Home » 6 Easy Hacks for Last Minute Walt Disney World Trips

6 Easy Hacks for Last Minute Walt Disney World Trips

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

There are some distinct advantages to being a Florida local or a Disney Vacation Club passholder—chief of which is the option to take a last-minute Disney day.

Before our family moved to Florida, the concept of off-the-cuff Disney visits was the stuff of dreams (literally). It wasn’t until we moved to Central Florida that it occurred to us one day that we were less than two hours from the Most Magical Place on Earth. Whether you’re Orlando-based, visiting Orlando for other reasons, or even plan to drive from the far corners of Florida or southern Georgia, Disney daycations are a sweet perk to life in or near the Sunshine State. Want to make your last-minute Disney days shine? Here are some of our best hacks to make those days all the more magical.

1. Try to go to bed early 2-3 nights before

March of the First Order

Image: Disney

This is less of an issue for those commuting from Orlando, but for the rest of us, there is a distinct temptation as Passholders to break a golden rule of Disney trip planning by not arriving at opening gate. Particularly if you are not an early bird and have a multi-hour drive to get to Walt Disney World, arriving at the parks before the gates open can feel like an impossible order.

To help get the most out of your Disney day, try to go to bed early and wake up early a few nights before. That way you will have an easier time waking up the morning of your trip. This will not only give you more time to enjoy your day, but depending on the time of year you visit, you will also be able to enjoy more rides with less crowds. This hack can prove essential if you are trying to visit the still-insanely-busy Pandora attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

2. Have a Disney kit always ready to go

Disney survival kit

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

No one wants to face the bummer of arriving at Walt Disney World only to find out that you forgot something important. You will lose valuable time on your Disney day searching shops for sunscreen, digging through your car for sunglasses, or—heaven forbid—arriving at opening gate without your MagicBand. Even forgetting basics like a refillable water bottle can cost you unnecessary time and money, especially if heat exhaustion sneaks up and sends you scrambling for First Aid.

To prevent this, always have your Disney survival kit ready to go, or at least have a list ready to go so you can put your kit together the night before. Disney-specific items like pin lanyards, Magic Bands, and annual passes can always be kept together in a single bag. Need some ideas for other essentials? Check out our detailed article for putting together your own Walt Disney World survival kit to know which stuff to always bring and which items there’s no need to lug around.

3. Bring your own snacks

World Showcase cast members with food plates

Image: Disney

Speaking of snacks, locals and passholders have the distinct advantage to easily pick up inexpensive snacks before visiting the parks. If you are visiting Disney often, you don’t want to spend all your cash on snacks you don’t love, particularly if you have some favorite items in mind that you want to splurge on.

To make sure you don’t succumb to the munchies, bring a few inexpensive snacks to help you power through the day. Even grabbing some chips, granola bars, and a banana from a gas station will prove cheaper than purchasing those things at Walt Disney World. Don’t go too crazy—lugging a huge cooler will only tire you out.

If you really want to save, plan a Disney day picnic. Bring a small, soft cooler with a light lunch and pick one of your favorite spots in the parks to relax and enjoy your meal. Some favorite places might be Tom Sawyer Island in Magic Kingdom, the gardens behind the Canada pavilion in Epcot, or the little hut next to Drinkwallah at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

4. Score last minute FastPass+ reservations

Magic Band being scanned

Image: Disney

One of the biggest downsides to last minute Disney days is that you may have a tough time scoring FastPass+ reservations. While there may be nothing to be done about this if you visit during peak season (not the best time to have a last-minute Disney day), just about any other time of the year there is a trick where you can still get decent FastPass+ reservations. It is such a good trick that I kind of don’t want to share it with you. It is so good, you should stop reading right now and pretend you never saw this…

Okay, I’ll tell you, but you have to keep the secret.

Guests who planned their trips months in advance often already have FastPass+ selections made before they arrive. A disciplined group will likely stick to this schedule, but it is not uncommon for others to cancel or modify Fastpass+ choices at the last minute. Maybe someone is going to miss their dining reservation if they run across the park to ride Test Track. Maybe little Johnny started projectile vomiting after one too many rides on the Mad Tea Party. No matter what day it is, people are constantly cancelling and rescheduling FastPass+ selections.

This can result in FastPass reservations for extremely busy attractions popping up out of the blue at the last minute. The best way to see if any FastPass cancellations came up is to periodically log into My Disney Experience and either add a new FastPass or modify an existing one. After picking your date and park, on the screen where you pick the Fastpasses, click back and forth a few times between the “Morning”, “Evening”, and “Night” options to see if anyone has cancelled. This may take several attempts at different times of the day, or even while you are literally standing in the parks. While this doesn’t work too often the night before, it can result in hot ticket FastPasses popping up on the same day.

Expedition Everest

Image: Disney

On our last visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this method not only got us last-minute morning FastPass reservations to Rockin’ Roller Coaster, but by repeating the process several times while standing outside the Tower of Terror, we incrementally scored earlier and earlier Fastpasses until we only had to wait five minutes to get on the ride because someone cancelled at the last second.

While I would not count on this method to get coveted FastPass+ reservations for Frozen Ever After, Navi River Journey, or Avatar Flight of Passage, I have seen all three pop up on My Disney Experience rarely using this method. If you see one of these and can make the time, grab it fast. Someone may just be doing the exact same thing as you!

You didn’t see anything…

5. Hacks for last minute Disney resort stays

Dolphin Hotel at night

Image: CL Photographs, Flickr (license)

If you want to enjoy Disney’s amazing nightlife—particularly Pandora or Expedition Everest in all their starlit glory—you will probably need some sort of accommodations if you aren’t local to Orlando. While the easiest choice to do this is to book a non-Disney hotel in Orlando, if you avoid peak season and holidays, there are several tricks you can employ to give you a chance of staying Disney property for last minute visits.

Florida residents, annual passholders, and DVC members should always make a point to call Disney reservations directly to see if there are any special deals that aren’t posted online. Lately, Disney has done well putting these promotions on their site, but it certainly can’t hurt to double check. DVC members will also have better luck capitalizing on last minute cancellations calling DVC directly rather than wasting time with repeated searches on their cumbersome site.

If you are looking to stay at the Swan or Dolphin, Sheraton’s website and travel sites like Hotels.com sometimes have special rates lower than those that Disney posts. Just be aware that these two hotels charge you a resort fee of about $28 and a parking fee between $10-$30 a day.

Nemo Manta Ray at Art of Animation Resort

Image: Disney

Last minute trips are a great opportunity to try new resorts. You may be the sort who prefers to splurge on Disney’s deluxe resorts for a week-long family vacation. Try a downgrade to the Swan or Dolphin, or even one of Disney’s moderate resorts like Port Orleans French Quarter. If you just need a place to crash close to the parks, don’t discount Disney’s All Stars, Pop Century, and Art of Animation resorts. It is easy to write off Disney’s Value Resorts, but they are all good resorts with clean beds, Disney atmosphere, and all of the other regular perks like Extra Magic Hours and free transportation. Kids might actually prefer these resorts thanks to the insane amount of theming and their amazing pools.

Are you a true minimalist? Don’t mind fighting off a few mosquitos and banana spiders? Plan to camp a night at Fort Wilderness. Guests regularly gush about what an excellent campground it is. They even rent tents if you need one!

6. Have a goal in mind

LeFou's Brew

Image: Disney

While having a quick, no-pressure jaunt down to Walt Disney World can be a blast, you are likely to get more out of your day if you have a specific goal in mind. Are you trying to catch Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival? Plan to spend most-if-not-all of your day there and pick up a festival gift card to keep your party in budget. Want to finally get onto the elusive Avatar Flight of Passage or Navi River Journey? Plan to either arrive at opening gate at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or have some in-line time-passers to power through the day. Maybe there is a specific ride you want to hit, a restaurant you are hoping to have lunch at, or even a crazy challenge you want to fulfill.

The great thing about last minute Disney days is that there is far less pressure to squeeze everything in, particularly if you are a Passholder. Leave flexibility, but know what you want to accomplish and don’t get distracted from that goal. Rather than trying to do everything possible in one day, savor the things you love most while visiting Walt Disney World by keeping to a basic plan.

What are your favorite hacks for last minute Disney days?