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Image: Disney

Going on a vacation isn’t as straightforward as it used it be…

A visit to Walt Disney World or Disneyland has always been a little different from other vacations—even for those who prefer spontaneity, Disney parks have always required a slight learning curve for guests to navigate tickets, attractions, park layouts, and newer features like virtual queues. Many a new Disney guest has assumed a trip to the ticket counter is all that’s needed to prepare for a Disney trip—only to end up frustrated with long lines, a confusing app, and limited dining choices.

That learning curve has increased during the season we’re in—to the point that even longtime Disney guests can miss steps.

If you want to reduce stress and wasted time on a Disney vacation, there are some things that it’s important to do before your vacation ever starts. A lot of advice about Disney parks surrounds this subject—you don’t have to look far to find experts recommending things like making dining and hotel reservations early.

Not all of these steps are obvious though—there are certain things that even experts often fail to mention, and the changing climate at Disney parks hasn’t helped. These are the sorts of things that can cause unneeded frustration and waste valuable time during a Disney Day. While all of these can prove helpful to new guests, some can benefit longtime visitors too, especially those who haven’t visited since Disney’s 2020 reopening…

1. Get familiar with Disney’s current policies

Families standing in social distanced lines at carousel
Image: Disney

This is not an ideal time to “wing it” on a Disney trip…

As a Floridian who writes about Disney parks, I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news to multiple friends over the course of the past year when it comes to understanding Disney’s current pandemic policies…

In particular, the crucial detail that it is impossible to get into Walt Disney World parks right now without a Disney Parks Pass reservation…

Guests who have visited Walt Disney World since 2020 have become familiar with the ever-shifting curveball which is Disney Parks Pass reservations, but many people still don’t understand how the system works. I’ve had multiple friends stare at me in confusion when I explain that you cannot just walk up to Walt Disney World right now—indeed, that even planning weeks in advance, you may not be able to get into a particular park… and that in order to even procure a reservation, you need a valid ticket.

We’re living in a different world right now, and much has changed at Disney parks. During this season, it is absolutely essential that guests visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland get familiar with each resort’s policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Happy couple in masks with Mickie Balloons
Image: Disney

You’ll need a parks reservation to get in. You’re going to need a comfortable mask to wear all day. Your temperature is going to be checked. There will be no Fastpass+, character hugs, buffets, or fireworks shows. Some attractions or restaurants you enjoy may still be closed. Knowing what to expect can do a great deal in reducing the potential shock of visiting and finding that just too much has changed—we’ve dived before into the importance of guests not taking out this dismay on cast members when the policies are made clearly available.

At the same time, getting familiar with Disney’s current climate can reveal some positives. There are benefits to visiting Walt Disney World right now—reduced park capacity is one of the biggest ones, meaning less crowds (and a better chance to get onto Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance!).  Character cavalcades are a charming addition, and some old time-sinks like security checks have been streamlined much better than before. We’ve quite enjoyed our visits this year despite the weirdness.

It's a basic tip, but it’s especially important right now—do your research and know what to expect well before you arrive at the parks.

2. Buy tickets ahead of time

Cinderella Castle framed by massive rocks
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Buying Disney tickets at the gate is almost always a bad idea. You are guaranteed to pay maximum price on tickets bought at the parks, and you’ll also waste time that could otherwise be spent enjoying your day.

This advice goes double this season, as waiting to buy your tickets at the gate could mean you don’t get into the parks at all.

As mentioned, you cannot get into Disney parks right now without a Disney Parks Pass reservation—those reservations are easy to make online, but they’re only available to guests who already have a ticket purchased.

To clarify, Disney isn’t asking you to gamble on buying a ticket you can’t use—the Walt Disney World website has a calendar where guests can determine if reservations are available at a particular park for their ticket category (Regular guests, Disney Resort Hotel Guests, and Annual Passholders). Check that calendar before purchasing a ticket, but if reservations are available, get your tickets online and make the reservation immediately. The two parks that have proven most difficult to get into lately remain Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom (more so the latter as of April).

In most cases, the cheapest reliable Disney tickets are found at UndercoverTourist.com. You may also find discounted tickets via employee benefit programs, AAA, or military discounts. Florida residents, in particular, can usually find some impressive offers on tickets, even directly from Disney. Once you’ve bought your tickets, register them on My Disney Experience via the park’s website. After that, you can make your reservations.

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