3 Disney Theme Park Splurges to Skip Long Lines

Disney magic doesn’t come cheap. But while some expenses at Disney theme parks can feel painfully high, they can also often pay for themselves — and then some. These three Disney upgrades — available at both Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida — are worth the cost.

1. Genie+

Waiting in line at Disney might feel like a rite of passage, but it doesn’t need to be. Genie+ is a paid add-on service that lets you bypass most of the line at some attractions. I use the extra time saved with Genie+ to try attractions that tend to have fewer lines. I’m looking at you, Enchanted Tiki Room.

Genie+ prices vary by day, park and demand. Expect to pay at least $30 per person per day at Disneyland and at least $15 to $20 per person per day at Disney World. Though a family of four could easily spend more than $100 on line-skipping privileges on busy days, it can be worth it — particularly if you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Time is money, and you don’t want to spend all of it waiting in line.

Line-skipping access looks to be increasingly relevant as crowds continue to grow. According to The Walt Disney Co.’s earnings report for the quarter ending in December 2023, Disneyland saw year-over-year attendance growth versus the quarter ending in December 2022.

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Concept art depicting Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. (Image courtesy of Disney)

And attendance is only expected to increase, especially as Disney continues to add rides or update themes. For instance, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is scheduled to open in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Park in California in 2024.

2. A stay at a Disney-owned resort 

Disney-owned hotels have benefits that other, nearby — off-property — hotels can’t offer. That includes closer proximity to the theme parks in most cases. For example, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Pixar Place Hotel have their own entrance to Disney California Adventure Park.

But perhaps the most important reason to book a stay at a Disney-owned resort? Early theme park entry. Hotel guests who hold a valid theme park ticket for that day can enter the parks 30 minutes before everyone else.

In Florida, early entry is offered at all four Walt Disney World theme parks every day. In California, the benefit alternates between Disneyland or Disney California Adventure (depending on the day).

Getting to the park at opening time is critical for jumping on the most popular attractions before the lines back up. The ability to enter 30 minutes before the official opening time gives you an additional leg up.

Although Disney resorts tend to be more expensive than off-property hotels, you can find some deals. According to Disney price tracking site Touring Plans, nightly rates for Disney’s All-Star resorts start at $133 (though they can run over $300 during peak season).

3. A character meal

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My family and I nabbed a photo with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto during breakfast at Storytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Prices start at $52 per person, but it enables you to meet characters without a theme park ticket — and without waiting in line. (Photo by Sally French)

If you plan to stand in line to meet Disney characters, there’s a way to meet them without the line.

Sure, you’ll pay at least $50 for the privilege, but at least it comes with food. At a Character Dining restaurant, a handful of costumed characters mosey around the dining area while you eat. Since they make a point to stop at every table, you won’t even have to wait in line; they come to you.

And with no line, the whole experience tends to be a lot more relaxed. Diners can spend more time with each character than the usual “love and shove” encounter that happens when there’s an hourlong wait to meet Mickey Mouse.

There are four Character Dining restaurants in California and about a dozen in Florida. Meal prices vary, but some of the most popular can run more than $100 per person. Note that for restaurants inside the theme parks, you’ll need a ticket, too.

For example, dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom Park starts at $84 per adult before tax, tip and optional beverage add-ons. But the princess dining option lets you meet multiple royal ladies in one go.

Consider that not far away, you can meet Cinderella and one other princess for no additional cost (other than a park entry ticket) at Princess Fairytale Hall, but wait times tend to run from 30 to 90 minutes.

In contrast, the meal at Cinderella Castle tends to entail a meet-and-greet with four princesses. Plus, you get the unique experience of dining inside the iconic Disney landmark.

Not all meals are that expensive. At Cape May Cafe, in Disney’s Beach Club Resort near Epcot, you can have breakfast with Minnie Mouse and some of her friends clad in beach attire.

For $47 per adult (before tax and tip), you can meet Disney characters and nosh on all-you-can-eat salted caramel “beach buns,” Mickey-shaped waffles, omelets, biscuits, gravy and more. And since that restaurant is in one of the Disney World hotels, you won’t need a theme park ticket.

(Top photo by Sally French)

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