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.
Great plans I think!
But I personally would never get FastPass in the morning. I feel in the morning the lines for the major rides can be so short, why waste a FastPass then when later in the day the lines can be much longer so you are better off using the passes then. I know about the 4th pass trick but honestly going to those dumb slow little kiosks makes it almost not worth the effort to me. My approach is to ride all the major attractions ASAP when park opens and later once the lines are longer use FastPass for repeat favourites and attractions with the longest afternoon lines.
Saying all that though – you likely visit the parks much more than me so I’m curious if you have a reason for morning FastPass that I may not know!
In general, I agree with your philosophy on Fastpass+ (although it works different for us Locals). In this case, they’re less than a week out from their visit, so I’m assuming all the early morning times are gone for the most indemand attractions. Hence my advice to be as early as possible.
I totally agree on telling them to eat at Sanaa. That restaurant is so good.
I haven’t been yet, but maybe tell them about the Skipper Canteen in MK for lunch/dinner.
With only one day in the Magic Kingdom, I wouldn’t take a midday break at the Polynesian, unless you are just trying to entice them to come back and stay at one of the resorts. There are so many good quick service restaurants at the Magic Kingdom, including Cosmic Rays, Casey’s, Be Our Guest (lunch), Columbia Harbor House, Pinocchio Village House, and so many more. The Pot Roast Macaroni & Cheese at The Friar’s Nook in Fantasyland is one of my favorites when I have the kids, and they have hot dogs too.
Same with the midday break at the Animal Kingdom, although Sanaa and Boma are both awesome. It’s best to dine during off times. With reservations, my favorite at the Animal Kingdom is Tuskerhouse, but grazing around Africa and Asia has terrific options. I’d definitely stop at Flame Tree BBQ for the ribs and/or chicken.
Their time is limited as they are out of town, keep them at the parks. Especially with smaller kids, once they leave, the kids won’t want to go back.
as for your plan, MK, here’s my thoughts:
agree- get there early, at the cost of admission, I wouldn’t want to miss a minute of the day.
With smaller kids, I’d head to the Little Mermaid first, everyone else is rushing to the Mine Train (unless the 6year old is old enough/big enough, then head to the mine train). I’d bounce over to the Circus, (its still ToonTown to me) hit up Dumbo and the Barnstormer, then down to Tomorrowland. The Indy cars are fun, so is Buzz Lightyear. I’d save the Laugh Floor for later in the day, its a nice break from the heat.
Snack time- bring your own. Its too early for the Mickey ice cream.
Over to Adventureland, for the Jungle Cruise, Pirates and Aladdin’s Carpets.
Lunch at Pecos Bill. The kids menu is pretty standard everywhere, and the adult menu has a lot of fresh stuff on it.
from Adventureland head over to Its a Small World, then to the carousel or Philharmagic.
Parade and character autographs are must, so bring the camera, a pen and get yourself some autograph books.
If they are staying for the fireworks, after the parade is the time to hit the cool indoor attractions.
this is a bit more tricky because of the back and forth and the layout of the park.
Get to the safari first if you don’t have a fastpass. Its also attached to the Pagani walking trail to see the gorillas. very cool and very stroller friendly.
down to Dinoland for the Whirl, and Tricera-tops
Pizzafari is a great place for kids. Its got pizza in the name, so what kid doesn’t want that?
remind them that its ok for a 6 year old to ride a stroller at Disney– its a lot of walking for little legs, and tired little legs become cranky little people
I don’t know how far away they are staying but for me when my son was younger we needed to go back to our room( we stayed off property too) so he could take a nap and wind down, even to cool off in the pool. Otherwise to go all day long would have resulted in a meltdown and who wants that when you are on vacation. This worked out very well for us. I know they only have 3 days and as adults you want to pack in as much as possible but really pushing young kids too much isn’t a great idea for anyone. My sons favorite ride is Pirates of the Caribbean and his first time was when he was 3. I don’t recommend the Haunted Mansion though it was a little too scary for my son at age 7. I do agree to get there as early as possible the kids are probably up anyway!
For a family with small children, I would almost recommend switching the days so that AK is on Saturday, and MK is on Sunday. The hours for AK are usually the same on a Saturday or Sunday, so they won’t be missing anytime then. However, the kids are able to turn in early on that Saturday night and get an early start for MK on Sunday. Wishes occurs an hour earlier (usually) on a Sunday, so small children have more of a chance of getting to see that show rather than a later one. Also, note to hit Peter Pan as one of the very first Fantasyland rides because that wait gets long very quickly. Hope that helps!
This is very ambitious for this little of kids, especially the 2 year old. I just did a trip with a 4 and 1 year old. The 2 year old likely needs a nap to avoid meltdowns. If they aren’t staying on site, that will be challenging. Recommend bringing a comfortable stroller where s/he can hopefully nap – don’t rent the ones at the park! Very uncomfortable. Kids this small often move slowly too. For example, it took us close to 20 or 30 mins to make it from the front entrance to Fantasyland and they will want to stop and see things along the way. Rushing to hit several attractions in a row isn’t very realistic and could cause some upset kids. The most fun we had was not rushing and letting the kids explore spots like the grass on the hub, the people mover, the carousel, etc. Aim for fun, not trying to do everything in a day!
While I get the attraction of the Animals at Animal Kingdom, I honestly don’t believe its the best place for little kids because of how big it is and the amount of walking involved, even with a stroller. I also think that while we adults love the rides, and their are some great ones for the kids, kids that young love the characters, so to me its either Hollywood Studios, which also has the best parade in my opinion and great shows or Epcot, then Animal Kingdom last. If they aren’t staying on property, leaving is hard, so the pool option is not going to work, its just too much time in and out.
I agree with no Universal, it isn’t for little kids and on a weekend I can only imagine how long the lines are.
Great advice about heading to Fantasyland first. Trying for a 4th FastPass+ may not be worth the effort with two younger kids in tow. Ideally, if they can get their FastPasses from 11-2 (or after the parade if needed), then they can do those other Fantasyland rides first (Winnie the Pooh, Small World, Dumbo, Little Mermaid, etc.) and have things to do when it gets busy. If the “mountains” are not being considered, Talking Mickey at Town Square, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean are great FastPass+ options for peak times, when lines can get 45+ min. Also, if the Tomorrowland Speedway is a priority, maybe consider a FastPass+ for that. 45 minutes breathing in those fumes – no thank you (the 2 year old may even be old enough to ride/drive with one of the parents… it was my almost two year old’s first height restricted ride last time).
For the parade viewing, we always go deep in Frontierland (between Peco Bill’s and the Shooting Arcade). There we always end up with a front-row spot easily about half an hour before the parade starts. Mickey Ice Cream bars help pass the time.
Instead of leaving the park for a midday break, maybe they could go for a ride or two around the park on the railway? If our son is tired enough, he just crashes in his stroller, so leaving the parks for midday breaks has never worked/been necessary for us. Plus, with the current weather, an a/c break may not be necessary.
Also, some rides they may enjoy during the peak of the day that never have long lines are the Enchanted Tiki Room, Carrousel, and Mickey’s Philharmagic. While Tom Sawyer’s Island isn’t overly exciting, it is a great place to let the kids burn off some energy.
I totally agree with your Animal Kingdom plan (though we would probably opt for a Tusker House character lunch instead of leaving the park), and I’m glad you mentioned the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. My toddler loved the petting zoo, and the walk from the train station to the exhibits was a great chance for him to get out some energy.
Also, they should check out the Boneyard playground. There is a ton for the six year old to do, and there are also slides for the two year old to the right as soon as you enter.
I think you are underestimating the six year old. He is likely tall enough to ride most thrill rides. My 3yo daughter was and did (should have told her no on TOT, though. Ha!). If he’s a Star Wars fan, I’d pick HS over AK-or at least park hop that day. Jedi training was my son’s number one wish at age 6, and it still is at age 8. Well, Kylo might have moved to the number one spot. My son’s favorite park at age 6 was Epcot. We are going in May and extended our trip an extra day so we could have two days at Epcot.
Definitely a stroller for both if not taking an extended mid-day break.