Nothing sucks more than getting to the theme parks and then not knowing how to spend your day and then realizing at the end that you have only ridden three rides and spent $200 on food and snacks. While it’s important to save money, it’s just as important to know how to be an efficient theme parker and not waste your time. The more you can do, the more value you’re getting from the money you’ve spent. If you’ve missed the other theme park savings posts, go read Part 1 and Part 2.
Have a game plan
Get a copy of the park map online before you leave home and map out what rides you absolutely have to do and then come up with a plan on how and when to do them. Also make sure you pencil in any shows, fireworks or parades you want to see and work around those times, otherwise you will find you miss everything good and spent your time going from one end of the park to the next and not really accomplishing anything.
Get to the parks at least thirty minutes before opening
What’s the point? Well, there won’t be hoards of people waiting to get in yet and you’ll get first pick of the big rides when the gates open, freeing you up to do less popular rides in the middle of the day. Trust me, once you walk across the parking lot, go through security and make it to the turnstiles you'll wonder why you didn't get there any earlier.
Avoid “Extra Magic Hour”
In Orlando, guests staying at a Disney resort are entitled to the EMH each day at different designated parks. They get in an hour before the park officially opens to the public or get to stay and extra hour after the park closes to the public. With a bit of planning, you can avoid these days and go to other parks instead and avoid the massive crowds at the EMH parks. This worked wonderful for us and we found that each park we hit up that day was almost empty until around noon time. I don’t know how that will work in the on-peak season, but in the fall, it was spectacular and we barely waited in line for anything for the first four hours we were in each park. You can find the EMH parks listed on the online Disney schedules or invest in a membership to TourGuideMike, which will give you all these tips and more well ahead of the actual online schedule.
This can also save you much time and get you on more rides. We generally get one for Big Thunder Railroad, Peter Pan, California Screamin’, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Rock’n Roller Coaster, Midway Mania or Buzz Lightyear. These are the big rides that always have a line. Go first thing when you enter the park and get a FastPASS, even if there isn’t a line, for any of these attractions (I recommend Midway Mania or Space Mountain, because the FastPASSes go quickly). If there isn’t a line, get on the ride, go do some other rides and then come back at your designated FastPASS time and do it again. If there IS a long line, go off and do some less packed stuff and then come back. This works awesome with rides like Big Thunder Railroad in the middle of the day, because even though the line isn’t humungous, there are a bunch of other rides to do that normally have shorter lines, and you can get to three other ones, come back and get right onto BTR and then head to another part of the park.
Purchase the front-of-line pass
Unlike FastPASS, which is free, Universal and a few other parks have the front-of-the-line pass you can purchase. While it’s not saving you money, it can save you a lot of time and allow you to do a good deal more in the park, especially if you are limited on time and can only go one or two days. Universal has a habit of putting all their shows on at the same times and you often have to wait in long lines for them. Many of them accept the pass and let you get there closer to show time and still get a great seat. You also won’t miss them all because you’re spending all your time waiting in line for hours. That’s the worst.
Make food reservations
While this won’t save you any money, it WILL save you time waiting in line somewhere. Disney has a designated dining reservation number for each park (or you can do it online) to book a table anywhere that has waited tables. You can book up to 90 days in advance. This is especially important if you are dying to eat a specific restaurant, because reserved tables get served before walk-ins, which means if you want to eat at Blue Bayou without waiting 45-50 minutes (when you could be doing other park activities), it’s best to make a reservation ahead of time. Try to book your dining a little earlier than regular dining times, like lunch between 11am-12pm and dinner between 5-6pm. This will help you avoid the crowds, both while waiting to be seated and when you finish dining, because everyone will have realized they are hungry, too, and flee to a dining establishment. Woohoo! Shorter lines for you!
Don’t start at the front of the park
95% of park visitors do this and then by the time you get to the big stuff in the back of the park, it is totally crammed. Head toward some of the bigger attractions near the back as soon as the park opens and save yourself hours of time in line later in the day when everyone else has made their way back there.
Saving all this time might give you the chance to take a few hours to leave the park and take a nap to recharge. What's your favorite way to save time in the parks?
Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!