In summer and during other holidays, it’s wise to get to the front gates of the park about 30 minutes ahead of opening, partly because you can waltz right onto a marquee ride that way. Try not to leave any park as it closes, when crowds surge and waits for the parking tram become burdensome. Instead, depart early or linger awhile in the shops, which will be open a bit longer than everything else.

PARKING—Each Disney theme park has its own parking lot ($25 but waived for guests of Disney hotels; $45–$50 for “Preferred” spots that are closest). As you drive in, attendants will direct you to fill the next available spot. This is probably the most dangerous part of your day, as the people around you will be distracted and you’re at risk of hitting an excited child or knocking off an open car door—take it slow. Parking lanes are numbered and given names; at the very least, remember your number. Don’t stress out if your row is a high number; at Epcot, for example, the front row is 27.

advertisement

(Tip for remembering where you parked: Open your phone’s mapping app, zoom in, and stick a pin in your location. If you still forget, at least remember what time you arrived; Disney tracks which sections are being filled minute by minute.) You’ll board one of the noisy trams (fold strollers during the wait), which haul you to the ticketing area. At the Magic Kingdom, you still must take either the monorail or a ferryboat to the front gates, but at the other parks, the tram lets you off near the doorstep.

SECURITY—Guests with bags larger than a small purse must queue at a checkpoint. If you are not carrying a bag, there will be a faster entry portal for you.

TURNSTILES—To validate your ticket, you must place a finger on a clear plate. That fingerprint is “married” to your ticket so that you can’t share it with anyone else. Disney swears your personal information is eventually expunged from the system, but what it doesn’t publicize is that if you do not wish for your fingerprint to be scanned, you may use standard identification instead, right there at the gate.

advertisement

ORIENTATION—Once you get inside the gates at all the parks, be sure to grab a paper Guide Map (they're often an inconspicuous rack) if you don't want to be wedded to your smartphone all day. The Disney World app also contains maps, and it lists current waiting times. Cast members carry full schedules of the day's entertainment, or you can ask at the park’s Guest Relations desk (marked on the maps, always near the front; Guest Services, outside the gates, is mostly for ticket issues). The estimated wait time for any attraction is posted where its line begins; this number is accurate, although Disney often pads it by 5 minutes to give guests the sense of exceeded expectations.

HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS—They’re on the maps. Take them seriously. They are always enforced. 

FOOD—Gone are the days when you could amble blithely and decide on a whim to have a table-service dinner wherever your fancy took you. The Disney Dining Plan wrecked that. Now you must plan ahead by racking up Advance Dining Reservations, called ADRs, or risk waiting for cancellations that may not materialize. Having a reservation does not mean you will sit down at that time. There is frequently a wait anyway. If you have no reservations, you’ll be eating from counter service spots.

advertisement


Most counter-service locations (but not the waiter-service restaurants) will allow you to order a meal ahead and pick it up at a designated time. Learn more in our Mobile Ordering section.

Breakfast ends around 10:30am, and lunch service generally goes from 11:30am to 2:30 or 3pm. Prices for buffets and character meals shift according to the day of the week and time of year. Counter service locations, which Disney calls Quick Service, do not require reservations, and their listings can be found with each theme park’s chapter. To avoid lines, eat between 10:30am and noon (lunch) and 4 and 5pm (dinner). Kids under 3 may eat without charge from an adult’s plate, and high chair and booster seats are readily available.

advertisement

PhotoPass—On some of the bigger rides, your photo might be snapped during a key moment of surprise, like during a big drop, and after you disembark, you’ll see the image appear briefly on a screen in the exit area. If you see an on-ride photo you like, tap your MagicBand to that monitor’s sensor to add it to your MDX account, where you can buy it for $15. A few rides (Slinky Dog Dash, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) take short videos of MagicBand users and load it onto their accounts without having to do a thing.

advertisement
Park photographers may also ask to take your picture—they’re marked on park maps in the app under PhotoPass. They’re here for convenience, not value, and they hog all the best spots where you wish you could take your own pictures. Let them snap away; you won’t pay anything if you don’t want to (and they will happily use your camera if you ask). If you’re wearing a MagicBand, the photo automatically shows up in MDX, and you can order prints (or ornaments, phone cases, mugs, mouse pads—you name it) if you fall in love with them. Sometimes, they can enhance the picture with “Magic Shots” special effects, such as Tinker Bell flying from your child’s hands. You’ll have 45 days to make your decisions. Only when you decide to buy does money change hands, and only then can you download and share.

Buying costs much more than it would cost you to make them yourself—5x7s are $19, 8x10s are $21, two 4x6s are $19, plus shipping and so forth—but they’re very good. Now and then, you’ll find an occasion that you think is worth the expense, and the Disney photographers are excellent at what they do. Spend $199 ($169 if you buy at least 3 days ahead of arrival) on Memory Maker and you can download all your vacation photos, including photos on some major rides and at restaurants, as many times as you like for a month. Or just pay for a single day’s worth for $59 (via the app only, and you have to start with at least one photo). Tip: Early in your visit, ask a photographer for a “Magic Moment”; the portrait they take will crop up in surprising places for the rest of your visit.

Sometimes you may send cumbersome souvenirs to the pick-up desk by the park gates, but delivery will take 3 to 5 hours. You can also send them to your Disney resort room. You should make your purchase before noon to receive it the next day. If you make it later, be staying for at least another 2 nights or you could miss the delivery.

advertisement

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.