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You know what rides you want to go on. You've mastered our Walt Disney World Fastpass+ strategy. You know what times to target your Fastpass+ reservations. You even are prepared to "tap and grab" as soon as you use your first reservation. But when you log onto the Disney World website, it hits you: you have no idea what parks go on which days!!
With 47 (and counting) rides at Walt Disney World, gone are the days when you just picked the days with the longest hours and went to one park a day. Now, to really get the most out of your time, you have to think hard about what parks go on what days, half days, even quarter days.
Disclaimer: We're four-park day people. We frequently hit all four parks in a single day. That's why this isn't a "flow chart" or "step-by-step" post. The range of options for figuring out which parks to go on which days to will just be too person. What we're offering here are the factors you need to consider when scheduling your days at Walt Disney World.
Part 1. What Are Your Days Going to Look Like
Early mornings or late? One park or two? Three? FOUR?? Let's get the simple matters out of the way.
1. Are You Park Hopping (And How Much)?
You can't really consider the rest of the factors until you've answered this question. As we said in the opening, four-park days are pretty common for us. We'll do Extra Magic Hours in the morning, hop to a second park near its open, then a third in the afternoon and a fourth at night. Other people do one park per day. There's no right way, in our opinion, it's just a matter of preference and capability. Keep in mind item #7 on this list (getting between the parks) before you think you'll just do four parks a day. It can be an exhausting time.
2. Park Hours and Extra Magic Hours
The next thing you'll need to know is what the park hours look like. If you're park hopping, the one to two (or more) hour discrepancies in opening and closing times can play in your favor, allowing you to spread your parks across multiple days and multiple times. Mind travel times between parks, though, especially getting to and from Animal Kingdom, where you'll have to rely on buses or Uber (or Minnie Vans).
If you're staying at a Disney (or other select hotels), you'll have access to Extra Magic Hours, which allow you access to specific parks on specific days either earlier than the public open or after the public close. Extra Magic Hours are a great way to beat the crowds. If you're park hopping, you'll always want to start your day at either the park that opens earliest or the park with Extra Magic Hours in the morning. Usually these will be the same. Then, you can hop to a second park before its crowds get big.
For example, on December 15, 2017, Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours from 7AM to 8AM, and the other three parks don't open until 9AM. That means from 7AM until 8:30, you can knock off Magic Kingdom rides before going to another park and getting another rope drop in.
If you're not park hopping, you'll want to avoid the park with Extra Magic Hours in the morning because it will have above average crowds the rest of the day. If there are Extra Magic Hours at night, you can take or leave them, depending on park hours the rest of your trip.
Part 2. What Rides Must You Get In
Your ride selection doesn't just impact a single day of planning. Some rides are so important they change how you plan your entire tip.
3. Do You Want To Ride Avatar Flight of Passage
If you want to ride Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, you need to plan to use an advance Fastpass+ reservation on it. If that's the case, one of your days is "spoken for" in terms of where you're scheduling your Fastpass+. Conversely, if you're not going to ride Avatar Flight of Passage, we'd say you don't need to schedule Fastpass+ for Animal Kingdom at all. Just rope drop it and start with Na'Vi River Journey (if you're interested in it), and while everyone else is in line in Pandora, you'll get through the other attractions pretty quickly.
Finally, you will have the best chance of finding a good Fastpass+ time when scheduling the last day of your stay at Walt Disney World. You can book 60 days in advance (if staying at a Disney resort or select other resorts), but as soon as the first day of your stay is within 60 days, you can book the entire stay. This means the last day will have the fewest people fighting for spots. We suggest going with the second-to-last day for your top attraction (in case of hiccups like rides breaking down).
4. Do You Have to Ride Frozen Ever After
Like Avatar Flight of Passage, if you're planning to ride Frozen Ever After, you have to give Epcot a day of Fastpass+ reservations. If you're not, you can probably plan to knock off Soarin' and Test Track at rope drop without using Fastpass+.
5. How Much Do You Need Magic Kingdom Fastpass
With Epcot and Animal Kingdom, you were choosing between giving it zero or one day of Fastpass+ reservations. With Magic Kingdom, the choice is usually between one or two days. Fastpass+ strategy at Magic Kingdom can be downright tough.
Honestly, in our last three tips to Walt Disney World, we probably didn't spend more than four hours in Magic Kingdom at a time. We knock that park out in tiny chunks, usually a combination of Extra Magic Hours, rope drops, late closes, and a single Fastpass+ day. But if you're not park hopping, or not park hopping that much, you might need two days to see all of Magic Kingdom, depending on your demands. Hollywood Studios is probably the easiest victim here (that is, don't use a day of Fastpass+ on it if you only have a four-day trip), at least until Toy Story Land opens in mid-2018.
6. What About Hollywood Studios?
The other three parks got a mention in this section, so what about Hollywood Studios? Honestly, you don't need a day of Hollywood Studios Fastpass+ reservations for the first half of the year. Once Toy Story Land opens mid-year, though, this may change, and you might need to prioritize Hollywood Studios over at least Epcot, if not Animal Kingdom.
Part 3. The Small Details
Okay, these things aren't the most important factors, but after you've spent hours and hours planning, take a second to check your plan against these.
7. Getting Between Parks
Getting to and from Animal Kingdom is always a crapshoot unless you're planning on taking Uber or a Minnie Van (and neither of these are perfect, either). Don't avoid planning to park hop with Animal Kingdom, just don't plan it near anything sensitive.
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Magic Kingdom and Epcot are connected by monorail. Plan for this journey to take 30-45 minutes. To get to other parks, you'll be taking the bus/Uber/Minnie Van.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios are connected by boat, bus, and walkway. All three take between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on speed and wait times. Bus will drop you off closer to Future World's main attractions. We almost always walk this because that is the best way to guarantee arriving at a specific time.
8. Do you need a midday break? (And where will you take it?)
We don't have kids, but we feel your pain when at 1PM the children in Magic Kingdom unite to scream, throw things, and sometimes just fall over and stop walking. If you're going to need a midday break, don't forget to fit it into your planning. Don't plan four parks with a midday break, it's just not happening.
We advocate a midday break at a deluxe resort if you can avoid going all the way back to your resort (or if you're staying at a deluxe). This way you can place yourself near a park. Take a monorail to Grand Floridian or Polynesian and grab a drink while the little ones nap on the couch. Or grab a bite away from the crowds along the Boardwalk while walking between Hollywood Studios and Epcot (this is a great way to break up this walk, too).
9. Advance Dining Reservations
If you have a breakfast, lunch, or dinner reservation, see how it fits into your plans. Don't schedule a late dinner in Epcot if you're going to be in Animal Kingdom before it.
10. The Crowds
We're not huge fans of Disney crowd calendars. Nonetheless, it makes sense to check the crowd calendars for your stay to make sure you know about anything that will cause outsized crowds on the days you're looking at.
11. Holidays and Special Events
Besides impacting crowds, holidays and special events can impact park hours, show times, and even ride availability. Look into what events are going on during your stay, and note how they might impact any specific days.