We just returned from a super fun family trip to DLR & DCA (with two boys 6 and 12). I always said I’d never go to Disney between Christmas and New Year’s…and here we were in 2021/2022. Never say never, right?
We were in parks Jan 1-3 (Sat-Mon):
• We rope dropped DCA on Jan. 1 and park hopped to DLR mid-day in time to see the 2pm parade, the hit many of the headliners before leaving DLR around 6pm
• We rope dropped DLR on Jan. 2, then left park midday for naps and R&R, returning to DCA around 6.30pm to see Carsland & ride Radiator Racers at night, then spent the balance of the evening at DLR through to midnight close.
• We slept in on our last day and were in parks from 10.30AM-5:00pm before catching a 7.30pm flight home.
And, while the parks were crowded with a capital C, in the early morning, we didn’t wait more than 5 minutes, if that, for any ride, and rarely waited more than 15 minutes for any ride in the afternoon (with a few notable exceptions), with the help of a solid rope drop plan and use of LL and ILL’s. I just couldn’t believe my eyes at how many people were waiting in crushingly long lines. Seriously, a 180-200 minute wait for ONE ride?? My oh my.
I have serious gratitude for this liner community for helping make this trip so memorable. I was particularly grateful on our DLR rope drop day as we walked back through New Orleans Square and Adventureland from RoR to pick up our lunch at Bengal BBQ (at 11.15AM ) and saw the insanely long lines and high waits for Haunted, Pirates and Jungle….rides we had literally walked on a little more than 2 hours prior.
• Our favorites were RoR (by a landslide), Space, Incredicoastor, Radiator Racers, Big Thunder, at night especially, Guardians, Soarin, Millennial Falcon (pilots), Mater’s (what a hoot), and Turtle Talk with Crush. My kids also loved the end of the Monsters Inc ride with the personalized conversation and we were genuinely and unexpectedly delighted by Star Tours. I think I liked Small World even more with the holiday overlay than the regular version. We hit everything in our plan across three days except Lincoln’s President show, Avenger’s Dance Off, Downtown Disney shopping and Luigi’s (which was down every time we went by except one afternoon where it had a 40 minute wait (no way jose).
• My 6 year old loved getting the attention of every character in the fantasy parade, who indulged him with a personal wave. From then on, he would race up to every pop up character greeting and try to get the same personalized treatment. His smile was HUGE when interacting with characters. We all loved seeing Lightening McQueen and Mater, Chewbacca and Rey, Woody, and Mickey (of course).
A few tips:
• If you are visiting parks for more than one day, I think Genie+ is more valuable when you pair it with Park Hopper. Because of the 1x per day restriction on any Genie eligible ride, if you want to experience some of the major headliners more than once, it’s helpful to park hop and use Genie+, so you can conceivably fit all the super headliners across both parks in one day and do it again the next. For example, we did TSMM, Incredicoaster, Soarin and Guardians in DCA in the AM and then Space, Indy, MF, and Big Thunder on our first afternoon Park Hop, and then still had them to use again the next day. If you don’t do park hoppers, then I’d suggest using Genie for DLR for sure, and then just rope drop DCA and do all the great rides standby in the AM. (Web Slinger, Guardians, TSMM, Incrediacoaster, Soarin). More walking but serious time savings.
• For us, Park Hopper was important and I couldn’t imagine not having it. We pivoted all the time, especially with ride closures. For example, RoR was down for 2 hours on our first day which crossed over our ILL reservation. We did not want to make it a late day in the park, so we did not want to wait around to see when it would come back up, knowing we could arrange our schedule the next day to use it. If we hadn’t had Park Hoppers, that would not have worked.
• Be sure to download the Disney Genie app and practice using Genie a few days before park entry. One of the forum posters here was a genius about recommending pinning your most important LL rides into the app so you could monitor the return times. That was brilliant. However, the IT part of Genie is glitchy, and you often have to do it again, or refresh or update to get the app to register. Play around with it before your first park morning as it is not ‘out of the box’ friendly for sure.
• If you make LL reservations for your entire party, and someone sits out the ride, if nobody is going to use that extra reservation, make sure you tap in the redemption otherwise you are stuck with one person in your party not being able to make additional LL reservations, and it’s impossibly glitchy to cancel that lone reservation. Easier just to tap in as a ghost rider.
• Read the fine print carefully on your automatic “multiple experience’ conversions for when a ride is down. The exclusions are longer than your arm, and really aren’t apples to apples. We had a Big Thunder LL and a Guardians LL both convert to multiple experience b/c the ride was down during our window. Both of the above are desirable reservations that can tie up your LL reservation ability for an hour or two (especially Guardians). When Guardians went down, we were standing right in front of the LL entrance and didn’t want to wait as we had a paid Rise of Resistance ILL reservation to get to in DLR, so we thought we’d use it for Space Mtn instead rather than hopping back to DCA. Nope, Double Nope. Space, Matterhorn, Indy and something else were all EXCLUDED. They say Guardians and Big Thunder aren’t in the same tier as the above rides. What? As Matterhorn? As Indy? And, honestly, the return times for Guardians were just as far out as Space the entire three days we were in the parks. Keep that in mind. We didn’t know this and had been saving our pass the entire night to ride Space as our last ride of the night, and a nice castmate took pity on us and let us in anyway after showing me the exclusions page.
• Set timers in the morning to check in on ILL return times for Rise of Resistance, as they go FAST and trying to time it to suit your schedule can be tricky. I.e. it will be a 9am return time one minute, and then jump to 10.50AM in a heartbeat, and then be after 2pm, and then gone. This was the only ride I thought was worth an ILL, FWIW. Although when the price dropped back to $12 for Radiator Springs on our last day, I gladly paid it to keep my family together versus the stress of the SR line.
• Single Rider line for Radiator Racers in the early morning timeframe is GLORIOUS. No wait whatsoever. In the afternoon and evening, it’s still a pretty darn long wait (30+ minutes).
• For sure, the reintroduction of fast pass lanes has slowed down Stand By. They were super generous with keeping lightening lane moving…so much so that I felt genuine pity watching them hold up the stand by line so much as we were waved through, especially knowing how long these folks had been waiting by the time they got to the front.
• Learn how to use Mobile Order. The first day I didn’t really understand it’s importance and because we stopped relatively early for lunch, we skirted disastrous waits. However, when I wanted to get a Dole Whip mid-afternoon, I found out that the next Mobile Order window was 45 minutes out. Jeez. I learned my lesson and the next day I became a pro. It’s tricky as you have to guesstimate the time, and the mobile window orders are pretty short (30 minutes). You can modify them, but the timeslot you might want to modify to might not be available so it’s not a panacea.
• Rope Dropping, and being at the front of the pack, was absolutely ESSENTIAL to our enjoyment of the parks during this crowded time of year (we did the same at Universal). I would much prefer waking up early and getting to the parks early and skirting standing in line 5 hours a day.
• On Day 1, we successfully Rope Dropped Web Slinger in what was a breathtakingly large crowd all racing like mad people to this ride where the queue rose in what seemed like an instant to 120 minutes; One guy jokingly yelled out in comedic fashion “Every man for themself!”. It was a hoot. We then made our way to an empty Pacific Wharf to do stand by TSMM and Incrediacoaster (which we rode back to back several times) then hopped on Ariel before heading to Carsland to ride Mater before using our ILL for Radiator Racers, followed by riding RR again using Single Rider with ZERO wait. The standby queue was already 60 minutes. We didn’t know how lucky we were on the SR line that morning, as we tried it again at night and waited 30+ minutes (when the stand by line was 120 minutes)!
• Seize the moment on rides. Seriously. Rides go down all the time. My family gave me grief for riding Ariel on our rope drop morning as we were leaving Pacific Wharf, but it was up and running with no line, so we hopped on. I swear the rest of the time it was down more than it was up.
• We got stuck on a rail on Incredicoaster (with my 6 and 12 year old) and got walked off by maintenance. That sucked up 40 minutes of our park time (we had to forego Turtle Talk that day, which was a pity b/c we I didn’t know how much my 6 year would love it, and want to do it again). However, we did get two GOOD multiple experience fast passes each (that didn’t have all the restrictions that I mentioned above). However, we had to ask the castmate giving us the passes to give us the more the generous passes, which she was more than gracious to do, even though she alluded to the fact that it was ‘outside of protocol”. That softened the blow for sure.
• Later we then got stuck on Radiator Racers, and because we rode SR, my 12 year old was in a different car (with a phone thank goodness for connection), and my 6 year old was in front of me in the same car. It was 20 minutes. Not as harrowing of course as being on a roller coaster rail with blaring music in your ear, (we sat in front of Luigi’s,) but annoying for sure. They just offered another ride right then and there, but b/c my 12 year old was flustered, he got out, so we did too. No benefit there. Nobody else was dumb enough to get out, when the posted wait was 2+ hours.
• On Day 2, we rope dropped DLR, but with less success on our intended target: Peter Pan. I went the wrong way (not through the castle), so we were no longer front of the pack, so we skipped and then breezed through something like 9 rides with ZERO waits from 8am-9.30AM (Alice, Snow White, Matterhorn, Big Thunder, Jungle, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Splash, Pooh), before making our way to Star Wars Land to use an LL for MF, and then redeem our ILL RoR, before heading to our perfectly timed Bengal BBQ mobile order at 11.15AM. At that point, the lines were insane just to order food. Phew. We had to ride Jungle and Pirates early b/c they don’t have a LL, and we wanted to save our Big Thunder, Splash and Haunted Mansion LLs for the evening when we were coming back to the parks so we wanted to ride Stand By in the AM.
• Things start to go into slow motion everywhere in the parks starting mid-morning. After riding so many rides as walk ons, I was praising this liner community as we walked back through New Orleans Square and Adventureland from RoR to pick up our lunch at 11.15AM and saw the insanely high waits for Haunted, Pirates and Jungle….rides we had literally walked on a little more than 2 hours prior.
• Some of the posted wait signs throughout both parks for select rides were crazy pants (i.e. 220 minutes???). Whaaaat?
• You do have to employ some strategy with your afternoon LL’s. In the mid morning, you can generally get immediate Return Times, so it’s easy peasy. In the afternoon, there are trade-offs and opportunity costs. Do I want to tie up 2 hours of booking opportunity to get the ride you want at the time you want b/c if you wait, you won’t be able to book something till after you want to leave the park? It was easy when you tapped in to remember to book another LL, but if you booked a ride with RT’s farther out, it was smart to set your timer on your phone.
• Even with masks, there is no question this is one big super spreader experience! My husband and I are fully boosted (Moderna 3x), my 6 year old was fully vaccinated as of 12/23, and my 12 year was fully vaccinated as of June. And still, we are fully prepared to have Omicron take us down. It was CROWDED. Mask compliance indoors was 100%, but outdoors you are in very close quarters with others, without masks. The transmissibility of Omicron should be a factor for sure.
• We stayed at the Hyatt Place and the staff there were simply outstanding.
• The Toy Story shuttle option is a nonstarter because by the time you walk to the bus, you might as well just walk to the park, and the way the busses wind their way to the park and wait to depart till the bus gets a certain number of people, it takes forever and is super inefficient.
• We found the ART busses to be the most efficient way to get to/from the park while saving our feet. I had landed on this decision 4 years ago when we last visited, but I was thrown off my game when a hotel guest swore by Toy Story. I tried it one afternoon after it looked like all the ART departures were farther out, and even my 6 year old said it was a bad call.
• We purchased a 3 day pass ($3.50 for my 6year old for 3 days!, and just $16 for adults), and we more than broke even on the cost, and the convenience was amazing.
• Coming home, we could hop on any of the Bus 3, 4 or 5 busses (whichever was there at that moment) and let the driver know we wanted to get off at their first stop. My husband was bound and determined to show us that it was faster to walk, and he never beat us, but only b/c we weren’t married to one bus route. On our late night at the park, we got off Space at 11.20, walked out of the park, saw a bus in spot 3 which left right after we boarded at 11.30, and we were in our hotel room getting changed by 11.40.
• Going to the Parks we used Google directions, and were deliberate about which bus stop we went to according to the bus schedule. Don’t wing it. Google is your friend .