You’ve more than likely noticed by now it’s super easy to get bogged down by the hundreds of articles all trumpeting the “must-dos” or the best way to do XYZ when visiting The World.
Chances are if you’re searching the web for Disney tips and find yourself here, you’re probably in some stage of planning an upcoming trip (or you’re in full-blown Disney withdrawal, and trust us, we feel that).
In the climate of the ever-increasing prices and crowd levels Disney is infamous for, we know you’re looking to enjoy the parks and maximize your time and money (because if there’s anywhere where time is money, it’s Disney).
We’ve made it a point to keep things real easy ‘round here. Our tips come from data-driven research (gathered by yours truly) that has been refined to be accessible to anyone planning a Disney trip, whether you’re a #noob or a seasoned pro.
We won’t recommend anything we don’t do ourselves, and we only give you recs for things we totally stand behind. AKA we’re trying to cut the BS, here.
Here’s a list of 15 tips that we personally love and have recommended to our own friends and family (and now you, too!).
1. Go Early, Stay Late or Both
It might seem like stating the obvious, but most guests make the common mistake of heading to the park 1-2 hours after official park opening, expecting to see low crowds when in reality, what they see is the makings of the busiest spike in attendance of the day.
If you’re staying on Disney property, be sure to take advantage of Early Entry, the onsite guest perk of getting to enter the parks 30 minutes earlier than everyone else.
Non-Disney resort guests should take advantage of Rope Drop, the term used for being there at official park open.
Even if you’re behind the Early Entry folks, you still have a head start on many attractions.
Many parks experience quite a decrease in standby waits the last few hours of the evening. Animal Kingdom is notorious for being slow at night. Our favorite time to go to Animal Kingdom is actually the last 3 hours of park open, and we can almost always complete most major rides in that time block (and often without shelling out for Genie+).
If the Magic Kingdom is open after the fireworks show (almost always), standby waits decrease significantly, particularly the last hour of the night.
And over in EPCOT, Future World sees a large dip in crowds after 5pm when many guests head over to the World Showcase.
Just about the only way to beat the crowds and the heat at Disney anymore is to get to the parks as early as possible and/or return to the parks later in the day through close – especially during busier times of year.
Which leads us to our next point.
2. Take a Break!
Our biggest tip for anyone traveling to Disney? TAKE A BREAK.
Don’t underestimate the refreshing power of taking ten, especially at Disney. Summer temps start earlier in the year in central Florida and can soar well into the 90s Fahrenheit (and humidity has been known to reach up to 70% – ew!). We promise you that everyone in your travel group will feel much better and will enjoy themselves much more if they get a chance to cool off and put up their feet every so often.
Our favorite way to break is usually to leave the park in the afternoon and take a dip in the pool wherever we’re staying, or grab a sit-down lunch at one of the resorts nearby. If you would rather stick it out at the park, there are plenty of spots to rest and refresh.
At Magic Kingdom
We like to cool off at the Storybook Circus tent (it’s shaded and quiet with lots of seating and plugs to charge devices). Carousel of Progress, is an OG Disney attraction with 20+ min of AC. Read: Primo nap spot. You could also hop on the Tomorrowland People Mover for a shaded, peaceful, and breezy ride.
At Hollywood Studios
Cooling off is trickier here because it’s usually a whole lot more crowded and there isn’t a ton of shade. If we can, we like to leave entirely and come back when it’s cooler and somewhat less busy.
Our top pick for a “break” at Hollywood Studios is the Frozen Sing-Along: 30 minutes, cushion chairs (woot!) and fun for all ages. Also, it’s usually hilarious.
Muppet Vision 3D is another easy, quick classic that we consider a “must-do” anyway.
Otherwise, we’ll try to have a sit-down lunch (we love 50s Prime Time Cafe or Sci-Fi Dine-In, mainly for the experience).
In a pinch, there’s the Star Wars Launch Bay, as it’s nicely shaded and spacious enough to disperse crowds.
When all else fails, get in line for an indoor attraction (Star Tours is mostly an indoor queue and it usually has a manageable standby wait. Toy Story Midway Mania also is mostly indoors, and is an attraction you usually have to go on twice anyways!). If wait times are a little high, it isn’t necessarily a bad way to get out of the sun!
At Animal Kingdom
Our hands-down favorite spot to chill at Animal Kingdom is the Nomad Lounge, a beautiful, shaded patio with great drinks and small bites. You could also go for the must-see Festival of the Lion King show (also gives you 30 minutes of sweet, sweet AC). The Maharajah Jungle Trek/Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail both offer lots of shade and seating throughout.
Relax in the ample seating at the Land Pavilion where you can grab a bite at the food court or take the opportunity to ride Soarin’ or Living with the Land.
Spaceship Earth is a Disney World classic that’s both cool and dark.
And pro tip: the American Adventure building is known among WDW diehards for having the coldest AC in all of the World. So you’ll want to make a pitstop in the building whether it’s to sloth it up on a bench (our style), browse the exhibits, or actually catch the American Adventure show.
3. Stay Hydrated
Again, this one seems obvious. But most people visiting Florida in the summer are not used to that kind of heat, so it’s helpful to know where to get your H2O.
You can get free cups of water at any quick-service restaurant throughout the parks!
Not many love the taste of Florida tap water, so some people bring refillable filtered water bottles. You can refill your bottle with the free cups from a quick-service, or you can try to find a refillable water station. Just be aware those stations aren’t as plentiful as you’d hope.
A few of our go-to refillable water bottle stations: Sunshine Seasons at EPCOT, Backlot Express at Hollywood Studios, Cosmic Ray’s at Magic Kingdom, and Satu’li Canteen at Animal Kingdom.
4. Refreshing Genie+
Breaks aren’t the only thing that should be refreshing at Disney. If you’re planning to use Genie+, refreshing the app is the number one best way to make sure you’re getting the Lightning Lanes (LLs) you want.
This whole section could be a novel in itself since there’s definitely a little bit of science to it, but we dive more into the specifics of securing LLs – even if they were previously “sold out” or unavailable – in our Genie + Mastery Mini-Course.
5. Most Things Actually Start Earlier
How would you react if we told you that there were things at Disney that actually started earlier than they told you?
For example, Disney buses will post a start time that is usually about 1 hour before official park open. In our experience, those buses have sometimes been seen running up to 2 hours before park open. If you’re using Early Entry, this means if you line up real early (like….REAL early), you could potentially be on one of the first buses out.
Speaking of Early Entry, it is also not uncommon for guests to be let into the park earlier than the posted start time and even ride certain attractions before they’re technically open. There have been times we’ve seen Rise of the Resistance operating up to 30 min before Early Entry was even supposed to start!
THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES.
Note: Our tip is specifically about transportation/attraction operations. This most likely will not apply to hard rules & set times like show schedules or booking your Lightning Lanes.
6. Make a List of Priorities
Maybe when you were planning your trip, you had your heart set on trying a cheeseburger spring roll at Magic Kingdom, or seeing The Beauty and The Beast stage show at Hollywood Studios. But when it came to your actual visit, you were distracted and forgot entirely.
When you finally get to Disney, it’s a pretty common experience to be totally overstimulated.
Before your trip, make a note on your phone with a list of your priorities at each park. This could include shows, rides, or even snacks. That way, you can cross-reference your list whenever you’re in between Lightning Lanes or have some downtime, and minimize missing your must-do items!
7. Skip the Starbucks
We know, this goes against every molecule in our body, too. But we’re telling ya, Starbucks lines at Disney are insane, especially in the morning when the lines average anywhere from 20-45 minutes to get your iced caramel macchiato. Yikes.
You’d be wasting prime park time waiting for that.
If you need your cuppa joe in the AM, grab coffee at your resort’s food court or have a grocery-delivered jug of cold brew in your room (most resorts have mini-fridges!).
If you’re feeling the need for something fancier, head to a Joffrey’s stand instead. Most of them are almost dead in comparison to Starbz.
Our tried and true Joffrey’s locations:
- Caribbean Beach Skyliner hub
- In Asia at Animal Kingdom or the one before security
- Near Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios
- Any of the three Joffrey’s scattered throughout the World Showcase at EPCOT
8. Make A Room Request!
Most people booking at Disney resorts don’t know this is an option, but it’s a good one to know if you have specific requests. We’ve been able to request adjoining rooms, buildings closer to a desired amenity (ex: bus stop or lobby), and a later check-out time!
First, wait until you’re a little closer to your trip (about a week out). Complete your online check-in via the MDE app first. It makes things easier on the Disney end and some of the more generic requests are built into the app already.
If your request isn’t listed in the app, pick one that is a high priority to you and either call ahead of time or check-in face-to-face at the desk when you arrive.
Our advice? Be respectful and realistic. Nothing is guaranteed, but it never hurts to ask!
And of course, you don’t know what you don’t know. The best room requests are always in discussion in our VIP Facebook Group!
9. Save Hard-to-Get Headliners for the End
Spoiler alert: You do not have to wake up at the crack of dawn or pay for an Individual Lightning Lane to ride high-priority attractions like Rise of the Resistance or Flight of Passage.
Our absolute favorite strategy for riding the rides with the highest standby waits is by saving it for park close.
You heard that right.
At Disney, you can typically get in the line up until the very last minute of the park being open.
Why? The posted wait times at night are usually hyperinflated to help control crowd levels so you’ll almost never have to actually wait as long as it says.
This is a huge score strategically speaking, since you’re basically waiting while the park is closed.
Another great time to hop on these rides is a few minutes before a big show, like the fireworks at Magic Kingdom or EPCOT. If you’ve seen the show before and would rather skip it, get in line closer to when the show is supposed to start!
The wait time will drop significantly, and likely be even less than the posted wait.
10. Adding Memory Maker
We almost always find Disney’s photo package (aka Memory Maker) is worth it, especially since they offer a marginal discount if you book it ahead of your trip. There are PhotoPass photographers stationed all over the parks and around many popular landmarks, giving you the opportunity to get those highly sought-after family photos professionally captured. Plus, they often add cute effects to the photos (which download straight into your MDE account).
Memory Maker also includes ride photos, which for us was worth it in itself. Who doesn’t want a permanent reminder of exactly what their face looked like the moment the elevator dropped on Tower of Terror?? (It’s us. We’re the ones with that photo.)
If you’re the one usually taking the photos in your group (and are thus never in any), you should consider springing for it.
11. How to Time Lunch
What does peak lunchtime look like at Disney? Between the hours of 12:00 pm and 1:30 pm, most guests are flooding the counter service restaurants in lines that can wrap around the buildings of the more popular spots. Not even Mobile Ordering saves that much time when it’s backed up and busy.
If you’re willing to be a little flexible on timing, eating around 11-11:30 a.m. or after 2 p.m. can make a big difference in how long you wait to order (or wait for your Mobile Order) find a seat, and eat.
Our strategy is to have a light breakfast in the morning (think pastry and a coffee), and then have an early lunch at the parks. This usually means that by the time we’re sitting down to eat, we’ve already gotten to ride most (if not all) of our priority attractions, often as people are still just filtering into the park to start their day!
Plus, it’s a doubly effective strategy for combating Disney’s most dreaded diagnosis: hanger (that’s the hangry play on words…not the clothes one).
12. Avoid Sticker Shock Over Park Food
Speaking of theme park food, let’s talk about value. Suffice it to say, food at Disney is expensive – shocking, we know. Some spots offer better value (shoutout to the giant, splittable fajita platter at Pecos Bill), but most portions at Disney are huge.
There’s an easy way to shave a few bucks off your in-park meals, especially if you’re like us and don’t feel overly hungry when it’s so dang hot.
For the budget conscious or the not-so-hungry, something that actually works surprisingly well is making a meal out of the kids’ menu from quick service spots, or even having snacks as meals.
A “snack” at Disney ranges from the classics like Mickey bars to popcorn, but can also include more filling, savory items like fried potstickers (Sunshine Tree Terrace) or baked mac & cheese (Eight Spoon Cafe).
Mobile ordering ahead makes this even easier by being so customizable and by giving you the opportunity to not feel judged for being so excited to order yourself that kids’ chicken finger meal from Cosmic Ray’s. C’mon. You know who you are.
13. Using Services to Make Your Trip Easier
After months of meticulous planning, you finally arrive at your Disney resort and reach into your bag… only to realize you left something at home.
We’ve all been there.
It isn’t super common knowledge that you can actually have things delivered directly to your resort via services like Amazon Prime or Instacart (we recommend the latter!). This applies to groceries, too. Some resorts also have an area to store refrigerated items for you if you aren’t at the desk to accept them.
A $6 handling fee for deliveries does get billed to your room, but that’s peanuts compared to having to pay the astronomical “convenience mark-up” Disney charges for things like sunscreen, toiletries, or basic grocery items sold on property.
Knowing your in-park services is handy, too.
If you ever need a dose of Tylenol or an extra band-aid, you can get those things for free at any First Aid station at the parks!
First Aid also carries free doses of anti-nausea medication for those of us who have tried to brave the orange side of Mission: Space on an empty stomach.
Now what to do with all the merchandise you’ve accumulated in the parks throughout the day? Disney offers you the ability to ship any merch from the theme parks directly to home for a fee (depending on what you’re mailing, we bet).
At the time of writing, Disney has temporarily paused their souvenir pick-up (purchased items are sent to the front entrance for you to scoop up on your way out) and resort hotel delivery (purchased items are delivered directly to your resort) services. But we hope they bring them back soon because it was a pretty magical perk for park guests!
14. What’s In the Bag?
Having good gear to get you through a day of park touring is crucial. Since this can vary greatly from person to person, we’ve compiled a short list of must-haves we think everyone should have on hand for a full day at the parks!
- GOOD SHOES. Don’t pack new shoes, bring a comfortable pair that has already been broken in. If you’re staying 4-5+ days, we say bring two pairs and alternate them each day. If you’re the tennis shoe type, bring a change of socks for those inevitable summer afternoon downpours.
- Ponchos. Self-explanatory. Check out our Amazon Shop for our favs. While we’re thinking about it, pack some plastic baggies for your phone and devices, too. Whether you get caught in the rain or just get unlucky on Splash Mountain, you’re covered. Literally.
- A good bag. We prefer something that we can double shoulder strap like a backpack to distribute the weight. Trust us. If you’re gonna be carrying this bad boy all day, you want it to be comfortable.
- Wet wipes. Also self-explanatory, but this is especially nice for unexpected messes or for when you dive face-first into the pulled pork mac & cheese at Flame Tree BBQ.
- Portable charger. This one is a must. Given how much we use our phones in the park for refreshing Genie+ or for taking photos, we always need the extra juice for our batteries. Nowadays you can get a really good one for a decent price – check out our Amazon Shop for recommendations.
- Snacks that won’t melt. Think protein bars, trail mix, or crackers. Even if you aren’t traveling with little ones, being able to bust out a handful of Goldfish in line for Slinky Dog Dash can be a lifesaver. Remember, we’re trying to avoid hanger.
P.S. We’re not going to tell you to pack your sunscreen and SPF lip balm because it’s already in your bag! Right?
15. Stay Updated
Disney World is constantly evolving and things change within the parks nearly on a daily basis. To keep a pulse on changes that might affect your trip, it helps to subscribe to a site that can keep you updated and in the know.
We offer a free weekly Listletter full of park updates, strategies, uncommon tips, and recommendations from our own trips! Hit that link to subscribe, or just enter your email in the toolbar on the right side of the page!
Walt Disney World is called a resort for a reason. With hundreds of activities and places to visit in AND out of the parks, there’s something for everyone and there’s more to keep you coming back.
The important thing to remember for your Disney trip is you’re not going to get it all done and you shouldn’t. Remember, you’re on vacation and the point is to enjoy the moment.
Besides, if it could all be done in one trip, we wouldn’t be here!
But don’t worry, we are here and we’ll help you get the most out of your trip.
A good trip starts with tips & tricks, but research-backed strategy and a solid itinerary are really what counts. Don’t leave home without our Parks Strategy Playbook!