I often have friends tell me that going to Disney World is really important to their young kids, but they just don’t want to go there for their whole vacation. This is for a variety of reasons; sometimes it’s financial, sometimes just preference. A compromise that these parents often make is to take a nearby beach vacation (within an hour or two) and spend one day at Disney World. This approach is the opposite of what I prefer to do as an avid Disney lover who loves each park in their own way, but I understand that it might not be everyone’s cup of mad tea party. With the right planning I think that these one-day experiences can be pleasantly and surprisingly fun even for the Disney nay-sayer in your family.
As a first time visitor for just one day, you pretty much have to go to the Magic Kingdom. The magic of walking down Main Street USA towards Cinderella’s castle is a special experience that isn’t emulated in the other parks. It’s VERY challenging to ride “every ride” in the park in one day. There are bloggers and park connoisseurs who attempt this and succeed but they are very strategic in regards to timing, walking, eating, and fast passes. This is probably not something a first-time visitor can pull off. So please DON’T TRY to ride every ride. A solid goal is to cover Fantasyland, character interactions, and key rides from other lands. My “must-do” rides, characters, and experiences would be as follows:
- All of Fantasyland (except for Mickey’s Philharmagic)
- Meet Select Characters of importance to your family
- Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean
- Festival of Fantasy Parade
- Fireworks and evening show (if you have that type of energy!)
One way you can maximize getting on more rides is by learning what the most popular rides are and then doing those first thing in the morning before most crowds arrive. This means you need to do what is called “rope dropping.” Rope dropping is where you get to the Magic Kingdom 1 hr+ before opening and are through security and waiting inside Main Street to be released into the different lands at park opening (sometimes even more than 30 minutes before the posted time). You won’t have the luxury of getting fast passes for these tough rides as an off-site guest because they will already be taken by people who are staying in on-site hotels who booked them 60 days in advance. All guests are entitled to fast passes, but the really popular ride at Magic Kingdom to get a fast pass for is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The wait for it is extensive pretty much all day. You can get some good fast passes as an off-site guest, but unless you are as lucky as a lotto winner you probably won’t score a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train fast pass as an off-site guest. If you can be crafty enough to score a 7:00 AM breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant you could then leave breakfast and get in line for the Mine Train first, but those too are also hard to get without advance planning.
Truly, your best approach to get the most of your day is to: rope drop, ride the most popular rides first thing in the morning (Mine Train and the “Mountains”), and then slow your pace as the day progresses, mixing in characters, quick-service dining meals and some entertainment. It’s not worth it to keep up the hardcore see everything pace despite the temptation. Regardless of the touring pace you decide to try, you should always take time to get a picture in front of the castle, eat a food shaped like Mickey, and of course, meet Mickey himself. Those are memories that you will treasure long after the rides are over.