Disney World Itinerary: Which Parks to Visit

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“Which are the best parks to visit?” is the most common question I am asked by Disney World newbies. The short answer is, “it depends!” The appeal of the parks varies quite a bit by age and subject matter interest. But have no fear, newbies, help is here! I have compiled a “one-size-fits-most” 4-1/2 day Disney World itinerary for a variety of demographics. These plans assume there will be four full days and the remainder of one travel day for the Disney World vacation, and only one theme park will be visited in a day (no Park Hopper passes).

 

Magic Kingdom is full of wonder, it's no mystery why preschoolers love it so much.
Magic Kingdom is full of wonder, it’s no mystery why preschoolers love it so much.

Families with Preschool Children (up to age 4) – 4 Day Park Ticket

Rationale:

  • Magic Kingdom is a big hit among the preschool set, and offers the most attractions of any of the parks. Magic Kingdom also few height restrictions, so only four attractions require riders to be 40″ or taller (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and Stitch’s Great Escape!). Since this demographic enjoys characters, Magic Kingdom gives a lot of bang for your buck where that is concerned.
  • Animal Kingdom is well-liked by preschoolers for its theme.
  • Hollywood Studios has several attractions specifically geared to preschool children (including a character meal featuring Disney Junior characters at Hollywood & Vine).
  • The extra half day is unnecessary for most preschoolers, so save the money and just buy a 4-day ticket. Downtown Disney is a great place to visit on that half day, to shop and eat.

Strategies: Preschoolers are generally early risers, so take advantage of rope drop at each park to experience some attractions before the crowds arrive. Take a 3 to 4 hour mid-day break to re-energize with a nap or a swim (except for the day you tour Animal Kingdom, which closes earlier than the other parks). Four park days in a row will be a lot for many preschoolers, so plan the less intensely-scheduled days for the end of the trip. Plan to be flexible with preschool children and take breaks as necessary, Disney World can be a very stimulating place.

What school aged child doesn't enjoy the 3-D arcade wonder that is Toy Story Midway Mania?
School age children enjoy the 3-D arcade-style wonder that is Toy Story Midway Mania! at Hollywood Studios.

Families with School Age Children (4 to 8) – 5 Day Park Ticket

  • 2 days Magic Kingdom
  • 1 day Animal Kingdom
  • 1 day Hollywood Studios
  • ½  day Epcot

Rationale:

  • School age kids are not as affected by height restrictions (the average 4 year old is 40” tall). Magic Kingdom still remains the priority, since it has the most attractions overall and they are very appealing to this age group. Characters are still appealing, and Magic Kingdom has a plethora of offerings.
  • Animal Kingdom is a great all-ages park. School age kids will have fun collecting a few Wilderness Explorers badges.
  • Hollywood Studios offers Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show which are well liked by this demographic. as well as the Jedi Training Academy which appeals to Star Wars Fans.
  • A half day at Epcot is a good introduction to the park for school age children, and can be spent focused in Future World.

Strategies: Take advantage of rope drop at each of the parks to avoid late morning/early afternoon crowds. Take a mid-day break of 3 to 4 hours to get out of the heat and recharge your batteries, a swim at the pool or downtime in your hotel room are a great source of energy. Plan some time at Tom Sawyer Island at Magic Kingdom, Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at Hollywood Studios, and The Boneyard dig site at Animal Kingdom for some open ended play that appeals to this age group (and gets them out of line for awhile).

Tweens will begin to enjoy exploring the World Showcase in Epcot. It's fun to see all the coins in King Neptune's fountain in Italy.
Tweens will begin to enjoy exploring the World Showcase in Epcot. It’s fun to see all the coins in King Neptune’s fountain in Italy.

Families with Tweens (8 to 12) – 5 Day Park Ticket

  • 1 ½ days Magic Kingdom
  • 1 day Animal Kingdom
  • 1 day Hollywood Studios
  • 1 day Epcot

Rationale:

  • Children in this age group want to experience as much as they can and have the stamina to back it up! The Magic Kingdom attractions geared toward preschoolers can be removed from the touring plan at this stage, but there are still a lot of attractions to experience, so more than one day can be spent there.
  • Animal Kingdom is a great park for all ages, and this demographic will enjoy the Wilderness Explorers adventures found throughout the park, maybe even striving to complete them all.
  • Hollywood Studios will be especially appealing to thrill-seekers in this age category (The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster), and Star Wars fans will also enjoy this park.
  • Tweens will enjoy a full day at Epcot where the family can tour Future World in the morning and World Showcase in the afternoon.

Strategies: Plan to open and close the parks each day, with a mid-day break of 3 to 4 hours to re-energize with a swim in the pool or a trip to Downtown Disney. Or, if you have purchased the Water Park Fun and More option on your base ticket, head to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon during the hot part of the day and then return to the park afterward.

Families with Teens / Young Adults – 5 Day Park Ticket

  • 1 ½ days Magic Kingdom
  • 1 day Animal Kingdom
  • 1 day Hollywood Studios
  • 1 day Epcot

Rationale:

  • This is the same itinerary as the tween itinerary, but the focus of teens will probably be on hitting all of the thrill rides multiple times and skipping most of the shows and dark rides.
  • This demographic might opt out of a day at their least favorite park in favor of a day at Universal Studios instead. A good choice to drop might be Animal Kingdom due to its limited hours.

Strategies: Most teens want to sleep in, so plan to skip rope drop and head to the parks in the late morning or keep busy until mid-afternoon and plan to stay until park closing. If you have purchased the Water Park Fun and More option on your base ticket, head to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon as early as you can, and then head to one of the parks afterward. Evening Extra Magic Hours could be a great way to maximize the time at the parks for this late-rising demographic. 

Finding Nemo The Musical appeals to a broad audience.
Finding Nemo – The Musical at Animal Kingdom appeals to a broad audience.

Adults – 4 Day Park Ticket

  • 1 day Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios
  • 1 day Animal Kingdom
  • 2 days Epcot
  • ½ day Downtown Disney or the Boardwalk resort area

Rationale:

  • Many adults aren’t seeking out the thrill rides, so the choice of Magic Kingdom vs. Hollywood Studios will depend on interest in the themes and specific attractions offered.
  • Animal Kingdom has a lot of shows which appeal to adults, as well as a large amount of self-guided animal exploration opportunities. It is a great place to take photos.
  • Epcot is most appealing to this demographic, who will enjoy both the offerings of Future World and World Showcase. There’s fun to be had drinking or eating around the world.
  • Downtown Disney or the Boardwalk resort area have shopping, restaurants and night life that also appeals to adults.

Strategies: Getting to the parks at rope drop will definitely start the day off right with the relatively low crowd levels. Plan to hit the headliner attractions first, and save the shows and general “ambiance appreciation” for later in the day when crowds grow.

 The Whole (Multi-aged) Family

The itinerary for this group is going to vary a lot depending on the makeup of the group. But one thing is for sure, there are things to do for every age range at each of the four parks. And when it comes time to decide on which attractions to hit, be sure to reference a touring plan like “Magic Kingdom Touring Plans for the Whole Family” to keep everyone happy.

I hope this collection of Disney World itineraries will help make your Disney World vacation planning a success. With all that Disney has to offer, it seems to me that there’s no “wrong” itinerary to choose!

Trista VanderVoord

Trista is an analytical planner with a love for Disney World. With two preteens and a husband who also adore Disney, Trista approaches each vacation with spreadsheets, crowd predictions and touring plans that would make your head spin. Despite her logical approach to vacation planning, Trista still feels the magic as soon as she steps onto Main Street, U.S.A. and spies Cinderella’s Castle.

15 thoughts on “Disney World Itinerary: Which Parks to Visit

  • October 21, 2014 at 11:13 am
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    What are your suggestions for 7 park days with 5 kids that span the ages? Are shorter days or full out-of-park days better for a break or are 7 days of park time reasonable?

    Reply
    • October 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm
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      I personally think that 7 park days with built in breaks is preferred to taking a day off altogether (unless you have something specific to do on that day that is outside of the parks). My family just completed a 7-day trip this past summer, with my two tweens. Our breakdown was 2-1/2 days at Magic Kingdom, 2 days at Epcot, 1 day at Hollywood Studios and 1 day at Animal Kingdom. Our days at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were shorter (more like 3/4 days), so we took time to eat at another of the resorts on one of the days, and took a trip to Downtown Disney on the other. We spent time most days with breaks at our resort, so our pool got lots of use. We approached the vacation like a marathon, not a sprint, so it helped us to slow down a bit and take time to smell the roses over the seven days.

      In my opinion, Animal Kingdom isn’t really a 2-day park, and neither is Hollywood Studios. If I had a multi-age group, I would still probably plan our seven days the same way I did. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • October 21, 2014 at 11:14 am
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    Good read! Though it is nearly the exact opposite of our family’s plan. I always recommend to my first-timer friends with kids that they need to hit all the parks if possible. We started bringing our kids at 2 and 3 months and now they are 6 and 8 and Epcot was their favorite park when they were younger and now it is still their second favorite behind Magic Kingdom. They dislike Hollywood Studios so much they would rather stay at the hotel. You just never know what a kid is going to like.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2014 at 12:41 pm
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      The same is true for our family. EPCOT is ranked much higher than Hollywood Studios by our kids as well. This year we have a 1/2 day allocated to Hollywood Studios and 2 days at EPCOT. Our kids are 10,7,5. Even on our first trip when they were 7,4,2 they liked EPCOT better than Hollywood Studios.

      Reply
    • October 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm
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      My family also prefers Epcot over Hollywood Studios (and even did when the kids were school agers), but this doesn’t seem to be the trend among young families. It definitely depends on the kids, I think! Thanks for the feedback.

      Reply
  • October 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm
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    Nice post and very helpful.

    I will agree with the favorable comments about Epcot for young children. With the Seas, Soarin’, Innoventions, World Showcase Agent P…it is actually a great option for young children. In fact, I recently recommended Epcot to some friends with 6 y/o twins. They had been told to skip it by others, but went on my recommendation and ended up going back for a second day.

    Of course, it is WDW, so it’s not like you can be too wrong with a choice, right?

    Reply
    • October 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm
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      Thanks for your input, I hope other readers will read through the comments to see all of your reasons to choose Epcot. Stay tuned for my follow up article on making Epcot a 2-day park, I think there are some things in there that you would agree with!

      Reply
      • October 22, 2014 at 6:47 am
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        I will agree with any article recommending Epcot as a two day park!

        We also really like it as the evening park on a park-hopper day because of the many dining options and the option to enjoy World Showcase if the park is crowded. Hit another park at rope drop, spend a couple of hours of rest at the resort, go to Epcot for your FP+ options, dinner and to wander around WS. What a great way to spend a day.

        Reply
  • October 21, 2014 at 7:02 pm
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    I have two preschoolers who love epcot. We always skip Hollywood studios.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2014 at 7:23 am
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    I agree. My children have always loved Epcot, and it can be a great way to see a lot of the Disney Princesses + Tigger and Pooh without the crowds of MK.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2014 at 10:32 am
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    Another vote for Epcot with Preschoolers. Ours have all been annually since they were born and always loved Epcot as much or more than Hollywood Studios. They love the fountains, the Seas, and the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico (in fact we come up with excuses not to ride it a dozen times on each trip.) You do have to remember as the parents to see things from their perspective though. Preschoolers tend to be too short to ride much in Studios and are easily overwhelmed by the explosions in several of the shows.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    I found that EPCOT was the best when we visited with our daughter when she was three. The reason is simple: wide pathways. She had a blast just walking all over and pointing out the flowers, fountains, etc. It was in January, so it wasn’t crowded at all. Still, it was a different story in DAK or the MK.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm
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    Another vote for EPCOT for small children! Here is why: There are more areas to just “play”. I think this makes parents uncomfortable because it needs to be done at a slower pace, and therefore you may not feel like you are getting your money’s worth- but my 2 and 4 year olds love the Imagination play area, the Aquarium area in the Finding Nemo attraction, the fountains to splash in, building the car and looking at cars in Test track etc. If parents can slow down for a day and just accept that sometimes kids just want to “play” and not necessarily fit in 20 rides…EPCOT can be a great choice!

    Reply
  • October 22, 2014 at 4:25 pm
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    How about 14 days at disney? We are planning a trip with 10 days in the Parks and 4 days in the Water Parks. We did 10 days in the parks before during food and wine where we did 3 MK, 3 EP, 3 HS, and 1 AK. We are going next year during Sept, so no Food and Wine. We were thinking 4 MK, 2 EP, 3 HS, and 1 AK with the Water Parks mixed in, but with the construction at the Studios we aren’t sure if we should do 3 at EP and 2 at HS. However 2 days is typically are limit at EP and 1 day is all we need from AK. Thoughts?

    Reply
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