Ask Amy: Four Parks – One Day!

Lora T. posted this intriguing question to The Affordable Mouse Facebook pageIf you only had 1 day to spend at Disney World but had a park hopper pass, what would be your top stops?”

We here at The Affordable Mouse were intrigued by Lora’s question. We like a challenge. So lace up your sneakers, pack some portable snacks and gulp down the caffeine – we’ll go for all four major parks in one day. We might want to call this day Mission Impossible (or maybe Mickey Possible!). In any event, here we go!

We’re picking just the best of the best attractions for each of Walt Disney World’s four main parks. Water parks, mini golf and Downtown Disney will have to wait for a different day. I highly recommend the official Disney app for your phone. You can adjust your plans based on the wait times listed and the fast past return schedule. Don’t forget to chime in with your opinions in the comment section.

First stop – Hollywood Studios
Arrive – 8:00 AM
Depart – 10:45 AM

We’re going with a non-Extra Magic Hours Day, so arrive at Hollywood Studios having already eaten breakfast and get in line at the park entrance. Hollywood Studios tends to open their gates prior to the posted time, so be early. While you’re standing in line, apply sunscreen, finish your coffee and plan for the day.

Secure a volunteer to get fast passes for your group at park opening. Instruct your volunteer to walk swiftly to Toy Story Midway Mania! (TSMM) and get fast passes. Small kids will then enjoy photos with Buzz and Woody directly across from TSMM. Older kids and thrill seeking adults should skip this meet and greet and proceed to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (ToT). After ToT, ride TSMM with your fast passes. If you have time, check out the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area or one of the alternate attractions listed below. Exit Hollywood Studios and take the bus to Epcot.

While my suggestions for Hollywood Studios were fairly structured, you’ll really need to adjust your schedule based on wait times at the remaining parks.

Alternate attractions: Other Hollywood Studios favorites include Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and for the smallest travelers, Disney Junior – Live on Stage!

Arrive 11:15 AM
Depart 1:45 PM

Normally I love the boat ride from Hollywood Studios to Epcot. It’s soothing and a nice change from buses. However, the boat stops at Swan/Dolphin, Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and Boardwalk before arriving at Epcot’s International Gateway, so the boat ride is  not our most efficient option for this mission. For the attractions we’ll take on today, the bus entrance near Future World is our best option.

Soarin’ is extremely popular, and for those who don’t get motion sickness, Mission Space is awesome too.  But wait times will probably now be 60+ minutes. If either of these rides are important to you, adjust the schedule later in the day.

If you skip Soarin’ and Mission Space, you can still get a bit of a thrill at Test Track. Since fast passes are probably gone at this point, use the single rider option here to shorten your wait time.

After Test Track, try some fast and fun activities. Stop by Club Cool to sample sodas from around the world, laugh out loud at Turtle Talk with Crush, take a chill and educational boat ride on Living with the Land or jump in a clam-mobile at The Seas with Nemo and Friends.

You’re probably hungry for some real food now, so take a short time out in Sunshine Seasons – a great quick service restaurant offering healthy options – located in the Land pavilion.

After lunch, leave Epcot and take the bus or spring for a taxi to Animal Kingdom.

Alternate attractions: You may choose to end your day at Epcot. I love, love, love a relaxing stroll at night around each of Epcot’s featured countries. Our kids like the Kidcot Fun Stops, we like sampling delicious fare from each country before watching the spectacular Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. 

Animal Kingdom
Arrive 2:15 PM
Depart 5:00 PM

This park has become one of my family’s favorites. Check your Disney app for wait times. In order, I would suggest Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids. The safaris come off my top list entirely if you a) have done them before or b) have a chance to visit the viewing stations at the Animal Kingdom Lodge on a different day.

Small kids will enjoy The Boneyard play area and TriceraTop Spin, one attraction which rarely has a long line.

Animal Kingdom has several great walk through (i.e. no line) exhibits such as the Discover Island Trails and the Maharajah Jungle Trek, sure to please travelers of all ages.

Say goodbye to the animals and head for the Magic Kingdom. This will be your longest trip between parks, so take whatever bus comes first – Magic Kingdom or Contemporary Resort. If you choose the latter, it’s only a short walk to the Magic Kingdom entrance. A taxi is another option, but it won’t get you to the park entrance, so a bus may still be your best bet.

Magic Kingdom at Night
Arrive 6:30 PM
Depart 10:00 PM

Don’t you just love walking into this park? There is truly something magical about the Magic Kingdom any time of day, but you can’t beat arriving when Cinderella’s Castle glows with lights.

At the park, check your app for fast past return times. Secure any fast passes available for rides important to your group.

You’re starving now, right? Your feet might hurt also. Take a brief respite at Columbia Harbour House, a great quick service spot with quality selection.

After you’re refreshed, it’s time to tackle the most popular park. My favorite rides include the mountains…Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Our kids love Dumbo, Astro Orbiter, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, It’s a Small World, The Barnstormer, Enchanted Tales with Belle and the Haunted Mansion.

You won’t be able to hit them all, but you can maximize your ride time by visiting these attractions during the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes fireworks display when wait times can drop significantly. Don’t worry – you can see fireworks from most areas of the park. Why not try some of the outdoor rides during Wishes? Riding Dumbo or traveling down the water flume in Splash Mountain under a light filled sky can be pretty magical!

Whew! What a day. The schedule above is jammed packed. Remember – these are suggestions and flexibility is key. You may want to skip one park all together to maximize time at three others.

If you are staying at a Disney resort you also may want to explore the Extra Magic Hour option, especially if it means the Magic Kingdom is closing in the wee hours of the morning. The park will be crowded, but the hours will give you much more time in the park to explore other great attractions (like Peter Plan’s Flight, the Mad Tea Party and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin), visit with characters or sit and enjoy a Mickey bar while watching Wishes.

What are your top stops at Disney?
Do you have questions for Ask Amy? Be sure to post them below!

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Amy works as a college administrator and instructor in the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She visited Walt Disney World for the first time as an adult for a conference. But Amy truly caught the “Disneybug” when she traveled with her young daughter. Amy loves all things travel and especially enjoys trip preparation and strategy: trying to find the best deals, exploring new resorts and restaurants, and planning an extra something special for each trip.

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