A Disney vacation is a dream event with plenty of magic for the whole family. But making the most of your Disney trip demands a lot of strategizing.
Which rides are worth the Lightning Lane? Should you stay in the park, or is a nearby hotel better for your budget? Which rides are worth the wait, and which should you skip?
Fortunately, Disney superfans have already done the hard work for you — and they’re willing to spill some of their most closely guarded secrets.
Keep reading for 16 Disney insider tips to help you beat the crowds and keep more money in your wallet like a true pro.
Nab Disney World’s best cookies without waiting in line
Gideon’s Bakehouse — an Orlando-area bakery best known for its half-pound cookies — partnered with Disney to open a second location in Disney Springs.
Thanks to the cookies’ popularity, visitors to Disney World can expect to wait for hours in a (virtual) line to score some of the bakery’s goods.
But according to Disney fan Josh K., there’s a faster, easier way to a Gideon’s cookie: Simply visit the bakery’s original Orlando location.
Josh says, “While there can still be lines on the weekends, they are almost guaranteed to be shorter than the wait on Disney property, and on weekdays it is not uncommon to be able to walk right up and order.”
Stay on the park property
Staying in a hotel on the Disney park property might cost more up front than staying at a nearby Best Western, but the perks and discounts add up fast.
On top of meal discounts and free transportation to and from the park, you’ll also get early admission to the park itself. Superfan Danielle says it best: Early entry “is a HUGE deal!”
Book an airport van if you have 8 to 15 people
Ubering from the airport to your resort and back again isn’t the most cost-effective way to travel.
Instead, Disney fan Mary J. recommends booking a 15-passenger van. Mary says, “It's the cheapest option for groups of over eight people.”
Save money on souvenirs
Disney World is home to hundreds of shops and stands where you can pick up souvenirs throughout the day, but don’t pay park prices for the best Disney merch if you don’t have to.
Instead, swing by one of the two Disney's Character Warehouses in Orlando, which Josh says “sell toys and apparel straight from the parks” but at “greatly reduced prices.”
Buy a refillable mug before leaving your resort for the day
Want to save money on drinks? If you’re staying at a Disney resort, Mary recommends picking up a refillable mug from your hotel before leaving for the day.
Of course, you can get a refillable mug from any food court inside the park, but tackling the task before arrival ensures you won’t forget to pick one up and waste money on individual beverages.
Ask for free ice water
Speaking of drinks, you don’t necessarily have to purchase an expensive disposable water bottle inside the park.
According to Mary, just about any food stand will hand you a free cup of water or ice. All you have to do is ask.
And don’t forget your refillable popcorn bucket
Drinks aren’t the only things you can refill within the park itself to save money. Buy a refillable popcorn bucket and knock refill prices down to just $2.
Grab a festival passport to score free food
If you’re visiting Disney World during a special EPCOT event (for instance, the Flower & Garden Festival), don’t forget to pick up a free festival passport, then flip it around to view the challenge on the back.
You'll collect stamps as you complete challenges like buying certain types of food while you enjoy the festival. Once your stamp sheet is complete, you can turn it in for a free treat.
Book your meals in advance through mobile ordering
Standing in lines for rides takes up enough time. So why bother standing in line for food, too? Instead, use Disney's app each morning to preorder your meals for the day.
Mary says, “You'll be guaranteed a meal at an in-demand spot, and if your plans change, you can always cancel the mobile order.”
Try the Tropical Serenade at Aloha Island
Even if you’ve been to Disneyland just a time or two in your life, you’ve probably heard of the resort’s famous Dole Whip, a tart, pineapple-flavored soft-serve ice cream cone that attracts flocks of fans.
But fan Cortney G. has a handy tip for anyone who wants to try something new (and dodge the Dole Whip crowds): Try Aloha Island’s Tropical Serenade instead.
Cortney writes, “Instead of the Dole pineapple soft serve, they use coconut soft serve, and its creamy decadence is to die for. It’s topped with Pineapple-Orange-Guava Juice and garnished with an upside-down pineapple cake pop.”
And if you’re still not sold, Cortney’s final sales pitch might tip you over the edge: "BEST DESSERT AT DISNEY WORLD!"
Pre-book a photo session
Getting the most out of your Disney visit isn’t just about saving money: It’s also about saving time. According to Mary, one of the best ways to maximize your limited vacation time at the park is to pre-book a photo session.
You can book a session up to 60 days ahead of your travel, and since spots are limited, you’ll definitely want to schedule yours as soon as possible.
Become an annual pass holder
Is an annual pass worth the price? Danielle says yes — as long as you stay in Orlando for at least six days and buy a pass when it’s on sale.
Run the numbers, and depending on the sale, you’ll save more money than booking your tickets without the pass.
Once you’re an Annual Passholder, you’ll enjoy 10% discounts on dining, 20% discounts on merch, and up to 30% discounts at some hotels.
Attend an after-hours party
Getting in early by staying at a resort isn’t the only way to see the park without the crowds.
You can also buy tickets to after-party events, such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
These events have a limited number of available tickets, and if you buy one in advance, you’ll enjoy faster lines and shorter wait times, as well as some free snacks, drinks, and treats.
Plan your Lightning Lane strategy
If you don’t want to wait in the standard line for some of the park’s most popular rides, you can purchase Lightning Lane access to two daily rides.
However, you’ll want to be strategic about which rides you try to grab passes for, since the most popular rides sell out almost instantly.
For instance, according to Cortney G., Lightning Lane passes to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, the EPCOT Test Track, and Frozen Ever After tend to sell out by 7 a.m. — so be prepared to wake up early for a chance at the shorter line.
Keep your thumb on the refresh button
Didn’t get a reservation at the restaurant you wanted? Missed your chance at a Lightning Lane pass? When this happens to Cortney, she doesn’t give up.
Instead, she says, refresh the app, especially “if you're physically close to the ride or restaurant,” and “you can usually get a reservation to show up.”
Enjoy the best of Disney without paying the cost of admission
You don’t have to enter the park to get a taste of the Disney experience. Disney Springs is located on Disney World property and “full of Disney Magic,” says Josh.
Best of all, you don’t have to pay to access it: “Parking and access to Disney Springs are completely free, and guests can browse a variety of specialty shops highlighting their favorite Disney brands while also enjoying a number of unique dining experiences.”
You’re already planning on having a blast on your next Disney vacation. The only way to make it better? Apply this insider advice from seasoned Disney veterans to your next trip.
If you earn travel rewards and use these expert tips to save money, you might find yourself able to visit Disney Parks more and more often.
You’ll be well on your way to becoming the Disney insider you’ve always wanted to be.
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