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Answer by Tom Nikl, huge fan of Disney World trips, legends, and lore. Author of DisneyDorkTom blog.
- One of my favorite hacks, is more of a planning 'hack', and that's making sure you use crowd calendars to book your visit. Knowing what the projected crowd levels are a great way to avoid crushing crowds during your stay. Undercover Tourist has a great one, here: April 2015 Orlando Crowd Calendar
Always, always, always arrive at the parks when they open (or earlier, if you have access to Extra Magic Hours). You will be shocked how empty Disney parks can be - even at peak time - when they first open. Get all the big-ticket rides out of the way in the morning and then enjoy a more relaxing afternoon. Followup tip, make FP+ reservations only during times that are typically busy. Having a FP+ for a big ride at 10:00 AM isn't very helpful, since the standard lines won't be long yet, anyway. Eat when people ride; ride when people eat. Make dining reservations for kind of weird times (early or late lunch, not at noon, for example). You'll be able to eat without waiting (you have a reservation), and you can ride things while everyone else is waiting in long dining lines. If you're staying on-property, don't bother renting a car unless you really need to leave your Disney oasis. Orlando Airport (MCO) has a free shuttle called the Magical Express that takes you from the airport to your exact Disney hotel (and back to the airport when it's time to leave).When you go to the parks, you're not always limited to just the bus system (or the monorail). Some resorts have water taxis (boats) that will shuttle you from your hotel to some of the parks or Downtown Disney.
- Ever have the urge to stay at one of the deluxe resorts but it isn't in the budget? Disney has a great work-around. Book the majority of your stay at a resort in your budget. Then, book the last one or two nights at the resort you've wanted to splurge on. The morning that you check out of your first hotel, that hotel will transport your bags for you to the new hotel. When you're done at the park, head to your new hotel, pick up your bags, and check-in.
Speaking of hotels, don't ignore them on your trip! Some of the hotels have the best restaurants and some even have awesome "attractions", like the live roaming animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you schedule a rest and relaxation day, check out the surrounding resorts for all their hidden gems.Back from the parks late? Want to just relax in your room but you're hungry? Disney resorts (typically) offer their own pizza delivery service to your room up until 1AM.
- Rent Disney Vacation Club points, instead of renting a room. You'll get to stay at a Disney resort at what will (typically) be a lower cost than renting a room at the same resorts.
If you have a Target Red card, go to Target and buy up a bunch of Disney gift cards - you'll get 5% off with your Red Card since Target classifies these as entertainment cards, not gift cards. Thus, if you can afford to stock up on Disney gift cards, you can save 5% on as much as you'd want. Stop buying bottled water. Every food establishment will give you a free cup of ice water if you ask. Examine menus online before you make dining reservations, especially at Buffet-style restaurants. In some cases, the menus at lunch and dinner are (roughly) the same, but lunch may be a big less expensive. Biergarten at EPCOT is a good example of this. Any essentials that aren't easy to pack and will cost a fortune on-site? Buy it on Amazon before your trip and ship it to your hotel. It'll all be waiting there for you, without having to lug it through the airport, check a bag, or pay a fortune for it on-site. Traditionally, Disney does not offer many discounts on the ticket component but there are a number of strategies you can partake that may help. MouseSavers.com always has some great, reliable suggestions. TicketsAtWork.com may also have discounted tickets but not always guaranteed. AAA members, active military and tour groups of 10+ can also get discounted tickets (through Disney).While the aforementioned are reputable ways to get discounts, always approach discounts with extreme caution. And, never, ever, buy "extra days" from someone who has an already-used ticket. In general, actually, don't ever buy tickets from an individual. On Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, there are two targets that'll help you win. In the first room, find the left arm of the left robot and hit it for 100,000 points. When you're on Planet Z and you finally see evil Zurg, aim for the target at the bottom of his space scooter for another 100,000 points.
- This one involves some careful timing, but one of my favorite hacks is timing a ride with the fireworks, particularly Jungle Cruise. It's a lot of fun being on the Jungle Cruise and looking up and seeing the fireworks in parallel.
- Unless you're a marathon runner, your feet are going to get sore, and, since you're in Orlando, you may be getting a bit hot, too. Knowing which rides at each park usually have short waits to get on, and also somewhat lengthy duration are a great way to give you and your feet a break:
Magic Kingdom: Carousel of Progress, People Mover.
EPCOT: Ellen's Energy Adventure, Living with the Land boat ride
Hollywood Studios: Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Lights Camera Action Stunt Show
Animal Kingdom: Wildlife Express Train
Always, always, always be nice to cast members. If you're having a rough day and approach them politely, they will go out of their way to make you happy.
- When you enter, stop by Mainstreet USA and tell them if you're celebrating an occasion. They'll likely have an appropriate button for you for free.