I LOVE Disney World. Who doesn’t, right? I’ve confessed before that we go 5-6 times per year – even though we live nearly 12 hours away. On average we spend 40+ days at Disney World a year. That’s a lot of Disney, yo. So I thought I’d share some of my absolute favorite Disney World hacks so you could make your trip just a little more magical.
Before we start… this post contains affiliate links, which means I make a tiny profit with zero additional cost to you. Thanks for helping me to keep my site running – and I hope you learn something from my Disney World hacks! 🙂
Disney World Hacks – Planning
These Disney World Hacks will help you make the most of your vacation planning.
1. Check all booking sources. I highly suggest staying on property for the magic of it all alone. However I don’t always suggest booking your room through Disney World. Although we *usually* do, occasionally TripAdvisor will have better deals. Sometimes the deals are better than with our Annual Passholder discount. Do your homework – because this tip alone can save you up to $1000. If you book from another site, 24 hours later you can link your reservation to your Disney account. And yes, you get to take advantage of all of the same perks (like Extra Magic Hours) while saving money.
2. Rethink the Dining Plan. In the fall, usually there is a promotion with a free dining plan. This is the only time I suggest using it because usually food is MUCH cheaper if you pay as you go. Two adults can easily split a meal, my husband and I choose an appetizer, entree and then dessert. Your server will even bring an additional plate for the entree if you tell them you’d like to share.
3. Ship heavier essentials to your hotel before hand. Need a stroller? Unless you check them at the gate on your airline, your cheapest option is most likely to buy one on Amazon for around $60 and have it shipped to your hotel. Afterwards you can give some other family a little more magic by giving them your stroller before you leave on the last day.
4. Get “ungettable” dining reservations – I learned this trick from a Disney Cast Member. If you try to book a restaurant and just can’t get in, start checking a week before you leave and check every day. People will change their minds at the last minute and will often cancel the day before (you must cancel 24 hours in advance or pay a fee.). So if you can be a bit flexible and try every single day up until you leave and even while you are there, you have a better chance of getting in. We did this to get breakfast at Ohana to eat with Lilo and Stitch – it’s super difficult to get into, however we were able to take our daughter as a Christmas gift by trying just 3 days before our meal.
5. Book breakfast to save money on character meals. They are much cheaper than lunch or dinner. And bonus – if you book a breakfast in Magic Kingdom before the park actually opens you get in a bit early.
6. Look at menus online before making reservations. If you have a picky eater – or a special needs eater – then check menus before you pick a place to eat. I’m a vegetarian with a soy protein intolerance (however the rest of my family isn’t) so it is often difficult for me to find a meal at some restaurants. I’ve actually had the pleasure of the head chef come out to make me a special meal (at her insistence), however now we always check to make sure everyone will enjoy the meal before we pick a place.
7. Plan during off-season if possible. If you can take your trip during the slower weeks of the year, then the crowds will be lighter and you will have less wait time and more fun. Google “Disney World Crowd Calendar” to find the best times of year to go.
Disney World Hacks to Know Before You Go
Booked your trip? These Disney World Hacks will help you get ready for your most magical trip ever!
8. Buy Disney Gift Cards at Target with a Red Card. Since they are classified as “entertainment cards” and not gift cards, you can get a 5% discount. Just go to Target online and login. Then buy your Disney Gift Cards and you’ll save 5%. That 5% adds up, especially if you use them in the park to pay for your food and souvenirs. You can easily buy $1000, which will save you $50.
9. Buy gift cards for your kids. Set a limit for your kids and make it easy for them to stick to buy giving them a Disney Gift Card before you go. We usually give each of our girls a $100 gift card and when it’s gone, then they are done. They can spend it however they’d like, but we don’t hand out any more money for trinkets, pins or souvenirs.
10. Send essentials via Garden Grocer. Now you can get just about anything online and groceries are no different. Use Garden Grocer to buy your snacks and other goodies for your Disney World vacation and they deliver straight to your hotel room!
11. Pack extra walking shoes. Yes, we all have that one pair that we love, but after 7 days of walking in the same shoes you will hate them. Make sure to pack at least 2 pairs of shoes you could walk in all day long. Your feet will thank me.
12. Pack light, do some laundry. You’ll buy that Ursula shirt and want to wear it while you’re there to embrace the magic. Just let it happen 🙂 Do pack a few laundry pods so you can wash clothes at least once while you’re there.
13. Pack an empty bag. Besides that Ursula shirt, you’re going to want a coffee mug or a stuffed animal or a… well you get the picture. Bringing an extra bag means you’ll have room to take it all home.
14. Buy/Bring a portable phone charger. While you can find outlets fairly easily to charge up your phone, you’ll lose precious park time. If you buy a portable battery charger then you can walk around and charge at the same time.
Disney World Hacks to Save Money
Disney can be expensive! Get the most from your budget with these Disney World Hacks to help keep the magic more affordable.
15. Buy a season pass. I know, it sounds crazy to spend that much on a pass and only go 7 days. But – you get so much in return with that pass. Free Photo Pass, discounts on merch, food, even hotels. And if you can plan to go 11 months apart, then your second trip will only be the price of hotel + food. By buying a pass, my husband and I can go to Disney World for a week for under $1000. That’s including food! And only one person in your party needs a pass to save on meals or merch.
16. Don’t buy water in the park. Any quick service restaurant will gladly give you free ice water if you just ask. This is one of the more common Disney World hacks – but definitely worth mentioning. You can also buy cases of small bottles of water in hotel gift shops for around $8. Not great, but not $4 a bottle.
17. Bring in a refillable water bottle. While you can find that free water, it’s not always in the most convenient place. So bring in a refillable water bottle and get a couple of free cups. Pour them into your bottle and you’re good to go. A good insulated bottle will keep the water cold longer, too!
18. Get real merch real cheap. Instead of having clearance sections in Disney Shops, they send the unsold merch to two outlets near the parks called Disney Character Warehouse. This is a HUGE money saver if you have a way to get there. We bought sweatshirts for $15, regularly $65. Pins are crazy cheap there, too (although the selection is very limited.) We did the math and last trip we saved over $600, and only spent $200. Definitely worth a try. There are two locations: one at the Orlando International Premium Outlet and the other at Orlando Vineland Premium Outlet. If you can take advantage, this is the one of the best money saving Disney World hacks.
19. Pressed pennies make for cheap souvenirs. All over Disney property (hotels, gift shops, parks – pretty much everywhere), you can find pressed penny machines. There are 120 machines in total! Most of them take 2 quarters and a penny – but some do press quarters or dimes. We save our change up and my husband and daughter use it collect pressed pennies. You can fill up a book for under $20, which is one of the cheapest Disney collections you can choose.
20. Buy less tickets than days you plan on going. Our next trip will be with our friends who aren’t pass holders. So they are buying 6 days of tickets and we’ll be there 8 days. We will go to parks for 2 days, then a day of rest. Then 2 more days, then another day of rest. Then two more days and head home. If you buy the waterpark option on your tickets, you can go to the waterparks on the off days without it counting against you for park days. Only the days you actually go into a park will take off a ticket. So we’ll go to the water park and other Disney attractions (like Disney Springs or play mini-golf) and enjoy the parks even more without exhausted little ones.
21. Mention special occasions and you can get free pins. Celebrating a birthday, or anniversary, your honeymoon or first trip? They have pins for all of those and more. Just ask a cast member.
22. Just enjoy dessert. Want to try that expensive place but want to keep the budget in check? Then just order dessert. We did this at Be Our Guest and had the experience without the price tag. We each ordered a dessert and then shared so we could all have a taste. It was an amazing way to enjoy ourselves – because what’s more magical than a meal of just desserts?
Disney World Hacks for Rides
23. Be there at Rope Drop. Most people want to sleep in on vacation. If you can get up and get to the parks in time, you can beat the crowds to the most popular rides without wasting a fast pass. If you pick 2-3 rides that are close together, then you’ll be able to get them all (and maybe even more) before the crowds start to pour in.
24. Eat at odd times. What does eating have to do with riding? If you eat at odd times (like an early dinner at 3 p.m.) then when most people are eating dinner at the peak hours, you can enjoy shorter lines.
25. Ride faster during Fantasmic. One of the most popular things to do in all of Hollywood Studios is to watch Fantasmic. If you’ve ever seen the crowd that leaves the huge stadium, you’ll know that at least half of the park is at the show. Take advantage of the show time and ride while they watch it. We’ve walked onto Tower of Terror 5 times in a row (get off, get right back in line) with basically no wait. (We could have ridden it more… but my stomach has a limit of 5 TOT rides at a time.) Although Fantasmic is a gorgeous show, if you’re more into rides then you might want to think about taking advantage of it.
26. Take advantage of Fast Passes – book your rides close together – and know that you have a 5 minute window before and after your set time to get in. We try to wait until the first one is towards the end of it’s window so we can go directly to the next one without wasting time. We book two back to back, then give it a little time before booking the third. That gives us time to catch a ride with little to no ride, grab something to eat, see a show or just wander around and enjoy the park.
27. Single rider lines are a good gamble. On rides where you have to have two (or three) people to a car, single rider lines are usually available (like Test Track.) You might not get a shorter wait than the regular line, but often it gets you on the ride much faster.
28. Make use of rider swap. On rides that aren’t suitable for little ones, you can choose to do a rider swap so that mom can ride while dad waits with the little one, then mom can take the lead while dad rides without waiting in line again. It’s a great thing to remember for parents with littles.
29. Do Treasure of the Seven Seas – This is one of the recent Disney World hacks I learned from a cast member: Treasure of the Seven Seas is an interactive scavenger hunt throughout Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and that is fun to do between rides. But – if you do it twice (and there are two versions) then you will get an open Fast Pass for Pirates of the Caribbean that is good any time that day. We like to do rope drop and ride 2 or 3 (or even 4) rides early, then use a Fast Pass on a ride, then do the hunt to get our Caribbean passes. It takes less than 15 minutes to do it both times and it really is a lot of fun to see all the interactive spots throughout that part of the park.
30. Score big at Toy Story Midway Mania. Did you know that more than a million virtual plates are broken daily at Midway Mania? It is easily the most popular ride at Hollywood Studios (and definitely one to Fast Pass!) Want to get top score? I used this Toy Story Midway Mania cheat sheet and we had some of our best games ever!
31. Become a Galactic Hero on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Much like Midway Mania, there’s a list of cheats for Space Ranger Spin. It’s actually doable to hit the highest rank with the tips – and if you do hit 999,999 (Galactic Hero) be sure to take a picture of you with your score. If you show the picture to the cast member at the photo area near the exit, they will give you with a Galactic Hero button as a free souvenir for your hard work defeating Zurg. Sweet, huh?
Disney World Hacks for More Park Fun
The following Disney World Hacks will make your day in the park a little more magical
32. Don’t overlook the “unpopular” characters. Some of our favorite character experiences have been ones we stumbled upon with little to no wait. Just keep your eyes open and you might be surprised at who you find lurking about. I’ve stumbled upon Mary Poppins outside of her character spot and no where near her time. We’ve stumbled onto Goofy (look by the Commissary in Hollywood Studios), as well as Gaston in Magic Kingdom, Flik from A Bug’s Life in Animal Kingdom and many more. It’s always fun to snap a photo or get an autograph.
33. Meet rare characters at Character Palooza. Right outside the gate beside the entrance to Hollywood Studios before Fantasmic is where Character Palooza is found. These are the characters that will be at the end of the show, and it’s often where you can meet characters you can’t find in the parks. There are no official photographers, but you can get autographs and the handlers will take photos on your phone. The last time we found it (because you usually have to stumble upon it – unless you just sit and wait) we got to meet Robin Hood! It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him – but there are many characters you can meet this way, it is just random luck who will show up each day.
34. Find the Green Army Man. Of all the characters I’ve ever met, the Green Army Man has to be my favorite. They are really easy to find if you hang out in the Toy Story area, they just randomly show up. Unlike many of the characters, they are super interactive. There are no set lines for them, and they really take time to have fun with the guests. I’ve had them “steal” my autograph book and hide 🙂 In addition to meeting them, if you are lucky enough to have little ones join the Green Army Man Boot Camp, it’s a cute little show where kids join in to play for about 10 minutes. Even if you don’t have kids with you, it’s adorable to watch.
35. Become a Wilderness Explorer. It not might be considered Disney World Hacks, but I love this one: In Animal Kingdom there is a fun activity you can join in called Wilderness Explorers. You go all over the park to learn different things and do different activities. I had never fully explored Animal Kingdom until I did this one trip. You see tons of great things you might have overlooked throughout the park. Because there’s not “major” attractions other than a couple of rides, this is probably my favorite thing to do in AK. (But Expedition Everest is the best overall.)
36. Find the Sword in the Stone. Beside the Carousel in Magic Kingdom, you can find the Sword in the Stone. Most people just overlook it, but if you pull out the sword an alarm goes off and a cast member will come and make you a prince or a princess.
37. Don’t stress over a spot for fireworks. I’ve seen people sit and save spots for two hours before fireworks. And while it is amazing to be right up front in the “perfect” spot – I’ll let you in on a little secret: There really isn’t a perfect spot. Anywhere you can see the castle with a clear view is a good spot. But if you have seen Wishes at least once before, go over near Big Thunder Mountain to watch the next time. Just over to the side you can see them right above you and they are HUGE from that side. You’ll miss the projection, but the sound is piped all over the park so you can still hear the music in time with the fireworks. It is breath-taking!
38. Pin trading is a great way to interact. If you’ve never trader pins, I’m going to give you a quick crash course: You can buy a pin set (or singles) at kiosks all over each park. Besides there, almost all gift shops have them. If you see a cast member with pins, just ask and they will trade with you. Sometimes even guests will trade (we have traded with some amazing people from all over the place!) Besides the pins you see, ask any cast member if they have a “secret board.” It’s usually a hidden collection of pins you have to ask to see. You can trade up to 2 pins with any cast member or from a board.
39. Passholders can buy special pins. Passholders can always get special pins at events and festivals (like the Food and Wine or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party), but there is usually a special pass holder pin for each park. You have to ask at the largest gift shop to find it, but it is always fun to have a rare pin that only certain people can get.
40. Take a train around Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is massive – and exhausting. Take advantage of the Railroad and take a train from one side to the other. There are stops in Adventureland, Fantasyland and near the front gate. Not only does it save you some steps, it gives you time to rest between and the ride itself is pretty neat.
41. Pack snacks to bring to the park with you. Bringing in small snacks will save you money, but they can also save you time. If you have a stroller then it’s even easier because you can bring a soft-sided cooler. Even if you only pack a few snacks in your bag, you can keep kids busy with a quick bite while standing in a long line. It helps them to pass the time and doesn’t take any time away from your day so you’re making the most of your time.
42. Always go left. Since most people are right handed, the crowd almost always goes right. Be a rebel and go left. More times than not, you’ll find that lines are shorter and the path is less crowded.
43. Find cool places to rest between rides. Florida can be miserably hot. We battle this by watching at least a couple of shows a day at whatever park we are in to cool down and rest for a few minutes before going back out for more fun.
Disney World Hacks to Save Your Sanity
These Disney World Hacks will help you survive the trip with a smile.
44. First Aid isn’t just for emergencies. In each park there is a first aid area where you can get pain reliever, etc. If you aren’t feeling well just head over and they will take great care of you. I’ve seen people buy Tylenol packs in gift shops that were less than 30 seconds from first aid. Take a few steps and save that money for a Mickey pretzel.
45. Waterparks can be a great escape! If you have the waterpark add on, then spending time at Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon can be a great way to rest between days at the park. When you take a day off from the park in the middle, yet still go to the waterparks, it doesn’t take a day off your ticket. And the waterparks are a whole lot of fun on their own and totally worth it.
46. Buy a refillable water park mug. We bought one mug a few years ago, and we take it each time we go. You pay a fee to buy (or a cheaper fee to recharge) a mug and you can get all the fountain drinks you want that day. We all just use one mug and share it because we don’t mind sharing. I’m not sure it would be worth it for several people to each have individual mugs though.
47. Send any merchandise you buy to your hotel. If you purchase anything from a shop on property, and you will still be there within 48 hours, you can send it to your hotel instead of carrying it around all day. We do this often and it is a great tip so you can buy what you want when you see it and not worry about keeping up with it all day. If you are leaving within 48 hours, you can always send your merch to the front gate and you can pick it up on your way out.
48. Avoid the park with Extra Magic Hours. I know, I know… it’s such a great perk! But the thing is this: everyone wants to take advantage of it. While we might go right before late night EMHs start, we never go to the park that day. It is always super crowded. We pick another park to go to that day, then if we want to we might jump over that night. I especially love midnight to 2 a.m. at Magic Kingdom – small kids are usually not able to hold up that long and the crowd isn’t nearly as big.
49. Take a siesta. The average person walks over 5 miles a day at Disney World. We’ve walked as much as 30,000 steps in one day. Our favorite plan of attack is to go early for rope drop (see #23) and then cut out around lunch. We take a break at the hotel for a couple of hours and then go to another park later that day. We get two parks and aren’t exhausted so we enjoy them. This work especially well for little kids. It keeps them from being so cranky – and I’ve seen enough “end of day meltdowns” to tell you which kid got a nap and which one didn’t. Naps are your friend.
50. Buy ponchos in the park. Every Disney tips post I’ve ever read has mentioned buying cheap ponchos and bringing them to the park. I disagree. Park ponchos are under $10, are super thick and if you take care of them they can last for years and make a great souvenir you can use in every day life. We pack them in gallon Ziploc bags and put them in our backpack. If it rains, we pull them out – and if it stops we fold them back up neatly and put them in the bags to keep them from making a mess. Once we get back to the room, we take them out and let them dry before packing them back up again.
51. Take alternative transportation. There’s more than just buses to choose from – so make sure you take advantage of all the ways to ride. Some resorts have boats to parks or to Disney Springs. You can catch the monorail at a couple of different places. Just look beyond buses. You can take a boat from the back end of Epcot (between England and France) over to the Boardwalk a couple of hotels and then to Hollywood Studios (which is why we usually do both of those parks the same day.) You can also take the Monorail from Epcot to Magic Kingdom. If you’re feel like walking more, you can walk from Hollywood Studios to Epcot (it’s about half a mile).
52. IF YOU DON’T USE ANY OTHER TIP HERE, DO THIS: Be GENUINELY nice to cast members. Most of them are pretty much overlooked, but they truly want you to have a magical time. If I interact with someone I look at their tag and call them by name. We’ve had conversations with cast members from all over the world and they are always lovely to chat with. Once in Animal Kingdom we had a great discussion over pins with a cast member, and before we left he gifted us three open fast passes good for any park for two days for making his day. I’ve always been as nice as I could to everyone – not because of the lure of a perk, but because it’s just good to create good park karma. Cast members, other guests, whomever we talk to we try to be nice. We’ve made some friends along the way, too!
So that’s my top Disney World Hacks! Do you have any Disney World Hacks of your own?