Anytime I have just one day to experience a Disney theme park, my philosophy is to do as much as I can while still enjoying the atmosphere and not stressing out over time.
Knowing what to expect plays a big role in ensuring you have the best day ever. Let’s get onto the itinerary!
If you only have one day at a Disney park, it’s best to go dusk-til-dawn in order to get the most out of your day. Arriving to the park at “rope drop,” or when the gates open is the best strategy to beat the crowds and get more in before the day gets too hot and crowds get too big.
You Won’t Get To Do Everything into a single park day with the correct mindset will help eliminate frustration and disappointment. Even if you use a touring plan in an attempt to hit every ride in one day, chances are it still won’t happen. Disney World crowds have been at an all time high (even in off seasons), and it’s nearly impossible to get to all corners of the park with that many people around. Anticipate riding what you can, but don’t allow yourself to be upset if you don’t make it to every ride.
What To Skip For Little Ones or Teens
If you are traveling with little ones, you may want to skip the major thrill rides. This will help you save time to focus on experiences that are more appropriate for your kids’ age level. Alternatively, if you’re traveling with older kids or teenagers, you may not feel the need to stand in character meet and greet lines or hit every attraction in Fantasyland. Do what makes sense for you and your party.
Quick Dining/Snack Spots
There are tons of great quick service dining locations that offer snacks or food on the go. If you’re trying to save time, you can always grab a quick lunch or fill up on snacks while walking to your next destination. I found out if you pack your own snacks in a cooler (small) this will save you time in the lines and money!
Also called Child Swap, this service allows parents traveling with infants or small children to “swap” or take turns riding bigger rides without having to wait in line twice. Here’s how it works: If you go on a ride with a height requirement, tell the Cast Member at the line entrance that you’d like to use Rider Switch. The Cast Member will give the waiting portion of your group a Rider Switch pass (which works like a FastPass) and the riding portion of your group will proceed through the line. Once the first riding group gets off the ride, the waiting group can then go through the FastPass+ line to ride next.
Since you’ll be at the park all day, it’s good to know your options should anything happen. There is a first aid station located on the left side of Main Street next to the Crystal Palace. Look for the red and white umbrellas. There are on-site nurses offering everything from bandages to over the counter medications.
After a quick (but not too quick) stroll down Main Street, usually with a pastry and coffee in hand, I head to Fantasyland. I always recommend hitting Fantasyland first. Since it’s in the back of the park, and most people naturally make their way from front to back and not vice versa, Fantasyland tends to be least crowded in the early part of the day. Fantasyland also has the most attractions of all the lands, so it’s nice to be able to knock some of them out early on. Fantasyland is typically going to draw families with small children who may not make it to the park until later in the morning, so if you can beat those crowds, you’ll be in good shape.
*A note if you have small children: Fantasyland rides get long lines fast. I recommend getting FastPass+ reservations for the attractions in this land, particularly for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet if your little ones are interested in that. The line for this character meet can easily surpass 5 hours.
Lands To Experience: Main Street, USA, Fantasyland
Where To Eat: Main Street Bakery, The Plaza Restaurant, Carnation Cafe, Crystal Palace (Character Dining)
BarnstormerPeter Pan’s Flight*
Dumbo the Flying ElephantPrince Charming Regal Carrousel
Enchanted Tales with Belle*Princess Fairytale Hall
It’s a Small World*Seven Dwarfs Mine Train*
Journey of the Little Mermaid*Winnie the Pooh
Mad Tea PartyMickey’s PhilharMagic*
Meet Anna and ElsaFastPass+ Priorities: Peter Pan’s Flight, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Meet Anna and Elsa
Shows To See: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Mickey’s PhilharMagic
Quiet Spots To Enjoy: Main Street Train Station Steps and/or benches, Inside Casey’s Corner, Tabletops on the right side of Main Street next to the Mercantile, Tangled Bathrooms
As I continue to make my way around the park, I tend to go to the left and hit Frontierland first, simply because I think Tomorrowland is cooler at night. If I’m feeling hungry, I like to hit Sleepy Hollow for a snack and maybe a cappuccino. If it’s a particularly hot day, Sleepy Hollow also has a great shaded seating area to provide a little relief and rest from the sun.
At this point in the day, lines might start to expand, but shouldn’t be too bad yet. I like to catch Haunted Mansion and take the standby line, and save my FastPass+ reservations for Big Thunder and/or Splash Mountain to get to a little later. Mid-morning is also a great time to take the Liberty Square Riverboat.
Lands To Enjoy: Liberty Square/Frontierland
Where To Eat: Sleepy Hollow, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn
Liberty Square and Frontierland Attractions:
The Hall of PresidentsBig Thunder Mountain*
Liberty Square Riverboat*Splash Mountain*
Haunted Mansion*Country Bear Jamboree
Tom Sawyer Island
FastPass+ Priorities: Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain
Shows To See: Muppet Show at the Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree
Quiet Spots To Enjoy: Tom Sawyer Island, Columbia Harbour House second floor, Sleepy Hollow seating
Columbia Harbour HouseWhile I’m in the Liberty Square/Frontierland area, I love to hit up the Columbia Harbour House for lunch. It’s some of the best quick service food in the park (Pecos Bill’s is also great), and has a relatively unknown second floor that is generally next to empty. The food is Americana inspired famous for soups, sandwiches, and other light dishes.
After lunch I make my way toward Adventureland. This land will complete the left half of the park, so I’ll eventually end up back on Main Street to move toward Tomorrowland. Adventureland is a great land to explore in the midst of mid-afternoon crowds because all the attractions are so close together, making it easier to hit as many rides as possible. I recommend getting a FastPass+ reservation for Jungle Cruise; Pirates of the Caribbean can have a long line, but the ride capacity is quite high, so the line tends to move faster than that of the Jungle Cruise.
After a bit of time in Adventureland, I’ll probably start to feel a little tired and maybe hungry again, so I like to swing by the Enchanted Tiki Room. One of my absolute favorite things to do in Disney is to grab a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle and enjoy it while sitting in the outdoor waiting area for the show. It just completes that Polynesian experience, and bonus – you can take your snack into the theater!
Land to Experience: Adventureland
Where To Eat: Aloha Isle, Tortuga Tavern, Skipper’s Canteen
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room*Swiss Family Treehouse
Jungle Cruise*Pirates of the Caribbean*
The Magic Carpets of AladdinFastPass+ Priorities: Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise
Shows To See:Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
LATE AFTERNOONIf you’re like me, by this point in the day, you’ll probably be fighting tired feet and exhaustion. After my breather at the Tiki Room, I’ll head to Tomorrowland. It’s a good land for the heat of the day since there aren’t a ton of attractions and there is quite a lot of shade. Plus, all of the rides are indoors.
If you’re especially in need of a break, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or TTA is an awesome little ride that leisurely cruises you throughout the land. If you visit during off season times, cast members have been known to let guests continually ride the attraction without having to get off and get back in line. Another great “restful” option is to the take the Magic Kingdom Railway from the Tomorrowland station and ride around the park for a bit.
Let’s not forget about Space Mountain! If you plan on waiting until this late in the day to ride, make sure you have a FastPass+ reservation for it. Hopefully you’ll be rejuvenated and can finish off with a bang in the highest thrill ride in the park!
Land To Enjoy: Tomorrowland
Where To Eat: Casey's Corner
Astro OrbiterStitch’s Great Escape!
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin*Tomorrowland Speedway
Carousel of Progress*Tomorrowland Transit Authority*
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor*Space Mountain*FastPass+ Priorities: Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Shows To See: Incredibles Super Dance Party
Quiet Spots To Enjoy: Sitting next to Sonny Eclipse in Cosmic Ray’s
Be Our GuestBe Our Guest Restaurant is themed as a replica of Beast’s Castle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The attention to detail and amazing design are truly transformative, and you really feel like you are in the middle of the Enchanted Forest dining on “Gray Stuff” (it’s delicious!).
You need a reservation for the full service dinner, but can also opt for the quick service lunch menu.
The twilight hours are my favorite time of day at the Disney parks. There is something undeniably magical about walking around and seeing all the lights of Main Street, USA turn on at once. I like to take the time after dinner to simply stroll and enjoy the atmosphere of the park. I also might catch a ride or two that I missed earlier in the day. Many people will begin to line up for the nighttime parade and fireworks, so there will be somewhat smaller crowds elsewhere in the park. If you’re satisfied with the attractions you were able to get to during the day, this is a great time to stake a spot for the evening entertainment. The most coveted areas are right in front of the Castle, by the Partners statue. However, a lesser known hot spot is the balcony on the Main Street Train Station. You’ll still have to get there pretty early (about 1.5 to 2 hours in advance) to get a great seat for the parade, but I promise you, it’s worth it. And by this time of day, it’s likely that your feet will be ready for a long break anyway.
I like to grab a churro from a street vendor on Main Street, wander the shops, maybe get an ice cream or popcorn, and set up shop for the evening in my chosen parade spot. If you stay long enough after the fireworks, you’ll even get to experience the Kiss Goodnight!
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