The most important thing to bring to Disney World
A trip to Disney World should be a magical experience for a family, but it can also be plagued with long lines, short tempers and confusion.
On a family's Disney World packing list you're likely to find: Mickey ears, water bottles, snacks, backpacks, shoes you can walk a half-marathon in, colorful Magic Bands, hats, credit cards, ponchos, matching shirts and maybe even some princess dresses -- and a stroller. But over my many visits to Disney theme parks this year, I came to believe that there is one thing you absolutely must have for a successful visit to Disney World -- and not everyone knows to bring it: an app.
It may seem silly to be at Disney World and see people checking their phones the second a ride comes to a stop, but chances are high they are doing so for a good reason. These days, if you go to Disney World and don't religiously use the park's Disney World app, you are probably doing it wrong.
I'm not a fan of relying on an app for every little thing, but without having and using the My Disney Experience functionality on the Disney World app you are going to wait longer for food and rides, miss out on FastPasses and more. If you have been to Disney in the last few years, you already know this. But for the grandparents, first-time visitors and others who simply don't live and breathe by a smartphone, here are three reasons why you absolutely must bring the Disney app to Disney World.
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You can see real-time waits
You don't have to walk up to a ride to see that there is a 180-minute wait. With the app, you can quickly scan all the real-time waits in the parks, saving you some steps or heartache before you trek all the way to the other side of the park for a wait time that is beyond your personal threshold. Or, you can use the app to see if an attraction is not operating, as it will be marked with a star instead of a posted wait time.
On the flip side, in the app you can quickly see if an attraction (or even an entire park) has lower wait times. You can make a beeline in that direction and hopefully get in line before others do the same.
Grab more FastPass+ reservations on the go
Sixty or 30 days before the start of your Disney World trip, depending on whether you are staying on- or off-site, you can book three advance FastPass+ reservations per day, per person. This allows you to skip a big chunk of the line and usually wait 10 to 15 minutes (or less) to board an attraction.
However, you can't always get your first-choice FastPasses in advance. People change their plans on the fly in the parks and you can often scoop up better FastPasses during your trip. The trick is to keep refreshing the FastPass screen in the app dozens, or even hundreds of times. Some call this "pounding the app" (others likely just call it crazy), but so many people are changing FastPasses while in the parks that if you keep checking, you can often eventually find what you want.
Not only that, but once you use up your three prescheduled FastPass+ bookings, you can also get more on the day of your trip in the app. So, once you use up that third FastPass+ booking, immediately go into the My Disney Experience app and grab another one.
Related: Best Disney rides around the world
Use mobile ordering for food
At Disney, you know there will be waits for rides, but you don't need long waits for meals. On a recent trip to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, our stomachs were growling while waiting for our boarding group to be called for Rise of the Resistance. The line to order food at Docking Bay 7 was quite literally stretching out the door.
Instead of waiting in that line, we fired up the app and ordered breakfast via mobile ordering. That allowed us to skip the long line and order from the comfort of a table. Most of the quick-service restaurants at the Disney resorts and in the parks have this functionality, so you can place your order before you get to the restaurant. (Make sure you link a credit card that gives you a bonus on dining charges.)
You basically need the app to ride the newest ride
Although Disney keeps tinkering with the exact process to experience the brand new Star Wars-themed Rise of the Resistance attraction, you pretty much need the Disney World app to request a boarding group as soon as the park opens (you must be in the park to do so). You then will get a pop-up notification from the app when it is your group's time to head to the attraction.
Technically you can request a boarding group from a Disney cast member, but it is likely quickest to do it yourself. Time is of the essence because the boarding groups for the day disappear shortly after they are released first thing in the morning.
Planning and strategizing a Disney World trip both in advance -- and while it is happening -- is almost part of the fun for me. However, every time I walk down Disney's "Main Street, U.S.A." and look around at the thousands and thousands of people, I wonder about those who perhaps haven't been before, or haven't been in a long time. No one should show up at Disney for a day of fun in the parks without advance planning and knowledge -- or without the park's app.
Unless they splurge on a VIP tour, there's no question that Disney guests without the app are spending far longer in line for everything from the Haunted Mansion to Casey's hot dogs than those who are managing their trip on the fly with a few taps of the finger. Even if you aren't normally all-in on apps, make an exception before your next trip to Disney World. If you are heading to Disneyland, our tips are a bit different, but do still involve an app.