Yep, you read that title right. Technically, my friends and I managed to visit all four parks with only one day at Disney World. Was it worth it? Um…
The four parks we visited, just for clarity:
- Animal Kingdom
- Magic Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM)
There are also Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
First of all, let me preface this whole post with this one conversation we had with our friend who works in Animal Kingdom, has a few years working at the parks, and has a lifetime of loving Disney:
Us: Meredith, do you think we can do all 4 parks in one day?
Meredith: Um… Yes, you can. The real question is: should you?
Now, let me answer that right now as I’m sitting in bed at 10:30 pm with aching feet after 14 hours straight of being on them and walking 11 miles.
I think if you really want to relax and enjoy your visit to Disney World, plan for at least 3 or 4 days. Then you can kind of do 1-2 parks a day and add in time to visit the water parks, Disney Springs, and enjoy your resort.
But that’s not why you’re here. You’re probably here because you really only have one day at Disney World, and you’re trying to figure out the best, most cost-effective way to enjoy it.
Whelp, here we go. I’m going to go through how we spent our 14 hours, from 7 am – 9 pm. Here’s what we did right, what we did wrong, and tips to maximize your time as best as possible. If you do go through with what we did, all I can say is — good luck and wear truly comfortable shoes!
How We Planned Our Day
So, before we actually got our tickets, we had the benefit of being at Disney for our friend’s, the aforementioned Meredith, wedding.
Since she’s worked for Disney for the last 2+ years and has many friends and family who know this park much better than us, we asked for a ton of advice. We also basically asked everyone we met from our Lyft driver to our shuttle bus driver to one of the women organizing the wedding…
Once we narrowed down the main rides and attractions we had to do, we made a game plan. At first, that game plan included only doing one park. Then it was trying to choose between Epcot and Magic Kingdom, which… people had STRONG opinions in favor of both. Magic Kindom for the wow, classic factor. Epcot for the travel and food factor.
Of course, people also told us about all the cool things to do in Animal Kingdom. I mean Meredith is a Kilimanjaro Safari driver (ask for her if you go, you’ll automatically get fast-passed) and her husband was on the opening team for Pandora, so they know just how cool that park is.
We also kind of wanted to squeeze in the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roll coaster in Hollywood Studios.
On top of that, we sat with another college friend, Rebecca, and she and her husband mentioned something about extra magic hours since we were staying a resort. Apparently, the parks have certain hours where they’re open a little earlier or a little later for resort guests! When we checked for Saturday, Animal Kingdom had them from 8 am – 9 am, which meant we’d get an extra hour.
Ultimately, we decided to just go for it and get the park hopper ticket. Luckily, the ticket price was actually only $180, so it was about 10% cheaper than we thought. If you’re doing mental math, that means each park would be around $45 vs. $105 for just one, which seemed like a pretty good deal to us.
Once we had a little list, we made the following game plan, which we somewhat stuck to.
How to Spend One Day at Disney World
7:00 am – Board the Shuttle to Animal Kingdom
You absolutely want that first shuttle bus, even if it sounds crazy early. Our concierge strongly recommended it, and even though waking up when the moon was still out sounded awful, we did it. And she was totally right because there was already a line for that bus when we made our way out at 6:55 am.
7:30 am – Enter Animal Kingdom
Even though the park technically opened for guests at 8 am, I guess they opened earlier! Guys, it’s nuts. I don’t even think the crowds of Asia could prepare me for the crowds of American families at Disney World.
We got through bag check and fixing whatever was wrong with our magic bands, and we literally saw people running once they got into the park. The person in front of us was even, like, offended that she didn’t know the park was opening earlier than the magic hours said. She quite accusatorily asked the ticket lady, “Why is it open now?”
To which I muttered after she was out of earshot, “Why the eff are you bitching about something being open early?” I like to think the ticket lady appreciated that.
7:30 am – 8:30 am – First Ride: The Avatar Flight Of Passage
Anyway, our first stop was, of course, the Avatar Flight of Passage. Take a moment once you’re in though to appreciate the Tree of Life. It’s incredible.
Then book it over to the line for the Flight of Passage, because it’s going to be a long wait. Everyone warned us this was the crazy busy one, and they were right. By the time we walked over to the end of the line, the wait time went anywhere from 60-70 minutes. This was FIRST thing in the morning!
Luckily, the line went pretty quickly. If it did take a full hour of waiting, it didn’t feel like it. The line was constantly moving, and it snakes through the Valley of Mo’ara, which is pretty breathtaking. Just… when you think of the level of creativity and attention to detail when it came to creating every prop in this one place, it’s amazing.
Anyway, the Avatar Flight of Passage is a simulated ride on the back of a banshee, and it’s insane. Initially, we were a bit skeptical and grumpy that we were waiting in line for a simulated ride. However, trust me, it’s worth it first thing in the morning. The effects are cool, and the 3D is amazing. The scenery reminds me a bit of the Zhangjiajie mountains in China, Victoria Falls, and a bit of those gardens in Singapore.
There are videos of the ride on Youtube, but they’re not that good, and I think they spoil the effect of the ride. As someone who reads the last page of books and loves spoilers, I’m highly recommending you DON’T!
8:30 am – 9:30 am – The Kilimanjaro Safari
We then decided to head into the Africa section of the park to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari. The wait time said 25 minutes, but it was definitely way less.
The ride is awesome because you get to see so many animals and see the ways the park helps to conserve and protect them.
As a safari, it, of course, feels quite short at maybe 20 or fewer minutes. I mean, when my friend and I went to Addo near Port Elizabeth, we spent the whole day hanging out and looking for elephants. I like to think of it as sort of a sampler safari. You get a lot of variety in a smaller quantity (time) vs. less variety in a bigger quantity.
9:30 am – 10:15 am – Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Because we were doing so well on time, and we wanted to see a bit more of Animal Kingdom, we popped over to the Asia section to ride Expedition Everest. The normal standby lane is a fairly long wait, BUT, it has a single rider line that’s only 10-15 minutes!
Ask before you go in because the singer rider line is kind of hidden, but it does exist, and we got on way faster than the normal standby line.
10:15 am – 11:45 am – Transfer to Epcot
This is where we hit a bit of a hiccup in our plans. We just missed the shuttle from Animal Kingdom to Epcot, and it wound up taking a good 40 minutes before the next one came. Once we were on the shuttle, we realized why.
What should be an 8-minute drive when you Google Maps it, took 45 minutes. Forty. Five. Minutes.
We actually fell asleep on the bus for a bit because it was such crazy standstill. To be fair, the Disney app warned us about traffic, but I didn’t pay attention to it… *cough*
11:45 am – 2:00 pm – Walking Around + Eating Epcot
While we were in Disney, the Food and Wine festival was going on at Epcot. I don’t know how this is different from normal days, but there were a lot of stands out with smaller portions of food for around $4-5 a plate. Kelsey and Emily found some good options in Ireland and Morocco, but I had one thing on my mind:
a jumbo turkey leg
Of all the things I remember from my trip here in fifth grade, it was this. The magnificent smoked turkey leg. You can see me posing with it in the feature photo because sometimes I just like being as extra as possible. It’s in the American section if you’re wondering. It’s the absurd price of $13.25, but at that moment it was worth it (and also a dollar cheaper than at Universal).
PS: Since Kelsey is vegetarian, we used this blog post to help us narrow down some options.
2:00 – 2:45 pm – Walk along Disney Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios
Once we ate, we decided it was best to get over to Studios now rather than later to ride the two main rides we wanted: Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. I remembered both of them fondly.
We wanted to walk off all the food we ate, so we found the exit between the United Kingdom and France in Epcot, and walked to Hollywood Studios. It’s a nice, slightly longer walk, that’ll take you through Disney Boardwalk and around the lake. You could also just take the boat. It’ll take just as long because of wait times, and it goes to 3-4 stops before going to Studios and vice versa.
2:45 pm – 4:30 pm – Hollywood Studios
Yes, those two rides took us over 2 hours to get through! What we should have done is planned ahead and reserved Fastpass+, but we didn’t, and they were unavailable by the time we looked. Oh well!
We started with the Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster and did the single rider line. Then we went over to the Tower of Terror. It doesn’t have any sort of line, but it did go fairly fast (still close to an hour, though).
Both rides were just as awesome as I remember but felt about a thousand times shorter!
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm – Back to Epcot
So, Hollywood Studios doesn’t have a direct bus to Magic Kingdom, which we originally planned to do afterward for the golden hour lighting. Our friend’s dad told us to either walk back to Boardwalk and get a bus from there or go all the way back to Epcot and get the monorail.
Since it made the most sense to go back to Epcot anyway, we took a boat back to Epcot to try and do some of the rides and see some of the countries we skipped the first time around.
It took an hour between waiting to get on the boat and all the stops.
5:30 pm – 8:00 pm – Epcot
We were pretty tired and mildly delirious by the time we got back to Epcot. I’d forgotten just how swamped it’d be around this time, which friends warned us about since it was a Saturday.
I gave up on getting golden hour lighting for Magic Kingdom, so we weren’t in a rush to get there just yet. Instead, we first went to the Test Track to ride the cars and then ate dinner.
Test Track is okay. We thought it’d be a lot cooler and more exciting than it was, and I don’t think I’d want to wait for it again, even in the single rider line.
We got dinner at a quick service place in China since the Mexican restaurant was booked. The orange chicken there isn’t too shabby!
8:00 – 8:45 – Going to Magic Kingdom
After we ate, we decided to get the monorail from Epcot to Magic Kingdom. I honestly just wanted to see the castle, even at night. We were dragging by this point, but we got to the monorail, switched at the Ticket and Transportation Center, and went to Magic Kingdom.
Guys, we stayed there for all of 15-20 minutes. It was swamped, and there was already a huge crowd waiting to see the fireworks at 10 pm. We went in, saw some of the Christmas decorations, got a nice, quick view of the castle, and left.
We then made our way to the bus area and sprinted to get to the one for the All-Star Music Resort. No way in hell did we want to get stuck waiting like 30-40 minutes for the next one to come.
9:30 pm – Back in our rooms
Between going back and getting some food at our dining hall, we plopped down onto our beds at pretty much exactly 9:30 pm. My feet are still not pleased with me as I write this, and I literally sat down in the shower to stretch and just stayed there.
Overall, though, we saw everything we wanted to see and rode the rides we wanted to ride except maybe Soarin’ in Epcot. If you’re visiting for business or a wedding and want to cram everything in, then you can. You could even deal with the crowds and stay an hour+ later to enjoy the fireworks.
TIP: If you want to do the fireworks, I recommend going to the beach area by the Polynesian Resort (on the monorail). You get a nice view of them and the top of the castle with far fewer crowds. The beach area looked free to hang out on, but you can also get drinks or something at Trader Sams.
There are a lot I think we did right and a lot we could have done a bit differently or may have been different on a weekday. I’ll go over all that in my tips section below.
My Tips for Visiting Disney World
Stay in a Resort
There are a few reasons to stay in one of the actual resorts, but here are a few:
- Free transportation to the parks + Disney Springs
- Free Magic Band
- Early Fastpass+ reserving
- Concierge service
- Extra Magic Hours – check here to see for the days you want to go. Ours was only an hour for Animal Kingdom on Saturday
- Free shuttle to and from airport
- Slight ticket discount (not sure on this, but when I look at park hopper options for Saturday here, we paid $15 less for ours after taxes)
Of course, you can very easily stay in places in Kissimmee or nearby for MUCH cheaper. I mean, I stayed down the road at a Best Western when I was visiting Universal, and I feel like I got more for $76/night than I did at $130/night at All-Star Music.
Buttttt, a lot of the benefits I listed above are pretty sweet. Plus, if you stay in a resort, you really don’t have to worry about renting a car or driving anywhere.
Go on a Weekday
It’ll be less crowded, and it might actually be cheaper than going on a Saturday or Sunday. Disney apparently restructured their ticket prices so that they fluctuate depending on the date you go. Even the Saturday dates change from week to week!
Get a Magic Band
If you stay at a resort, you’ll get this automatically because it’s your door key. For those not staying in a resort, they’re around $13-14 or more depending on how you customize it. It’s just a nicer way to travel a bit lighter since you can link a card to it, and it links to your overall Disney account.
Get it early and have it delivered to your house before your trip– this way you can customize the colors. If you wait until your hotel, you’ll get the default one which is a not-so-pretty gray and black!
Get Between the Parks as Quickly as Possible, but try to Allow an Hour in Between
Honestly, I’m lowkey annoyed with how inefficient the transportation between the parks is. There are four ways:
- Shuttle Buses
- Lyft Minnie Drivers
- Boats occasionally
The Monorail only works for some resorts, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom. Why the eff the monorail doesn’t go to every single park is beyond me.
The shuttle buses do their best, but they still have to go on the main roads outside of the parks, which means they sometimes get slammed with traffic. Hey, how about creating a lane ONLY for buses?!
There’s apparently a gondola thing being built for the 50th anniversary, but I don’t know any more details on that. We just saw the construction signs for them.
I just… When you map the drive between the parks, they’re maybe 10 minutes away from each other. The fact that it took us an HOUR for everything seems a little ridiculous.
But I digress. If you don’t mind spending the money on Lyft, then I’d try to take those as much as possible to cut down on time! Just keep in mind Uber does NOT work in Disney, it’s only Lyft.
Download the My Disney App
I highly recommend downloading the My Disney app to your phone while you visit. It’s supposed to link to your magic band, but we had random issues with ours, so we never fully got everything working.
Regardless, it’s great to use as a map of the parks, making restaurant reservations, planning for Fastpass+, and seeing the wait times for each ride in real-time! It also warns you of traffic. Don’t ignore that like us.
Plan for Fastpass+ way ahead of time
Basically, Fastpass+ allows you to skip the line at different rides. You can make three reservations in ONE park. After you use all three, you can make another one at a kiosk or on your app.
However, these spots book up quickly, so you want to book as far ahead as possible. If you’re a normal park goer, you can start 30 days prior, and if you’re at a resort, you can do it 60 days prior.
As you know from above, we, uh, didn’t have our stuff together until the night before we went to the parks, so we didn’t get a single Fastpass+ ride. Whoops! It worked out, though, because we used the next option:
Use the Single Rider Line
Most attractions have this option, and it’s SO much faster than the main line! It’s basically what it sounds like. No, you most likely won’t sit next to your friend on a rider, but does that really matter? Use it! You can still hang out with each other in line, and it’ll be maybe a 10-minute wait for them afterward. It seriously cut down our wait time.
**Note: It’s not available for Tower of Terror, we tried.
Finish in One Park Before Moving On to the Next
I think one of our minor mistakes was going from Epcot to Studios and then back again. If I did it again, I’d just finish Epcot first, then head to Studios, and then get a Lyft to Magic Kingdom since there’s no direct shuttle but it’s only 10-minutes away.
OR, to be more efficient, I’d go to Animal Kingdom, shuttle to Hollywood Studios, walk to Epcot, and then take the monorail to Magic Kingdom. The reason we did Epcot 2nd was that we wanted to eat there, and we were getting hungry after getting off Everest.
Ask for help — Disney people know their stuff
If you’re ever confused or unsure of how anything works, just go up to Guest Relations or a worker and ask for help. They know their stuff, and they deal with confused families day in and day out. Any little problem you have, they’ve dealt with it.
Just remember to be NICE and POLITE. Goodness, you’d think that’d be obvious, but we saw way too many entitled, whiny parents in just the one day we were there, and it was a cooler, off-season day. I can’t even imagine what kind of shit employees have to deal with in the dead of summer.
Make a game plan
Before you go, make a game plan! Whether you’re staying for a day or a week, make a solid game plan ahead of time, so you can get as much from the park as you can.
I cannot emphasize this enough. I wore my tried and true Birkenstocks (after ditching my Converses an hour in), and my feet were still sore after the day was over. Kelsey had to get Crocs, aka the ugliest comfortable shoes in the world, and her feet were dead.
As you can see from my outfit, I had on a comfy T-shirt and my cut-offs. Kelsey wore a pair of ripped jeans, a T-shirt, and a denim jacket, and Emily wore a skirt, a denim jacket, and flip-flops. We were all relatively comfortable in our outfits for the less humid, 70-80F weather.
Set a budget. Disney can be a huge money pit. I mean, those rosegold ears I’m wearing? THIRTY FREAKING DOLLARS. I actually said to myself, “I’ll get a pair of black ones if they’re less than $20,” thinking that $20 was an absurd price to charge. Let me just tell you the expletives I muttered when I saw the $27.99 pre-tax price tag…
Luckily, I borrowed mine from Meredith to wear, so I managed to avoid paying that absurd price for something I could figure out how to DIY, but I’m still offended.
Even when you think of Epcot… What do you do there? You eat. Sure, there are some rides, but you’re not going for that. You’re going for the cute country scenes and to stuff your face with delicious, overpriced food.
Anyway, make yourself a certain budget that’s not crazy, and stick to it to avoid spending a billion dollars on food and souvenirs. If you want fun Disney stuff to wear, just look at Etsy or Amazon online before and buy it there. Look, I already found cute stuff for MUCH less than any of the shops in the parks, including some ears for $10:
Don’t try to do 4 parks in one day
Ha! Had to add that in. Seriously, though, I’m glad we tried and were as successful as we were, but we really flew through everything. In the future, I’d like to spend way more time roaming around the parks. There’s so much to see, and we only hit up the places we planned for ahead of time. A MUCH nicer pace would be to do 1-2 parks a day or even just one.
Longer than a Day Budget Tip
This is weird, but I was playing around with dates and prices on Get Your Guide to see if it was any cheaper. Basically, the 1 or 2-day park hopper option is cheaper if you buy directly from Disney, but the GYG option for 3 days, 5 days, and 7 days is cheaper than directly on Disney’s site.
I’d probably get the 3 or 5-day ticket in the future and then individually buy a water park one if I wanted to go (they’re only $69 per park after taxes).
I think that’s about it! I’m going to stop myself here before I get too carried away (as though 4,000 words isn’t carried away).
What do you guys think? Were we crazy?