Planning to Visit Four Parks in One Day
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.
14 thoughts on “Planning to Visit Four Parks in One Day”
We did this once a couple of years ago. More the “just for fun” route, though. We had already spent a couple of days in the parks so we were able to take our time. We started with rope dropping MK and went to Carousel of Progress. We were the only ones in the theater, imagine that! 🙂 We then rode the monorail over to Epcot and rode Spaceship Earth and picked up some food at the Food and Wine festival. We then took the friendship boats over to Hollywood Studios and went to Muppets 3-D. Next was Animal Kingdom. Took a bus there. We had not been there yet that trip so we spent more time there; rode the safari, EE, Kali River, a couple of others, and watched Lion King. We were staying at the Poly so we took a bus back, swam, had a nice dinner and then back to the Magic Kingdom for the Electric Parade before it was retired. Pretty fun day.
I did this on a solo trip last summer. My challenge was to ride all seven coasters (pre-SDD) and get a photo with Mickey at each park. I also added in a stop at La Cava and a bunch of non-coaster rides, and was done by 7pm. 7DMT was the only real line.
Next on my wish list is a modified WDW49 – every ride that DS and I like to ride all in one day.
I did this with a group of co-workers in early March and it was a blast. We stayed off site and traveled primary by car on a light crowd day. We ate breakfast in the condo and started the journey at Hollywood Studios at rope drop (before Toy Story Land opened) and did Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror in 10 minutes flat, and then left the park. We certainly got some strange looks at the exit at 9:15am. Next, we drove to Animal Kingdom. We had the advantage of being with a cast member who had some connections, so we were able to get on some headliner rides quickly and also could see some of the animal exhibits without waiting. We brought a packed lunch and ate in Pandora to soak in the scenery. Then we drove to the Ticket and Transportation Center and rode the monorail to Epcot. We took advantage of the single rider line at Test Track, and then rode some minor attractions with short waits (the Land and Nemo). We then hopped back on the monorail to finish the day at Magic Kingdom. We arrived around 3:30pm, and we had saved our fastpasses for Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, and meeting Mickey (who was still talking at the time). We also visited a few other attractions with short waits (such as Philharmagic and the Peoplemover), ate some snacks, saw a parade, and watched the Happily Ever After fireworks. We were back at the condo at a reasonable time, and logged 26,000 steps, which was tiring, but not overwhelming. I’d definitely do it again if the opportunity arose.
We definitely used the Touring Plans app to create customized plans separately for each park with assumed arrival/departure times, and it worked out really well.
It would be neat to see Touring Plans Blog report, or even attempt (!), on the “Parkeology Challenge”, otherwise known as riding all WDW rides in one day. Trying it is kind of a bucket list item for me.
I’m in the “I’m too old for that” category, however I did the next best thing — saw every main Christmas tree at all four theme parks, the Osborne lights at the Studios, all resorts, and Disney Springs (at the time it was Downtown Disney) a few years back.
Wow, that sounds like a fun day!
Is this a thing that is even physically possible? If you add up all of the time that all of the rides take, how long is it? Even assuming no lines or transportation time, I would imagine that with the stage shows included, every attraction at Walt Disney World probably adds up to around 15-20 hours.
Well, there’s a whole website dedicated to it where there is a “hall of fame” for people who have successfully completed it, so it is doable. And you don’t have to complete the shows, just the rides. Still, it’s a challenge.
Physically exhausting, but yes, physically possible. Though it’s just rides. Anything that moves, including, for example, the Main Street vehicles. But no shows. That would likely make it impossible. Check out parkeology’s site. They are entertaining and creative Disney bloggers.
My husband and I visited four parks in a day last year prior to Pandora opening. It was a blast. Our goal was to focus on attractions related to Disney history, charting a course so to speak on that topic. We started with Magic Kingdom (pretty close to rope drop) and visited Jungle Cruise and Carousel of Progress. I think we might have managed to fit in Haunted Mansion as well.
Second we took the monorail from MK to Epcot, where we road Soarin’ with a fastpass, got ice cream in France and I believe we also did The Three Caballeros, one of our favorites. There may have also been a fish and chips run.
Next up was Hollywood Studios I believe, with a visit to The Great Movie Ride. We were able to book a FP for it by timing our Epcot stay to use up three fast passes including Soarin’.
After our brief stay in HS, we made our way to Animal Kingdom, where we had time to take in the atmosphere and take a nighttime safari ride.
We were on a real budget at the time and this was a really fun challenge, even if we couldn’t afford to eat all of the foods we like in every park. We definitely recommend it for passholders or veterans looking for a fun challenge.
We did this once. We hadn’t been to WDW in awhile last time we had gone we had 4 small children. The children were now middle school/high school aged (no strollers) we were so happy to be back “home” we ended up going to all four parks in one day, yes with 4 teens/tweens 😀 A very very happy day 😀
I also tried this on a solo trip. It was three years ago in early December and my goal was to get a Starbucks “You Are Here” mug in each of the parks. It wasn’t easy — that was the last year for the Osborne lights and just elbowing my way to the Starbucks at DHS was a feat in itself. I didn’t ride much in the parks, but I did take in the holiday atmosphere everywhere and I have the mugs to prove it :).
I have had a couple of friends just visit for a day and I always recommend maxing out at two parks… if you’re not a frequent visitor, all that park hopping is an exercise in frustration and futility!
We did this last year on the Monday after Thanksgiving. We were on an extended family Florida trip, not a Disney trip, but my 4 can’t be in Orlando and not do a little Disney. But when trying to plan what we’d leave out, we couldn’t find a park to skip. Normally it would AK for us, but since we hadn’t been to Pandora yet…
While I think your ideas on this type of visit are good, we pretty much did the opposite. 🙂 It was 2 adults and 2 kids (10 and 7). We were staying off-site, so had crappy fast passes and no access to extra magic hours. We rope dropped Pandora and then made our way from there. We drove our own car in between AK, HS and TTC and then monorailed to EPCOT & MK. We made some pbj’s to eat in the car between parks, but also ate whenever hungry wherever we were. We did multiple rides and photos in each park. We did some shopping post fireworks in MK. I made 4 mini touring plans using your site, which were helpful not as much in the step by steps of the day, but in the planning of where to go first, guideline times for when to move on, etc. We had a great day and, while we don’t ever need to again, we totally would again if we only had 1 day for magic. Just did 3 parks in 1 day on our October trip as we only had 1 hopper day. Thanks for a fun article!
This is actually very similar to what I actually ended up doing. When I did the challenge (with a family of 5) we went to Animal Kingdom by car, then drove to Caribbean Beach (we were staying there that night only) and bussed to Hollywood Studios, boat to Epcot, and monorail to Magic Kingdom. It was partially my intention to use as many of the possible transportation options as I could for the sake of researching the article and that turned out to be incredibly inefficient. This article was based on what I think is the best plan after having done it.