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Disney Schedule- What You Need to Know about Planning Your Days at Disney

Updated on February 15, 2013

If you are planning a Disney vacation, you might faint at the amount of planning and preparation it takes. Given that Disney includes heat, crowds, waiting, and tons of stimulation- if you have kids, you’ll want to do all you can to maximize your expensive vacation. My friends call me the Disney Guru, and while I know there are a million Disney planning sites out there, they might give your brain the same sort of overwhelming mind-numbing sensation that the Disney parks can give! A lot of them require you to get a degree in Disney language before being able to use the information they pump out.

This article will be the first in a series; giving parents (in normal language) only the most crucial tips needed to make sure your vacation is a success. Tackled in this article will be advice surrounding a Disney schedule; the time of year to go, how many days you need, what parks on which days, and how to stay on schedule so everyone gets to see what they want.

Which month should I go?

Inexpensive, cool, not crowded
Rides close for maintenance
Great weather, vacation time for kids
Crowded, more expensive
Great weather
Very crowded, more expensive
Great weather, vacation time for kids
Very crowded, more expensive
Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, warm weather
No school vacation, crowded
School's out, not too much rain
Crowded and hot
School's out, parks stay open late
Crowded and hot
Cheaper rates, parks stay open late
Very hot and hurricane season
Inexpensive and not crowded at all
School is in session, hurricane season
Halloween party, cooler weather, reasonable crowds
School is in session
Nice weather, school vacation
Extremely crowded during Thanksgiving
Nice weather, gorgeous decorations
Crowded during holiday week, expensive

How many days do I need to see all four parks at Disney?

A lot of people think, “Four parks, four days, and then we’re done.” Well the math is solid, but your logic is faulty. To see all four parks takes more than four days if you want to be alive at the end. Just the idea that you can pound through miles of attractions in the heat and crowds in that time is unrealistic. If you are with kids, this is my recommendation for the amount of days you should allot to your vacation depending on the park.

  • If you want to see Magic Kingdom- give yourself two days
  • If you want to see Animal Kingdom- give yourself one day
  • If you want to see Hollywood Studios- give yourself one to two days
  • If you want to see Epcot- give yourself two to three days

So if you want to visit all four parks, you really need at a minimum- six days. This does not include water parks or Downtown Disney.

A typical schedule for a family

Day One- On the day you arrive, you should plan to go into one of the parks for a few rides and dinner. Get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Day Two- Plan to arrive at your park of choice at “rope drop”. That simply means when the park opens. This does mean you’ll be getting up early, which is why I recommend a good night sleep after your travel day. The benefit of rope drop is you’ll get to view the character show that begins at each day, and get a head start on the attractions before all the lazy morning people show up. On this day, I would leave the park in the early to mid afternoon and plan to spend the evening at the resort. The kids will need some downtime.

Day Three- Arrive at your park of choice at “rope drop” again. This shouldn’t be too difficult as you (and the kids) will hopefully be rested from an early evening. Spend just the morning in the park, and return to your hotel for a nap. Go back into the same park (or a different one) for dinner and nighttime events. You’ll be out late this night, so a nap is crucial.

Day Four- Allow the kids to sleep in and don’t plan to go to a park for most of the day. Around late afternoon, you can go into a park and do some attractions, rides, and nighttime events. Try to get to bed at a decent hour (in other words, don't stay out quite as late as the night before).

Day Five- Depending on the night before, try to get to a park in the morning (not necessarily at the opening), and spend the whole day until dinnertime. Spend the evening at the resort.

Day Six- Arrive at “rope drop” and go through the park until afternoon. Go back to the resort for a nap, and return to a park for the dinnertime and evening activities.

Snapshot of a recommended schedule

Early Evening
Travel time
Arrival time
Rope drop - Epcot
Rope drop- Animal Kingdom
Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios
Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Rope drop- Hollywood Studios
Park of choice
Park of choice

The advantage to staying on property

It is more expensive, but staying on Disney property gives you the ability to break up your days more easily. Returning to a hotel for a nap when it’s 30 minutes away is unrealistic. If you are staying off property, I would suggest that you start your vacation with daytime visiting, making sure to get to bed early so fatigue doesn’t pile up. On the subsequent days of vacation when kids are more tired, take time to sleep in and/or nap, and visit the parks in the afternoon and evenings (in shorter chunks).

  • Day One- Early Evening
  • Day Two- Daytime
  • Day Three- Daytime
  • Day Four- Afternoon and Night
  • Day Five- Afternoon and Night
  • Day Six- Daytime

The order of parks

There are plenty of “crowd” apps on smartphones that will tell you what days to avoid certain parks. All in all, the type of crowds is really determined by the season and special events, not really about any particular day. But assuming all other variables are equal, is there a better pattern for touring the parks with kids?

Epcot First
This park is a more “adult” park, and I suggest you do it first. The kids will be fresh with energy and enthusiasm, and won’t have the other parks to compare it to. My kids loved the educational rides at Epcot even though they weren’t as exciting as the Magic Kingdom- simply because they hadn’t experienced it yet!

Animal Kingdom Second
This park is HUGE! You’ll want to tackle the walking earlier in the trip before you are fatigued. It is also a lot of outdoors because of the animals- so morning time is best. Don't arrive at the Animal Kingdom at lunchtime; you'll be hot and the animals will be hiding in the shade.

Hollywood Studios/Magic Kingdom Third and Fourth
Both these parks are smaller and easier to navigate quickly. However, the smaller layout does make them feel more crowded, so keep that in mind. It’s a trade off. You can cross Magic Kingdom in minutes, but that does mean you’ll be weaving in and out of people more. Make sure you arrive at rope drop for at least one of these parks. It'll help you to tackle the more popular rides (this will be covered in depth in another article).

Tips to keep you and the family on schedule

Getting to rope drop

  1. If the park opens at nine, you'll need to be at the bus stop at the hotel by 8am. Put the kids to bed in their clothes for the next day.
  2. Pack granola bars, juice boxes, and other easy to pack breakfast foods to take on the road.
  3. Don't bother with sunblock at the hotel. Do it while you're standing in line.
  4. Pack your backpack the night before.

If you have little kids...

  1. Consider vacationing during January. Some of the more popular rides might be closed for renovation, but you'll see that the Magic Kingdom fireworks are much earlier in the evening; a plus for small kids. If you go in the summer, you'll have to stay out until 10pm or later to see the show.
  2. Watch the fireworks from a hotel or near the entrance to the park. Granted the fireworks may end at 9:30pm, but getting out of the park takes quite awhile. We didn't have front row seats to the show at Magic Kingdom, but we were one of the first families on the bus back to the hotel.
  3. Rent a stroller from a third party company, not Disney. You won't waste time getting and returning the stroller, not to mention a stroller comes in handy at the resort itself.
  4. Pick a resort that is close to a park. The Beach Club and Yachtclub are close to Epcot and Hollywood Studios; the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, The Contemporary, and Wilderness Lodge are all close to Magic Kingdom. You'll save time by staying at one of these resorts.

Julie DeNeen


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    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      This if full of some Great Information!!!! And yes, you definitely need to plan ahead. I LOVE Disney World and went for the first time in 2009. I highly recommend the Dining Plan!!! I hope we are able to go again within the next few years!!

    • profile image

      Jade0215 5 years ago

      Great information. I use to work for the Disney Store and always had people coming in asking for information about going to Disney World constantly and I'd say this is an excellent sum up of everything they need to know about planning their visit.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Excellent, Julie. It's been a number of years since I've ventured to Disney, but I see a trip in my near future. Wonderful hub. VUMS!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I was one of the first to go to Disneyland. Does that date me!!!! This is a great and comprehensive article for those wishing to spend some time at Disneyland. You certainly did your homework.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Now this is simply not fair! You know according to my intro hub that I want to go here! Now, you are just making me covet it and become jealous! LOL No, but seriously great hub, informative and well-written! I will go someday, I promise! Or is that a threat? Take care Julie, have a great night!

      P.S How is CT these days?

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      esmeowl- I agree about staying on property. I've done both and I think the extra money for onsite is worth it.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      mhatter99- Thanks...I've got so much to say about Disney. I've not written about it yet because the competition is so high on the Internet, but I love it so much, I thought- what the heck, I'll just write and maybe someone will find it useful!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      GREAT REPORT! But I love Disneyland, Disney World and the Disney Resorts. my first visit was in 1974.

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      These are great tips. We've done Disney a number of times and it really is important to PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! However, we always tried to be ready for the unexpected - we once were able to walk right in to the character lunch in The Land and it was fantastic. I agree that staying on the property has terrific advantages - it's worth the extra money.