The Insider’s Guide to Disney

These two Disney parks are a guaranteed family hit. Check out our fave attractions and family tested highlights

The Insider's Guide to DisneyOur resident Disney expert, Tim Johnson, joins together with five families with serious Disney experience – including one who has visited a total of fifty times – to create an insider’s guide to help you plan, navigate and get the very most out of your time in the Land of the Mouse.

Magic Kingdom
Hollywood Studios

General Disney Tips

• Make the Magic Kingdom, the most typically “Disney” of all the theme parks, the very first park you visit — this is where you’ll find quintessential favourites such as Cinderella’s Castle, Space Mountain and Main Street U.S.A.

• “Pick up the “Magical Beginnings Guide,’ available at guest relations. It’s a guide that walks you through all four parks with suggestions for families with younger kids. One of the tips is Rider Switch. If one of your kids isn’t ready to ride an attraction, one parent can wait with the child while the other rides, then switch at the end with little or no waiting.” –Leanne Treu, mom of Austin, 6, and Vienna, 4, Richmond Hill, Ont.

• A Fastpass is a free ticket that allows you to jump to the front of the line, waiting only a few minutes — or not at all — for some of Disney’s most popular rides and attractions. You simply insert your park ticket into one of the Fastpass distribution machines located near the ride, which will then dispense a small slip of paper indicating a time of day (for example, 10:27 to 11:27). Head out and enjoy the rest of the park, and when you return at the designated time, you will queue up in a separate, much shorter line. The time between Fastpass distribution and redemption generally gets longer and longer as the day wears on, and the top attractions will sometimes even run out of Fastpasses, so it’s best to get your pass early.

• Adding the Park Hopper option to your base tickets is a very worthwhile upgrade — it allows you to visit multiple parks within a single day. Costs vary depending on how many days’ worth of tickets you buy or if you buy tickets as part of a package.

• Character meals are a great way to meet all of your Disney favourites. There’s no line-up — the characters come right to your table, shake hands and sign autographs for your kids, and pose for pictures with the whole family. “If you want to do a character breakfast, we like Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. It’s a buffet, and lots of great Disney characters come around.” –Leanne Treu

Fireworks and Parades at Disney

• “At Hollywood Studios, I suggest heading to the popular rides while the early Fantasmic (fireworks and water) show is going on. When we did this, it was great — we must have on gone on five rides within 30 minutes. Afterward, we just walked over to the late Fantasmic show, and there was no line-up for that. And we enjoyed the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Contemporary Resort — we dined at the California Grill, which is on top of the hotel, then walked a few steps to watch from the observation deck. You could even listen to the music that accompanies the show. It was wonderful.” –Carla Nikolovski, mom of Ljiljana, 9, and Julia, 5, Toronto

• After enjoying SpectroMagic (the nighttime parade) or Wishes (the evening fireworks) at the Magic Kingdom, make a quick escape through the shops on the west side of Main Street, U.S.A. — they’re all connected, and you can beat everyone else to the monorail or ferry in air-conditioned comfort.
“A great tip for avoiding the line-up for Fantasmic is to book the show as a dinner package. There are three restaurants to choose from, and this gives you reserved seating in the theatre.” –Dorothy Drakos, mom of Anastasia, 8, and Paul, 6, Dundas, Ont.

• “The fenced-off patio at Pecos Bill Cafe, a quick-service restaurant, is a great place to watch the Magic Kingdom parades. It’s so much better than standing in the big crowd — you get a table, sit down, relax and eat, and then you watch the parade. It’s really a nice spot.” –Brigitta Noer, mom of Brooke, 8, in Nanoose Bay, B.C.

An unabashed fan of Walt Disney World, contributing editor Tim Johnson has visited the Land of the Mouse seven times — twice as a kid in the 1980s and five times in the last four years.

Keep reading for lots of travel shortcuts for your next family vacation.

One response to “The Insider’s Guide to Disney”

  1. 1923MainStreet says:

    Great little post. I like how you got several families to post tips and experiences — brings a rich perspective. I fully agree that having at least some sort of advance plan is critical (it doesn’t have to be detailed by the minute). And with the new FastPass+ and MagicBand technology currently rolling out, things are changing again (for the better in my opinion).