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Congratulations! You’re going to Disney World (or Land)! But if you think you can just fly by the seat of your princess or pirate pants without a rock solid itinerary, it’s time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Modern day Disney has a high-tech, complex operating system that can overwhelm even the most chillaxed of parents. Here are 11 ways to ensure everybody lives happily ever after.

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magic bands

Do Not Lose Your Magic Bands

The biggest change at new-school Disney is the mandatory use of Magic Bands. These hip digital bracelets (in customizable colors) function as your room key, your FastPass (or tickets to ride) and your meal vouchers. You can use them to pay for any and everything at the parks, which—word to the wise—makes spending money on stuff like silver sequin mouse-ear headbands ridiculously easy (and yes, we really did need three pairs). Of course, if the bands get lost, they can be deactivated and replaced, but the time that takes would obviously be better spent waiting on line for the Frozen Ever After ride.

disney app

Download the MyDisneyExperience App on your phone

You can modify your FastPass selections (see below), purchase photos of your kids with characters (or mid-scream on Splash Mountain) and adjust dining reservations from your phone as you go. Oh, and there’s also a handy map, so you can actually find your way to Splash Mountain in the first place.

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Understand the FastPass

First: Breathe. Next: Read. Finally, a primer: FastPasses, which are included with each park ticket, enable you to book (online, up to 60 days in advance) three attractions at a single park per day—and, most importantly, skip their long lines. However, there are built-in limitations: Not every attraction will be available for FastPass reservations. Ideal times for popular rides also fill up quickly. The good news? Once you’ve “spent” your daily allotment of three FastPasses, you can then (via your phone app or at an in-park kiosk) book your next FastPass, and repeat. Our advice: Book FastPass tickets for three early morning rides or character meet-and-greets (even if they’re not your dream attractions). Get them out of the way so you can continue to book new FastPasses as the day goes on. Then relax: You have a one-hour time window to arrive at your reserved attraction. So if you’re booked for Pirates of the Caribbean (featuring multiple Johnny Depps) at 11:25 a.m., feel free to get there anytime before 12:25.

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BYOP (Bring Your Own Presents)

Throwing a grab bag of trinkets (stickers, temporary tattoos, Matchbox cars, Shopkins—anything that will get through TSA) in your backpack makes a lot more financial sense than shelling out $40 for Mickey-shaped bubble wands at the unavoidable concession stands that pop up every 20 feet.

stroller disney

Rent a Stroller

If you made it to Orlando or Anaheim with one less piece of luggage, you rule. But you will need a stroller at some point when your little Ariel refuses to flip her fins down one more street. Magic Strollers, one of Disney’s approved rental outlets, will deliver a double City Mini (or a handful of other wheeled options) to your hotel room door.

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Make Restaurant Reservations Yesterday

Cinderella’s Royal Table—the eatery inside Magic Kingdom’s castle that includes a princess photo op and encourages guests to dress up in their bedazzled best—notoriously books up 180 days in advance. And that’s not all: Meals there must be paid for 45 days ahead. (Disney = Hard. Core.) But there are plenty of easier opportunities to dine with the cartoon-costume crowd. Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace and Epcot’s Garden Grill also include meet-and-greets with Mickey et al. And if you’re lukewarm about characters, reconsider: Even stoic kids lose their minds at these magic moments. 

disney park hopper

Spring for Park Hopper Tickets

Here’s a common dilemma: One kid is desperate to ride Soarin' at Epcot while the other is obsessed with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. By investing in Park Hopper tickets, you can visit multiple parks in one day. Slightly less expensive day passes limit you to a single park per day.  

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Arrive Early

If you have a high-priority attraction, like Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios, get on line as early as possible—ideally right before the park opens at 9 a.m. You will then be presented with options for when to actually do the activity. The same early bird advantage applies to attractions that cannot be booked with FastPasses, like meeting Elsa and Anna at Epcot.

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Just Buy the Memory Maker Photo Package Already

You may think your husband will be a qualified enough smartphone photographer to capture every unforgettable moment, and that you won't need to pay an additional $149 for professional photos of your kids with actors, or looking traumatized on a roller coaster. You will be wrong.

disney resort

Think Hard About Hotel Location

It may sound amazing to stay in a safari-themed, savannah-view suite at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where live giraffes and zebras amble outside your window. But if you’re planning to spend most of your time at Magic Kingdom, know that it will take 20 minutes to get there by bus. On the other hand, Magic Kingdom is a five-minute walk from the Contemporary Resort, and the Monorail—which you can ride to various other parks—actually goes through the hotel.    

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disney nap

Stick to the Nap Schedule

Ain’t no shame in heading back to the hotel for a little afternoon siesta (and a dip at the pool for Mama). If it keeps your kids from turning into maniacs, it’s well worth one less go-round on Tower of Terror.

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