By Guest Blogger Kathleen Thorell

My family of five traveled to Walt Disney World Jan.1 – 4th. We planned the trip only 20 days before going, so I approached it very differently than past trips to Disney. I did not research for months. I did not hem and haw over what days to do what parks. I didn’t get a dining plan. And you know what? It was amazing! We had very good “magical” luck with rides, we ate when we wanted to, and I wasn’t stressed. I’ve been asked a lot about our experience, so I have tried to summarize my info below. 


The Rise of the Resistance: Hollywood Studios

Everyone who has ever had a remote interest in Star Wars wants to ride this. There is no FastPass+ or standby line. You have to secure a boarding pass that will be a number. You report to the ride when your number is called. This is all done through the Disney App.

My tips:
– You will want to be IN the park at opening (7am right now but that can change), so get to the park around 6:30/6:45am if you can and get through security and ticket lines. You will need ALL members of your group who want to ride to be in the park in order to try for a boarding pass. In other words, mom or dad can’t get up early and stand in line while the rest of the crew sleeps in.
– You will be kept in a holding area until the park officially opens. Have your Disney app open and use your own Wifi (Disney WiFi will be slow).
– Wait for the announcement that the park is open and/or 7am and then click on Rise of the Resistance – Access. At the next page, click Join Boarding Group. You will select your family members just like you do when adding a FastPass. (Initially the app only thought two of us were in the park and it would not let me select the other three family members. I went ahead with two, got us a boarding group, then refreshed and was able to add the other three. I think it just took a minute for their ticket scans to go through.)
– Then you just cross your fingers! We were assigned a boarding number and then went about our day. You are not guaranteed to ride even if you get a boarding pass number.
– At 4pm we got a notification that our boarding group was being called and we had two hours to report to the ride.

And I will tell you…it is so worth it! We all loved the ride and we are ages 8, 12, 14, and 40s.

One last tip: don’t ask too many questions about the actual ride. We went in with very little knowledge and I think that enhanced the experience. 



Galaxy’s Edge: Hollywood Studios

This whole area, which includes the Rise of the Resistance ride and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, opened August 2019. Disney spared no expense. From the landscape, to the bathrooms, to the food and drink, you feel as if you have walked right into a Star Wars movie. Everything is lit up at night and it is even more spectacular.

Smugglers Run does not have a FastPass+. You could head there first thing as the park opens, but this is what everyone else does too! Waiting til late afternoon/evening may be your better option. When we were there it was a 2-3+ hour wait from 7:30am til close! But my friend who went this week said they rode it twice with a 1 hour wait and a 35 minute wait in the late afternoon.



Toy Story Land: Hollywood Studios

In June 2018, Toy Story Land was opened. New rides such as Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers were added, and the ever-popular Toy Story Mania is there as well. The whole land is bright, full of toys, yummy treats, and frequent Woody, Buzz, Jesse, and Green Army Men sightings.

Slinky Dog Dash was fun for the whole family! It’s the perfect roller coaster in that it is exciting enough for thrill seekers, but tame enough for the young ones. We had a FastPass+ which I recommend, especially if you plan to head to Smugglers Run first.

Alien Saucers is what I affectionately call a “hurl” ride! It’s saucers that spin and make you nauseous … my son loves those but it is not my thing. The ride seemed very short, so weigh that into deciding whether or not you want to wait in line.

Toy Story Mania, despite being moved to this new location, still remains one of my favorites. The Buzz Lightyear ride at Magic Kingdom pales in comparison. Toy Story Mania is a moving, shooting carnival game in which you earn points for breaking plates, bursting balloons, and tossing rings around aliens. The graphics are great and the shooting mechanism is easy even for the little people.

FastPass+ Hacks

The last time we went to Disney was 2016, and at that time FastPass+ was a lot different. I remember having to go get a FastPass+ ticket at a kiosk to “re-up.” Now everything is at your fingertips on the Disney Experience App.

YOU can only reserve three FastPasses initially. You will want to try for the earliest times possible.

You can SEE your FastPass+ times under My Plans. You can CHANGE your FastPass+ reservations from here and you can select which people in your party you are changing (e.g., maybe only two of you want to wait til 1:30pm to ride Haunted Mansion, but the other three want to get a FastPass+ to Splash Mountain earlier if possible).

Once you have used all three of your initial FastPasses, you are free to get 1 MORE (at a time) for the remainder of the day. Remember you can do this as soon as you swipe your Magic Band or park ticket for ride #3! Get your next Fastpass+ as you are waiting in line (sometimes even FastPass+ has a little wait).

Here is a hack that worked for us countless times: keep refreshing your FastPass+ options until you get the ride and time you want! After selecting the people in your party, you will pick the date and the park. Sometimes your park will not even show availability … don’t be discouraged! Just hit back and try again and magically your park is available. Once you get the list of available rides and times for the park you requested, see if anything works. You want the earliest time you can get. If it is 2pm, you don’t want a FastPass+ for 8pm. Then you cannot get anymore Fastpasses until 8pm. Don’t see the times you like? Hit the back button and try again and again! While we were waiting in line, my daughter did this for 20 minutes and scored us all Fastpasses to Space Mountain! That is another tip … anyone in your family with a phone can do this. We had three phones going at one time and the best option was chosen. We had a family of five, so we often split our party into two people and three people in order to have more options of better times and rides. We still managed to get our Space Mountain FastPasses within 15 minutes of each other.


Other Disney Experience App Uses

Anything you want to know is on this app. You can filter the park or parks you are interested in and find wait times, dining options, and character greeting times. My daughter’s only request was that she meet Jasmine. There was no FastPass+ for this, so I found Jasmine under the characters and saw the listed appearance times in Adventureland. We found her area, got in line, and 15 minutes later my daughter was quite happy! Many people were turned away from the line by attendants who counted the number of people in line. They had no idea the timing of her appearance and the attendants told them to check the app. She had several throughout the day, but knowing ahead of time how to work this into our day was perfect.

The app also helped us for meals. We did not have any reservations because we did not want to be tied down to a certain park at a certain time. But one night we were winding down at Magic Kingdom. A quick check of the app told us that all the table service dining options were booked. But we found an opening at Disney Springs, took the bus over, and were seated within five minutes of our reservation! The app also has a mobile “to go order” option which we did not use but sounds like a real timesaver.



Miscellaneous Tips

  • It’s extremely beneficial to use a Disney Planner. This is a travel agent who specializes in Disney World. You pay nothing extra. The planner earns commission from Disney, so it’s honestly a no-brainer. A few who are recommended by myself and Triad Moms on Main are Kari Barbier and Angie Ware with Key to the World Travel, Laura Slawter from Aladdin Travel, and Amy Collins with Be Our Guest Travel Company.
  • Carry a cinch sack and have the following items in it: battery pack for your phone, water and snacks, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, tissues, money, park ticket (if you do not have MagicBands).
  • Download the app Heads Up: charades come in really handy when waiting in line.
  • Pecos Bill Cafe (Magic Kingdom, Frontierland): my 8 daughter got a kid’s meal for $8 that included a cheeseburger, applesauce pouch, a clementine, and a drink…bargain!
  • Bring flip flops for wet rides: easy to store in your bag and so worth not having wet socks all day.
  • Don’t always believe wait times. We found they were generally shorter than listed. A couple were longer, but the majority were shorter and worth the risk.
  • Don’t go in with too many things you HAVE to do: we all had our hopes, but we didn’t bank on any of them. In the end we rode most everything we wanted to and were pleasantly surprised by it. We felt like we had great luck bumping into characters, finding low wait times, and even had a FastPass+ cancelled (ride was down) which opened it up for us to get the pass we all wanted (Splash Mountain)!
  • Don’t stress about the Happiest Place on Earth 🙂


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