The question, “You have four days at Disney World. Should you go to all four theme parks?” was recently asked by a follower of our Instagram account and we thought it merited more discussion than we could cover on social media.
As a quick refresher, Walt Disney World is home to four distinct theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While there are some general commonalities between the parks (they all have rides, restaurants, character sightings, entertainment, and shopping), the feel and pace of these parks varies widely.
If you have only four days in Central Florida, does it make sense to visit all these areas, or should double dip on one or more, or skip some of them for other endeavors?
Spoiler alert: as with most things Disney, the answer is, “It depends.” Here are some things to think about as you decide.
Are your “four days” really four days, or are the first and last days curtailed because of travel time?
There is a big difference between four full days and two full days plus two partial days. If your four days is not actually four days, then it may make sense to skip one of the four parks.
How old are the members of your party?
Conquering four parks in four days requires a hefty helping of stamina – both physical and mental. If your party includes an older person or someone with mobility constraints who needs to move slowly, or if it includes a toddler with a short attention spans and a hair-trigger temper, then you might be better off taking it slowly at just two or three parks rather than zooming through all four.
Do you have a Park Hopper ticket?
Some people find that they’re able to accomplish everything of interest at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios in a partial-day visit. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, you could use that surplus time to go back to a park (such as Magic Kingdom) with enough attractions to merit a longer than one-day visit.
Does anyone in your party have a particular affinity (or dislike) of any Disney/Marvel/Pixar/Star Wars intellectual properties?
Many of the WOW attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are heavily themed to Star Wars or Toy Story. If you happened to have a dislike of both those properties, then skipping DHS likely makes sense. Take a look at the list of attractions at each park to see if any are heavily populated by themed attractions that don’t feel compelling. On the other hand, if you LOVE LOVE LOVE Star Wars, that might make DHS a two-day park – and thus having it make sense to skip Animal Kingdom or Epcot.
Are there other strong entertainment interests in your party?
A budding zoologist would put Animal Kingdom on their must list, but others might be fine skipping this. An avid gardener might prioritize a trip to Epcot during the Flower & Garden Festival. If you have a specific passion, doubling up on visits to the park that matches your interest could make more sense than visiting all four parks just for the sake of completion.
Have you been to the parks before? Are you coming back soon?
If you’ve been to WDW before, you may find that you don’t need to circle back to some one-and-done attractions, freeing up time to delve more fully into those at other parks. Similarly, maybe you’re coming back soon to experience a new attraction, for example, maybe you can save that park for next time.
Do you like to eat for entertainment?
If you have a preschooler or toddler, some folks will tell you that Epcot is not a necessary part of your trip. However, if your family loves to eat for entertainment, then skipping Epcot would be a shame. Particularly during festival seasons, you can expose your family to a huge range of yum during a day at Epcot. On the other hand, if you have several small kids and not much interest in international cuisine, then passing on Epcot and doubling up on Magic Kingdom could be your best bet.
Do you want to leave time for things like shopping at Disney Springs, sleeping at your resort, or visiting another area attraction
Given the massive scope of Walt Disney World, it’s simply not possible to fully explore all four theme parks plus ancillary areas like Disney Springs, the Boardwalk, water parks, sports, or even to spend much time at your hotel pool. If you only have four days and want to experience the World outside the parks, then you may have to skip one of the parks.
What are the park hours? How early are you willing to wake up?
The number one way to experience the most attractions at Walt Disney World is to wake up early and be at the parks well before they open. If you arrive later in the day, you will experience longer waits and will be able to enjoy fewer attractions. If you don’t want to wake up early, then you may want to skip one of the parks so you can do more of the ones remaining. This goes double during the times of the year when the parks close particularly early.
What will the crowds be like?
Visiting during Christmas week and visiting during mid-September are entirely different experiences. If your trip takes place during a high-crowd time such as a major holiday, EVERYTHING will take longer simply because you have to wade through thicker crowds. This may be the time to bypass one park so that you can have a fuller experience at another by visiting it twice.
What will the weather be like?
Some people prefer to avoid Animal Kingdom during the rain because so many of the attraction have an outdoor component. If your trip takes place during a week of 24/7 downpours, you may want to adjust your park selections accordingly.
Will I be using a Touring Plan? Am I willing to pay for Genie+ or Individual Lighting Lanes?
Using a Touring Plan will save you time. And using Genie+ can possibly save you even more time. Both of these items will allow you to get more done in a day, potentially making four parks in four days a less daunting proposition.
Long-time Touring Plans readers may remember a story I’ve often told. Several years ago, a neighbor was planning her first WDW trip with her family. At the time I was a veteran of more than a dozen recent visits. I took her to lunch and talked for two hours about every aspect of planning a trip to all four WDW theme parks – what to ride, where to eat, how much time to spend, and so on. My neighbor has children the same ages and gender as mine, and we have similar socio-economic backgrounds, so I assumed that my advice would work for her.
After their trip, I asked them how they liked all the parks. With a bit of prodding, I uncovered that they went to the Magic Kingdom on the first day of their trip. They loved it so much, they spent all five of their vacation days there and never made it to another theme park. They went on the Carousel and Small World a dozen times each and loved every minute of it. Though our families have much in common, what I didn’t know is that while I tend to be a completist, not satisfied unless I’ve checked everything off on a to-do list, my friends prefer to be immersive with experiences, having no internal pressure to go wide rather than deep.
So, moral of the story … while I would go to all four theme parks, that might be completely wrong for you.