How do I get the most out of Disney World in a day? Tried and true tips for first trips

·6 min read

Some people have it all figured out, even when it comes to visiting theme parks.

Walt Disney World posts its hours of operation online, but for many fans, showing up when the parks open is already too late because lots of other guests will already be inside, ahead of them for rides.

Knowing when to arrive, what to pack and how to save helps maximize any day at the parks.

Longtime visitors learned these kinds of tips and tricks the hard way, but here is how first-timers can make the most of every moment at the "Most Magical Place on Earth."

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Cinderella Castle got a pink makeover for Walt Disney Word's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Cinderella Castle got a pink makeover for Walt Disney Word's 50th anniversary celebrations.

1. Arrive early

The first guests in each park get the shortest lines and can often squeeze in multiple rides while everyone else is still making their way in. There are two ways to do this, and both involve arriving at park entrances before official opening times.

The first option requires staying on Walt Disney World property. Resort guests get early theme park entry and can enjoy attractions 30 minutes before everyone else. Additionally, on select nights, guests at deluxe resorts get extended evening hours at certain parks after they close to the general public.

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The second option is rope dropping. Guests can make their way through security and into the parks before opening, but they only go so far. They can't ride any rides early, but they can still beat the crowds arriving after the park officially opens. This is also a great chance to take photos.

Either way, it's important to factor in extra time to get to the entrance, particularly for Magic Kingdom because the parking lot is across a lake. Most guests can only get to Magic Kingdom by monorail, ferry, water taxi or shuttle. However, guests of Disney's Contemporary Resort can walk over.

2. BYOB (as long as it's nonalcoholic)

Unlike some theme parks, Disney World allows guests to bring in outside food and nonalcoholic drinks.

While iconic Disney treats like Dole Whip can't be found elsewhere and are worth savoring, packing snacks or even a whole meal can save a lot of money.

Keeping a reusable water bottle handy is especially important for staying hydrated as guests go, go, go. Those can be refilled with ice water for free anywhere fountain drinks are sold.

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3. Pack ponchos, cooling towels and sunscreen

Florida lives up to its Sunshine State nickname much of the year. It gets hot! But it also rains a lot.

Cheap pocket-size ponchos and cooling towels, which can be purchased at discount stores back home, take up very little space and keep guests moving along rain or shine.

Sunscreen will also be cheaper to buy at home than in the park. Reapplying regularly will keep vacations from being ruined by sunburns.

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4. Bring a power bank for smartphones

Whether taking photos, browsing through Disney Genie, or killing time while in line for a ride, it's easy to drain smartphone batteries during a day at the parks. There are limited places for guests to plug in their chargers. They can buy power banks in the parks, but it's cheaper and easy to bring one from home.

5. Wear that fanny pack

It's a good thing fanny packs came back in style because they're a convenient, hands-free way to carry essentials around the parks. No need to worry about things falling out of pockets on rides. Also unlike most bags, fanny packs won't strain shoulders or backs after a long day.

Some people do still prefer to carry sling-style bags, drawstring bags and backpacks, which can be especially helpful for families with young children.

6. Make advance dining reservations and mobile orders before hunger strikes

Guests who have their hearts set on specific sit-down restaurants at the parks should book as soon as possible. Reservations open up 60 days in advance. If a specific venue is booked solid, guests should routinely check back, especially closer to the day of their visit when there might be cancellations.

For guests who prefer to grab and go, mobile ordering is available through the My Disney Experience app at quick-service eateries across the parks, but pickup windows may be limited by demand at certain times of day. Guests should put in orders early to get the widest selection of pickup times.

7. Use strollers

All four Disney World parks are big and spread out. For every step an adult takes, young children take even more. Even if little ones may have stopped using strollers regularly at home, it may be worth bringing or renting a stroller for the parks. Those can also be lifesavers at nap time.

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8. Buy 'souvenirs' at home

Young children won't be able to tell the difference between Disney-themed gifts purchased at stores like Target or at the parks. Parents can shop at home to avoid high prices on property and surprise kids once they get to their hotel. Many souvenirs, however, can only be found at the parks.

9. Schedule downtime

Guests taking multiday trips may want to consider a down day in between park days to recharge and unwind.

If that's not an option, take a break during the day by either heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours or simply enjoying a long, seated, air-conditioned attraction like The Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom or The American Adventure at EPCOT.

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10. Maybe skip the fireworks

Disney's fireworks and nighttime spectaculars are stunning and worth watching at least once, but guests who are uncomfortable in crowds may want to skip out. Main Street U.S.A. and World Showcase get packed, and all those spectators leave at the same time once the shows are over, making for long waits for transportation.

Guests who skip the fireworks can easily walk onto rides with little to no lines while everyone else is enjoying the show. Or they get a head start on heading back to hotels and hope to catch a glimpse of the fireworks along the way.

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BONUS: Be flexible

While it's helpful to plan as much as possible in advance, guests should be flexible once they arrive, so their trips aren't ruined when unexpected circumstances arise. Cast members can also help when plans go awry.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disney World: What should I do on my first trip?

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