How many days are required to fully experience the theme parks of Walt Disney World? Four? Seven? Fourteen? The answers will vary with every person or family that you ask. But could a Walt Disney World vacation possibly be boiled down to the bare minimum of one day? This is a question I asked myself and then, perhaps foolishly, set out to answer.
A Tennessee couple recently made news by visiting all six U.S. Disney theme parks in one day. While their story is certainly an outlier, as a simple task it is not all that difficult to visit all four Walt Disney World theme parks in a single day. Doing so requires a ticket with a park hopper option (or annual pass or similar ticket) and really nothing more than stamina and willingness to spend a lot of time pointlessly traveling. All the parks are connected by Disney’s internal transportation system and also easily traversed by a normal motor vehicle – either your own or rideshare. So as a simple exercise – a “let’s just do this for fun” bucket list challenge – it is easy and, frankly, not that interesting. What I want to show is if it is possible to actually do so as a fulfilling vacation day.
Could you actually experience the absolute best of Walt Disney World in one single day? As it turns out (spoiler) the answer is “yes . . . but.” Using these tips, you should be able to plan an itinerary that will potentially allow you to accomplish your mission. BUT, it all will ultimately come down to your endurance, planning, and a bit of luck.
So how do you do it?
LOOK FOR DAYS WITH LONG PARK HOURS
This is a critical first step. You want to find a day with the most possible park touring hours. To find this, you should look towards the summer or holiday periods as these are often days scheduled with late closing times for Magic Kingdom and sometimes other parks. Of course, the reason the parks are open longer on these days is that the parks are also busier. So with longer hours will come longer lines. You also want to look for a day with morning and evening Extra Magic Hours at different parks. This was really easy during the summer of 2018 when Disney’s Hollywood Studios was open early daily to allow crowds to experience the new Toy Story Land. This trend continues on select dates into 2019. As an alternative, you may consider a day with morning Extra Magic Hours at one park and a hard ticket event at Magic Kingdom that night like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Of course there is an alternative to this strategy, which is to take the exact opposite approach and look for the least crowded day you can find on our Touring Plans Crowd Calendar (preferably one with all park levels forecasted at a 1-3). While you will likely have fewer park touring hours, it should be much easier to travel from park to park (closer parking spaces, less crowded bus stops, shorter lines at entry) and tour the parks in general (shorter lines, less crowds to navigate, etc.). Which one you pick will depend on how flexible your plans can be.
STAY AT A WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT
You’re going to want to have a reservation at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel if you want to accomplish this. Disney Resort perks are essential to extending the touring day with Extra Magic Hours as well as allowing ease of travel using the Walt Disney World transportation system. You are also going to want to make some strategic FastPass+ selections and a resort reservation will allow you to do so at sixty days out, instead of thirty. Perhaps most importantly (not now so much as at the end of the day) is the fact that you will be that much closer to a bed when it’s all over. Staying off-site will not wholly preclude you from accomplishing your goal but it WILL make it a bit more difficult.
HAVE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
Before we even begin this section, I should note that a “four parks in one day” visit is probably best reserved for experienced Walt Disney World vets that fall into one of two groups: those doing it as a challenge and those doing it because, for whatever reason, they legitimately only have one day in the Orlando area to visit the parks.
Regardless of which group you fall into, you’re not going to be able to ride every great ride at every park as well as see multiple nighttime shows, meet a bunch of characters, and have three square meals at table service restaurants during your day. It’s simply not possible. So before you actually start planning out your day, ask yourself what your main goal is for each park and maybe have a backup or two in mind.
If you’re in the first group, doing it as a challenge, it would probably be good to set up two to four parameters of what constitutes “visiting” a park. As I alluded to in the beginning of the article, you could simply enter a park’s gates, consider it a “visit,” and move on to the next park. But this is by no means a real challenge and more of a waste of time, money, and effort. Personally, when I attempted this with my family as a challenge, I stated that each park “visit” needed to consist of one headliner attraction, one purchase, and one Photopass picture in front of the park icon for posterity. (I also decreed that this purchase should be a beer but to each his own.) You’ll want to decide for yourself what you think qualifies each visit as such.
If you fall into the second group, and you are legitimately trying to make a fulfilling theme park day out of all four parks, as a maximum you should probably pick out one or two attractions or shows and maybe throw in one “experience” of some sort for each park (eat a Dole Whip at Magic Kingdom, meet Mulan at Epcot, see Pandora at night at Animal Kingdom, for instance). Also make sure to have a backup or two in mind because you will not have much wiggle room in your touring plan for if things go wrong (breakdowns, falling behind your schedule, weather woes, etc.).
The really unfortunate thing about the second group that makes this all the more difficult, going back to my first point, is that you probably will have minimal flexibility picking which day to visit. If you are limited to only one day in Orlando to begin with, other schedules are likely out of your control. (I’m thinking conventions, weddings, and the like.) So you will really need to have the most modest of expectations if you are not at liberty to pick a long touring day or an uncrowded one.
There are a few different ways to approach booking FastPass+ selections for a day like this, and which one you decide on will ultimately depend on your order of parks and what your “must see” list is like for each. You could schedule FastPass+ selections in the late morning like you would in a standard touring plan and then hope to score a “day of” selection for a headliner in your final park. Just be aware that it is more likely you end up with a more “middle of the road” FastPass+ option later in the day (think Haunted Mansion not Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.) Perhaps seeing headliners is not of interest to you, in which case you could schedule them early and add “day of” selections as you hop from park to park. You may even want to plan all three of them for your third or fourth park of the day, and go there knowing that you can get onto a few major attractions with minimal wait. This is your best bet if your goal is to get onto an e-ticket attraction at each park. It also assumes that you will “rope drop” your first (and even second, if possible) park to get to their headliners as early as humanly possible.
SAMPLE TOURING PLAN
Four parks in one day touring plans are not currently available using our own Touring Plans software (and the suggestion might cause Len Testa‘s head to explode.) That shouldn’t stop you from making your own. Using the tips already outlined in the article, you may come up with a touring plan like this one:
Arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom by 7:00 a.m., one hour ahead of the scheduled 8:00 a.m. Extra Magic Hours opening, to ensure you are among the first people in line for Avatar: Flight of Passage. Afterwards, ride Na’vi River Journey and check out the Swotu Wayä Na’vi Drum Ceremony in Pandora. Make sure to caffeinate for the day at the Creature Comforts Starbucks location on your way out of the park.
Leave the park by 10:00 AM and take a bus to Epcot. Ride Soarin’ and grab lunch at Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom pavilion. Stop into the France pavilion for a showing of Impressions de France before exiting through the International Gateway and taking a Friendship boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Plan to arrive at the Studios around 2:00 p.m.
Experience Slinky Dog Dash, Star Tours, and Tower of Terror using your pre-selected FastPass+ reservations in the 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. hours. Chuckle along with a showing of Muppet-Vision 3D, grab a cold drink at Baseline Taphouse in the downtime between rides, and make sure to make a FastPass+ reservation for something at Magic Kingdom. Consider Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, it’s a small world, or Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, all of which may have availability at this point in the day.
Take a bus or Minnie Van to Magic Kingdom park, arriving around 5:00 p.m. Ride your pre-booked FastPass+ attraction, have dinner at your leisure, and then watch the Happily Ever After fireworks show. Get in line for the headline attraction of your choice late in the night – just be aware that you will likely have to wait out an hour or longer in the queue.
This is just one example of a potential Touring Plan for the day. If you managed to complete it, you will have ridden a headliner attraction, viewed a show, and had something to eat and/or drink in each park. But this is only one of countless potential options that you might attempt. All kidding aside concerning our Touring Plans software, you could certainly use it to your advantage by creating personalized touring plans with the parameters of your day in each park. There’s no reason not to schedule a touring day of, for instance, 1:00 – 3:30 PM at Epcot, with rides on Soarin, Spaceship Earth, and Living with the Land plus lunch at Sunshine Seasons, optimized to see if it will work. (I tried it and it does!)
There’s no right or wrong way to plan your day. As long as you heed the tips and warnings in this article you should be well on your way to planning a doable day visiting all four Walt Disney World theme parks . . . in theory. In practice, anything can happen. And that’s what part two will be for.
In the meantime, let us know if you feel up to the challenge in the comments. Or if your strategy differs from mine. I’m never going to try to do this again . . . but I’d still love to hear some alternate ideas for how it could be done.