No one likes waiting in line — especially with tadpoles in tow. We frogs generally find we can save the most time — sometimes the equivalent of an extra day on a weeklong vacation — by following a few key tips. What's even better? Some of our best tips to save time at theme parks save us money, too! Let's hop to it!
Top Tips to Save Time at Theme Parks
Time-Saving Tip #1 – Buy Your Tickets in Advance!
The first thing the Frog Family does after we decide on our next theme park vacation to Orlando (or Los Angeles or San Diego) is purchase tickets. We don’t have to wait in ticket lines, we can find the best-suited ticket combination for our trip, and we save money since we aren’t paying gate prices.
Time-Saving Tip #2 – Use Our Crowd Calendar to Decide When to Visit
Using our Crowd Calendars, you can see the expected crowd levels each day a full year in advance. As you get closer to your trip, you can even see special events, opening hours and the best park to visit on each specific day. With Disney World's move to date-based ticket pricing, to save the most money, you'll want to decide when to visit before you purchase tickets.
Time-Saving Tip #3 – Make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
At Disney World and Disneyland, we highly recommend you make advance dining reservations, and preferably as soon as you're booking window opens. This is 180 days for Disney World and 60 days for Disneyland. For the most popular table-service restaurants and character meals, this is virtually the only way to get in. We recommend making reservations if you want to eat any meals that aren't fast food! There’s a slight (and I mean, slight) chance you’ll get a table without a reservation, but you may end up spending 30 minutes just to find out. At Universal Orlando, it's not quite as tough to snag a reservation, but we do recommend booking at least 30 days in advance.
Time-Saving Tip #4 – Use a Plan
Following a plan literally saves us three to four hours each day at the parks. We plan our park by day based on the Crowd Calendar. If we're headed to Disney World, we make our FastPass+ reservations when our booking window opens to get the best selection of rides, character meet-and-greets and show times. We follow one of our step-by-step park plans (or we use our general maps that tell us when to visit each ride on days that we want more flexibility). We decide which parades and shows we want to see and where we will eat our meals.
Time-Saving Tip #5 – Bring Food & Drinks With You
The Frog Family saves at least four hours on a week-long trip to Disney by bringing snacks and water with us. During the busiest times, it can easily take 10 to 15 minutes to get to the front of the line just for a Coke and popcorn. Time spent recovering from hunger melt-down? Zero with this tip.
Time-Saving Tip #6 – Bring Might-Needs With You
Packing a “survival kit” in our backpacks with things like Band-Aids, pain reliever, sunscreen, ponchos, batteries and hand wipes saves us the 10 minutes it takes to get to the nearest gift shop and the 15 minutes it takes to pay for the “might-need” that has just turned into a “need now.”
Time-Saving Tip #7 – Arrive at the Parks Early
It’s tempting to sleep in and mosey into parks around 10:30 a.m., but what a mistake! We ride all our favorite aka the most popular rides in those first few hours while the parks are still pretty manageable. By midday, we can relax during a show or go back to the room for a quick nap or dip in the pool.
Time-Saving Tip #8 – Master Disney World's FASTPASS+, Disneyland's FASTPASS and MaxPass, and Universal's Express Pass
Each of the major theme parks offers skip the line access. At Disney World and Disneyland, FastPass+ and FASTPASS respectively are free. Disneyland's Maxpass is an optional, paid service that is used through the official app. Universal's Express Pass is an, optional paid service that can be purchased in advance or in the parks, unless you stay at one of their on-site hotels that include it. Click each of the links above to get to our guides on each! Note: Disney World's FastPass+ is the only of these services that allow you to pre-book rides!
Time-Saving Tip #9 – Dine Before or After Regular Mealtimes ... or Use Mobile Ordering
It’s not uncommon to wait 30 minutes in a counter service restaurant line during regular mealtimes. Eat lunch at 11 a.m. instead of noon and dinner at 8 p.m. instead of 6:30 p.m. … save the line-waiting for the fun stuff. Disney World and Disneyland now offer mobile ordering. Using it saves even more time than hopping in the regular line during off-peak hours!
Time-Saving Tip #10 – Read Between the Lines
Tad and I use the single rider line for Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Test Track at Epcot. We may end up in separate vehicles, but we only have to wait five minutes as opposed to waiting 35 to 45 minutes in the regular line. Use the child swap system if you have a tadpole in the group that’s too small for the ride. Both parents will be able to enjoy the ride without standing in line twice.
We're always looking for more ways to skip the lines and save time! What are your time-tested time-saving tips? Share them in comments below! You'll find more theme park planning tips and resources here!