I went to Disneyland for the first time when I was 21. While on a trip to Los Angeles with my family we decided this would be the year we went to Disney. We glided down Main Street, rode many of the rides (the park is rather small so it’s not hard to do), I got a pair of ears and nearly sobbed while watching the afternoon parade.
I honestly had no desire to see Disney World. I figured it’s West Coast predecessor was magical enough for me. That was until a couple of my best friends were heading down to Orlando in September and decided to tag along on a whim. Disneyland is lovely, but my goodness Disney World is an entirely different beast. Luckily I went with some seasoned pros, so it’s only fair that I pass on some of the wisdom to other DW first-timers.
Here are some tricks on how to tackle Disney World (and Universal) like a pro.
Plan your days before you go
It’s usually cheaper to buy your tickets in packages for multiple days, so you’ll definitely want to plan out how you spend your time before you buy. That way you can make sure you see everything you want to each day and you’ll save some cash.
Schedule your fast passes as soon as possible
Even if you’re not staying on Disney property, once you purchase your admission you can reserve fast passes up to 30 days in advance. These fill up pretty quickly but are always worth it! Try for rides that are popular as they’ll have the longest lines and reserve them by location so you don’t have to park hop to make it to each one. Each day you’ll get up to three each day and can link with the people you go to the park with to make sure your schedules match.
Pack lightly during the day
Many rides have pouches for you stuff or lockers at both Disney and Universal so you can bring whatever you need, but we found that fanny packs were the best option (check out my super cute leather Mickey one). You can wear them on pretty much every ride and you can have easy access to your phone, sunglasses, passes, and wallet. A backpack is nice for snacks and water bottles as well, but fanny packs felt much more efficient.
I’m pretty sure I spent a couple hundred dollars on new gear for my trip. It seems like a great idea to dress super cute because you’ll probably be taking lots of pictures. But, you’ll be walking for miles, sweating like crazy, and get scrambled around on rides, so comfort is the way to go. We opted for shorts, sneakers with support (I wore vans ones day and my feet were killing me) and themed tees. We still looked cute for pictures but then stayed comfy throughout the day.
Go early and/or stay late
Most days we would arrive before the park opened as they’ll allow you in early to start getting in lines. This was especially helpful for rides like Avatar (which is hands down the coolest ride I’ve ever been on and is well worth the wait) which had over an hour wait the minute the park opened. Then, many people don’t stay the whole day so the evening seemed to speed up wait times a bit as well. Plus, the temperature cools down once the sun sets.
See the performances
We only missed the night time performances once (because we took too long “drinking around the world” at Epcot). Every other day we saw the fireworks, parades, and performances. We also took the trip during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween so we got to see the Halloween specials (and we did so twice). The rest of the park is magical but the character performances and theatrics of the shows bring the magic to a whole new level).
Go to busy rides during off times
One night we accidentally went to the Seven Dwarves mine ride during that night’s fireworks show and were surprised to see the wait was relatively short. We then figured out it was because most people were watching the fireworks. So, if you’ve already seen a show, head to the busy rides during those times–less people will be riding them!
Go as a single rider to cut down your wait times
Many rides will fill in empty seats with single riders, but most people don’t want to ride by themselves. If you have the option, you can skip a lot of the wait if you fill in empty seats as a single rider. This is especially true at Universal where most rides have a separate “single rider” lane.
The Florida sun and heat can be brutal, especially when you’re walking and standing all day (and drinking here and there if you’re of age). It’s obvious you should stay hydrated and one bus driver told us that having a cup of water every half an hour is the sweet spot to having a great time. So, between almost every ride we stopped for some water. You can also stop at any of the foot carts or establishments and ask for a cup of water. It’s free and they won’t say no (it’s a safety thing). Plus it’s on ice instead of the warm water you’ve been lugging around in your backpack all day.
Leave a little bit of downtime.
We had a pretty tight schedule to make sure we hit every park with enough time to enjoy it, but day after day it gets exhausting. I even got there several days after my friends and after day two I was already in need of a break. So instead of pushing through, we moved our Friday morning plans to Saturday, that way would could chill at the hotel before heading to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. It was the best idea we could have had. The extra energy made the end of our trip so much more fun.
Do all of the things.
Disney and Universal can be quite the undertakings. They’re both tiring, and stressful, and usually really sweaty. But they’re also amazing, and magical, and so much fun. So soak it in and don’t miss any opportunities. See the shows and parades (or see them twice as we did at the Halloween party), wear an outfit, buy the ears, eat the snacks, upgrade and take the Hogwarts express, take pictures, and wait in line forever to go on the rides. It’s all worth it.