55 Essential Disney World Tips, Tricks, And Dad Hacks

An insider’s guide to the world’s most magical — and most crowded and most complicated and biggest — amusement park.

by Fatherly
Originally Published: 
Emma Chao/Courtesy Disney; Fatherly; Getty Images

You don’t go to Disney World to unplug. If you need to turn your mind off and get away from all responsibilities, head to a sandy shore and unfold your beach chair. But if you want to be entertained and surprised, thrilled and fed, to build more cinematic vacation memories for the whole family — then by all means, book a ticket to Orlando.

But, and you probably know this, you’re going to need to do some work. You need to get fluent in the language of Disney World — a bureaucratic tongue laid out in the My Disney Experience app and Genie+ systems and Disney.go.com. You also need to have a plan, an itinerary, and it should probably be marked on a map. You need to treat Disney World with the respect the 39-square-mile amusement park with 173 rides, more than 200 restaurants, and 77,000 cast members that draw roughly 160,000 guests a day deserves.

Let’s be clear: The folks at Disney World will give your kids a wildly entertaining experience. That’s pretty much a given. But to get the most out of it — and you do want to get the most out of it after you’ve dropped $200-plus per person per day on average — you should talk to those who have been there. Better yet, those who live for Disney and have been there over and over. To offer some well-informed Disney World tips, tricks, and hacks, we talked to the bona fide Disney experts — mostly dads because, hey, we’re Fatherly — as well as experienced parents who’ve learned a thing or two about what really makes a memorable trip to the Magic Kingdom. Here they are in no particular order. We hope they help.


Prioritization Is Key

You won’t be able to do everything, and you’ll want to leave room for those impromptu memories that just sort of happen at Disney World. So, before you arrive, have everyone choose one or two attractions they’re looking forward to the most, and make sure to do those things. The rest is all bonus.


Arrive Early

Veterans call this getting there by “rope drop,” which simply means arriving when the park opens. Whichever way you say it, the early hours are cooler and, likely, less crowded.


The Midday Break Is A Must

This is the key to a meltdown-free time. Memorize this schedule: Be at the park by “rope drop.” Leave by 11 to noon. Get some food. Put the kids down for a nap. Hang in the pool. Relax. Return in the late afternoon around 4 or 5 for more attractions and the fireworks display.


Stretch Every Morning

There’s a lot of walking and standing and kid-carrying involved in a Disney trip. Don’t go in cold.


Wear The Right Shoes

Don’t wear new ones. Break them in first. And don’t wear old crappy sneakers, either. You’ll likely be walking upward of 10 miles each day. Bring two pairs of comfortable sneakers and rotate them.


Work In Reverse

That is, start at the back of the park and move toward the front. Yes, it’s a bit of a hike. But you’ll be able to experience less crowded attractions earlier in the day (most parkgoers will hit the closest rides first) and be closer to the entrance by the time you’re ready to leave.


Go Left

Here’s another early day decision making tip: When you come to a fork in the road, go left. We live in a right-handed world, so if you want to avoid some crowds, all you need to do is head left at all your forks in the road in the beginning of the day. It works — and makes for one less decision on your part.


Buy The Bucket

“Disney’s popcorn bucket is the deal of a century. The bucket is a great collectible and it’s such an easy snack. Also, it’s very inexpensive to fill the bucket ($2 per refill) and it’s better than your local theater popcorn.” — Jeremey Acevedo, a PlanDisney expert and dad of three kids aged 17, 14, and 11


Spring For Genie+

The service, which is baked into the My Disney Experience app, allows you to reserve times at certain attractions and gives you the option to purchase Lightning Lane reservations for up to two in-demand rides per day. It’s worth it.


Make Use Of The Park’s Transportation

The monorails, boats, and gondolas are all fun ways to traverse the park — and give you and the kids some much-needed time off your feet.


Rent A Stroller

Even if your kids are a little too big for it, think of it as a mobile command unit where all your stuff can be stored.


Resist The Urge To Wake

If your kid is sleeping in the stroller, don’t wake them up to see something at the park. Yes, it’s probably something they’d like to see. But they can see it later. Let them rest.


Get A Dole Whip

Just do it. Some things are worth the hype, and the famous frozen treat is one of them. It comes in other flavors besides pineapple, sure, but pineapple is still the best.


Keep Your Eye On The Prize

“The first and probably most important thing is we all know about the Disney fireworks. This is the momentous occasion that will stick with you your entire life. You want to stay up for that. So take a midday break. And don’t mess with their sleep schedule.” — J.A.


Seek These Snacks

Disney World offers some seriously great snacks. Searching for something sweet? Scat Cat’s Club Café’s Mickey beignets are fantastic. And no one does a Warm Cinnamon Roll quite like Gaston’s Tavern. In terms of savory snacks, Flame Tree Barbecue’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese With Pulled Pork is a winner, as is the Sweet & Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich at Sleepy Hollow.


Chat With Cast Members

Pretty much anyone who works at Disney is technically a cast member, and whether they’re costumed characters or vendors, they all have interesting tips and advice for park visitors.


Fight The Funk

Florida is humid. In the summer, it can feel like you’re trapped in a mouth. Prepare yourself by wearing sweat-wicking underwear and socks and investing in some talcum powder.


Pack These Items

No, these aren’t necessities, but they’ll make your time in the park a lot smoother: a collapsible stool (to sit while waiting on long lines); a small, packable blanket (for sitting on while watching parades and fireworks); carabiners or hooks (for attaching things to your stroller or backpack like a souvenir or, oh, a big popcorn bucket); and a spray bottle (to mist the kids and yourselves).


Split Up

“You can split up. In fact, do split up if your kids are different ages or just like different things. There are usually rides right next to each other. For example, Buzz Lightyear (which is slow) is next to Tron (which is fast, and dark). And at the same time, you’ll get one-on-one time. My son didn’t want to see Anna and Elsa, so my wife took my daughters and we went on Winnie the Pooh. Nobody lost time. And we gained that one-on-one time.” — J.A.


Rely On Rider Switch

The Rider Switch program, which is available at certain rides and coordinated through cast members, allows one adult to wait with a child who doesn’t want to ride while the other family members ride. Once the other family members have ridden, the waiting parent can enjoy the attraction without having to wait in line again.


Eat These Foods At Epcot

The best food in the park, hands down, is at Epcot, where there are cuisines from 11 countries. Some highlights include the Norwegian School Bread at Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe, the Japanese Shaved Ice at Kabuki Cafe, the Caramel S’mores at Karamell Kuche, and the Nutella Fried Beignets at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie.


Toss The Ball

“I like to bring a ball, gloves, a Frisbee… something along those lines to enjoy in the resort. I remember throwing the football outside Disney’s Polynesian. It was an amazing experience that the kids will remember. And you can take that football back home and say ‘Remember when...” — Jason Kaplan, a PlanDisney expert and dad of two sons, 20 and 16


Don’t Mess With Routines Too Much

Yeah, some things will be out of whack because that’s what happens on vacation. But if your kid normally naps in the afternoon do what you can to ensure they have that opportunity. This will make things much smoother — and prevent the postvacation nightmare of having to reintroduce schedules.


The Baby Care Centers Are Your Friends

“If your toddler needs a break, take them to a baby care center, a place where all the sensory stuff goes away. It’s the quiet space that you sometimes need.” J.A.


Snap A Morning Photo

Do it for the memories, before the kids become a sweaty mess. But also do it because it’s helpful to have an up-to-date photo to show if your kids ever get lost.


Bring Plenty Of Plastic Baggies

Use them to hold your phone and wallet when you’re on water rides, store leftovers, and make security checks easier.


Embrace Mobile Food Ordering

It’ll save you a ton of time. Everyone can choose what they want while you’re waiting in line, and then you just go pick it up after you get off a ride. This is all done through the My Disney Experience app, which also displays the closest restaurants to you.


Bring Layers

“A lightweight jacket is super helpful. Also bring a pair of jeans, sweatpants, a sweatshirt. Use compression bags, squeeze it all together, and leave some room. If it’s your first or 50th trip, you’ll buy something. Oh, and lay it out in the morning.” — J.K.


Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen.

You don’t want to ruin a trip to Disney World due to sunburn — that’s a mistake to make at the beach. So put on sunscreen and have everyone wear full-coverage hats. Set a timer on your phone to remind yourself to reapply.


Keep A Full Cup Of Ice

Every food location at Disney World will give you a free cup of ice water if you ask for it. Great for thirst. Also great for wetting a cooling towel.


The Cooling Towel Is Clutch

Be sure to pack one. Or four. A great option is the Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad. It retains water while staying dry to the touch and cool for hours. (evaporative cooling FTW). It’s also UPF 50+.


Bottle Your Back

Stack any insulated bottles with ice water in the body-facing side of your backpack to keep your back nice and cool as you walk through the park carrying the kids. Heaven.


Make Use of the Lockers

“There are lockers at the front of the park, and you can always go back to them. There’s only so much you should be carrying around.” — J.K.


Get Excited!

Build up the excitement while you’re in line. Freak out if you see a character you know the kids will love. Hype up the fireworks display. Anticipation makes for bigger thrills.


Ride The Disney Railroad

When your energy starts to fade, the Disney Railroad (20 minutes, round-trip) is a great “ride” for the kids that also gets you off your feet. The Skyliner, a free cable car, is another way to ‘sit and enjoy the view’ as you travel between Epcot, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Disney's Riviera Resort, and Hollywood Studios (and back again if you’re just along for the ride or the kids are snoring).


Plan the Action Upfront

“Most folks go to Disney for about a week. So, you’re there five days, six nights with four to five days of park tickets. That’s pushing it to the limit if you think you’re going every day and spending every moment in the park. You’re going to be tired. Instead, put your back-to-back days at the beginning. Then relax.” — J.A.


Find These Fireworks Viewing Locations

The fireworks are a must-see event during any visit to Disney World. But the main viewing areas can be very crowded — and especially tricky if you’re maneuvering a stroller — and require getting there a few hours ahead of time. For a less packed experience, head over to It’s A Small World, the walkway near Tomorrowland, or Town Square, the latter of which’s entrance-adjacent location makes it easy to exit.


Avoid The Post-Fireworks Monorail

It’s usually a chaotic traffic jam. You’ve been warned.


Bring Spare Clothes

Wet swimsuits chafe. Spills happen. Come prepared.


How To Skip The Fireworks

Don’t care about the fireworks display or you’ve already seen it? The best time to ride your favorite Magic Kingdom rides is during the show. The lines are much shorter, and the park is beautiful at night when the crowds are taking in the explosions.


Remember That Kids Have Limits

Yes, the trip was expensive, and yes, there’s a lot to see and you want to get your money’s worth. It’s easy to push them into overdrive for the pursuit of memory making. Don’t do that. Hydrate. Snack. Sit when it’s time to sit.


Freeze Some Drink Pouches

They’re a great thing to have during the heat of the day.


Find The Attractions That Make Everyone Excited

“We try to look at what attractions would split the kids apart and try to find the adjacent attraction. Whether it’s a simple boat ride… or Space Mountain… there’s something for everyone there. But the real cool part is that they’re going to want to go on these rides and sit with each other. So, you start building these sibling bonds and that’s a real win for the parents.” — J.K.


Air Tag Your Stroller

This will ensure it doesn’t get lost in a sea of similar buggies when you park it before a ride. At the very least, tie a few bright ribbons or mark it with some other form of flair to it to ensure its easily identifiable.


Bring A Backup Battery

Scratch that — bring three. All the photo-taking, map-searching, and app-swiping quickly drains a phone. The park sells Fuel Rods, and you can exchange a depleted one at the kiosks for a fully charged replacement, which is nice. But bring whatever you want. You don’t want to be caught with a dead phone.


Pack A Cooler

FWIW and per park rules, guests can bring outside food and beverage items into the park “provided they are not in glass containers and do not require heating, reheating, processing, refrigeration, or temperature control and do not have pungent odors.”


Get Dusted

In Fantasyland, there’s a shop named Sir Mickey’s where you can ask any cast member about being “Pixie Dusted.” They will sprinkle you with pixie dust from a special wand. It’s fun. Just prepare to find glitter on your kids for the next several days.


Watch Before You Ride

Especially if you have little ones, give them a glimpse of the attraction first (it’s an entire genre on YouTube) or have a real-life look. If they’re scared of watching it, chances are they’ll be scared riding it.


Double Check Ride Requirements

You can do so here. The last thing you want is for your kid to get psyched up about an attraction to realize that they’re not tall enough to ride. Measure your kids before the trip


Your Pool Is The Single Most Important Attraction

“The pool is one of those places to decompress. Embrace it. I was there with my son last month, and we had so much fun at the Swan & Dolphin pool (‘The Grotto’ pool). We even went for a midday break. Kids will nap on those lounge chairs if they need it, and each of the pools has its quirks — like zero entry so you can walk in to their ankles. If your family likes pools, you might want to look to the pool first.” — J.A.


Prepare For Long Waits

No matter how much work you do to game the system, you’ll spend a lot of time standing in line. Don’t be surprised. Download plenty of kid-friendly games on your phone. Pack bubbles or other fun distractions. Have plenty of snacks and water.


Keep An Eye Out For Hidden Mickeys

Throughout the park, in different sizes and on everything from lampshades to sidewalks to murals, are a variety of hidden images of the House of Mouse’s mascot snuck into the designs. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt.


Go On An Official Scavenger Hunt

Speaking of scavenger hunts, in seven countries in Epcot, there are hidden animatronics everywhere. To unlock them, get the Play Disney Parks app and open DuckTales World Showcase Adventure. Solve the clues, and gather ’round for the big reveals — which in some instances are impressive enough to gather crowds who will wonder “How did they do that?”


Go Go Go And You’ll Be Gone

“You really want to manage your expectations and your emotional display to the children. You’ve invested money to have a magical vacation. But remember, Disney World is going to be there for a long time. So read your child and understand that when it’s snack time, sit down and have a snack… Focus on enjoying the process.” J.K.


Savor the Small Moments

It’s easy to want to rush through the park and see and do as much as possible. And while, yes, you should prioritize some memories, rushing will lead to frustrations and meltdowns. Instead, enjoy the journey. Slow down. Disney parks have amazing ambiance, and the most memorable moments — an impromptu performance, a character-driven surprise — often appear out of nowhere.

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