Time flies when you’re at Walt Disney World… unfortunately, it can also escape quicker than Dory’s memory if not used wisely.
A vacation to the Most Magical Place on Earth can feel like a whirlwind of activity. There is so much to do! Most of us want to spend our time enjoying things we love the most: savoring delicious dining, catching up with characters, enjoying our favorite attractions…
Unfortunately, Walt Disney World is a virtual minefield of time-sucks. Standing in line, fumbling with Fastpasses, security checks, and long waits for dining or shops can quickly leech valuable time out of your vacation. Before you know it, your trip is over, and you just feel like you missed so much. Many assume this is just the way of things at Disney—there’s no way around it right?
If you plan smart and use a few tricks, you can save insane amounts of time at Walt Disney World. Even with increasing attendance, it is now easier than ever to hack your Disney vacation to reclaim your time for the things your family loves most. Some of these tips require planning ahead before you arrive. Others can be applied once you’re already in the parks.
Either way, here are the top eleven tricks and hacks we found to save untold amounts of time at Walt Disney World.
1. Visit at the right time of year
For veteran Disney parks fans, this is trip planning 101. The time of year that you choose to visit Walt Disney World is key. Indeed, it is likely the single most important choice you can make to save significant amounts of time on your vacation.
First, there are certain times of year that you should never visit if you want to save time. In general, the worst crowds of the year show up on major holidays and the days surrounding. If you choose to visit Disney on 4th of July or New Year’s Eve/Day, there is little advice we can give that will save your trip or your sanity. These are days Magic Kingdom often has to shut down admission after reaching capacity. Other holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas also get quite busy.
Ironically, these packed seasons are often the times Disney and travel agents try the hardest to tempt visitors with promotions and packages. Don’t fall for it! You won’t just save time by going during lighter seasons—you’ll likely save money too.
Pinning down the best times to visit Disney is not as easy at it used to be. For one thing, while summer remains a fairly busy time, trends the last few years have shown July and August are only drawing moderate crowds these days. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the weeks surrounding spring break in March used to be a surefire time to visit with almost no crowds. With changes over the years in how schools stagger their spring break weeks, this is now one of the worst times all year to visit if you want to save time.
Disney’s “off-seasons” are definitely busier than they used to be. However, there are still some times of year where you can reliably save time thanks to lower crowds:
- Lowest Crowds
- January and February (avoiding holiday weekends and RunDisney events; especially avoid New Years week and President’s Day)
- September (excluding Labor Day weekend)
- Weekdays in early May
- Super Bowl Sunday (But avoid Magic Kingdom the day after!)
- Moderate Crowds
- The first and last weeks of October (avoiding Mickey’s Halloween Party)
- Weekdays in early November
- Weekdays the first weeks of December
- The last week of April
- The first week of March
2. Get your tickets ahead of time
This one might seem like a given, but it’s actually a pretty common time trap—if at all possible, avoid waiting to the last minute to get your tickets. Any trip to a Disney parks ticket window is an unnecessary time-suck.
Instead, use Disney’s extensive digital resources to buy your tickets ahead of time online. Even if you purchase discounted tickets through Undercover Tourist, AAA, or a benefits program, you can generally have your tickets mailed to you and skip the Will Call line.
As soon as you have your ticket number, register it on My Disney Experience on Disney’s website. If you will be staying at a Disney resort, you will get a MagicBand that you can link to your tickets. If not, you can either use an old MagicBand (they still work so long as they’re linked) or you can purchase one in the parks if you like. They are mega convenient and make getting into the parks (as well as using Fastpass+) a breeze!
3. Stay on property if possible
This isn’t as strict a rule as it used to be, but it still stands: if you really want to save time on your Walt Disney World vacation, staying at a Disney resort is a great way to do so.
For all-around convenience, you can’t do better than Epcot’s resorts. They offer both friendship boats and “back door” access to Epcot via World Showcase’s International Gateway, as well as frequent buses straight to the front of Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Similarly, if you’ll be visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can either walk a pleasant trail from the Boardwalk to the park or take friendship boats.
The Magic Kingdom resorts are generally busier, but they are also convenient especially if you’ll be visit Magic Kingdom often. They offer monorail access to Magic Kingdom (as well as a walkway from the Contemporary to the park), with buses available to reach the other parks. Wilderness Lodge offers a ferry to Magic Kingdom as well as busses. These resorts also offer monorail access to Epcot via the Transportation and Ticket Center, though this can be slow at times.
For fans of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can’t do better than Animal Kingdom Lodge for convenience, but you will have a slightly longer bus ride to other parks. As for Disney’s other resorts, they all rely on the buses. While Disney’s buses are fairly reliable, they aren’t on a strict schedule. You may save time, but there will also be times that if you have your own vehicle, things will go faster if you just drive and park (the only exception to this is Magic Kingdom—more on that later).
If you’re just not feeling Disney’s resorts, you could alternatively stay at Disney’s “Good Neighbor” hotels near Disney Springs. These aren’t Disney-owned resorts, but many do offer transportation to and from the parks, and they are generally cheaper than Disney’s lodgings. Alternatively, if you have the funds, you could also try The Four Seasons Orlando, located in Disney’s Golden Oak Community. This is by far one of the most luxurious resorts in the Orlando area. While you’ll definitely pay out the ears to stay there, it will undoubtedly be a visit you’ll never forget.
BONUS HACK: If you stay at a Disney resort, log onto Disney’s website and fill in all your check-in details ahead of time. You can even do this in the My Disney Experience app in some cases. If you have the app active on your phone with access to location services, when you arrive on Disney property, you will be automatically checked in and given your room number! So long as your room is available, you can just use your MagicBand or phone as a key to go straight into your room! Checkout is also automatic the last day of your stay.