Arrival Day Options

by on August 3, 2011 30 Comments

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Nothing beats the excitement of arriving at Walt Disney World on your first day. The rush of passing under the big bright “Walt Disney World” sign, arriving to your resort, checking in, getting settled, and then heading out into the parks. But, wait! What park do you go to first?

First you have to determine whether or not you even want to visit a park on your arrival day.  This could depend on when you get to Orlando.  If you’re in the area before noon then you have a good amount of day left and could accomplish a lot in a park. Not everyone chooses to arrive early though. It might be a waste of a whole days admission ticket to tour a park for only a couple of hours. Check and see how much it would be to add the extra day to your ticket package. If it’s not much more money, it might be okay to spend the extra just to have a few hours in the park on your first day. It’s important to check what the park closing times are on your arrival day so you can best determine your game plan.  For Annual Passholders, there is no reason at all to worry about wasting a ticket or the extra cost because park tickets are covered for a full year.  Lucky ducks.

Should you decide that you want to jump right into the magic, you’ll need to choose which park to visit.  Every time I visit Walt Disney World I’m conflicted with this question myself. My first choice would always be Epcot but sometimes for one reason or another that just doesn’t work out. I like to choose Epcot simply because it’s my favorite park. My husband chooses Epcot as his first park pick because it reminds him of his first trip to Walt Disney World and his first attraction… Spaceship Earth. He loves Epcot for sentimental reasons.

Some folks absolutely love starting their day at Magic Kingdom. There really isn’t anything as ideal as the picturesque view of Cinderella Castle as you approach the park while on the monorail. Magic Kingdom is often a popular choice for first time families that are wanting to start their vacation off with a bang. Watching your child’s face when seeing Main Street U.S.A. for the first time is unbeatable. It’s the dream of so many people and I can see how it’d be hard to go anywhere else first.

For folks that favor using the Crowd Calendar, they might take into consideration the crowd level and the suggested park for their arrival day. To maximize the most of your time, it’s necessary to pick the right park… especially during peak season. With that in mind, using a Touring Plan that coincides with your arrival time at the park of your choice would be another great way to get a lot of things accomplished on your arrival day. There are touring plans for late arrivals, half days, and even Extra Magic Hours.

Often times, it’s almost impossible to get certain Advanced Dining Reservations on any day that you want at any time you want. On more than one occasion I’ve had to switch my original “first park” due to only being able to get one of my choice restaurants on my arrival day. As long as there isn’t a special event going on that will make that park particularly crazy that day, I’ll go ahead and switch my plans if I want that restaurant experience badly enough.

I’ve heard from quite a few folks that they don’t even bother with park touring on their arrival day. I think it’s a really great idea to take the rest of your day to enjoy your resort, the pool, a nice meal, and even a trip to Downtown Disney to get some shopping done and enjoy the nightlife.  A lot of people like getting settled into their resort without the pressure of jumping into the parks as soon as possible.  For guests driving, this is prime time to make a run to a grocery store and stock up on some essentials for your room.

If you’re staying at a moderate or deluxe resort you’ll have many more recreational activities to fill your time with. Taking a pontoon boat out from the marina or riding around the resort on a surrey bike is relaxing and fun.  Whip out your camera and get some fun shots so you can remember your resort when you get back home.  With that in mind, resort hopping is an absolute blast and with some free time on your hands it’s a prime opportunity to check out resorts that you’ve never seen before.  A friend of mine always sets aside time to visit numerous resorts and enjoy drinks and appetizers for an evening.  Take time to really enjoy the beautiful details that go into the resorts on property.

How do you decide what to do on your arrival day? Is it based on tradition or crowd statistics?


Posted on August 3, 2011

30 Responses to “Arrival Day Options”

  • We have frequently arrived mid-afternoon to early evening after our 5 hour drive to WDW. When we had APs, we would usually head to Epcot for the evening, although one time we started our stay with a dinner at 1900 Park Fare. We had an early start one trip and arrived at DTD for a late lunch, but I think we ended up at a park that evening. Despite our best intentions to relax, the AP always gave us encouragement to hit the parks immediately. That exhausting regimen – as well as some job uncertainty – led us to buy 10-day no expiration passes starting with our January 2011 trip. These passes force us to be very careful about “spending” our days. We did the Hoop De Doo Review on the arrival night of our January trip to FW cabins, and dinner at the POR food court & a visit with Yee Haw Bob, on the first night of our April (POR) trip. We have 2011 Fun Passes to Busch Gardens, so we eke out our WDW park days by traveling to Tampa and also spending time at DTD.

    On our upcoming Labor Day weekend trip to POFQ, we’ll hit the road after work and eat on the way. Since we’ll arrive fairly late, we’ll probably just stroll around the resort, revel in the refurbished room decor and maybe go for a swim. We have recently decided to add the water parks & more option to our passes, which will give us 10 more WDW days to play with.

    But the flexibility of attending a park on arrival/departure day is the main reason we’re going back to the annual pass starting in November. We’ll hold onto the remaining days of the no-exp pass (and use the water park days whenever), and enjoy the flexibility that an AP provides.

    All in all, I am a huge fan of enjoying the resort, strolling through DTD and resort hopping to see holiday decorations.

  • We went to WDW for the first time in May and loved it. We arrived at 10:30am to our resort and checked in, unpacked and ate lunch then hit Animal Kingdom. I like Animal Kingdom for arrival and departure days because in my opinion it is the smallest park and the one that is easiest to get the most attractions in with the least amount of time.

    • I feel the same way about Animal Kingdom. A few years ago on a trip with my mom we hit Animal Kingdom first and had dinner at Tusker House. I don’t regret it a bit! It was a great park for the first day… even if it’s not my favorite park.

  • We fly down and try to get the earliest flight so that we can get to the hotel and checked in and then get to the park. We always hit Epcot first because our kids love Test Track and Soarin’.

  • I love AK for departure day, because we get to eat at Tusker House and then hit the road 🙂

  • I have a 7 hour drive for a trip starting 12/3/11…I elected to drive down the day before (12/2) and get a cheap off-site hotel. This way, I can get up early, check-in @ Pop Century, and then have a full first day!

    I’m knocking AK out of the way that first day, because it’s the best day on the Crowd Calendar. That gives me 6 days to focus on the 3 parks I want to focus on.

  • We arrive on early flights and like to start with the Magic Kingdom. Back in the day, we’d like to arrive and head straight to Tom Sawyer’s Island and have lunch at Aunt Polly’s–unfortunately that’s no longer an option! For our upcoming trip in December we have ADRs for lunch at Morocco, so we’ll probably be in Epcot for most of the day (although I wouldn’t count out a hop to either MK or HS either…).

  • Unfortunately when you live in Northern California its almost impossible to hit a park on arrival day. With the 6+ hour flight plus the 3 hour time difference, we always end up arriving at our resort about 9pm at night. Granted, we think its 6pm, so we usually grab dinner at the resort, but then try to make ourselves go to sleep because we have to get up bright and early for rope drop!

    • Agreed! We’re planning a trip from Northern California in September and experienced the same problem. I searched out all flight possibilities and aside from the rare (expensive) red-eye, it has to be an evening arrival. With little kids, we don’t have time for much more than a quick bite to eat at the hotel and then a furious attempt to adjust to the time change and get some sleep.

  • Like our last trip, we’ll fly in early, check in and head to the Magic Kingdom using the 2 day Late Arrival touring plan. I know we aren’t “supposed” to go to MK on the first day, but we just can’t help it! We’ll do the 2nd day of the touring plan later in the week with extra magic night hours. 12 days to go!!

  • We are usually arriving around dinnertime so we always go straight over to Epcot. It has pretty much become our tradition to grab fries for my super picky eaters and then the adults head over to eat either fish and chips or a sandwich at the Norway Pavilion. Back to Spaceship Earth, another ride or two and Spaceship Earth again. Then, fireworks while my sons play in the water spouts. Love it!

  • by Andrew Drummond on August 4, 2011, at 11:17 am EST

    We come down from Toronto, but even if our flight gets in at 1 or 2, we use the time to get groceries and other things. And then we have started a tradition of doing Chef Mickey’s that first night to get us ready to go for the first day!

    I was a little curious though why you worry about the potential cost of the extra day. After day 4 it’s only $8 per day on your tickets. There’s no way that even 30 minutes in the park isn’t worth an extra $8…

    • While I agree, 30 minutes in the park is totally worth $8, a large family may not want to spend the extra for whatever reason. A family of 8 would have an extra $64 added on. If that family were to arrive later and not spend that much time in the parks, I could think of something else that they could do with $64. For the average size family traveling, the cost probaby isn’t going to be a big deal though.

      Chef Mickey’s is one place I still haven’t experienced but it definitely seems like it has it’s following! I need to check it out sometime! That’s a great tradition.

    • I love to plan a character meal (or like our last trip, ‘Ohana) for the first night. It seems like a great way to get into the Disney Magic.

  • As an adult, I’ve only visited WDW twice. Both times, our flights landed at MCO around 12pm or 1. And both times after getting to our resort, we had a late lunch at the food court. The first time, we hopped on the bus to Epcot because it was the park with the latest hours that night. Spaceship Earth was also my husband’s first ever ride at Disney World! The second time, we went to Animal Kingdom first because they had evening extra magic hours and we’d never done evening hours at Animal Kingdom before.

    I think both times we also went back to our resort for a late dinner. Then we got hot chocolate in our refillable mugs and went back to the room to relax for a bit.

    • That sounds awesome! Using Extra Magic Hours on your arrival day is a great way to spend more time in the parks. Even if you find that it’s too busy to ride the top attractions, you can always just enjoy people watching and get attractions with no lines out of the way. Smart thinking!

  • We’re lucky enough to have almost 2 weeks there next month, so we’ll be getting to AKL around 4-5pm and chilling at the resort for first 24 hours. Jiko at 8pm that night, lunch at Sanaa next afternoon before heading to Epcot (our favorite park) 2nd evening. So first FULL day not until our 3rd day there… nice’n slow, baby, Hail the Tiki!

  • My husband and I with two friends are going this fall. We are young adults with no children so we can handle packing a lot of touring in one day. Our first day we arrive we will get there at 3pm. We have ADRs at HDDR for 5, watching Fantasmic after at 8, and then heading to MK for EMHs till 1am. I doubt we will make it that long since we are driving 5 hours that morning, but with it only costing and extra $10, we couldn’t pass up getting park hopper tickets for that night. Fantasmic plus getting to ride popular attractions in MK with hardly any wait is defiantly worth the $10.

  • This is one of the reasons I’m an AP holder. I’m only a 2 hour flight away from MCO, so I usually get to my resort in the late afternoon (around 3:30pm-5:00pm)leaving time for an evening in a park. If the parks are closing early (off-season), I’ll head to DTD.

    • DTD is a great option. Good food, a little shopping and fun entertainment – we love the dance-off! DTD is always on our list of things to do when we’re in FL. This spring, we stayed in Tampa to check out Busch Gardens and on memorial Day weekend we stayed in Orlando for a non-Disney trip, and both times we ended up at DTD for our Disney fix, no ticket required 🙂

  • We usually plan to spend the arrival day enjoying the hotel and sometimes schedule a nice dinner at one of the fun hotel restaurants, like Ohana, Whispering Canyon, The Wave, Chef Mickey’s, etc. Andrew from Toronto wonders, when the marginal cost of a day’s admission is only $8, why sweat using up an admission for the arrival day? For us, using up a day’s admission only hastens the day when we’ll have to pull out the wallet for 4 more 10-day MYW non-expiring hoppers with pluses — that runs us in the neighborhood of $2,000, so we like to conserve the park admissions to get maximum bang for the buck. Fortunately, it never has felt like a bummer to spend the arrival day enjoying the hotel. 🙂

    • I agree about not wanting to use a day’s admission for a partial day at the parks–even if it’s less than $10/person for that extra day. We always go to Downtown Disney as soon as we arrive. We feel immersed in the “magic” of WDW and can casually get settled into the hotel, get groceries, etc. We also make an ADR for a resort restaurant on arrival day.

    • LOL! we tried that and we are going back to APs for the flexibility. We didn’t add park hopper to the no-exp, but we are hoping to add water parks and more to 10 day no-exp passes.

  • We also tend to opt for Epcot on arrival day or, since we love Mickeys Halloween party, we get tickets to that and save a park day. We have always been able to enter MK by 4, so it’s not a bad way to start the trip. I also am anxious when we arrive to see Fantasmic! So sometimes we hop over to do that, but NEVER do we do a late start @

  • This will be our first trip to WDW for the holidays, and this will be a quick, long weekend getaway for my husband and I (Dec 2-5). We have reservations for the Candlelight Processional Dinner package on our second day, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on Day 3, which leaves DHS and the Osborne Lights on our first night. Our favorite park is the Magic Kingdom – the sight of the castle chokes me up all the time! On every other trip it’s the first thing I want to see when I arrive, and the last thing I want to see when we leave. Our flight arrives at 9:40am, but when you calculate travel time from the airport, checking into POFQ, and we have an early dinner reservation at Raglan Road, I’m not sure we will have time to get to the MK until day 2. I know there will be plenty of holiday sights to see to keep me happy. Still, I’m not sure how that’s going to fly . . . !

    • We spent time at WDW during the Holiday Season for the first time last December. We had such a great time! My tip to you would be to allow extra time to fit in all of the special holiday happenings in addition to your traditional favorites. There is so much to see and do. We were also there in early December, and really enjoyed the light crowds. Also, if you have any interest in getting a picture with the 7 Dwarves at MVMCP, line up 30 minutes or so before the party starts to beat a long wait later in the evening. I lined up early, and my husband went to get quick service food to go for us. We ate our dinner while waiting for the party to start, and had our pictures with the dwarves done in the first 15 minutes of the party. The rest of the evening the line was VERY long for this picture, so we were very happy not to be using limited party hours to get our picture. Have fun!!!