As someone who likes the optimize as much as possible when it comes to vacation, I cannot stress enough that it's impossible to optimize fully the Disney experience (especially when your three children are 7, 5 and 2). There are so many variables that can happen during the day that over-planning can backfire. As our trip's primary planner, I divided my objectives into the following categories:
- Use FastPass wisely: We generally selected passes for the rides that were the hardest to obtain. We scheduled these as early in the day as possible so that we can obtain more throughout the day.
- Consensus on likable rides/attractions by the group: During the weeks leading up to the trip, I showed the girls pictures (and in some cases, YouTube videos) to make sure I understood what they would enjoy the most.
- Find something better! Walking through the park, we gave the kids options when applicable (between FastPass times, when the lines were slow, etc.). Sometimes they chose the same thing, and sometimes they didn't, but it generally worked out.
- The app!: We checked ride times constantly on the Disney app - so much so that I still catch myself even now checking to see the wait times! While the timing wasn't always perfect, it was a good enough guide to help us select when to ride some of the bigger rides without a FastPass (or find something nearby that everyone liked).
Here's a synopsis of each day and some tips we learned along the way that could have made things a bit better.
MONDAY - EPCOT
We arrived at Epcot before rope drop (when the park officially opens). We had our FastPass options ready - Mission: SPACE and Spaceship Earth early, with Frozen Ever After just before noon (we probably could have had earlier passes, but since I changed Monday's and Tuesday's schedules a month before the trip, the passes were slightly later than before).
By getting there when the park opened, we decided to head immediately for Test Track because we didn't have a FastPass for that ride. Unfortunately, Test Track was closed for maintenance! We checked out other attractions nearby and did our morning FastPass selections, but by the time we returned to Test Track, the line was already an hour long, so we skipped.
Since it was still relatively early (10:45), we started over to the World Showcase to ride the Gran Fiesta Tour, but I had forgotten that it didn't actually open until 11. We checked out some of the items in the area while we waited, then after the ride, we headed toward Future World West (but also stopped to meet Pluto). Because my youngest couldn't go on Mission: SPACE and my wife wasn't interested in that ride, they had a FastPass for The Seas with Nemo and Friends. The line wasn't long, so I took my two oldest in the regular line, and then we all met up for Turtle Talk, which was a pretty neat interactive show.
The next few hours were spent in the World Showcase, moving counter-clockwise, hitting the rides, character experiences, early dinner and some shows. We spent around four hours in this area, but it certainly felt as if we could have spent double that amount, as we didn't see everything.
By this time, the kids were dragging a bit, but we managed to check out all of the other rides and attractions in Future World West. We were torn about staying for fireworks, but my wife noticed that the Test Track line was 40 minutes, so we swiftly walked over and got on just before the park closed (and while the youngest slept in the stroller).
TUESDAY - SPACE MOUNTAIN
After arriving back at the hotel so late on Monday (a little snafu with the bus getting back, primarily because there were so many people going at once), we didn't get an early start at MK. Our FastPass was for Space Mountain at 10, which we made with no problem. While we were doing Rider Swap, we also checked out the other rides/attractions in the area. One family favorite was the Carousel of Progress, which the kids now enjoy watching on YouTube.
Next up was Splash Mountain, on the other side of the park, so we decided to take the train, which is always nice to rest a little and see what else is in the park. Again, we did Rider Swap, and after, we visited many of the rides in Fantasyland, including our last scheduled FastPass at Peter Pan.
We then doubled back to Adventureland for early dinner, checked out other rides/attractions there and bounced between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland for the rest of the day.
By evening, there was growing sentiment that if we waited until after fireworks, we were again going to be back really late and would again get a late start at the park the next day. So after riding the Mad Tea Party one last time, we walked through Cinderella's castle and headed for the exit just before the fireworks began.
WEDNESDAY - HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
We weren't sure what was in store for our third day - the long days and the heat had taken a toll on everyone, so we (unintentionally) eased into our day with a "Frozen" Singalong celebration. I'm not sure this was really worth a FastPass, but the kids seemed to enjoy enough.
After watching part of the "Star Wars" march, we split up because there were two separate FastPass selection - my wife and kids went to the Disney Junior show, while I went to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. I'm sure everyone would have preferred to go to the rollercoaster at some point, but there was a 48-inch height requirement, which none of my kids met. After the ride, I met back up with everyone for a few character experiences.
It was still before 11 when we headed over to Toy Story Land, which was the newest area at any of the Disney parks. It was already pretty crowded, and we used our last initial FastPass for Alien Swirling Saucers, which was probably the worst of the three new rides in the area. We decided to do Ride Swap at Slinky Dog Dash even though the line was pretty long (an hour wait). I took the two youngest to Toy Story Mania, and apparently it rained pretty hard outside while we were in line. Fortunately it stopped raining by the time we finished, and since many people left the rollercoaster line, my wife and oldest were able to ride and meet with us shortly thereafter. I then went back on with my oldest, and we finished the area before 1.
The remainder of the day was spent flipping between rides and attractions/shows. The place wasn't that crowded - it seemed as if the only crowded area was Toy Story Land. Although no one rode/saw everything, we collectively tried just about everything except the Indiana Jones stunt show. Even though it was before 7, we gave the kids the option of going on more rides or going back to the hotel to swim - and they chose swimming.
THURSDAY - ANIMAL KINGDOM
We knew that we had a lot of ground to cover in Animal Kingdom, so we made sure to arrive at rope drop ... or so we thought. We actually arrived 45 minutes after the place at opened. Nevertheless, we had a FastPass for Avatar Flight of Passage, so we first headed to the Na'vi River Journey. Remarkably enough, we had no wait, so my wife and two oldest went twice. My youngest and I watched a show, and then when we did Rider Swap for Flight of Passage, I walked around with my youngest to see animals on Discovery Island.
Once we finished with Flight of Passage (which I feel is the best ride in all of Disney World), we wandered through Africa and used our second FastPass, which was the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Afterward, we headed to our final FastPass, Kali River Rapids, and too advantage again of the Rider Swap. We checked out other shows and attractions, including Rafiki's Planet Watch, then headed back to Discovery Island for early dinner.
I was able to secure FastPass selections on DINOSAUR for later in the afternoon, and as we headed over to Dinoland USA, I noticed that Expedition Everest finally had a manageable wait time (it had been closed for the first two hours of the day due to maintenance). I took my oldest to ride the rollercoaster, and then we met my wife and two youngest in Dinoland, where they were enjoying a dance party.
We wanted to take one more ride on the TriceraTop Spin, but there was lightning in the area - instead, we ended our evening with the It's Tough Being a Bug show and a few animals on the way out.
FRIDAY - MAGIC KINGDOM
There were Extra Magic Hours Friday morning, which meant that only visitors who stayed on property could ride rides from 8-9 am. We arrived at 8:30 and headed for Tomorrowland, where we rode the Tomorrowland Speedway. We had planned to watch the morning fireworks but got caught on the Speedway (since my two youngest rode together with my wife, they let each of them drive - this seemed like a better deal than the fireworks!). While we were there, we couldn't resist another turn on Space Mountain.
Our first two FastPass selections were a bit spread out this day - over to Thunder Mountain, then back over to Enchanted Tales with Belle. This followed with several trips on Dumbo and It's a Small World and a few character experiences.
Our final FastPass was for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which had to be divided across lunch with Rider Swap due to timing and lightning/rain. The rest of the day was spent in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, switching between inside and outside rides due to intermittent lightning.
This particular Friday, MK was "closing" early because of the Halloween party Friday night. This meant that anyone in the park early in the day had to ultimately leave the park because night visitors started arriving after 4. The lines started growing around 5, and once 6 hit, only visitors with arm bands were allowed to ride rides (although we were able to take one last Mad Tea Party ride at 6:15). There apparently was no rush on getting everyone out of the park, so we shopped a bit and saw the Halloween setup before exiting. The kids didn't seem to mind because we made it back to the hotel in time for more swimming.
Generally speaking, I think we maximized our time at the parks fairly well. It would have been nice to ride a few more rides (this is always true!) and possibly stay for a a firework show or two, but with our children's ages, that just wasn't in the cards.