Disney World: Visiting the Happiest Place on Earth Without Losing Your Mind

If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World for a while, you may be surprised by the experience. New technologies and packages are making a trip to Fantasyland more bearable for exhausted parents. Here are some sure-fire ways to make the most of the trip for everyone.

Get the Books

If you’re taking your kids and want to keep your sanity, I recommend reading a guidebook. There are many out there, but the Unofficial Guides from touringplans.com come with support and offer advice for a range of park guests. Get important info on scheduling the day, learn which rides appeal to princesses versus adventurists, and access tons of detailed tips and tricks.

Get the Apps

There are a host of official and unofficial free apps with Disney maps, schedules and wait times. Get one, or several, and don’t worry about roaming charges—Disney parks have free WiFi that is remarkably reliable. But don’t wager money on the wait time’s accuracy.

Get There Early

The early bird catches the worm. And at the Magic Kingdom, the early bird gets on Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean without a wait. These days, the princesses are queen, so Fantasyland is the busiest part of the Magic Kingdom—if Ariel and Belle are stars for your kids, go there first to get Enchanted Tales with Belle and Ariel’s Grotto out of the way before it gets too busy. If you don’t happen to be travelling with a princess, then you may just have the run of Adventureland and Frontierland when the park opens. Get there at least 30 minutes before opening, so you can park, get the tram, then catch the ferry or monorail as needed and still enter your park of choice just when it opens.

Avoid Extra Magic Hours

Guests at Disney Resorts can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at a different park each day, getting in an hour before or staying an hour after the general public. If you aren’t a resort guest, these are usually the worst days to visit the park in question, because everyone is there. And when the park does open to the public in the morning, Fantasyland will already be full of little girls in princess dresses.

Manage the Fast Pass

When you arrive at Soarin’ or Space Mountain’s Fast Pass Return, you’ll wonder why all those suckers are standing in an hour-long line up. It’s all about time management. Under the current system [as of 2013], Fast Passes are distributed at or near the rides that have them and assign you an hour at which to return. You must use the pass during that hour, and you can’t get another pass during that hour. So, some strategy is necessary to maximize your time. If one attraction has a 30-minute wait, and the Fast Pass for another attraction is for an hour from now, get the pass and stand in the 30-minute line. If you have an extra adult or teenager, send a runner to get passes for everyone. And, if you have a little one that is too young or too small for a particular ride, ask for a Rider Pass—half of your party rides while the rest supervises, and then up to three of you can go back through the Fast Pass line again.

Get a Stroller

Even if your little ones have long-graduated from their stroller, wheels are a good idea for kids 8 and under. There’s a LOT of walking, and HOT sun, and the last thing you want is an exhausted kid that is too heavy to carry. It’s a long hike back to the parking lot tram. The strollers available from Disney are hard plastic and look terribly uncomfortable—but there are a few very good stroller rental outfits in the Orlando area with strollers available for school-age kids and even older kids with special needs. There is stroller parking throughout the park, but note that staff may rearrange strollers for more efficient use of space—if you leave your stroller in a random spot, it may get moved to the nearest “parking lot”—so don’t freak out if your stroller isn’t where you left it.

Pack a Lunch or Snacks

Unlike many amusement parks and stadiums these days, Disney parks allow guests to bring in their own food and drinks. They know their audience—kids and expectant mothers need to eat regularly. You won’t find a ton of food for sale on hand. There are sit-down restaurants, many of which require reservations or long line-ups, and some fast-food style joints, but there isn’t much “fair food” at arm’s reach. Keep food and drink in your stroller to avoid meltdowns.

Go Home for a Nap

All the experts suggest taking young kids home for lunch and a nap, even if they have outgrown napping at home. You can’t take advantage of an early arrival and stick around for the evening festivities. And you will appreciate getting out of the heat for a few hours midday, especially in the summer. Parking and tickets are good for the day, so you can always go back.

Take Note of the Day’s Schedule

If you don’t go home for a nap, you’ll want to plan to attend an indoor show either before or after lunch. It will get you out of the sun and into some air conditioning to rest. And always note the time of the daily parade—this is especially important if you want to get out of the park in a timely fashion. If you don’t plan to stay for the parade and fireworks, make sure you are on the exit side of the route before the hoopla begins—getting through the parade crowd will be impossible.

Off Season, Off Season, Off Season!

Walt Disney World is incomparable to any other amusement park. It may not have the thrills of a Canada’s Wonderland, but I found it to be a well-oiled machine: clean, welcoming, and organized—everything exudes quality and a well-planned visit was worth the trip, even for someone like me who’s ambivalent about all things Disney. But, that was during a quiet week in May, before the average American school was out for the summer, and before the mercury started rising in central Florida.

Fast-forward a month or two and the Happiest Place on Earth can quickly descend into an Outer Circle of Hell, with a temperature to match. If you want to enjoy your very expensive week at Disney, you should really try to avoid going during the months of June, July and August. And if you don’t want to lose your faith in humanity, or Mickey Mouse, try to avoid going during the Christmas holiday or March break! If you’re taking kids, plan pull them out of school (if they can handle a week’s absence)—you’ll have the time of your lives.

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape