On an Orlando vacation, time equals money. If you pay $75 for a single-day admission to Disney, Universal or Sea World, you shell out 44¢ per minute for a family of four, $26.60 per hour, and $300 per day. Every second counts.
On the one hand, you don’t want to turn a vacation into a NASCAR time trial; on the other hand, you don’t want to waste money. Here are time-management tips that don’t involve a stopwatch or a Blackberry:
1. Don’t follow the crowd, part one: Every Disney guide offers the following advice to save time: Always go left. It’s been repeated so often that no one questions its truth, and everyone assumes that each ride with two lines has been designed with the left side a bit shorter. But most rides don’t have a left-right option; and if they do, left is rarely better. In most cases, both lines cross the same distance and, in some cases, the “shorter” line to the left is also the one used to board “Fast Pass” riders who enter from a different queue.
Better advice: People follow a herd instinct and if 20 people head left, the 50 people behind them head left. Raise your chances of picking the shorter line by breaking away from the crowd. If it appears empty, remember that Disney leaves nothing to chance. If a side isn’t open, it will be chained off. If it’s not chained off, it’s open.
2. Don’t follow the crowd, part two: If eating a fast-food lunch, pick the short line, which sometimes has no one in it. At Disney, cashiers take orders from both sides of the register, alternating left and right. Many times, the cashier on the far right or far left has a single line on the inside. Walk proudly to the front on the far side with no tourists. The cashier may take a second order from the other side, noting guiltily that they’ve been waiting longer, but she’ll then turn to you.
3. Arrive early and stay late: Lines start the day shortest and end the day shorter than mid-afternoon. As a rule of thumb, ride the ones you’ve heard of –Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, etc. in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, for example – early or late. Save less popular rides you rarely hear about – Carousel of Progress, Enchanted Tiki Room, for example – for a busy afternoon.
4. Use Fast Passes at Disney. At Disney parks, the Fast Pass is your friend. Give all admission tickets to the healthiest member of your party and immediately send him/her to the ride you want to enjoy most. Two hours later – even if you haven’t used the first Fast Pass yet – send him/her to the next favorite ride. (Every Fast Pass tells you when you’re eligible for another Fast Pass. The general rule is every two hours or the effective time of your current Fast Pass if it’s less than two hours.) Quick and constant use of the Fast Pass system not only grants you access to an E-ticket ride, it also gives you a wonderful feeling of superiority as you pass the long line of frustrated tourists who failed to master the Fast Pass system and are now waiting 90 minutes to ride Splash Mountain.
5. Pay more at Universal. This is America, and the rich get special privileges. If rich, buy a Universal Express pass and skip the lines at Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure. Express Pass works like Disney’s Fast Pass but without pretending that every visitor is special. In slow seasons, the ticket upgrade costs about $26 above-and-beyond the general admission price for a one-day, two-park pass; in the busiest season, it costs about $53 more. By offering four different Express Pass prices based on season of the year, Universal has gauged visitor inconvenience and put a price tag on the desire to avoid it. Or, alternately, stay at a Universal hotel and get the Express pass as an included perk.
6. Do a small amount of planning before you arrive. You don’t want to run back and forth across the park 20 times, so pinpoint a few major rides to hit first and try to time Fast Pass rides for the approximate time you’ll be in that section.
7. Don’t park hop. It’s exhausting. Disney and Universal both offer passes (for more money) that allow you to do two parks in one day, or even all four Disney parks. It’s a misnomer to call it a park “hop” though. There’s no hopping. If you decide to leave Disney’s Animal Kingdom at noon to spend the rest of the day in the Magic Kingdom, it will take at least 45 minutes from the time you leave until you pass through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, assuming you drive your car – and half that time will be spent walking. Taking a connecting bus may cut down on some walking, but not much – and you’ll have to wait for the bus.
8. Take a break. You paid $75 to get in and, for that kind of cash, you’ll be there from 9 a.m. to midnight to get your money’s worth. Uh huh. Refer back to the “wear good shoes” description of physical exercise. If possible, take a two-hour break in the afternoon. Eat at a nearby resort restaurant, or take a swim if your hotel is close enough. You’ll probably sit in a chair and fall asleep out of pure exhaustion. That’s good.
9. Make reservations. Full-service Disney restaurants can be booked ahead of time by calling (407) WDW-DINE. For Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, call reservations at (407) 224-4012. At Sea World, make a reservation when you arrive for the day.
10. Develop your conversational skills. You’re going to spend hours elbow-to-elbow with loved ones as you wait to ride. This is the time to pump the kids for information on what they do when Mom and Dad aren’t around.
Don’t ruin your Orlando vacation: 8 tips