With single-day tickets to Disney World now starting at $109, squeezing the most out of a vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth is more important than ever. For most visitors, this means finding ways to spend less time in line and more time looking for Anna and Elsa.
Optimizing a Disney trip to avoid lines is more of a science than an art. “It’s an example of a fundamental problem in math and computer science—this thing called the traveling salesman problem,” says Len Testa, a computer scientist who turned his master’s thesis into TouringPlans, a popular website and app that uses a combination of big data and on-the-ground reports to help theme-park-goers knock hours off queuing times.
Most first-time Disney World visitors know that FastPass+ will let them skip the standby line at popular rides and attractions, but they may not realize that FastPass+ reservations are tied to where they stay. Here's blow-your-mind tip no. 1: If you stay at Disney's on-site hotels, you can reserve three FastPasses per day in a single park starting 60 days ahead of arrival. That gives you a massive 30-day jump on ticketholders staying off-property. “At that point, FastPasses for the more popular rides may be already gone,” says Michelle Allen, owner of Travel Magic, an authorized Disney travel agency.
There’s an easy, if quite pricey, way to double your FastPasses. Tip no. 2: Upgrade to Club Level at any of Disney’s deluxe hotels and you can buy three additional FastPasses for $50 per person, per day, for a minimum of three days. This would give everyone in your group six FastPasses for each of those days. Another big plus: You can make the extra three FastPass+ reservations 90 days before your visit, which gives you a big advantage over most Disney hotel guests. This strategy is particularly appealing to families that like to sleep in, since most other time-saving strategies require getting up and out early.
One of those early bird strategies is Extra Magic Hours, a popular perk for guests at on-property Disney hotels. Every day, one park opens at 8 a.m., a full hour before opening to the public, and another park stays open after closing time. During the morning Extra Magic Hour, many popular attractions will have virtually no line. But FastPasses and Extra Morning Hours aren’t the only way to bust a line.
Here’s how to avoid long waits for top attractions at Disney World parks:
DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
Avatar Flight of Passage
In the Avatar-themed Pandora section of the Animal Kingdom park, this spectacularly immersive 4-D ride makes you feel like you're flying on a mountain banshee from the film. It's a must-do showstopper, but oof!—the standby queue can explode nanoseconds after the park opens, even during Extra Magic Hours.
Plan to visit the park on a morning when the Extra Magic Hour is in a different park. Make an 8 a.m. reservation for the Safari Donald Duck character breakfast at Tusker House Restaurant and leave the restaurant before the park opens at 9 a.m.. Then hustle over to Flight of Passage so that you can be among the very first in line.
Willing to pay more for shorter lines? Beginning in December, Disney After Hours will be available on several dates each month in the Animal Kingdom. The special-ticket event takes place for three hours after the park closes. Advance-purchase tickets cost $125 a pop, with a limited number sold to ensure you can enjoy the attractions in Pandora without crowds.
Are your kids willing to sit next to a stranger if it saves a bundle of time in line? Have your whole crew get in the single rider line, which always moves much more quickly than the regular standby line. When you get to the top, the attendant will use your family members to fill in empty seats. When the ride is over, you can reunite as you disembark.
Princess Fairytale Hall
Is your kid obsessed with Disney princesses? To be among the first in line for this uber-popular attraction, plan ahead and book the Winnie-the-Pooh character breakfast at the Crystal Palace. “Make a reservation for 8 a.m. Enjoy your meal, meet the characters, and leave the restaurant before the park opens at 9 a.m.,” advises Allen. “Then head to the attraction and get in line before the rest of the world gets there.”
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Peter Pan’s Flight
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
“If you've got the money to spend then, yes, you can do just about anything without a wait,” says Deb Koma, editor of AllEars.Net, the unofficial Disney guide. Twice a week, Disney offers a limited-entry, early-access event called Early Morning Magic in the Magic Kingdom. For $70 a head, your family can enter the park at 7:45 a.m. and take multiple trips aboard these top-tier rides with virtually no lines before the gates open at 9. A buffet breakfast is also included.
Is shelling out $280 for a family of four worth it? “There will be almost nobody else with you in the park. You won't have to worry about rushing from one ride to the next to avoid the crowds. It's a really relaxed hour and a quarter,” says Testa. “There’s no stress. You can move on to the second tier of attractions, and you're three steps ahead of everyone else at the beginning of the day. That's huge.”
Note: Starting December 2, 2018, Early Morning Magic in the Magic Kingdom will expand to seven rides and attractions, adding Princess Fairytale Hall, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, and Under the Sea.
Pirates of the Caribbean
In Adventureland, look for a scavenger hunt-style game called A Pirate's Adventure- Treasure of The Seven Seas. “I think everyone should play the game anyway because it's a fun game and only takes less than 20 minutes to play,” says Testa. “And if you play this game twice, your entire group gets FastPasses for Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Big Thunder Mountain
For night owls who hate to wait, there’s also Disney After Hours, a special-ticket event that runs on select dates for three hours after the Magic Kingdom closes (starting at either 8 p.m., 9 p.m., or 10 p.m., depending on the date). Tickets cost $125 a pop, with a limited number sold to ensure that there’s little to no wait at 25 top rides and attractions, including all three Magic Kingdom mountain rides.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Slinky Dog Dash
Alien Swirling Saucers
Toy Story Mania!
Twice a week, Hollywood Studios offers its own Early Morning Magic event starting at 7:30 a.m. that lets you experience the wonderful new Toy Story Land before the park opens to the public. “If you’ve got small kids, this is a great idea,” says Testa. “You’ll be able to ride Slinky Dog Dash and the other rides two or three times each, and Early Morning Magic comes with a really good breakfast, too.”
Want to ride the addictive Toy Story Mania! again? Get in the standby line during the last hour the park is open. “Posted wait times are always hyper-inflated at Toy Story Mania! right before the park closes. You might see a posted wait time of 75 minutes, and the actual wait time in line will be more like 10,” says Testa. “They’re just trying to ensure that they can close the rides down in a reasonable amount of time.”
Prefer to come at night? Starting in December, Disney After Hours will place on several dates each month in Hollywood Studios. The three-hour pass costs $125 per person and gets you into the park after closing time, when you’ll have the place pretty much all to yourself.
Kids ages 4 to 12 who are massive Star Wars fans can hone their lightsaber skills and learn to fight the dreaded Darth Vader in this popular experience. The catch? You and your child must show up in person to register for one of the time slots, which can fill up quickly. The queue gets super long soon minutes after the park opens, which is a double drag since you also miss out on other rides while you’re waiting. One solution is to make an 8 a.m. reservation for the Disney Junior character breakfast at Hollywood & Vine and leave the restaurant before the park opens at 9 a.m.. Then go straight to the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost and register for Jedi Training.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
This popular scream-inducing dark ride offers a single rider line, which works exactly the same as for Expedition Everest.
Meet Anna and Elsa at Royal Summerhus
If your child wants to meet the beloved sisters from Frozen, this meet and greet in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion is the only game in town. “They are not in any character meals right now, so if you want to meet them, this is the only place,” says Koma. Make an 8 a.m. reservation for the Princess Storybook Dining character breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, also in the Norway Pavilion. Leave the restaurant before the park opens at 9 a.m., then walk a few paces to the Royal Summerhus and line up.
Frozen Ever After
This musical cruise through fictional Arendelle is a must for Frozen devotees, but Allen suggests a way to make it sweeter. Every evening, the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party gives you VIP viewing for the IllumiNations fireworks show, a Frozen-inspired lineup of confections (Kristoff’s Kransekake Almond Cookies, Elsa’s Blue Velvet Cupcakes—you get the idea) and beverages including sparkling wines. As a finale, you get an escort to the front of the line to ride Frozen Ever After.
This popular design-your-own-racecar speed ride offers a single rider line, which works exactly the same as for Expedition Everest and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.