How to Prepare for a Day in Walt Disney World

With SO MUCH information out there and Disney’s addition of the FastPass+ process in recent years, the whole planning part of any Disney trip can be a little overwhelming even if you’re only there for a day.  On a recent family vacation to Orlando, Florida, we decided to do one day in Walt Disney World so everyone could experience the magic of Disney at Christmas with our son. We love doing one day trips to Disney so we can get a little taste of while still having time to relax and enjoy the Florida sun.

Below are our tips for preparing in advance to ensure you can make the most of one day in a Disney theme park. While we only had a day at the Walt Disney World on this most recent trip, these are good steps to take even if you’re spending a week at that magical place.

Magic Kingdom Parade

1. Choose the Best Park for Your Family

This is an obvious but important one if you only have limited time in Walt Disney World. Since our family had all been to Disney a countless number of times, we decided to focus this trip entirely around our son and pick the park that was best for him.  It was between Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom for us and our little animal lover. We ultimately chose Magic Kingdom, since there are so many rides for toddlers at Magic Kingdom. If you have a Toy Story obsessed kid, Disney’s Hollywood Studios may be best for your family. Or if you’re interested in learning all about the world and innovations, Epcot may be the perfect Disney Park for you.

Note: We’ve used park hoppers in the past for a one day Disney visit pre-kid. While Park Hoppers are an awesome way to see multiple parks, I don’t recommend a Park Hopper for one day in Disney with small children. There’s so much to do at each park that you will quickly fill the day enjoying just one without having to take the extra time to switch parks. Save your money!  

2. Use FastPass+ and Make Ride Selections in Advance

If you only have one takeaway from this post, it’s that your day in Disney will be so much easier if you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with FastPass+ and make selections in advance. This is especially true if you’re traveling with little ones and want to be strategic about which lines you’re willing to wait in and which ones you want to avoid.  (Because waiting in a 90 minute line is bad enough by yourself, let alone with a grumpy toddler.) To start looking at FastPass+ options in advance of your day at the park, be sure to register on My Disney Experience to create an account.

So how does Fast Pass work?  

The FastPass+ process continues to evolve, however, below is the current rundown for using Fast Pass. (As of May 2019.)

  • Each person is allotted 3 FastPass ride selections that are included with the purchase of their ticket. (Children under 3 can just go with family members as long as they meet the height requirements. They don’t need to make FastPass+ selections if they’re not old enough to need a ticket.)  One additional FastPass+ selection can be made on the day you’re in the park, either at a ride kiosk or on the mobile app.
  • FastPass+ selections can be made in advance. Ride selections can be made up to 60 days if you’re staying in a Walt Disney World property and up to 30 days if you’re not. (Note: You can still make FastPass+ selections online even if you opt to get your tickets at Will Call versus having them sent to you.) OR if you want to wing it, you can make FastPass selections the day of your visit. This can be done using the mobile app or the kiosks located throughout the park. Just be aware that availability for specific rides and times will be much more limited if you wait.
  • Each Disney FastPass+ selection gives you an hour window to visit the ride. There’s a separate FastPass+ entrance that requires you to swipe your card/ticket or band when you get to the line. 
  • Rides must be chosen specifically for the day you’re planning to go. Ride selections can be changed at any time prior to your scheduled FastPass+ selection arrival window, however.
  • For tons more information on FastPass+, visit the Disney Q&A here

Additional Tips to make the most of your FastPass Usage:

  • Do a little research to get a feel for the lines at certain times. Use FastPasses for the rides or times with the longest lines. (Touring Plans is great for this if you’re curious, or you can access the Disney App in real time.)
  • Consider making a rough outline of which areas of the park you want to visit in what order. (Even if it’s just in your head.) This will help to make sure you can hit your FastPass selections within the window of time allotted and don’t need to run across the other side of the Park.
  • If you have any must do rides or character visits that tend to get longer lines, make your FastPass+ selections for those as soon as possible.
  • If you’re going as a large group and want to try to do rides together, have one person manage the FastPass and planning and link the other tickets together so you can maximize your time and FastPass usage. You can link your tickets and Fast Pass selections by calling Disney’s customer service at (407) 939-5277

3. Preview the Rides Available at the Park Before Your Day at Walt Disney World

Reviewing the rides at each of the Disney parks will first and foremost help with your theme park and FastPass+ selection. And with the amazing changes Disney is constantly making to its theme parks, there’s likely to be something new. (Even if you’ve been to Walt Disney World many times before.) Disney’s website has a ton of detailed information on every ride if you search by theme park/ interest under Attractions.

The guide maps in particular are great to check which rides are FastPass+ eligible and which ones have a minimum height requirement. Below are links to the guide maps for each Walt Disney World theme park:

4. Make Reservations for Sit-Down Restaurants in Disney in Advance

Each of the Disney World and Disneyland theme parks offer sit-down restaurants, several of which have character dining experiences. Disney now makes dining reservations available 180-days in advance. This is something I didn’t realize until I attempted unsuccessfully to make a character dining reservation a few months prior to our visit. So whether you’re looking to dine at the parks or stop for a special meal at one of the surrounding Disney resorts, be sure to book in advance if this is high on your list. That said, if you only have one day at the parks, I wouldn’t recommend eating more than one sit-down meal since it will take a big chunk of your time.

Pro tip: As an alternative to an on-site Disney character dining experience, we had an amazing character breakfast at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace in Disney Springs during our visit. (Pictured below.)

5. Download the DisneyGo App

The DisneyGo App makes your entire experience easier, both before and during your time at the parks. With the App, you can:

  • Manage your FastPass+ selections
  • View real-time lines
  • Check how tall your child needs to be to go on a certain ride
  • Access a map of the park
  • Find the closest bathroom or eatery
  • Manage restaurant reservations and experiences (both within and outside of the parks)
  • Pre-order food to avoid waiting in lines

6. Try to Plan Your Visit to Disney When the Crowds are Low

While Disney never really has a slow day, the best way to experience it if you only have one day at Disney is to aim for a less crowded day. There’s obviously no crystal ball to tell you this, since there can be huge fluctuations in crowds at Disney. With Disney’s new daily priced ticket purchasing system, however, one way evaluate potential crowds is to look for the lower priced tickets. (Lower demand = lower price!) Weekdays are ideal if your schedule allows, since Saturdays in general tend to be the busiest days any time of year.

We lucked out on our day at Magic Kingdom on a Friday in early December. It was just before the holiday crowds started really coming in, and the lines for the rides were short for the most part. We later learned that when there are special events that cause the parks to be closed early, the crowds tend to be lower. (In this case, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was in Magic Kingdom and started at 6pm on the day we were there.) Many people don’t want to spend the money on a full day ticket if they’re getting kicked out early, but for us it was perfect with our visit to Magic Kingdom with a toddler.

7. Check the Park Hours for Disney in Advance

Many people aren’t aware that the hours for Disney theme parks can vary slightly depending on the time of year and any events going on that day. For the most up to date information on daily hours, go directly to Disney’s website here to check the times for the day you’re visiting. This is also important if there’s a specific parade or night show you want to see, since times for those can vary and some shows may be canceled altogether depending on scheduled events.

Main Street Magic Kingdom

8. Plan to Arrive at the Park Early

Many people don’t realize that the parks actually open to the public before the rides start operating.  At Magic Kingdom, Main Street opens around 8:00am on days that the rights start at 9:00am. (Although sometimes turnstiles will be open even before then.)  Getting to your Disney theme park early means parking is a breeze, you can see the Park’s opening ceremony and take advantage of shorter lines. Our son loved the Magic Kingdom opening ceremony show and the fireworks with Mickey and friends. While Magic Kingdom’s opening ceremony is supposed to the best, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios also do opening ceremonies.  

What are some go-to tips you have for planning a day at the Walt Disney World Theme Parks? Please share in the comments!


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How to plan for one day in Disney

7 thoughts on “How to Prepare for a Day in Walt Disney World

  1. Oh boy …. Times have changed at Disney. My children are 28/30 so it’s been a long time since I’ve taken little ones. Back then it was fun to just “wing it” so to speak and that meant the only thing planned was plane tickets and accommodations of course. Although we’ve always had family in Orlando, we still stayed at the Disney resorts a few times. Today , that is a chunk of change ! Now that I have a grand baby, I appreciate knowing all that I can do to prepare a head for our Disney adventure. I’ve prepared a folder of the Toddling traveler as I am a busy GiGi and don’t have the time to research myself. I’m looking forward to the next adventure.

    1. So true! While you can definitely still wing it, it’s a different experience if you do! I can see why so many people get Disney Vacation planners these days when they’re staying onsite and making an entire vacation out of it. And thanks for the kind words, glad to help : )

  2. Ah this really brings back a lot of memories! I’ve been to Disney World once when I was muuuch younger. Been to Disney Land in Paris multiple times however, but it’s just not the same!

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