Insider Tips on How to Have a Successful Disney Trip
Walt Disney World Resort (and its many other theme parks) is often touted as the “happiest place on Earth.” But there is a method to the magic and multiple ways to increase the joy you and your group experience when visiting.
Whether it’s behind-the-scenes details from experts or secrets from former cast members, we bring you the best Disney insider tips to ensure a successful trip as well as provide fascinating facts about what makes the Disney theme parks so special.
1. Show up a little late.
You'd think the "early bird catches the worm" theory would be perfect to use at a popular theme park like Disney. But experts say to show up a little late to miss the first crowd.
"The park opens up an hour early for people staying at Disney Resorts," says travel writer Robin O'Neal Smith. "Plan to get there a half-hour after opening. The early crowd will already be in the park, and you will get through the entrance faster."
2. Skip the big show.
If you're looking to ride the rides without the long lines, then consider skipping whatever big show is happening at the moment.
"The best time to ride is when fireworks are happening or a parade or some special event," O'Neal Smith says. "People flock to watch them, and lines diminish."
3. Hit the water.
Disney is famous for its theme parks, but folks who live in Orlando will tell you the best place to spend your time is at Disney's waterparks. In the brutally hot and humid summer months, there is no better place to relax and unwind. Plus, there usually isn't a line, there are long lazy rivers and refreshing beverages, and ticket prices are much more affordable in comparison to the other Disney theme parks.
"The waterparks are not just for kids. There are lots for adults and seniors to enjoy, too," O'Neal Smith says.
4. Even Disney's trash cans are special.
It feels like every detail at Disney has a unique plan behind it. "One of the coolest behind-the-scenes details at Disney has to do with the garbage cans," says Victoria Yore, who lives just an hour from the parks and is a Disney expert. She's the founder of Disney Trippers, a website that helps people plan their theme-park vacations.
Believe it or not, all of the trash cans at Disney are spaced out with a maximum of 30 steps between them. "Walt Disney learned that 27 to 30 steps were the average steps that people would walk before they would drop their trash on the ground. As a result, all of the trash cans at Disney World are no more than 30 steps apart, so there is always a trash can that is nearby," Yore says.
By merely placing the trash cans where people would need them, Disney has been able to significantly reduce the litter found in the park.
5. The Morocco Pavilion pays its respect.
The nightly fireworks show is something guests rave about long after seeing it for the first time. But at Epcot, one pavilion doesn't get the same special light treatment as the others.
The Morocco Pavilion, located within the Epcot’s World Showcase, is a replica of a minaret or prayer structure in Morocco. "Out of respect for this religious space, the Morocco Pavilion doesn't light up during any of the Epcot fireworks shows," Yore says.
6. Tinker Bell is all of us.
Speaking of fireworks, if you've ever seen the Magic Kingdom show, you may have seen Tinker Bell flying down from Cinderella's Castle. Well, we were happy to find out that the role does not discriminate.
"More often than not, the Tinker Bell who flies is really a male cast member dressed up as the character," Yore says. "And Tinker Bell has been multiple ethnicities!"
7. Take a left.
A simple turn in the opposite direction could save you tons of time during your theme park visit.
"When you arrive at Disney World, GO LEFT! The majority of guests go right, and if you go left, you will hit shorter lines immediately," Yore says.
8. Consider the rope drop.
OK, we know we already said it’s best to show up a little late, but there’s one exception: being there early enough to attend the rope drop. If you are an early riser naturally or have it on your bucket list to be the first in line one day, then this is a special ceremony just for you.
"To rope drop at Disney means to wake up and be at the front gate 30 minutes before the park opens," Yore says. "You will then hit the most popular rides when the lines are at their shortest."
Before you demand the whole family get up super early on their vacation, consider making the rope drop a special-occasion activity. "The rope drop involves getting up early, which is why it isn't recommended every single day, but it can make a huge difference," Yore says.
9. Say 'yes' to dinner theater.
Disney theme parks and the surrounding resorts and lodges have a variety of entertainment options for dinner. Why make the kids sit through a stuffy dinner when they can experience a fun show instead? Consider the Hoop-dee-doo Musical Revue and Disney's Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show.
"Head over to Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground for a one-of-a-kind, Wild West musical where you will laugh until you cry and enjoy an all-you-care-to-eat style dinner of fried chicken, BBQ ribs, salad, baked beans, cornbread and strawberry shortcake," says Kirsi McCrea, a former Disney cast member and travel coordinator at Epperly Travel.
If you're in more of a Hawaiin spirit, Disney also has that option. "Another one-of-a-kind dinner show that features traditional hula dancing, fire dancing and vocals allows you to escape from the chaos of the Disney Parks crowds into the Polynesian Village Resort for some much-needed relaxation," McCrea says.
10. Register your FastPass+ early.
If you want to reduce the amount of time you spend in lines, consider getting Disney's FastPass+. "When scheduling your FastPass+, you are allowed to schedule three per day at one park of your choosing," McCrea says. "If you are park hopping, you can get fast passes for more than one park, but your first three must be in the same park, and you must use all three fast passes before adding one more at a time to your queue."
Experts agree that to make the most of the first three uses, you should register as far in advance as possible. Once you have your ticket or pass, you can make your selections up to 30 days prior to your visit. If you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, a Disney Springs Resort Area Hotel or at other select nearby hotels, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days before check-in for the entire length of your stay.
11. Don't eat when everyone else does.
If you stagger your schedule a bit, you might be able to catch slower lines for some great rides.
"Many Tier 1 rides will open up availability around 3 p.m. and in the evening, as many families with young children take afternoon breaks or head to dinner and ride queues open up," McCrea says.
12. Rent a boat.
Walt Disney World Resort is more than an hour away from Florida's award-winning beaches. But you can get out on the water without traveling that far, thanks to Disney's great boat rental options. "No matter where you are staying, you can rent a pontoon boat, Sea Raycer or Montauk to sail around the Seven Seas Lagoon, which is located in front of Disney's Magic Kingdom," McCrea says.
To rent a boat, head to one of the following properties: Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort, and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
13. Book a behind-the-scenes tour.
If you're looking to learn some Disney secrets while visiting, considering booking a tour. "Perhaps the most popular is Keys to the Kingdom, which has some behind-the-scenes moments at Magic Kingdom including part of the 'utilidors,' which are the underground tunnels that cast members use," says Bill Androckitis Jr., a travel writer and Disney expert based in Central Florida.
"Over at Epcot, guests can take the Behind the Seeds Tour in the Land Pavilion to walk through the greenhouses seen while riding Living with the Land," he adds.
14. Yes, there’s a Cinderella suite, but you probably won’t see it.
Cinderella's Castle is a beloved landmark within Walt Disney World. But within its walls, there's also a suite that only a select few have the privilege of experiencing first hand.
"The secret suite of Cinderella was originally built for Walt Disney's family and some very special guests," says Jennifer Willy, an editor for the travel education site, Etia. "The multi-room suite has a jacuzzi tub, classic Cinderella-styled decorations and furniture made out of gold," Willy adds.
Guests can even stay in the private suite but only by invitation from Disney officials. Once in a while, the theme park giant will offer a stay as a prize in a sweepstake, but it hasn't happened recently.
15. Be the ‘family of the day.’
If you're looking for a new way to make the trip memorable for the family, try getting picked to be the family of the day. "Every morning, Disney chooses a 'family of the day' to open the Magic Kingdom," Willy says.
Disney employees choose a family from the crowd of folks who got in line first, then escort them to the Magic Kingdom train station, so they can help Mickey open the park to the crowd below. There is no sure way to get chosen, but there are countless blogs with tips and tricks from Disney super fans. Those include arriving about 1.5 hours early, valet parking, chatting with cast members and doing all you can to show how much you LOVE Disney.
16. Look for hidden gems.
Disney is known for having fun secrets around the park, and it can be thrilling to find one yourself. "The retro telephone in the hat shop at the end of Main Street is not just for show," Willy says. "When you will pick the receiver up, you'll hear a conversation between a mother-daughter talking about parties and groceries."
Other well-known hidden gems at Disney are the hidden Mickeys. If you look around the park, you'll start to see subtle, hidden visual representations of Mickey Mouse. Hint: There’s one on the floor of the ferry docks outside the Magic Kingdom.
17. You can get married at Disney.
Disney isn't just for vacations. You can say "I do" in various parts of the theme parks.
You can even get hitched at Cinderella's Castle, but it will cost you at least $75,000!
18. If you’re on a budget, stay outside of the Disney resorts.
There are countless options for lodging when you travel to Orlando. While, yes, there are the Disney resorts for those willing to pay extra to experience everything Disney, but there are hotels all over Orlando that are available for theme-park guests.
"There are 35,000 vacation rentals in the area — where for far less than the cost of the cheapest Disney hotel room that sleeps four people, a family can stay in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a full kitchen, games area and its own private pool," says Robert Peters, a Disney expert who runs vacation rentals near the theme parks and who’s been to Disney about 40 times with his kids and grandkids.
Peters says it's important to note that vacation rentals are not run through the popular travel site Airbnb. "Vacation rentals in the Disney World area are a professional, fully licensed industry," he says.
19. Midday breaks are optional.
Lots of Disney experts suggest leaving the park in the middle of the day to get a break, but there are a lot of benefits to sticking around.
"Disney theme parks are always busiest at midday, and this advice (that sounds like it’s meant to enhance guest's well-being) is actually about load-balancing the number of people in the parks throughout the day," Peters says.
He insists it is worth it to stick around all day. "After spending upwards of $500 to $600 for park tickets for a single day, the best thing a family can do to get the best value on the investment is to arrive as early as possible and stay right through to the very end of the evening, which usually close with spectacular night-time fireworks shows that are absolutely incredible and well worth the long day," Peters says.
20. Instead, find the air-conditioning.
Instead of spending an hour each way to take a break, find some air-conditioning if you need a moment away from the crowds and rides.
"Plan on doing some quieter activities, like taking in a show in an air-conditioned theater, at midday to get a break," Peters says. "In the Magic Kingdom, Mickey's Philharmagic is a great choice, along with It's a Small World."
21. You can bring your own food.
Disney has some fantastic, award-winning restaurants, but many aren't inside the theme parks. Save those special occasion meals for dinner, and save yourself some money by packing snacks for your day.
"Disney allows outside food into the parks in soft-shell containers — not coolers. Freeze water bottles the night before, and take snacks (and even lunch), like fruit and veggies and other healthy options with you," Peters says. "The frozen water bottles will keep the snacks cool, and you can drink the cold water as it melts."
22. Don't waste time shopping.
There are so many great shopping opportunities at Disney, but lugging around a bunch of stuff won't make the experience any more enjoyable. Plus, you can find most Disney products at the airport or online.
"If you are going to shop inside the parks, wait to do it until after the park closes, when the park will remain open for another hour to give guests time to leave, but you can smartly use it to do your shopping just before you go," Peters says.
23. Get your in-park purchases delivered.
If you ignored tip No. 22 and find yourself the new owner of a lot of Disney memorabilia, you can have it delivered to your Disney resort. If you're in the same situation but aren't staying on Disney property, you can have your treasures delivered to the front of the park for you to snag on your way out.
"What you may not know is that there are time limits on this. Package pickup stops running through the parks based on the gift shop's location," writes one Disney cast member. "Because the parks close from back to front, package pickup also stops from back to front."
You can also pay a bit extra just to have your items shipped home for you, too.
24. Ponchos are worth it.
Florida is always sunshine and clear skies, right? Wrong. The state is famous for its hurricanes, and its rainstorms can feel almost as bad, which is why you should always take a folded rain poncho with you to the park. "In the summer, you will need them for the frequent but short downpours, which happen every day in Central Florida," Peters says.
They will come in handy in the cooler months as well. "In the winter, you can use them to keep from getting drenched on many water rides (think Splash Mountain), especially when the weather is cooler, and it will take longer to dry out," Peters says.
25. Visit in the winter.
There is no real way to prepare for spending hours in the heat and humidity of Central Florida — especially in the summer months. If you can swing it, visiting Disney at Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other time between November and February will result in a much more pleasurable experience.
But most families can only schedule a big vacation during the summer. So, with that in mind, make sure to keep yourself and your family hydrated, find shade when you can, use the air-conditioning when you find it, and plan time for rest at some point in the day. Also, hotel and vacation rental pools are plentiful in Central Florida, and you should take advantage of them often.
26. Wear the right shoes.
Don't underestimate the power of picking the right shoes. Disney parks, especially the ones in Orlando, are huge and spread out. You'll likely be walking at least 5 miles a day, and you should never do that in sandals.
"Wear comfortable shoes with good soles," says Tangela Walker-Craft, a writer and Disney expert. "Flip-flops or sandals with no foot or ankle support could mean blistered feet or sore ankles at the end of a long day."
27. Walk from park to park.
Since you are already on foot, consider walking to the other parks. After all, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios are all connected.
"Guests can walk from the Epcot Resorts to Hollywood Studios via a sidewalk. There is a backdoor entrance/exit in Epcot that leads to the Epcot Resort area where guests can find the boat and/or sidewalk that go to Hollywood Studios," Walker says.
You can also ride the monorail from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot and take a boat from the Epcot resort area to Hollywood Studios.
28. Map out your ride priorities.
Disney is so large that even super fans on the best day can be overwhelmed, so you must make a plan, insiders say. "Map out the day based on attraction locations to prevent walking from one end of the park to the other over and over again," Walker says. "Plan ahead and ride the most important rides as soon as possible."
Even deciding who will ride together for each ride in advance will prevent holding up the line.
29. Snag the free souvenirs.
Before you buy the pricey items, consider collecting the free souvenirs — especially for kids. Cast members usually have stickers for kids, but a kid-favorite is often getting the signatures from their favorite characters.
"Kids can collect stamps from each country and create free personalized souvenirs at 11 World Showcase Kidcot craft stations at Epcot," Walker says.
30. Yes, there’s a Lost and Found for lost belongings.
There are several places to go if you forget something during your visit to Disney. "If an item is lost in one of the parks, it may be turned in to the specific park's Lost and Found at Guest Relations," Walker says. "After the park closes, items are delivered to the theme parks Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center."
If you lose an item at a resort, the hotel lobby concierge should have it. "Valuable items are held for 90 days," Walker says. "Less expensive items are held for 30 days."
31. Consider park hopping.
If staying in one park doesn't feel like the right move for your group, then consider park hopping to see more than one on the same day.
"Park-hop based on the closing times of the parks," Walker says. "Go to the park that will close the earliest first — unless seeing a specific night-time show is a part of the plan."
32. But park accordingly.
If you're going to park hop, definitely don't waste time driving from one park to the next, insiders say.
"Park the car where the day will end, so it's not necessary to travel back to another park at the end of the night," Walker says. "Use Disney transportation like the monorail, the ferry or buses to travel from park to park during the day."
33. Grab a to-go drink from table service restaurants.
It’s important to remember that the cast members have to give you water if you ask for it. That said, not all cups are the same size. At the quick-service food locations, your request for a glass of water will typically result in a smaller container.
But if you sit down at a Disney restaurant with table service, make sure you leave with a full-size, to-go drink of whatever you were having like soda, tea or water. It might not seem like a lot, but on a hot and humid day, it is best to get as much hydration as possible.
34. Visit Disney First Aid for everything.
Whether you get a blister from all the walking, dehydration from the sun or a major accident happens, head to Disney's First Aid locations before calling it a day. "The nurses at Walt Disney World First Aid are always available to help with any number of guest needs, from helping guests recover from dehydration to storing medication," writes Disney expert Jett Farrell-Vega. "They even have a room where guests can recover from exhaustion."
Apparently, they even have a special blister treatment for guests. "Our favorite perk we learned at Walt Disney World First Aid is their blister treatment. Their secret weapon is a soothing spray of Bactine to numb the offending blister before wrapping it," Farrell-Vega says.
35. Disney has more security than you think.
If you run into trouble and need a security guard, Disney has you covered. Guests will likely notice the security officers sprinkled throughout the park because the company doesn't skimp on resources.
But insiders will also tell you that there are a ton of additional security workers that you might not notice. That's because Disney has them dress in regular clothing during their shifts. If you spot someone wearing khaki shorts and an earpiece, they're likely Disney security.