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Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Your Disney Morning

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t_logo_fbTime is precious on any vacation, and a Disney World vacation in particular can create the feeling that time is passing at a far quicker pace than in everyday life. With so much Disney fun waiting each day (and the feeling that time flies at the World unlikely to abate), who wants to spend a lot of time getting ready in the morning. Whether your goal is to be at the parks at opening or to eke out a bit more sleep before you start your day, getting up and out of your room efficiently will help maximize your vacation time. And the rewards for your efforts can be significant.

Whether you need to get your entire family up and out the door or just yourself, there are several steps you can take to smooth the morning routine. These steps will not only save time but make the morning (and the people getting ready) more relaxed so that you can leave the room happy, stress-free, and ready for fun. This article highlights specific tips for your morning as well as TouringPlans tools and information that can extend the benefits of a calm morning to the rest of your day.

Getting a Head Start—The Night Before

Photo by Sarah Graffam
Photo by Sarah Graffam

After a busy day at the parks, your motivation to get ready for the next day can be extremely low, but try to fight the urge to immediately collapse into bed. Even 5 minutes of preparation the night before can pay off by saving time and hassle in the morning. Here are some steps you can take the night before to get a head start for the morning:

  • Prep your park bag. Before dropping your bag in exhaustion, take a few moments to refresh it for the next day. Empty out any receipts, souvenirs, and park maps. Toss and replace or replenish supplies such as sunscreen and hand sanitizer. Ensure your sunglasses, your camera, and anything else you normally carry is back in your bag and ready to go in the morning.
  • Gather the essentials. Have everyone in your party deposit the items that are essential to your departure in the morning in a central spot where they can be easily found. Such items can include park bags, MagicBands, tickets, hats, autograph books and pens, and pin lanyards. This step can save you from a last-minute scramble that spoils the mood right as you go out the door.
  • Set out clothes for everyone. Lay out the next day’s clothes for yourself and kids so that it’s a no-brainer to get dressed. This way, kids can at least start to get ready by themselves even if the adults are busy with their own preparations. It also means that early risers can get ready without turning on as many lights or making as much noise so that others can catch a few more minutes of shut-eye.
  • Decide on a bedtime. Whether your night is winding down early or you’ve been partying with Mickey late into the night, consider the next day’s plans when deciding on a target bedtime. If your plan is to be at park opening the next day, it’s sensible to get to bed at an earlier hour, sticking close to your normal bed time at home—especially with kids. If you took advantage of evening extra magic hours, a more relaxed plan for the following day is probably the best move.
  • Be ready with a touring plan. Before your trip, choose from one of our many step by step touring plans for each park. A touring plan will turn your efficient morning into an efficient day by showing you the best order to experience attractions so that you avoid long waits in line.

Determining a Wake-Up Time

With a bit of evening prep eliminating some basic tasks from your morning routine, your last step before getting some sleep is to decide on a time to wake up and to set the alarm.

Gather park essentials like these the night before (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
Gather park essentials like these the night before (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
  • Work backwards. If your plan is to get to a park at a specific time the next day, a good strategy when deciding on the time for your alarm is to work backward from the time you need to be at the point of transportation—whether it be the parking lot or your car, the monorail station, the bus stop, or the boat dock. Unless you have a car, be sure to account for the 15-20 minutes you may need to wait for your transportation to arrive. Our family’s rule of thumb is for the alarm to go off 1.5-2 hours before we need to be at the point of transport.
  • Consider commuting times. The hotels section of the website shows commuting times to the parks from Disney resorts using resort transportation. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for each resort to see the times. If you own a copy of our 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, there is an excellent chart of “Door-to Door Commuting Times to and from the Disney Resorts and Parks in Your Car Versus the Disney Transportation System” on pages 398-399.
  • Set a backup alarm. Setting a backup alarm is a must. There is no worse feeling than waking up to find that your day will be starting much later than planned because your alarm failed to go off.
  • Plan for no plan. Even if your plan is not to have a plan the next day, you may want to set an alarm for the latest possible time you’d like to get up. This way, at least you will be conscious at some point that you are relaxing in Disney World.

Getting Up and Out in the Morning

  • Decide on a wake-up order. While setting your alarm the previous night, you should also decide on a wake-up/getting ready order. This step is more important when children are involved. If adults get up first, they may be able to enjoy some peace while they get ready before the kids are awake. If kids wake up at the same time as the adults, let them relax a bit longer in bed reading or watching TV while the adults get ready.
  • Have a shower strategy. To avoid some of the morning rush in the bathroom, one strategy is to have everyone or at least some people bathe the night before; this tactic may be especially appealing if you’re visiting during the hotter months of the year. Even if the adults shower in the morning, the nighttime showering approach is helpful for kids. For girls with long hair, braiding their hair before bed after they shower can save even more time in the morning. For boys, a baseball cap or, of course, Mickey ears work wonders to hide bed head after sleeping on wet hair.
  • Consider breakfast options. Some quick breakfast strategies are to have breakfast items already in the room (such as cereal, granola bars, yogurt, pastries, nuts, or fruit) or to have the adult who is ready first venture out to obtain breakfast and bring it back to the room. This way, you can eat breakfast either in your room or on the way to the car/bus/boat/monorail. Another option is for everyone to have breakfast at your resort’s quick service restaurant; after leaving the room, plan enough time to wait in line, sit and eat, and then walk to transportation. If you’ve opted for an unhurried sit down breakfast, your timeline for getting ready can be based on your reservation time.
  • Plan time for sunscreen. For many people, applying daily sunscreen may not be a big deal, but one unhappy night up with a child suffering from a severe sunburn has made me a sunscreen stickler. As a result, my children now consider a run for the hills when they see me with a bottle of sunscreen. Seriously, though, applying sunscreen (and staying hydrated) is crucial when you are outside for much of the day, so plan time to get sunscreen on those kiddos (and yourself). If not in the room, apply sunscreen at the bus stop or when waiting for park opening.

And Finally … Reaping the Rewards

Once you’ve taken these steps to manage your morning routine, you will enjoy some definite benefits that will improve your overall vacation experience:

Magic Kingdom Welcome Show (Photo by Sarah Graffam)
  • First and foremost, the strategies in this article can allow for a less hurried pace throughout your Disney vacation no matter what time you start your day. And everyone in your party will be in better mood if they have gotten enough sleep, have had a good breakfast, and were able to get ready for the day without much effort.
  • Enjoying the less busy hours in the parks can make a huge difference in term of your fun on vacation. There is no doubt that being among the first to get to the parks gives you a leg up on the vast majority of Disney guests. Indeed, arriving at the parks at “rope drop” is key to many of our touring plans and backed by years of data showing much shorter wait times early in the park day.
  • Part and parcel of enjoying short morning lines is the chance to experience some of the more popular experiences at Disney World. Even if you have a FastPass+ for experiences such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom or Test Track at Epcot later in the day, you can ride them more than once by using standby lines in the morning.
  • When kids (and adults) have a less hectic morning, they will likely have more stamina in the parks. As a result, you may be able to stretch your time in the parks before a break is needed.
  • Making it to breakfast at one of the parks is another benefit of following a morning routine. Having breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and friends at Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace or with the princesses at Epcot’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is a great start to the day.
  • Even when your plan involves just lounging at the pool, enjoying Disney World’s resorts and dining, or approaching the day with no plan at all, an easy exit from the room will enhance a relaxed pace.
  • I have saved my favorite benefit for last … seeing Magic Kingdom’s Welcome Show when the park opens. A “Good Morning” routine will ensure that you will arrive in plenty of time to sing along.

What are your biggest morning challenges at Disney World? Have you experienced benefits from an efficient morning routine? Can you share any other strategies that have worked to get you and your family up and out in the morning?

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Sarah Graffam

Sarah gets that giddy feeling when walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (and sometimes in her own living room just thinking about her next trip to Disney World). She is a Disney Vacation Club member and has been a professional writer and editor since 1990. Other favorite places she has traveled include Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, England, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, Kenya, Tanzania, and Disneyland.

23 thoughts on “Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Your Disney Morning

  • It is concerning to me that this article still implies that sunscreen is a sunstroke preventative. If the first commenter on the post wasn’t clear enough, sunscreen does *absolutely nothing* to prevent sunstroke. Only proper hydration and getting out of the sun prevent sunstroke. Period.


    • Thanks Lee for the clarification. We actually were unfortunate to experience both sunburn and sunstroke at the same time. My intent was to connect our experience with the time-consuming need to “slather” up the kids with sunscreen, but I can see how it may imply a direct connection between sunburn and sunstroke beyond my personal historical context. I’ve now updated the paragraph so that my point about applying sunscreen is pertinent.

  • Great list! Our mornings at home are like a Disney rope drop every day (everyone up, fed and out the door before 7:00am), so I employ many of these tactics on a daily basis. My one suggest for other is a pre-dinner bath/shower. That way, you’re all squeaky clean for a nice dinner and can just go straight to bed after an evening in the parks. I find that we need about 30 minutes of adults only time to get ready and another 30 minutes to get kids up/dressed and fed anything that is too messy to travel.

    • Apparently typing is not my skill…please excuse the typos 😮

    • Thanks Sarah! Your tip and so many others should help all of us get out the door in the morning quickly but still feel like we are not rushing around too much during vacation. A happy morning will make for a happy day!

  • Something I have found very helpful is to have a ‘Park Preparation’ sheet typed and I use a magnet to secure it to the back of our resort room door where it stays for the balance of the trip.

    It’s broken into 3 sections:
    Backpack – lists everything to go in it

    Nighttime prep – plug in phones, camera batteries, change out wet clothing, backup pictures

    Morning prep – Put SD card in camera, put battery in camera, put camera in backpack. Yes, very detailed but I tell you, one of these missed steps either means a trip back to the room or lost memories.

    Hope this helps! I find preparing for our trip part of the excitement so updating our ‘to do’ list each year to reflect my DD’s new age is a fun prep step for our upcoming trip!

  • I definitely need an hour at least in the morning to shower, dress, dry my hair and do my minimal makeup, plus SPF and get my daughter up, dressed, hair and then walk to the bus.

  • I pack full outfits (including underwear, socks, etc) for my kids in large ziploc bags for each day of our trip. Each morning my 5 year old picks a bag and has both her and her brother’s clothes ready to go for the day. Easier for us then picking out clothes when we are exhausted and trying to do bedtime the night before!

    • Great suggestion Laura! I have used this method sometimes as well. It makes it easy to unpack clothes into drawers. They stay nice, clean, and organized in the ziplocks.

  • I have honestly been considering bathing the kids at night and having em sleep in their next-day clothes on our next trip 😉
    But seriously, we bring lunch and snacks to the park and prepping those the night before saves tons of time!

  • Another time saver in the morning is to budget in cab rides to the parks. Skipping the morning bus lines saves so much time and aggravation!

    • Amen!! No lines for a bus will cut down on aggravation and save time. But there’ve been a lot of times at value resorts where there’s no cab. You can call and schedule one.

  • I follow a lot of your tips already because preparation keeps me from getting stressed out – something you do NOT want to have when at WDW! My family has not been with me for many years (I’ve done trips with friends recently), and when we finally do take a family trip again, I’m going to show them this article and say that I want to do rope drop and here’s how we’re going to do it! Thanks for the article!

  • This comment had be goggling in shock!

    ***Our family’s rule of thumb is for the alarm to go off 1.5-2 hours before we need to be at the point of transport.***

    You consider 1.5 to 2 hours to be ‘managing your morning’???? We do many of the things you suggested at the beginning of your article (repacking bags, laying out clothes, etc.) and we take 15 minutes from getting up until out the door. Breakfast is cereal bars, fruit, and bottles of milk while standing at the park gates waiting for rope drop (also a good place to put on sunscreen).

    For us, it’s 45 minutes (or less) from wake up to the front of park gate (an hour for the MK, since we have to take the monorail). If I could make it more efficient, I would. This is with staying on site and driving our own rental car.

    • I get with young kids that you have to dress how it could take longer, but in with older kids and adults how could you spend 2 hours getting ready? When we travel as 2 adults it is 30 minutes to get out the door with one of us showering in the morning.

      • Welllll, in our case (two adults), it takes around an hour because the wife insists on having her ritual two-three cups of coffee in the condo, then putting on her makeup. Then changing tops 2-3 times until she decides on the one she likes 😀 . She usually showers in the evenings, so that is not an issue. If it was just me, I could be showered and out the door in under 20 minutes (as I routinely am at home).

        Also, we’re there because we are ON VACATION. It’s a lot easier to dawdle when you don’t *absolutely* have to be somewhere. It’s easy to get too wrapped up in FP+, Rope Drop, ADRs, and other advance planning (I am very guilty of this myself) that you loose sight of why you came in the first place.


  • My favorite tip to get sleepy children up and moving in the morning: have Tinker Bell visit the hotel room overnight and leave a small gift to be found in the morning. We have done chocolate coins (stolen from Captain Hook), notes, pins, ornaments, shirts, and other treats. Who wants to stay in bed when there’s treasure to be found?
    Also – regarding sunscreen – we always apply it when we’re riding the bus. I hope that we’re not breaking some social rules by doing so, but it’s the best use of our time in the morning. Plus my children can’t wander off or get distracted in the middle of applying it. 😉

    • I absolutely love the idea of a treasure hunt to get the kids motivated and that you’ve made space for Disney fun even during the busy morning routine! This is the kind of special touch that kids will remember forever.

    • Whenever a child is in a moving vehicle and a car seat or seat belt is not an option, the child should be seated safely and in such a position as to not be sandwiched in the event of a collision. We may be on vacation, but accidents don’t take a hokiday.

      • I’m sure that she is making sure her kids are safe. I think it is a great idea and it should be possible to apply sunscreen to a child while they are sitting down (provided that a seat is available – which doesn’t always happen on Disney transportation).

  • Great tips. But “a child suffering from sunstroke has made me a sunscreen stickler” implies sunscreen prevents sunstroke, and it does not. Sunscreen will only, to a certain degree, reduce skin damage due to ultraviolet radiation, and can occur even in cooler conditions if there is enough sunshine.
    Sunstroke is a systemic condition resulting from overheating of the body, and the body’s inability to regulate the heat sufficiently, due in part to dehydration in hot conditions. To prevent sunstroke, one must among other things drink sufficient fluid, water and possibly electrolyte beverages, wear loose fitting, light clothes, and avoid excessive physical activities in the hottest part of the day (e.g., noon to 3). Heat exhaustion can occur even if people avoid the sun if conditions are hot, they continue to be physically active, and they become dehydrated.

    • These are great tips on avoiding sunstroke. Whether keeping hydrated, avoiding exertion during the hottest parts of the day, or wearing sunscreen, all of these steps will help ensure that children and adults will stay healthy while enjoying the theme parks.

      • I’m still unclear if your child had sunstroke or just a bad sunburn. There is a world of difference…

        Some additional tips for the night before:

        1) Check for last minute cancellations at restaurants that you were unable to get an ADR for. Many people still make many more reservations than they intend to use, and cancel them at the last minute.

        2) Make sure all cell phones and cell phone charger batteries are plugged in before going to bed. It can be an easy thing to overlook when you are in a new location and not following your usual routine.

        3) Review your FP+ reservations for the following day and decide if you want to change anything (assuming you can).

        4) If you are able to change around FP+ and/or add an ADR, enter that/those change(s) in your personalized TouringPlan and reoptimize it.

        –Lee & Robin

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