Ask Amy: Disney Travel Tips For Busy Seasons

Toy Story Midway Mania Photo

Photo courtesy Jeremy Thompson

Most travel guides will advise you to save money and time by visiting Walt Disney World in value seasons – times in which lines are lighter and crowds less dense. But sometimes school schedules, business obligations and life events prohibit such luxury. You may have to travel during peak, holiday or summer seasons or not visit Disney at all. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

So let’s make Pink Parrot Lemonade out of lemons and get the most out of the busy season.

Rise and Shine!
I was a firm believer in the lazy morning vacation. It’s my hard earned vacation, darn it, and I certainly don’t want an alarm clock buzzing to wake me up before I’m good and ready. To some extent I still live by this mantra, at least when the kids let me sleep in, but not at Disney.

We now try to get to parks before or close to park opening. With a little extra effort, and a substantial dose of caffeine, we hit the parks before the masses descend. The first year we tried this tactic I was skeptical at best. But I was amazed at how many rides we could hit with 0-10 minute waits. An added bonus was watching the opening of the parks, complete with song, dance and characters.

After our early morning, we have a leisurely lunch(table or counter service) at the park we’re visiting and then return to our resort for pool time, checking out the gift shop or a quick nap just as the park crowds start to swell.

Maximize Fast Pass
In my very unscientific survey of friends and colleagues regarding this month’s topic, utilizing Disney’s FastPass Service was by far the number one recommendation. For those of you new to Disney, FastPass tickets allow you to return to select attractions at a later time in the day and enter the ride by way of a shorter (FastPass) line. Visit this link for instructions and details. We’ll have to revisit FastPass when FastPass Plus is rolled out in a broad fashion, or another technological advancement is developed, but until then, save some time and utilize the existing system.

Dinner Reservations or Counter Service
There are (at least) two schools of thought for dining during busy season. The first – secure your table service reservations early, at the 180 day pre-vacation mark, and eat your evening meal on the earlier side, for example 4:45 pm, to avoid delayed seating during the dinner rush. While you may be able to pick up a last minute reservation or even – gasp – walk into some restaurants without a reservation during value season, the odds are increasingly stacked against you during the busiest travel dates. If someone in your travel party just must, must, must see Cinderella, or Mickey Mouse, or whomever, also consider booking a character meal to save valuable time in the autograph lines later.

The second school of thought asks you to enjoy the many pleasures of the Disney counter service restaurants and kiosks. Caution here – counter service lines in peak seasons can be treacherous. For this tactic to work successfully, you’ll need some patience and flexibility.

Like the table service suggestion, try to dine on the early or later sides of the traditional meal time. If Cosmic Ray’s is swamped, try Columbia Harbour House. Take a break from the Magic Kingdom and travel via the monorail to a nearby resort for lunch. Or skip food lines all together by packing your own snacks, drinks, and if you’re really ambitious, more substantial food.

We’ll try the My Disney Experience App on our next vacation. Among the features (direct from the official Walt Disney World site), the app promises to help us save time:

  • Explore Walt Disney World Resort on the interactive, GPS-enabled map.
  • View FASTPASS return times for the park you’re in.
  • Get wait times for attractions and showtimes for fireworks and parades.
  • Know what’s close or starting soon with Here & Now.
  • Find Character greeting locations and times.
  • Add activities to your Wish List.
  • Browse restaurant menus and make dining reservations.
  • Share plans with others through Family & Friends.
  • Keep reservations and activities organized in My Plans

Have you tried the new app? Were wait times accurate? Were you able to grab a coveted dinner reservation with just hours to spare? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

VIP Tours
VIP Tours promise “The ability to experience some of your favorite attractions efficiently, even repeatedly” and “VIP seating for parades, select stage shows and nighttime spectacular.” Pricing for the tours starts at $1890 and is based on an hourly rate/guide and a minimum of 6 consecutive hours of service. Rates during the holidays increase.

VIP Tours are too expensive for my small family. However, the tours cover up to 10 people traveling together. If you had two or three families, or 10 adults, splitting the costs to save time may become more intriguing as a way to maximize your Disney time.

Have you tried to VIP Tours? What did you think?

The last, and maybe best, tip is to chill out. No matter when you travel, you won’t be able to see, hear, taste, smell or experience all that Disney has to offer in one day or even one trip. Relax and take a moment to enjoy – you’re in Disney World!

Find out how the FREE services of a Disney World travel agent can make planning your Disney vacation simple and STRESS FREE! And for a limited time only, receive a FREE Disney gift card for qualifying Disney vacation packages! Ask for details!

Amy works as a college administrator and instructor in the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She visited Walt Disney World for the first time as an adult for a conference. But Amy truly caught the “Disneybug” when she traveled with her young daughter. Amy loves all things travel and especially enjoys trip preparation and strategy: trying to find the best deals, exploring new resorts and restaurants, and planning an extra something special for each trip.

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