My perfect day at the Walt Disney World Resort

July 30, 2016, 1:27 PM · What's your perfect day at Walt Disney World?

With four theme parks, two water parks, the recently expanded Disney Springs, plus all that's going on at more than two dozen hotels, it's impossible to cram everything into a single day at Disney World. Heck, it's even impossible to enjoy a representative sample of all that the resort offers in one operating day.

But if you're sitting at home — or the office — dreaming of a Disney vacation, it's easier to wrap your head around that one perfect day than to try to comprehend the enormity of all there is to do at the resort. So what's your perfect day at Disney?

Here's mine. I'll admit that my ideal day at the resort is heavily influenced by nostalgia. (I suspect that many of yours might be, as well.) As a former Magic Kingdom cast member, I find myself drawn to the attractions that I fell in love with while I worked in Orlando. And as a resident of Southern California and a Disneyland annual passholder, I find myself yearning to see things that I can't experience back in Anaheim, too.

One more caveat — this is a perfect day, not a fantasy day. It's a day that you could make happen in the normal operation of the resort, not relying on some extraordinary circumstance to make possible.

So my perfect day at Walt Disney World is a mix of places where I worked and of things we don't have here at Disneyland. But my perfect day is relaxing, too. I make no attempt to visit all four theme parks on my perfect day. Yes, I'm leaving out a ton of good stuff. But this is the stuff of my daydreams.

Magic Kingdom

Rope-drop the Magic Kingdom

For me, a perfect day in a theme park means an early start. I'm a morning person and I know from experience that first thing in the morning is the best time to get on rides with the shortest waits of the day. So we start before the park opens and are ready to go as soon as we're admitted.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

I head first one of my old attractions — Thunder. Yes, we've got this at Disneyland, but I enjoy the better views of my beloved Rivers of America from Orlando's version. After bagging the first ride of the day here, I head next door to...

Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain

It might be a little early for a log flume ride, but Splash is a delight at any time of day. And since I envision my perfect day as warm and sunny, I figure that whatever water that hits me on the final drop soon will evaporate in the Florida sun. In fact, if I have time, I might even run around and go for a second ride before my next destination opens.

Tom Sawyer Island

Tom Sawyer Island

You knew I was going here, right? My former home in the Magic Kingdom is never far from my thoughts when I am at Disney World, and there's no way I could resist coming over here on my perfect day. Now, if this were my PERFECT perfect day, they'd let me drive the raft over and from the island, but let's not push this into fantasy. After walking every path of the island, just like the old days, it's back across to visit...

Hall of Presidents

Hall of Presidents

Yes, we have elements of this show in Anaheim, but seeing all the presidents on one stage — not just Abraham Lincoln — thrills the old political science major in me. After the show, it's a short walk over to...

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

Longer than Anaheim's version, and with niftier animation tricks, Mansion challenges Splash as the best attraction in the Magic Kingdom. I always longed to work here, but never got the chance. But I don't miss the opportunity to visit when I am at Disney World. (To avoid the wait, I probably got a Fastpass+ for this, along with that second ride on Splash Mountain.)

Columbia Harbour House

Lunch at Columbia Harbour House

On my perfect day, I'm eating lunch early, to avoid the inevitable crowds. Once I order whatever seafood lunch strikes me as tastiest that day, I head upstairs to a table next to a window, from where I can watch Liberty Square as I eat.

Liberty Square Riverboat

Liberty Square Riverboat

My final stop in the Magic Kingdom is a tour around my beloved Rivers of America, from the top deck of whatever they're calling the riverboat these days. ;^) (In my day, it was the Richard F. Irvine.) After taking plenty of fresh pictures, it's time for my second theme park of the day.


Monorail to Epcot

Walt's original vision for the resort was a kind of urban utopia, where modern mass transit systems would help replace individual cars. So in his honor, I'll take the monorail over to Epcot for the rest of my perfect day. (And since this is a perfect day, we will assume that the monorail is working.)

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

My first stop in Epcot is the first thing everyone sees as they enter the park — this wonderful geosphere and the nifty little history lesson that resides within. I'm hoping that the morning rush will have subsided by the time I arrive in early afternoon, so that I can walk on with little wait.

Friendship boat

Friendship boat across the lagoon

Epcot's a hike, so unless I'm looking for a workout, I often save a few steps by taking one the boats across the lagoon if I'm skipping some of the World Showcase pavilions (and if the boats are running). My next stop is...

The American Adventure

The American Adventure

I wrote last week abut how much I love The American Adventure, "a master class in narrative storytelling." Yeah, the ending montage needs a refresh, but the rest of this show is such a flawless animatronic and narrative experience that I wouldn't dare leave it out of my perfect day. Which brings us to my absolute favorite attraction in Epcot...

Impressions de France

Impressions de France

Directed by Rick Harper and produced by Harper and Academy Award nominee Bob Rogers, Impressions de France is the greatest theme park movie ever made — a perfect exhibition of cinematography and musical score that evokes the spirit of its home country better than any other attraction in World Showcase. The finale, with Saint Saens' organ symphony playing as we ascend the Eiffel Tower, reduces me to tears every time I see it.

Monsieur Paul

Dinner at Monsieur Paul (or Rose and Crown Dining Room)

An early lunch calls for an early dinner, but I'll have to admit that I can't settle on one choice for the final meal of my perfect day. My first choice is to stay in the France pavilion for a leisurely, multi-course meal at the Theme Park Insider Award-winning Monsieur Paul. But if I'm not in the mood for such an extravagant meal, my thoughts turn to the Rose and Crown in the United Kingdom next door, where I can enjoy a simpler plate of pub food while sitting next to the World Showcase Lagoon.

Either way, that's it. Maybe if Epcot were still running the old version of IllumiNations, I'd stick around for that. But this has been a perfect day for me without needing to stretch it all the way to closing. (I said I'm a morning person, remember?) With a wonderful meal and wonderful memories of some of my favorite attractions, I head back to the monorail... and to my awaiting overwater bungalow at the Polynesian, where I will watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks that night.

Okay, that last bit was total fantasy. Anyway, that's my perfect day at Disney World. What's yours?

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Replies (13)

July 30, 2016 at 8:35 PM · My family of four had our perfect day at WDW on 21st July. We started our day at DHS with 3 rides on Tower of Terror followed by a spin on RnR coaster (Single Rider Lane). We were able to enjoy 2 rides on Star tours before leaving for Animal Kingdom. We rode Everest twice and caught the Bug's Life 4D show to escape from heat. We drove to Epcot for Lunch around 11.45 AM. We used our FP reservations for Spaceship, Frozen and Mission Space. We were able to reserve Soarin after using all our FP reservations. We able to squeeze Test Track as well by using single rider line. We spent 5.5 hours at Epcot (our favorite park) used Ellen's Energy ride, Short Film festival to escape from Florida mid-day heat.
Our plan was derailed by monorail unavailability, therefore we drove to MK -TTC. We were able to catch Haunted Mansion, POTC, Monster Laugh Floor (yes, we love this silly show) and Thunder, before closing the day with Dole Whip and loads of pictures.
P.S. We were able to watch the MK fireworks from the boat.

While driving back to the offsite resort, we took an unplanned detour to Animal Kingdom to catch the night-time show and illuminated tree of life. AK parking booths were abandoned by the time we were at AK but parking trams were available. We witnessed "Star Wars" Fireworks from AK tram and were unable resist the urge of getting drenched aboard Kali river rapids and freezing journey with Dinosaurs, afterwards. Nights rides on Everest is single best thing at AK , IMHO.

This touring plan works for our family (DS- 11 & DD-15), we have already attempted it twice and we intend to do this every year. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the non-expire Disney passes few years ago and this give us our Disney fix at shoe-string budget.

July 30, 2016 at 11:06 PM · This was fun :)
July 31, 2016 at 9:36 AM · The only positive thing about the current state of the Hollywood Studios is that you can actually fit three theme parks into one day quite effectively at WDW. I was there last year, and my kid and I were done with DHS by 1030. Then the boat over to Epcot for lunch, and then the monorail over to Magic Kingdom. Full day, but a great way to hit all the major rides.

(Sorry Animal Kingdom. If you had something more entertaining than buses to get to you, you might have made the list).

My "perfect" day would actually start with MK for Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Splash/Space/Thunder Mountains; then over to Disney Springs for lunch and a little wandering; then finish the day/evening with Epcot and a nice mix of international foods and beers, after a stop at Spaceship Earth and Test Track. Illuminations is such old hat now, that the last time I was there it didn't draw much of a crowd. Which is fine for me, because I still find it a perfect cap to a day.

July 31, 2016 at 2:38 PM · I would start at Magic Kingdom, get Splash and Thunder first (crowds pile up on those fast) then hit Pirates, Jungle Cruise, walk over to Haunted Mansion then make my way through Fantasyland (Small World, Peter Pan, Pooh, Mine Train, Little Mermaid) before heading to Tomorrowland for Space and Buzz Lightyear.

A quick monorail to EPCOT as Future World would be emptying out by then, Spaceship Earth, Space, Test Track, Soarin then try to fit in Norway ride, Mexico ride, American Adventure and Oh Canada. Lunch would be played by ear depending on time.

Normally, I'd hit the Studios early to get Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania in first but that's a bit up in the air with its current state. Different than in the 90s where I had it down to a science but still fun.

July 31, 2016 at 7:02 PM · Sadly, many of my "perfect day" plans were ruined when Pleasure Island closed as loved ending a day at the parks with a great time at the Adventurers Club. Miss that place so much.
August 1, 2016 at 7:33 AM · This is probably the best clearest "golden" advice I've seen in a long time. Especially the MK part. We do exactly the same thing at the Magic Kingdom most any time of year when friends or family visit. As an Orlando family (and former Cast Members) we have tried a lot of stuff over the past 15 years but this seems to work the best.

Nice work Robert. This is spot on advice.

August 1, 2016 at 12:43 PM · 7:55am- Go to front of resort
8am- Uber picks me up
8:40am- Uber drops me off at Universal
August 1, 2016 at 1:23 PM · As a former cast member here too, I have to say my old "haunt" is still my favorite ride. I had an opportunity in college to scare people for a living at the Haunted Mansion; might be the most fun job I ever had.
Last year we got to stay in a studio at the polynesian. We had the same view of the fireworks as the bungalows, but at a price we were able to afford. Lots of perfect moments to be had at WDW, not sure if they've all been on the same day, though.
August 1, 2016 at 3:57 PM · We always go mid-Decemberish. My perfect day is spending the morning taking in a few rides of which I think Thunder Mountain is our favorite. I used to love to go to the Art of Animation drawing classes, but with that gone it is great to take break from the parks by going for strolls on the various paths between the Disney resorts. We usually pack a lunch and enjoy the river view and/or watching people. Then it is off to Epcot to enjoy the stroll around the various countries topped by watching the Candlelight processional. After that we sometimes take in the VMMCP and the fireworks.
August 2, 2016 at 2:47 AM · We managed to get FREE one day Park hopper bout a year ago. It turns out you can do a LOT! We did basically everything in MK, and all of Epcot's future world (except Soaring) with time to go to our dinner we had already reserved. We were at the park when it opened, and stayed until it closed.
August 2, 2016 at 8:40 AM · While I love all four parks, my perfect day would be spent entirely at MK. The attractions I would go on would be in this particular order: Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, POTC, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Small World, Peter Pan, Philharmagic, 7DMT, Little Mermaid, Dumbo, PeopleMover, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Stitch (don't judge me), and Laugh Floor. As for meals, we'll just eat when people start feeling hungry and see what quality restaraunts are nearby (I don't particularly care as long as I get to sit down and eat something good). We'd also get to do a couple character meet-and-greets if we can fit them in. After we've done all that and if there's still time left in the day, my group will discuss what rides we wanna reride, or see if there's anything we missed that someone really wanted to do. And then we'd stick around for the fireworks at closing time. But the most important thing is that my whole group has an awesome time. If this is my perfect day, then this group will consist of my family as well as some of my best friends from school. The only drawback is I'll have to keep the number of friends at a realistic amount so that we don't look like a big field trip.
August 3, 2016 at 6:21 AM · My perfect day would start out at MK as well, first my favorite haunted mansion, big thunder, splash, & POC. If time was good, Peter Pan & Space mountain. I would then head over to HS, & visit my favorite shop Indiana jones outpost, the Great movie ride. Sci Fi diner is where I would eat lunch, the food is OK but the atmosphere is great. For those of us that are old enough to remember drive ins this is a wonderful reminder of some nostalgia.
I would then go to Epcot, Spaceship Earth, a walk thru land pavilion(believe it or not one of the reasons I went into science), & Imagination. I would spend the rest of the evening in World Showcase starting with Mexico (& an adult beverage) slowly going from country to country. I'd probably eat at Morocco or France. If I'm feeling particularly wild I would have a 2nd beer somewhere around France.
August 3, 2016 at 7:03 AM · We have had many perfect days in DW. Certain highlights include having dinner outside at Tony's during the parade and staying on a bench near Casey's on Main Street, enjoying a popcorn, until the last person left.
Then we walked down Main Street, occasionally looking back, and noticing that we had the whole street to ourselves as we admired the beauty of the Magic Kingdom.
We have also taken the Backstage Magic tour which provided a perfect day.
Finally we took the Segway tour at Epcot which provided a perfect morning that concluded in a perfect day.

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