Walt Disney World is shuttered “until further notice.” Disneyland is closed indefinitely. But that doesn’t mean those of us with expertise acquired from decades of theme park hacking have an entirely useless skill set at the moment.
I realized as I planned out this week’s grocery hunt that my Disney skills are very much alive and well in this new normal. Some of the very same principles I use to snag a hard-to-get Fastpass apply just as easily to trying to snag toilet paper. Small supply, large demand… but those who know the secrets and tricks can prevail!
So if you are also a Disney fan, put those skills to use to get the groceries you need with a minimum of outings. Here are the strategies that have worked for me both at Disney parks and in the grocery search the last few weeks:
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The key to riding popular rides at Disney parks with lower wait times is often to go first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive. Disney fans call this rope dropping – because guests queue behind a rope within each park. Cast members drop that rope at park opening time, unleashing guests on a mad dash towards the rides.
The same principle applies to the grocery hunt right now. Stores have time to receive new shipments and re-stock shelves overnight. Often they are as stocked as they ever will be first thing in the morning. So if you want snag the Clorox wipes before they are all gone, you are going to be best served by arriving early.
Disney experts know that arriving for rope drop doesn’t mean arriving a few minutes before park opening. It means queueing and hour or more to be at the front of the rope. The same goes for grocery stores – line up well before store opening time for pole position.
Use the special access to which you are entitled.
No one likes a cheat or a line-cutter at Disney, but no one begrudges fellow guests using legitimate tricks and access that they are entitled to for a more efficient vacation. So whether that be maxing out MaxPass at Disneyland, using Disney’s Disability Access Service when someone in your family has a need, or getting extra Fastpass+ reservations at Disney World by staying club level, use the special access available to you!
What does this mean for grocery shopping? If you are a senior (and some stores are setting the age bar for that pretty low), many supermarkets now have hours where you can shop before everyone else. Some stores have added in exclusive shopping times for first responders who may be working long shifts. Use whatever access you are legitimately entitled to right now to get what you need. It’s there for a reason.
Refresh, refresh, refresh.
A lot of us are looking to avoid the stores entirely right now if possible, opting for grocery delivery services like Instacart, Amazon Fresh or Prime Now, Shipt, or others. The challenge, of course, is finding availability at all. (Just like with Rise of the Resistance boarding groups!)
Luckily, Disney fans know what to do. A hat tip goes to my Disney Deciphered podcast co-host, Joe Cheung, for pointing out the parallels here on Twitter a few days ago. If you know what it means to do the Fastpass+ refresh method at Walt Disney World, you should be ready to do the same thing for online grocery delivery services right now.
Instacart refresh is much harder than Fastpass+ refresh
— Disney Deciphered (@WDWdeciphered) March 30, 2020
If you don’t see availability for a delivery window, keep refreshing. The persistent will prevail here. Personally, I have had the most luck with Amazon Prime Now waiting until a minute after midnight when new times are released for the following day and ordering furiously. Have everything in your cart at 11:59pm and be ready to refresh when the clock strikes midnight.
Ride the non-popular rides.
When crowds are high and lines are long at a Disney park, my family always shifts over to some of the more overlooked attractions that still have reasonable wait times. (Looking at you, Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland!)
In this grocery hunt we are all in, considering applying the same strategy. Don’t go straight for your local Costco on Saturday – that is like trying to walk onto Radiator Springs Racers midday on a holiday weekend!
Go instead to the less popular supermarket in town or the non-obvious store that might also carry groceries that others might not think about. I had a lot of luck finding some needed pantry staples that were sold out elsewhere at our local Walgreen’s drug store. Our neighborhood’s corner convenience store where most of us just grab a soda or a bottle of wine turned out to be clutch when I couldn’t find rice or eggs elsewhere.
Do all the research in advance & plan a strategy.
When we go on a Disney vacation, I do a boatload of research before my trip. I read blogs and online forums that share tips and data points that I can piece together to devise a strategy for my own trip. I ask friends what worked for them. I consult crowd calendars for the best times to go. I map out a strategy and schedule for our days in the parks.
The same is true for the current grocery hunt. Consult online sources available to you. For example, my town’s Facebook group has a master thread where store owners and fellow shoppers can share what’s in stock and what isn’t. Ask friends to update you when they go to a store what things are looking like in real time.
Have a plan of attack mapped out before you hit the stores so you can spend your time efficiently there. Make a detailed list. When I went to Trader Joe’s a few days ago, I actually created my list by aisles so I didn’t risk having to back track. We all want to get in and get out and minimize exposure. Doing the research and having a plan will help you do that.
Spread the magic and help to others when you can.
One of the things I love about going to Disney parks is that I often get the chance to make someone else’s day a little better because of my expertise. Sometimes that just means striking up a conversation with a fellow guest in line and passing along a tip or hack they didn’t know. Sometimes it has even meant gifting a Fastpass I couldn’t use or picking up a souvenir from the stores for friends back home that they otherwise couldn’t get.
In trying times like this, we are all looking for ways to help one another too. You can do that volunteering to shop for an elderly neighbor or simply help them learn how to navigate all the online services they might not know about. Whatever you do, keep spreading the magic when you can, even if that just means sparing a roll of toilet paper.
Stay safe, stay home, and keep Disney-ing.
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