If you are reading this post, that means you are spending some time thinking about how you’ll tour the parks on your Disney World Vacation. The fact is, not everybody knows to do that. But the ones who do put the time in ahead of their trips are rewarded with a much better experience when they are there.
Ready to learn how to tour the parks like an expert?
Let’s dive right into our advice on how to tour Disney World, both with AND without Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.
What to expect in this guide
There are 2 different types of touring advice that we want to make sure to share:
- General/best practice info that can be applied to all parks, and
- Park-specific info that helps you know which attractions to ride when
We know it can be tempting to jump into the park specific info first, but we encourage you to also spend some time reading through the general touring advice below, too.
Putting together a touring plan for Disney World
Ready to get to planning?
Your primary goal will be to identify which attractions in each park garner the longest lines, and then try to do those whenever the lines are shortest (which will typically be at park opening or at the end of the day).
The individual park guides below will help you with all of that. Not only do they tell you the best time to ride every attraction in each park, they all also have our favorite touring plans for you to use if the thought of putting your own together from scratch feels overwhelming.
Touring Plans, Genie+. and Lightning Lanes
You really can’t put together a touring plan for Walt Disney World without first deciding on whether or not you plan to use (and pay for) Genie+ and Individual Lighting Lane Selections.
That sentence sounds kind of scary because Disney World vacations are already expensive. But, before you get too scared, keep reading.
Touring without Genie+ or Lightning Lanes
When used correctly, Genie+ and paying to ride Individual Lightning Lane attractions will definitely make it easier to tour. What we have found is that the people who spend some time before their vacations learning how they work and how to maximize their purchases definitely find them worth the price.
But, you don’t have to purchase them if you don’t want to. You can do it old school and just use the Standby Lines only.
If that is your plan, you’ll want to follow the advice below about arriving at Rope Drop. You may also have to consider skipping breaks and, just like the early morning, the end of the day will be important too, so the later you can stay, the more things you’ll be able to accomplish.
Here’s the deal, though:
You don’t HAVE to buy Genie+ for every day of your trip – you can pick and choose. And, you don’t have to pay for every Individual Lightning Lane selection.
Instead, if working with a budget, we recommend you prioritize your selections and pay for Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes only when it makes the most sense.
Do I need Genie+ for every park?
In our opinion, you should definitely consider buying Genie+ for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We think Genie+ is worth it at those parks.
If you decide to also purchase Genie+ for Animal Kingdom and Epcot, your days touring there will be easier, but those 2 parks are a bit less tricky to tour without it.
Do I need to purchase every Individual Lightning Lane?
Ideally, it would be nice to buy *all* the things.
But that isn’t realistic advice.
If you don’t want to pay-to-ride the attractions that offer Individual Lightning Lane spots, you’ll typically have the shortest standby waits if you ride them early in the morning or right at the end of the day.
Probably the trickiest of the pay-to-ride attractions to get on without long waits are TRON Lightcycle / Run, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Rise of the Resistance, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
Out of those 4, both TRON and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind offers a Virtual Queue. To ride those 2 attractions without paying for an Individual Lightning Lane, you *must* join the Virtual Queue. You can’t just walk up as there is no “regular” Standby Line.
As you can imagine, since these are new attractions, spots for both the Virtual Queue and the Lightning Lane passes are very, very competitive. Make sure you check out our guide on how it works so that you can maximize your chances of snagging one:
What about Park Hopping?
Park Hopping at Walt Disney World has changed a bit. You used to be able to hop at any time of the day, but as it works now, you can only park hop after 2 pm (technically they usually start letting people in around 1:47 pm, but 2:00 pm is easier to remember).
Even though park hopping is handy, it isn’t always necessary.
Unless you are absolutely certain that you are going to park hop, we recommend holding off adding that feature until you need it.
You can always upgrade a ticket when you arrive at Walt Disney World, but you can’t get a refund on entitlements like Park Hopping if you never use them.
How many rides can we plan on doing per hour?
When touring, we find that we can typically complete about 2-3 attractions per hour. This allows for plenty of time for restroom and drink breaks.
You could do more, but we don’t think it is much fun to race from attraction to attraction.
What about characters?
The parks are full of characters, which means you’ll have lots of opportunities to see them.
A few character opportunities even offer Genie+ now.
We recommend you set aside some time during the afternoon (before you take a break) when the lines are the longest at the attractions to character hunt.
What about fireworks and parades?
Nighttime entertainment is a highlight for many trips – including ours!
We think the shows are definitely worth watching at least once.
But, if you prefer to skip them, you’ll also find that the lines for attractions will get shorter while they take place (which makes it a good time to jump in one).
And, if the parks remain open after the fireworks – which they typically do during busy times of the year – the overall crowds will dissipate as families make their exit after watching a nighttime show.
As for parades, right now, there is only 1 parade (Festival of Fantasy) at Magic Kingdom.
It is a great parade, but oftentimes happens only during the hottest times of the day.
If you really want to catch it, we recommend trying to find a place in the shade under the train station on Main Street, that way you can easily slip out for a break after it is over.
Best touring advice for Disney World
When our friends or family ask us for advice on how to tour, these are the things we tell them.
It’s the advice we’ve been using ourselves for years and years, and even though a lot has changed since our first trips, these core pieces are still the backbone of putting together a great day in the parks.
Rope drop, break, return
For the absolute best touring at Walt Disney World, we highly recommend you plan to rope drop (which simply means arriving to the park before it opens), then take a break in the middle of the day when the crowds are the thickest and the temps are the highest, and finally that you return in the evening for more rides and/or nighttime entertainment.
If you do nothing else, just following that pattern will help ensure you’ll have a great day.
Do I really have to wake up early on vacation?
We get it. It isn’t always fun to wake up early on vacation – especially if you have little ones.
If you can get up and out the door before all the people who choose to sleep in make it to the parks, you’ll be ahead of them in all ways.
You’ll be ahead of them in the line for transportation to the park. Ahead of them in line at the park entrance and tapstyles. And, most importantly, ahead of them in lines at the attractions.
When you are at the front of the pack, it is much easier to accomplish everything that is on your “must do” list.
Conversely, when you start your day behind, you’ll have to deal with long lines before you even get started having fun.
And all that waiting leads to frustrations and unhappy families, and we bet that is something you’ll want to avoid.
Early Theme Park Entry
Keep in mind that all onsite guests and guests at select offsite resorts will have access to Early Theme Park Entry, which allows you to enter every park, every day, 30 minutes before the official opening time.
Do not skip these!
30 minutes may not seem like much, but if you can knock out even 1 of the most popular attractions in that 30 minutes, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Do I really have to take a break?
No. Of course not.
You don’t “have” to do anything, but we think you should, and here’s why:
For most months out of the year, central Florida where Disney World is located is h-o-t. And not just REGULAR hot.
It is oppressively hot, with humidity so high it feels like you are walking through air-sludge. So humid that your eyeglasses fog up when you leave an air-conditioned room. So swampy that you’ll immediately want to shower and change your clothes. ALL your clothes.
Now, imagine that level of humidity during the heat of the day.
And, don’t forget, heat + humidity often means rain, and the most common time for pop up rain showers is the afternoon.
Now, pair the heat and humidity and potential rain with people. Lots, and lots of people. Because the parks are at their busiest during the middle of the day, which also means the lines are typically longest during the middle of the day.
Are you picturing that scenario in your head? The lines and the swampy heat and the crowds and the possible rain?
That’s why we say you should take a break in the early afternoon.
Unless you are on a super-short trip, and you want to pack in the absolute MOST that you can, head back to your resort to cool off during the middle of the day so that you’ll be able to go strong later in the evening and into the night.
If your goal is to take a break AND you want to use Genie+ or purchase Individual Lightning Lane selections, this is something you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re planning your selections. More on that below.
What if I have little ones or teenagers?
We don’t like stereotypes, but speaking from personal experience, there are certain ages when getting up early or staying up late just don’t mix that well.
So, if you’ll be traveling with someone who fits that description, you may have to
In those instances, it probably isn’t the best idea to wake up early or stay up extra late every day. You know your traveling partners the best.
Just keep in mind that the first and last hours of the day are usually the best for riding attractions with the shortest waits, and the middle of the day is typically the worst.
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours
If you are staying at one of Disney’s Deluxe or Deluxe Villa (DVC) resorts or one of the other eligible offsite resorts, you will have access to Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.
This is a nice perk, but it is typically only available 1 day a week each at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and very rarely at Hollywood Studios.
If you are eligible, we highly recommend you take advantage of it as the lines during this time will be some of the shortest of the entire day, plus, since these happen at the end of the night, the temps for most of the year will be lovely, too.