Pleading the Fourth
by Mike Scopa, AllEars® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the June 10, 2008 Issue #455 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
For those who have either never been to Walt Disney World or who have not been in a relatively long time, the question that comes to mind most is, "When is the best time to go?"
It's an important question and as the years have gone by the many promotions, annual events, and other sort of "celebrations" have pretty much made it rather difficult to say with confidence exactly what week of what month is the ideal time to visit the land of talking mice and ducks.
What would help is to qualify that question by defining what is meant by the term "ideal time." Is the best time when crowds are low? Is the best time when park operating hours are at their peak? How about during that time of the year when Disney is most apt to offer free dining? Then of course there are the seasons -- winter, spring, summer, and fall. Which is best? Is the weather a factor?
All these come into play so the next time that question pops up -- and you are asking it -- you may want to think what conditions meet your criteria regarding an "ideal time" to go.
Why do I start off with this thought?
Well, because along those lines of saying when is the best time to go, there is also a lot to be said for when it is the worse time to go to Walt Disney World.
I'm sure you've heard it many times -- stay away during Spring Break; avoid the last half of both February and April because those times are usually school vacation times; don't even think about Easter: forget Thanksgiving and you have to be somewhat crazy to go during Christmas.
Oh, there is one more time of the year in which we are all told to avoid Walt Disney World like The Plague. That time is the first week of July, with specific emphasis on the Fourth of July.
"Oh no!" we are told. "Don't go to Walt Disney World during the first week of July. It's hot. It's crowded! Oh, the humanity!"
Well, I'd like to take the contrarian approach to this and tell you about my experiences while visiting Walt Disney World during the first week of July and specifically July 4th. You see, I've done this several times and you would think had I not enjoyed it my first time then I would have had serious thoughts about ever doing it again that time of year. So here and now you will hear my dissertation and argument FOR going to Walt Disney World during that first week in July and especially July 4th.
I'll also give you some guidelines as to what you should expect on that day and suggest a plan for you on what could be a most memorable day in Walt Disney World.
THE EARLY BIRD...
...is the mantra that is always heralded when any discussion centers on going to a Disney theme park.
But you have to make an exception on July 4th. It is true that as the day goes on the parks begin to swell -- and that is a most appropriate word, swell with groups. Ironically, we don't think it's "swell" to be in a crowded park, do we? But we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
Getting back to the whole plan, I suggest you get up early and try to get the earliest seating you can for breakfast at Trail's End in Fort Wilderness. Fort Wilderness has a tradition on Fourth of July that has grown in popularity over the years. It is their annual Fourth of July float decorating contest.
Parade floats? In Fort Wilderness?
Actually these floats are electric golf carts that are transformed into variations of red, white, and blue, with an eagle or an image of Uncle Sam thrown in. Imagine starting off your Fourth of July in a nice quiet restaurant and colonial setting, then upon your exit from the restaurant you find yourself swept up in the spirit of the Fourth of July.
Whenever I am in Walt Disney World on the Fourth I make it a point to not only go to Trail's End for breakfast and then see patriotic creativity in the form of these floats, but I spend time talking with the guests who come every year to try their luck at decorating their golf carts. It's a great way to start off your morning and get you into the spirit of the day.
Once you have had your fill of this tradition it's time to go to the Magic Kingdom theme park.
A DAY OF CHOICES
Let's be honest, it would be quite a challenge for anyone to experience all the attractions in the Magic Kingdom on the Fourth of July. Thus you have to make choices.
Along the way here is a key to making the most of your time on this day. Start your touring of the Magic Kingdom in Tomorrowland. On this day you want to be sure you tour the park in a counter-clockwise approach. Speaking from experience I can tell you that this type of plan is the best chance for you to enjoy the park before the park becomes real crowded.
Now you need to understand that such headliner attractions as Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain may be among those attractions for which this day says "90-minute wait," so it's best to assume that these three attractions may have to be saved for another day.
As you go through Tomorrowland and each attraction, try to plan your touring so you do not do any back-tracking. For instance, try not to do Carousel of Progress and then do Stitch's Great Escape. You want to plan a steady path and know exactly where to go upon immediate exit from each attraction.
Move from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and be aware that on the Fourth Fantasyland will experience crowd levels at 11 a.m. normally seen by 2 p.m. -- so keep moving. It would be in your best interest if you are at Liberty Square and perhaps the Haunted Mansion by late morning. That is a good sign. Keep in mind that your best opportunity for short queues is before noon.
One of the reasons I suggest doing your attractions commando-style early on is because usually in the afternoon there are some special Fourth of July celebrations going on in Main Street USA and those are events you do not want to miss.
Usually on the Fourth of July Main Street USA is the site of some very moving patriotic fanfare. It could be a special armed services parade, it could be a sea of flags waving; or better yet even a huge naturalization ceremony where a number of guests are sworn in as United States citizens. Regardless, it is well worth getting up early to do a majority of attractions and get to Main Street USA to witness such an event. There are always special events happening on the Fourth and checking in at City Hall is the best way to find out what's in store on this special day.
EATING ON THE
We've already covered breakfast. Hopefully any dining reservations will have been made months before July, but if not think about some interesting alternatives to the obvious eating in the parks.
The monorail restaurants are good options for a mid-afternoon, late lunch or early dinner. The key here is to find a restaurant that is serving all day or has extended hours and be flexible regarding when you want to eat. Don't forget that the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are fairly close to the Magic Kingdom and you should always have those two resorts and their dining options on your list whenever you visit the Magic Kingdom.
Flexibility is the key here, especially if you have not made any advanced dining reservations.
So it's your first time in Walt Disney World and you aren't sure which fireworks spectacular to take in. The three parks to choose from are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. There are pros and cons to each one that should be weighed before making this important decision.
Here are my thoughts:
Disney's Hollywood Studios will offer a special presentation of "Sorcery in the Sky," followed by a special Fourth of July "tag," which is several minutes of patriotic fanfare -- fireworks and music. "Sorcery" is rarely shown at the park and so for many people it is a treat to see this July 4th fireworks spectacular.
However, there is a price to pay for witnessing this show. Disney's Hollywood Studios is relatively small and Hollywood Boulevard is somewhat narrow. Thus the crowd that gathers to watch this park's Fourth celebration is quite over the top. I can tell you from my own personal experience that if I ever choose to watch this park's Fourth of July celebration it will be from the parking lot.
Of the two remaining parks, Epcot offers the most breathing room. Of course IllumiNations offers its own unique Fourth of July tag for that evening. It is a spectacular show for sure and once again it's important to point out that the crowd level for this night will be high. There are several places around World Showcase that offer a great view of this night's show. Keep in mind that most guests will try to watch this night's rendition of IllumiNations from World Showcase Plaza so you may want to avoid that area.
Is Epcot my park of choice? Not for this night!
After several visits on July 4th I have found nothing is better than watching the special Fourth of July Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. Although the crowd is quite heavy it is not as bad as you would think.
There are so many factors that go into why I prefer the Magic Kingdom. First and foremost, nothing takes precedence over seeing a towering castle as the centerpiece for a wonderful fireworks display. Secondly, the PA system in the Magic Kingdom is second to none, and compliments the visual wonderment of the fireworks for that evening. Finally, the entire experience, excitement, and patriotism that I have witnessed on that night have made me clamor for more every year.
Look for me the next time you're in Walt Disney World on the Fourth of July. I'll be on Main Street USA, waiting for the one night of the year when I am thankful that I am more than just another Walt Disney World fan, but a proud citizen of the United States of America.
So I'm pleading with you... to try Walt Disney World on the Fourth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast.
AllEars® Readers share their 4th of July Fireworks Viewing Tips: http://allears.net/tp/fojuly.htm#2
July 4th, 2007 Walt Disney World Naturalization Ceremony Part 1: http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2007/07/july_4th_2007_walt_disney_worl_1.html
July 4th, 2007 Walt Disney World Naturalization Ceremony Part 2: http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2007/07/july_4th_2007_walt_disney_worl.html
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.