Disney World’s Magic Kingdom attracted a staggering 20.5 million visitors last year, making it the world’s most popular theme park. Disneyland, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom weren’t far behind, which begs the question: Just how can one rise above the crowds and get the most out of a Disney vacation these days?

Ever since 2010, the popular MouseChat podcast has been offering some answers. Hosted by five Disney-obsessed travel agents at Pixie Vacations, the show has explored topics ranging from new attractions to Disney weddings to, well, “How to Do Disney World with Disney Haters.”

“We just see a lot of people go into Disney with a very blind eye and end up not having a great experience, so we try to provide all the tips and tricks that make a Disney vacation really magical,” says West Virginia-based co-host Chris Sharps. “We give our very honest assessment of what the experience is like; if we wouldn’t spend our money and do it again, we tell them.”

Below, Sharps and Atlanta-based co-host Lisa Griswold offer a few tips for new or veteran Disney vacationers:

1. START PLANNING SUPER-EARLY.

Disney resort reservations can be made 180 days in advance, but Griswold says visitors should start planning even earlier. “Talk about what resorts sound interesting to you, the restaurants you want to experience,” she says. “[Planning early] also encourages people to start saving.”

2. CONSIDER ALL EXPENSES.

“A lot of times people are looking to go to Walt Disney World in the least expensive way possible,” Sharps says. “But the least expensive way [to them] is oftentimes one of the most expensive.” Case in point: He says many folks stay off-site in hopes of saving money, without factoring in parking fees or other costs that can quickly add up.

3. WORK WITH A VACATION PLANNER.

Obviously, the MouseChat hosts are pro-agent, but they do make a solid case. First, it often doesn’t cost extra money to work with a planner. And second, they know the destination inside and out. Sharps says, “Every item of Disney news that comes across the board, we read it, we know it, we know how to best help a family plan their trip. We’re Disney-crazy.”

4. SEEK OUT "SECRET" PERKS.

If you can dream it, there’s probably a way Disney can make it happen. “You can have a private balcony in Italy to view the IllumiNations nighttime spectacular,” Griswold says. “You can get a private boat and watch the fireworks from the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon. You can take your daughter to get her dressed up as a princess. … There are lots of additional things that people can do when they go to Disney, and I don’t think most of these are known.”

5. DELVE INTO DISNEY HISTORY.

OK, so you’re a grown-ass adult who doesn’t care for The Little Mermaid. Sharps says that’s only a facet of the Disney appeal, and a little Googling might enhance one’s experience. “Walt Disney was the quintessential American risk-taker,” he says. “Learning the business behind Disney is really what helped me develop my passion.”

6. ARRIVE AT "ROPE DROP."

That’s slang for the beginning of the day. “The park is not as crowded,” Griswold notes. “You can get a lot done before 10 a.m.”

7. LOOSELY PLAN YOUR DAY.

“Don’t plan it down to the minute, but plan a general theme for the day,” Sharps suggests. Set a time for lunch, and drop everything when it arrives. Grab a schedule and map at the entrance, and take 10 minutes to become familiar with things like performance times and the almighty restroom locations.

8. TAKE NOTE OF NEW STUFF.

Disney parks unveil new things each year, making no two trips the same. Some upcoming highlights: a new Frozen attraction at Epcot, Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the highly anticipated Star Wars Land. “It’s not the same old attractions over and over again,” Sharps says.

9. GO BEHIND THE SCENES.

Need a break from rides? Sharps says to consider a behind-the-scenes tour, like Keys to the Kingdom or Backstage Magic, which “takes guests through the entire experience of what it is that makes the magic happen each day, from the horticultural services facility all the way up to the safety inspectors that do the rides.”

10. COMBAT LINE FATIGUE.

While lines are unavoidable at a Disney park, there are many ways to make the kids’ wait a bit more enjoyable. “They have interactive queues with lots of things for kids to do, to touch, to feel, to interact with,” Griswold says. “And get a ‘hidden Mickey’ book,” she adds. “Every ride has hidden Mickeys, and [finding them] turns waiting in line into an attraction in itself.”

11. TAKE BREAKS.

There’s no shame in a midday snooze during a Disney vacation; in fact, it’ll probably make the trip more fun. “Don’t plan on being at the park from sunup to sundown,” Sharps says.

12. CONSIDER A HALLOWEEN OR HOLIDAY TRIP INSTEAD.

Disney visits don’t have to happen in summertime. Sharps advises travelers to be open to, say, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival in the fall, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, or even the decked-out holiday season.

13. HAVE FUN.

Seriously. “Remember, it’s a vacation,” Griswold says. “Don’t let the details stress you out and ruin it. … Also, realize that there’s gonna be a couple hiccups along the way. Take ‘em in stride. There’s no way you can get everything done in a week that Disney World has to offer."

For more podcast interviews and recommendations, head to the archive.