If you only have one day to conquer the holy grail of all theme parks and all 107 jam-packed acres, how do you decide what to do? Which park do you visit, which attractions and rides do you take in? Your decisions will be based largely on whether or not you have kids, what interested you have and how much money you have to spend. We’ve pulled together a list of tips and things to consider when you’re forced to pack all of Disney in one day. Instead of suggesting an itinerary, we’ll help you figure out how to maximize your time in the parks.
1. Be realistic
While you should be able to check off many of your must-see items on your family’s list, be realistic about what you can actually see in one day. Pushing your group too hard will suck all the fun out of the experience so don’t over-extend yourself.
2. What to know before you go
Successfully navigating the parks entirely depends on how well prepared you are before you even get there. The first thing you should consider when to visit; obviously off-season has the least crowded times of the year saving you oodles of time in line. Late September through mid-November and mid-January through March are you best bets.
3. What to get before you go
Get your tickets before you go and have them mailed to you or you’ll spend valuable time in the “will-call” line. Also, spend time studying a map of the park and strategize which rides you plan to visit. Be sure to check height restrictions if you have young children. Park hours also vary from day-to-day. If you can, stay overnight on-site. This could afford you some “Extra Magic Hours” in the park(s) of your choice. These are available to on-site guests only. Also, download the “My Disney Experience” app from Disney and have access to park maps, all your reservations, FastPasses and more.
4. What to pack for the parks
Make sure to have rain ponchos, band aids, any necessary medications, sunblock, hat, sweater or sweatshirt and any other must-have items. Being prepared will save you a trip back to your hotel in the middle of the day.
5. What to ride
Everyone will have their list of favorite rides – most popular rides most likely have shorter lines early in the morning so get to the park at “rope drop”. This means get to the gate 30 minutes before the park opens. If you’re visiting Magic Kingdom, check off all your must-do items in fantasyland first, like Dumbo, and if you have older kids – head to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain or Fronterland for Splash and Thunder Mountains. Good rule of thumb, take in the park clockwise, meaning always head to the left because for some reason, most park visitors do the opposite. Finish all rides i one area of the park before venturing to the next “land”.
List of Must-See Rides in Magic Kingdom based on age:
For Toddlers in Fantasyland
Dumbo The Flying Elephant
Peter Pan’s Flight
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Barnstormer (the only roller coaster in this list – don’t worry, it’s pretty tame)
Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
Ariel’s Grotto – meet the mermaid princess
For School-Aged Kids
Pirates of the Caribbean – Adventureland
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Tomorrowland
Haunted Mansion – Liberty Square
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Frontierland
Swiss Family Treehouse – Adventureland
Tomorrowland Speedway – Tomorrowland
Splash Mountain – Frontierland
Space Mountain – Tomorrowland
The Wheel of Progress – Tomorrowland
6. Time Saving Tips
Extra Magic Hours – Available for on-site guests only. The way this works is, a Disney park will open one hour early or stay open a couple hours after usual closing time.
FastPass+ is available for all guests and allows you to book “reservation” times for rides and attractions.
Rider Swap is also a great time saver for groups with more than one adult and a child that is too short for a ride. The way it works is that you all wait in line together, and when you get to the front of the line, you tell the attendant that you want to do a rider swap. At this point you will be given a pass for the second adult to use the FASTPASS line when the first adult returns.
7. Smart Dining
Plan your meal and snack times the smart way. Eat breakfast before you get to the park. Utilize quick-service dining throughout the day so that you don’t burn through valuable time at a sit-down restaurant. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Pinocchio Village Haus, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe, The Lunching Pad, Casey’s Corner, Tortuga Tavern all offer delicious fare quickly.
If you’re efficient, you can probably fit in a second park in the late afternoon or evening. Epcot is a great option after taking in Magic Kingdom. Though we focused in on Magic Kingdom for this article, the same tips apply to the other parks, except for the rides of course. Tackle the parks counter-clockwise, have a plan and get there as early as possible to limit time standing in line.
Photo courtesy of Disney Photo Snapper