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.
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!
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.”