The Walt Disney World Resort is enormous. Encompassing four gated theme parks as well as multiple water park, mini-golf courses, nighttime entertainment districts and many other features, Walt Disney World is a place that one could vacation for a month and still not see and do everything that is offered.
If you have only one day in the Disney area, you may question whether it is even worth spending the money. After all, how much could you possibly see and do in only one day? Fortunately, the answer to that question is: Quite a lot. It takes extreme planning and organization, not to mention stamina and fortitude, but it is in fact quite possible to see the highlights of all four gated parks in only one day of touring. Follow the tips below to maximize your time. Warning: exhaustion is likely to commence! However, this author has successfully visited all four parks in the same day and lived to tell the tale. Be sure to stay hydrated!
*Note* The schedule below is based on average park closing times of:
Animal Kingdom 5 pm
Disney-Hollywood Studios 7 pm
Epcot Future World 7 pm
Epcot World Showcase 9 pm
Magic Kingdom 10 pm
If the parks, particularly Epcot and Magic Kingdom, are open significantly different hours than those listed here, adjust your touring schedule accordingly.
Begin your day no later than 8 am at the Animal Kingdom gates. Sometimes the gates open early, but even if you have to wait till official park opening at 9 am, you will be ahead of the crowd. Enjoy the Awakening show, which takes place 15 minutes prior to opening. During the show, position yourself at the front left corner of the crowd.
As soon as the rope is dropped, head immediately to Kilimanjaro Safaris for a 20 minute ride through the African back country. Very worth your time! Next, make your way immediately across the bridge to Asia. Grab a FASTPASS for Kali River Rapids, then ride Expedition Everest via the Single Riders line. Return to Kali at your designated time and enjoy the ride.
You should leave Animal Kingdom NO later than 11 am. If you have time, ride Dinosaur! and Primeval Whirl, both located in Dinoland USA. Then make your way quickly out of the park.
Your goal is to arrive at Disney Hollywood Studios as close to 11:30 am as possible. You will likely be famished by this time, so grab a snack from either Starring Rolls (located just outside the Brown Derby) or the Farmers Market on Sunset Boulevard. Both locations offer sandwiches and similar.
Next, check the wait times at both Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Grab a FASTPASS for whichever has the longer line and stand in the shorter line. By the time you ride, it should be close to your FASTPASS Return time for the other attraction.
Next make your way to Star Tours, followed by the Great Movie Ride. Skip either of these attractions if the wait is longer than 30 - 45 minutes.
You should leave Disney-MGM Studios by 2 pm. If you have time left in your schedule here, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and the walkthrough Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream are both highly recommended.
Arrive at Epcot Center as close as possible to 2:30 pm. If you are hungry, grab some food at the Land food court. Otherwise, hold out for dinner in the World Showcase.
Make the quick tour of Future World pavilions. Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin’ are the must-sees here, and should be seen by use of FASTPASS and/or Single Riders lines. It is easy to get caught up in Future World and completely miss World Showcase, so keep an eye on the time.
After Future World, make your way to the World Showcase. The countries’ pavilions are laid out in a circle around the World Showcase Lagoon, so start at one end. Depending on time, you may not be able to see all of the major attractions. However, simply strolling through each country’s shops and cafes will give you an excellent introduction to that country.
Highly recommended quick service meals can be found in China and Morocco, as well as several of the other pavilions. Grab some food and sit down to watch a street performer whenever you get hungry. Or simply snack your way around the world.
You should leave Epcot by 6 pm in order to give yourself time to see the Magic Kingdom.
Arrive at the Magic Kingdom by 6:30 pm if you can. Decide in advance which attractions are truly important to you in each land, and pick a direction in which to start. Do not double back or criss-cross the park, and skip any line that is over 30 minutes long. You will not be able to see nearly everything, but you will get an excellent feel for this flagship park.
Many guests have a preferred viewing area for Wishes, the nighttime spectacular. However, on such a tight schedule, you will be better off seeing Wishes from wherever you happen to be. The show is viewable from virtually the entire park, so wait until the five minute warning announcement before finding a viewing location.
The shops and snack stands on Main Street USA stay open at least one hour following park closing. After the fireworks, make your way out of the park at a leisurely pace, stopping to shop and snack. There will be congestion on the monorail and ferryboat anyway, making it impossible to leave without standing in a long line. So avoid the lines and simply relax, reflecting back on your day at Walt Disney World.
Seeing all four Walt Disney World theme parks in one day is difficult and exhausting, but it can be done. Keep to your schedule, know your priorities, and hang on for the ride. It is truly worthwhile.