How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines


Nothing can ruin a good vacation like standing for hours, often in the Florida heat. Although Disney has done everything they can to make waiting in line more enjoyable (or at least less miserable), from outdoor fans to touchscreen games, nobody likes to wait.

How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

Flickr cc: Missy Meyer, adapted by Wandering Educators

In fact, most of the time when I talk to somebody who doesn’t like Disney World (gasp!), they feel the time they spent in line simply wasn’t worth the experience they got out of it. And though I’m one of the biggest Disney fans I know, I would feel pretty cheated if I waited two hours for any attraction, even one as amazing as Soarin’.

How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

But what if there was a way to have the Disney experience without waiting for it? At least not more than forty-five minutes, on the high end. Now, I’m not saying you can do everything – but who can? If planned right, it is possible to make the most of your Disney vacation. 

First off, you and your fellow travelers have got to establish some priorities. Depending on the length of your stay and the size of your party, have each member in the group pick a couple of what Disney would call “must-do’s.” Everyone should be able to get in at least one ride or attraction of their choice, no matter its popularity, and the rest is icing on the cake. The key is to enjoy a couple of main attractions with minimal wait times through a combination of scheduling fastpass+, waking up early, using the single rider lines, and being aware of the time of day. 

You'll need a fastpass +! From How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

Fastpass + allows guests to book their fastpasses a month in advance (or two months plus the length of stay in the case of those staying in Disney hotels). Consider taking advantage of this system, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be staying in a Disney resort and have the early booking perk. But if you simply don’t feel like deciding whether you’d rather ride Peter Pan or Dumbo two months from now, fear not. A certain amount of fastpasses are reserved for the day of. Keep in mind, the fastpass+ system is still fairly new and subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, check out the official Disney resort website.

But, as of now, here’s a few fastpass basics you should know:

  • The fastpass+ system allows for only three attractions to be booked at a time, and these can only be arranged in certain combinations based on availability and time of day.
  • Once the time slot for your last fastpass is up, you may book another set.
  • If you have a Park Hopper ticket, these three can be in a park different than the one you started your day in – however, you must reserve the second round of fastpasses in the park for which they apply.
  • Know that no matter how far you book in advance, you won’t be getting fastpasses for Toy Story Mania and Rock’n Roller Coaster on the same day. So get one main attraction on your fastpass list, enjoy whatever other two you’re able to snag, and rely on other tactics for getting different main attractions with minimal wait times. 

The most important advice I can give is to get going early. This rule of thumb has become slightly less important since the implementation of fastpass+, but beating the crowds still has many advantages. Besides the fact that the parks are more pleasant in the morning (quieter, cooler, and cleaner), much of the year the early bird visitor has nearly free reign of the park for the first hour or so after opening.

It’s important, however, to understand what getting up early means.

Strolling into the parks at 11 am is not early. Ideally, plan on getting to the parks at least half an hour before opening. Crowds will already be forming outside the gates. During especially busy seasons, it’s not even unheard of for Disney to open the gates before the official opening time to thin out the crowds outside. And make sure to check whether the park you’re visiting is holding extra magic hours. If that’s the case, either take advantage of the extra time yourself or consider steering away from that park. Guests who walk in at regular opening time on an extra magic hours day won’t get to enjoy parks to the extent they would be able to had they put in the same effort on a regular opening day. Once in the parks, use the first hours wisely. I’m all for taking it easy and enjoying the simpler things in Disney, like strolling down Main Street or taking a spin on the carousel, but if you want to get a lot done that day and plan on enjoying some popular rides, your best bet is to make a bee-line for whatever main attraction your group wants to do and doesn’t have a fastpass for. Stitch’s Great Escape will be fairly easy to get into later in the day, but Space Mountain won’t. 

How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

Rather than wandering onto whatever attraction you pass, make a plan. Do the big stuff first and take it easy later. Most times it will be feasible to walk on one or two normally swamped attractions before the crowds start to pile up. Later in the afternoon, enjoy rides like The Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico or shows like Mickey’s Philharmagic. These activities are easy to get into, plus they offer a cool, air conditioned place to sit. While other guests are just shuffling onto the back of the line for Test Track, you’ll be sailing the rivers of Mexico with Donald Duck. I realize a Disney vacation is just that – a vacation – and you’ll likely want to relax. By all means, relax! But if you want to avoid spending hours in line, don’t try to both relax and get all the big name attractions in in one day. Trying to do too much only leads to misery. Take a day to sleep in and spend the late morning and afternoon strolling down Main Street, riding the friendship boats, reclining by the pool, or eating your way around the world. 

Being in the parks early, however, isn’t the only time directive to be aware of. Predicting how the crowds will ebb and flow depending on the time of day can be helpful in other ways. Eating is an important example. The trick is to eat at odd times of day. In my experience, 11:30-2:00 is the worst time to try to get lunch without a reservation and dinner at a nice restaurant will be nearly impossible as a walk-in between 5:30 and 7 during busy times of year. Generally, I prefer to eat earlier. Especially if you’ve risen at the crack of dawn and eaten breakfast on the run, sitting down to lunch as early as 10:30 isn’t bad. My family particularly enjoys going to Be Our Guest.

How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

Getting into lunch is actually quite doable if you’re willing to get on line early. Sometimes, the dining at Disney is as much an experience as any ride.

But dining isn’t the only thing to be aware of.

Watch out for parade times in particular. If you’re planning on getting a nice sit-down spot for the parade, stake out a seat in advance. If you’re simply looking to experience the parks as normal, you can take advantage of the large amounts of people drawn away from the small attractions and to the parade route before they flood the queues after it breaks, but be careful not to get stuck between corded-off streets. 

Find the perfect spot to watch the parade. From How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

Finally, there’s always the single rider line for certain attractions. It’s a wonderful thing, especially since it is usually provided as an option on roller coasters, which aren’t exactly conducive to chit chat anyway. For those who aren’t familiar, the single rider line allows a person or group of people to wait on a separate line much shorter than the main one, provided they’re willing to get paired up with strangers. This is how Disney fills in the gaps for groups with odd numbers rather than letting empty seats go by. It should be noted that technically, as all Disney cast members will tell you if you ask after the single rider wait time, the single rider line is not guaranteed to move quicker and may in fact take longer than the regular line. But I have never once experienced this. My experiences on single rider have ranged from virtually walking on to waiting at most an hour. Generally it’s not too hard to gauge the length and pace of the line by standing on it for a few minutes and then making a call whether to stay or go. Quick tip: when in doubt, get on the line. If your group can’t make up their minds where to go next, get on line and then talk. If it’s a long line, you’ll have plenty of time to weigh your options and you can always leave. If it’s short, you all just got a free ride. This doesn’t apply just to single rider lines, it’s better to work out a plan in an air conditioned queue than to stand debating just outside an attraction as the line piles up in front of you. 

Here’s a quick illustration of a sample day:

Let’s say there are four members in my party and we’re spending a day in Hollywood Studios. We’ve decided that between the four of us we want to ride Toy Story Mania, Rock’n Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror, have a nice lunch at the Primetime Café, and head back to our room at the Pop Century resort for an afternoon nap. We’ve managed to arrange ahead of time for a Muppets 3D fastpass at 8:15, a Tower of Terror fastpass at 12:30, and a Star Tours fastpass at 3.  The park opens at 8. Here’s how to get it done. We leave the hotel at 6:45, leaving plenty of time to catch a bus and gather outside the park gates. By 7:50 the park attendants start scanning tickets and we find ourselves in the park by 8. We take a calm, collected, but brisk walk directly to Toy Story Mania. By the time we get there, the wait time reads an hour, but it actually takes about 40 minutes to get to the front. By the time we’re off, there’s just enough time to make it to Muppets before our fastpass runs out, but there’s no need to rush since most times of the year the Muppet show is a fairly short wait and it wasn’t a priority for any family member. 

How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines

So we walk on over to the Rock’n Roller Coaster and decide to try single rider rather than stand for the 45 minute wait listed above (by now the Toy Story Mania wait may well have climbed to two hours). 

Rock'n Roller Coaster. From How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines
Flickr cc: Jamie Ferguson

30 minutes later, we’ve had a great time with Aerosmith, we’ve gotten two major attractions under our belt, and it’s not yet 10 o’clock. We decide to try for a Star Tours since we’d rather be back at the hotel by 3, and if not we can always change our minds and hop on Star Tours again. By the time we’re done, it’s 10:30 and we begin to walk over to the Primetime. Once there, we’re asked to wait in the 1950’s living room in the front until our spot opens up. We enjoy a nice lunch and are “back on the streets” before 12. We decide to stroll through the One Man’s Dream exhibit and then take a leisurely walk over to Tower of Terror for our fastpass.

Tower of Terror. From How to Do Disney - Without the Endless Lines
Flickr cc: Hazel Estrada 

20 minutes and several screams later, we leave the park, pausing to indulge in a candy apple on the way out. We then go back to the hotel to rest and go for a little swim, leaving the rest of the evening to enjoy a stroll through the parks, watching the parades or hopping on less popular rides as the opportunity arises. 

Now clearly this is a situation in which everything went right which is not always the case on a family vacation, I’ll admit. Still, with a little planning, it’s perfectly possible to fit in a couple of big rides and a nice meal and leave the afternoons for casual exploration. 



Kathryn Blanco, a life-long Disney fanatic, is the Disney Editor for Wandering Educators. She loves Disney, and her website,, is a way to share how to bring your Disney experiences home with you.



All photos courtesy and copyright Kathryn Blanco, except where noted