Six Things To Expect on Your First One-Day Trip to Walt Disney World

by on April 19, 2016 18 Comments

Filed under: Walt Disney World (FL)

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World one time or fifty times, chances are your trips have logistically all taken on a similar form. A flight or long car ride into the Orlando area, maybe a taxi, shuttle, or Magical Express ride to Walt Disney World property if you flew, and then getting around property using Disney’s occasionally efficient system of buses, ferry boats, and monorails. Sure there might have been some experiments with a rental car thrown in to facilitate a visit to Harry Potter and his friends at Universal, the beach, or to watch cars drive in circles for hours at Daytona…but odds are that most of your travel to and around Walt Disney World has been contained to the modes mentioned.

Should the day come when you find yourself in the state of Florida for some other reason, be it work or play, and Mickey’s gravitational pull proves too much to bear, you may find yourself deciding to drive over to a Walt Disney World theme park for the day, like it were Six Flags or something. There are facets of this experience that will be quite different and maybe even a little jarring to a Walt Disney World vacation vet.

(Let’s stop for a minute to mention people who live in Central Florida and visit Walt Disney World exclusively as a local day guest: 1. We are all a little jealous of you, and 2. You probably can expand on every single point I make in this article, so please join us in the comments. Oh yeah, and 3. We’re really really jealous, like for real.)

So here are six things that you can expect as a Walt Disney World vet if you are taking a one-day trip for the first time:

Interstate 4 Overhead Signs

Like seeing these mundane road signs…

Disney Traffic Sign

…and these slightly more whimsical ones!

1.DRIVING AROUND WALT DISNEY WORLD IS DIFFERENT THAN RIDING IN A BUS

You know how you ride around Walt Disney World property and see the purple and red road signs? You think to yourself that they are a cool feature of property and give you that “I’m somewhere different from the real world” feeling. Those are an absolutely necessary Godsend if you are actually driving a vehicle throughout property…and on first inspection they might make no sense. You may have the layout of property etched on your brain, so it makes no sense to you when you see that Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Wide World of Sports are in one direction while Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Epcot Resorts are in the opposite direction.

But you need to remember that these are road signs, they are helping you take roads in the right direction. They are not pointing to spots on property. It may sound crazy but on my first time driving around property, I found myself second guessing the road signs as if I somehow knew more about where things were at Disney World than the urban planners did. Speaking of things you’ll learn while behind the wheel…

Hess Station

“Yes, there is a big gas station at Disney World. It has pumps and crummy snacks and everything.”

2. DISNEY CHARGES YOU TO PARK…AND THE PARKING LOTS ARE WILDLY INCONVENIENT

It costs $20 to park a car at a Walt Disney World theme park. Thankfully Disney has not yet instituted parking fees at the resort hotels so this will be a shock even to people who have rented cars in the past. Also a shock: how far away from the parks many parking lots can be. Expect to walk a while to a spot where you will queue up for a tram and then get dropped off at some point requiring another walk to the gate. This might be a giant surprise to people who are used to getting dropped off a few feet from the bag check. An even bigger surprise is in store at the Magic Kingdom where the tram ride only delivers guests to the Transportation & Ticket Center. From there you must queue up for a monorail or ferry boat, load onto that, ride it across Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom, and then finally reach a point nearby to where busses drop off. And all of this convenience ONLY costs $20!

DAK Parking Lot Entrance

“Why am I already waiting in line? And why is everyone passing money out their window?”

3. YOU MUST OBEY THE ACTUAL PARK HOURS

Disney posts park hours for their theme parks but saavy (or simply conscious) resort hotel guests can generally ignore them and expect to spend more time in the parks most days. Unfortunately for you, day guest, Extra Magic Hours are a perk that you will not be able to enjoy. In fact, time in general isn’t on your side when you are a day guest. It is an all-too-common tip for guests to head to the parks early in the morning, take a break in the afternoon, and return for a full night of fireworks and e-ticket attractions with smaller lines. As a day guest, you certainly CAN visit a park from open to close but that midday break isn’t going to be practical. For one thing, you don’t have a resort hotel to go nap or swim at. You also can’t even really leave property to go anywhere because the time constraints of getting to your car, driving somewhere, doing whatever you’re going to to, driving back, parking again, and returning to the park will eat up WAY more time than is reasonable and prudent. You also need to take into consideration the driving time between the park and your final destination at the end of the day. It is easy to stay in the parks for the “kiss goodnight” when you know that a nice bus driver is going to take you on a ten minute drive to your hotel room during which you can alternate snoozing with hearing terribly misinformed trivia “facts” about the Resort.

MSEP Pete's Dragon

“I hope it was worth spending 17 hours in 90 degree heat just to watch me ride on a big Christmas decoration!”

4. LOCKERS ARE YOUR FRIEND

There is a reason why Disney offers lockers to rent at the entrance to every park. They know how good they are at providing you with tons of useless junk to purchase and then have to lug around all day. Without a resort hotel room to return your souvenirs, collectibles, and tchotchkes to, your only hope to avoid walking around the park looking like you’re simultaneously running The Amazing Race is to rent a locker. Plus one of Disney’s best resort hotel perks is unavailable to you: resort package pickup. You either have to keep buying to a minimum, save it for the end of the night, or rent a few strollers just to wheel your stuff around in.

"I'm not sure if this is going to fit in the basket beneath my seat."

“I’m not sure if this is going to fit in the basket beneath my seat.”

5. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE SOME HARD CHOICES

At some point in the early stages of planning your day, you’re going to have to decide which park is most important to you. Park hopping is possible but time consuming so you will likely have to decide on a single park to visit, much akin to deciding between one of your children. Then you will need to decide which remaining available Fastpass+ reservations you will opt for (I say “remaining” because you get to pick them 30-days later than everyone else.) Also gone are the days of missing something or finding something broken and deciding you will simply “ride another day.” If you waste too much time standing in line, or walking back and forth to your rented locker, or it rains, you’re simply out of luck when the park closes.

"I don't know what this line is for but it better be worth it!"

“I don’t know what this line is for but it better be worth it!”

6. THE WITHDRAWAL COMES HARD AND FAST

Do you know that amazing feeling when you step out from under the train station and see Cinderella Castle in full view for the first time? The feeling where you know that your whole trip is ahead of you and the magical possibilities are endless? How about that feeling when you know you are swiping the last day off your ticket and it will be many months or (gasp) years before you visit again? Imagine those feelings coming only minutes apart. You may literally find yourself mourning for the end of your trip before you even eat lunch on your first, or should we say one and only, day. A one day trip changes the entire perspective of visiting Walt Disney World. It becomes one of many activities and experiences during your trip instead of the grand culmination of months or years of meticulous planning, saving money, and a nightly “I better get into shape for the theme parks” walking regiment.

"Just so you don't feel too bad about leaving, here's a 15 minute line you can wait in until we'll ferry you to the parking lot."

“Just so you don’t feel too bad about leaving, here’s a 15 minute line you can wait in until we’ll ferry you to the parking lot.”

So after reading all this you might wonder if it is all worth it. Should Disney trips only happen as weeklong vacations? Of course not. As it turns out, Splash Mountain is just as wet, talking Mickey is just as vapid, and Mickey Premium Bars melt just as fast for day-guests as for the two-week vacationing British family. Visiting Disney is totally worth it in all circumstances. You just need to realize that it won’t be the same as going on a longer trip. Getting around takes time and patience. Almost everyone driving around property is just as unfamiliar with the area as you are so you need to be extra careful on the highways (and extra prepared to fork over $20 at the gate.) Getting around take more time, between waiting for parking lot trams and driving to and from a final destination off-property. Some of Disney’s perks will not be available to you but I personally do not feel that Disney makes anyone feel like a second class citizen in this regard. The day will be just as magical and the smiles will be just as bright on a one day trip as on a longer one. It’s just a darn shame when it goes by so fast.

Posted on April 19, 2016

18 Responses to “Six Things To Expect on Your First One-Day Trip to Walt Disney World”

  • As a hotel chain employee, I rarely stay on-property anymore (the discount is too good), which means I’ve had to navigate the property the last few times I was there. Those signs are your friends and I highly recommend tracking down addresses for everything, including TTC, that you plan on going to for your GPS. If you get distracted by your surroundings, having a GPS system to correct your course can be invaluable.

    And I actually beg to differ on Point #2 about parking. I find that the AK and HS parking lots are pretty darn convenient if you arrive early enough in the day. That’s just my opinion, though. 🙂

    And having recently done a 1-day (well, half-day) trip while I was in the area for a business trip, I can vouch for tough decisions. We didn’t get to the gates at Magic Kingdom until it was nearly 2 PM. I think it helped my traveling companion and I to walk in with a “must-do” list to guide what we got FastPasses for. Anything else we had time for was icing on the cake, and we surprisingly got through a whole lot in the 6 hours we were there. If you low-ball your expectations for day trips, it’s hard to be disappointed than if you go in with really high, vacation-level expectations.

  • #5. There definitely IS such a thing as a 1-day park hopper. Expensive yes, but we managed to hit 3 parks in one day to get our fix. Need to have a good plan for this one with your “must do’s” and an approximate timetable of how long you will spend in each park.

    #4. No need to lug around your souvenirs or rent a locker — you can have your purchases sent to the package pick-up area at the front of the park.

    • YES there is a one-day park hopper and I updated the story to reflect that. Good catch…although I could have sworn that I couldn’t find this option recently, so I thought they got rid of it. A check of DisneyWorld.com reveals that it is there, however.

      As for package pickup, yes it is the best of available options but it also stops being an option at some point during the day when you hit the cutoff time.

  • Despite being warned not to do so, we stayed off property and used a rental car. We were told that traffic in July is bad and that we would spend a lot of time in a slow moving vehicle. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Now, it could have been that was because we followed the Unofficial Guide’s touring plans by playing to get to the parks well before opening, thus missing the crowds of late sleepers coming in after opening, but I don’t believe staying on property and using the Disney transportation system is necessary to have a great vacation.

  • Fair points, all – but it’s worth it to be able to hop over to WDW once or twice a month for a few hours.

    As for breaks – we often use Disney transportation to one of the resorts in the afternoon to cool off, have a drink, and eat a late lunch/early dinner before heading back to the parks for a couple of hours.

    And for those of us in central Florida with AP, the $20 parking fee doesn’t apply.

  • I got to do a one-day trip last May, tagging it to the end of a business trip in Tampa. It was a little weird to get up early to leave my hotel in Tampa, drive along I-4 (which was quite peaceful at that early hour) and then go through the parking “experience” at MK. Thankfully, my AP covered the obscene $$ to pay, and I was able to get into the park early due to a breakfast reservation at BoG. Nothing better than early AM at MK!

    You’re right about the withdrawal coming hard and fast…I was able to breeze through several attractions in the morning (knew I had a hard stop at 2), and then found myself feeling a little sad while eating my cheeseburger at Pecos Bills, listening to everyone talk about what they were doing the rest of the day (I knew traffic would be bad on I-4 back to Tampa, and I didn’t want to miss the last flight out).

    However – it was an incredible experience, and I would definitely do again!

  • I’ve never considered “watch[ing] cars drive in circles for hours at Daytona”, but a thrilling, bumper-to-bumper competitive car race? That’s worth every moment.
    Showing a little personal bias, are we?

  • When renting a locker keep your receipt, and if you move to another park etc. you can get a locker for free. It’s a one time daily charge, similar to parking.

  • Even though we stay on property, we always rent a car. Sometimes we use it to get to the parks, and sometimes we take the bus – it depends on the park and our plans for the day. We have never used park-hoppers, and also never gone back in the middle of the day to rest or swim even when our son was very young (13 months at his first trip). Going back takes too much time out of your day. There are lots of out of the way spots and/or shows that the little ones will nap through.

  • On my last 2 trips I rented a car and will again on my upcoming one. My daughter and I like to try restaurants and activities at different Disney hotels and trying to do that with Disney transportation is insane. Staying on property we get to park for free at the parks or we can use Disney transportation if we want. I like having the flexibility and renting a car is pretty cheap. I also got tired of getting on the Magical Express only to sit there and wait forever at the airport until the bus was full to get to my resort or having to leave the resort 4 hours early to take the Magical Express back to the airport. I want to maximize my vacation time and I can do that with a rental car.

  • As a local (Tampa) I have annual passes to Universal this year, last year we had Disney (we alternate).

    We usually end up in Orlando about once a month on a Saturday. Takes us about an hour and a half to get there. We usually arrive early to late afternoon and stay till close. About once or twice a year we’ll stay the weekend. Our plan? Do a couple of attractions and get lunch and/or dinner. I usually stick to one park and sometimes I just stick to one “land” and just relax. I don’t feel like I’m in a rush because I know I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

  • Although there’s no resort delivery, you can have purchased items sent to City Hall for pickup on your way out.

  • If staying offsite, I don’t think I’ll ever pay to park at the Magic Kingdom lot again. For just a few dollars more, you can valet park at one of the monorail resorts and then you start that much closer to the park (and are that much closer to your car at the end of the day).

    The Contemporary would be my first choice because you can walk from there to the MK gates and back again, not even having to wait on the monorail at all.

    • I’m not sure if Disney would be too cool with that. If you’re not a resort guest, you should only be able to access the resort parking lot if you have some sort of business there like a dining reservation.

      • Fair point. The one time I did this, I was going to a breakfast ADR. But I was also able to park at a different resort (Beach Club) later in the same day without any reservations. And like regular parking, valet is pay-once, use-all-day at different lots. (Though you should tip valet each time.)