By Carlye Wisel
January 29, 2020
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Matt Stroshane/Courtesy of Disney

If you’ve endured sweaty and stressful theme park visits in your life, it’s time to block them out, because that nightmare is long gone. At Walt Disney World, everybody — yes, everybody! — gets to skip the line. You’re guaranteed to practically hop on roller coasters, slip into reserved seats, and even board nostalgic gems like Dumbo without a wait, if you know how to master the FastPass+ virtual line system.

You can’t take advantage of FastPass+ without park admission, so if you don’t have tickets for your visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom or even Epcot at least 60 days in advance, you’re doing it wrong. No, it’s not a ploy to get you to fork up money early — it’s because everyone gets the same opportunity to book these magical line-skipping entries, and there aren’t enough great ones to go around.

There’s an art to building a Disney schedule, and lucky for you, we’ve distilled it into a simple play-by-play guide addressing all of your concerns. You’ll live like an MVP and feel like a VIP, all from mastering one simple skill. Here’s the expert approach for taking your Disney vacation from fine to freaking extraordinary with the help of FastPass+ mastery:

What is FastPass+?

FastPass+ is a digital ticketing system that allows every ticket holder the opportunity to “skip-the-line” on three select attractions at one park per day. All forms of admission include the same amount of FastPasses, and they are completely free. It’s a miraculous invention that has made navigating Walt Disney World a lot easier, if you know how to correctly use it.

How does it work?

Unlike at Disneyland, you can grab these skip-the-line entries well in advance — 60 days before the first day of your visit if you stay at Disney-operated or affiliated hotels, 30 days for everyone else. The earlier you can pull them the better, as ideal times and popular rides run out quickly, with limited availability day-of. Be sure to link your tickets and reservations to a My Disney Experience account to book FastPass+ in advance. A ride enabled with FastPass+ is still open to the general public, but operates with two separate lines — a lengthier standby queue, as well as a FastPass+ only queue.

Can I get extra Fastpasses?

Yes! After each park guests uses their allotted 3 FastPasses, they can grab one at a time for any Walt Disney World park until closing or all passes have been reserved, whichever comes first. (Insider tip: to book this “fourth” FastPass+, you must have three booked at the first park; if you only want to ride two attractions there, book a third and simply don’t board the ride.) These, too, are complimentary; additional FastPasses are not available for purchase. Book these additional reservations in-person at park kiosks, or more seamlessly through the downloadable Walt Disney World app.

What time do you recommend booking FastPass+ for?

It depends. Since dining reservations can be booked up to 180 days in advance, chances are you’ll already have some items in your schedule to work around. Still, the best time is mid-morning, which allows for early risers to sneak in a few quick rides before standby wait times swell, and leave enough time leftover to book multiple one-at-a-time additional FastPasses.

Which rides should I FastPass+ at each park?

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight are the most in-demand at Magic Kingdom, while Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey take top billing at Animal Kingdom. Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios each have tiered FastPass+ reservation systems, which offer one choice from a first category and two choices from a second category. Animal Kingdom’s top tier includes both Pandora — The World of Avatar attractions, so opt for Flight of Passage if you can, as it’s one of the most in-demand rides across all of Walt Disney World. Only two choices are offered in Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ first tier — Slinky Dog Dash and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — both of which are worthy choices, but our pick would be the “Toy Story”-themed family coaster. At Epcot, choose Frozen Ever After in the first category if it’s available, otherwise select Test Track or Soarin’. (Additional one-at-a-time FastPasses for the latter two will likely be available in the early evening, but won’t be for Frozen.)

What attractions aren’t worth FastPass+?

At Magic Kingdom, Mad Tea Party and The Barnstormer don’t typically clock long waits. Neither does Living With The Land at Epcot, It’s Tough to be a Bug! at Animal Kingdom, or Muppet*Vision3D at Hollywood Studios. If you’ll be spending the full day in the parks, avoid reserving a FastPass+ for nighttime shows. It’s tempting to save those seats, but evening reservations will make you ineligible for those extra one-at-a-time passes, thus locking you into a longer day of waiting in line. It’s better to arrive early to shows like Fantasmic! than to forgo extra FastPasses throughout the day.

Should I FastPass+ princess meet-and-greets?

It depends. Characters and royals can be met at themed dining locations, pop-up outposts throughout the parks and in more formal attraction locations, some of which offer FastPass+. Belle, for example, has an extremely detailed meet-and-greet experience in her famed yellow gown in Magic Kingdom that has FastPass+, but she also greets guests throughout the day in a quicker, more casual outdoor setting at Epcot’s France pavilion. If your child is set on meeting a certain character or you’re hoping to make a family Christmas card from it, book the nicer location, otherwise play it by ear. Still, not all character meets are created equal.

Mickey Mouse meets guests at Magic Kingdom’s Town Square Theatre in a dapper magician outfit, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in his “Fantasia” costume, and at Animal Kingdom’s Adventurers Outpost in safari wares; all three offer FastPass+. If you want to meet Mickey in his classic costume, head to the standby line at his new meet-and-greet at Epcot’s Imagination Pavillion. Still, if you’re a thrill-seeking family, consider booking a character dining experience to alleviate the entire choice and get on more rides more quickly when you’re in the park.

I can’t get a FastPass+ for the ride I need! What do I do?

Don’t panic! There are plenty of alternative options for grabbing them. FastPass+ return windows cannot overlap with each other, so if you’re struggling to find availability, try adjusting your other time slots to see if something pops up. If you have a larger group, see if you can split their bookings up for separate but similar times. (For example, a split group with one return time between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and another between 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. can still ride together in that half-hour window.) Walt Disney World has also begun offering Early Morning Magic and After Hours ticketed events, which offer additional paid access to popular attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Whatever you do, constantly check back. People’s plans often change, and you may get lucky!

I’m all set! Is there anything else I should know?

The name of the game is skipping out on lines, so pay attention while you’re there. You can always change your FastPass+ reservations on the fly from the app, so if you see the wait time for the attraction you’re about to board is less than 15 minutes, consider rebooking for a different ride with a longer line. More rides, more fun, more memories — now that’s how a Disney vacation is done.