Our last family vacation in Disney World definitely left us with countless pixie-perfect memories, but nearly all of them were achieved after a not as magical wait in line.
Contrary to the advertising that shows families running around a nearly empty Main Street, USA, nearly all Disney magic follows the same process: find the experience you want, walk to it, then wait to ride it, greet it, buy it, or eat it. And that’s once you’re already in the parks.
To get to the park in the first place, you will likely drive or take the bus or monorail, all of which involve waiting. Then, to get inside the park, you have to go through security as well as wait to scan your MagicBand or park ticket.
For my family, that meant by the time we entered the park, we had already waited for a bus, waited for the bus to arrive at the park, and waited to get through security and scanned our MagicBands. And though waiting is a fact of life and true of most other dining and shopping experiences outside of Disney World, waiting in Disney often happens alongside a lot of walking and very hot weather.
This can make even the most excited fan lose their cool. For younger Disney fans or Disney fans with special needs, all that waiting can be downright miserable.
Though FastPass+ offers relief from some of the longest attraction lines, it’s not uncommon for the FastPass entrance to have at least a short wait. In addition, guests can choose only 3 primary FastPasses each day, meaning most other experiences will need to be accessed through the standby line.
FastPass, though helpful, should not be considered a fail-safe to prevent waiting. Mother Nature likes to keep Disney World visitors on their toes with pop-up thunderstorms, forcing unexpected ride closures that no amount of pixie dust can help.
So what’s a Disney fan to do? Follow the advice of Scar: be prepared. Below are 4 strategies to help ensure you make magical memories despite the waiting:
1. Plan Ahead
If you’re planning for a first visit to Disney or your first visit in a while, use resources like the DISboards, the DIS Unplugged, and Dreams Unlimited Travel to get a realistic idea of what to expect in terms of waiting for attractions as well as how to best plan your day. If your group or family dynamics will be different than your last trip, it’s also a good idea to consider how that will impact your plans.
Don’t just assume that if you’ve visited the parks before, your typical plan will work each time. Be sure to learn what’s changed on property since your last visit as well as the changes that may need to happen based on who you’re traveling with this time.
For example, we’ve traveled as a couple, as a large group (with my parents and my husband’s parents), and now travel as parents ourselves. This, in combination with the changes that take place at the parks between each visit, mean we need to do some research and planning to make the most of our vacation.
Though plans are necessary to get the most out of your Disney vacation, leave room in your day for when the unexpected, both good and bad, happens. The best way to do this is to identify everyone’s priorities or must-dos so you can focus on those. It can be tough to choose with so many great experiences but pick the few things you’ll be truly disappointed if you miss.
Doing this can help you decide how to re-work your plans in the event of something like a thunderstorm or ride closure, or if you unexpectedly run across a character meet and greet. For example, Grandma may really want to get her picture taken with Donald near the Mexico Pavilion, but knowing her grandchildren will never (wait for it) let it go if they miss the FastPass window for Frozen Ever After can help everyone prioritize.
Prioritizing can also help you decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate to a specific attraction. An attraction such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train might be high on your priority list, but if you weren’t able to get a FastPass and the standby line is going to leave you waiting for an hour or more to ride, it may be worth considering whether you want to spend that time waiting in line for one attraction or spend it enjoying several other attractions elsewhere in Magic Kingdom.
3. Make Waiting Fun
While Disney provides magic at the end of the lines in which you’re waiting, it’s basically up to you to provide the magic during the time spent in those lines. During our last visit, we started each morning waiting for the bus to take us to the theme parks.
To make the wait more fun, I scrolled through photos and videos on my phone from the previous day with my kiddos and talked about what we did. I also pointed out features of our resort (Pop Century) that could be seen from the bus queue. Finally, I shared the plans for the day ahead.
While plans and photos were distracting to my 5-year-old, the way to my nearly 2-year-old’s heart was through food. Though we used the Disney Dining Plan, I still carried some favorite snacks with me in case of longer than expected wait times for buses, experiences, and meals. A few graham crackers went a long way in keeping him pacified.
I also recommend strategically timed Mickey ice cream bars and Mickey-shaped pretzels during wait times. And nothing appeases the hot and tired quite like a Dole Whip. As an added bonus, a snack like a Dole Whip can even be enjoyed inside certain attractions, like the Enchanted Tiki Room by those (my husband) who not only had to wait to get inside, but are just as eagerly waiting for the show to end!
Lower calorie waiting entertainment can include a game of I Spy, reviewing the latest signatures in the autograph book, or a quick coloring activity (when waiting for meals).
For the bus ride back to the resort at the end of each day when my kiddos were running out of patience, I had a stash of glow-in-the-dark wands (purchased at a value store before the trip) to keep them entertained.
4. Teach Expectations, Patience, and Disappointment
As I mentioned earlier, your Disney vacation will not involve skipping down a sparsely populated Main Street alongside Mickey. Most adults who’ve seen those commercials realize this. Your children, on the other hand, may not!
So last but certainly not least, it’s important that we ensure our kiddos understand that they’ll have to wait to enjoy all the experiences they’ve seen on the vacation planning videos. In fact, it’s a good idea to find some vlogs (like those shared by the DIS Unplugged) that show crowds and people waiting in line to give our kids a more realistic idea of what to expect.
And don’t reserve your teaching for the young, share this information with the young at heart as well. If this is Grandma and Grandpa’s first trip or first trip in a while, share the same information with them so everyone arrives with appropriate expectations as well as patience.
Those expectations should include how everyone will handle disappointment. Sometimes, despite our best planning, things just don’t work out the way we want. A storm, unexpected illness, or another unanticipated event might force plans to change.
When that happens, we need to take responsibility for our own magic by not letting that unexpected change ruin our vacation. Remember that magic doesn’t just happen when you finally reach the front of the line. Use these strategies to sprinkle your own pixie dust while waiting between experiences as well!