Tips and tricks for tackling Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios and more.

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With roller coasters, cartoon characters come to life, and an excuse to eat plenty of funnel cake, amusement parks have it all. And given that peak park season is winding down, there’s no better time to sneak away for a weekend and get in line for a few thrills.

To help travelers make the most of their vacation, we looked at the six most popular amusement parks in the U.S. (based on attendance last year) and compiled some insider tips and tricks on how to tackle each.


Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., welcomed about 18 million visitors during its 60th anniversary last year — a nine percent increase from 2014’s visitor count.

Know before you go: For those on a shoestring budget, the park allows visitors to bring their own food onto the premises.

Insider tip No. 1: If you want to give your kids a special (and free!) experience, ask the Disneyland Railroad conductor if they can ride in the tender seat, which is located up front.

Insider tip No. 2: New Orleans Square is one of the coolest points in the park — and makes for great Instagram material. To reach it, use the Frontierland (not Adventureland) entrance. This shortcut will put you in front of the park’s crowds.

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Attracting about 20 million visitors, Magic Kingdom was America’s most popular theme park last year. From Cinderella’s Castle to the Haunted Mansion, it’s no wonder they call it the happiest place on Earth.

Know before you go: Get a FastPass, which allows visitors to reserve access to certain attractions up to 60 days before their arrival.

Insider tip No. 1: Want to dine at the immensely popular Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest restaurants? Because reservations require a credit card and 24-hour cancellation policy, keep an eye on the Disney dining site for next-day openings.

Insider tip No. 2: If fireworks aren’t your cup of tea, we suggest catching the park’s most popular rides during the shows and parades for shorter queues.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando saw the biggest increase in visitors from 2014 to 2015 among any theme park on the top 20 list in North America. This can probably be attributed to the opening of Diagon Alley, which is part the park’s biggest draw: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Know before you go: Use Universal Studios’ app to check out ride wait times, show times, maps, and more. Just be sure to bring a charger to keep your phone juiced up.

Insider tip No. 1: Harry Potter fans are probably going to want to splurge on a park-to-park ticket and hop on the Hogwarts Express. Why? Because Hogsmeade sits in Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure park while Diagon Alley lies in Universal Studios. Purchase the tickets in advance to save money and time. And don’t forget to buy a Harry Potter wand to perform some seriously cool spells around the park.

Insider tip No. 2: If you’re traveling alone or with other adults, look for solo-rider lines that will cut down on your wait time. Just ask the attendant on the standby line if the option is available.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom recently started staying open at night, allowing visitors to visit attractions  after dark.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom recently started staying open at night, allowing visitors to visit attractions after dark.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Both a theme park and a zoo, Animal Kingdom attracted about 30,000 visitors per day (11 million total) last year, making it the fourth most visited park on the list.

Know before you go: Animal Kingdom recently started staying open at night, allowing visitors to revel in its attractions and adventures after dark. Expect different rides and late-night live music and dance parties.

Insider tip No. 1: When you head out on the Wild Africa Trek safari adventure, opt to sit at the back of the vehicle. You’ll have longer to ogle the animals.

Insider tip No. 2: Don’t miss the Wildlife Express Train, which offers a behind-the-scenes journey through the park. Get off at Rafiki’s Planet Watch when the kids get antsy — they’ll love the petting zoo here.

Insider tip No. 3: The big focus at Animal Kingdom is, well, the animals. But they don’t care about your schedule. Prepare to tailor your hours to theirs, if you want to see as much as you can. Spend the night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for a chance to see the creatures roaming about in the open.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios, one of four theme parks built at the Walt Disney World Resort, is often overlooked. The good news: it’s rumored to receive a multi-billion-dollar reboot that will add some welcome new additions, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones-themed attractions.

Know before you go: The park is undergoing renovations, so check what’s in the works before booking your trip.

Insider tip No. 1: Arrive at the park a half hour before the rides open. If it’s a struggle to get out of the hotel, opt for having breakfast at the park. Hollywood & Vine is a solid choice and sets visitors up well to dash over to the Tower of Terror.

Insider tip No. 2: Check out the Fantasmic nighttime show, which features water effects, pyrotechnics, laser lights, music and more. Plus, in the late afternoon and early evening, ride lines tend to be shorter.

Grab at table at Epcot’s  Rose & Crown pub for the best place to catch the park’s magical IllumiNations fireworks display.
Grab at table at Epcot’s Rose & Crown pub for the best place to catch the park’s magical IllumiNations fireworks display.

Epcot at Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom might be the most popular of the Orlando properties, but Epcot is the biggest. Although Walt Disney never lived to see the park completed (it opened in 1982), he envisioned it as a place to celebrate ideas about what the future could be. Go for the endless selfie opportunities at Spaceship Earth (a.k.a. the giant golf ball structure); stay for the World Showcase where you can tour 11 different countries at once.

Know before you go: There are a bevy of international cuisines to choose from, but don’t make too many restaurant reservations in advance of your trip. It’s more fun to try a little something from everywhere, splitting plates between the group.

Insider tip No. 1: Want to sip on something besides water? Grab a fizzy drink for free — all Coke products at Club Cool are complimentary.

Insider tip No. 2: Take a break from walking with a long ride that will keep the kids entertained and give you a rest. We recommend Ellen’s Energy Adventure or the Living with the Land boat ride.

Insider tip No. 3: A table outside the Rose & Crown pub and dining room is the best place to catch the park’s magical IllumiNations fireworks display at night. The catch: reservations for outdoor tables aren’t available, so you’ll have to take your chances.

Read the original story, America’s Most Popular Amusement Parks: Tips on How to Make the Most of Your Experience, by Krystin Arneson, at