Are the lines at Disney World long? No, if you follow these tips

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It’s been 17 years since my last trip to Disney World.  

How much could have changed?

The parks are still fantastic. But the days of hopping aimlessly from ride to ride are gone. Now, a successful trip — defined here as minimizing time spent standing in lines — involves more walking, adopting Disney’s tech and carrying a mobile phone with an impressive battery life.   

Genie+ is a must

You may be on vacation, but a trip to Disney World is no time for a digital detox.

Rafael Henrique | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Download the My Disney Experience app and put it front and center on your phone’s home screen. It’s key to the first principle of live avoidance at Disney World: purchasing Genie+, a service that allows visitors to book “Lightning Lanes,” which provide one-time access to shorter lines for most attractions.  

The service starts at $15 per day per person, according to Disney’s website. But it averaged around $24 a day during my trip over the Memorial Day weekend in May.

Is this too pricey? It depends on your budget. But I estimate the service saved us at least four hours in line per day, making it a steal in my opinion.     

Extra cost: About $145 daily for a family of six.

Designate a point person

Lines for older rides, like Dumbo, can be an hour or more.

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This means the point person has the privilege of explaining to the family why they’re walking past favorites — “Aladdin” and “Peter Pan” for the kids, “The Hall of Presidents” for the husband — to take advantage of a rare parting in crowds on the other side of the park.

This strategy saves time in line, but results in more walking — some days we averaged 25,000 steps. But I’ll take walking over standing in place any day.

Tip: As soon as you check into a Lightning Lane, book the next one. You don’t need to wait until the ride is completed.

Forget virtual queues

This may be controversial advice, but to save time and simplify scheduling, consider skipping “virtual queues.”  

Currently, only two attractions in all four theme parks use them: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Tron Lightcycle/Run.

There is no standby, or standard, line for these rides. So many visitors vie for spots in the virtual queue, which are free. Bookings open twice daily — and are often gone within seconds.

Here, visitors can wait to try to get into the virtual queue, or buy a place in line ($15) on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a ride that travel specialist Jonathan Alder called “the greatest ride … ever made anywhere in the world.”

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We tried and failed to get slots on Tron at 7 a.m. on the first day of our trip, using one phone. At 1 p.m., we tried again using three phones — one was successful. The booking, which we monitored throughout the afternoon, was eventually called around 7 p.m. By that time, the kids were fatigued, and the line was the longest one of the entire day.   

Spoiled by Lightning Lanes, we ditched virtual queues for the rest of the trip, opting to buy Individual Lightning Lanes for these two rides, plus four others where the service is available. These are one-time purchases to access shorter lines.

By no means is this the cheapest way to go, but this strategy allowed us to select set ride times, freed up time spent monitoring my phone, and is easier to book than virtual queues (especially for guests staying in a Disney-affiliated hotel).

Extra cost: It varies, but about $12 to $20 per attraction.

Consider a private tour

If paying for these services doesn’t sit well, compare them with the cost to book a private VIP tour. Tours range from $450 to $900 per hour, depending on the season, and have a seven-hour minimum. Note: this price does not include park tickets.

“For those with the budget to do it, it is the greatest thing,” said Jonathan Alder, CEO of the travel agency Jonathan’s Travels. Tours usher visitors between parks and grant access to private entrances and shorter lines, he said.

Jonathan Alder called VIP tours at Disney World “the greatest thing.” But, he said, they can be addictive. “It is much simpler to have any other habit that you could possibly think of than a Disney VIP tour habit.”

Source: Jonathan’s Travels

“I’d say two parks in a massive day with 13 miles of walking on average is what you end up getting without a guide,” he said. But with one: “I’ve done all major rides at all four parks and only had about 10 miles of walking.”

Extra cost: From $3,150, but rates can easily be double this.

Go ‘standby’ sparingly

During my family’s five-day trip to Disney, we saw nearly every attraction in the four parks. But we only waited in five standby lines, the longest of which was roughly 30 minutes long.

Buy the bands

MagicBands can save time when you’re buying food and merchandise, as well as entering lines.

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In many instances, I watched people with MagicBands sail past visitors who were searching for the right screen on their mobile phones to enter Lightning Lanes.

They also save time when you’re buying food and merchandise. Plus, they double as a souvenir that the kids can wear long after leaving the parks.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal owns CNBC and Universal Studios, which is a competitor of Disney World.

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