Counting the Days

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

With four parks in the Walt Disney World Resort  and two parks at the Disneyland Resort, vacationing families often start planning vacations wondering how much time to budget for each park. We asked our Parenting Panel this week: How do you spend your time visiting Disney characters? Do you use autograph books?

Sheena, also known as Mermaid, teaches first grade in Arizona where she lives with her husband two children, Matthew (3) and Katie (2). She visits Disneyland as often as she can and has passed on her love of the parks to her little Mouseketeers. Sheena writes:

We live in Arizona, so when we go to the Disneyland Resort, we always go for a few days. We stay using points with our Disney Vacation Club membership and Friday and Saturday nights cost more points than the rest of the week. Because of this, we usually drive to Anaheim on Saturday, visit the parks on Sunday and Monday and then drive home Tuesday. This gives us one weekend day with longer hours and one week day with shorter hours, but hopefully lower crowds.

For us right now, two park days is a good fit. We can see everything we want to see and our kids are not overwhelmed by a long stay. On trips where there has been a ticket promotion going on, we might spring for 3- or 4-day parkhoppers and go for a few hours on arrival and departure days. Otherwise, our rule is we need four hours in the park to make the cost of another day worthwhile. With early bedtimes, this does not usually work out, but we are hoping as our children get older to do more partial days. We have discussed staying another night and going to the parks for three days on our next trip when my kids are almost 3 and 4.5, but I think ultimately, we will decide that two days is enough stimulation for everyone.

We always buy parkhoppers and hop back and forth between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Because we stay onsite, we often start in the park that is offering Magic Mornings and stay there until lunchtime when we break for a nap or a rest. When we return, we often visit the other park. Each park has its own pace and vibe and we like to mix it up. We also like the flexibility to leave one park that may be too crowded for us or to watch a parade or a show in one park and then switching to the other park for dinner or certain rides.

We have not taken our kids to Walt Disney World yet, but we plan to do so in a few years. We are considering an eight- to 10-day trip with two days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot and at least one day at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom Park. We plan to do two days on and one day “off” to let everyone recover and rest. Our off days will consist of swimming at the resort pools, visiting Downtown Disney or playing Miniature Golf. There is plenty there to keep us busy, but we think taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the parks will give us all a better vacation. No matter how many days we go to the parks, it feels like plenty but not enough all at the same time. Luckily, there’s always next time!

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

I am going to be honest. I think this is one of the more difficult, yet frequent planning questions that carries a lot of merit. Thoughts are going to vary as each person or family tours the parks differently. At the same time, if you are a repeat guest, your plans may be different than those of a first time visitor. What am I really trying to say here? It’s good to have a plan, but what worked well for others may not be the best plan for your family.

For my family, the first couple trips to the Walt Disney World Resort were shorter in duration. The length of those trips back then was driven mainly by budget and time constraints. Our goal then was to get up early, hit the parks hard, and get back to the room late. While we still used park hoppers, we spent about a full day in each park if you count the number of hours visited. In some cases, we started at one park, ended the day somewhere else, with lunch somewhere in between. At the end, we would have a “greatest hits” day where we pick the attractions that we would like to do before we leave and hit as many parks as possible. In short, do everything you can equally across the parks.

These days, we tend to do longer trips but they are more relaxed. Instead of spending all day at the parks, we take a break during the day and then either return to our park of the day later in the evening or hit a different park. With this in mind, here is the ranking of our parks as determined by how much time we spend at each one:

Magic Kingdom: This might not be a surprise for most, but our top ranking of this favorite park is mainly due to the fact that it has a lot to offer. On top of that, the park tends to have the best parades, great fireworks, and a large array of entertainment. I also think that next to Hollywood Studios, its one of the best parks to visit at night. On a typical seven-day trip, we spend at least two days at this park.

Epcot: My kids will say that this is their favorite park because it has so many attractions and sights to see in one location. After over a decade of Disney vacations, I can honestly say that I have not seen everything there is to see around World Showcase. (Not for a lack of trying, I might add.) My kids love what Future World has to offer and seeing all the different performers around the countries. Of course Illuminations is probably our favorite fireworks show. Like the Magic Kingdom, we expect at least two days at the park in a seven-day trip.

Animal Kingdom: I know that some might say that this park does not have a lot to offer, but my family would beg to differ. Because of the sheer size of the park, it takes a bit of time to get to what you want to see, but you get to see a lot of different sights in the process. My kids are big animal lovers so the theme of the park is right up their alley. We spend at least a full day at this park each trip – maybe even longer if we want to enjoy a few attractions a second time around.

Hollywood Studios: For a long time, being a movie buff, DHS was a favorite of mine, second only to the Magic Kingdom. However, it has something of a limited appeal half of my family. I do predict that once my son gets older he will come to appreciate the thrill rides more. For now, we see the attractions that appeal to most like Toy Story Mania, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and maybe a show or two. Overall, though, we spend maybe a total of a day at this park spread out over several days during a typical trip.

Overall, our plans tend to change with the desires and ideas that our kids have for the trip. Every time, they throw in something new that they would like to see and we just roll with the ideas. The best part is that no matter where you are or what you do, there is always a chance to make life long memories.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



  1. By Moms

    We always buy the 5 day park hoppers because it's a 27 hour drive (over a few days in late July or early August) to get to Disneyland for us. We want to get the most out of our money. Last trip we had a 4yo, a 2yo, and a 1yo. We started off in DL in the morning as soon as the gates opened, did a bunch of rides before it got too hot (11am or noon is usually our cutoff). Then we would go find some a/c until the evening when we would go to California Adventure. Once we finished the rides over there the kids got to pick whatever they wanted in whichever park, so that's what we'd do. Worked great for all of us. We'll do it again that way on our next trip.

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