired. I let several go to waste because we missed the window. Oh, I won't even go into all the dumb mistakes we made.:mad:

    Good news is I'm dead set on going back in December and your info will be invaluable!!! Thank you so much for putting so much time and thought into that!!:banana:

    One quick question: I was trying to figure out from your graph when the Christmas break spike starts. Do you have that broken out by date? :scratchin

    I'm trying to plan my trip as late in December as possible but before the crowds get too crazy. Even with your helpful hints, I don't think I can do too many days of the Christmas crowds. Plus airfare is outrageous during that time.

    Thanks again! You truly are a DL trip planning EXPERT!!!:thumbsup2
     

    HydroGuy

    A Pirate's Life For Me
    Joined
    Jun 5, 2005
    One quick question: I was trying to figure out from your graph when the Christmas break spike starts. Do you have that broken out by date? :scratchin

    I'm trying to plan my trip as late in December as possible but before the crowds get too crazy. Even with your helpful hints, I don't think I can do too many days of the Christmas crowds. Plus airfare is outrageous during that time.
    The graph isn't "mine", but from the reference I gave. And I have never been to DLR in December. :blush: In recent years it has only been in summer and November around Thanksgiving. It is my understanding (from DLR forums) that the week right before Christmas is pretty busy, but before that it is not as busy. Other December visitors should jump in here. ::yes::
     

    Hound 109

    <font color=teal>So non-screamin' family members c
    Joined
    Oct 10, 2006
    Bumping because I can.

    (& most of HydroGuy's links are on page one)

    hound :hippie:
     

    Saavy?

    'Ole Pirate
    Joined
    Jun 19, 2007
    I am a December Disney'er. :santa:
    From experience...
    The day school lets out for Christmas break in that local area the park goes insane with visitors. Anytime before that, it's beautiful for low crowds.
    Made the mistake of doing a half & half week one year. Having a great time, patting ourselves on the back for our good timing, really enjoying not getting slammed into by others... then whammo!... complete change... madhouse, crowds, back to "little step, big step, little step..." and wondered what in the heck? Well, it was the Christmas break for the schools. The crowds intensify in number each day from that point on until New Year's.

    You have been forewarned.
    If going anyway... use Hydroguy's summertime tips to utilize your time.
     

    tinkerbelt

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2007
    Summer crowds have been really hit or miss this year. We've been at the park about 3 times in the last month, and the crowds have not been bad at all. Yesterday we were there and the wait times were shorter than they are during off season for some stuff - Nemo was 60 minutes, Star Tours was 5 minutes, Buzz 10 minutes, Pirates and Small World were no wait. Fireworks had good spots available right up to the last minute. It was really nice!
     

    CanadianPaco

    I miss my tags!
    Joined
    Jun 12, 2005
    I have only two WDW trips to my name but I do understand the importance of being prepared. DH was convinced of this once we did the first trip. You see alot more and understand a lot better what you need to do to do the things you want. Plan and prepare. That's what I'm doing for our August DL trip!
    Thanks Hydroguy!:)
     

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