Walt Disney World (FL)

Weekends at Disney

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Guest Blogger Ryan Kilpatrick started his life long love of Disney when he visited Walt Disney World with his grandparents in 1982, just a week after Epcot opened, and got his picture in Communicore printed in Southern Living magazine.  Since then, he’s drafted his wife and kids into the mix! Between Disney trips he started his blog, The Disney Film Project, where he is starting the adventure of watching all the Disney shorts and features in chronological order.  You can find him on his blog or on Twitter.

Let me take you back to 2001 – I was a poor guy, just moved to Atlanta, working a dead end job that took a lot of my time and paid very little money.  I just bought a house, had a new son, and was trying to make ends meet.   But the whole time, I kept my Disney obsession healthy by listening to Mouse World Radio or reading Disney sites.  But I just couldn’t find the time to take a full vacation down to the World.

I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about.  You read the Unofficial Guide or you listen to podcasts, and you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’d love to go to Disney World, but I don’t have the time or money to stay for 4 days or more.”  My solution was simple – make it a practice to just go down for the weekend, experience what I could, and be sure to come back.  In other words, to have a Disney Weekend.

It started in Thanksgiving of 2001 with my wife and 11 month old son, and continues to this day, with my daughter joining the fun.  In fact, my son and I just did a Disney Weekend the first weekend in June.

We focus so often in the Disney community on all the different things to do at the parks and resorts, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Having a weekend only trip is an automatic fix for that.  Since you know you only have the one weekend, you focus on the things you really want to do.

There are lots of advantages to the Disney Weekend.  My favorite is that you can go more often.  Taking 1 or 2 days off a year to take 3 or 4 Disney trips is a lot easier than taking off five or more days for a longer trip.  Also, you can talk some reticent Disney travelers into going with you.  If there’s someone you want to go with you to the World, but you can’t convince them, it’s not that hard to have them give you a weekend to try it out.  We did that with my parents and in-laws, and now they join us regularly.

Since we go fairly often, we’ve taken to giving our weekends a theme.  For example, the last one the whole family went on was Halloween themed.  We went down for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party one night, then spent the next day doing all the “scary” attractions like Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror.

But we’ve done a whole bunch more.  For many years, we always did the Christmas trip, where we did Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on a Friday night, then spent the next day doing the Epcot Holidays Around the World, seeing the decorations at the resorts, and finishing the day at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights.

One spring, we decided that we would go down and do a Western themed weekend.  We stayed at Fort Wilderness, hit Hoop Dee Doo on Friday night, then spent the next day doing all the Frontierland attractions, rode the Great Movie Ride and got hijacked by the bank robber (after a couple tries) before finishing up the day with dinner at Whispering Canyon followed by smores and a movie at Fort Wilderness.

Our most recent attempt, by my son and I, was the infamous four parks in one day challenge.  He had gone to spend the week in Jacksonville with friends of ours, and I had to stay back in Atlanta to work.  But, since he had one of the Give A Day, Get A Day tickets, and I had my Annual Pass, I decided to surprise him with a day at the World.

I drove down Friday night after work, and spent the night with our friends.  I woke him up at 6 a.m. on Saturday and told him the news, and away we went.  When I asked him what attractions he wanted to see, he said, “Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Spaceship Earth.”

I took a deep breath.  “You realize that means all four parks in one day?”

He smiled.  “Why not?”

Why not? indeed! We made our plans, and following the rules of 3 attractions in each park (as set out by the WDW Today crew), we added the rule of having a snack or meal in each park as well.  Here’s what we did:

Studios – Star Tours, Great Movie Ride, Tower of Terror – Éclair for a snack

AK – Everest FP, Safaris, lunch at Tusker House, Primeval Whirl, Triceratop Spin, the Boneyard

Epcot – Spaceship Earth, Mission Space, Ellen’s Energy Adventure (nap!), Journey Into Imagination, ice cream from Fountainview, and Test Track (single rider)

Magic Kingdom – Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Big Thunder, Splash, burger from Cosmic Ray’s, Buzz, TTA and the Mad Tea Party, before settling in for the fireworks.

Whew!  It was a long day, but an extremely fun one.  Not all the weekends we’ve done were that busy, but you can see it was a great way to spend a weekend.  What are your ideas for great Disney Weekends in or out of the parks?  What themed weekend would you want to try?

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36 thoughts on “Weekends at Disney

  • Technical question on your weekend 4 park/ 1 day trip: Is the GAD ticket a Park Hopper?? We are using GAD for 1 day admission in August and would LOVE to hop, but did not hear of this option with GAD.

    • It’s not, actually, but it costs $52 to add it. It was worth it for us, so we did it, but it’s up do you if you wanted to do so or not.

  • Thanks, Amanda. It doesn’t work every time to have a theme, but when you go a lot, it just makes sense to try it and then do new things. I can honestly say that trying the Western theme was a load of fun, as were the others, but that one was the best.

  • I think it’s so cool that you give your trips a theme! That must make it even more fun to figure out what you want to ride! Awesome post! =)

  • I’m a HUGE fan of WDW weekends. As a teacher, long weekends are the only way I do Disney (I refuse to battle the summer heat or the holiday crowds) and one thing I love about that style of travel is taking along different friends/family on each trip and experiencing the parks with them. It gives me a chance to share something I love and spread the Disney bug! Also that way my husband who likes Disney but isn’t as much of a fanatic, doesn’t have to spend every single vacation in Orlando (as I would be happy to…) and can come along on every other weekend trip.

    • Absolutely! My wife was a teacher for 8 years, so weekends were the only way we could go, too. And like I said, because it was only a weekend, we were able to take my parents, my in-laws and even my grandparents down with us on different trips. Now they all love it there!

  • Hey, Ryan! Great post! I love the passion you’ve passed onto your children. It’s great to see someone who has worked in “the business” and still able to believe in the magic! Hope to see you soon, buddy!

  • So, I finally got the scoop on what the last Disney weekend entailed. 🙂 Sounds like you guys had a great time. LOVE Disney weekend trips – we usually do the one day ones. Pack way too much in one day’s fun. Cute pic of you guys at Halloween by the way.

    • Thanks! I think Halloween was the most fun of any of them. Dressing up was a ton of fun, even if it was unbearably hot that night. Combining Halloween with Food and Wine was fantastic.

  • Great Stuff here! As a former cast-member, i can say that i thoroughly enjoyed reading this post…very insightful with a comical flare…

  • Ryan,
    Wonderful post. I love Disney. They always to a great job. Disney weekends and themes are such a cool idea. Adds to the fun. We took our kids every five years while they were growing up. We either had a new one or they had just gotten five years older and would enjoy different stuff. I’ve not been in a number of years, so I need to go back soon. I think I would go with a Medival theme. I love the castle in the Magic Kingdom.

    • Absolutely. You should go and just enjoy it without the kids! I know we plan to. Giving it a theme is a great way to add a little spice to the mix. If you want a Medieval theme, stick to Fantasyland, or better yet, wait until the Fantasyland expansion is done in 2012. Then you’ll really have a Medieval/fantasy feel.

  • It sounds you did a super job of time management and that you had a great time. I’m looking forward to reading more about your Disney experiences.

    • When you have an 8 yr old at Disney, everything is about time management. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Hi Ryan,

    Like you, I love anything Disney. I used to live in northern California and we’d drive to Disneyland every couple years. The last time we were there they actually shut the park for a day…9-11.

    I’ll be at Orlando in July with hubby a few days prior to a writing conference being held there. It was an opportunity that we couldn’t resist.

    Epcot isn’t my favorite, so we spend our days in the park and act like kids again (we’re both over 60)

    Thanks for the fun blog article today.


    • Thanks, Sandy. Hope you enjoy the trip in July. Run through the Magic Kingdom like kids!

  • What a great idea! We’ve always moaned about the expense, but a weekend could actually be affordable. Ditto Deb’s question– have you camped there? Stayed anywhere other than within the park?
    And when will you be organizing another Wine & Cheese Epcot tour? Love Epcot!

    • Weekends can be less expensive, but remember that your tickets get cheaper the more days you buy. My advice – take a tax refund or bonus and buy the tickets, then you can worry about travel expenses and food as your only remaining expenses.

      Where we stay depends on which theme we’re going for or how much $ we have at the time. Typically Pop Century, but since I’ve had an AP, I’ve gotten good deals at Ft. Wilderness (mentioned in the post) as well as some of the moderates. For Food & Wine this yr, I’m hoping to stay at the Beach Club.

      We have stayed off property, absolutely. Best Western Lakeside was my fave off property, but I’ve done several others on weekend trips.

      Haven’t camped yet, but the boy and I plan on doing it soon.

  • We’d love to live close enough to spend weekends at WDW. You’re very lucky!

    • Don’t I know it. But read my comments above. If you know how to work the airlines, it can sometimes be worth it to make the trip.

      True story – 2 friends and I once caught a Spirit $9 fare, and left 1st thing in the morning, then came back at 8 p.m. that night. It was awesome.

  • My hubby and I love Disney, but live too far away to do weekend jaunts there. We’ve learned to make the week-long trips more enjoyable by allowing ourselves a morning off or going back to the on-world hotel for a short nap to refresh. We’ve even done one of those 3-day World/4-day Cruise packages and enjoyed a 10-day Disney Mediterranean Cruise in June.

    Some folks look at us like we’re crazy because our ‘kids’ are adults now and we still go. I tell them Disney isn’t just for kids, but if they don’t believe me, it’s their loss.

    Enjoyed the post. If we ever move closer to DW, I’ll definitely think about doing Disney weekends.

    • Even if you live far away, if you just want to get a fix, you can sometimes do a weekend if you play it right with airfares. Depends how close you are to a major airport, but check last minute travel sites like LastMinute.com or even Expedia/Travelocity. They can make it really cheap.

      Also, Southwest frequently features sales where you can travel on Saturday morning then come back Tuesday or something like that. If you’re fleixible, airfare can be cheap enough to make a weekend worthwhile.

  • Love the theme idea. Do you buy annual passes or family passes? How is it affordable and where do you usually end up staying?

    • It depends on the year and our monetary situation. We always examine it closely to see what tickets make sense. Recently, I’ve gotten an AP, and the rest of the family has had 10-day tickets w/No Expiration that we whittle down as we go.

      Since Magic Your Way came in, though, the No Exp tickets are more expensive than an AP, so if you plan on spending 8 or 9 days in the parks in a year, go AP. If it’ll be over longer than a year, get the No Exp passes.

      • Forgot to mention where to stay. If money isn’t too tight, a Value is a good idea, because it’s close to the parks. But if money is an issue, there are several good off property hotels nearby.

  • I LOVE this! In fact, I love anything Disney. Seriously, my husband doesn’t even ask what I want to do for vacation each year because he knows I’ll say Disney. He even got a little irritated with me when he asked where I’d like to go as a graduation vacation gift. He was hoping I’d say some nice little beach or something. Nope. It was Disney.

    Thanks a ton for the weekend idea. We have done a couple of weekends to Disney World, but like so many others, I tend to think of it as a HUGE trip and try to go for four or more days at a time. Maybe the idea of making it a shorter trip each time will get him a tad bit more excited about it. Who knows, maybe I’ll save those longer vacations for other places. You know, like Disney Land or something…grin…

    Thanks for a fun post. Never thought of themes, either…. Hmmmm… Hubby is not going to be happy with me….


    • Hah! Much apologies to your husband, Tami, but have a great time.

      We always find it easier to do weekend trips, because we can buy either an Annual Pass or a 10-day no expiration, and use the days as we need them. Plus, depending on where you live, you can take a day or two off, not a whole week.

  • Sounds wonderful. One day I am going to do the One-Day-Harry-Potter thing. Then do some weekend trips. Your weekend idea is wonderful!!

    • Thanks, Maxine. I’d advise waiting a few months on Harry Potter. The crowds are insane right now.

      Weekend trips are great. I’m a big proponent as you can tell! 🙂

  • I need to do the 4 park 1 day thing some day myself. I’m basically a weekender too, unless there’s a special weekday event that I want to attend. So I can really relate to your point of view. Thanks for the post!

    • It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, Todd. When my son brought it up, I was worried that we wouldn’t have fun, but it was a blast!

      Living in Atlanta, having an Annual Pass and cheap airfare or time to drive makes weekends the right way to go for us.

  • Whew! Love the weekend trips especially the Christmas trip or the Food & Wine weekend that includes eating and drinking your way around the world. What about the Star Wars Weekend Trip?

    • Hey, only so much I can cover in one post, but there’s tons of weekend ideas. Star Wars Weekends is an obvious one, but there’s Flower and Garden, ESPN the Weekend and other special events as well.

      I’m partial to the Food & Wine weekend myself. 🙂


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