It was true before the pandemic, and it’s certainly true now… you’re simply not going to have a good Disney World vacation without doing some advance planning. As mentioned in number 3 above, you can’t even get into a theme park without having an advanced reservation. That means you need to decide well in advance of your visit which park you’re going to visit each day.
When picking a park for each day, be sure to take a look at theme park hours (when published) and also consider our forecast of crowd levels for each park.
Don’t forget that if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, you can take advantage of the Early Theme Park Entry perk, which lets you enter the Disney parks 30 minutes earlier than the general public. Guests at Disney Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villa Resorts, and a few other select hotels may also enjoy additional time at specific parks on specific nights through the Extended Evening Theme Park Hours perk. You’ll want to check the latest schedule to verify which dates and parks are available during your trip.
Once you’ve determined which parks to attend, you’ll want to decide how you think each day should go overall.
Waiting for Rides/Attractions
When planning your day, be sure to factor in the time you’ll spend waiting for rides/attractions. There are plenty of great ways to avoid long waits, whether through paid priority access such as Genie+ and Lightning Lane, or for free through some savvy itinerary planning.
When most people think of waiting in line for a ride, they’re thinking of what Disney calls a Standby queue. Wait times can fluctuate wildly throughout the day, often peaking in the mid-afternoon. While you can’t do anything about the length of the line itself, you can game the system a bit by deciding when to enter that line.
For your most important attraction of the day, we suggest getting to the park before it opens for the day, entering the park as soon as Guests are allowed in, and going directly to the desired attraction so you can ride it with as little wait as possible. Other tactics to try to avoid the worst of the standby wait times is to go during the afternoon parade, or to go when most people are having lunch/dinner. The Disney Genie section of the My Disney Experience app will also show you a forecast of wait times for each hour of the day so you can better plan your arrival time to minimize waits.
If your trip happens to occur in the months immediately following the opening of a highly-anticipated attraction (such as a new roller coaster), you’ll likely find that you can’t simply go stand in line for that ride and will instead have to use something called a virtual queue.
Virtually queuing means that rather than physically standing in line, your spot in line will be held virtually via the My Disney Experience app. Competition to grab a spot in the virtual queue can be fierce, with available slots being claimed in mere seconds on the busiest days. Spaces open up daily at 7AM and again at 1PM (and again at 6PM when Extended Evening Theme Park Hours are offered). To give yourself the best possible chance of snagging a spot, read Disney’s extensive instructions ahead of time so you know exactly what to do.
Priority Attraction Entrance (Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane)
Many rides and experiences in the parks have a special Lightning Lane entrance which allows you to pay to bypass the regular line and board more quickly. There are two ways to access the Lightning Lane entrance, both of which are purchased within the MyDisneyExperience app.
Most Lightning Lane entrances are packaged together into a bundled service called Genie+. For a combined fee of around $15-$30 per person per day (price varies by season/day/demand/park), Genie Plus lets guests make reservations for priority entrance at more than 40 attractions throughout the parks. Guests make their first Lightning Lane reservation on the morning of their visit and then make additional ride reservations, one at a time, for the remainder of the day (subject to availability). Disney says this service will usually help you experience a quicker load time on 2-3 attractions on a busy day (maybe more on less-crowded days), which can help save you hours of waiting in line.
Individual Lightning Lane entry
Lightning Lane entrances at the most popular attractions in each park are not included in Genie+ and are instead sold separately. The cost usually ranges from $10-$20 per ride (occasionally more) and varies based on the attraction, date, and availability.
If an attraction’s Lightning Lane entrance is sold under this individual pricing structure, it will not be included in the Genie+ package offering.
You can’t actually book your Lightning Lane entrances in advance — they’re available for purchase only on the day of your visit — but you’ll still want to research them in advance to include in your daily itinerary.
Timing Your Meals
Your itinerary should include a solid plan on when you’re going to eat your meals.
Unless you have breakfast reservations for an in-park restaurant, we do NOT recommend that you have breakfast in the park. You’ll likely be missing out on some of the lowest ride wait times of the day if you’re off getting food right after the park opens. Have breakfast at your hotel’s restaurant before the park opens, or just have bagels or cereal in your room and opt for an early lunch.
Speaking of an early lunch, having your meals during an off-peak time is a great way to avoid wasting time waiting in long lines at counter-service restaurants. Dining during peak hours (noon for lunch, 6PM for dinner) means you’ll have a longer wait and you might even have to “hover” a bit to find an empty table. If you do have to dine during the busiest hours, take full advantage of mobile ordering within the My Disney Experience app whenever you can.
Of course, should you have dining reservations at a table service restaurant for lunch or dinner, your time for that meal is set and you just need to plug it into your daily itinerary.
Plan Wisely: Know When to Stop and When to Go
Your Disney vacation will, by necessity, be an uneasy balance between relaxation and over-activity.
It’s tempting to sleep in (you’re on vacation, after all!) — but doing so will put you a step behind everyone else in the park, meaning you’re at the mercy of higher crowds and longer lines. Waking up early and getting to the parks right away goes a long way toward getting several rides under your belt before everybody else shows up.
On the other hand, if you plan to go nonstop from morning to night seven days in a row, you’re going to crash midweek and probably end up losing more time due to the inevitable meltdown than if you had just planned to take some downtime along the way.
Giving some thought now to periods of activity and periods of rest will help make sure your vacation doesn’t veer off track.
Want to know more about planning your day at Disney?
We go into much more detail about daily itinerary planning in step 10 of our How to Plan a Disney Vacation article.