How to make the most of a short trip to Walt Disney World
Back in March, Mark and I made our way to Walt Disney World for a quick 4-day stay. One of the most common reactions we got was “why so short a trip?!” I get it. WDW is HUUUUUGE, and you could easily spend weeks there and still not see everything. There are 4 theme parks and 2 water parks to explore — chock full of rides, restaurants, shopping, and live entertainment.
But what if you only have a few odd days to spend at the WDW resort? I’m sure we all wish we could opt in to the 10-day uber vacation, devoting multiple days to each park (and maybe one full day to the Flight of Passage line)… but sometimes a long weekend is all we have to work with. And I’m here to tell you can still get an amazing dose of WDW in just a few days, as long as you maximize your trip as much as possible.
Here are some of my tips for planning a short, jam-packed trip to WDW.
Take advantage of After Hours events
If you don’t have the time (or the patience) to burn 4 hours in line waiting for Flight of Passage, you now have the option of paying a little bit more for an After Hours event. Disney introduced these events just last year as an attempt to mitigate some of the soul-crushing crowds in Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. For around $125 a person, the After Hours events allow you into the park for 3 hours after it closes to the general public, with little-to-no wait times.
They only do After Hours events on specific days, and you may find that your trip doesn’t overlap with any of them. That was the case for us, so we went a different route: Early Morning Magic. These events are similar to After Hours, only they’re a bit more limited in scope. You can currently do Early Morning Magic at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, and they’re only about 1 hour and 15 minutes long vs 3 hours. Depending on which park you choose, your ticket gets you access to either Fantasyland (in Magic Kingdom) or Toy Story Land (in Hollywood Studios) around 7:30am, before the park opens. The ticket price (about $85 a person) also includes coffee and breakfast at the participating restaurant in each park.
We were able to do the Early Morning Magic at Toy Story Land during our last visit to Walt Disney World, and you can read all about our experience HERE. It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed us to ride Slinky Dog three times in a row, so I’d call it a success overall.
Book ahead of time through the FastPass+ system
This one should be a given, but it’s so important that it’s worth shouting from the rooftops. If you’re staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel, you can make your Fastpass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance via the Walt Disney World website or mobile app. If you’re not staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel, you can make your reservations up to 30 days in advance. Unlike After Hours events, these are completely FREE for all guests.
Fastpasses are like gold at Disney Parks, cause they let you bypass the (sometimes insanely) long stand-by lines in favor of a designated FP+ line. We’re talking the different between a 245 minute wait for Flight of Passage in Pandora, and a 10 minute wait. BANANAS. I’d recommend setting a reminder in your phone to reserve your Fastpasses as soon as the 60 or 30-day window opens up, cause you can bet that the FPs to premiere “E-ticket” rides (like Flight of Passage and Slinky Dog Dash) are going to get swooped up almost immediately.
Use Lyft / Uber instead of the Disney World bus system
The WDW bus system is a complimentary service for all Disney Resort Hotel guests. It’s a great perk, and a solid way to get to and from the various theme parks and resorts free of charge. BUT, it is soooo slow. If you’re taking a WDW bus, you basically need to factor in about an hour of transportation from pick up to drop off.
If you’re only in WDW for a short amount of time, you do not have that hour to spear. Instead, grab an Uber or a Lyft (they’re available just about everywhere) and you can get to where you want to be in just a fraction of the time. You can also easily grab one of the Disney “Mears” taxis from any of the resort hotels. They’re slightly more expensive than the ride sharing apps, but they’re handy in a pinch cause they’re almost always waiting by valet.
We didn’t step foot inside a WDW bus on our last trip, and it saved us a ton of time!
Stay “Club Level” at an official Disney Hotel
In addition to the aforementioned perk of free transportation (and the general atmosphere of magic) the official Disney World Resort hotels have a few other perks for vacationers looking to get the most out of their WDW visit. First of all, Disney Hotel guests can access “Extra Magic Hours” on select days of the week. This means you’ll be able to enter the park 1 hour earlier (or stay up to two hours later) than the general public. But, I’d say the best perk of a Disney Hotel is being able to take advantage of “Club Level” amenities. It’s more expensive per night, but so worth it:
(1) Club Level guests get access to a special lounge with all-you-can-eat appetizers, snacks, desserts, and beverages (both alcoholic and non) — available all day long. Actual offerings vary by hotel, but we’ve thus far stayed “Club Level” at the Grand Floridian and Polynesian (as well as the Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim) and had great lounge experiences across all of them.
(2) You get access to a dedicated concierge staff, which does everything from streamline your check-in process to book shows and restaurants for you. They can’t really do the impossible (e.g., get you last minute FastPasses for Flight of Passage), but they do their absolute best to help out in any way they can. It’s an awesome resource, especially if you are trying to make the most of limited WDW time.
Make dining reservations
This one is another given. If you only have a hot second to spare at WDW, you don’t want to waste any time standing around as a restaurant walk-in, waiting for a table to become available. Especially since so many of the best WDW restaurants don’t really do walk-ins anyway (California Grill, I’m looking at you). Remember: WDW restaurant books open up 180 days in advance, so keep that in mind as you plan your trip.
Do the Fireworks Dessert Party
WDW offers a number of “dessert parties” across the parks, all of which are aimed at elevating your fireworks experience from a cramped, crowded stress-fest to a chill, sit-down dining experience topped off with cake and chocolate. Mark and I have only ever done the Tomorrowland Terrace dessert party for the Magic Kingdom fireworks (they also have them for Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios, and Illuminations at Epcot) — but I’d assume they’re all roughly the same in concept. The cost of the dessert party ticket gives you access to a reserved seating area and array of goodies to nosh on while you watch the fireworks. It’s vastly superior to the crowded mosh pit of Main Street fireworks viewing, and eliminates the stress of you needing to camp out in advance for a spot. Plus, CHOCOLATE. CUPCAKES. SPARKLING CIDER. It’s worth it, my friends.
This one may be more unique to us, but Mark and I are not big on spending the entire day in the parks. We just don’t have the stamina to fight our way through crowds and strollers and Florida humidity without also balancing it out with a healthy dose of downtime. To that end, we love resort hopping around the WDW Hotels. There are so many restaurants, bars, and lounges throughout the various Disney Hotels on property, and wandering through them — in glorious A/C, while most guests are in the parks — is a great way to recharge.
Most of our trips to Disney World have been long weekends vs. extended stays, so I’d say we’ve gotten fairly good at cramming a week’s worth of Mickey goodness into a few days. I hope this little list is helpful for the next time you find yourself trying to get as much as possible out of a short visit to the Most Magical Kingdom on Earth.