WDW2020: How long to stay?

This post is part of my WDW2020 series where I take you through my planning process as I get ready for my next trip to Walt Disney World. I’ve announced my trip (https://www.crazycatnerd.com/blog/2019/7/2/6j811xnq91sym84cesf5goawdjochg), established our objectives (https://www.crazycatnerd.com/blog/wdw2020-planning-for-disney-what-are-our-objectives), and decided when to go (https://www.crazycatnerd.com/blog/wdw2020-when-to-go-to-walt-disney-world). Next up, we need to decide how long to go for.

Can you do Disney in a day? In two days?

A lot of people who are unfamiliar with Walt Disney World ask this question. Perhaps they are planning a vacation to the Orlando area and are hoping to visit multiple destinations such as Universal and SeaWorld in addition to Disney World. 

The short answer is “no”. You should not visit Walt Disney World for just one or two days. Walt Disney World is huge so you will only be scratching the surface of what they have to offer. Walt Disney World is better done as its very own separate, full vacation.

At the same time, however, that answer is also “of course you can”. You can purchase a single day ticket to Walt Disney World. You absolutely are able to go to Walt Disney World for one day. Just understand that:

  • You will be sampling what Disney has to offer- a mere fraction of what is available

  • Your ticket will not be cost-effective. The cost of park admission per day goes down the longer you stay- by a lot.

  • Each park is very different so you will likely not get a good sense of whether or not you should return

  • If you don’t plan that one day in advance (dining, fastpasses) you will likely miss out on some key experiences.

Confession: I’ve had a Disney World trip that was only a day long! I went to the Orlando area for family-related business. The business was handled in a shorter amount of time than expected and I had an extra day, so I went to Animal Kingdom (one of the four major parks in WDW). Did I overpay? Absolutely. Was I under-prepared? Yes. Did I see everything I wanted to see in Animal Kingdom? Definitely not! Was it worth it? YES. I live a very long day’s drive away from the parks, so anytime I have a chance to go to Disney I take it. But I adore Disney and I’ve been many times. I would not recommend that strategy under normal circumstances.

The Tower of Terror attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Tower of Terror attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

How many days should you spend at Walt Disney World?

In most cases, my suggestion is between 6 to 8 days. If you want to hit all the highlights and spend most of your time in the parks, six days is good. If you want to do more dining, see more shows, relax at your hotel more or visit one of the water parks or Disney Springs, then increase that a couple days. If you are a Disney-fanatic, need to see as much as possible or are visiting from overseas, you might want to increase that to 10 to 14 days. 

There is no shortage of activities to do in Disney World. There are lots of things to see and do outside of the four major parks such as: recreational activities at the resorts, tons of dining options, dancing, live music, miniature golf, regular golf, fireworks cruises, shopping, bowling and more. I’m a park person, so I spend all of my time in the parks. However, if you are looking for a more relaxing vacation, there is plenty of that there as well.

How many days do you need at the Magic Kingdom? Epcot? Hollywood Studios? Animal Kingdom?

The simplest answers is two mornings at each. With two full mornings at each of the parks, you will get the majority of the rides done. Things can be a bit more nuanced than that depending on your preferences and situation.

The reason I say “mornings” is because the majority of your touring should be done in the morning. Hit the parks when they open, use a good touring plan, and bang out a bunch of rides before lunch. Afternoons and evenings are good for wandering, shopping, dining, watching shows, fireworks and rides that have low wait times. You might wish to get the “park hopper” option on your ticket which will allow you to go to multiple parks in a single day. If you get that option, you should choose your evening park based more on dining and show options than the rides.

  • If you have members of your party who are really into character meet & greets, you may need more time in the parks that have the characters they prefer. 

  • If you have party members who enjoy some of the more kid-friendly attractions, you will likely want to spend more time at the Magic Kingdom. 

  • If you have a child that likes to explore and play, Animal Kingdom is a good bet, and if you like animals, you should set aside more time there as well. 

  • If you like drinking, snacking and shopping consider scheduling more evenings at Epcot.

  • With the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, Star Wars fans will need more time in Hollywood Studios.

Consider two mornings at each park to be your base level, and then add and subtract depending on your preferences.

A courtyard area at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

A courtyard area at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Saving time with Extra Magic Hours & travel times

Extra Magic Hours (EMH) are additional park hours for guests staying “on property”. The term “on property” refers to the resorts owned and operated by Walt Disney World and are closest to the parks. If you are a guest at a Disney resort, certain days you will be allowed to enter certain parks early or stay at certain parks later. Because these times have less guests in the park, queues will be shorter and you will be able to ride a lot more rides. This is a great way to save some time if you have a shorter trip.

Another way to save some time is by staying close to the parks. As I have said, Walt Disney World is huge. A great way to maximize your time is to cut down on transportation time from your resort to the parks. If you’d prefer to stay offsite, you should consider the hotels located near Disney Springs. These hotels are still relatively close to the parks.

What I’ve done in the past

I first started going to Walt Disney World as an adult in 2015. I went to WDW a lot as a child as well, but that was a long time ago and I didn’t make any planning decisions back then! I’ve taken four trips (plus the random single day adventure). I’ve found that my sweet spot is about eight days. At the nine day mark, I start to get physically tired and I really miss my cats!

If I hadn’t been for a long time or it was my first trip, I would definitely still recommend the eight days. I wouldn’t get a Park Hopper and I would spend my days at the parks. However, my husband and I are childless adults who love the parks (we are the “millenials that are ruining Disney World”) and can skip the other stuff. My preference at the moment would be to spend two days at each of the parks. 

What I’m going to do this year

My plan this year, however, is a bit different. As you might recall from this post: https://www.crazycatnerd.com/blog/wdw2020-planning-for-disney-what-are-our-objectives

These are my objectives this year:

1) See as much of Galaxy’s Edge as possible

2) Avoid crowds caused by Galaxy’s Edge

3) Keep the trip on the less expensive side

4) Maximize our time so that we can stay for only 5 days

This year we are interested in keeping our costs a bit lower than normal and using less vacation time. To that end, I’m combining the powers of staying onsite and the Park Hopper ticket option.

We are going to save time by staying on property. We are also going to make full use of the “extra magic hours”. We are planning on using EMH both in the mornings and at night. A single park won’t have EMH in both the morning and the evening on the same day, so we are going to park hop! Park hopping will also give us a break in the middle of the day. Our daily schedule will be something like:

  • Early morning at Park #1 stay until lunch time

  • Back to the resort to freshen up, nap, sit quietly

  • Back to a different park for dinner and then staying through EMH late into the evening

While this is our strategy for this year, I’m not sure if it will be what we do in the future. I’m looking forward to testing this strategy and seeing how much I enjoy it.

Up next, I will talk about choosing our hotel. Thanks for reading! If there are any questions you have about Disney or topics you’d like to see posts about, let me know in the comments.