Trip Planning 101: Your Arrival Day

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Arrival day at Disney World can easily be the most exciting–and the most frustrating—day of your vacation.

    We’re finally here!
    But we only have half a day.
    We’re finally here!
    Should we use up a theme park admission? Stay at the hotel?
    We’re finally here!
    Go shopping? Bite our fingernails in panic all afternoon?
    We’re finally here!
    Now we have two minutes less than the last time we checked our watches.
Check in to your hotel--then check out some activities--like Donald!

Since many, if not most people spend a good part of their day in travel, not to mention sweating mundane details like wondering if their baggage is enjoying Saskatchewan, arrival day carries with it its own peculiar set of issues. But with a little foresight, the day can also offer its own set of enjoyments — even if your baggage is carrying on without you somewhere else entirely. (Read this article on our blog for info on arriving and getting to your hotel as well as other aspects of transportation.)

You probably already know this, but baggage can get lost. Even if it doesn’t, it might be awhile before you and it are happily reunited. So make sure you have everything you will need in the next several hours with you on the plane. If you are driving, keep a separate bag earmarked for your arrival day. Have with you:

  • Any medicine
  • Sunscreen
  • Bathing suits
  • Shorts, T-shirts, sandals, hats, sunglasses
  • Puzzles, games, other stuff to amuse the kids
  • Snacks

For some people, morning may be spent in midair or traveling down the interstate while the children and Aunt Francine play “Alphabet” for the four thousandth time. Others, perhaps more fortunate, may find themselves actually arriving at their destination. If you’re lucky enough to get there in the morning, you still have most of a day ahead of you, and you’re raring to visit a Disney park, consider the Animal Kingdom. It’s the smallest park, so you have the greatest chance of seeing pretty much all of it. Even if you arrive in the afternoon, there’s a good chance that you can tour the park and not stray too much from one of our Late Arrival Touring Plans. If, however, you don’t want to be under those kinds of time constraints, especially considering how much a theme park admission costs, consider some of the options in this article.

You could immediately run from your hotel to a park....or not.

Before the fun actually starts, you’ll need to check in, get your maps and other informational materials, and get your bearings. There’s a good chance that your room won’t be ready, but you’ll be allowed to use the facilities. The lines to check in can sometimes be annoyingly slow, so make sure you have stuff to amuse the kids or, better yet, another adult who can take them off to explore. At the check-in desk, ask any questions (bring a list with you), check on any dining reservations, and then do a quick tour of the hotel so you know the layout.

Here are some thoughts on how to spend your half day so you don’t feel like you’re just waiting for the real fun to start.

  • Have a Hotel Day: When do kids ever get enough time to swim? Hang out at your hotel or check out other hotels nearby. Many have great attractions in and of themselves, from arcade games to watercraft.
  • Downtown Disney: Shop at the stores you’ve had to rush past before. Eat some ice cream. Play at the Lego Store. Have a meal at your leisure without it interfering with your Touring Plan.
  • Have a nice lunch: When you follow a Touring Plan, even though there’s time set aside for meals, you often feel rushed. This is a great to opportunity to book a meal without looking at your watch every five minutes. If you know you’ll arrive in time, book a lunch and use the rest of the day for shopping or swimming.
  • Play miniature golf: A great personal favorite, and Disney’s courses are among the best. You’ll feel like you’re doing something Disneyish without actually being in a park.
  • Think outside the parks: In fact, think outside Disney World. If you feel like leaving the resort, consider attractions like Wet ‘n Wild water park or Gatorland. Seriously. Gatorland advertises itself as “Florida’s best half day attraction,” which seemed unduly modest–until we went. It’s enormously fun, but they’re right on target about the time frame–you can pretty much see everything you need to in half a day. It costs less than a theme park (even factoring in cab fare from many locations) and it’s completely unlike anything else. Be sure to check out the gift shop, although you, like us, might be queasy about viewing live alligators and then buying gator bits to snack on.

This is the time to splurge on a nice sit-down meal. You’ll be able to enjoy it at your leisure, it’ll get everyone in the Disney mood, and you won’t have to worry about fitting it in around anything else. Be sure to book way ahead of time, and leave yourself enough time to get there. Choose a restaurant with a view of the fireworks (like ‘Ohana or California Grill) or splurge on a show, like the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue, or Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba.

What are your thoughts on how to make the most of your arrival day? Tell us in the comments!

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Evan Levy

Evan Levy likes baking cupcakes, hanging out with her family, and all things Disney.

8 thoughts on “Trip Planning 101: Your Arrival Day

  • October 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    While and individual day admission is expensive, it costs next to nothing to add a day to anything over a 4 day ticket. It will probably cost less than $10 per person extra to get into the park for the afternoon or evening.

  • October 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    If we have an afternoon arrival, we like to go ahead and experience some of the parts of Epcot that we often don’t have time for — Innoventions, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Circle of Life, and then hit some of the countries. Makes for a nice arrival day and an “easing” into the parks and activities.

  • October 28, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I’ve arrived on late afternoons in October and December, so I’ve been able to go to the Halloween and Christmas parties! It’s cheaper than a whole regular day ticket, and it really gets the magic started right away! 🙂

  • October 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I agree with Joel. Adding park admission for arrival day can be next to nothing if you already have a multi-day pass. The cost is well worth it to get the magic started! I can’t imagine staying at the hotel on arrival day when I could get an extra ride on Spaceship Earth or be watching IllumiNations.

  • October 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    For those years when hubbie doesn’t have an annual pass, we usually stop by Whole Foods and get some coffee and breakfast items for the room, chill out at the hotel and get settled, then head out for a nice dinner and drinks at a resort hotel–something around Crescent Lake is a good choice, since from there you can catch some of Illuminations. It’s a great time to tour the monorail hotels, too, especially when the holiday decorations are up, and once again, Wishes from the beach at the Poly is always a treat!

  • October 31, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Are all of these trip planning blogs getting archived into an easy-to-find location? I love reading them, and I know they will be helpful for my next trip, but my next trip won’t be for some time.

    • November 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Yes,the blogs are archived!


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