We’ve vacationed at the Walt Disney World Resort for varying lengths. We’ve done as long as a week and as short as a day.
The length of our stay depends on finances and schedule.
But the way I see it, you only have so many Disney days in a lifetime. You must be grateful for any opportunity to share in the Magic of the Kingdom.
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What’s a sample Disney World itinerary for a three-day vacation?
There are a lot of factors and variables that go into planning this sort of thing.
Of course, the size of your family or group and the ages of your kids will play major roles. You should also consider any new attractions you might want to see.
Also, you should keep an eye on the weather and be ready to change things around up until the last minute if necessary.
For the purposes of this itinerary, we’re giving ourselves a check-in and check-out day with three full park days.
Also, park opening and closing times may vary. Be sure to check park times prior to the days of your visit and adjust accordingly.
Arrival day: Check in and visit Disney Springs
If you’ve got three in-park days, you don’t have a lot of time to be messing about with long sit-down meals and souvenir shopping. You’ve got important theme parking to do.
So, on your arrival day, get checked in at the hotel and get to Disney Springs for as much souvenir shopping and dining as you can stand to do outside the park.
Then, get back to the hotel for a quick swim and to bed. Tomorrow’s a big day.
Day 1: Visit the Magic Kingdom
There’s surely something to be said for saving the Magic Kingdom for last and ending the trip with the fireworks show and a walk down Main Street to the boats, the buses or the monorail.
But my hard-learned lesson is to put the most important part of your Disney vacation first.
If something goes wrong, you can make a new plan and recover. That’s also a good time to consider adding park hopper tickets.
A good plan starts the day at 6:30 am with the purchase of Disney Genie+ if you’re a Disney resort guest, when you can make your first Disney Genie+ selection of the day.
Tron is currently recommended for your Individual Lightning Lane purchase. Alternatively, you can also log on to the My Disney Experience app and try to get in the virtual queue.
Grab a quick breakfast, preferably something you can eat in transit to the park.
Disney resort guests can rope drop at 8:30 am. If you have a Lightning Lane for Tron, head straight to Fantasyland. It’s always been our go-to move at rope drop.
Otherwise, rope drop currently is 9 am for non-Disney resort guests. This is where you must be flexible.
Check the wait times and go where the crowds aren’t. Maybe you’re looking at Tomorrowland or maybe Adventureland. Either way, use Genie+ and the My Disney Experience app to your advantage and double-check opening times.
At noon, mobile order lunch from Casey’s. No trip to the Kingdom is complete without Casey’s hotdogs. Also, it’s a prime parade viewing position.
Keep an eye out for the parade schedule throughout the day. After lunch, you can check the wait times and determine your next play. Most of the park is easily accessible from Casey’s.
Afternoons and evenings at the Magic Kingdom
After lunch, check the virtual queue for Tron if you don’t have a Lightning Lane.
Ride, play and experience as much as you can using the various tools at your disposal. Do you need an air conditioning break? The Tiki Room is a nice option as is Pirates of the Caribbean.
Also, make sure you make time while in Adventureland to get a Dole Whip.
If meeting the princesses is on your list, the afternoon or early evenings are usually a good time to get things done. Don’t worry about meeting Mickey. We’ve got that later in the itinerary.
For dinner, mobile order from a quick service restaurant. There’s no time for a sit-down meal or character dining, at least not yet.
Columbia Harbor House or Pinocchio’s are good options here depending on your culinary tastes.
Also, start thinking about getting a good spot for the Happily Ever After fireworks show at 8 pm. People start camping out for this thing way earlier than you might think, and the best spots will be gone early.
But John, is a fireworks show worth waiting an hour on the hard, hot pavement? Yes, it is. I don’t know how to articulate it better than that. It just is. See the show. It’s imperative.
At 10 pm, the park closes, so make your way back to the hotel. Maybe jump in the hot tub for a few minutes. Shower and get to bed. 6:30 am is coming quickly.
Can I get everything done in one day?
No. You’re not going to be able to do everything in a day at the Magic Kingdom.
You’re going to have to make some decisions. Some rides like Peter Pan, Jungle Cruise and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train almost always have long wait times. Therefore, if you can’t get Genie+ for them, you may have to let them go.
Other rides like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion will have more fluid wait times. You might get lucky and catch one in less than 45 minutes.
Also, Disney tends to inflate wait times. It’s better to promise long lines and then have guests be pleasantly surprised when it’s shorter than the other way around.
For the most part, I try to avoid any waits longer than an hour. However, I’ve also ridden everything so if I miss out on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, it’s not that big of a deal.
Finally, it can’t be all go, go, go. Find time to rest, appreciate and reflect. Get some cheeseburger pods and find some shade. Sometimes the best times are when we stop and take a breath.
Day 2: Visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios is my second favorite Disney park. It could use a few more flat rides just to help break the lines for the bigger rides. Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge are among the best lands in any of the Orlando theme parks.
Purchase Disney Genie+ if you’re a Disney resort guest at 6:30 am. At 7 am, purchase Individual Lightning Lanes. These are an absolute must for Rise of the Resistance if you are a Disney resort guest. Finally, make your first Disney Genie+ selection.
Grab a quick breakfast, preferably something you can eat in transit to the park.
Rope drop for Disney resort guests is at 8:30 am, but double check the Disney calendar as opening times may vary. If you didn’t get an Individual Lightning Lane, head straight for Rise of the Resistance and be prepared to hustle.
In my opinion, Rise is the best ride in Orlando and an absolute must-do when you’re at Hollywood Studios. If you don’t have the Individual Lightning Lane, you need to join the masses hustling for the ride at early rope drop or risk a two-hour wait later in the day.
But 9 am is rope drop for everybody else. Unless you have an Individual Lightning Lane, there’s not a lot of point in heading toward Rise at the second rope drop. However, check the wait times. If Rise is under an hour, it’s worth considering.
If not, look at attractions that usually have longer wait times like Smugglers Run, Tower of Terror or the Slinky Dog Dash.
Additionally, the excellent Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Toy Story Mania! are also good rope drop options. But they will also have shorter wait times throughout the day.
Afternoons and evenings at Hollywood Studios
For lunch, mobile order a Ronto Wrap in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge for lunch. It’s certainly one of the best food options in the Disney parks and is perfect for a quick lunch.
The afternoon hours are the perfect time to catch a show or two, like the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular or Frozen Ever After. I’m not a huge fan of the Beauty and the Beast show, but it’s quite popular with others.
If wait times get long, look to Star Tours. It’s a great ride that usually has a short queue. The technology is great.
Also, consider working in time for character meet and greets. Hollywood Studios has great park-specific characters.
For dinner, mobile order from the restaurants on Sunset Boulevard or the Backlot Express, depending on where you are in the park. If you’re at Backlot Express, get a Wookiee Cookie for dessert.
At 8 pm, consider getting your seat for Fantasmic! Be sure to check showtimes as they can vary. Right now, the show is set for 9:15 pm with the amphitheater opening 90 minutes before the show.
I don’t know that you need to be in an hour and a half early, but you should probably be in the queue at least 45 minutes before showtime. Fantasmic! is the best show at Disney, so don’t miss it.
Day 3: Visit EPCOT
This is a tough call, but EPCOT gets the nod for me.
Get up early and purchase Disney Genie+ if you’re a Disney resort guest at 6:30 am. At 7 am, purchase the Individual Lightning Lanes.
This is an absolute must for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
If you don’t get Individual Lightning Lane for Cosmic Rewind, consider trying the virtual queue.
Again, grab your quick breakfast around 7:30 am, preferably in transit.
Rope drop for Disney resort guests is 8:30 am.
EPCOT is a tough rope drop. The park is spread out. With this in mind, consider rope dropping at the international entrance near the SkyLiner near the “back” of the park. You can enter next to the France Pavilion and can target Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at the start or hustle over to Frozen Ever After.
If you rope drop at the traditional entrance, I would target Soarin’ or Mission: SPACE in the early minutes before wait times jump up.
Rope drop for non-resort guests is 9 am currently. Try to get in the virtual queue for Guardians then look at the wait times and adjust accordingly. Maybe you can knock out Test Track or one of the other rides.
If Frozen Ever After is on your list, I’d recommend targeting it early. It goes down often, and its position in the park makes it difficult to get back to once you’ve passed it.
Afternoons and evenings at EPCOT
Mobile order lunch from the place closest to where you are. EPCOT isn’t built like other parks, the World Showcase Lagoon makes it difficult to get across.
If you’re not in the World Showcase Pavilions, just find someplace close to where you are for lunch. If you are in the pavilions, Germany, China and Mexico all have great mobile order options. I’m also partial to the crepes in France.
If you missed the aquarium and Nemo early in the morning, it can serve as a nice relaxing break in the middle of the day and has fantastic air conditioning.
If you started in the front of the park, spend the afternoon making your way across the World Showcase and enjoying some food and beverage if it is a pretty nice afternoon. But if it’s a hot day, plan to pace yourself.
In the evening, you can afford the time for a nice sit-down meal. If you’ve knocked out Remy’s and Guardians, the rest of the rides are less essential unless you have a Frozen fan in your crew.
For dinner, there are lots of great places to eat dinner in EPCOT. You can’t go wrong with either Mexico, France or Italy. The options are fantastic.
The EPCOT Forever fireworks show is currently at 9 pm. It’s the least essential of the big three closing shows, but it’s still something to see over the World Showcase Lagoon.
Departure Day: Enjoy character dining
Your departure day is a great day for an early morning character breakfast at a Disney resort. I like scheduling a character meal outside of the parks for two reasons.
First, it extends the magic just a little bit more. Second, it’s four fewer characters we have to chase down in the park.
For breakfast, Chef Mickey’s is incredibly popular, but I like Ohana at the Polynesian Resort.
You can pack up and check out first and be ready to hit the road back to reality with one last memory for the trip home. Be sure to book your reservations well in advance of your trip since they can go quickly.
Is 3 days enough at Disney World?
No, it’s not, at least in my opinion. But sometimes that’s all you have, and you roll with it.
The ideal minimum is four days so you have one for each park. However, I prefer five. The good news is the more days you purchase, the more Disney discounts the tickets.
As an example, currently looking at ticket prices, I can get a five-day ticket in September for right at $500, which would only be $120 more than the three-day ticket. That means basically, the last two days are half-price.
Ultimately, Disney wants you in its park and really encourages longer stays. They don’t want you splitting your vacation dollars with Universal, after all.
How much does it cost for 3 days at Disney World?
At the time of this writing, Disney is currently running a promotion for four-day tickets for $99 each. How much is that saving you? It depends.
Disney runs variable pricing, meaning that a day’s ticket cost changes based on anticipated demand.
In rough numbers, generally plan on $380-$450 or so per person for a three-day ticket.
However, there are specials and discounts that are run throughout the year, particularly if you stay at a Disney property resort.
How does the 3-day Disney ticket work?
Per the Disney website, you save about $20 per ticket when buying three-day tickets versus the price at the walk-up window.
When purchasing your ticket online, you will be asked for a starting date. From that date, you will have five days to use your tickets, which can be used on non-consecutive days.
For instance, if the first day of your Walt Disney World vacation is September 13, that is the first day you’re going into the parks. You can go any combination of three days between September 13th through the 17th.
Should I consider a park hopper on my three-day ticket?
I would consider a park hopper ticket only if there’s something of critical importance that you must do in each of the four parks in your three-day trip, or if you select Disney’s Animal Kingdom as one of your first three options.
Animal Kingdom closes earlier than the other theme parks, so the hopper will help you squeeze every hour of magic out of your trip.
Otherwise, I think it’s a waste of time and effort. There are plenty of things to see and do at each of the four parks to make it worthy of a full day.
Plus, with three days in the park, you don’t want to spend any more time than you have to in transit.
What about the Animal Kingdom?
I love the Animal Kingdom, but for me and my family, it’s the fourth park. Pandora is wonderful and Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the best ride experiences in Orlando.
And I love Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Festival of the Lion King show. I don’t love DINOSAUR, but that’s a story for another day.
What about the water parks?
I would also forget the water parks when you only have three days. You can find water parks anywhere in this country in the world. Heck, several hotels in the area are basically water parks now.
Typhoon Lagoon? Blizzard Beach? They’re good, but we’re in the business of theme parks right now.
That being said, if Animal Kingdom is your jam, go for it. Drop it into your day itineraries and drop one of the other parks.
In a three-day vacation, something has to give. For me and my family, it’s been the Animal Kingdom.
Do you have an itinerary for a 3-day visit to Disney World? Let us know in the comments!