I haven’t always been an expert on Disney.
I was fortunate enough to visit twice as a child. And I had only been 2-3 times as an adult before deciding to start a blog about Orlando, Florida (I know, I’m weird).
So needless to say – to be able to go from Disney amateur to Disney pro in a fairly short amount of time required a bit of a learning curve.
And if I’m being honest, I was surprised there was such a big learning curve involved.
After all, I’m a theme park junkie to the core. I’ve been to all of the big ones in the Southeastern United States including Dollywood, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Six Flags and even SeaWorld (pre-Black Fish era).
But I’ve always found Disney World to be its own animal.
At Disney, the economy of scale is everything. It’s all a bit bigger, a bit more crowded, and – I think – a bit more complicated.
In fact, it is my humble opinion, an optimal experience at Walt Disney World requires more pre-planning and inside knowledge than at any other theme park I’ve visited.
Fast forward roughly 20-something-odd trips later (in a relatively short period of time) and I finally feel confident enough to not only navigate the parks like a pro but also share some of what I’ve learned with my readers.
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To make this list a bit more digestible, I’m going to break it up into four main categories:
- Trip planning
- Food & drink
- Rides & attractions
I’ve also made a printable version of this checklist here.
Without further ado, let’s jump in and talk Disney World hacks.
PS: Don’t forget to add your best Disney tips in the comments below and I might just add them to this list!
1. Consider purchasing a MagicBand
As a disclaimer, I am not the kind of person who is normally tempted by loads of expensive in-park souvenirs and Disney “upgrades”. But I’ve never regretted purchasing my MagicBand.
MagicBands can essentially replace the need to carry park tickets and wallets altogether if you’re staying at one of the Disney World Resort Hotels.
At the time of this writing, the MagicBand+ runs between $34.99-$49.99 on ShopDisney.com.
You can also purchase a classic MagicBand on Amazon for $34.88-$57.99.
I actually prefer the classic Magic Bands as I don’t need any of the Magic Band+ features and prefer a band I don’t have to charge throughout the day.
You can use Magic Bands to:
- Access your Disney Resort hotel room
- Charge in-park purchases to your room (Disney Resort guests only)
- Access the parks (instead of a physical park ticket or season pass)
- Access Lightning Lanes & Virtual Queues
- Preview and purchase in-park photos (from rides and cast members)
- Access lockers at TRON
Candidly, I rarely spring for a Disney Resort as they are quite expensive, but I still find that my Magic Band is extremely helpful for park tickets, virtual queues and locker access.
Plus, for an added bit of fun, I’ve also noticed that they seem to activate select props throughout the park. For instance, in the Star Tours queue at Hollywood Studios. I saw my name and home city displayed behind one of the animatronics as I passed through.
2. Don’t skimp on a good shoe
A really good shoe at Disney is invaluable, at least in my opinion.
I tend to get in between 12,000-20,000 steps on a good park day. And if I’m wearing anything but my Hokas, I end the day with blisters.
3. Bring a Clipa (or two)
This little product is just a great life hack in general. I carry one of these everywhere I go – not just theme parks.
And I find them extra handy at Disney.
If you’ve been to Disney in recent years, you know that finding a place to sit and put your stuff down is a real chore.
Seating at quick-service restaurants is extremely limited. And more often than not, you’re probably going to have to put your stuff down on the ground at some point.
Enter, the Clipa.
The Clipa is a bag holder that looks like a bracelet when not in use and can hold up to 33 lbs. It’s also great for attaching backpacks and diaper bags to strollers and for attaching large backpacks to bathroom stall doors that might not otherwise fit on a standard door hook.
And in my opinion, it’s far more practical than similar products, including the Bagnet (which only holds 8 lbs and requires a magnetized surface).
4. Bandolier your phone
Speaking of keeping your belongings together, I also highly suggest adding a bandolier strap to your phone.
It essentially turns your phone into a hands-free crossbody or arm strap when not in use. And I consider these straps a must at Disney.
I often use the straps to hook my phone to my bag or backpack to reduce the risk of losing it while on a ride or walking around the park.
5. Bring your own sunscreen
Look, it’s hot in Orlando. Like, really hot. And honestly, shade at Disney is sparse.
My husband and I go through nearly a bottle of sunscreen per day while inside the parks. I’d imagine a large family with kids would require even more.
But it’s a much smarter move to bring plenty of your own rather than buying it inside the park where it can run between $13-$30 per bottle – YIKES!
If all else fails and you forget to bring your own from home, consider using Instacart to have some delivered to your hotel – it’s still cheaper even with the delivery fees than paying the Disney markup.
6. Bring a hat
Speaking of the sun, don’t forget to pack a hat.
I cannot repeat this enough. There is far less shade at Disney World than at any other theme park I have visited. Protect yourself and your skin.
7. Bring a neck fan
This is another lifesaver on a super hot day.
I was worried I would look/feel silly with a fan around my neck all day the first time I took it with me but honestly, it looks like headphones and feels like a portable A/C unit – 5 stars!
Mine is a DGLK brand and, at the time of this writing, is available for less than $20 on Amazon.
8. Bring a button-up beach shirt
Ladies – this one is mostly for you. Especially if you are a tad bit cold-natured like I am.
Orlando is a funny city. It constantly amazes me that it can be blazing hot for 10 hours a day and then dip 10-20 degrees in less than an hour at night.
In fact, it never fails that every time I go to Disney, I overhear other women complaining to each other in the bathroom about how chilly it gets at night – and how ill-prepared they were for the sudden temperature drop.
After years of trying to plan for this problem without having to carry around a heavy jacket or sweater all day, I finally discovered a hack.
I purchased this cute long sleeve beach shirt blouse on Amazon for under $30. It takes up a tiny amount of space in my backpack and provides just enough insulation to keep me warm on a cool night.
9. Bring something to mark your stroller
Parents – this one is for you. There are a lot of strollers at Disney World.
At popular rides, stroller parking can look more like a Walmart parking lot on a busy day.
Bring a homemade sign that you can attach to your stroller while inside the park that differentiates yours from the crowd. Preferably one with your name on it, just in case.
For bonus points – consider adding a balloon or something that sticks out when stroller parking is particularly crowded.
10. Bring your own snacks and drinks
Now, this is a cool tip.
It’s rare for a theme park to allow guests to bring in their own food and drinks – minus maybe the occasional sealed bottle of water or food for people with special dietary needs.
In fact … Dollywood doesn’t allow it. Busch Gardens doesn’t allow it. Six Flags doesn’t allow it.
Universal Studios allows small snacks with restrictions.
But Disney World, surprisingly, has one of the laxest policies that I’ve ever seen at a theme park.
In fact, Disney World allows guests to bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages into the park for self-consumption (don’t let them catch you trying to sell your wares on park property) with only a few restrictions:
- No glass containers
- No required refrigeration, heating or temperature control
- No pungent odors
I’ve seen people rolling around Disney World with a shopping cart amount of snacks stashed in their strollers, strutting around undoubtedly feeling proud of themselves for the hundreds of dollars per trip they’re saving.
11. Bring a YETI tumbler
Speaking of (literal) cool tips … consider bringing a YETI (or similar) tumbler into the park.
This is another one that most theme parks do not allow. But shockingly, Disney World does.
I personally love the YETI 18oz bottle with chug cap as it fits nicely in my backpack and doesn’t spill. It’s also super easy to refill while in the park. And it keeps my drinks cool for hours.
I don’t care for the taste of Orlando water, but I still like to take advantage of the free tap water provided throughout the park (more on this later).
And so, I normally load my thermos up with lemonade at the beginning of the day and top it off with ice water as I go to create icy lemony water without the aftertaste.
12. Bring a backpack to carry all of that stuff
And naturally, you’re probably going to need a backpack to carry all of that stuff – preferably one with a side pocket for a water bottle or thermos.
For a list of our recommended backpacks, check out our article entitled “17 Best Backpacks for Disney, Ranked“.
13. Don’t bring a collapsible or portable camping chair
Now let’s talk about what NOT to bring.
While Disney is fairly loosey-goosey in the outside food and drinks department, they are not so lax on other items.
Disney giveth and Disney taketh away.
One of the most disappointing rules is the collapsible chair ban.
For a park that has a seat problem, being allowed to BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) feels like a helpful solution. But according to Disney, “Folding chairs and stools are not permitted in any theme park, water park, or Disney Springs“.
With that in mind, I have seen people successfully sneak them in, but most are stopped at security and forced to surrender the banned item. So I don’t encourage trying to cheat the system.
14. Don’t bring a selfie stick
Similarly, selfie sticks and other telescoping items for camera equipment are also prohibited.
This one is weird to me – but you do you, Disney.
15. Use the My Disney Experience app
If you haven’t already, make sure you have the My Disney Experience app on your phone, linked to your park tickets or season passes. It makes the entire experience much smoother.
You can use the My Disney Experience app to:
- Mobile order food at quick service kiosks
- Make dinner reservations
- Check ride wait times
- Purchase/book Lightning Lanes
- Join/check Virtual Queues
- Check show times
- Check park hours
- Learn about special events
- Manage your day
Speaking of which …
16. Make dining reservations weeks in advance
I had to learn this one the hard way. If you want table service at a restaurant in Disney, try to get reservations well in advance.
Popular restaurants like Cinderellla’s Royal Table are often fully booked for weeks ahead of time.
It took me nearly a year to find available slots for Be Our Guest.
And during peak season on busy days – from May-September – walk-ups are virtually non-existent.
Again, you can make those reservations using the My Disney Experience App.
Food & Drink
17. Try walk-ups even when the app says they are unavailable
While it’s always best to play it safe and get a reservation ahead of time, I cannot tell you how many times reservations and walkups, according to the My Disney Experience app, were unavailable but I was able to get a table anyway just because I asked the hostess on site.
I will admit, this trick works better in the less busy seasons when crowds are manageable. But I think it’s worth trying year-round.
18. Use mobile ordering for quick service
Mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app is a godsend.
When we don’t feel like waiting in line, or need some extra time to secure an outdoor table at a quick-service eatery at Disney World, we utilize mobile ordering.
Just pull up the app, search for the restaurant by name, and click on “Order Food” where available.
19. Use OpenTable at Disney Springs (not the Disney App)
Even though I just spent half of this article singing the praises of the My Disney Experience App there’s one place you shouldn’t use it – Disney Springs.
Sure, you can book reservations via the app.
But there are typically a lot more time slots and options available via OpenTable. Some eateries and attractions also make reservations (and sometimes even coupons) available on their own websites.
In this one case, skip the Disney app and thank me later.
20. Eat at Disney Resorts
Want to check out the local Disney Resorts but can’t afford to actually stay on property? No problem!
Just make a dining reservation via the Disney app.
It’s a fun way to preview some of the on-property resorts as well as get in a solid meal.
I personally find the restaurants at the resorts to be far superior to in-park dining.
21. Don’t pay for water
Here’s a fun money-saving tip – skip ordering the bottle of water and instead ask for tap instead!
Small cups of free ice-cold tap water are available at most quick service locations – no purchase required.
Pro-Tip: Ask for 2-3 cups at a time and just pour them into your YETI or thermos to make the water a bit more portable and keep yourself hydrated and cool throughout the day.
22. Order from the kid’s menu
Here’s another money-saving tip.
Most in-park kids menus – especially at quick service restaurants – don’t have a posted age restriction.
Sure, the portion sizes might be a bit smaller. But let’s be honest, most of the adult sizes are probably too big anyway.
Rides & attractions
23. Watch fireworks at the Beauty and the Beast Castle
I discovered this hot tip by accident.
I had just checked in for a late-night dinner reservation at Be Our Guest but the hostess said they were running behind and that it would probably be a few minutes before we could be seated.
But then she said – but hey you’re here just in time for the fireworks!
While most people are familiar with Cinderella’s castle fireworks (the Happily Ever After show), few realize that Disney also does fireworks from behind the Be Our Guest Castle while the main show is going on at Cinderella’s.
I mean look, the fireworks at Cinderella’s castle are magnificent. But the crowds – which begin to accumulate at dusk – are massive.
People tend to start trickling in as soon as the sun goes down and often sit on the ground along with thousands of strangers until fireworks time.
It’s hot, it’s a bit gross and frankly, far too crowded for my comfort.
And forget trying to exit the park or enter a line queue shortly after the show. It takes a significant amount of time for crowds to clear.
For my time, I’d rather be with a dozen other people at Be Our Guest and see my own fireworks show.
24. Catch the second show at special events
Speaking of fireworks … on special events nights where there are at least two fireworks shows and two parades … skip the first show and first parade and just go for the encore.
We made this mistake during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
We went with the crowds and watched the first fireworks show and the first parade. When the crowds dispersed, line and food queues immediately skyrocketed. I felt claustrophobic the entire night.
Meanwhile, those in the know skipped the first set of shows and enjoyed shorter line queues and crowds for two hours and still made it back in time for the lesser popular entertainment encore.
25. If you are prone to motion sickness, avoid Star Tours
I get motion sick in the back seat of a car on a winding mountain road.
I do not get sick on Guardians of the Galaxy.
In fact, I feel fine on every single coaster and ride in both Universal Studios and Disney World with one single exception: Star Tours.
I had to take my 3D goggles off, close my eyes and pray the ride would end.
If you’re like me, just avoid this one.
26. Also, think twice about Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
While I’ve never personally had a problem on Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, it never fails that someone behind us or in front of us DOES.
We’ve seen people almost faint. We’ve seen people toss their cookies.
It’s strange to me that Star Tours, which barely even moves, makes me sick while Guardians, which spins and darts around all over the place, does not.
I’m not sure why some rides are fine for some and not for others.
Just know thyself before boarding and consider yourself warned.
27. Explore the hidden aquarium at EPCOT
I avoided The Seas with Nemo & Friends for years assuming it was just an area for little kids.
Don’t get me wrong, Turtle Talk and the actual slow ride were designed with the youngins in mind.
However, did you know that hidden inside this complex is also an impressive 5.7 million gallon aquarium with clown fish, sharks and more?
It’s work checking out – no matter your age.
28. Utilize single-rider lines
Single-rider lines are the best way to turn a two-hour wait into a five-minute wait.
We’ve used this trick multiple times on Smugglers Run at Hollywood Studios and gotten straight on the ride without any wait.
Sometimes, my husband and I get lucky and get to ride together as “single riders” when they need two people to fill the backseats. Just don’t expect to ride as the pilot when using this method.
There are four rides across Disney World where single-rider lines are available:
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios)
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (Hollywood Studios)
- Test Track (EPCOT)
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (Animal Kingdom)
29. Unlock secret Chewbacca mode on Smugglers Run
Speaking of Smugglers Run – did you know there’s a secret Chewbacca mode you can activate on-ride?
To unlock Chewie mode and hear Chewbacca commands and sound effects throughout the ride, hold off on activating your position and instead have the two pilots push their controls to the far left/right or the far up/down and hold.
While the pilots hold this position, have the rest of the crew hit their activate buttons.
30. Get a discount on the Disney Springs Amphicar
If you’ve ever been to Disney Springs you’ve probably seen the Amphicar – the car that floats like a boat.
At the time of this writing, it costs $125 to book the Amphicar for a 20-minute tour that accommodates up to four people.
And occasionally, during special promotional periods, you can get a $25 discount on that tour if you spend $50 or more at the BOATHOUSE or the BOATIQUE next door (valid receipt required).
We decided to have lunch at the BOATHOUSE before we purchased our tickets. It ended up being one of the best meals I’ve ever had at Disney Springs and I got to ride the Amphicar for just $100.
Check the Disney Springs website for current offers.
31. Take the Magic Kingdom bus or Ferryboat
While the Monorail is perhaps the most iconic mode of transportation to and from the Magic Kingdom, there are faster ways to get to the park.
The bus, when it’s running tends to be the fastest mode of transport. But when it’s not available, the Ferryboat is your best bet.
While the Monorail technically runs at a faster speed than the Ferryboat, the Monorail can only hold a small number of people at one time. Plus, the Monorail can get BUSY during the peak season – which means long queues and wait times.
Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than 10 minutes for the Ferryboat.
32. Hold large batteries away from your body at security
This one only applies if you are bringing electronics with large batteries like DSLR cameras and battery chargers into the park.
After consistently getting pulled for a bag search at security, a guard finally offered me the following hot tip.
Hold the item in question in your hand, and hold it out in front of you while walking through the metal detectors.
You might look a bit silly, but the guard was right – I haven’t been pulled for a bag search since.
33. Let Disney cast members use your camera
Finally, we have one of my favorite tips.
Don’t pay for photos, ask cast members to take a few snapshots using your phone or camera.
At a TRON preview event a few weeks ago, we saw a handful of people queuing up in front of the attraction entrance where an employee was taking pictures.
At first, I assumed this was a paid photo opportunity. After all, things are rarely free at Disney.
Instead, guests were simply handing their personal photo-taking devices over to the cast member for a free snapshot keepsake.
There was a second cast member near the tester seats offering to do the same.
Both photos turned out to be my favorites from the trip.
What are YOUR favorite Disney World vacation tips, tricks and hacks? Let us know in the comments below.