Here’s the scenario. A friend of a friend is coming to Orlando next weekend for a three-day vacation with his spouse, a 6 year-old boy, and a 2 year old infant. They’re staying off property and want to spend Friday afternoon at Disney Springs with some local friends (advantage it’s free), one day at Walt Disney World and one day at Universal Orlando Resort. I wrote up a quick two-day plan of attack for maximizing their fun while in Orlando and it was well received by them.
What I want to know is, do you think I made the right suggestions? If not, what would you recommend intead? Is there anything you think I left out? Please read the my advice below then add your suggestions in the comments.
Hello friend! Here’s my advice for your perfect three-day weekend Orlando vacation.
I don’t recommend bringing young kids to Universal. There’s almost nothing for them to do at the Studios (although the one kid land is pretty cool) and just a couple things at Islands of Adventure (you’ll be stuck in Seussland for most of the day). Plus, believe it or not, Universal tickets actually cost more than Disney right now.
For two days at Disney, you’ll need the 2-Day Multi Day ticket where you visit one park per day (don’t upgrade to the park hopper). Cost is $192 for adults and $179 for 3-9, under 3 is free. (The longer you stay, the cheaper your tickets are… but you have to use them within 14 days of your first visit) AAA might offer you a discount, but it won’t be much and if you buy from Disney’s website you can also get easier access Fastpass+ reservations online ahead of your visit, which is crucial to an enjoyable day where you get at least three attractions in per day with little or no wait.
Saturday Magic Kingdom opens at 9AM, closes at Midnight.
Sunday Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens at 9AM, closes at 6:30pm
Magic Kingdom basic plan:
Arrive at Magic Kingdom parking at 8:00AM-8:15, then monorail over to MK. There’s an opening show at 8:40AM that’s cute and arriving early is key to getting in 4 to 5 attractions right away with little or no wait.
Head to Fantasyland and do the three or four rides you really have to see that you don’t have a Fastpass+ for. There are also some good kid friendly rides in Tomorrowland (Buzz Lightyear, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, Autopia), so head there next.
Fastpass+ advice. Try to set your three fastpass+ for as early in the morning as you can, then go to a terminal to get your fourth free FP when your third FP has been used. Repeat for as long as they have fastpass+ available for attractions you want throughout the day. Every minute you’re not standing in queue is an opportunity to soak up some of the magic elsewhere in the park. On your schedule, don’t FP for parades or shows.
Advice: Take a mid-day break. Monorail to Polynesian and get snacks/lunch from Captain Cooks (I suggest the Pulled Pork Nachos). Try for 30-45 minutes of downtime somewhere air conditioned. Then go back to the Magic Kingdom to tackle the 3pm parade and how ever long you can last after that.
A good place to view the parade is in Town Square. There is almost always available first or second row standing even if you arrive after 3pm. The parade won’t reach there until 15 minutes or so after So no need to rush if you’re late.
If the adults want to go on an attraction that kids are either too small for or too afraid to experience, ask the cast member at the gate if they do child swap. One family member waits with the kids while the others ride, then that family member gets to ride with only a short wait.
In addition to the rides, there are a lot of great entertainment and character photo options in the park. See the official calendar of events for the day and take advantage of at least a few. These are the small moments that add up to a great day in the park.
If you want to make a marathon day of it, the 9:45pm and 10pm castle show / fireworks combo is awesome. Best view is to wait until the light parade finishes (it starts at 9pm) then head to the circle with Walt and Mickey in front of the castle. Face the Castle. Imagine the circle is a clock dial, you want to be at about 3 to 4 o’clock on the dial and facing the castle. Make sure you can see the full front of the castle, but that you’re behind the statue of Walt and Mickey. After the fireworks, the line for the monorail will be long, so just hang out for 20-30 minutes and have fun.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom plan:
Fastpass Advice: In order of importance – Kilimanjaro Safari (try for a time before 11AM), Festival of The Lion King show, Mickey and Minnie photo op, Primeval Whirl (if your child is tall enough), and Finding Nemo show.
The plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a lot less complicated. Arrive 30 minutes before opening (so 8:30 is great). If you did not get a Fastpass+ for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, head there first, otherwise, go to Dino-land and do the rides there.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is like a zoo, so a lot of the fun is exploring the three animal paths (the Discovery Island one can be hard to find – it starts across from the StarBucks). Your kids will like the Wilderness Explorer badge, but you can start that in the afternoon so don’t worry about signing up first thing.
The two shows are also must-sees. The Lion King and Finding Nemo have great performers. Sit up close in The Lion King and your kids may be selected to participate in one section.
If one of the adults is an adventurer and wants to try the Expedition Everest roller coaster, they do have a single rider line or you can try the child swap option. You’ll have to child-swap on Dinosaur.
If you need a mid-day break, consider going to the Animal Kingdom Lodge by bus. It has a savannah that you can walk out on and see animals up close and great African art exhibits in the lobby and hallways.
My favorite restaurant for lunch on property is Sanaa at the adjacent Kidani Village. Try the bread service! Reservations recommended. If you’re eating in the park, Flame Tree BBQ has award winning sauce. But I also like to graze around the park and enjoy little entries here and there (Vegetarian options between Asia and Africa are great).
Finally, be sure to visit Rafiki’s Planet watch at least 1 hour before it closes. The train ride there is short and there is a petting zoo and a peek inside a real operating animal hospital. Plus there are exhibits and characters from Disney’s movies (like Zootopia).
Hope this helps you plan your weekend.