Photo Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Susan Veness is an international travel writer, researcher, online content provider, and itinerary planner specializing in Florida, Disney, Orlando’s theme parks, and cruising. She is the author of four books in The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World series, and co-author of The Brit Guide to Orlando and the biography Defying Expectations.

Veness has been visiting Walt Disney World since it opened in 1971 and, with a home just minutes from the Mouse, she continues to tour the parks on a regular basis.

In this special selection from her new book, WALT DISNEY WORLD HACKS (available now from CBS sister company Simon & Schuster), Veness shares a few secrets to making your next family vacation even more magical.

Schedule FastPass + Backward

If you’re staying at a Disney resort, or a “Good Neighbor” resort that offers FastPass+ bookings at the sixty-day mark, maximize your chances of getting a FastPass+ on My Disney Experience for Avatar Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Frozen Ever After, and the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge headliners by jumping straight to the final day of your vacation and working backward. Most guests will look for FastPass+ times starting with their first day, so you’ll have less competition if you look as far ahead as possible. Once you’ve locked in your times for a biggie, click “No, I’m Done” when prompted to select more, and try for your next day’s priority. Then, go back and schedule your remaining two attractions at each park.

Have A Park-Free First Day

Orlando vacations often start with an arrival at midday or later due to long car rides or flight schedules, which means getting less than full value from that day’s theme park admission. Make the most of a late arrival by purchasing one less day on your tickets and do what Walt Disney did when choosing land for his Florida parks: put a “buffer zone” between the real world and the theme parks and make your first day a laid-back transition day. Settle into your resort, enjoy your pool, and head to Disney Springs Guest Services if you need to exchange eTickets for hard tickets. Your first evening is also ideal for a character meal; meet your favorites without a long, hot wait in the parks.

Take A Midday Break

When you’ve paid all that money for a vacation with Mickey and friends, the very idea of not squeezing every penny out of it seems unthinkable. However, while taking a midday break each day, or every other day, during your stay is the most counter intuitive thing you can do, it’s also the one decision you’ll sing the praises of when you return home. By planning for time out of the parks at midday, you’ll escape the worst of the heat and humidity as well as avoid lines when they are at their longest. Not only that, but the parks are at their most magical at night, and you won’t burn out before the fireworks begin.

Bring Out The Non-Disney Gift Cards

Those general-purpose gift cards you received as a gift or were given as a sign-up incentive by a company can be a bit of a pain. They aren’t accepted everywhere, and you can end up with an odd balance after first use. All Disney locations accept them, regardless of the balance, so bring them along. Have five cards, each with a balance of a dollar or less? No problem! Scan away until their balances total zero, and pay any remaining balance with cash or your credit card or debit card. You can even make transactions the same way at the food and beverage kiosks during Epcot’s festivals.

Prep Your Cell Phone

Chances are you’ll use your cell phone more during a Disney day than you do any other day of the year. Before you photograph your schedule and reservations to avoid opening your app and using your battery, remove photos and videos from your gallery, delete apps you don’t use, turn off notifications, turn on low-power mode, and dim your screen. To save battery once you’ve arrived, turn off Wi-Fi and disable Location until you need to access your My Disney Experience app. Put your phone in airplane mode if you don’t have to make or receive calls, and close apps after you use them. If your family has more than one phone, turn one on, then switch to the next phone when its battery runs out.

Share The Light

While you’re at the dollar store purchasing light-up toys for yourself or your kids (as discussed in Chapter 2, glow toys can cost up to $30 in the parks), splurge on a few more to hand out to other children during long waits for nighttime parades, fireworks, or shows such as Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom. There is a portion of each show during which the lights will go out and the (expensive) glowing Made with Magic Mickey ears will twinkle and “dance” along with the music. Kids with light-up items will feel like they are part of the show, and it’s a magical way to end the day, especially when you share it with others.

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