Disney World is a pretty magical place no matter how old you are. With four theme parks, two water parks, over 25 resorts, and a giant shopping and dining paradise, there’s a ridiculous amount of things to do.
This theme park wonderland happens to be located just outside the theme park capital of the world. Orlando, Florida is full of awesome places to visit, so Disney is stocked with cool rides and exciting shows to rule out the competition.
Because Disney World has been graced with this heaping mound of fun, it’s important to do some planning before you visit. You want to see all you can, right?
It’s good to ask questions like, “How many days should I go?” and “What can I get for free?” because the answer to both of those questions is “a lot.” It’s good to make a game plan. A few insider secrets will help you make your good trip into a great one.
Whether it’s your first time at Disney and you’re starting from scratch or your seventh and you’re looking to refresh, this list is for you. After all, who wouldn’t want to cut down their wait time on the Star Wars ride or watch fireworks while on a rollercoaster?
Gather ‘round your friends and family, it’s time to learn how to conquer Disney World with a few key theme park hacks.
25 Start The Day Early
Disney World has a lot to do, and the best way to do it all is to get to the parks early. When you walk through Magic Kingdom’s gate at open instead of strolling in around lunch, you’ll find that you have a bunch more time to get through what you want to do. Many popular rides including Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain have little to no wait time when the park first opens. Sometimes you’ll even get to ride them a few times in a row!
24 Book Fast Passes In Advance
Disney has a system called FastPass+, and you’re going to want to know how to use it. Up to 30 days before you head to Disney (or up to 60 days before if you’re staying on property) you’re allowed to reserve a spot on three attractions for each day of your visit. Essentially, this lets you skip the line and walk right on. Each FastPass+ selection is scheduled for an hour time period in which you’ll be able to use it.
23 Research Ride Wait Times
There are some attractions at Disney that you’ll be able to walk right on, but there are others that will have you waiting for hours.
The best thing to do is research the rides with the longest wait times before you go.
This way, you’ll know which ones you should visit early or get a Fast Pass for. The number of people in the park usually peaks in the afternoon, so you’ll want to wait for more popular rides at other times.
22 Use The App
The My Disney Experience app is a lifesaver. It has a whole bunch of features that will help you make the most out of a day at Disney. One of the most useful things it offers is a constantly updating list of wait times for attractions. Additionally, you can view park hours, make dining reservations, and access your Fast Passes. The newest update will even help you figure out the best mode of transportation to get to the parks.
21 Find A Reason To Celebrate
Disney offers celebration buttons to all guests who visit the theme parks. These buttons are free, and there are plenty for every occasion.
Whether it’s your first visit, anniversary, or birthday, Disney has a button for you.
When you wear a button, cast members you pass will oftentimes wish you well based on the type of button you’re wearing. You also might get some additional perks. While it’s not a guarantee, it’s more likely you’ll be given something like a free dessert if cast members know you’re there to celebrate.
20 Cool Down With Coke
Epcot has a secret location that allows guests to try Coca-Cola products from around the world. The best part? It’s free!
From Fanta Pineapple from Greece to a raspberry cream soda from Zimbabwe, this little location allows guests to take a break from the Florida heat and try a slew of flavors. More specifically, there are eight – and there is no limit to the number of times you can dispense the liquids into your tiny cup.
19 Go On Your Birthday
Birthdays at Disney can be a lot of fun. Plus, there’s a lot you can get for free.
At Epcot’s Club Cool you can score yourself a free birthday ICEE. At Disney Spring’s Earl of Sandwich and Sprinkles Cupcakes, you’ll be able to get yourself some free desserts. While these two places require you to sign up early, it’s certainly worth it. If you still have a sweet tooth after all that, stop by the Ghirardelli shop in Disney Springs. Someone is always handing out free chocolates at the doorway whether it’s your birthday or not!
18 Don’t Buy Water
While you may be tempted to spend a few dollars on a bottle of water at Disney, there’s no need to. Disney locations offering a quick bite to eat will give you free water if you just ask. In the severe summer heat, it’s nice to have this option available everywhere around you. Additionally, there are water fountains throughout the parks. Hydration is important, but this way, you can save the money for an extra Mickey Mouse ice cream bar.
17 Request Your Ride Spot
Did you know you can actually ask to sit in the back of the ride? You might want to give it a try next time you’re going on one of Disney’s thrill rides.
The back of rollercoasters feels a lot faster than the front.
On the flipside, if you’re looking for a smoother cruise, you might want to request the front of the ride. More than often, Disney cast members are happy to accommodate.
16 Up Your Firework Game
Disney offers some astounding firework shows. While it can be fun to stand in the front of the Magic Kingdom, there are lots of other great locations to view fireworks from. If you’re okay with missing the projections on the castle, hotels on Disney property near the Magic Kingdom like the Contemporary Resort offer a great view. If you’d rather stay in the park, try watching them near the Dumbo ride or in Liberty Square to skip the crowds. Better yet, there’s nothing quite like watching fireworks while riding Thunder Mountain or the Jungle Cruise. The options don’t end!
15 Use Disney Transportation
While driving into the parks works, Disney offers lots of other ways to get there especially if you’re staying on property. If you’re staying at the Polynesian Village Resort or the Grand Floridian Resort, you’ll be able to take the monorail to The Magic Kingdom or transfer to Epcot. If you’re instead staying at Disney’s BoardWalk or the Swan Hotel, you’ll be able to take a boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Other resorts also offer free buses, so it’s not hard to get where you need to be.
14 Be A Single Rider
A few Disney attractions like Test Track and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster offer single rider lines, and they’re worth using. If you’re not into the 90-minute wait for Expedition Everest, the single rider time will likely slash that in half. Using it will get you split up from your party, but it will also save you time to do other things in the parks. Additionally, there are lots of rides you won’t be able to split up on, so you’ll still see your friends plenty.
13 Buy Souvenirs At The End
You’re going to see a lot of really cool Disney-themed stuff, so it’s probably best to wait until your last day to pick out what you really want. While you can usually have souvenirs sent back to your room if you stay on property, you’ll have to carry them around all day if you’re not at a Disney resort. Also, lots of shops outside of the parks carry Disney merch at much cheaper prices. Finally, Downtown Disney offers a whole bunch of the cool junk you’ll find in the parks. So consider stopping there to shop before your trip ends.
12 Go Multiple Days
Disney has a lot to see, and you certainly won’t see it all if you’re in the parks for anything less than four days. Even then it’ll be tight. In my opinion, it’s better to get a four-day Disney pass rather than a three-day Disney Park Hopper pass. Park Hopper passes let you skip around between parks, but traveling between them takes up time and there’s a full days-worth of attractions at each park.
If you go for a four-day pass, you’ll be able to dedicate your time to one park a day.
It’s less stress and it’ll help you see the most.
11 Shop Late
We already talked about buying souvenirs toward the end of your trip, but as it turns out, even window shopping late is a good idea. We’re not talking about end-of-trip late; We’re talking about end-of-day late.
Disney shops are actually open an hour after the park closes.
If you still have a list of rides to get through and it’s already dark, save the shopping for later. It’s a nice way to wind down after a long day of running between rides.
10 Hop In Line Before Close
Just because the Animal Kingdom closes at 8 p.m. doesn’t mean you have to be out of line by 8 p.m. Except in very rare cases (such as it’s the opening week of a new ride), you can hop in line until the park closes. This is especially helpful if you want to ride something with a long wait time.
Save it for the end of the day. Not only will it be less crowded, but you won’t be kicked out of line after the rest of the park shuts down.
9 Avoid The Crowds
Disney World crowd calendars are wondrous tools that can be found all over the internet. They let you know the days Disney World will be busy and the days the crowds will be on the light side. Use them because they’re generally pretty accurate.
Some parks will be busier on certain days than others and sometimes all of Disney will be swamped during events and holidays. Summer is notoriously busy and hot, so aim for a lighter month like September or February.
8 Watch The Second Parade
When Disney World offers two parades, it’s best to go to the second. The first one is always busier, so use the time during that one to go on rides.
Attractions are usually less crowded when everyone’s watching a parade.
This rule also applies to Fantasmic!, which is Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s nighttime firework show. While the stadium it takes place in is huge, you’ll have better luck getting a close seat if you go to the second showing. Of course, you can only follow this rule if there is a second showing of it on the evening of your visit.
7 Bring Your Own Food
Disney can be expensive. Thankfully, you’re allowed to bring your own snacks into the park. This can cut down on the cost significantly as even quick meals can cost around $10 a person. That being said, Disney food is pretty darn good. It might be worth it to bring your own food and get a few snacks like Disney’s classic Dole Whip while you’re there. Alternatively, pick a couple nice sit-down meals for dinner and bring lunch.
Disney also offers a few dining plans, so you might as well check them out depending on your needs.
6 Save Some Cash
You can buy Disney gift cards at Target, and if you use your Target REDcard, you’ll save 5%. You can use these cards to buy your tickets, so the 5% you save is going to add up.
Disney is also currently offering discounted tickets to active or retired U.S. military members and frequently offers up promotions to Florida residents as well. Even if you don’t fall into one of these two categories, you’ll want to do some research on Disney’s latest promotions. Deals on resorts and tickets come up pretty often.
5 Get Free Souvenirs
Although it may seem like you have to pay for everything at Disney, there’s actually a lot of fun stuff you can get that doesn’t have a price tag.
Try asking for a map at the Jungle Cruise.
Play the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom scavenger hunt game to get some trading cards. Get some “pixie dust” in your hair at The Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. There are little surprises throughout the parks.
4 Go To A Festival
Epcot offers three main festivals throughout the year including the Food & Wine Festival, the Flower & Garden Festival and the Festival of the Arts. Admission into the park includes admission into festival areas, and you’re going to want to check out the events. With food, activities, and concerts, your day at Epcot can quickly be taken to a whole new level. Do a little planning ahead of time to see if there’s a band you like playing or a dish you want to try. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s also a lot of fun.
3 Bring A Charger
While it may seem simple, it’s very important. A day at Disney will drain the battery on your phone, especially if you’re using the My Disney Experience app. Bring a portable charger so you don’t have to stop using it. Also, turn your phone on airplane mode when you won’t be using it for a while. Lots of attractions have sunken queues with little cellphone reception, and keeping your phone searching for service during a wait will drain it even more.
2 Stay On Or Off Property
You’ll win either way, but there are some unique benefits to each. Staying on property can get expensive, but Disney resorts are very nice and incredibly convenient. The downside is that if you spend full days at the parks, you won’t get much time in your hotel room. There are lots of nice resorts off-property that are less expensive, but they're also a little less convenient. They also won’t have that special Disney-touch, so pick your priorities.
1 End The Day Late
We started this whole thing with getting there at opening, so why not finish it with ending the day at closing?
While the morning is emptiest in the parks, the end of the day is a close second.
This is a great time to re-ride your favorite rides or, as aforementioned, hop in line for a ride that has a long wait.
Looping a ride at night can be a blast, and it’s certainly possible on non-crowded days. It’s fun to be the only one on Splash Mountain or Dumbo. It’s time you head to Disney World and find out!