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.
4. Make reservations wisely and have a touring plan
Flying by the seat of your pants might make for a fun thrill ride, but its not necessarily a great way to save time at Walt Disney World.
The days of paper Fastpasses and waiting in long phone queues to make dining reservations are gone. It is more convenient than ever to make reservations at Walt Disney World thanks to the My Disney Experience app and Disney’s website. The key is being smart about what reservations you choose and getting them as early as possible.
Before your trip, put together a “must do” list for your family. Research ahead of time and make sure you know the attractions, entertainment experiences, and dining locations that you don’t want to miss. Knowing your must-try dining options, for example, can impact your choice of which parks you want to visit when. It may help to arrange these in a loose grid or spreadsheet based on morning, afternoon, and evening plans. This will ensure that as you plan your trip, you prioritize the things you want to do most.
If you’re serious about saving time, consider using a touring plan. Well-researched planners can make one, but you can also subscribe to sites like TouringPlans.com to get access to pre-designed itineraries made by Disney parks experts to help you maximize your time. A good touring plan will help you avoid line traps or ending up in the busiest park each day. It will also help you prioritize attractions that need to be hit early in the day to avoid long lines.
If you’ll be staying at a Disney resort, you can make reservations for dining and Fastpass+ 60 days ahead of time. If you’ll be staying elsewhere, this window opens 30 days ahead. Make reservations for your must-do dining experiences first, then plan Fastpass+ reservations around this. If you have to modify things, you can, but make sure you do so early and have alternatives locked in.
BONUS TIP: Don’t waste your Fastpasses! There are some attractions in each Disney park that you just don’t need a Fastpass for. For example, at Epcot, you will never need a Fastpass for Living with the Land or Journey Into Imagination. At Magic Kingdom, you don’t need one to the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. Same with Muppet Vision 3D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or It’s Tough to Be a Bug at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Try to score Fastpasses for high and moderate-popularity attractions instead.
5. Be smart with Extra Magic Hours (and busy days)
Extra Magic Hours are a strange factor in trip planning.
For those unfamiliar, Extra Magic Hours are a perk for Disney resort guests, an extra hour in either the morning or evening where they can enjoy the park without general admission and passholder crowds. In general, Extra Magic Hours are often a great way to catch extremely-popular attractions first thing in the morning without excessively long lines.
The problem is that they’re no longer a secret, and they have a bizarre effect on crowd trends.
While the actual hour provided by Extra Magic Hours is usually great for resort guests to get on rides fast, for unknown reasons, the rest of the day whatever park has Extra Magic Hours often ends up becoming the busiest park. No one has quite pinned down why this phenomenon happens, but it might have to do with concentrating resort guests in one particular park. These guests linger later into the day and it causes the park to seem busier than usual.
You have two options when it comes to saving time using Extra Magic Hours:
A) You can avoid whatever park has Extra Magic Hours that day and go to another park.
B) You can use Extra Magic Hours in the morning to get a head start on the day, but then hop to another park when crowds swell. We are already big fans of taking a mid-day break when visiting Disney parks, so this actually ends up saving energy as well as time in long lines.
It is also worth considering that certain Disney parks are busiest on certain days. This fluctuates, but the general trend is that all parks (especially Magic Kingdom) are busiest on weekends. Magic Kingdom tends to have lowest crowds Tuesday and Thursday. Epcot is quietest usually on Wednesday or Thursday. Animal Kingdom gets a slight lull in crowds on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and finally, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is usually quieter on Wednesdays and Fridays (though Galaxy’s Edge may change the latter).
6. Carry only what you need and don’t get stuck at security
What you carry into the parks can definitely affect how much time you save. For one thing, make sure ahead of time that you’re not bringing banned items into the parks—leave the bottle of wine, the selfie stick, loose ice, your pocket knife, and the mega stroller at home. Having any of these items will unnecessarily slow you down at security.
Overall, it’s best to carry only what you need when visiting Disney parks. A giant backpack just isn’t necessary in most cases, and it will ultimately drain your energy and slow you down in crowds. While it’s smart to have a small Disney Day survival kit, it doesn’t need to be hefty. For one thing, most OTC medications or drugstore items you might need on the fly (besides sunscreen) can be procured at Disney First Aid for free!
When approaching the security table, already have all the zippers for your bag open and ready to inspect with the strap off your shoulder. This should keep your trip through security pretty painless.
BONUS TIP: Don’t approach a Fastpass line until your Fastpass is ready to go. If you have a MagicBand, you don’t need to do anything but scan it. Just make sure you arrive at the right time (in most cases, you can even arrive 5 minutes early). If you have a card or paper ticket, have this out before you approach. You’ll help avoid a Fastpass bottleneck by being ready!
7. Don’t follow the crowd – use weather, parades, and patterns to your advantage
Crowds at Walt Disney World often move in predictable patterns. For example, at Magic Kingdom, most families tend to tour the park in a question mark shape, wandering from one attraction to another in a predictable flow that doesn’t involve excessive walking. Crowds inevitably congeal when a parade or fireworks are nearing, and if the sky starts dumping rain, you can rest assured that most people will quickly run for a closed queue or a shop.
Don’t do any of these things.
A good touring plan can help with this but shake things up and don’t follow crowd patterns. Don’t be afraid to cut across the park a few times if it means shorter lines you spotted in the My Disney Experience app. If you aren’t attached to seeing parades or shows, use these times to get on rides faster (at Magic Kingdom, just make sure you are on the right side of the park before the show starts, or you may get stuck). While everyone else is gawking at the fireworks, you’ll be able to blast right onto some attractions.
If it starts raining, throw on a cheap poncho from the camping section at Walmart and carry on with your day. So long as it isn’t thundering, many Disney attractions stay open in the rain. When the sky opens up, many attractions may even get lines so short that you can walk right on!
8. Use My Disney Experience and keep your phone charged
This goes without saying, but My Disney Experience is seriously a must-use tool for anyone visiting Walt Disney World these days.
Not only can you easily make and modify Fastpass and dining reservations on My Disney Experience—you can actually track wait times in real time. You don’t have to slog across the park to find out if Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run has a 90 minute queue—just pull up your app and check. My Disney Experience also includes helpful park maps, access to virtual queues for new lands, and menus for dining locations. If you’re serious about saving time with counter service dining, many locations now offer mobile ordering, where you can place your order on the app then walk up to a special window when you’re ready to have them make it without you waiting extra time in line. By the way, all of Galaxy’s Edge now offers this feature (with the exception of Oga’s Cantina).
Make sure your phone is charged before your visit and bring a power pack if possible. My Disney Experience is awesome, but it and the parks’ Wi-Fi tend to quickly drain phone batteries.
BONUS TIP: Want to score last minute Fastpasses? If you use the “Modify” feature on one of your less-desirable Fastpasses the day of, you can refresh the time options back and forth to see if any sudden cancellations for popular Fastpasses pop up. This may take some patience, but it does often work. As local Passholders, we rarely are able to make good Fastpass reservations in time, but using this trick, we have often scored E-Ticket Fastpasses on popular rides the day of. Make sure you’re near the attraction if possible—that cancellation might be for the time window you’re currently in!
9. Don’t waste time on breakfast, snacks, or drinks
Some clarification: we’re not saying to starve yourself.
Dining is half the fun at Walt Disney World, but smart travelers quickly realize that breakfast, snacks, and standing in line for drinks are all unnecessary time-leeches for your Disney day. The alternative? Bring your own!
While Disney definitely has some great breakfasts, most people don’t plan on eating a full character breakfast every morning. More often than not, you’ll probably end up standing in line at Starbucks waiting for a bagel and coffee. As for snacks, while we all have our favorite Disney snacks, you can actually save time and money by bringing your own. Avoid wasting unnecessary time in line by buying your own breakfast and snacks before your trip (or just after you arrive). Disney Vacation Club resorts are especially nice for cooking easy meals.
If you have a favorite Disney breakfast you want to enjoy, go ahead and plan that, but don’t base your entire trip on the experience. Most Disney breakfasts aren’t that inspiring. Munch on your own snacks until you see something really worth standing in line for (like school bread!). As for water, bring a filtered water bottle and just refill it as you go at water fountains and refill stations throughout the parks. You won’t just save time bringing your own breakfast, snacks, and water bottle—you’ll save money too!
10. Hack your transportation
We touched on Disney transportation already, but there are a few more tricks you can employ to save time on Disney transportation.
For one thing, know that using Disney’s buses is always a roll of the dice. They can be wonderfully fast at times, especially if you’re visiting Magic Kingdom since the buses take you right to the entrance (skipping the Transportation and Ticket Center). However, if the day is busy or buses are running late, Disney’s buses can also suck time away from your day. If you’re relying on Disney transportation, you may not have much choice, but if you have your own vehicle and all signs indicate that a bus isn’t coming soon, you may be better off driving your car and parking if you’ll be visiting Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
If you’re staying at an Epcot resort or travelling from the Boardwalk, friendship boats come and go pretty fast. However, there may be times that walking will be faster, especially if you’re coming from the Beach Club Resort. On the flip side, friendship boats are always faster for reaching Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We don’t have enough data about Disney’s Skyliner yet, but this new transportation might prove a very fast and convenient way to reach Epcot and DHS as well.
Like buses, the monorail is also often a roll of the dice. On busy days, monorail waits can get seriously long. The monorail will always be your best bet for reaching Magic Kingdom from a monorail resort—the ferry is always slower. Alternatively, if you’re trying to get from Epcot to Magic Kingdom, taking a bus from an Epcot resort will usually be faster.
The biggest time-sink in Disney transportation is Magic Kingdom’s Transportation and Ticket Center. It is truly the most un-magical place at the Most Magical Place on Earth. The TTC can prove a total time-leech if you have to park at Magic Kingdom. Even if you are able to park quickly, you’ll definitely lose time afterwards waiting for the monorail or ferry to get to the actual park. The TTC is also a huge time-waster if you’re using the monorail to travel to or from Epcot. In general, if you want to save time at the TTC, always use the Resort Monorail to get to Magic Kingdom—the only exception is if the Express Monorail is walk-on. Never, ever take the ferry if you are trying to save time. The Resort Monorail might make stops, but it will still ultimately get you to Magic Kingdom faster if there’s a line for the Express Monorail.
BONUS TIP: Want to seriously hack your transportation at Walt Disney World? Use ride-sharing service like Uber and Lyft to get you between resorts or to the parks faster. Disney also offers it’s “Minnie Van” ridesharing service to guests as an alternative. If a driver pops up on your app who has a low rating, just cancel the trip, wait like 30 seconds, then try again to see if you can get a better driver. It’s always assigned by who is closest. I was an Uber driver, and I used this trick all the time both on low-rated passengers and when using the service myself!
11. Use single rider lines to really speed things up
Really want to cut some line time out of your Walt Disney World trip? It may involve one less family Photopass picture, but it can save huge time in the end: the single rider line.
Single rider lines are used on Disney’s highest volume E-Ticket attractions to fill in empty space in cars. We recently discovered the well-hidden single rider line for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, and it not only allowed us to ride the ride without a long wait—we got to fly the Falcon on opening day more than once! Single rider works best for families with older children or groups who are all adults. You won’t be able to choose your seat (or flight position on the Falcon), and your party will almost certainly be broken up. However, as a time saver, the single rider line can’t be beat!
What’s your favorite tip to save time at Walt Disney World?