The ultimate Walt Disney World itinerary
There is a LOT to do in Walt Disney World, and many people can only afford to go once a lifetime. If this is you, and want to get the most out of your Disney trip, here are my thoughts on the ultimate WDW itinerary.
I have built this itinerary to make sure you get to experience the highlights of the parks, and avoid some of the overrated aspects of the park experience (Stitch’s Great Escape and Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, I’m looking at you). There may be some experiences listed that you aren’t interested in (thrill rides, for example) and that’s fine… feel free to substitute other rides or attractions that is more your speed. I also recommend looking at some of the other itineraries at Touring Plans for inspiration…
I propose a five day trip, because this will allow you to get the most out of the vacation and not break your budget. This does not include travel days, so you will have all day every day to get that Disney magic. And leverage the My Disney Experience web and mobile app to book Fastpasses to the most popular rides.
NOTE: I’m assuming a family of four – two adults, two kids. I’m also assuming one is a boy and one is a girl – adjust your planning towards your own family… I also recommend that the park hopper plus option is added to your tickets so you can have more flexibility (you can go to more than one park a day and you also get free access to the two Disney water parks). Also be aware that lots of changes are going on or coming to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, so there will be new attractions in the coming couple of years to experience and lots of construction going on to bring these experiences to life…
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
Recommended Fastpasses: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Be there at rope drop (whenever that may be), enjoy Main Street, and have your picture taken in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Then move directly to the LEFT towards Adventureland. Why left? Because most people go right, towards Tomorrowland. By zigging when zagging you will avoid more crowds.
Buy a Dole Whip (either before or after riding rides in this area).
Ride the following:
- Jungle Cruise
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Railroad
Move to Liberty Square and ride The Haunted Mansion (if you have young children who scare easily you may want to tag-team this ride). By this point you may be close to lunch time, and if so then you can either eat in Liberty Tree Tavern or walk over to Cosmic Rays in Tomorrowland. You then can either A) take a break and go back to your hotel or B) push on to experience Tomorrowland. Try and be realistic about your energy level – don’t push yourself too much on your first day.
If you decide to rest, enjoy your hotel pool and/or just take a nap. Plan on spending at least two hours being… well, on vacation. Especially if you’re going in the heat of the Summer – you’ll need this break.
If you push on, then ride/experience the following:
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Seven Dwarves Mine Train
- Mad Hatter Tea Cups
- Space Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- The Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover
- Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor
Try and watch the afternoon parade if you can… and also try and get dinner at Be Our Guest. Finally, wrap up your day watching the Fireworks – and stand back far enough so you can enjoy the projections on the castle.
(While I recommended getting the Park Hopper option, this is the one park that I recommend you use at least one whole day on – there’s just a lot to do. On Day 5, you’ll have a chance to revisit this park if you choose.)
Day 2: Animal Kingdom
Recommended Fastpasses: Pandora Flight of Passage
The new Pandora land based on the film Avatar has made this park MUCH more popular, which is both good and bad. The bad is there’s a lot of crowds, especially by mid-day. The good is, most of the crowds are centered around this new area… which reduces the foot-traffic to older attractions.
So, once again, arrive at park opening, and go straight, away from Pandora (on your left). Enjoy the following experiences:
- Kilimanjaro Safari
- Kali River Rapids
- Expedition Everest
- Finding Nemo The Musical OR Festival of Lion King (depending on your family’s preference)
Enjoy some great food at Flame Tree Barbecue (or if you want to have a great character dining experience, go to the Tusker House lunch buffet), and then… leave. In my experience Animal Kingdom tends to be the “hottest” of the parks – maybe it’s all the vegetation, or the lack of shade in many areas… whatever the reason, this park is the one that tends to be the most unpleasant in the afternoon hours. Take a break, enjoy the pool, and come back after 4 or 5.
This is when you should visit Pandora, as the nightime experience is very beautiful (the alien flora and fauna “lights up”). Finally, if you do not have a fastpass for Flight of Passage, the lines tend to be much shorter, especially thirty minutes before park closing.
Day 3: Water Park
Visit either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach AT YOUR CONVENIENCE. Don’t rush, and maybe even sleep in. It is a vacation, after all…
Finish off your day by taking a bus to the Beach Club and having the Kitchen Sink mammoth Ice Crème desert, or by visiting Disney Springs for shopping drinks and dinner.
Day 4: EPCOT
Recommended Fastpasses: Soarin’, Frozen, Test Track
Arrive at opening and I again recommend that you zig where everyone zags…instead of going direct to Frozen in World Showcase, turn left and go straight to where Test Track and Mission Space are located. Ride both, then cross over and ride Soarin’ and Living with the Land in the Land Pavilion. Finish your Future World ride experience with Spaceship Earth.
This may now be close to lunch time, and Sunshine Seasons (also in the Land pavilion) is the best lunch choices in the Future World portion of EPCOT. After eating, either take another afternoon break or head over to the World Showcase, and check out the various countries… Start with Canada, and go counter clockwise.
Recommended experiences to checkout in this area:
- Character meet and greets (these tend to be shorter lines than in the Magic Kingdom)
- Impressions De France
- Exhibits in Tokyo and Japan
- Reflections of China
- American Adventure
- Gran Fiesta Tour
If you would like, you can also do a mini-version of “Drinking Around the World” by purchasing beer or wine at the various nations represented – I’d keep it to no more than three drinks, though, and be sure to drink extra water if you imbibe. Have a nice dinner at one of the many great restaurants in the World Showcase (I recommend Le Cellier or Monsier Paul), and finish your day watching Illuminations.
Day 5: Hollywood Studios and a return to your favorite park
Recommended Fastpasses: Toy Story Midway Mania, Rockin’ Roller Coaster
This is your “flex day”, because right now Hollywood Studios is undergoing a LOT of construction, and you can easily hit the highlights before mid-afternoon. You can even arrive an hour after opening and do so… It’s kind of half a theme park right now.
After you arrive, make for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, and then either go left for Star Tours or right for Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Roller Coaster. Go see the Indiana Jones stunt show, and grab a Turkey leg for a snack (or lunch). Go walk through the Star Wars Mission Bay exhibit, and the Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream section. And then… Well, you can stay for another show (Beauty and the Beast) or you can go back to your room to rest. If you stay… well, there’s not much more to do. You can come back to see their Fantasmic nighttime show, or you can revisit another park.
I recommend the “visit another park” option – use this as an opportunity to explore more of the park you enjoyed the most so far on the trip… and to ride additional rides, or reride some of your favorites. This way, you leave on a high note… and finally, you always have the option of enjoying the last evening together on a “date” and paying for Disney babysitting (which is a reasonable $21 an hour for two kids).
So there you have it – my take on the ultimate Walt Disney World itinerary. If you follow this, you will ht all the highlights – and have a great time in the process.