A day spent visiting all four Walt Disney World theme parks will be long, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting or stressful. Choosing the right time of year, using the FastPass+ system to its fullest, staying at an on-site resort… A few key decisions ensured that we would have a day to remember and would even love to try again.
Last week, I shared the timeline for our 4 Parks 1 Day Challenge. Here’s how we did it!
When To Go
Our ideal day for the Four Parks Challenge was an easy decision, guided by the need to be soon after Mom’s birthday – Thanksgiving Day. The following Monday, November 28th, was ideal for several reasons:
- Light Crowds: Disney crowds typically drop as soon as the holiday weekend is over and stay low until Christmas school breaks begin. Except for the Magic Kingdom, crowd levels at the three remaining parks were remarkably low.
- Weather: Of course, Florida can be hot and rainy any day of the year, but late November isn’t typically known for either. If you’re going to be walking over a dozen miles and tramping around four parks in a single day, shoot for a time of year when the weather is cool (by Florida standards) and chances of rain are slim. Fortunately, both of these ideal weather conditions both occur in late fall and winter.
- Extra Magic Hours: Every day, one or two parks will open early or late to guests staying on-site at a Disney resort, adding valuable time to the day. Animal Kingdom, the first park of our day, opened for morning Extra Magic Hours on our chosen Monday which fit our schedule perfectly and gave us a one-hour head start.
- No Hard-Ticket Event: Unless you want to work one of Magic Kingdom’s holiday parties (which require a separate ticket) into your day, don’t plan on visiting all four parks on a day when Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is underway. Magic Kingdom closes early to general guests on party days so, if attempted, a touring plan should schedule the Magic Kingdom earlier in the day. Our chosen Monday fell between two party days so we were able to end the night at Magic Kingdom as we wanted.
Park Touring Plan
We chose to visit the four parks in geographical order as this would require the least amount of time traveling between parks. We started at the southernmost park, Animal Kingdom, and then headed north to Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and, finally, Magic Kingdom.
The reverse order would have met the time efficiency criteria as well, starting at Magic Kingdom and then heading south to end at Animal Kingdom, but park hours dictated our south-to-north direction. Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom opened at 8:00 AM, one hour sooner than the other three parks. Magic Kingdom closed at the end of the day later than the other parks at 10:00 PM, a half hour after the rest had shut their gates. Using the park hours to our advantage, we were able to maximize our time in the parks.
I always recommend staying on site at Disney World, but it’s even more imperative when attempting a Four Parks Challenge as only resort guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. Of course, on-site resorts are also closest to the parks so they are most convenient at the beginning and end of the long day.
We chose the cheapest resort on site with availability, Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, since we would be spending very little time in the room. The All-Star resorts are conveniently closest to our starting park, Animal Kingdom, besides the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
We chose to use Disney transportation between parks as a way to rest and maintain the Disney Bubble. This is probably a no-brainer to most, but we always drive our car to the parks every day of a Disney vacation so riding the bus was a big change for us! We wanted this day to be as leisurely as possible and rest our feet whenever we could. Letting someone else do the driving gave us a nice rest period between each park.
Driving our own car also would have increased the total walking time for an already walking-intensive day by adding the distance between the car and park entrance both upon arrival and departure from all four parks. Disney transportation drops guests nearly at the front gate of each park. Easy peasy.
The overall plan was to take a bus from the resort to Animal Kingdom, bus to Hollywood Studios, Friendship Boat to EPCOT’s International Gateway back entrance, monorail to Magic Kingdom, and bus back to our resort. We ended up walking from Hollywood Studios to EPCOT which was significantly faster than the slow-loading boat. The pathway through the Boardwalk was a lovely mid-day escape from the crowds for 20 minutes.
FastPasses are your best friend during a Four Parks challenge! Disney allows guests to schedule three FastPasses for a single park in advance (60 days for resort guests). After those three FastPasses are redeemed, additional FastPasses can be reserved one at a time for any other park using the MyDisneyExperience app or in-park kiosks.
We scheduled our first three FastPasses for the second park – Hollywood Studios. Lines are shortest at the beginning of the day, so we knew we wouldn’t encounter long lines at Animal Kingdom. However, we would be arriving at Hollywood Studios over an hour after opening when lines would be growing.
Our FastPasses were scheduled for Star Tours, The Great Movie Ride, and MuppetVision 3D. Of course, a FastPass doesn’t actually earn a better seat at the Muppets, but it was the last attraction we wanted to experience before leaving the Studios and I wanted to use all three reserved FastPasses just in case there was an issue getting additional FastPasses for other parks later in the day.
As soon as we tapped our MagicBands for that third FastPass, while still waiting in the Muppets preshow area, I logged onto the MyDisneyExperience app to search available FastPasses at the next park, EPCOT. Soarin’ Around the World was the only attraction there where we expected long lines and I was able to get a perfectly-timed redemption window beginning at 4:15. We’d be entering EPCOT at World Showcase, so it would be several hours before we made our way up to Future World. Perfect timing!
Later in the day, I again logged into the app after arriving at Soarin’s FastPass return line. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom was available at 7:05, just about the time we expected to arrive at our last park of the day. Soarin’, by the way, was our only hiccup of the day. After being assigned to our theater, we waited for the pre-show to begin … and waited … and waited. A cast member finally announced that we would need to move to another theater. The entire Soarin’ experience from beginning to end took nearly an hour but we were already making great time and enjoyed our first viewing of the updated version of the ride.
At each Magic Kingdom attraction we experienced, I logged into the MyDisneyExperience app immediately after tapping MagicBands to line up our next FastPasses. We didn’t have any problems obtaining FastPasses for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and It’s A Small World and even reserved a fourth Magic Kingdom Fastpass for Pirates of the Caribbean which decided against using at the end of the night in favor of beating the mass exodus from the park at closing time.
In all, we used seven FastPasses for three different parks over the course of the day. These saved us hours in line compared to the posted stand-by wait times for the same attractions.
Have you completed a Disney World Four Parks Challenge? What are your best tips?