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Disney tips to make the most of your trip without spending extra money

by Staff

I remember waiting in line at Walt Disney World for what seemed like forever, as a kid.

That was a time long before mobile phones, when Magic Kingdom still had the Skyway and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, EPCOT still had Horizons and World of Motion, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was still called Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom didn’t exist. 

Back then, the only way to check wait times was to look at the physical signs outside attractions. 

Nowadays, you can do that and much more with your phone. That doesn’t mean you have to be glued to your screen, but you can save a lot of time and energy if you know how to use Disney’s free apps to your advantage.

Navigating Disney parks

Unlike other theme parks, Disney World and Disneyland still offer paper maps. However, you can also find interactive maps on the Disneyland app and Disney World’s My Disney Experience app

Not only do they show real-time wait times for attractions, but also forecasted waits throughout the day, ride restrictions, and accessibility information for guests with disabilities. You can change categories to find restaurants, restrooms and more. Disney World’s app also offers directions to points of interest across the Florida resort.

The free Disney Genie tool can further help plot your day by offering suggestions based on your interests. This is different from the paid Genie+ service, which gives guests access to shorter lines for attractions.

Travelers with disabilities need a card for accommodations at some theme parks

Finding showtimes and Disney characters

Rides are only part of the experience at Disney parks, which are famous for their entertainment offerings and seasonal celebrations. You can check times for things like parades, stage shows and nighttime spectaculars using the app’s search function or by selecting Entertainment from the map’s drop-down menu. Showtimes may also be posted on display boards in the parks and outside show venues. 

Guests hoping to meet their favorite Disney characters can see where and when to find them using the app’s search tool or by selecting Characters in the drop-down menu. Some characters have regular meeting spots, like Figment at EPCOT ‘s ImageWorks and BayMax at Disney California Adventure’s San Fransokyo Square. Others appear in various locations across the parks, which guests may also find on physical maps or simply walking by.

Disney dining on demand

This week, both Disney World and Disneyland introduced a new feature on their apps and websites that allows guests to book dining reservations across a range of dates, instead of searching one day at a time. You can now see every table-service restaurant’s openings for up to 10 days and filter by parameters like location, cuisine, price and whether they accept the Disney Dining Plan, which returned to Disney World in January.

Dining reservations open 60 days in advance, but you can check for last-minute openings and join walk-up lists in the app, instead of going out of your way to ask in person. If you already have a reservation, you can check in through the app or in person.

Mobile ordering can save time at popular quick-service restaurants like Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe in Disneyland and Woody’s Lunchbox in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. ProTip: Order food in advance and select a later arrival window, which you can adjust in the app. If you wait until you’re hungry to order, there may not be any immediate pick-up openings, and you’ll have to stand in line the old-fashioned way.

Mobile check in and checkout

A growing number of shops, like Emporium in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, offer mobile checkout so you can skip lines for the cash register. In-person checkout is still available if you prefer to pay with cash or don’t mind the wait.

If you’re staying on property at Disney resort hotels, you can also check in through the Disneyland and My Disney Experience apps. You’ll get a notification once your room is assigned, then you can head straight there and unlock the door with your phone or MagicBands. In-person check-in and physical key cards remain available.

What if you don’t want to be on your phone?

Unplugging can be a big part of vacationing, and some critics have complained about having to use their phones at the parks, but you don’t have to spend your whole trip on screens. 

When I visit the parks these days, I go in with a plan and a few priorities but largely play it by ear. Even though I’ve tested the value of Genie+, on most trips, I simply check wait times on the app and decide what’s worth the wait. I mobile order food to save time, but prefer checking in to hotels and checking out at stores in person. You can pick and choose to use the free tools that suit you. 

“Disneyland Resort uses technology to help deliver a great guest experience,” the California resort shared with USA TODAY. “With just a click, a tap or a swipe, guests can use the official mobile app for the DisneylandResort, MagicBand+ and other intuitive digital tools to make the most of their visits.”

If you need help, you can always ask cast members in person or through the app’s chat tool.

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