Growing up Disney

6 tips on how to enjoy the parks with or without kids

If you were born between 1980 and 1995, Disney was most likely an important part of your childhood. While the iconic brand may have some more competition today, it's still hard to beat the endearing characters and heartwarming stories of happily ever after.

In a stroke of genius, Walt Disney saw an opportunity to bring his magical world to life in a portfolio of parks, which soon became the go-to destination for families across the globe. It's no surprise then that today, millennial parents (78%) and non-parents (75%) alike are more likely than the general public (59%) to want to visit a theme park 1. It's a nostalgia-filled trip down memory lane, whether you're re-experiencing it with your own children or simply reconnecting with your inner child.

1. Make dinner reservations.

When you think theme park, you may picture a burger and soggy fries rather than an elevated table service meal. But while there's plenty of fast food to be had, Walt Disney World also offers a range of one-of-a-kind dining experiences to match their world class attractions. Tables open up 180 days in advance, so the early bird gets the grub. Pro tip: the upscale restaurants are typically located in the resorts. If you're traveling with kids, it might also be worth considering a Disney Dining Plan.

Some of our favorite spots include Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Villas), Mara (Animal Kingdom Lodge), Tangerine Café (Epcot), Rose & Crown Pub (Epcot), Columbia Harbor House (Magical Kingdom Park), Flying Fish Café (Disney's BoardWalk), and Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge).

2. Upgrade your technology.

Before you head to the park, be sure to download the brand new Play Disney Parks mobile app. It was designed to extend the magic beyond attractions and create a more interactive park experience. The app includes themed games, Disney trivia, your favorite Disney tunes, and the opportunity to earn rewards by completing challenges around the park. The in-queue games offer entertainment during the unavoidable long lines and you can compete with friends and family by tracking your achievements in a personal "Playfile."

Another app worth downloading in advance is My Disney Experience 2. It acts as your personal travel concierge and allows you to do everything from make dinner reservations to track FastPasses, and access a map of amenities and attractions. Pro tip: This app shows you wait times for every attraction and offers mobile food ordering!

3. Hack the FastPass.

Convenience is king and the FASTPASS+ service allows you to make reservations for attractions, Character Greetings, and other entertainment up to 30 days in advance (or 60 days if you stay at a resort hotel). You're only allowed to book 3 FastPasses at a time, so the best strategy is to schedule your first three passes as closely together as possible in the same park; once they expire, you can use your app or visit a kiosk to book the next three.

Pro tip: if you're not traveling with kids, consider using the Single Rider Line as an alternative to FastPass.

4. Stay at the resorts.

Besides the obvious benefit of proximity, staying at a Walt Disney Resort has a lot of other advantages. Resort guests are able to make advance dining reservations and book their FastPasses up to 60 days before arrival. You also receive free MagicBands, offering a more digitally enhanced park-experience. Pro tip: These bracelets double as your park ticket and your room key, so you don't have to worry about any key cards falling out of your pocket on Splash Mountain!

Finally, staying on site allows you to head back to the room for a quick nap or some much-needed pool time before braving the park for the fireworks show.

5. Go against the grain.

To avoid the morning rush, head straight to the back of the park and work your way to the front. Additionally, consider riding the most popular attractions when others are watching the parades or evening shows. This may not be an option for families, but non-parents might want to eat a little later or earlier to take advantage of the short lines during meal times.

Be wary of "Extra Magic Hours" which allows those staying in the resorts to enter the park before the gates open to the public. It sounds appealing, but most families are up early anyway and will try to take advantage of this perk.

Pro tip: Disney's Crowd Calendar App allows you to see dates where the park is less crowded.

6. When traveling with kids: make it extra special

Your kids will likely treasure this memory for decades to come, so be thoughtful about making the most of your time together. Plan a "movie night" before you go and introduce them to your own favorite Disney classics. That way, they'll be just as excited as you are to explore Toy Story Land. Make sure to book Character Meals in advance (these sell out like hot cakes!) and call the resort to let them know about any special celebrations or birthdays. Trust us, they'll know how to make it an unforgettable occasion for your littles!

Pro tip: If it's your child's first time at Disney, you can request a "First Visit" pin at City Hall on Main Street.

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1 International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions

2 Disclosure: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC is not implying an affiliation, sponsorship, endorsement with/of the third party or that any monitoring is being done by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC ("Morgan Stanley") of any information contained within the website. Morgan Stanley is not responsible for the information contained on the third party website or the use of or inability to use such site. Nor do we guarantee their accuracy or completeness.

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