The short version:
- Bring refillable water bottles and a couple snacks
- Pick out two or three must see rides in the Parks you are visiting and then play the rest by ear.
- Take advantage of the excellent alcohol options at Epcot.
- Wear good shoes and comfortable clothes
- Have a plan on how to deal with long waits (IE. 20 questions, bring Trivial Pursuit cards, take funny photos, etc.)
The Long Version
On Christmas Eve, my sister, her husband, my husband and I headed to Orlando for some Disney magic. This was my sister's first trip in many years and we wanted to cover as much territory as possible. Before the trip, we had sent my sister a map of all the attractions at each of the parks. You can also request one from Disney after you book your vacation. She and her husband selected two to three attractions that were MUST See's from three of the parks. And away we went. This is important because if you try to do everything, you will fail. Pick one or two Must See's and then go with the flow of the day.
We arrived at Disney World around 10:00 am. This was later than I would normally arrive because the Magic Kingdom was open until midnight so I knew we were in for a long day. We decided to start at Epcot - assuming correctly that Magic Kingdom would be a mob scene of munchkins. Epcot wasn't too busy. The boys went to get buttons from Guest Services (we had a First Time Visitor and a Happy Birthday). Then, we immediately went right to Soarin' - a virtual reality hang gliding ride at The Land. It is the best ride at Epcot and one of the best in the Park. The wait was 80 minutes so we hunkered down. The great thing about Soarin' is that there are interactive games to play while you wait. Everyone needed a snack so we opened up the backpack and got out our refillable water bottles and bags of chips. We always bring a refillable water bottle and one or two snacks. There are water fountains throughout all the Parks where you can refill and save $2 a bottle. The ride was fantastic.
Then off we headed to #2 on the list: Test Track. Test Track is a high speed car ride. This ride has a single rider line. Because the ride is two rows of three people per car and they want the cars to be full, this line moves very quickly. In our case, the wait was 120 minutes in the regular line and less than 5 minutes in the Test Track line. You will not be able to ride with anyone from your party so this is not a good option for parents and kids, but a great option if you've successfully avoided procreation or pawned off your children on someone else.
After Test Track, we headed to the World Showcase for lunch. We chose Mexico and had some great nachos and margaritas at the quick service Cantina. We walked around the world. My sister and her husband rode the Norway ride because the line was short. My husband and I got beers in Germany. (There's a whole pub crawl you could do at the World Showcase - maybe I'll post about that in the future). After France, we crossed over the bridge and headed to the left to take the boat to Hollywood Studios. This is a good insider tip. At this point, we had seen more than half of the World Showcase and we avoided having to walk all the way back through the park to get on the bus. The boat takes the same amount of time as a bus, but we've found it's less of a wait on the boat plus you get to see the Boardwalk and several of the resorts.
I have also discovered good "nap" options - rides that are long, dark, air conditioned, allow for a quick power nap and have very few lines. The nap option at Epcot is Ellen's Energy Adventure.
Toy Story Mania is the must see ride at Hollywood Studios. It is fabulous and worth the wait. When we got there the wait was 120 minutes so we decided to go to the American Idol Experience and hope the wait decreased as it got closer to dinnertime. The American Idol Experience is a good time. It's also air conditioned and lasts 45 minutes when you need a break on a hot day. Our strategy worked. When we got back over to the ride, the wait was down to 80 minutes. This is an amazing 3D ride. The Wii game is a good facsimile, but this is just awesome. After Toy Story Mania, we walked over to the Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster, but the single rider line was closed and no one wanted to wait 80 minutes. We had dinner at the food court by Rockin' Roller Coaster, across from Beauty and the Beast. This is a great spot because it has barbecue, pizza, burgers, and a healthy food stand with smoothies and fruit. Bellies full - we went to see the Osburne Holiday Light Spectacular. And folks, it is spectacular. It's like the neighborhood house that everyone drives slowly by finally grew up. It even "snows". It took my breath away and brought a little tear to my eye. The best thing about this holiday light display is that it starts at dusk and goes until the park closes - you don't have to be there at a certain time.
Nap Options: The Muffets 3D movie. The movie is actually a lot of fun so I would recommend watching it then using it as a nap option. Also, the Great Movie Ride rarely has a line so it's a good rest option as well.
Having hit the high points at Hollywood Studios we headed out to catch the bus to the Monorail to Magic Kingdom. We got there around 8 pm - about an hour before the 9 pm evening parade. This is a GREAT time to visit because everyone is securing "good" spots to view the parade so the lines are very short. We headed to Splash Mountain - my husband's favorite ride. We got a FastPass* for 90 minutes away but the line was only 20 minutes long so they headed onto the ride. Then just to the right as you exit Splash Mountain is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Unfortunately, the ride malfunctioned while in line so the roller coaster riders didn't get a chance to ride it. We headed across the park to Space Mountain. On the way, we passed It's a Small World. It had a 5 minute wait so we all scrunched ourselves into a row to enjoy the show. Space Mountain was closed because it also was malfunctioning so we went to the 3D movie "Philharmagic". Each of the parks has a 3D movie and this is the best - hands down. As we exited the 940 pm show - the fireworks were in full effect - right above our heads. This is a great place to view them because they are right over your head and it's not as crowded as the main walkways. We headed back to Splash Mountain for one last ride. We decided not to stay for the 11 pm parade, but this is a good plan if you are thinking about watching the parade. Go on Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad around the time for the parade because when you are done with the ride - the parade will just be going by that side of the park. It was a mob scene getting out of the park, but we decided to take the Ferry instead of the Monorail because the Ferry can take over 300 people per trip. I think this was the best decision. We headed back to the car and drove home.
Nap Option - Hall of Presidents. It is a cool animatronic show of the Presidents, but I fall asleep every time.
*FastPass is a system where you can get a ticket to come back to a ride later in the day. It's a good idea to head to your must see rides to see if a Fast Pass is available. You can only have one FastPass at a time for the most part. For some of the more popular rides, you may get a Fast Pass that is over 6 hours away. In that case, the Fast Pass will list a time when you can get your next Fast Pass for a different ride. For instance, one time we got to Toy Story Mania at 10:30 am and the Fast Pass that were available were for 4:40 pm so our Pass said we could get another pass at 12:40 pm.