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Planning 3 Days in Disney - Help me make the right park decisions for our memorable trip :)

Walt Disney World: Planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Disney allowing 3 days for parks! Want to see Universal, IOA And WDW (Epcot and Magic Kingdom) - are we making the right choices?

From Vic Shute
Posted April 17, 2013 at 4:09 AM
Hi guys,
My family of 5 (2 parents and 3 adults ages 17, 19 and 23) are headed to Disney from June 21st to July 1st. It's our very first time and we are staying in Tampa so we will be a ways from the resort. We are thinking of allowing 3 days for the parks - agreeing that WDW is a must for one day - for the magic :) (we've narrowed it down to Magic Kingdom and Epcot only) and Universal/Islands of Adventure (Park hopper pass) for two days, as people say that this is a very fun time for our age group. I am trying to plan a way to do Epcot and Magic Kingdom in one day (to save money for us as there is an $120 difference between one day and two day)- is this realistic? The things I (think) I would like to see in MK are Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder, Pirates and Haunted Mansion. We are also thinking of going there at 9 for the Electric Parade followed by Wishes at 10. Am I missing anything that is a must see? At Epcot, we would like to see Soarin' and probably one or two other key rides if there are any must sees, and the Around the World Showcase for sure in the evening.

In your honest opinion, do you think we are making the right decision? Is it possible to do MK and Epcot in one day? Is it worth it to take two days for Universal and Islands of Adventure?


Any help would be greatly appreciated :) I want it to be a trip to remember as it will probably be our once-in-a-lifetime visit! Thank you so much in advance!!


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Russell Meyer
Posted April 17, 2013 at 7:18 AM
Personally, I think you're a little crazy for staying in Tampa, because you're going to lose a lot of time driving back and forth. Depending on exactly where you are, you should probably figure 60-90 minutes each way to make the trip to and from Orlando each day, and remember that Universal is going to be another 10-15 minutes further than Disney. You're also pretty crazy trying to cram 4 parks into 3 days during the height of the summer. If there's any way you can add more days or ensure that the days you do spend in the parks are weekdays, you might have a little more luck.

The first thing to always remember when visiting parks is to get there early. That means if the parks open at 8 AM, you need to be in the parking lot between 7-7:15 AM, which means you need to leave Tampa probably around 5:30 AM. Getting to the park early at least allows you to get on one e-ticket attraction and get a FastPass without having to wait in 1+ hour lines.

The second thing is while you can do EPCOT and Magic Kingdom in the same day, I would recommend against it if this is your first trip. There's more than enough to do in each of these parks, and with summertime crowds, there's virtually no way you could fully experience either of these parks in less than a day. EPCOT is HUGE, and you could literally spend half a day just walking around it without even getting on a single attraction. You can also save some money by not buying park hoppers (assuming you don't already have admission tickets). I would strongly recommend checking the Magic Hour calendar to see which parks have Magic Hours during your scheduled visit. Guests who are not staying on site should try to avoid parks that have Magic Hours, so if you're planning on going to Disney on a Tuesday, and EPCOT has Magic Hours, you should go to Magic Kingdom, and vice versa.

Universal doesn't have Magic Hours, but on-site guests do receive limited early entry and Universal Express (front of the line access). You can purchase this perk before you enter (and even after you're in the park if you want to gauge the lines before spending $50+/person), and it might help you out in being able to get through both Universal Parks in 2 days. Again, in the middle of the summer, you can expect some seriously long lines and big crowds, and with Transformers likely to be open, there will be a renewed interest in the Studios park. For a first time visitor, I would recommend a minimum 2-day visit, 3-day preferable, to Universal Orlando. Based on the ages of your children, they will probably appreciate those parks more. Purchasing Universal Express or a VIP Tour is probably a good idea to make sure you can see all of the things you want. Another way is to use single rider lines, but I know that some families don't like being split up. If you're willing to split up and use single rider lines, you might not need to purchase Universal Express, but all bets are off in the summer when you can almost guarantee that lines for all of the major attractions will be in excess of 60 minutes.

From Vic Shute
Posted April 17, 2013 at 7:47 AM
Thanks so much!
I should say that although we are staying in Tampa, we are going to get a place in Orlando for 2 nights there while we do the parks. Also, we are there from June 22-June 30 so we can definitely go in the weekdays if that's preferable. Thanks for the suggestion.

Just wondering - how is it possible to save by not buying park hopper passes?? Which should I buy instead? I found tickets on undercovertourist.com that were about 148 for a 2 day park hopper pass (Universal & IOA) and the parkhopper for WDW for 1 day was 135.00. I thought these were good prices but I'm not quite sure?? What do you think?

From Russell Meyer
Posted April 17, 2013 at 9:05 AM
If you're just spending one day at WDW, you should not get a park hopper. Not only does it take time to travel between the parks, as a first time guest, I think you would be totaly overwhealmed by attempting to visit 2 Disney parks in the same day during the summer.

A 1-day non park hopper straight from Disney, is $89, while a hopper is $146. It's a pretty big expense to make a 1-day pass a hopper ($57), but that upgrade cost is spread out over multi-day passes.

2-day park hoppers straight from the Universal website are $139.99. If you're in the US or Canada, they're running a special that adds a third day free ($139.99 for 3-day hoppers). If you chose to not get a hopper, you can get the price down to $119.99 for 2 days (you can still get the 3rd day free if you're from the US or Canada).

It's pretty difficult to get prices any cheaper than from the park's websites. There are a few outlets out there, but the savings are minimal. We saved $5 on a 2-day hopper with a night of HHN over what Universal was selling on their website last fall, so there are some savings out there, but you've got to know where to look, and be careful to ensure you're buying from a reputable source. We bought Disneyland tickets at the begining of the year and I think we only saved about $20 total on 3-day 2-park passes.

Always check the par websites to make sure you're not getting swindled, which is sounds like you are for the Universal passes unless they include something else other than just admission.

From Vic Shute
Posted April 17, 2013 at 7:28 PM
Hi Russell,
Thanks so much for your help. I am now thinking of getting a single day pass for MK, then a single day pass for Epcot for the 2nd day, along with a parkhopper for Universal/IOA or just Universal for the 3rd day. I will definitely take your pricing advice. Thanks again!

From William Clark
Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:28 AM
If it were me I would spend one day at Universal, starting at Islands and riding Potter a few times the Dragons, then Hulk a couple times. After that Spidey, skip the water rides then walk over to Universal Studios. Head over to Transformers and get in line. Then Rocket a couple times. Mummy then Simpsons. Universal can easily be covered in one day. Not so Disney, not so.

From KJ Simpson
Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:31 AM
Great info from Russell. I agree completely that attempting to do both MK and Epcot on the same day is too much- especially for a first time visit at a busy time of year. If two parks are to be done in one day, I'd do the Universal parks, making sure to get there extra early and get straight to Wizarding World to start your day. Hit your other top spots in Islands of Adventure before hopping over to Universal Studios. Dedicate a day each to MK and Epcot. Enjoy!!

From Pat Bartkus
Posted May 3, 2013 at 11:56 AM
These are not small parks and the impact that crowds will have on your ability to see a lot should not be underestimated. That said, if you have the physical and mental stamina, you can do both parks in a day. If you stay at a Disney hotel you can take advantage of their extra magic hours. Check the hours on the Disney website and you'll see the Magic Kingdon is open until 1 a.m. on 6/23 with the extra magic hours. You could do Epcot from opening at 9am until late afternoon and then take the monorail to the MK and stay until closing. Go to the mountains when the parade or fireworks are on and you should see smaller (but not small) crowds. On 6/25 Epcot has extra magic hours and is open until 11 p.m. so you can do the reverse (but will have two hours less). Take advantage of FastPass and plan on quick meals instead of table service. Although I have hopped before, it was never to cram in two parks in one day. I really don't advise this but good luck with whatever you decide.

From N Diaz
Posted June 23, 2013 at 9:39 AM
Your plan is completely doable. With that said the parks will be full BUT you always have the option of getting a guide for several hours if you wish. There is a company in town that charges between $100 - $120 an hour and can help you navigate through the park with lines no more than 10 minutes. Let me add that they do NOT use handicap passes or wheel chairs... They are simply incredibly knowledgeable of how the fast pass system works.

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