Planning a Walt Disney World vacation? It can be overwhelming. When I was planning ours, I definitely was…a little overwhelmed. Being a closet perfectionist, I wanted to cultivate the “optimal” Magic Kingdom experience. An impossible task? Perhaps. After extensive research, i.e canvasing all of the Disney-fandom websites (thank goodness for them), the month of February came out as one of the top contenders to visit the most magical (and most crowded) place in the world. Why? Well, for starters Disney World in February is meant to be one of the slower periods crowd-wise – especially during the first half of the month. Less foot traffic means less stress. The weather is also usually mild and cool – friendlier conditions for walking and standing in long lines than the height of Summer in Florida. So last October, armed with this new found Disney wisdom, I started planning our 2018 Disney Magic Kingdom trip.
Visiting the Magic Kingdom: Our Expectations versus Reality
Did things turn out like I expected? Not quite. Disney World in February (we traveled during the second week of the month) turned out to busier and, to my utter dismay, much warmer than expected. Sigh. What contributed to this change in predictions? Cheerleaders, Mardi Gras and Presidents are to blame. Say what? Apparently, when Mardi Gras and U.S. Presidents Day fall close together (i.e. back to back weekends), this phenomenon increases foot traffic at the resorts and parks exponentially. Also, this year the National High School Cheerleading Championship (don’t ask me anything about this event because I have no idea) took place at Disney from 10th – 11th February. Do not under-estimate how these groups can contribute to crowds. They were everywhere. On arrival at the airport, one of the Disney Cast Members revealed to us that these groups accounted for 14,000 guests over the course of the day!
Despite this unexpected turn in events, however, I considered our trip a “success”. By success, I mean that we saw most of what we wanted to see, did most of what we wanted to do AND we had loads of fun. I credit this success with having a solid plan in place. Yes, you can’t plan fun. But when dealing with a place like Disney World, in this case the Magic Kingdom, you can make conditions optimal for fun to happen by ensuring you have access to the activities your family will enjoy and avoiding (as much as possible) happiness killers like excessively long lines. Want to know how I accomplished this feat? I’m super mom, of course. Yeah, right. More like I had a lot of help!
Given that October was only about 3 months out from our visit, I was already “late” by Disney planning standards. Yes, 3 months advanced planning is considered late. Why? Well, it’s all about the ADR’s and Fast-passes. That’s some lingo I acquired while deep in the Disney internet. Before I begin to offer my perspective on planning the Magic, I’ve got a bit of a disclaimer. I’m no Disney expert. There are tons of well established websites/Disney gurus out there who will offer you everything you need to know about the world of Disney (i.e. where to stay to dates/times of ride and attraction closures). I’m not even gonna try to compete with that wealth of information. This post is simply an account of my experience while I try to offer some tips for the interested reader – tips that helped me get this amazing shot:
Before You Go
I’ll probably talk more in detail about pre-trip preparedness in a future post on travelling with a toddler. Generally speaking, however, when preparing for your trip you should do the following (in this order):
Up to a year in advance:
- Download the My Disney Experience App
- Buy your Park Tickets
- Book accommodations (whether on site or off)
Up to 6 months or 180 days in advance:
- Make Advanced Dining Reservations
- Book flights (if applicable)
- Book rental car (if applicable)
- Make FastPass+ Reservations (if staying on-site at a Disney resort or one of the resorts approved for 60 day FastPass+)
- Reserve Disney Magical Express (if staying on property)
Up to 30 days in advance:
- Make FastPass+ Reservations (if your accommodations are off-site)
- Purchase travel essentials (we loved this for quickly applying SPF to the little one and this travel friendly toiletries kit for her baths)
Up to two weeks in advance:
- Pack a Carry-on Bag of Essentials including a change of clothes, toothbrush/toothpaste, diapers, hand sanitizer, lotion etc (this is also helpful if you are using Disney’s Magical Express because you won’t get your luggage for a couple of hours)
Disney World in February – Dining Reservations
Let’s talk about food. ADR stands for “advanced dining reservations” and they are a MUST if you want to take advantage of the crème de la crème of Disney dining. You can make ADRs starting 180 days before your trip (you must have a valid park ticket). If you’re staying on a Disney property, you’ll have the added perk of up to an additional 10 days to book dining reservations on top of the 180 to what effectively amounts to 190 days. Yeah, it’s that serious people.
Obviously, having booked my February trip in late October, I was three months behind. Did I have trouble scoring the reservations I wanted? Yes and No. Out of the six Disney dining reservations I was hoping for (Be our Guest, California Grill, Cinderella’s Royal, Chef Mickey’s, The Crystal Palace and T-Rex), I scored four (Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s, The Crystal Palace and T-Rex). Not too bad. I also managed to get us a great time slot for the Festival of Fantasy Parade Dining Package at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant but I’ll talk more about that in another post. Based on this experience, my tip is to book your dining reservations as soon as you know you’re going on the trip.
Things that may have worked in our favor when booking our Disney ADR’s…
I actually didn’t start making our dining reservations until mid-November. I know, what kind of planner, am I? What helped me to get some of the more coveted bookings like Be Our Guest and Chef Mickey’s?
- Although busier than expected, it was still February and not Spring Break, Summer or Christmas. You’ll have better luck getting the reservations you want during the “off-season”.
- We were a relatively small party of 3. Larger parties would probably have had more difficulty scoring reservations so close to the trip.
- I used the My Disney Experience App – an essential tool which helps you to organize all aspects of your trip, including your ADR’s. Because we’d actually visited Disney for the Not-So-Scary-Halloween event, I had already downloaded the App and was somewhat familiar with the online system.
- I checked constantly for new time slots/openings. The dining reservation system supposedly refreshes everyday at 7 a.m. EST to adjust for new openings (those 24 hour fee-avoiding cancellations). What I found, however, is that new slots opened up throughout the day. For example, when first looking there were no reservations available for Be Our Guest during our trip period. A week later, however, a breakfast slot opened up. I also changed our Crystal Palace reservation twice when better times for our schedule became available.
- We did Breakfasts and late Dinners for some of the more popular restaurants.
- Other things to note about ADR’s: you’ll need a credit card to guarantee most reservations, there is a no-show fee of $10/person (I understand that even if only one person shows up, this counts as having “completed” the booking and you won’t be charged), and you have up to 24 hours prior to your reservation time to cancel without being charged the fee. Read more about Disney ADR’s here.
Disney World in February – FastPass+
What’s a FastPass+? The ultimate get out of jail free card when it comes to avoiding those long, long Disney lines. Like I said, Disney World in February is considered an off-season of sorts. That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be any lines to contend with. Even if you end up travelling during a typical February (not the crowded conundrum we were faced with) or any time that’s considered “slow”, you’ll still have to do some waiting. Trust me. This is when the Disney FastPass+ system comes in handy.
FastPass+ is kind of like ADR’s in the sense that you are “reserving” a time slot to experience an attraction. Essentially, the pass allows you and your party (everyone has to have one) to bypass the regular line for a shorter one. For each day you have a theme park ticket you are allowed to book up to three FastPassses in advance. For people staying on a Disney property (or approved property), that’s 60 days out while people staying off site get 30 days. We were staying at the Contemporary Resort – which means that at 7 a.m. EST, 60 days before the first day of our trip, I was on the My Disney Experience App booking our FastPasses.
Whether it was due to the fact that we were visiting Disney World in February or because most people waited to make their FastPass+ reservations later in the day, I was able to get all of the attraction and time slots I wanted. A week later there was still quite a bit of availability even for the most popular rides. Want to know more about how FastPass+ works? Read more here.
So how crowded was Disney World in February, really?
Although the Magic Kingdom was more crowded than we had expected, it could have been worse. Along with May and October, I think February remains a solid option for those looking to take advantage of reduced foot traffic in the parks. It’s kind of difficult to convey what crowds are like with words. Moreover, people will have different ideas of what crowded looks or feels like. If it helps, however, I’ll share some photos we took of during the Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire stage show at Cinderella’s castle. The first photo was taken on Friday, the second Saturday. On each occasion, despite casually strolling towards the show at least five or so minutes after start time, we were able to get good spots at the front.
Disney World Resources & Websites
Some of the websites that were invaluable to me in preparing for Disney World in February (or any time);
Touring Plans – This is THE place to get your touring plan and consult crowd trackers, IMO. They’re super scientific approach has the organizer in me geeking out. First off, I love that I can seamlessly personalize and edit my own touring plans. But what’s even better is the ability to see, at a glance, how long it would take me to walk to an attraction, wait in line and ride. Simply the best. You’ll have to pay to use the service but the years subscription was worth every penny ($14.95 USD, I believe).
Easy WDW – I love this sites very practical approach to visiting Walt Disney World. Posts like this one on the New Rope Drop procedures at the Magic Kingdom really gave me a sense of what to expect when we got there.
My Disney Experience App – All your Magic in one place. Enough said.
I hope this post has helped you. Have you ever visited Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Please share your tips as well…
This content is provided informational purposes only and is based on the author's personal experience. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. All items featured in this post were purchased by the author unless otherwise noted. Any products or services provided as PR will be marked with an asterisk "*". This website uses Skimlinks and this post may contain affiliate links.