It’s no secret that tackling the Disney Parks can be a big undertaking.  With so many amazing attractions, delicious dining options, cool character experiences and more, it’s impossible to get it all done in one day or even one vacation.  Knowing that, guests must decide how to take on the parks.  Squeeze everything you can into the time you have or take it easy?  Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both approaches, then let us know which you choose.

Rope Drop

This is the official opening of the park, or as commandos call it the running of the FastPasses.  If you’re a park commando, you’ll want to be here well before rope drop.  This puts you in the best position to be one of the first families in the park and headed toward your FastPass attraction of choice before knocking out a headliner prior to the long standby waits.  You should be able to get quite a bit in before your counterparts roll out of bed and into the parks, so relish the first few hours after rope drop.

Get Park Wise: Send your quickest power walker to snag your group’s FastPasses while everyone else reassembles themselves after going through the bag check, ticket turnstiles, makes a last minute bathroom stop, etc., then meet at the attraction you plan to ride standby (don’t forget to give the “runner” everyone’s park tickets).

If you’re going carefree on this trip, you might never see rope drop and that’s ok!  You’ll want to have a plan in place for using FastPasses if you hope to hit the major attractions.  Of course, with the new FastPass system possibly rolling out soon, this could all change, but for now let’s focus on what we know.  When you do make it to the park, grab a FastPass for your must-do that day, then stroll the park at your leisure.  By the time you arrive, those commandos may be passed out from their hardcore morning, so take care not to trip over them.

Exhausted commandos or so carefree they nap in the parks?  You decide!


I think it’s safe to say that commandos are planners, too.  Chances are, you made your dining reservations 180 days ago (that is, if you scheduled time to actually eat while in the parks).  Our favorite way to maximize park time while still enjoying the great dining options at Disney is to make breakfast reservations in the park prior to the official opening time.  If you’re quick eaters, you’re out in the park before the crowd is even in the gate.  Cast members will hold you until the official opening, but this has given us an advantage numerous times.  On a recent trip to Hollywood Studios, we were in an empty park and the first in line for Jedi Training Academy sign-up.

Just be sure you don’t do this on morning Extra Magic Hours days, or it puts you an hour behind all the other guests.  Occasionally the park hours will change, so keep an eye on this.  It happened to us once in Magic Kingdom;  I went into panic mode but then decided it would be a carefree day for us.  I just tried not to look out the window at the crowds streaming past Crystal Palace.

You can still be a planner and be carefree, so if you did make your reservations already, enjoy your leisurely meals.  If you didn’t and hope to score a spot at a table service restaurant, don’t despair (but you wouldn’t  anyway—you’re carefree!).  It’s not unheard of to get walk-ups at Walt Disney World, and the restaurants were very mellow and accommodating at Disneyland where dining isn’t such a thing.  Check with your hotel concierge or try calling while on vacation to secure reservations.  The My Disney Magic app also lets you make reservations from your smart phone.  If all else fails, just head to the restaurant and see what’s available.

Get Park Wise: Eating at non-peak times can increase your chances of getting a table as a walk-up or last minute reservation.  Try a late lunch at 2:00 P.M. or dinner at 4:00 P.M. or 9:00 P.M.


If traveling with kids (and even some kids-at-heart) characters are usually a must-do.  While it may seem like a waste of precious park time to a commando, there are ways to minimize character wait times.  Mickey and the princesses in Magic Kingdom actually offer a FastPass option.  This isn’t connected to the attractions FastPass system, so you’ll be able to score Splash Mountain FastPasses even if you have these.  Visit character locations where you can see several in one area, such as Pixie Hollow in Disneyland.  One line, several characters.  Can’t beat that!

If your little character lover has a specific character in mind, familiarize yourself with the times guide and pay attention to posted character times at known meet and greet locations.  Schedule your day so you’re in the area prior to the meet and greet, and you can usually position yourself to be near the head of the line if not first.

Get Park Wise: Minimize waits but don’t rush your character time.  These are often the moments kids remember most, so take a moment to stop and smell the roses.

If you’re winging it, I’d also suggest visiting character locations with multiple characters, as you can meet the Disney celebs without standing in multiple lines.  Characters do pop up at random, especially at Disneyland, so always be on the look out!

Other Experiences

When commando touring, schedule some mellow activities in the afternoon when the parks warm up and start to get crowded.  You had a hardcore morning, so be sure to relax so you can make the most of the nighttime hours when the crowds start to thin again.  Enjoy a show, schedule a late lunch or even head back to your resort to freshen up while the latecomers are in 120-minute Toy Story Mania lines.

If carefree guests are interested in anything that encourages reservations (such as Pirates League or Bippity Boppity Boutique) but you didn’t make any, you can always, as with dining, attempt a walk-up.  There are occasionally cancellations and no-shows, and you’ll be able to slip right in.  If the wait times are long and there are no reservations to be had, just soak up the atmosphere.  We enjoyed a perfectly unplanned day at Epcot on our most recent trip, and it was fantastic!  We snacked around the World Showcase and meandered through the shops, and we had one of the best Epcot days we’ve ever experienced.

Are you a park commando?  Carefree?  Somewhere in between?  What works best for you?

Oh, and I just made it through this whole article without saying “going commando.”  😉

  • daliseurat

    Normally I am commando all the way planning everything. These days if you don’t, you can fins yourself wandering around for a couple hours just trying to find a place you can eat, a frequently find yourself missing out on your favorite attractions. Going carefree can be a terrible experience, especially if you are not local and can only get to the park every few years. However, there is a way to be carefree and have an amazing time. It works best if you go to the park with no expectations if anything at all. Forget even trying a sitdown restaurant. I’ve done this at every park at least once. I simple wander around slowly enjoying the ambience of the park, and do whatever doesn’t have a long line. I eat wherever there is no line. I sit on the train for a couple rounds. I go to shows that are not as popular. Surprisingly, I have an amazing time because I do some things I might not ordinarily do. And i usually will get to ride a few of the big attractions by grabbing a fast pass when I’m near, or just waiting till there isn’t a line. Of course, I always take advantage of early mornings. That is the best time to get a bunch of those long line rides out of the way and then REALLY relax the day away.

    • I agree that going in with little to no expectations really can make for an enjoyable day if you haven’t planned. I do think depending on the time of year you’re at the parks, you can still enjoy a table service meal and a headliner or two, though. Carefree guests aren’t doomed to Hall of Presidents marathons and snack carts all day. 😉

      • daliseurat

        I’ve never been doomed. LOL. I always get on a couple of the big rides as well, but tend to go on things i might have overlooked before when I was in Commando Mode. And I definitely ate in places I didn’t think to try before for counter service. I do miss the old days when you could actually get reservations the day you got there. Epcot especially was fun with the video kiosks.

  • If I’ve never been to a park before, I’ll do the commando thing. Up at dawn, everything planned in advance. But that really isn’t fun for me any more. If I’m too tired to enjoy the experience, what’s the point?

    When we visit WDW these days (we go about 2 or 3 times a year), we wake up late, try to get to the parks by 11am and perhaps ride only one or two attractions before lunch.

    We do plan parks and days in advance, but only so we can book dining. Disney’s horrid dining program forces us to do so because everything fills up months in advance. I really hate that.

    We wander. If something looks interesting or doesn’t have a line, we’ll ride it. Otherwise, we don’t bother. When we’re tired, we go back to the hotel. It’s a very different way to travel.

    However, when we travel in large groups with the MiceChatters, we often do plan many elements in advance, because you really do need to do that for large groups. Most folks want to know what they’ll be doing and when. But even so, we rarely plan things for park opening.

    So, I suppose I’ve become one of those easy going tourists over time. I’d much rather have a restful trip than a hectic one.

    • We’ve become more laid back as we are able to visit more often. I definitely understand the concrete planning you have to do when traveling with a large group, though. We had a group of 20+ this past December, and it’s so much easier when things are planned in advance and guests can decide how to fit events into their day.

  • lionheartkc

    I’ve found that the best way to do it is commando for food and carefree for everything else, but be flexible. If you are enjoying something and don’t want to leave it, cancel a food reservation and graze at a counter service that day. Also, if you see a restaurant that you didn’t plan, but want to try, rearrange a little so you can at some point during your trip.

    If I’m traveling with newbies, I will commando specific rides and such that I know they want to get accomplished, but commandoing everything tends to just burn everyone out.

    • This is us almost exactly!! We plan our days to plan our dining. We have an idea of what we want to do for the day and know that we’ll have to be there early if we want to do the headliners with minimal waits, but other than that, we take it easy. I do like rope drop or close to it, though, especially with newbies.

    • daliseurat

      I’ve done the route as well. Works really well.

  • StevenW

    If you don’t go all the time, it is best to go when it isn’t busy. I found September to be the best time. It still has summer weather without the crowds. The rides haven’t gone down for maintenance.

    I dislike commando. I haven’t done that a long time. Luckily, Disney World has gone downhill. The rides don’t have the “must do” imperative anymore. It is an excuse to take a more leisurely approach to the park and rides.

    • Yes! When possible, I always suggest friends and clients avoid peak season. Although it’s not always an option, it makes for a much easier trip, I think.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Since I’m a regular visitor, I’ve transitioned from going commando to just winging it. Only thing I’ll plan in advance is what park I’ll initially visit, but even then, sometimes it changes at the very last second. I pretty much exclusively eat at the counter service restaurants unless it’s a very special occasion. I eat when I’m hungry, not when a reservation says it’s time to eat. It’s also cheaper for the most part. I do make time to see the characters, but I usually decide as I’m walking by if I want to see that particular character or not. Overall, I never know what I’m going to do at whatever park I’m at until it happens. Sometimes it’s those unexpected, spur of the moment decisions that make the most amazing memories.

    • Your last sentence is so true! We had one of our most magical moments after an unscheduled dinner at Animal Kingdom once. Love those!

  • Big D

    My family used to go a little bit commando when I was a kid, but after working there for three years I realized that carefree is the only way to go. There are so many awesome little touches that you miss if you’re not open to them. I loved the Side Street Strutters in New Orleans Square, and the Laughing Stock Co in Frontierland. I always enjoyed the college band in the summer time that would play in Towne Square. I also realized that a long leisurely meal in a themed restaurant like the French Market, Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port, or the Plaza Inn is really nice. I feel bad for the commandos and think they must not enjoy the park that much when it gets to the end of the day and they didn’t check everything off of their list.

    • I’m with you on the lingering at meals. Especially when we have a nice view. Sometimes we just love grazing and watching the guests walk past, taking in the sights and sounds of everything. Really makes for an enjoyable meal.