The lazy person’s guide to Disney World and Universal – no planning involved!

4 Jan

We just got back from an eight day trip to Florida where we spent four days at Disney World and one day at Orlando Universal Studios – Islands of Adventures.

That’s right, folks, EIGHT days in Florida at the busiest time of year.

Prior to leaving, people kept asking me about our game plan. I did some online “research” in the form of a quick google check that only served to stress me out big time.

Did you know that you can actually BUY touring guides to maximize your time at the park?

I can’t be the only person who thinks “I just want a fun vacation“, can I?

Since my family doesn’t really jive with detailed planning, we decided to wing our vacation. We like to be organized, but we like spontaneity and it’s ok to be that way at Disney. I promise you. Our main objective was to have a good time and enjoy what we did together, not see everything.

I wanted to leave the trip saying “That was a blast” not “We saw everything except Expedition Everest and I FAILED”.

Here is my handy guide on how to enjoy Disney World with next to no planning.

Jenn’s Tip #1

Get the free guidemap.

Each park offers a free and quite detailed map of the park that has everything you need on it.

If you look at the map of Animal Kingdom above, you’ll see that there are 7 “lands” all conveniently colour coded.  Each land lists the attractions and rides and the restaurants and food places.

The cumulative total of our planning each day was looking at the map, deciding on a few rides we wanted to go on, and then heading to the land that sounded most interesting to us.

Seriously, that’s all we did.  And we were saw most things, during the busiest time of year, staying at the park for about 8-9 hours a day.

Jenn’s Tip #2

Use the Fast Passes

Seriously, use them.

No one wants to stand in line for hours on end because it sucks. I heard before I left that it’s “fun” to stand in lines at Disney because there is so much to entertain you while in line.


Towards the end of some lines there were some things to look at or a video to listen to before going into a theatre ride, but nothing entertains you when you’re in a long, winding line prior to getting to where the line should start if the line was normal.

So use the fast pass.

Don’t be one of those people who says things like “the line is only an hour”.


Who wants to stand in a line for an hour when they can return in an hour with no line? And in that hour see two more things?

Look on the map above for all the attractions marked with FP and you will note four FastPasses for rides at Animal Kingdom (I think there are 11 for Magic Kingdom and around 7 for Epcot and Hollywood Studios).

I don’t actually know exactly because I didn’t plan in advance, but we still went on almost every FP ride at each park.

How does the fast pass work?

Take your park ticket to the FP kiosk at the ride and put it in the machine. A FP will pop out with a time on it (times are also listed on a clock above). If you put your ticket in at 10AM chances are the return time for your FP will be between 11 and 12 unless it’s super busy and then it may be later.  When 11:00 comes, go back to the ride and get on it with no line (or next to no line).  Also, once 11AM hits, you can get another fast pass.


Easy Peasy.

Jenn’s Tip #3

Plan your day when you get to the park

How we worked it each day was trying to get to the park earlier than late (we didn’t rush, but we didn’t dawdle either). We arrived between 8AM and 9:30AM everyday.  I hear that if you are a night owl, things clear out a bit during dinner and after fire works, but I can’t confirm this because we left before 6 each day.

Look at your map. Is there something you really, really want to do? Go there first and get a fast pass. If you’re easy, travel in a circle.  At Animal Kingdom (see map above), we headed over to Dinoland USA, got a FP for Dinosaur and then wandered around doing other rides and attractions with short lines until it was time to use our FP. Then we moved on to Asia.

Later, rinse, repeat.

If a line was too long or if we weren’t interested in the attraction, we skipped it.

Jenn’s Tip #4

Use Rider Swap or Single Rider Line

TJ is 5 and short so he couldn’t go on all the rides.  We would get fast passes for rides and then do rider swap where Dave would ride with Alex and I would stay with TJ and then I would ride with Alex and Dave would stay with TJ.  With no wait.

We never used single rider, but often the wait was about 1/4 the wait of a regular line.

Another trick, if the ride was super fast and TJ couldn’t go on it, we would still get four FP and then Alex and Dave would ride twice.

Jenn’s Tip # 5

Don’t eat at the park.

Unless you have a meal plan, there is no reason to eat the food at the park.  It’s expensive and not good.  Our hotel had a buffet breakfast so we ate that, brought some fruit with us, and then went for dinner when we got back.

The only time we ate was at Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot and it was very yummy, but I hear that the international restaurants are the exceptions!

Jenn’s Tip # 6

Don’t wear matching T-shirts/clothes.

You just look stupid.

That’s all.

Jenn’s Tip # 7

Bring a backpack.

I cleared out Alex’s school backpack and Dave wore it most of the trip.  We kept fruit and water and sweater and hats and sunscreen and a first aid kit in it.

Jenn’s Tip # 8

One present per kid.

I know you want to buy your kids the world, but before you spend hundreds of dollars on Ravenclaw scarves for your entire family, stop for a minute and ask yourself –


“Are we THAT family?”

If the answer is no, and it should be, then look but don’t buy.

Each kid got one gift – Alex chose Fleur’s wand and TJ chose a Spiderman ball – both from Universal, oddly enough.  The kids thought about what they wanted, really like what they got and seem to appreciate them. Also, we aren’t hauling home tons of crap. And that’s nice.

Jenn’s Tip # 9

Don’t see the wand show at Harry Potter World in Universal unless there is NO line at all. None.

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books more than once.  I saw all the movies on opening night.

The wand show sucks. It’s built up huge, it’s a huge wait, it’s about 2.45 minutes, and then you’re ushered into a store to buy wands.  That’s it. I promise.  You can probably find it on Youtube.

Oh look you can:

We waited an hour and fifteen minutes for that and our wand guy was way more pretentious with the most affected faux British accent ever. Ever.

Look at all the time I saved you. You’re welcome.

Jenn’s Tip # 10

Get to Harry Potter Forbidden Journey Early.

Since you’re skipping the stupid wand show, get in line early for the Forbidden Journey.

And if you have to wait 3 hours like we did?

It really is worth it.  The ride was incredible times infinity.


One Response to “The lazy person’s guide to Disney World and Universal – no planning involved!”

  1. February 9, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

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