3. Use rope drop (smartly)

Millennium Falcon in early morning
Image: Disney

Rope drop—that is arriving before the parks open--used to be the final word in saving time at Walt Disney World. While rope drop is still an extremely useful tool for making the most of a Disney day, there are some caveats to be aware of.

Rope drop is most effective if you can arrive well before the park opens—standing at the gate at least 30 minutes ahead of time if not more. If your heart is set on getting a jump on Disney’s most popular attractions, it will mean arriving well before the rest of the early birds. Indeed, if you push your arrival all the way up to the actual opening time, you will find that a significant crowd will already be inside the park as Disney usually lets people in early to mitigate congestion.

Certain attractions at each Disney park tend to draw substantial crowds first thing in the morning—sometimes before the parks have even officially opened. These include Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (of course), Slinky Dog Dash, Avatar Flight of Passage, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If you aren’t one of the first people in, a rope drop arrival isn’t going to guarantee a shorter wait for any of these rides.

If you don’t want to arrive at the parks super early, an alternate rope drop strategy is to forego heading straight to that park’s top attraction—instead, go to another popular attraction that doesn’t have a long wait but is likely to end up with one not long after opening. If you’re familiar with crowd trends, you can often find another time of the day to identify a moderate wait for the E-Ticket attraction that drew the biggest morning crowds.

4. Embrace late nights

Little girls in Pandora at Night
Image: Disney

The early-bird approach might be the traditional means to catch low waits at Walt Disney World parks, but a compelling argument could be said for taking a night owl tack as well.

Many, MANY families struggle to make it through a full morning-til-closing Disney day. Legs get tired, fatigue sets in, kids get cranky... Parks like Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios may also still pass as half-day parks for some, meaning a good component of guests depart before the day is over.

The last few years, we’ve seen a fairly consistent trend that wait times dip in most Disney parks during the last two hours of the day. This is particularly noticeable during evening fireworks shows—especially during later showings. These late hours are often the best times to catch Disney’s most popular rides. Even if you get in a line near closing time, Disney will usually allow guests to complete the queue even if the park has closed.

The best way to identify rides that have lower waits in the night hours is to keep an eye on reported wait times from previous days. The biggest exception to this trend are occasions when Disney has after-hours special events, as well as in Epcot on Friday or Saturday nights.

Wish you could take advantage of late night hours but aren’t sure because you have kids? Consider taking an afternoon break during the park’s busiest hours. These peak times are a great opportunity to take an afternoon nap, particularly if you’re staying on Disney property. After your break, return to the parks in the early evening when other families are tuckering out and calling it a day.

5. Learn strategic flexibility

Mom and teen boy on Expedition Everest
Image: Disney

If you’re a longtime fan of Disney parks, you may have gathered that much of the advice here sounds familiar. The reason is that while the switch from a Walt Disney World without FastPasses to the arrival of Genie+ has felt jarring, in truth, what we are seeing now isn’t much different from the days of navigating standby lines during Fastpass+. Indeed, it could be argued that Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are less difficult to strategize around since they aren’t taking up as much ride capacity as Fastpass+ did (up to 80%!).

Familiarizing yourself with crowd trends and knowing a few good strategies can definitely help you put together a sound itinerary to make an epic Disney day without using Genie+--however, utilizing some strategic flexibility can prove just as useful.

Guests tend to follow predictable patterns, but every Disney day usually holds a few surprises. A good touring plan can be helpful, but Genie+ and Individual Attraction Access have definitely introduced some unknown quantities to wait times in standby lines.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on wait times in My Disney Experience throughout your day at the parks. If you see an unusually short line for an attraction that appeals to you, it’s often worth changing plans to make a beeline for that queue. Some of these surprise lulls are not easily predicted—if you see one, go for it!

Another thing to consider in staying flexible: there are occasions when you may want to choose an attraction with a moderate wait over a low one. This scenario can occur if you spot an extremely popular attraction that dips into a wait length that you can tolerate, particularly on attractions that almost never have low waits. In these cases, getting to enjoy an attraction you really love with a little extra wait may prove more valuable than simply picking whatever ride has the lowest wait at a given time.

6. Be willing to walk

Teen girls taking photos while walking away at Cinderella Castle
Image: Disney

You can save a substantial amount of time at Disney parks just by being willing to take a walk. In some unique scenarios, wearing a comfortable pair of shoes can prove nearly as valuable as purchasing Genie+.

We recently test drove Disney’s new day-planning app, Disney Genie (a complimentary addition to My Disney Experience mostly tangentially related to Genie+). One of the biggest complaints we ran into with Disney Genie’s recommendations was that it put far too much emphasis on ride proximity—making wacky recommendations simply because an attraction was close by.

One of the most predictable patterns Disney guests follow is that they usually move from ride to ride (such as in Magic Kingdom, which we mentioned earlier). You can often take advantage of lower waits in other parts of the park just by being willing to up your step count and do a bit of zig-zagging. Any Disney vacation is going to involve a lot of walking, but you can improve your odds for scoring low waits by being willing to walk extra. Don’t forget to stay hydrated!

7. Take advantage of resort perks

Hanging shell mobile at Polynesian Resort
Image: Disney

If you will be staying at a Disney resort, you may have access to some substantial advantages—even if you don’t purchase Genie+.

The perk getting the most press lately is that Disney resort guests have a major edge for scoring Lightning Lane access before the parks open (to the point that being a resort guest is often the only way to get Lightning Lane access to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance). However, resort guests also have access to an equally valuable perk: early and late park access.

This is essentially a retooling of the old Extra Magic Hours system. Extra Magic Hours were great, but they came with a peculiar problem: they tended to make whatever park had extra hours busier all day. This problem seems to have somewhat resolved itself since Disney is still requiring Parks Pass Reservations, limiting capacity. Taking advantage of early or evening access for resort guests is a great way to enjoy shorter queues and catch a few extra rides without needing Genie+.

8. Get help

Cinderella Castle viewed through phone with filter
Image: Disney

Theoretically, one of the biggest appeals of Genie+ is that it reduces the need to overthink strategy for a Disney visit. Ironically, the truth can prove opposite: we’ve seen many guests throw up their hands in frustration trying to get the most out of Genie+ and even Individual Attraction Access without having to strictly monitor ride availability and attempt elaborate shenanigans for stacking reservation times.

If you aren’t the type of person who gets a little rush of excitement at the prospect of strategizing your way through a Disney day, you may want to consider recruiting some help—and no, we don’t mean Disney’s comically inept Genie planning app. A wide range of apps, services, and even expert travel agents exist who can help you plan custom Disney itineraries. Some services even provide real-time advice similar to Disney Genie. You're already on the right track visiting us here at Theme Park Tourist! A little research can go a long way to help you have a magical vacation without needing to splurge on Genie+.

Enjoy this article? What are your best tips for making the most of a Disney day without Lightning Lanes? Let us know in Facebook or in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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