Disney World Hacks from a First-Timer: 6 Ways I Saved Time and Money

I recently took the family to Disney World for our first trip. As you can imagine, the process can be pretty daunting, so I made sure to consult with plenty of experts for some tips and tricks.

The list below highlights some things that helped us save time and money. All that being said, there’s never enough time and you’re going to spend beaucoup bucks:

Get to the parks at least 30 minutes early: In almost all cases, we got to the parks half an hour early and were in the door long before posted open time. In order to do this, we had to be in line for the bus (we stayed at a Disney hotel) about 60 minutes before the park opened. As I’ll detail more below, it took 20-30 minutes on some days for the bus to get there.

Use data to make ride decisions: In addition to the Disney World app, I used thrill-data.com to see which ride had the longest lines and average wait times. When the parks opened, it was easy to determine where to head first.

Bring your own snacks and water and go small with breakfast: I’m a breakfast guy but downing a big breakfast will cost you big bucks. We’d often split something in the morning and plan for an early lunch and dinner to beat the crowds at the various restaurants. You can save plenty of money bringing in your own snacks and refilling water bottles. Soda is overrated, right?

Order food on the app while you’re on the move: We got pretty good at ordering to-go food while riding rides or taking transportation. For example, I picked out meals on the Disney World app during It’s a Small World and then walked directly to a pickup window at Pinocchio Village Haus, grabbed the grub, and sat at a table in a matter of minutes. We also ordered food from our hotel restaurant while we were waiting in line for the bus to leave the park. And one thing to note: Most of the kids meals I saw would be plenty for adults!

Spend at least one late night at a park: We stayed at Epcot until it closed and were able to ride some of our favorite rides without any lines. In fact, we rode one three times in a row. There were plenty of rides we could have walked on without waiting.

Change your dining reservations at the last minute without penalty: This is a great hack a friend tipped me off on. If you wake up one morning and see a prime dining reservation available, go for it — even if you have a reservation at another spot. You can’t cancel a reservation inside the 24-hour window of your dining time. However, you can move it to a future date (at least 24 hours later) which allows you to cancel it. This hack allowed us to eat at the Beast’s castle without being penalized for skipping our reservation at Crystal Palace.

We’re far from experts, but I feel like we did pretty well and had a great time. You know what I regret, though? Not asking about the things I shouldn’t do. For example, the second ride we went on at Epcot was the more intense version of Mission Space. Needless to say, my daughter wasn’t very excited about riding rides after that experience!

A couple other things I thought helped us out:

  • We stayed at a Disney hotel. As first timers, it just seemed like the way to go. Though it was more expensive, it made the process much easier. Now that I have familiarity with the parks, I’d be comfortable staying on a non-Disney property in the future.
  • We paid for the photo pass. Not having to whip out the camera every few minutes was nice, and we had plenty of pics available for quick download to document our trip. Though some of the images were pretty silly, others (like the one on the right) were quite fun!
  • We made a max of one dining reservation each day. This gave us flexibility in our schedule and saved some money.
  • We went to Epcot first. When you have a child who hasn’t been to Disney World before, start at the park that is least kid-interesting.
  • I waited for the bus even when I got impatient. There were a couple times when the bus was running late that I was ready to call an Uber, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten to my destination any earlier — and I ultimately saved money. Shoutout to my wife for forcing me to be patient.
  • Build in pool time. You know what my daughter enjoyed just as much as anything? Going to the hotel pool. We built time into the plan to chill and enjoy. And you’ve already paid for it!

If it all sounds a little overwhelming, that’s because it is! Working with a vacation planner can be a huge help. Jocelyn Warren assisted us with our trip. She was great!

Do you have any tips and tricks for newbies? Share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear what worked for you!

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