On arrival and departure days, you probably will have only part of a day for touring or other recreational pursuits. It’s a common problem: You roll into Walt Disney World about 1 p.m., excited and ready to go—but where?
The first question: Do you feel comfortable using a full day’s admission to the parks when you have less than a full day to tour? The incremental cost to add another day of admission is small when you’re visiting for three or more days, but it’s significant if you’re there for only a long weekend. Your arrival time and the parks’ closing times are also considerations, but so is the touring disadvantage you suffer by not being on hand when a park opens. FastPass+ provides some relief from long afternoon lines, but it isn’t available for every attraction, nor is there an unlimited supply of reservations.
Opting for a Partial Day at a Disney Theme Park
If you decide to use one day’s admission on a half-day or less and if you can reach the park before 1 p.m. and stay until closing, we recommend you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios (open till 8 or 10 p.m., depending on season). Disney’s Hollywood Studios requires the least time to tour. Because guests who arrive at opening frequently complete their tour by about 3 p.m., crowds thin in late afternoon. Try to make FastPass+ reservations for Toy Story Mania! or Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster in advance.
Alternatives to the Theme Parks on Arrival Day
Before you head out for fun on arrival day, you must check in, unpack, and buy admissions, and you probably will detour to the grocery or convenience store to buy snacks, drinks, and breakfast food. At all Disney resorts and many non-Disney hotels, you can’t occupy your room until after 3 p.m. (4 p.m. for DVC resorts); however, many properties will check you in, sell you tickets, and store your luggage before that hour.
The least expensive way to spend your arrival day is to check in, unpack, do your chores, and relax at your hotel swimming pool. Another daytime option is a trip to a local water park. Any one that stays open past 5 p.m. is worth a look because the crowds at all parks clear out substantially after 4 p.m. If the park is open late and you get hungry, you’ll find ample fast food.
If you want something drier, we heartily recommend Gatorland, a quirky attraction on US 441 near Kissimmee (about 20 minutes from Walt Disney World). Gatorland, a slice of pre-Disney Florida, is exceptionally interesting and well managed. It’s perfect for a half-day outing, provided you like alligators, snakes, and lizards. For information call 800-393-5297 or visit the website.
In the Evening
Dinner provides a great opportunity to plan the next day’s activities. If you’re hungry for entertainment, too, take in a show at or after dinner. We recommend Cirque du Soleil La Nouba at Disney Springs: It’s expensive, but we think it’s the single best thing in all of Walt Disney World. Disney also offers some dinner shows, of which the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is our pick of the litter. Both Cirque and Hoop-Dee-Doo are extremely popular, so make reservations well in advance.
If you’re not up for Cirque or a dinner show, consider CityWalk, Universal’s nighttime-entertainment complex. Other options include Jellyrolls, a dueling-pianos club at the BoardWalk, and Raglan Road, an Irish pub at Disney Springs with live music and good food. All are best appreciated by adults—energetic adults, at that.
Departure days don’t seem to cause as much consternation as arrival days. If you want to visit a theme park on your departure day, get up early and be there when it opens. If you have a lot of time, check out and store your luggage with the bell desk or in your car. Or, if you can arrange a late checkout, you might want to return to your hotel for a shower and change of clothes before departing. You can always use the swimming pool till it is time to leave; if shopping is on your mind and you have enough time, Disney Springs is always happy to help you find those last-minute souvenirs and gifts.
Planning on visiting Walt Disney World? Check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa.