How to do Disney World in a day

The line moved quickly and before I could back out I was being ushered into my seat on the boat. I was scared stiff but I couldn’t back down. The grinning attendants gave each other the thumbs up, waved goodbye to us and sent us on our way.

‘It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all…’

It's a small world at Disney World Double-Barrelled Travel

A scene from It’s a Small World

The chirpy singing  repeated that phrase over and over and over again until the world really did begin to feel too small. It’s A Small World is one of Disney World’s oldest rides and goes for a long time compared to most of the others. So  I sat back and accepted my fate. I smiled, then laughed, and just went with it.

There comes a point when you visit Disney World when you have to let go of your adult cynicism and accept the magic.

Prams at Disney Double-Barrelled Travel

There are a LOT of kids at Disney… and many spots to park your pram

Believe me, Hunter S Thompson would have had a field day in there. Big babushka doll families eating bright pink turkey legs like some sort of medieval breakfast; shops selling everything Disney, plastic façades, smiling attendants, nagging photographers and everywhere burping and crying and whining and tugging their poor parents to and fro as they bounce on sugar highs.

It is easy to be cynical about all of it. To reject it as American consumerism and myth making writ large.

But you miss out if you do that.

I love Disney World. Once you peel away the outer layers of your own personal onion of resentment you can bask in the wonderful playfulness of it. Walt Disney created a world of imagination where people can forget about the stresses of their lives and just have some good old fashioned fun. So go nuts.

I have been three times now – twice with my sister and Grandfather waaaaaaay back in the ’90s and once with Carmen just recently. Not much has changed in the park between visits and I was very glad about that.

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Carmen with her Mickey Mouse ice cream – at must a Disney

How to do Walt Disney World in a day

Loads of people will tell you a trip to Disney should be planned and executed with military precision. Not true. We spent half a day in Disney World and half a day at Hollywood Studios – the old MGM park.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour but we managed to ride every ride we wanted and see everything we wanted to see.

How did we do it?

Star wars simulator ride Disney Double-Barrelled Travel

Get in early for rides like Space Mountain and Star Wars

1. Get there early and head directly for Space Mountain

Getting to Disney World is pretty easy if you stay inside the park at its many resorts. But if you’re starting from the outside then you need to set the alarm.

We were staying in Orlando so we got up at 6am to be on the road nice and early and avoid the commuter logjam that sets in on the highway leading to Disney.

We arrived at around half past eight, got a parking space right near the main entrance and caught a beautiful paddle steamer to the Magic Kingdom. No hassle, stress free.

Racing cars Disney Double-Barrelled Travel

The racing car track at Disney World

When you enter the first attraction is Main Street USA. Unless you want to shop avoid this at all costs – you can come back later. Head to the right and get to Tomorrow Land and Space Mountain – the fastest Disney rollercoaster.

The line for this ride can be huge later in the day but in the morning the families and children are still navigating through Main Street USA and all the other areas, leaving Space Mountain to the early birds.

We rode Space Mountain three times then moved on to the rest of the attractions – Splash Mountain, The Haunted House, Pirates of Caribbean and my personal favourite, The Tea Cups. The wait times get a bit longer as the day progresses but at least you got the big one out of the way when you go early.

Riding the teacups Disney Double-Barrelled Travel

I was quite excited to ride the tea cups…

2. Pack your own lunch and delay eating

Disney allows park visitors to bring their own lunch as long as it’s not packed in a massive cooler or accompanied by a portable stove to cook it with – as long as its within reason it’s accepted.

Which is really excellent – we packed a cheap and filling lunch, paid for a locker and stashed it away until we returned around 2pm to eat.

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Hollywood Studios at night

This is crucial. Eat a big breakfast and burn it off with rides. When midday rolls around all of the families that take up so much space in the queues disappear to eat, leaving the park relatively free for you. Make sure you have some snacks in your jacket pockets so you’re not starving over lunch.

We took full advantage of the midday lull and rode everything twice over – including Splash Mountain which always has a long wait. Then when we went to eat we scored a great spot at the railway station looking down on the bustling square of Main Street USA.

3. Wear comfortable shoes

A fast game is a good game as they say and for that you need good shoes. Forget fashion, dorky trainers and some good socks will allow you to move quickly through the crowds and get to the rides over and over again.

Hollywood Studios fake street Double-Barrelled Travel

Carmen at Hollywood Studios

By the end of our Disney visit I reckon we must have racked up five miles of walking but my feet felt good. The race goes to the swift and if you don’t slip on the right footwear you will lose time resting and rubbing your poor feet.

Bring a change of clothes and a spare pair of socks if you plan to ride Splash Mountain and other wet rides – we didn’t and got soaked through.

Splash Mountain at Disney World Double-Barrelled Travel

Splash Mountain is great but bring a change of clothes to stay dry

4. Stay late and ignore bad weather

We had some back luck on our Disney day, or so we thought. Sheets of rain fell around midday, went away for a while and returned when we got to Hollywood Studios. But we were prepared and slipped on our waterproof jackets.

Others weren’t so organised and people left the park in droves. Their loss. The wait times were almost non-existent after they’d gone and though we got a bit wet, it didn’t matter. Florida is warm most of the year and a bit of rain did us no harm.

Because we finished our day at Hollywood Studios, we enjoyed the Fantasmic show at 7pm and then left the park after that.

So there you have it. How to do Disney World in a day. You don’t need a special route or a stop watch. Just get there early and go hard.

We were given free admission to Walt Disney World and Hollywood Studios, but as always, our views are our own.

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A stunt show in action at Hollywood Studios

What you need to know:

Getting there – Walt Disney World Resort is off the I4 and is well sign posted from Orlando. You can’t miss it.

Cost – Parking is $20 a day for visitors not staying at the resorts. Your parking pass can be used at any of the parks. Single day admission tickets start at around $95 but you can get multi-day passes that offer discounts.

When to go – Walt Disney built the Magic Kingdom in Florida because of its plentiful sun. Any time of the year is good, but avoid school holidays if you want an easier run.


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About the author

Dave is the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel and has been nomadic since May 2013. When he's not busily working on a novel, he can be found exploring a war museum, sailing a yacht (unfortunately not his own), or hiking up a mountain.

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