10 Steps to Winning at Disney World (or Any Theme Park)

September 11, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

You may be wondering what it means to win at Disney World or a theme park.  If you are as competitive as the Loften family, you know instinctively what it means.  For people who are nicer than us, I’ll explain.  There are two ways to win at a theme park.  The first is based solely on how you feel at the end of the day.  Some people walk away from a day at Disney and feel like all they did was wait in lines all day in huge crowds and accomplished nothing.  They lost.  You win when you feel like you rode what you wanted to and had a great time.  You may still be tired, but it’s a “wasn’t that fun?” tired and not a “I hate this” kind of tired. When you do that, you win.

That's a Group of Winners!

That's a Group of Winners!

There is a second way that you can win, and this makes theme park touring a competition. (Isn’t everything a competition?)  You win by doing Disney better than everyone else.  Example: we had just finished the day at Animal Kingdom, one of the parks at Disney World, and we were on the bus headed back to the hotel.  A mom starts talking to my wife Heidi.  She says that she got at the park at opening and was there all day and only rode 3 things.  She talked about how exhausted she was and how she “hated this.”  We, on the other hand, had been there since the park opening and had ridden the two main attractions 3 times each as well as riding about 10 other rides and we saw a couple of shows.  We win! This post is designed to help you WIN! Don’t you want to win? Of course, you do.  As you can probably guess, in addition to winning, we really love theme parks, especially Disney World.  We are planning another trip soon.  Also, a shout out to Silver Dollar City, which we visit about a dozen times a year–always winning.  These principles will be broad enough to be applied anywhere, but I will focus on Disney, because, you know, DISNEY!

1) Get to the park well before rope drop. What is rope drop you may ask?  It’s the time when they turn you loose in the park.  Most parks have a literal rope or chain or something that is holding you back from getting in.  When they drop the rope, it is time to go win!  Getting to the park before rope drop means that you have your ticket in hand ready to go before the park opens. Not buying a ticket, not in the parking lot, not “we’re pulling in.”  You are standing at the gate ready to go before they are letting people in. Depending on how busy/popular the park is, that may mean 10 minutes before or 40 minutes before.  I highly recommend 40 minutes for any park at Disney.  That may sound crazy but it is far and away the most important piece of advice.  You could stop reading now and win (not against us, but against most people).  If you get there 40 minutes early, you can be among the first 50 people in the park.  If you get there right when it opens, you could have 1000 people in front of you.  Get there what most people call early, within the first hour of opening, and you will have 1000’s of people ahead of you and you will wait in line behind them all day.  We wait once and that is for the park to open.  Fun Fact: we got to Animal Kingdom once at 7:15 when it opened at 8:00.  Saw many of the Cast Members (employees) show up to work.  We even beat them!  Win!

2) Go to the most popular attractions first. This is not the same as going to the attractions that you most want to ride first.  This means go to the rides that everyone else wants to ride first.  Go to where the crowds will ultimately be headed before the crowds get there.  You have some sense of what the most popular rides are, ride them first, then the next popular ones, etc.  Then rather than waiting with or behind the crowds, the crowds are chasing you all day.  You know what that feels like? Winning.

A Good Kind of Tired

A Good Kind of Tired

3) Go hard early. Rest later. Some of you are already thinking that this is sounding exhausting.  It’s not exhausting.  Exhausted is what you feel after waiting in lines for 5 hours total all day.  It’s a good kind of tired to get up early and have fun.  However, if you get up early, stay focused and hit all the rides you can early, then when the afternoon comes and the park is at its most crowded, you can rest.  Sit on a bench and taunt some people.  Go back to the hotel and take a nap.  Go see some of the shows where you are sitting for a while.  I promise if you get up early, work hard in the morning and then rest later, you will be significantly less tired than the people who are sleeping in and getting to the park at the worst time.  “But I want to sleep in on vacation!”  Great, go to the beach.  If you sleep in at Disney, you will walk away tired.  However, work hard in the morning and then take a well-deserved rest.  You’ve earned it, because, you know, you’re winning!

4) Bring a snack. Take water and a snack with you.  Not only will you save money but you will also save time by not going to their snack counters.  Both matter, especially at Disney World.  Furthermore, as you are moving quickly around the park, you will be glad you had a snack to help you keep your energy up.  Also, the best time to stop and eat is for a late lunch.  This way you are waiting less to get your food, and you are still riding when others stop to eat.  You are eating when the park is most crowded and its the hottest.  You could also consider eating energy gel packets that marathon runners use, to make yourself feel more like a winner.

5) Know the park. Don’t wait until you get there to get the map and figure out where the rides, bathrooms, restaurants, etc. are.  You need to at least have a general sense of where everything is.  You also need to know exactly where you are headed first and in what general direction you are going throughout the day.  If you need to look at a map to confirm some things, do that while you are waiting (every so briefly) to get on rides.  Don’t do this:  I was walking, read jogging, across Disney to get some Fastpasses, back when they used paper Fastpasses, and I saw a mom pushing a stroller.  In front was dad with his face in a map.  As a move past them, I hear her say, “You better figure this out, because this is ridiculous.”  That’s what we call not winning.

6) Take advantage of any special touring opportunities. Most parks have some sort of way to get you to the front of the line on certain rides.  At Disney World, it is called Fastpass+ and is available to everyone who has a ticket.  Research this and use it.  It can make a huge difference and lets you ride crowded rides during busy times with little wait.  It’s complicated, so don’t do it the night before.  Start looking into it as soon as you know you are going.  Do the research, it will pay off big.  At Silver Dollar City it is called Trailblazers Pass.  It costs money.  I don’t recommend it.  If you get there early and ride the big rides first, you will be fine.  We paid for the passes at Cedar Point because it was literally a once in a lifetime trip.  My Dad, Brother and I rode 20+ roller coasters in 6 hours.  Hmmm, what do you call that?  Hint: it starts with a w.

7) Have a plan, but make it flexible. I know that most people don’t want to plan vacation.  You want to rest.  We’ve covered that a little already, but planning ahead will make your vacation more restful when you are there.  What rides do we know we want to ride? How popular are they? Where are they? Where do we want to eat?  You don’t have to rigidly stick to the plan.  You may encounter something unexpected that looks fun, like an early parade that you weren’t aware of or a character roaming freely.  Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it.  However, there may come a point where your kid wants to do something now that would be better done later.  Make sure you don’t just say no.  Just tell them that we will be back there later.  “We can’t do that now.  We will do it after lunch.  Remember, we are winning.”

8 ) Research any touring plans. Google is your friend.  Type this “(name of park) touring plans.”  You will find some great information and websites from people who are even more psychotic about this than I am.  You will find multiple plans based on how old your kids are, interests, etc.  We found some before our trip to Cedar Point this summer.  It helped us know what the most crowded rides were and gave us a sense of the park.  It was a lot of help.  Someone else has done all the work.  They are offering it to you.  Learn from winners to be a winner.

9) Get everyone on board. If you are travelling with other people, you need to get everyone on board.  You don’t want to spend much of your day waiting for your friends and family to show up.  If some people are resistant, get them to try it with you the first day and if they don’t like it, they can do something else.  They will like it and you will be the hero.  You don’t want people complaining.  That sounds like losing.

Follow the red backpack! That's where the plan and the snacks are!

Follow the red backpack! That's where the plan and the snacks are!

10) Have the heart of a servant not a dictator. This will be the best way to get people on board.  You are not trying to dominate the vacation.  You are not in a competition with your family and friends.  You are in a competition with everyone else.  Your role in researching and planning is making sure everyone has a great time.  It is the greatest joy for me at Disney.  My reward is the looks on my girls’ faces when they get to see the character they want to meet, when they get to ride everything they want.  I will work as hard as I have to for that reward.  I want to love and serve them and for everyone to have a great time. That’s winning!

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!