How to conquer Disney's reservation system on your next theme park vacation

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How to conquer Disney's reservation system on your next theme park vacation

Wondering how to get a sold-out reservation to Disneyland or Disney World — or even an in-demand restaurant reservation? Look no further.

Walt Disney World 50th Photos

Hello and welcome to this week's Theme Park News roundup! We've got helpful advice on visiting the parks, details on Epcot's latest attraction and plenty of other news. From Bruno to Groot, here's everything you may have missed:

HOW TO VISIT DISNEY PARKS LIKE AN EXPERT

It's no secret that visiting Disneyland or Disney World is more burdensome than it used to be. The parks feel busier than ever due to pent-up demand and require much more planning than before, even for SoCal locals just hoping to swing by Disneyland for the day.

Both of Disney's stateside theme park resorts are continuing to use a park reservation system. It requires advance booking and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon, which has proven to present difficulties on both coasts when planning a trip.

Personally, I have gotten more messages regarding dining and park reservations in the past few weeks than ever before, so we're dedicating today's column to helping you figure out your vacation woes before they become a major problem. (After all, these secrets don't need to live in the DMs!)

As these parks continue to return to normal — Disneyland hasn't even been open for a year! — you'll need more inside knowledge and reliable tips to pull off a seamless trip. Here's your cheat sheet to problem-solve it all, giving you the assistance you'll rely on to eat the best meals, get through the queues and even make it through the front gate:

Help, I can't find a park reservation!

One of the biggest challenges of visiting Disney Parks these days is… actually visiting them, due to the park pass reservation system. Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort reserve separate availability calendars for annual passholders, ticket holders and, at Disney World, for hotel guests, and the confusion doesn't let up from there.

If you're only checking the public-facing availability calendar, that's your first mistake. The actual booking calendar, available once you log into your account, has more accurate availability, so we recommend using that whenever possible.

If you're unable to find a reservation for the day of your ticket, we recommend checking back often. Seriously — the best way to find an opening is to constantly check back for cancellations, especially closer to your trip. Passholders can be penalized if canceling less than 24 hours before their visit, so Magic Key and Annual Pass users may be able to scoop one up more easily the day prior to their trip; the same applies to a lesser degree with ticket holders as well. (Keep in mind: ticket holders cannot modify their reservations, so you'll have to cancel to book a new one. High stakes!!)

There are some hacks to help you on that journey, including bot accounts dedicated to alerting guests on both coasts of availability. @DLStats offers updates on ride interruptions and Magic Key reservation availability, as well as free “subscription” alerts based on ticket and pass type. @DisReservations also provides updates for the top tier Dream Key annual pass throughout the year.

Over at Walt Disney World, @WDWStats provides details on ride wait times and park availability, and websites like Disney Food Blog, BlogMickey and All Ears regularly share when park passes are replenished on their Twitter accounts, which we recommend following and, if necessary, setting notifications for.

Walt Disney World 50th Photos

Help, I can't find dining reservations!

You're not alone — dining reservations across Disneyland and Walt Disney World seem harder and harder to come by these days. Reservations open up around 5:45 a.m. EST 60 days in advance at Disney World and around 3 .a.m. PST 60 days in advance at Disneyland.

If you're still in the planning phase and are staying “on property”, try earmarking the second half of your trip for those hard-to-get restaurant reservations. Guests at Walt Disney World hotels have an advantage and can book up to 9 days in advance of their arrival, giving you better odds to snag that coveted Be Our Guest booking.

If you still can't get what you want in advance, check for cancellations closer to your date, including 24 hours before — the last chance guests can cancel without being penalized. Plan to use the reliable (and worthwhile!) walk-up waitlists in both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps, too. They're geotagged, so you'll have to be near the restaurant, but simply pull up the restaurant's page within the app, hit “Join Walk-Up List” and you should be good to go. Select Walt Disney World restaurants even provide an estimated wait time no matter where you're located, so you can plan accordingly.

Tables are limited and Walk-Up lists hit capacity frequently at Disneyland Resort restaurants, but in the event you can't get on, check in at the host stand to see if you should continue refreshing and what your options are. You might get lucky!

Help, I want to visit multiple parks!

Unfortunately, Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts both still have pretty stringent park-hopping restrictions. Disneyland Resort guests can move between the two parks starting at 1 p.m .and Disney World guests at 2 p.m., with applicable admission. (Psst: you can actually enter up to 15 minutes before at Disney World parks.)

As Disney Food Blog emphasizes, just be sure you don't skip your first park — you won't be able to enter a second park without entering the one you booked a reservation for first!

Genie Image with Logo

Help, I have no idea what the hell Lightning Lanes are!

Understandable! Lightning Lanes are ride entrances that bypass the main queue for speedier entry. Guests can obtain this access to these one of two ways: with Disney Genie+, a paid daily service allowing for quicker access onto select rides, or individual a la carte selections for entry into the parks' most in-demand rides. (Essentially, if you remember the FastPass or FastPass+ system, this is the updated version.)

Disney Genie+ costs $15 per person, per day at Walt Disney World; $20 per person, per day at Disneyland Resort; and works across all parks. Individual a la carte selections vary in price, but can cost up to $20 per person, per ride. (It's a hefty sum, so decide in advance if it's worth it to you to splurge to skip the line for Disney's most popular attractions, like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.)

There are also distinct differences between resorts. At Disneyland Resort, Genie+ can be added to a ticket or vacation package in advance or upon entering the park during one's visit. At Disney World, Genie+ can only be added in advance to multi-day tickets for the duration of purchase. Annual passholders and single-day ticket holders can only add it on the day of each visit, regardless of if they've entered the park.

Individual Lightning Lane entry is for sale to all Disneyland Resort guests upon entry to either theme park, while Disney World's individual entries are tiered; Walt Disney World resort hotel guests (along with select affiliated hotels) can book their Individual Lightning Lane entries at 7 a.m. each day, while other guests can only book when the park opens, whether or not they've entered.

It's also worth noting that despite the shared name, the two act completely differently at each resort. Disney Genie+ is more fruitful at Disneyland Resort, providing multiple ride entries and a more seamless experience, while at Disney World, “return times” have been running out much more quickly — so much so that the website has updated its copy to reiterate that guests can expect, on average, to “enter 2 to 3 attractions or experiences per day using the Lightning Lane entrance if the first selection is made early in the day.” That's…much less than was originally emphasized and, in some cases, less efficient than the previous FastPass+ system.

Hope some of your vacation qualms and queries were solved — and have a great time!

THE GUARDIANS HAVE (NEARLY) ARRIVED

Though we already kinda sorta knew, it's now official: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will open on May 27 at Epcot. The new coaster is unlike anything else at Disney World, with vehicles that rotate 360 degrees to put you face-to-face with action on screen and even a reverse launch. It's also making history as one of the longest enclosed coasters in the world, bringing some much-needed coaster thrills to Epcot when it debuts next month.

You also won't have to wait too long to get a glance at this boundary-pushing attraction, as you're likely to see it pop up on Instagram and TikTok well before the Memorial Day Weekend debut.There will be previews for annual passholders, DVC members, staff and even media — we'll be giving you a first-hand look when we ride it in early May! — so prepare to join the adventure from afar before ever doing so in person.

Can't wait until then? Disney provided an early look at the queue, which draws inspiration from planetariums and looks distinctly like old Epcot, which makes me even more excited to see what this attraction beholds.

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

  • Disneyland Resort is bringing Encanto to the parks even more than before. On evenings starting April 11, a visual display set to “We Don't Talk About Bruno” will play multiple times each evening on the it's a small world facade. Guests can also meet Mirabel, who debuted at Disney California Adventure back in November, in Disneyland's Frontierland and when Main Street Electrical Parade returns on April 22, will appear as part of a new finale float.
  • Meet-and-greets with Disney characters are returning to Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, Disney Cruise Line and Aulani as early as April 18.
  • Yeah yeah yeah, Festival of the Lion King welcomes back tumblers and the new Finding Nemo show is returning this summer, but more importantly: they are changing my beloved KiteTails?!
  • Today in Synergy: Disney+ subscribers can save on a Walt Disney World hotel stay.
  • Another one bites the dust.
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