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My Top 10 Disney World Time Savers

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Whenever I’m at Walt Disney World, I’m all about taking advantage of every valuable minute so I can squeeze as much magic and memories as possible. Unfortunately, there are number of factors and obstacles that tend to zap some of my valuable vacation time, ranging from long wait times for my favorite attraction to having to wait for buses. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years for how to better maximize my time in the magic, and today I’m letting you in on a few of the best in My Top 10 Disney World Time Savers.

TyphoonLagoon ClockTower10. Strategize Your FastPass+ Reservations – FastPass+ is all about saving guests time in line, but to truly maximize the service some strategy is necessary. For starters, do NOT book a FastPass+ for a show. Typically — although there are exceptions on especially busy days — FastPass+ does not get you into a show any quicker as you have to wait for the show ahead of you to end. By that time, the standby crowd has already caught up to those who used the service. In addition, the theaters for the shows at the parks are huge and almost everyone can secure themselves a great seat even without a FastPass+. What I’ve learned is to save those FastPass+ reservation slots for attractions. Secondly, don’t book a FastPass+ reservation for a time within the first two hours of park opening. Even on busy days, most attractions are walk-ons within that first hour and lengthy lines don’t really form until about two hours into the day. One of the best time saving strategies of all is to arrive at the park for rope-drop and then ride the most popular attractions first, saving FastPass+ reservation slots for the attractions you want to ride or re-ride in the afternoon or evening or for another park you plan to visit later in the day.

9. Pack Light & Consolidate – The first line guests will encounter when they reach a park is the line for bag check. I give credit to Disney and their security team, as they do keep the lines moving and are often friendly and courteous, but if you’re visiting the park on a considerably busy day the line for bag check can be formidable. To trim down the time spent in this line, look for the security guards at the far end tables. People tend to funnel to the middle and the lines at the ends are often half the wait than those at the center. Also, I encourage all guests to pack light. I know this is a difficult thing to ask, especially for guests with little princes and princesses in tow, but do try to pack just what you need. Lugging heavy bags and packed strollers through back check, the parks, and onto buses and boats will not just zap your time, but your energy too. Finally, if you are planning to bring more than one bag, do your best to consolidate those bags into one. You will get through back check much more quickly, and those in line behind you will thank you, not to mention the fact that you will thank yourself once you’ve got a few miles of walking under your belt.

8. Use a Touring Plan  You want a great time saver for your Disney World Vacation? Use a Touring plan! Touring plans are plans or schedules that can save guests up to four hours in line and the Touring Plans site offers a variety for each park and even a touring plan for both water parks. But if you, like myself, prefer to put your own spin on your day, you can also customize your own Touring Plan. It’s easy to design and even allows you to allot time for meals and breaks. There’s even a touring plan that could allow you to see everything in a single park in one day. Now that’s a time saver! These plans are called Ultimate Touring Plans and if you happen to accomplish one, you could earn a spot in the Ultimate Touring Plan Hall of Fame!

7. Know Where You Want to Eat – Many guests waste time at Walt Disney World just trying to decide where to eat. Are you one of those guests who walks all throughout the park trying to find a restaurant that everyone in the family can agree upon only to discover that it doesn’t fit your budget and then end up walking around some more? I have been one of those guests. Several times. But thankfully I’ve learned that to save a lot of time, as well as walking and arguing with my group, that I should always plan ahead of time where I want to eat and maybe have a backup plan option or two in mind.

6. Pick a Resort with a Convenient Location – One of the biggest drains on your vacation time will most likely be transportation. You will need transportation a lot because the dolls from “it’s a small world” were wrong when it came to this family vacation destination because it really is a massive Disney World after all. Fortunately, Disney provides three excellent forms of free transportation to get around, but waiting for your bus, boat, or Monorail, not counting the time aboard, can take up A LOT of your time. Therefore, one of the biggest time savers that you can partake of at Walt Disney World is choosing a resort that has a convenient location. It’s a choice that will make your resort worth it even after you’ve gotten over the impressive lobby and its magical touches. The Grand Floridian Resort, the Contemporary, and the Polynesian Village Resort offer the closest locations to the Magic Kingdom and Monorail access. In fact, the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary are both situated next door to the Magic Kingdom park and the Contemporary even provides a well-lit walking path to the park’s entrance. The Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, the Boardwalk Inn, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts are located a short distance from Epcot. Guests can gain entry into World Showcase through a sort of backdoor known as the International Gateway and they also have access to Hollywood Studios by a Friendship Boat or a walking path, although that walk may be too long for some. I personally believe that choosing a resort with a convenient location is one of the best time savers for a trip to Walt Disney World, and a real benefit for a guest who only have a few days to see it all or families with young kids.

5. Consider the Crowd Calendar – One of my favorite features the Touring Plans site offers is the Crowd Calendar. The Crowd Calendar numerically rates the crowd levels at the resorts and parks for the year based on stats and data.  Some guests don’t have the luxury of choosing when they can visit, but if you can, it can really save you time to visit on days with lower numbers. Less crowds and short lines allow guests to see and do so much more in a day. Seriously, if you’re looking to save time at Disney World, start with the Crowd Calendar. It’s one of the most detailed and accurate tools of its kind.

4. Know the Park Maps – If you’re a Disney World Regular, then skip ahead to the next point. If you’re not, then take my advice and study the park maps before your Disney World Vacation. The parks are large and packed full of things to see. Trust me, you will waste a lot of time just wandering if you’re not familiar with where certain attractions, restaurants, or even bathrooms are located. Also, the layout of the some of the parks can be confusing. I think the Magic Kingdom has the most logical layout with Cinderella Castle and the Hub at the center for a reference point; but even so, with the number of different paths and visual stimulation, it’s easy to get turned around. So to save time, and some frustration, familiarize yourself with the park maps before you pass through the turnstiles.

3. Eat at Off Times – Many times have I headed to a favorite Disney World counter service restaurant of mine for a meal, only to find that seemingly everyone else in Florida had the same idea that I did. Lines for counter service restaurants at peak meal times can wind out the door; and by the time you wait in line to order, wait for your food, find an open table, and then eat, a good hour or more has disappeared! This is why I encourage guests to eat a early or late lunch or dinner so that they determine how long their meals will be and not the crowds.

2. Use the My Disney Experience App – In addition to being able to make dining reservations and FastPass+ reservations through the app, guests can partake of other time-saving services the app provides. One that I use a lot is the posted wait times. Instead trekking across the park just to find that Space Mountain has an hour wait, I can immediately find out from my phone and adjust my plans accordingly. The My Disney Experience App also lists the times for when certain characters are scheduled to appear and where, giving guests the advantage of being ahead of the character game and possibly being at the front of the line.

1. Avoid the Masses – It’s easy to follow the crowds, and you often find yourself doing just that without even realizing it; but to save time at Disney World, you need think ahead of how you can avoid the masses. Many guests, including myself, recommend avoiding the parks that offer Extra Magic Hours as crowds seem to gravitate to the parks offering this privilege. Another tip would be to head to the back of the park when it first opens and then to work your way forward, which is the opposite of what the crowds tend to do. Do you love the parks’ nightly entertainment, such as Wishes at the Magic Kingdom or Illuminations at Epcot? If you do, you have probably encountered the massive lines at the park exit and at your resort bus stop afterwards. These lines are frustrating because your family, and yourself, are probably exhausted and so is everyone else around you, and it eats into time that you would rather spend at your resort getting a bite to eat before your food court closes for the night or packing for your trip home the next day. To beat these manic crowds and to redeem the time, position yourself near the park exit when enjoying the different nightly entertainment. If you’re at the Magic Kingdom, pick a spot on Town Square; but if you’re at Epcot, near the entrance to World Showcase or at one of the countries located near the end of the loop, such as the Mexico or Canada Pavilion.

So those are my top 10 time savers for Walt Disney World and how I maximize my time at my most favorite place in the world. But what about you? Do you have any time savers of your own? Any tricks to skip the waits or how to dodge the crowds?

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

8 thoughts on “My Top 10 Disney World Time Savers

  • Here’s my #11. We just got back Friday, um Saturday (thanks hurricane) and my biggest time saver was using the new shop Disney parks app. You can just scan the barcode of any item in any Disney store and the app will show you (on a list or map) where that item is currently in stock. So instead of standing in a checkout line every time I saw something I liked, I checked the app, most of the time found that it was available at Mousegear, and made one stop at the end of the night. On the other hand, if the item was not available anywhere else, I didn’t waste time looking everywhere for it if I skipped on it the first time. (Of course it doesn’t guarantee that your item will be in stock by the time you get there to buy it, but I hedged my bets and it worked out for me.)

  • Corollary to #3, consider bringing snacks. Hungry people = grumpy people, and especially with small children, that can come on in a hurry. A few snacks in your bag can be eaten in line (two for one, fueling the body and waiting in line at the same time!), and ensure that you can avoid having to buy food in the parks until it is convenient i.e. not crowded.

  • #5: In the past, we have always picked what days to go to which parks based on the Crowd Calendar. However, it is no longer “one of the most detailed and accurate tools of its kind.” On our last couple of trips, especially the last one which was this Sept/Oct, the Crowd Calendar wasn’t just a little off, it was HUGELY off, making it next to useless. Hopefully it will be fixed soon.

    #6: This point that assumes everyone stays on-site (which seems to be a general problem with TouringPlans blog articles). Many don’t. I’m also not convinced that where we stay off-site requires any more travel time to, say, DHS, than from a Disney resort that’s on the other side of WDW. While on-site guests are waiting for buses, we are making progress actually getting closer to the park in our vehicle. At least at DHS, Epcot, and AK we are usually parked close enough to walk to the gate, often close enough to beat the tram we would have ridden to the gate.

  • Best time saver not mentioned for us would be to slow down and not over-plan. The more events, be it attractions or meals, you have planned in one day, the better the chance that you’ll fall behind.

    We book less and less every trip. Fastpasses can be ignored or easily changed for most attractions, and unless you’re going at a busy time, you’ll likely find somewhere to eat close by, as long as you’re flexible.

  • Spot on, especially re having a plan. Any time I see people standing at the exit of an attraction in a circle saying, “I don’t know, what do YOU want to do?”, it just makes me cringe. A Touring Plan is a great way to structure you’re day, but even if you’re not following a formal touring plan to the letter, having some sort of plan will ensure you’re not paralyzed by indecision.

    • I also find it fun when these same people are walking along (with you behind them en route to the next stop on your touring plan) and they stop in the middle of the crowded path, whip out a map and gather around it. Really? You couldn’t move off to the SIDE and do that? Not only do I have to put on the brakes to avoid crashing into these people but then find a way into the stream trying to get around them. GRRRRR….I wonder if they drive like that too 🙂

      • We used the touring plans from the Unofficial Guide. The rule simply was, “We are doing the plan first. Then we will go do other things or return to our favorite attractions.” Worked great, and got to ride our favorite rides numerous times afterward using the single rider lines.
        I would modify #7 with simply, “Don’t eat a big meal in the parks”. I know Disney foodies will disagree with me, but when I have limited time in the parks and a limited budget, I don’t want to sit on one place and drop hundreds of dollars on a meal. Cram the fanny pack with protein bars and a bottle of water, and I’m ready to go for the day!

  • Great post. Planning ahead of time has done the magic for us in order to accomplish a lot in our vacations. We always eat at quick service locations at the parks (we leave the fancy sit-down dinners for cruises, he, he). In our last trip, several weeks before I made a little game to reduce time spent on figuring out where and what to eat. I printed and laminated cards that showed in one side the picture of a quick-service restaurant and in the other side the menu items I knew my family would enjoy. We had to memorize and play by turns with questions like: “If you care for pizza and pasta, where would you go?” or “What can you find at ABC Comissary”. It really saves a huge amount of valuable time when hunger strikes.

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