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Top Tips to Optimize Your Disney World Vacation

by Vern Woodruff on July 31, 2014

A Walt Disney World vacation can take a lot of planning and months of saving. Once the big day arrives and you finally start your vacation, you will want to optimize your time in the parks so that you can make the most of your visit. Some people are content with taking a leisurely tour of the parks, and if they do not see everything that they would like, then they are fine with that. Others, like me, want to see and experience as much of Disney World as possible and make use of every minute in the parks. Time will go by very quickly while you are touring a park, and if time is lost when it could have been avoided, at the end of the day you will find that you have run out of time to see an attraction that you wanted to experience.  If you are like me and want to make the most of your time in the parks, here are several simple tips to help you optimize your Disney World vacation.

Arrive Early

optimize Disney World vacation - Epcot

The most important thing you can do to optimize your touring time in the park is to arrive early, about an hour prior to the official park opening if possible. Being one of the first people in the park allows you to ride some of the most popular attractions just after opening before a line forms and the wait time increases. Time spent waiting in line first thing in the morning takes away from prime touring time when the park is not yet completely busy. An example of the reason for arriving about an hour early is our experience from Disney's Hollywood Studios. We visited on an expected low crowd day (based on the Undercover Tourist Crowd Calendar) and took our place in the entry line 25 minutes before official opening at 9 a.m. The park opened early and we actually entered before 9 a.m.  We immediately headed over to the Star Wars Jedi Training Academy registration area, but when we arrived, there already was a sizable wait. It took close to 30 minutes to make it through the line and register my two boys, so we lost that first half hour of prime touring time in the park.

Know how FastPass+ Works

Optimize Disney World vacation - Dino Rama

Make sure to understand how the new FastPass+ system works and how to make use of it (read the Undercover Tourist FastPass+ guide). This can be a big time saver, allowing you to ride some of the most popular attractions with minimal wait. The FastPass+ service allows you to reserve a 1-hour window of time to visit a certain attraction with a minimal wait or reserve a spot for a show (i.e. Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at the Magic Kingdom). Your FastPass+ selections will then be tied to your tickets or MagicBands. Once you have a FastPass+ time reserved for one of the headline attractions, during the morning prime touring time you can focus on trying to experience other headliners and short-duration rides that have high waits. For example, when the rope drops at Disney's Animal Kingdom, the vast majority of the crowd immediately heads back to Expedition Everest. With a FastPass+ reservation in hand, instead head over to Dinoland USA. The crowd in this area of the park will be sparse and you can ride Triceratops Spin and Primeval Whirl before the lines build.

Extend the Park Hours

Optimize Disney World vacation - Main Street Electrical Parade

One trick you can use to extend the park hours and optimize touring time, which is especially useful when a park closes relatively early, is to see a parade or show near or at closing time. For example, the day we visited Disney's Animal Kingdom, the park closed at 5 p.m. Looking over the Disney Times Guide we received when we entered the park, we saw that Finding Nemo the Musical had a 5 p.m. showing. We saved that show for the end of the day and arrived at the theater about 20 minutes early. The show ended about 5:40 p.m., which meant that most of the park's crowd was gone and it was easy to leave. The great benefit of this was that seeing the show at 5 p.m. only took 20 minutes of park touring time out of our day instead of over an hour. We also were able to do this at the Magic Kingdom with an 11 p.m. Main Street Electrical Parade when the park closed at 11 p.m.  We were able to obtain seats on the curb of Main Street U.S.A. only minutes before the parade started (this was the second performance of the night, which helped). Again, most of the crowd was gone once the end of the parade passed us and we easily left the park.

Avoid the Crowds at Park Closing Time

Optimize Disney World Vacation - Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

While cast members stop guests from getting in line at closing time, the parks themselves will stay open to guests for another hour or so. This worked great the day we visited Disney's Hollywood Studios when it was open until 8 p.m. We wanted to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, but we attended the 6:30 p.m. showing of Fantasmic! By the time we made it back to the lights, it was 7:30 p.m. and I thought we would only have a short time to enjoy them. However, we found out that the lights would stay on until 9 p.m., so we were able to leisurely walk through the lights and enjoy them for an extra hour. We also took advantage of this at Epcot to browse and shop at Mouse Gear after IllumiNations. By the time we had finished shopping in Mouse Gear, the crowd had cleared out and we had no problems exiting the park.

Make Use of Your Time While Waiting for a Parade or IllumiNations

Disney World souvenirsDuring our visit, we had several times where we needed to wait for a parade or Illuminations at Epcot to start. In order to not completely waste the time we had to wait for the parade or show to start, we purchased a quick-service meal and took it with us to the spot where we were waiting. This worked well because we were able to eat while waiting and it gave the three kids something to do. Another time, we all posed for a silhouette near Liberty Square before a parade. We needed to wait 15 minutes anyway for the person to finish our silhouette, so he finished it up while we waited and watched the parade.

FastPass vs. Standby Wait Times

Do not estimate the wait time by the line length instead of the posted standby wait times. While a standby line may seem short, realize that just a handful of people may be taken at a time from it while the FastPass line is emptied. For example, when people were being admitted to meet the princesses, six FastPass families were taken while just one standby family made it in. Prior to my visit, I wondered how Disney estimated the wait times and thought they were maybe just guessing based on the length of the line. However, it seems to be more precisely measured than just guessing because we would be given a small plastic card at times when we entered a line that we then gave to a cast member upon boarding the attraction. Using these cards, Disney could track exactly how much time had elapsed from our entering the line to boarding the attraction.

If an attraction has a 5-10 minute posted standby wait time, it in essence means no wait. This is because the boarding area can be a 5-minute walk from the attraction entrance. For example, Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid ride had a 10 minute standby wait listed, but it took us more than 5 minutes to walk through all of the queuing aisles. Once we reached the boarding area, we immediately were seated.

I hope you've enjoyed these tips to optimize your Disney World vacation time. Let me know if you have a tip that I haven't mentioned here by sharing it in comments below! 

Vern and his wife are the parents of two boys and a girl that all love Disney’s animated movies and shorts. He lives in Ohio and is employed as a mechanical engineer, which helps to explain his excessive attention to detail, organization and planning. His oldest son enjoys watching the animated shorts from the Disney Treasures series, his youngest son has the middle name “Donald” and he likes telling people that he was named after Donald Duck, and his daughter loves the Disney Princesses, especially Rapunzel and recently Elsa.

Did you know Undercover Tourist now sells discounted tickets to San Diego and Los Angeles attractions and entertainment destinations in addition to Orlando? View our ticket offerings and be sure to check out Undercover Tourist's Planning Guides - now available for Orlando, Los Angeles and San Diego.

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