Hey. HEY. You-uh, you goin’ to a Disney Park?
(glances around furtively)
You wanna- hey, you want the good stuff?
(nods to this article)
I’ve got the good stuff right here. The kinda stuff those other guys aren’t offering.
Like, the good tips and tricks. The real super-secret kind.
Well, not so secret. I’m gonna tell you ‘em.
Check it out.
(In all seriousness, here are seven major Disney park hacks other folks don’t tend to mention. You’re welcome.)
1. Park to Park
Let’s start with one of the most easily-overlooked aspects of a Disney visit: actually getting there. Odds are (unless you’re a local), you’re staying somewhere within spitting-distance of the parks. Whether you drove your own vehicle, or have a shiny rental parked out behind the hotel, my first big tip is to leave it right where it is. The majority of hotels in the area offer either a free, or very inexpensive shuttle service directly to the entrance. It will save you a money, sure, but more importantly it will save you valuable time (even if you have to wait 15 minutes or so for it to get there. I promise.).
If you’re staying a bit further away, or your hotel isn’t offering a shuttle, consider a rideshare like Uber or Lyft. In most cases, if you’re no more than a few miles away, it will be cheaper and more convenient (even if you need an XL vehicle to accommodate your party size).
But if you absolutely have to take a car, Disney does have you covered. Be warned, though, those lines can get pretty backed up at peak arrival/departure times. While it is a bit of a hike, it can still be worth it to avoid the parking lot shuttles and to hoof it yourself.
2. Pack light
On the subject of prep, you’re bringing too much stuff. I get the urge when on vacation to plan for every possible need, but it’s mostly just gonna add weight.
My load-out for a park visit is my wallet, my phone, my car key (with the remainder of my keys left in the car/at home), and occasionally a backup charger. That’s it.
Water? There are fountains. Medical supplies? Unless it’s a prescribed medication, First Aid is very accessible. Change of clothes? If it’s warm enough to get wet, you won’t need them.
In short, unless you bring it with you on a normal day walking out your front door, you’ll probably be fine.
Except for Mickey ears. They always get a pass.
3. Get. Your Tickets. Ahead.
Of all the tips and tricks to expedite your time, this is the easiest. There is NO GOOD REASON not to have your tickets ahead of your arrival. Buy them at home and print them, or buy them directly on the Disney Parks app. You’ll avoid what is usually an exceptionally long line.
But if you’re Hades-bent on not getting them ‘til you’re there (or you forgot), you still have options. Most of the hotels in the are have a counter or liaison specifically for the purpose of ticket sales, so look around our lobby.
Or, if you rolled in to town the evening before your first Disney day, make the trek to the ticket booths then. At all costs, avoid waiting until the morning of!
I know, I know, you’re rip-roaring and raring to go, only to run headlong into the behemoth that is Disney security (at peak entrance times, that is). First things first? Deep breath. It’s not the last line of the day. But it can be the most stressful!
My biggest advice is to remember the purpose. Disney parks are safe spaces. A few extra minutes are a small price to pay.
You can do a lot to expedite the process by being prepared. Security will need to get in to every zipper on your bags (which need to be off your bodies), and you will need everything out of your pockets. If you do have a purse or backpack in your party, take out all your pocket-detritus and put it in there. When you get to the tables, have your bags unzipped, unworn, and ready to hand over. Review what’s not allowed ahead of time, and make sure you won’t have a problem!
Also, some things are just gonna beep when you go through the metal detector. I have certain belts I avoid wearing to the parks now. If it goes off, it’s fine. Just listen to instructions, and you’ll be on your way in just a couple more seconds.
Extra pro tip: most parks now have a much shorter line for guests without bags. If you can split up your party, have a couple members go ahead of you to get your tickets or to get in line! Just try not to be that group that has one person holding the spot for a group of twenty.
5. On the Topic of Balloons
So, you’ve made it past the gauntlet of pre-park activity, passed the turnstiles, and have followed the red bricks to Main Street USA. You’re overtaken by all the charm and wonder that is a bustling run to that iconic castle, with veritable bouquets of that most classic and whimsical of Disney souvenirs floating overhead, beckoning you to pick your favorite color…
(takes out soap box, gets on)
Look. I am not going to tell you not to get a balloon.
BUT. But. You should know what you’re signing up for.
I absolutely WILL recommend that it not be your first purchase. Buying a balloon at Disney is a commitment. Wanna go on a ride? Somebody better be sitting out to hold the balloon. Watching a show? Anyone behind you is watching a balloon now. Slight breeze? Prepare to make friends with people over a constant assault of balloon-related collisions.
Okay, I know. I’m going hard on them. The balloons are a quintessential part of the Disney experience. But that’s a helium-filled contract.
If you are going for it, though, a warning by way of compliment: Disney has innovated many things over the years, but few things are more impressive than the tensile strength of their balloon-husks. You’re not just committing to a balloon for that day. I have seen those suckers stay aloft for the better part of a month (that’s not hyperbole). You WILL be taking a balloon back wherever you came from, or you will be telling your kids all about that nice balloon farm your balloon left for to go be with its balloon family.
6. No Straight Lines
Something you should know: If you’re visiting, even for a good couple days, you will most likely NOT do everything. It’s a good problem to have. I’m a huge advocate for not getting too wrapped up in the checklist, but rather for enjoying what you’re doing at any given moment.
That being said, if you want to do more, you need to think outside of a linear approach.
If you watch Disney regulars, you’d think them more pinballs than people, bouncing almost haphazardly between lands. This is especially beneficial on the west coast, in which just about everything is a 15-minute walk from anything else.
If there are certain big attractions you’d like to do, or certain shows you’d like to see, do not be afraid to zip through a land or two to get to things when most convenient. You can always go back, but if you’ve got a FastPass, get there and use it.
And if you do have multiple days, it’s great to set one aside (like the last one) without plans at all, just to meander and do whatever you come on, or re-do whatever you loved!
7. Path Less Traveled
While we’re talking about plans, I can’t recommend enough to take advantage of the less-publicized attractions and activities Disney has to offer. I could go off on this for HOURS, so to keep things simple, here’s a quick hit-list from my home parks at the Disneyland Resort:
- Just about every night before sundown, there’s a full honor guard flag retreat on Main Street. If you haven’t seen it, do, at least once. Ask a Cast Member what time it’ll be at, it changes with the seasons. If someone in your party has done some military service, there’s a nice moment to honor them as well.
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It should be an education requirement, and I never get out without tearing up at least a little.
- If you’ve got the stamina, take a trip around the Rivers of America on the canoes! You’ll get amazing views of one of the most scenic areas of the parks, and a nice little workout to boot. Plus, it is super peaceful.
- During the day, go interact with the Citizens of Buena Vista Street. They are absolute characters, and are just nice to have a conversation with.
- Out of the way quiet small dining and drink spots like Alfresco Tasting Terrace (which we’ve gone in to length about here) are great for taking a break from the noise.
- If you’ve got a couple extra bucks, the tours offered by Disney are phenomenal, and come with a couple surprises. I highly recommend the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour if you have any interest in the man behind the mouse. Stop by the tour gardens (left after you enter Disneyland) or chat with any Guest Relations cast member.
- The Halloween Tree. If you know what it is, excellent. If you don’t, we’ve got your back right here.
- Straight up, Toontown is one of the most photogenic places in the parks (if you like bright, bright colors), and is just, like, really fun to play around in. Don’t sleep on Toontown.
- Some of the best music being played live is just passed on by. Stop. And. Listen. There’s marching bands, barbershop quartets, pirate shanties, and a ton more just about every day. And frequent guest groups like WestBeat and Phat Cat Swinger absolutely kill it when they play for special events and seasons (and if you miss ‘em, you can find videos from us!).
Got some more secret Disney tips? We’d love to hear them! Sound off in the comments below, or let us know on Twitter @daps_magic with the hashtag #GeeksCorner (and tune in Tuesday nights at 9:30 pm PST at thegeekscorner.com)!