This was our third trip to Walt Disney World, but it was SO different than our previous trips! The biggest change was using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes rather than booking booking everything in advance prior to the trip, and so I wanted to include a few tips and tricks I utilized on our latest trip to help you make sure your day runs smoothly!
We had two big goals for our trip – to not wait in lines, and to eat great food!
When it came to the food, luckily we could book our reservations well before our trip. We decided for the first time to stay off-site at a cottage we rented at Margaritaville Orlando Resort. This meant the earliest we could book our dining reservations was 60 days out from our trip.
The main reason we book sit-down lunches and dinners is for the air conditioning breaks. Florida is crazy hot in July, so it’s nice to have breaks in the AC!
For our day in Magic Kingdom we chose to book The Plaza, and Liberty Tree Tavern. We had eaten at both restaurants on previous trips, and we LOVE eating at Liberty Tree Tavern. It’s a family style meal that is always a little bit different each time we’ve been there, but it’s still such a great meal. I know it’s strange to have a Thanksgiving-style dinner at a theme park, but it’s just so good.
We really liked Jungle Skipper Canteen Restaurant, but we decided to go back to The Plaza for a lighter lunch.
In Hollywood Studios the quick service is just so good we didn’t want to book anything for a sit-down lunch. We LOVE Woody’s Lunchbox, and Docking Bay 7 has great food. We went with Docking Bay 7 – we were disappointed they didn’t open until 11am (they used to have great breakfast), but we had a super delicious lunch and it was so cold in there it was almost too cold!
Woody’s Backyard BBQ just opened in March of 2023 so it was our first time eating there and it was a lot of fun! It’s another family-style meal where you have choices on your side dishes, and it was more than enough for everyone. The restaurant has great theming, and every once in a while there is an announcement that Andy was coming so everyone needed to freeze like a toy! The desserts at the end were good too!
For Animal Kingdom we decided to try Yak & Yeti, mostly because on our last trip I could not remember where we ate before! Wherever we ate it was SO good, but I couldn’t remember so I booked Yak & Yeti which turns out wasn’t where we ate, but it was an awesome lunch. The portions were massive, and everyone loved their meal. I really loved the Pad Thai.
At each Disney restaurant the kids menu offered two sides with the main course, and I heard a lot of people say you can’t get fries with the kids meals but you actually can at most restaurants – sometimes they aren’t listed on the menu but you can ask and they can often include them as a side.
For snacks we had to get the popcorn bucket with the discounted popcorn refills, Mickey Bars, Frozen Bananas and Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches.
I can’t believe it but we didn’t have a Mickey Pretzel! We kept meaning too but would get distracted – I’m a bit sad about that!
We also ate in Disney Springs at The Boathouse. We love it there – the food is amazing! They actually had a rough night with service and we waited a crazy long amount of time and we had our dinner comped because of this. Other than that issue, the food was amazing and we will be back there again some day. It’s one of the best restaurants in Disney Springs, and you can book it with OpenTable which is nice.
The Travel Must-Haves
We had been to Disney in July before so we knew that it would be extremely hot in Florida, and it really was! I really wanted to travel light to the parks, so just focused on the essentials.
We had Magic Bands to make life easier with getting on rides and making purchases.
I had to have my phone for photos and booking Genie+, and I brought this charger along to keep my phone topped up. This charger lasted for days – it was amazing!
I brought along lip gloss, a mini brush, hand sanitizer, and a little bag that included band-aids.
I resisted buying a lululemon belt bag for a long time because everyone had one, but I thought it would be good to bring on the trip because I never needed to take it off – you could wear a belt bag on almost every ride at the parks.
My husband carried three rain ponchos each day, and he also carried flip flops for all of us in nylon shoe bags in case it rained – we did end up using them one day and put our sneakers in his backpack which was awesome!
I also carried this mini fan in my bag and it was a LIFESAVER. I used this thing all day every day. My son carried one too – this was great to keep cool!
We also used Apple AirTags to keep track of our luggage throughout the trip.
Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
This part stressed me out before we left on our trip, but once we got to Orlando it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
We bought our park tickets about one year prior to our trip, and made our park reservations the same day. We were travelling over the 4th of July, so we planned Magic Kingdom on the Saturday before, and on July 4th we were at Hollywood Studios, and the next day were were at Animal Kingdom. We also went to Universal Studios during this trip which could be a whole other blog post!
Our timing was perfect – our Magic Kingdom day was so quiet. We were surprised how empty the park was! We could say the same about our Hollywood Studios day – again it was super quiet at the park. Even the staff at dinner said the same thing – they couldn’t believe how empty the park was. Magic Kingdom sold out on July 4th, so we assumed that the other parks would be as busy as well but that’s not how it worked out and I was so happy.
Genie+ replaced the previous FastPass that Disney had at the parks a few years ago. You can purchase Genie+ as of midnight on your park day, and the cost fluctuated each day. We paid anywhere from $21-$35 USD per person per day for Genie+.
I did wait until 6:30am most days to purchase Genie+ because it doesn’t often sell out, but for the 4th of July I decided to buy it at midnight just in case it was going to sell out.
Genie+ is your opportunity to book yourself in a separate line for a ride that is shorter than the regular line. You have a one hour time slot to go to this shorter line for the ride. For us this meant we didn’t wait for any ride – we walked on to every ride when we booked a Genie+ time slot.
I had to wake up on our park days at 6:30am because once you purchase Genie+ you can book your first ride at the park at 7:00am. From there once your group taps into the ride, you can book your next ride at the park. Additionally you have the chance to buy Lightning Lanes for certain rides. We purchased a Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance, Tron, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Flight of Passage.
Otherwise these rides that offered Lightning Lane only offered a standby line – no chance to book Genie+ for them. There is an extra cost to book a Lightning Lane, so this is a costly way to book rides, but again – no lines!
You do feel a bit chained to your phone, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. At each park I chose a ride I wanted to book first, and then the ride that we would walk onto and wait for as soon as the park opened.
For example, at Magic Kingdom I booked Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for 9:10-10:00am with Genie+ at 7:00am, and when the park opened we walked over to Jungle Cruise which didn’t have much of a wait at all! The rest of our morning and afternoon went like this. We walked to the Enchanted Tiki Room And Pirates of the Caribbean and just walked on the ride, and meanwhile I booked The Haunted Mansion for 10:30-11:30am.
We continued to walk on the rides that we could, and book the harder ones along the way with Genie+.
I was able to book rides in order from where we started in the park so we didn’t need to zig zag around the park. Genie+ allows you to make a list of rides you want to get on, and when you look to see what’s available next they pop up first.
The key thing I used all day was modifying rides. A good example of this was Slinky Dog Dash – I booked this ride first at Hollywood Studios, and when we weren’t ready to ride it yet I could tap the three dots above the ride in the My Disney Experience App and modify the time we would get on the ride. I did this all day long – I modified most rides to suit the time I wanted.
I’m not exaggerating when I say we went on every ride we wanted! It was easier to use than I expected, and we went on every ride we had planned. When lunch took a bit longer than expected, I modified our next ride plans and we were fine.
One thing that did happen that I didn’t expect was that one of the rides we booked when down for a short time. When this happens you get a free extra Genie+ ride. This means you can just walk up to any ride in the park (aside from Lightning Lane rides), show your app to the Cast Member and tap in to the ride. You can still book another ride as usual, but that extra Genie+ ride sits in your app until you use it. This is a great perk if the ride opens up later in the day!
For each park the first ride I booked for Genie+ (since they are popular) were Slinky Dog Dash in Hollywood Studio, Safari in Animal Kingdom (plus the animals are out earlier in the morning rather than the afternoon when they are less active and tend to sleep), and Big Thunder Railroad in Magic Kingdom.
Tron and Rise of the Resistance were AMAZING rides and were totally worth paying for the Lightning Lanes – don’t miss them! We love Flight of Passage so we needed to do that one again as well.
The cost of Genie+ and Lightening Lanes are quite high, but we don’t have any regrets. It was such a hot week that not waiting in line really made our days more enjoyable!
Other Things to Mention:
We ordered Magic Bands in advance of our trip and for Canadian’s it’s a bit harder since they can’t be shipped to a Canadian address. We used CrossBorder Shipping to have them shipped straight to our home before our trip.
Do you need regular Magic Bands or Magic Bands+? We had Magic Bands+ and it didn’t make much of a difference. They are WAY more expensive, and although they make statues talk and buzz and light up during the fireworks, they don’t make much of a difference.
There are VERY limited options online, but the park and Disney Springs were full of different options. It was also a bit of a pain to charge them! I would go with regular Magic Bands.
Be prepared for those last-minute downpours with your ponchos from the Dollarama, and we like to bring sandals to keep our shoes dry. If you aren’t using a stroller then pack light! It’s a long day to carry things around.
We missed the days of having a stroller to carry all of our gear. We rented a stroller for our last couple trips, along with the rain cover and stroller fan for the park.
Any of the Target stores newer the park and PACKED with Disney gear. They have matching family character t-shirts, backpacks, sandals, bubble wands, fans, and all kinds of souvenirs you can find similar to what is in the park for less than half the price.
Getting to Magic Kingdom can be a pain since you can’t get dropped off at the front unless you are in a Minnie Lyft (otherwise you need to take the boat or monorail), so we actually had an Uber take us to the front of the Contemporary Resort. It’s a less than 10 minute walk with it’s own security BUT we didn’t know this usually isn’t allowed. Normally only resort guests can be dropped off here – we were just lucky with an Uber driver who knew the guard!
To get into the parks a bit early, book a breakfast reservation! We had a breakfast reservation at 8:10am so we could get into Magic Kingdom at 7:45am – we were earlier than the resort guests who had early entry to the park that day!
We really love the experience of the Droid Depot in Hollywood Studios. It was our second visit, and it’s such a fun experience! It’s one of the best souvenirs to take home because putting the Droid together is such a great experience, and it’s such a cool toy! It’s worth making an appointment to do it.
If you are addicted to Starbucks like I am, you will find one in every Disney Park – they are a bit more camouflaged, but they are there!
We stayed at Margaritaville Resort Orlando in one of the cottages you can rent on the property, and it was great to have our own space! It had six bedrooms, six bathrooms, and a pool and a hot tub. We loved that we could use the resort amenities, and that Sunset Walk which was full of restaurants was so close by. They also had a great shuttle service that would take you from your front door to the hotel lobby, Sunset Walk, or Target.
There are some other Disney tricks I have on this older blog post here about other restaurants and such you may want to check out as well.
If you have any questions, let me know!
Items in this post may have been provided to me for review, but all opinions are fabulously my own.