Time is Money: Maximize Time at Disney World!
We all know that a trip to Walt Disney World can be expensive, so maximizing your enjoyment of your vacation time is the smart thing to do! Who wants to spend the whole time standing in line or staking out that perfect spot for the afternoon parade? Here is a compilation of tips and tricks for you to maximize time at Disney World!
In our many visits to Disney World, we’ve learned that some pre-planning (and a few judicious purchases before you leave) can save money and help maximize time at Disney World. On this page we’ve gathered some important “survival” hints that everyone should know before departure.
The Disney fans who visit MouseSavers.com have lots of great information to share. This “Time is Money” page includes many reader contributions. Thank you to all who have shared their tips on how to maximize time at Disney World!
- Where Do I Start?
- Avoid the Crowds
- New!Shorter Waits in Ride Lines
- How to Take MouseSavers.com Along on Your Vacation
- Essential Equipment
- Ultimate Packing List & Tips for Packing Better
- For Repeat Visitors: The Disney Box
- For Repeat Visitors: Owner’s Locker
- Save Time on Disney Transportation
- Getting Around Disney World Faster
- See Mickey (and Other Characters) Faster
- Participating in Shows & Parades
- Best Places to Watch Magic Kingdom Parades
- Best Places to Watch Evening Fireworks & Spectaculars
- Treating Cast Members Right
- Lost Kids
We recommend starting on our step-by-step planning guide page, which will help take you through the major decisions you’ll have to make when you plan your trip.
Would you like to have this site at your fingertips while you’re at Walt Disney World? Accessing MouseSavers.com on a smartphone makes it convenient to look up tips and tricks, check on dining discounts, see what events are happening during your stay, and lots more.
This site works perfectly on any phone that allows you to access the Internet. Just fire up your phone’s Web browser and navigate to MouseSavers.com!
You can also add a MouseSavers icon on your smartphone that will take you directly to the site.
WHEN you choose to visit can make a substantial difference! Even if you are heavily constrained by school or work schedules, optimizing the exact dates can reduce the overall crowding you experience. Trust us, even 10% fewer people can make a massive difference in your overall enjoyment and how much you get to see. Read our Frequently Asked Questions section to find out the busiest and least busy times at Walt Disney World.
“The first suggestion should be branded on everyone’s forehead, ‘Go during value season.’ There is simply no comparison in the levels of attendance…. This is one’s first line of defense in the ‘Time is Money’ battle.” – Jeff D from Toms River, NJ
If you are traveling with young children who will primarily be interested in Fantasyland rides, make sure to get to Fantasyland first at the beginning of the day! Your first priorities should be Enchanted Tales with Belle, Peter Pan, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which are all popular rides with not enough capacity to meet demand, so they build lines very quickly. They are all three good choices for Lightning Lane selections as well.
On the other hand… “Skip Fantasyland during the daytime when it is packed with kids. When everyone is lining up for the parade, that is the best time to visit. Also the parade does not run through Fantasyland, so you don’t get the bottleneck/gridlock effect once it is over. By the time the parade is over and people from Main Street start flooding into the area, head for Liberty Square/Frontierland.” – Kevin P from Bayport, NY
“My own experience as a Disney veteran has taught me to leave the beaten path at the Magic Kingdom and begin in Adventureland and work clockwise through Frontierland… At a good time of year you can easily ride Pirates, Thunder and Splash Mountains in a matter of only an hour!” – James O from East Bridgewater, MA
- Disney Genie, Lightning Lane & Virtual Queues
- Single Rider Line
- Early Theme Park Entry (formerly “Extra Magic Hours”)
- New!Extended Evening Theme Park Hours
- Disney After Hours – Epcot
- Disney After Hours – Hollywood Studios
- Disney After Hours – Magic Kingdom
- Rider Switch (aka Child Swap or Baby Swap)
- Special Needs
There’s so much to cover with Disney’s line-skipping systems that we needed two pages! The first is a general guide to how to use all the various tools built into the My Disney Experience app. The second is a more in-depth guide to maximizing your use of Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes.
- How to Use Disney Genie, Lightning Lane & Virtual Queues at Disney World
- Tips & Strategies for Disney Genie+ & Lightning Lanes
If you don’t mind possibly sitting separately from the rest of your party, use the Single Rider line, which is available at Expedition Everest, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Rock N Rollercoaster and Test Track. The Cast Members loading ride vehicles draw from the Single Rider line to fill in empty seats, so this line often moves much faster than the regular line.
Single riders can sometimes skip a small section of the end of the line for Space Mountain. When you reach the merge point where the Lightning Lane and regular lines meet, if you tell the cast member there that you’re a single rider (or that your group is willing to ride single), they may send you straight to the loading area, depending on how they are running the lines that day. You’ll still need to wait in the initial section of the line, but it can shave off 5-10 minutes near the end. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
“Always use the Single Rider line for Test Track. 75% of the time my wife and I end up in the same vehicle, just not next to each other. The ride sits 3 across, so a lot of times, they will need 2 people: one in the front seat, one in the back. I’ve walked on line and been on the ride in 10 minutes, while the standby line is well over 1 hour.” – Kevin P from Bayport, NY
Disney World offers a special feature called Early Theme Park Entry for Walt Disney World hotel guests. If you are staying at one of the official hotels owned and operated by Disney, the Swan/Dolphin, a Disney Springs area hotel, Shades of Green, Four Seasons Resort Orlando, Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek or Waldorf Astoria Orlando, you qualify for this program.
Early Theme Park Entry program allows you to enter any of the four main theme parks 30 minutes before official opening. Early Theme Park Entry is available every day. Select attractions, dining and merchandise locations will be open.
It may seem like 30 minutes isn’t really much of a benefit, but it can really add up! By starting your day early, you get a head start on every ride you go on, until at least the mid-afternoon when ride wait times tend to peak. Most rides have a slow build in wait time starting right at opening and going up to a maximum somewhere in the late morning or mid-afternoon, so you’re not just getting to ride your first ride 30 minutes earlier, you’re riding every ride at least 30 minutes earlier.
If you are staying at a hotel that qualifies for this perk, you should absolutely use it. It will lower your total wait time for the day by a significant amount. Let’s say you have a set of 3 rides you want to go on, and each of them has a slow increase in wait time over the course of the morning and early afternoon. If you ride them back-to-back starting right at 9 am when the park opens normally, let’s say you’d wait 20 minutes for the first, 40 minutes for the second and 50 minutes for the third. By starting 30 minutes early at 8:30 am, you might now wait 10 minutes for the first, 20 minutes for the second (you’re still in the 30 minute special opening time and crowds are still very low) and 30 minutes for the third. You’ve just waited for 60 minutes instead of 110 minutes and saved 50 minutes of waiting time! And between the 30 minute head start and the 50 minutes you saved in line, you can now get into your fourth ride line a full 80 minutes earlier! For many rides, that will make a large difference.
To enter a park early, you need valid admission, a theme park reservation for that park and (see note below) a valid Resort ID from one of the participating resorts. For Disney-owned resorts, your MagicBand, MagicMobile pass or RFID card is both ticket and Resort ID. For the other resorts, ask what you’ll need to identify you as staying there; usually they’ll give you a printed card that identifies you as a hotel guest and gives your check-out date.
Special note: Starting January 9, 2024, theme park reservations will not be required at Walt Disney World for guests with regular tickets (i.e. date-based tickets). Annual Passholders will be able to visit without a theme park reservation on select “good-to-go” dates in 2024. The “good-to-go” dates have not been announced and may vary by park.
Extended evening hours are available on select nights in select theme parks for guests staying at a Disney Deluxe Resort, Disney Deluxe Villa Resort, the Swan/Dolphin and Shades of Green. Select attractions, dining and merchandise locations will be open for an extra 2 hours after the park closes to the public.
Extended Evening Hours availability (subject to change):
- Epcot on most Mondays
- Magic Kingdom on most Wednesdays
- Hollywood Studios on September 30; October 5, 11, 19 and 25, 2023
- New!Animal Kingdom on November 8, 22; December 4 and 28, 2023
Extended Evening Hours are subject to the same park reservation rules as normal theme park hours. In order to take advantage of this perk, you must either have a park reservation for the park in question, or have a Park Hopper ticket and a reservation for a different park, and have entered your reserved park earlier in the day. (See note above re: theme park reservations for 2024.)
If you are staying at a hotel that qualifies for this perk, we highly recommend taking advantage of it. This is an opportunity to ride the park headliners like Test Track, Soarin’, Splash Mountain or Space Mountain with exceptionally low wait times, usually 20 minutes or less. Lower-tier rides are typically walk-ons. The total number of guests who qualify for this perk is low, so it’s a rare opportunity to experience the parks when they feel nearly empty.
If a ride with a virtual queue is in a park that is offering extended evening hours, you can try one more time for a special virtual queue covering the extended hours. This special queue usually opens at 6:00 pm (but check the app to make sure). You do not need to have entered the park to book this late-night virtual queue.
There is still food service available during extended hours, but only at a handful of locations in each park. Check the My Disney Experience app for a list of open locations, or ask a cast member.
Cast members check your resort ID at the entrance to attractions to verify that you are staying in a qualifying hotel. For Disney-owned resorts, your MagicBand, MagicMobile pass or RFID card is both ticket and Resort ID. For the other resorts, ask what you’ll need to identify you as staying there. Generally you can just link your hotel reservation to your My Disney Experience account. If that system isn’t working for some reason, you can show your resort reservation in the Marriott app (for the Swan/Dolphin) or your reservation email (for Swan/Dolphin/Shades of Green).
New for 2023, Disney After Hours – Epcot will be offered on select nights June 1 through August 24.
By purchasing a ticket to Disney After Hours, you can enter Epcot on select dates for an extra 3 hours at night after the park closes to the general public. Select rides and character meet and greets will remain open, such as Frozen Ever After, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Mission: Space, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Soarin’ Around the World, Spaceship Earth, Test Track and more. There will also be character meet and greets. Ice cream, popcorn and select bottled beverages are included with the cost of admission and available at carts throughout the park. Ticketholders can enter Epcot as early as 7:00 pm; the event starts at 10 pm.
There are a limited number of tickets for each date.
Tickets cost $137.39 – $148.04 per person, tax included, depending on the date. Annual Passholders and DVC members can purchase tickets for $105.44 per person, tax included.
- Tickets for 2023 Disney After Hours – Epcot went on sale for guests staying at select Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, the Swan & Dolphin and Shades of Green on February 28 and for everyone else on March 3. Tickets are available through Undercover Tourist (at a discount!); or at full price direct from Disney via the Disney After Hours – Epcot page.
In 2023, Disney After Hours – Hollywood Studios was offered on select nights January 4 through June 28.
By purchasing a ticket to Disney After Hours, you can enter Hollywood Studios on select dates for an extra 3 hours at night after the park closes to the general public. Select rides and character meet and greets will remain open, such as Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Mania!, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and more. There will also be character meet and greets. Ice cream, popcorn and select bottled beverages are included with the cost of admission and available at carts throughout the park. Ticketholders can enter Hollywood Studios as early as 7:00 pm. During January – April the event starts at 9:30 pm. During May and June the event starts at 10 pm.
There are a limited number of tickets for each date.
Tickets cost $137.39 – $158.69 per person, tax included, depending on the date. Annual Passholders and DVC members can purchase tickets for $105.44-$126.74 per person, tax included, depending on the date.
- Tickets for 2023 Disney After Hours – Hollywood Studios went on sale for guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, the Swan/Dolphin and Shades of Green on October 4, 2022, and for everyone else on October 7, 2022. Tickets for May and June dates went sale on March 3, 2023. Tickets can be purchased through Undercover Tourist (at a discount!); or at full price direct from Disney via the Disney After Hours – Hollywood Studios page.
In 2023, Disney After Hours – Magic Kingdom was offered on select nights January 9 through March 27.
By purchasing a ticket to Disney After Hours, you can enter Magic Kingdom on select dates for an extra 3 hours at night after the park closes to the general public. About 25 rides and character meet and greets will remain open, including: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, “it’s a small world”, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain and more. Ice cream, popcorn and select bottled beverages are included with the cost of admission and available at carts throughout the park. Ticketholders can enter Magic Kingdom as early as 7:00 pm; the event starts at 10:00 pm.
There are a limited number of tickets for each date.
Tickets cost $143.78 – $169.34 per person, tax included, depending on the date. Annual Passholders and DVC members can purchase tickets for $111.83 -$137.39 per person, tax included, depending on the date.
- Tickets for 2023 Disney After Hours – Magic Kingdom went on sale for guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, the Swan/Dolphin and Shades of Green on October 4, 2022, and for everyone else on October 7, 2022. Tickets can be purchased through Undercover Tourist (at a discount!); or at full price direct from Disney via the Disney After Hours – Magic Kingdom page.
Will you be visiting Walt Disney World with one or more children who are too short to ride some of the attractions you’d like to experience (or just don’t want to ride)? You and others in your party can still ride as long as you have at least two adults present who are capable of watching the children, by taking advantage of the Rider Switch, which is available on most height-restricted rides and a handful of others. When you enter the queue area, tell the Cast Member you’d like to do Rider Switch. This allows the first group of adults to ride while the second group stays with the children. Then the second group can ride — without having to wait in the regular line — while the first group stays with the children.
Most of these rides have a dedicated Lightning Lane entrance, so the second group basically gets a special Lightning Lane entry pass, usually valid for the rest of the day. If logistically it makes sense for the second group to ride later in the day, that can typically be accommodated. On some rides, that won’t work because they don’t use Lightning Lane to handle Rider Switch. If you do want to have the second group ride later, ask the cast member if that will work.
You don’t have total freedom to split your party any way you want, as there’s a limit on the number of guests that can ride in the second group. That limit is usually about 2 or 3, but can vary at Disney’s discretion. For example, if 10 total adults want to ride, you might prefer to have 6 adults ride first and 4 ride second, but Disney might have a limit of 3 adults in the second group. Be sure to check before you make concrete plans about who’s riding with who!
If the second group is just one person, that person can usually bring along a friend so they don’t have to ride alone, even if that friend just rode in the first group. Again, if you want to know how it works for a specific ride, ask first.
When doing rider switch, the second group always gets to ride immediately (typically using the Lightning Lane), but if the first group wants to also use the Lightning Lane, everyone in both groups who will be riding needs to have a valid Lightning Lane reservation, either via Genie+ or paid Individual Lightning Lane.
As always, Disney can change specific procedures at any time, but they have had some form of this process for many years. Just ask any cast member at the entrance of the ride if the ride has Rider Switch, and if so, how it works. Be prepared to be flexible!
Those with special needs (mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive disabilities) can get a special pass, which is called a Disability Access Service (DAS) card. You have the option to enroll in the DAS program pre-arrival and DAS participants can then select attractions directly in the MyDisneyExperience app. You can also enroll in the DAS program at Guest Services when you arrive.
Different passes are offered to people with different needs, and depending on the type of pass, may allow you easier access to the various attractions. For more info for those with disabilities who are planning a trip to Disney World, we list several resources in our Walt Disney World FAQ.
When you’re planning your trip to Walt Disney World, remember two words: HOT and HUMID. Temperatures in the 90s (Fahrenheit) and humidity readings in the 90%+ range are not at all uncommon in Orlando, even in the spring and fall. Also, bear in mind that there is a LOT of walking at Walt Disney World. Once you’ve trekked through four large theme parks, we guarantee you will have tired feet!
However, there are several items you can bring (or purchase at Walt Disney World) that will help to make your trip much more comfortable:
With the addition of Genie+, Lightning Lanes, Virtual Queues and Mobile Ordering to Walt Disney World, it’s harder and harder to get by without a phone. Using your phone all day will drain its battery, and while Disney does have charging stations in each park, you really don’t want to spend part of your precious day at the park hanging around a charger waiting for your phone to charge enough to get you through the day.
While you can get “charging cases” that integrate a spare battery with a bulky phone case, they really add a lot of weight. We think it’s a better bet to carry a beefy charger (at least 10,000 mAh) with two outlets, and use it to top up your phone(s) as needed.
We like the Anker Power Bank chargers, as they tend to be reliable and they tend to work with a wide variety of quick-charging systems for both Android and iPhones. The most recent phones tend to have standardized on the Power Delivery (PD) system, which requires a USB-C charging cable on the charger end, and either USB-C or Lightning on the phone end. In a pinch, any phone can charge from a regular USB-A port, but it may charge significantly slower than with a compatible fast-charger.
This charger is the one we take to the parks. It’s about the size and weight of a large phone. It will charge an iPhone 14 or earlier at full speed, and also quick-charge most Android phones. We usually only need one for both of us, as it can charge two phones at once. We just put the phones on it while we’re having lunch or a snack. It comes with USB-C charging cables. If your phone uses any other plug, such as Apple’s Lightning cable or micro-b, you can bring the charging cable you use at home, but it may be convenient to get an extra cable for traveling.
You might be surprised to learn that cotton socks are NOT the best for walking in the heat. They quickly become saturated with moisture, which makes them get sticky. The sticky socks start pulling and rubbing on your skin — voila, nasty blisters. A much better choice are high-tech socks that wick moisture away from your skin and still feel dry even in humid weather. Yes, they’re usually made of artificial fibers but in this case it’s a good thing. Look for “performance” socks designed for runners or hikers. Some brands are super expensive, but there are some good deals out there. You want socks made with some combination of CoolMax, polyester, olefin, spandex, tencel, wool and/or lycra. Avoid any sock with more than a tiny percentage of cotton. Even if the socks are labeled “performance” or “moisture-wicking,” if they’re mostly cotton they are just not going to work well.
When we first looked into buying these we thought it was crazy to pay $10 or more for a pair of socks (they’ve come down in price considerably since then). But one of us (Don) routinely gets horrible blisters walking around the parks, so we bought a few pairs of different brands to try them out. Don tried Under Armour Resistor, Wigwam Cool-Lite, Swiftwick Aspire, and Fox River Wick Dry, all of which worked great! No more blisters!
Our advice is just to buy whichever performance socks you can find a good deal on. You can also find these socks at Target, Walmart, and so forth, but read the package carefully. Champion, for example, makes some nice polyester and lycra “Double Dry” socks, but also sells cheaper socks also labeled “Double Dry” that are mostly cotton, which is no good.
Comfortable Shoes or Sandals
Be sure to buy these well before the trip and wear them on some walks around the neighborhood, to make sure they don’t “rub you the wrong way.” Different people swear by different shoes, but the critical components most people need are arch support and thick soles. Thin-soled shoes of any kind are a recipe for disaster — the hot pavement radiates up through them and they don’t cushion your foot against the cement walkways. Some people love Teva brand athletic sandals. Personally we prefer a good quality pair of athletic (walking) shoes. Zappos is one of our favorite places to buy shoes. It offers FREE shipping and FREE returns (so if the shoes don’t fit or you hate ’em, you aren’t out anything). Zappos has an amazing variety of shoes, so if you have a hard time finding your size, width or exactly the right shoes, we highly recommend checking it out.
Another good place for walking shoes is Amazon.com. Even though Zappos is owned by Amazon.com, the selection is slightly different between the two sites, so they’re both worth checking out.
Moleskin (foot padding)
Don’t worry, moleskin is just thick flannel; no actual moles are harmed to make it! This product is much better than regular sticky bandages for preventing blisters. If you know your shoe is rubbing at a certain point, or you start to feel a “hot spot” on your foot, just cut a piece of moleskin to size and cover that area of skin to prevent it from rubbing on your sock/shoe. It works really well. Available in most American pharmacies under the Dr. Scholl’s brand. Buy it in advance so you can pre-cut some to various sizes. Moleskin is sold in many Walt Disney World shops (usually it’s behind the counter and you must ask for it), but at inflated prices.
A light-colored ball cap or other hat with a brim is a great thing to have at Walt Disney World. It gives your face a little shade, which both keeps you cooler and helps prevent sunburn. (It also helps to prevent sunburn on the top of your head — obviously this is a worry if you’re a little light in the hair department, but you can even get burned along the part in your hair!) Hats are sold everywhere in the theme parks, but $19-$20 for a ball cap is the norm. It’s much cheaper to bring one along from home: you can get Disney-themed hats many places for much less.
We’re big fans of the wide-brimmed “sun hat” or “boonie” style. The one Don wears most often makes him look like a river guide, but it’s light, breathable, packs easily, and it really keeps the sun off. There are more fashionable hats available that also have a nice wide brim. But any hat with any brim is better than no hat. The sun in Florida can be brutal.
You’ll need lots of this, and get at least SPF 20. Don’t say “oh, I never burn.” You WILL burn at Walt Disney World. There is a lot of water and a lot of light-colored concrete everywhere, all radiating the sun’s rays at you from every angle. This can cause burns in the most unlikely places, like the backs of your knees and under your chin! Every time we go to Walt Disney World we see a number of poor souls who look like cooked lobsters — don’t let this be you! Also keep in mind that if it’s generally sunny year-round in Orlando, with the occasional break for thunderstorms, especially in the Fall. The average weather for Christmas day in Orlando is sunny and 72 F (22 C).
We personally like the spray-on sunscreen, because it just sprays on with no rubbing and feels nice and cool. We find it is very effective, waterproof, light and not sticky. For their faces, Sarah and the kids prefer the sunscreen sticks, but Don just sprays sunscreen into his hand and rubs it on his face. You can buy sunscreen throughout Walt Disney World, but the selection tends to be limited, and it’s a lot cheaper to buy it at home.
In recent years we’ve been really pleased with Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen. We’ve tried the spray-on, the cream/liquid and the sticks. Compared to the ones we were using (mostly Coppertone and Banana Boat) it feels much less greasy. You don’t feel like you’ve been coated in plastic when it dries. It also smells nicer, which is a big plus for the kids. It’s definitely more expensive, but for us it’s worth it. We’ve also seen generic store-brand versions of the Ultra Sheer at Walgreens and CVS, and both of them work just as well.
Handy sunscreen tip: if you wear a hat with a decent brim, you can skip putting sunscreen on your forehead. This solves the problem of sunscreen mixing with sweat and dripping down into your eyes.
Waist Pack or Backpack
A waist pack (aka fanny pack, or “bum bag” as our British, Aussie and Kiwi friends would say) makes it much easier to carry your stuff (ID, hotel key card, money, credit cards) around, is relatively secure against pickpockets if you wear the bag in front, and keeps your hands free. Yes, they look kind of silly, but so do Mickey Mouse ears! Don’t worry, you will see lots of people at Walt Disney World sporting both.
Alternatively, consider a small backpack/daypack. As long as it’s small and squishy enough, you can probably cram it in beside you on any rides that don’t provide storage space for personal items. Baggallini’s sling-style bags are good choices, but really, any sling bag or daypack will work. We recommend one that’s small and light, but with enough space to hold a rolled-up jacket, and at least one outer pocket you can fit a small water bottle in.
Personal Handheld Fan with a Mister/Spray Bottle Attached
These fans are a low-tech personal “air conditioner” that can be surprisingly effective on a hot day. They usually come with a long strap so you can sling them over a shoulder. One brand name (widely sold in the theme parks for $17) is Squeeze Breeze by O2 Cool. It’s a good idea to buy these BEFORE you go, because the exact same item or even a fancier version can often be found for a lot less, either online or at a discount store like Target or Walmart! Thanks to Pam P for the info.
A cooling towel is just a long, narrow towel, roughly like a short scarf, You wet it, and it cools the air around your head somewhat as it dries. To use one, you wet it and drape it over your shoulders, and as the water evaporates the surface of the towel gets cooler than the surrounding air via the evaporative cooling principle. When they get dry enough to stop working well, you just re-wet them in the nearest bathroom sink or water fountain. Some instructions will tell you to “snap” them in the air, but it’s not strictly necessary. You can wave them around a little to get a head-start on the cooling process, but it’s a very limited boost.
Cooling towels work best when the air is dry (thus increasing the evaporation and cooling), so they work really well in a very dry place like Arizona, and not well at all in a very humid place like New Orleans. Orlando is somewhere in the middle and unless the humidity is unseasonably high you will generally find that wearing the towel keeps you cooler than not wearing it.
There are two basic kinds of cooling towels – PVA towels and microfiber towels. They have pros and cons, but in general for theme park use we’ve stopped using PVA towels and have switched to microfiber.
Microfiber cooling towels are just a thin, narrow microfiber (usually polyester) towel with a weave that is supposed to maximize the amount of water they can hold while still being reasonably breathable. In practice, they don’t hold as much water as the PVA towels, so they need re-wetting more often. In a place like Disney World where there are drinking fountains and bathrooms everywhere, this isn’t a huge problem. And they dry quickly and can still be folded when they’re dry, so they are much easier to put away and re-use on the next trip. The cooling towels they sell at Disney gift shops and kiosks are microfiber towels, but they’re $17 each! Definitely you will save money buying them in advance.
For microfiber towels, try Amazon, or check discount stores. You can easily find multipacks for 4 for $10-$12 or so, and all the ones we’ve tried have worked basically fine. You can even cut up a regular towel or kitchen towel, but make sure it’s microfiber or some kind of synthetic. A thick cotton towel won’t breathe, and your shoulders will feel hot even if your face and head are cooler.
PVA is polyvinyl alcohol, a type of water-absorbent plastic, and PVA towels are like a thin sponge with a stronger polyester backing to keep them from tearing or falling apart. They absorb a lot of water, so they last longer before you need to re-wet them. Unfortunately, they get very stiff and hard when dry, making them impossible to fold. And if you put them away wet, they can get mildewy. In theory, you can wash them out, let them dry a little so they aren’t sopping, fold them into a size you can fit in a ziplock or something, and then let them dry all the way before sealing them up. This is a real pain, and we usually end up stuffing one into a ziplock still damp, forgetting about it, and needing to by a new one for the next trip.
For PVA towels, you can buy various name brands like Frogg Toggs or O2 Cool either online or at big chain stores like Target or Walmart, or just buy the cheapest PVA towel you can find. They’re often sold in the auto store or auto section of discount stores as car drying towels or “synthetic chamois.” You can cut them in half or even smaller if you find that wearing a whole one is overkill.
It often rains in the afternoons at Walt Disney World, but the showers tend to be fairly short-lived. We find umbrellas a hassle to carry around. A rain poncho squishes down to almost nothing and can be put away in a pocket, backpack or waist bag. A poncho comes in handy for wet rides like Kali River Rapids, too.
We were able to buy a large multi-pack of thin disposable ponchos for about $1 each online, and we just grab a handful before each trip. You can carry one easily in your pocket or pack. They aren’t super sturdy, but they work fine for keeping the rain off. When it stops raining, you can just toss it. MouseSavers.com reader Cheryl D has a good tip: “Walmart has 87 cent ’emergency ponchos’ in their camping supply department that are quite nice. They are transparent, hooded and roomy. We buy them by the dozen since ponchos never seem to fold up into those tiny little packages after used.” You can also often find semi-disposable ponchos at dollar stores.
If you don’t find a poncho that cheap, or don’t want to carry a poncho with you, don’t worry. Better-quality plastic ponchos are sold everywhere at Walt Disney World for about $10. A good thing to know is that if your Disney World poncho rips during that trip, you can take it and your receipt to the nearest Disney World shop that sells them and they will replace it.
If you’d like a lightweight windbreaker that will also keep the rain off, we bought a packable nylon jacket for Don, and it works well and packs into its own pouch (the pocket turns inside out and becomes a mesh bag). It’s also nice in the mornings on those days when it’s just a little nippy or windy, but is going to warm up later.
Water Bottle and Strap
You will need to drink a lot of water due to the heat. There are plenty of water fountains all over Walt Disney World and a fair number of water bottle filling stations, so bringing your own bottle is a great way to save. You can buy bottled water, but it’s very pricey. Any counter-service restaurant or stand that serves drinks in cups will give you a small cup of cold filtered water FREE at any time, but you may have to wait in line, and it’s no help if you’re halfway through the line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a thirsty child. Regular plastic water bottles or metal water bottles work fine, but the water in Florida can taste and/or smell a little odd, so if you’re picky about taste, a filtering water bottle is a good way to go. We like the Brita personal filter bottle.
A strap or sling makes water bottles much easier to carry with you. We use these ChicoBag Bottle Slings. They are super light and hold almost any personal water bottle, including the Brita filter bottles mentioned above. The strap works well for normal-to-tall adults, and can be adjusted for children by tying a knot in the strap.
OK, a pop-up hamper really doesn’t count as “essential” but it is handy for traveling. It has a sewn-in springy wire, so you just unfold it and it pops out into a small hamper. We like the rectangular kind with a circular opening on the top. We have one from DAZZ and one from StorageIdeas and like them both. They only weigh 8 ounces, fold down to a small circle, and fit nicely into hotel and stateroom closets.
This one will definitely save you some time even before you head to Walt Disney World! We’ve updated and reorganized a great list originally compiled by Michelle E from Charlotte, NC. This packing list includes everything you would ever need, and a lot you don’t — it’s smart to pack as light as possible since there are surcharges at most airlines for checked bags!
It’s in Word format so that you can adapt it to your own needs — just delete any items that don’t apply to you. Also includes a checklist of things to do before you go, such as stopping the paper and the mail, etc.
- To download the list in Windows, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.”
- To download the list on a Mac, hold down the Option key while selecting the link.
TSA Packing Hints
Be sure to check out the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) web page that discusses baggage limitations and tells you what NOT to pack in your checked luggage — some of the items may surprise you.
In addition, bear in mind that liquids and gels over 100 ml (3.4 fl oz) are banned from CARRY-ON luggage, and 100 ml or smaller bottles or tubes must be carried through security in a single, clear, quart-sized zip-top bag. This includes items such as deodorant, suntan lotion, toothpaste, perfume, makeup, contact lens solution, bottled water, etc.
Please note: TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Please confirm this information before packing for your trip.
- Need small sizes of your favorite items to fit in a TSA-approved baggie? You can buy a TSA-approved bottle set and fill them with your favorite lotion, hand sanitizer, shampoo, etc.
NEVER pack valuables in checked luggage! Keep anything valuable (electronics, jewelry) or hard to replace (prescription medications, glasses/contacts, photos) with you, in your carry-on luggage. You should also keep all travel documents for the entire trip (flight/hotel/rental car confirmations, trip insurance documents, etc.) with you in your handbag or carry-on.
“We make a Disney trip every year with our children, and the most frustrating thing we find is having to ‘re-purchase’ souvenirs like autograph books, Disney hats, etc. Here’s my hint for keeping that to a minimum: if your kids are like mine, their Disney souvenirs are treasured possessions after they return…until the next big thing comes along, like the start of school or whatever. When they sort of lose interest in them, I box up the pin lanyards, autograph books, pens, ponchos, fans…anything that provided comfort or seemed indispensable to them. I just label the box ‘Disney’ and I store it with the luggage. When I am packing for the next trip, I slip the things into a suitcase and don’t let on that I have them until we arrive. This saves me a bundle, and the souvenirs are there when the kids need them the most. The box is also a great place to ‘pre-pack’ the sunscreen [note from MouseSavers: be sure to check the expiration date – it loses its effectiveness after a while], sunglasses, and other stuff you don’t think about until you are at Disney and faced with paying a premium price.” – Susan F from Seattle, WA
If you’re a regular visitor to Walt Disney World, you should look into a service called Owner’s Locker:
Owner’s Locker allows you to store your vacation gear between visits, which means less packing, less hassles, less hauling and less stress!
Owner’s Locker provides you with a container to store personal items that you regularly use at Walt Disney World, such as toiletries, an air bed, a water filter, your favorite liquor — just about anything that makes your stay more pleasant.
Owner’s Locker picks the container up from your resort when you check out and stores it in a climate-controlled warehouse until you return.
Here’s the great part: Owner’s Locker will have your container waiting for you at your resort’s bell stand when you come back!
“If you want to go to Epcot — or just the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) — at the close of the Magic Kingdom, but you want to avoid the crazy rush at the monorail to the TTC, take the monorail labelled ‘Magic Kingdom Resorts’ instead. It’s a lot less crowded and will take you to the TTC, too! In the meantime, you’ll get a nice look at the Magic Kingdom Resorts. There are not as many monorails running on the Magic Kingdom Resorts line, but it still seems to be the quicker way to go–with a lot less pushing & shoving.” – Elizabeth H from Northumberland, PA
“Taking a bus from your Disney resort to the Magic Kingdom can dramatically reduce the time required to get there. The buses drive AROUND the Seven Seas Lagoon and drop you at the gate to the park. [Note from MouseSavers: If you arrive by car or by the Epcot monorail, you must take a ferry from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom, which takes extra time.] The ferry trip is charming and part of the anticipation building element of getting to the Magic Kingdom, but there are times when you just want to get there as quickly as possible, and avoid another round of queuing and waiting. This is obviously most effective at non-peak traveling times of the day, when the buses are not full and stopping at every stop (e.g., leaving for, and returning from lunch at the hotel). This is also most effective at busier times of the year if you’re forced to travel then.” – Jeff D from Toms River, NJ
“If you are staying at a Disney resort and are planning a night out at Downtown Disney [now Disney Springs], it is faster to drive your own car or take a cab. You might even be able to share with someone else going that way. The buses make several stops along the way.” – Tasha B from Jacksonville, FL
Augie from Long Island, NY offers these great hints for those who don’t mind a little extra walking to save a lot of time:
- Going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot from the Swan, Dolphin, BoardWalk, Beach Club or Yacht Club? Or vice versa? Walking always beats the boats!
- When leaving a theme park and taking the bus back to BoardWalk, Beach Club or Yacht Club, you can get on the Swan/Dolphin bus instead. It is usually a shorter or no wait, and not as crowded, and it’s a short walk from the Swan/Dolphin to the other hotels. Get off at the Swan stop for the BoardWalk or the Dolphin stop for the Beach/Yacht Club.
- When going between parks, if the Magic Kingdom bus line is crowded, get on the bus to the Contemporary. It’s a short walk to Magic Kingdom from the stop. Similarly, if the Epcot buses are busy, take the Beach Club or Boardwalk bus and walk to the International Gateway from there; it’s roughly the same amount of walking.
- [Note from MouseSavers: Another good one to remember is that when going from the Polynesian to Epcot, it’s typically faster to walk to the Ticket & Transportation Center (TTC) to pick up the Epcot monorail.]
First time visitors to Walt Disney World are often surprised to find out that the parks, hotels, and other locations are miles away from each other and getting between them really requires some kind of motorized transportation. You can certainly use Disney transportation, which is free, but it has a few downsides:
- You need to wait for the transportation to come, which might take as long as 20-30 minutes.
- The transportation often makes other stops rather than going directly to the destination you want. Most of the Disney buses, for example, serve multiple hotels.
- There is not always a transportation option that goes directly between your current location and your desired destination, especially if you are travelling from one hotel to another (for example, to eat dinner at a different resort restaurant, or to go to the Polynesian Luau or the Hoop-De-Doo Revue). In such cases, you generally end up having to change buses, which takes a lot of extra time.
Driving your own car or a rental car is a faster and more flexible option. However, even if you’re just going to another part of the Disney property, you’ll have to navigate a somewhat confusing complex of streets and freeways inside Disney property, almost none of which have normal street signs. You will almost certainly want to use a GPS app on your phone like Google Maps or iOS Maps.
Want maps of the Walt Disney World parks? We’ve got links to PDF maps you can download onto a tablet or phone, or print out if you have a large enough printer.
- Believe it or not, everyone will get through the character lines more quickly when families get in one line together. Holding places in line and then having to round up family members, or having the family photographer off on the side and then trying to jump in to take pictures adds to the confusion and slows the line.
- Have everything ready to go before you get to the front of the line. Have cameras out of camera bags, turned on and lens caps off. Have autograph books out and pens ready with the caps off. Have your children out of the stroller before it’s time for them to go up and visit the characters.
- If you have a large group, have a plan. Decide in what order you are going to go up for your photos before you get in the line. For instance, you might decide little Bobby and Sally will take a photo with the character first, then Aunt Judy and Uncle Jim, then Grandma and Grandpa.
Thanks to Jim R for the info!
Select Character Sightings in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have a Lightning Lane, available with the purchase of Disney Genie+. This allows you to reserve a time window to certain Character Sightings, subject to availability. If you are able to make a reservation with Disney Genie+, use the Lightning Lane entrance when your reservation time comes up and “tap in” at the Mickey symbol with your ticket or MagicBand; your wait will usually be 10 minutes or less.
“We wished we’d known early on about the weekly schedule (a 1/3 size sheet of paper) available at each park. It lists any attractions that have unusual opening or closing times, parades, shows AND where and when to find the characters who are posing for pictures and signing autographs. Once we found that, we were able to find the character greeting spots (or ask about alternate indoor locations when it was raining) and get to one of the early sessions before the lines got quite so long.” – Susan R from Arvada, CO
“I would like to share a tip I received from some of the staff at WDW. My son loves the characters and we always seem to just miss them. I finally was talking to one of the attendants at the Aladdin ride and she was kind enough to call in on her 2 way radio and find out all of the times that the characters would be in her area. We did that in every area (Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, etc..) and got tons of autographs. Another tip she shared with me is that if you visit the parks in the late fall and early winter you will see more characters due to the fact that they can stay in their suits for longer periods without needing hydration.” – Janna M from Jacksonville, FL
“Book a character breakfast in Magic Kingdom just before the park opens. We had breakfast with Pooh & Friends at Crystal Palace with 9:10 am reservations. We got to the gate at 8:30, walked through the crowds, entered the park early. It was beautiful walking through empty Main Street. We stopped to take some family photos. Then to our surprise, Mickey & Minnie were in front of the castle posing for pictures. We only had to wait for 2 families and then we were able to casually take a few of our own. The kids loved it!!!” – The S. Family from Commerce Township, MI
“We caught Mickey the last two years at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He has his own studio there, and right when he opens at 10:45 there is not a line. Last year he was open when we went by at 10:30. My son went in, had his picture taken, spent some time. My daughter was, at that point, scared of all characters. Mickey motioned to her to come in, but she would not. So he came out to her!!! He spoke with her, and she got up and held his hand for a picture. That was the highlight of the whole trip.” – Penny J from Eden Prairie, MN
“At the Merry Christmas Party, we … ended up watching the first parade and got good seats in front of Town Hall. Since this is where the first parade ends and the second parade starts, all the characters stay in the general area between parades. We got pictures of Goofy, eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Chip and Dale, etc. all in their Christmas garb. Also it’s where Mickey and Minnie are located, and the only place you can get a picture of the two together with the kids. We didn’t have to wait in line more than a couple of minutes for anyone, including Mickey and Minnie. You do need to wait about 10 to 15 minutes after the parade ends for the characters to go out, but it is well worth it.” – Penny J from Eden Prairie, MN
Disney Visa cardholders get access to two character meet and greets, which include complimentary downloads of your Disney PhotoPass photos. The Disney Character Experience is available daily from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm in Epcot at the Disney Visa Photo Spot in Future World, next to Journey Into Imagination With Figment. The Star Wars Magic Shot is available daily from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Star Wars Launch Bay in the Animation Courtyard. (Please note: Characters are temporarily unavailable a Star Wars Magic Shot, but Magic Shot photo downloads will be digitally enhanced with Star Wars characters appearing right next to you.) You will need to show your Disney Visa card to enter these meet and greets; offer valid for up to 6 people per cardmember account (each cardmember account may be used for entry only one time per day). Some things to keep in mind:
- The Disney Visa character meet and greets are first-come, first-served.
- The Disney Visa character meet and greets will usually have shorter lines than public meet and greets for the same characters, but there will still be some wait.
- The Disney Visa character meet and greets typically have one or two characters available at any one time and they will rotate in and out, so you can’t be sure exactly which one you are going to meet. You can ask a Cast Member at the entrance if/when the character you want to meet will return, and they may be able to give you a time frame. However, there are a limited number of character who appear at these meet and greets. (Please note: Characters are temporarily unavailable at the Star Wars Magic Shot, but Magic Shot photo downloads will be digitally enhanced with Disney Characters appearing right next to you.)
We’re frequently asked “how can we be in the parade or get picked to participate in a show?”
For the shows, they are looking for certain physical “types” (which vary) and for very enthusiastic audience members. Your best chance is to stand up, cheer and generally make a spectacle of yourself! (Exception: Jedi Training Academy. See below for how to participate.)
There is really no way to have a better chance of being selected as a “parade family.” Disney Cast Members pick families randomly off the streets in the theme parks to ride on a float and wave to the crowds. Usually it seems as if they are looking for an “average” family of four with small children.
Jedi Training Academy
Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy is a 30-minute live show at Disney’s Hollywood Studio, featuring inspiring music and awesome lightsaber duels. Approximately 15 Padawan participants (guests ages 4-12) can register for the show. They will be invited to don a brown robe and pledge the sacred Jedi Oath. Then they will grab a lightsaber and hone their battle skills as they learn age-old techniques from a real Jedi Master.
If your child would like to participate in Jedi Training Academy, be sure to take the child directly to the ABC Sound Studio (go to the central plaza and turn left) first thing in the morning, where you can sign up. The child must be present in order to sign up. Registration typically fills up by lunchtime.
Parades in Magic Kingdom generally go through Town Square, down Main Street, U.S.A., around Central Plaza (also known as The Hub, in front of Cinderella Castle) and then go over the bridge to Liberty Square, along the waterfront and into Frontierland. Some of the parades will start in Frontierland and some will start in Town Square. But they follow the same route. Viewing spots are first-come, first-served anywhere along the route.
Our recommendation is to watch the parade from Liberty Square or Frontierland as most folks will gather on Main Street, U.S.A. or the Hub (in front of Cinderella Castle) to watch the parade. You are more likely to find a good spot in Liberty Square or Frontierland without having to show up quite as early, and, once the parade has passed, it can be a bit easier to get away from the crowds and back to the rides!
We’ve also heard from several readers with their tips and strategies for watching the Magic Kingdom parades:
“We like to watch the parade from Frontierland, where it usually starts. Once it passes you have a clear shot to Adventureland, which is pretty empty because people are still watching the parade. Parades are also a great time to get into your favorite table service restaurant for a late lunch or early dinner.” – Tasha B from Jacksonville, FL
Another reader agrees: “I would suggest watching the afternoon parade from Frontierland. The parade generally begins here, and therefore your group can get into more attractions while others are still watching the parade. Also, there is an added perk – my children have been picked from the crowd to dance and play with the characters bringing up the rear of the parade, and other children have been invited each time we’ve watched from this location. It’s worth a shot to make your child’s day!” – Elizabeth L from Centerville, Ohio
“Since we had seen the parade before we didn’t feel the need to see it again …. we wanted to take advantage of everyone watching the parade to get on some of the more popular rides. Much to our surprise the parade found its way to the back of the park where we were waiting for some rides. Instead of the mobs of people, we were able to get an up close and personal view of the parade. Almost all the walking characters stopped in front of us to pat the heads and shake the hands of our children. They were awestruck. So our advice… is to watch the parade from the back of the park, where you will thoroughly enjoy front row seats.” – Philip and Karen S
“For the afternoon parade in the Magic Kingdom, I tell people to sit on the left side of Main Street as you look at the castle and across from the bakery. It is always shady at that time of the day. If you get there 45 minutes before the parade (as you’d have to, if you want to get the curb seats) you can send someone over to the bakery to get cookies, or our favorite, the ice cream cookie sandwich. Also, cold drinks are available. So while you are waiting in the shade for the parade to begin, you have great seats and a snack and can people watch too.” – Gayle S from Fairfield, CT
While you’re waiting for a parade to start, MouseSavers reader Jennifer S from Munster, IN suggests the following: “take a deck of cards into the park with you (or buy a deck there). While waiting for the parades to begin, my kids play cards! You cannot imagine the number of kids who want to join in with them. Often they have a 10 kids playing and it sure passes the hour or so waiting time!”
Most of the Walt Disney World parks have an evening fireworks show or “spectacular” and there are a variety of viewing options, from simply grabbing a good spot early enough to a paying to for a dinner or dessert package. We cover all the viewing options and have recommendations on our Disney World Evening Fireworks & Spectaculars page so that you can find an option that makes the best use of your vacation time and your travel dollars!
“Cast Member” (CM) is a Disney term for employee. The reason for this terminology is that Disney expects its workers to act as if they are “onstage” whenever they are working with the public.
The vast majority of Cast Members are exceptionally friendly, kind and helpful. However, they take a lot of abuse from guests who don’t realize what a tough job it can be to deal with large crowds of demanding people all day. As a guest, it’s easy to go into “vacation mode” and start thinking of CMs as if they are Audio-Animatronic or “just part of the Disney experience.”
In reality, of course, they are only human. Being polite to you and assisting you is a Cast Member’s job — but as with any employee anywhere, they can choose to do the bare minimum. That’s why having the right attitude can change your whole experience at Walt Disney World. So few guests really go out of their way to be friendly, kind and patient toward CMs that when you make that extra effort, it is often returned tenfold!
Joe M from Columbus, GA offers these words of wisdom about Cast Members, which we couldn’t agree with more!
“Be friendly to all Cast Members. They are not responsible for the heat, crowds, obnoxious guests, or prices. They do, however, control most of your park experience.
We have been offered priority seats (when available) just because we were having a friendly conversation with the attending Cast Member. On our last trip we were given 3 free drinks for our children because we have befriended some Cast Members and we ALWAYS stop by their location to say hello. Our sons were given a special FastPass because they were polite to a Cast Member. I had a special dish made for me at a WDW restaurant because I mentioned how much I enjoyed and missed it. (The entrée had been discontinued). We have been given special seating for fireworks and parades simply because we were nice to the Cast Members working that event.
We never ask for anything, we just recognize that these people are working very hard to be sure OUR vacation is the best.”
In short, when it comes to dealing with Cast Members, the Golden Rule definitely applies: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Treat a Cast Member with a little extra kindness and friendliness, and that CM is much more likely to “go the extra mile” for you.
A parent’s worst nightmare is losing track of small children in a crowded theme park. It happens surprisingly often, because everyone (kids and adults) can get distracted by all the fun things going on around them. Going on a hunt for a lost child can really put a damper on your day.
For that reason, be sure your kids know what a Cast Member badge looks like (white, oval). If they become separated from you, tell them to find the nearest Cast Member, who will help them find you.
If you can’t find your child, don’t panic. Locate the nearest Cast Member, who will direct you on what to do next. There is a centralized “Lost Parents” system and usually they’ll have you all reunited in minutes. Good to know: no child has ever been kidnapped from a Disney theme park (perhaps because there are hidden cameras everywhere).
To make it easier for a CM to reunite you with your child in case you are separated, it’s a good idea to make sure each child has your cell phone number and/or other contact info physically on him somewhere. There are many commercially-produced ID products for kids, ranging from rubber bracelets to temporary tattoos to dog tags to shoelaces printed with your contact info. However, there’s no need to spend money on any of those. You can write the information in permanent marker on a piece of white fabric and safety-pin it into the back of the child’s shirt collar, or put it on a slip of paper that is slipped into a shoe or pocket. If your kids are wearing lanyards (for pin collecting or just to hold their room key and ticket), the attached plastic sleeve is a good place to stow a business card with your contact info, or at least a piece of paper with your cell number. Don’t put your child’s first name or nickname anywhere that is visible to a casual observer.
MouseSavers.com reader Francis T has this additional suggestion: “Use a digital camera to take a photo of your kids BEFORE you head out to the park. Take a close up head shot and a full body shot. In the unlikely event that you and your children become separated, you have digital photos to show cast members, security guard or local police. Descriptions are great, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And don’t forget to retake the photos when you buy and wear that new Disney sweatshirt, tee shirt or hat!”
MouseSavers.com reader Cristina C from Mexico has this suggestion for those whose kids don’t speak English: “My kids speak only Spanish so I write with permanent ink on a piece of white fabric and attach it in the back of their shirts on the inside. As soon as we get somewhere I teach them who can help them in case they get lost and tell them to show that person where they have the information tag with the info in English: ‘I only speak Spanish.’ ‘My name is…and nick name is…’ along with both mom’s and dad’s names and cellphone numbers.” Don’t put your child’s first name or nickname anywhere that is visible to a casual observer.