The ultimate guide to saving time and money when visiting theme parks

April 10, 2017, 7:04 AM · Looking around online for tips on planning a family vacation? All "how to save money/time" articles about visiting theme parks — such as Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, or Disneyland — reduce to these points of advice:

1. Visit during a school day if you can to avoid the biggest vacation crowds.

2. Shop around and buy your tickets in advance to avoid long lines at the front gate ticket booths.

3. But don't buy tickets from eBay, Craigslist, or a timeshare sales pitch. Use only the park's official website or authorized resellers, such as AAA.

4. Consider the benefits of staying on-site versus the (usually) added cost. You typically can get extra time in the park, early access to reservations or even front-of-line privileges by staying in an official on-site hotel.

5. If going to the Walt Disney World Resort, use the My Disney Experience website or smartphone app to make your Fastpass+ ride reservations 30 days in advance. You can get them 60 days before the start of your stay if you are staying on-site.

6. Also, for Disney World, call +1-407-WDW-DINE 180 days before your visit to make table-service restaurant reservations.

7. For any theme park, arrive at the parking lot entrance 30-60 minutes before the park opens, in order to get on rides before lines build up at the start of the day.

8. Consider buying the park's line-skipping pass, if you are visiting on a weekend or school holiday and can afford the cost.

9. Don't buy anything inside the park that you can buy outside the park and bring with you, e.g. sunscreen, baby care needs, a mobile phone recharger, souvenirs easily available elsewhere, and generic mall food-court food. Save your money for unique stuff available only in the parks.

10. Look for single rider lines if you are traveling alone, to save time in queues.

11. Families with children who do not meet a ride's height requirement can use child swap waiting areas to allow everyone else in the family to ride. Ask at the ride's entrance.

12. If you don't have a lunch reservation, avoid eating between 11am-1pm, when the lines for counter-service restaurants are longest.

13. Attraction lines tend to be longest between 1-4pm. If you are spending all day at the park, that's a great time to head back to the hotel for a swim or a nap.

14. If you're not leaving the park in the middle of the day, use that time to visit less popular or high-capacity rides and shows that typically don't have long wait times. Sitting down for shows, especially indoor ones, in the middle of the day is a great way to rest and take a break, too.

15. Never forget that you're here to have a good time. If anyone is getting frustrated or angry, it's time to sit down and take a break. Don't run yourself or your family past the breaking point in an attempt to "get your money's worth." It's not about the number of attractions you see, the characters you meet or the number of hours you spend in the park. Forget all that, and just enjoy this wonderful place you are visiting.

16. You do not need to pay for any of this information, including crowd calendars, visiting strategies, or other advice. There are no "secrets" anymore. It's all out there for free — such as right here, on this list. If you can't find the specific advice you want, just ask on our Discussion Forum and a Theme Park Insider reader will answer.

Have a great time!

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Replies (10)

April 10, 2017 at 7:13 AM · Thanks...Great tips and reminders
April 10, 2017 at 9:28 AM · I'd like to add a couple of suggestions amendments to two of the very useful tips above.

#10 - You don't have to travel alone to use the Single Riders line. Unless your party includes people who wouldn't be able to ride on their own, or you are bound and determined to ride with your party in the same row/vehicle split up and go single. I've never once ridden Radiator Springs Racers in the stand-by line or used a FastPass.

#14 - Taking a mid-day rest at your nearby hotel for a nap or a swim is a great way to recharge, but for some leaving the resort and traveling to a distant accommodation can take more time that it's worth. Universal's CityWalk on both coasts and Downtown Disney in California offer a particularly great opportunity to relax - Multi-screen movie theaters. A couple of hours in a comfy seat watching a movie is a great way to recharge. Yes, Disney Springs has a movie theater too, but travel to that location from the parks can more time that you want to spend.

April 10, 2017 at 10:54 AM · All excellent suggestions, several of which I am actually following for the 1st time. Never stayed on-site before but b/c I'm going somewhere that's somewhat off the beaten path - not to mention in another country, booked a package that includes 2 nights at a hotel, 1-day admission to a theme park and a queue-skipping pass. The package cost the equivalent of $467 USD and I'm not sure whether that's a good deal but there weren't a lot of options.
April 10, 2017 at 11:15 AM · I would add skip park hopping unless you are at disneyland or universal orlando.

The florida disney parks are far enough apart that going from park to part eats up too much of your day. My circumstances may be a bit special in that my wife is in a wheelchair, so it takes us longer to get from place to place because of that, but trying to switch parks means at least 20 minutes to get to the front of the park, a 20 minute wait for transportation, a 20 to 25 minute drive, followed by 10 minutes to offload, then another 20 minutes to get through bag checks and back into the next park. Right there, you've lost 2 hours of your day.

April 10, 2017 at 11:38 AM · Park hopping Epcot-Disney Studios is a 10-15 minute walk, maybe 20 with stroller/wheelchair. The trick is to enter/exit Epcot at the International Gate between the UK and France.
April 10, 2017 at 12:53 PM · Park hopping can still be a valuable maneuver, but will become less so after Avatar opens and DAK hours expand. It used to be that if you visited DAK without a park hopper you were doing something wrong. With an off-peak closing time of 5 PM, you were potentially throwing away 5-7 hours of park time depending upon hours at the other parks. However, with DAK hours extending deeper into the night, DAK is almost worth not hopping to or away from unless you're fleeing the Rivers of Light crowds.

I do think hoppers can be valuable for crowd averse guests. Sometimes you're rolling the dice as to which park to visit on a given day. Typically, you know any park that has Extra Magic Hours (EMH) for on-site guests are going to be a little more crowded, and nighttime shows/parades can give a boost to some parks if those shows only go off a couple of times per week. However, sometimes you never know how crowded a park is going to be until after you walk through the gate in the morning. With the My Disney Experience app, you can quickly scan wait times at the other parks and determine if other parks may be less crowded than the one you're currently in. For the first time or infrequent guests, hopping at WDW is probably more trouble than what it's worth, but for experienced guests that visit frequently, hopping can bring sanity to their vacation. I kinda look at park hopping as an insurance policy if the park I've chosen for the day is a complete mess, and occasionally certain parks are better to visit on rainy days than others.

April 10, 2017 at 8:30 PM · First time visitors to WDW should avoid the park hopping option. The WDW parks are too far apart to do multiple parks in one day unless you have experience navigating the resort. And even if you do, you should plan to use your car to go from park to park, unless you spring for Disney's new express bus service. At $29 bucks for 7 days, per person, it can save you time and make park-hopping easier.

Park hopping is much easier (and cost effective!) at Disneyland and Universal Orlando, where you can walk easily from park to park, and without having to go through security checks again.

April 11, 2017 at 2:58 AM · Robert you are spot on about all the free advice being available. I want to take this opportunity to thank AJ Hummel and other members who kindly answered my questions I posted on the forum last year when I was planning my Disneyland trip in July. Thanks to their advice and tips I was able to plan ahead to ensure I had a stress free time seeing all the showns and attractions I wanted. Thanks.
April 11, 2017 at 9:23 AM · Re #13, in Disney World at the Magic Kingdom, a great way to avoid crowds and have fun without having to go back to your hotel is to take the monorail and go to the Polynesian Village Resort and check out Trader Sam's Grog Grotto or Tambu Lounge, or go to the Contemporary Resort and have drinks at Outer Rim. The Polynesian is better if you have kids--they'll love the seating area's beauty, or you can reserve a space for them at Lilo's Playhouse ($55 per child) to let them wear themselves out that way. Outer Rim is great for nice views and a rather quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the park. Best of all, you don't have to stay at either hotel to visit them, and the ride in the monorail is free and offers a wonderful perspective to see the outside area in all of its majesty.
April 11, 2017 at 7:40 PM · If you or someone in your party has Autism, or any other type of special needs, you can go to guest services and get a disability pass. Since autistic people have much less tolerance for extremely long lines, this gives you the same priveliges as a regular line-skipping pass but extended. You can use it on practically every ride. If you're visiting WDW, this means it'll allow you to reserve more FP+ times, no 30-day reservation necessary (though having FP+ reservations in advance will still definitely help). It's usually valid for up to 2 weeks. And if the guest services person you're talking to is feeling generous, there's a slight chance they'll make it valid for up to 2 months. And best of all: it's absolutely free! Just make sure that you bring the disabled member of your party with you when you pick up the disability pass and when you go up to the ride attendant to reserve times. And at certain parks, you may have to specify which rides they won't be able to handle.

As for the debate over spending some time at your hotel room in the middle of the day during your visit to a WDW park, I'd say the best thing to do is, if you're visit is lasting for several days, instead of leaving MK in the middle of the day, just set an entire day aside for vedging out at the hotel. Trust me, running around the parks everyday is really gonna tire you out. So you'll need a full day of relaxation. Or better yet, since most of DHS is under heavy construction right now, you can probably knock out that park in 1/2 a day and just spend the rest of the day doing whatever.

Lastly, if you're visiting as a local, try to bring your own food from home. Don't worry, there can still be certain days when you eat at the park (otherwise, what's the point of going to Food & Wine Festival?) But nevertheless, this is a great way to help save money.

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