Occupying more than 25,000 acres in Orlando, the footprint of Walt Disney World – Disney’s first park outside of California, opening in 1971 – is the largest dedicated to any theme park in the world. And 50 years later (the celebrations of which conclude on 31st March), still only half of that land is being utilised.
Disney has four main parks across this large piece of land – Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom (which at 405 acres is itself the world’s largest single theme park) – which collectively take up less than 1,000 acres of that land. The rest is occupied by one of the 31 official hotels, 2 water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach), their entertainment district, Disney Springs – which includes a permanent Cirque du Soleil stage – their impressive public transit system and much more.
So, with so much to see and do, and each park worthy of at least a day’s entry by themselves, the question is often asked – how long should you spend at Walt Disney World?
There are plenty of variables to consider for this – have you been before? What are you priorities on ground – are you looking to just ride the rides, see the shows or just take in all the atmosphere? Which park(s) do you want to visit? Are you travelling with young children? Where are you staying while you’re on site? Will you be booking into one of the signature dining attractions on site? Will this be the one and only time you do the trip? Are you going to the water parks?
Last November, I travelled with my Mum to the park (which I highly recommend doing as an adult), and we spent three nights there – giving us three very full days at the four parks. We weren’t accounting for young children, nor the water parks. It wasn’t our first time there and we were very focused on riding the rides over other experiences. We were also staying on site at the spectacular Coronado Springs Resort.
With all those conditions in mind, the three days ended up being enough to ride almost everything we wanted to, though there were some things we weren’t able to fit in – and the days were pretty intensely filled from start to finish. We were also able to skip some attractions and experiences as we’d done them before – albeit many years earlier.
The way the tickets to the parks work is that you pick the park you want to visit to start the day, and then after 2pm, if you have a “Park Hopper” ticket, you’re able to visit a second park. So you technically can visit all four parks in two days, subject to availability and park hours (which differ day to day, park to park). I’ve done it before (in fact my Mum and I did it last time we visited in 2016) – and though you won’t get to ride everything you want to, and you’ll be really crunched for time, it is entirely possible. I just wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re planning a follow up trip soon.
In the end, having a third day meant we didn’t have to rush as much in the two prior days, and anything we missed we had the extra day to make up for (or, ride again – as I was able to do with the Tower of Terror, one of the park’s best attractions). Though it still didn’t mean we had enough time to catch blockbuster shows like Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios. You really do need to get there early to ensure you can get a seat for those sorts of things – which can get in the way of riding several rides at the same time (and at Hollywood Studios, this is honestly the best time of day to head to the Star Wars or Toy Story sections of the park).
It also gives you room for things to go wrong – which, at a theme park, they often do. Rides break down – and may be down for an entire day – lines can get insanely long, and a member of your party may end up feeling unwell.
For one, our third day at Animal Kingdom was marred by extensive delays on the park’s biggest (and, best) attraction – Avatar Flight of Passage. We were in that queue for three hours due to technical issues. And this is where that extra day comes in handy – even with all the best preparation in the world in terms of getting GENIE+ for skipping queues, and working your day around the most popular rides, things like this happen. And the coaster Operation Everest – another of the best rides at Animal Kingdom – was closed for the entire day. So we weren’t able to ride it at all.
The extra day also meant I was able to duck out early one of the nights and see Silversun Pickups and Eliza & The Delusionals at the House of Blues, which sits on site at Disney Springs. You might even want to leave the grounds and enjoy something else Orlando has to offer (Medieval Times, anyone?)
We also saw Sugar Ray at EPCOT. Believe it or not they have free concerts just about every night! You can see their upcoming schedule for the “Garden Rocks” program, which runs March 1 to July 5, 2023 HERE – from Kool and the Gang to Simple Plan and Blue Oyster Cult, you may even want to book your trip around it.
But none of this left much time to explore the resort as much as I would have liked, and we also opted out of most of the live shows and meal experiences – Space 220, can be worth the trip alone, but I was lucky enough to have already experienced it earlier in the year. Still, when I woke up on the fourth day, I was honestly grateful to head home. It’s an exhausting yet exhilarating experience.
Oh, and if you are planning your trip around the opening of the highly anticipated roller coaster Tron Lightcycle / Run at Magic Kingdom on 4th April – keep in mind that the most popular new rides are generally subject to a different set of queue rules (e.g. premium Genie+ pricing and/or a virtual queue that you load in on the app at 7am). So you may need to give yourself two days of visits to the Magic Kingdom just to ensure you get the chance to ride it! Be sure to check the details of the queue on the WDW website before you visit.
While three days (on a three night stay) was the perfect amount of time based on my own experience – if you’ve never been before, or think that it may be your only time visiting the park, an fourth day would give you a nice break up of your schedule. Or a full day at each park, which may be welcome!
It would be especially useful with a younger family, and the opportunity to experience some of the more time consuming opportunities that exist on site, but don’t sit within the theme parks themselves. Or maybe you wanted to fit in a water park, too?
But you could easily schedule any of that with a 3 night stay, getting in early on the first day and leaving later on the last. So either way, three nights seems to be the magic number.
Ultimately, you need to work to the stamina of yourself and the group, and ensure you are giving yourself enough time to enjoy the attractions, not just run from one ride to the next – which, given the way the park operates, can be easier said than done. And even with that time frame, expect things to go wrong. You won’t get to ride everything you want to, and some things you were looking forward to you may not be able to experience, even with all the time in the world.
But no matter how long you visit, and what you get to ride and see, there is no place like Walt Disney World. Prepare to be left with a lifetime of memories, and an excuse to come back!
For tickets and more details about the park & their vacation packages, head to their official website.
The author visited Walt Disney World and stayed at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort as a guest of the park. All photos by the author, except for TRON, which was supplied by Walt Disney World.