Even though Walt Disney World Resort offers a one-day “park hopper” pass that gives you unlimited access to Animal Kingdom, Disney Studios, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, visiting all of them on the same day is almost impossible.

But not entirely.

Seeing it all requires careful planning, triathlete-like endurance and the kind of determination not typically found in a family of five on vacation.

We’ve come to call this the Kissimmee Challenge — and yes, it is doable.

Four years ago, we dragged our three kids — two of whom were still in strollers — to four parks while on assignment for the Miami Herald. We pulled it off, hitting three rides in each place. It was totally exhausting, and by the end of the day, we vowed never to try it again.

But then we started to wonder if our achievement was a fluke. Did we have an unfair advantage, with kids in a double stroller? Could we do it again, now that the children were a little older and, um, more independent? On a recent visit to Kissimmee, we decided to find out.

The Magic Kingdom (9 a.m.)

We started at the original Disney theme park because it’s the busiest. If we wanted to hit three rides, we’d have to choose carefully and get there early. Each child picked an attraction. Aren, our oldest, wanted to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. Our son Iden requested Small World. And our daughter Erysse wanted Peter Pan. We hit them, one-two-three, and were out of the park in less than two hours, despite the throng of people who, like a slow-moving river, were flowing toward Cinderella Castle.

Epcot (11 a.m.)

Epcot is only a short monorail ride down the line, and even though it is the least impacted of the parks, it probably has the best food options for kids. So after riding The Land (with no wait) we had an early lunch and then headed over to Nemo and Friends and the aquarium area. Alas, Nemo was briefly closed, so we strolled through the aquarium and then caught our ride. We were still on schedule!

Disney Studios (1 p.m.)

No wait for Tower of Terror, which we could all ride on (it freaked Aren out). Our plans to hit Toy Story fizzled when we saw a one-hour wait, so we zipped over to watch the 3D Muppets show, which is one of our favorites. In places, the park was filled wall-to-wall with guests. Although I wanted to check out the renovated Star Wars ride, there simply wasn’t enough time. On to the next park.

Animal Kingdom (3 p.m.)

We were starting to get nervous. Animal Kingdom was closing soon, and we needed to spend some meaningful time in the park. Plus, there was a parade coming our way. We started at Bug’s Life, which was practically deserted (but as amusing as ever) and then zipped over to Kilimanjaro Safaris, the open-air ride that gets you up close with giraffe, gazelle, lions and other African wildlife. By the time we reached the Tree of Life, a tide of visitors was emptying out of the park. We were swept away, back to the buses that returned us to our parking spot at the Magic Kingdom. We finished at around 5:30 p.m.


“So, what did you think?” I asked the kids as they slumped in their seats.

“I’m hungry,” said Iden.

“I’m tired,” said Erysse.

“Too much,” said Aren.

Too much? Well, good thing we only try this only once every four years.

(Photos: Kiraca/Flickr; Christopher Elliott)

Comments

  1. Shannon Meltdownfreedisney.com
    Arlington, VA
    February 2, 2012, 2:25 pm

    I used to work at NG, and it is odd to transfer so much real culture and experience into Disney-speak, where the castles are 40 years old, the trash cans are placed based on market research (how many steps away there are from a guest at any time) and the trees are sculpted. They also have more accessibility options for those with disabilities than most schools for children with those conditions.
    I write about taking kids there, though, in such a way that they don’t fall apart, and it takes some self-control and planning.
    If I took this assignment on, I’d have started at Animal Kingdom. Animals are more active at the start of the day, but as one parent escorted kids to the Safari, I’d have sent the other to Everest to secure fast passes for the family, so we could enjoy the 2 best attractions there within an hour, and wander from Africa to Asia, while photographing prayer flags & artifacts actually brought from their home country (not reproduced). For the 3rd thing, I’d take kids to the Nemo show or Lion King show, so they could rest their feet. Then I’d bus to Hollywood Studios, where the fast pass runner could get passes to Toy Story Mania or Star Tours, while the other parent took them to meet characters at Animation Studios. Kids want to see Mickey, and Pixar characters are what they know. They could take a free drawing class. Then, one of those 2 rides, plus Muppets 3D, because Muppets rule. Next, boat to Epcot, where kids can do a Kim Possible adventure while eating lunch from Kiosks around the world. Critical point-Parents can have a cocktail as kids solve the riddles. Rides: Soarin’ (fp), Nemo, &/or Test Track (fp). I always partner Soarin’ with a 101 on the engineer who created it using his childhood toys, to inspire my kids to play like an imagineer. Then I’d go to guest services to see if they could get us a reservation at Garden Grove, where dinner is prepared with organic foods made on site. The Land Tour is not a must-do, but kids see what they will eat, if you have to wait for a table. (It is near Soarin’) Characters come to meet the kids, and you get to eat something more substantial than a processed nugget. Around 6:30, I’d monorail to MK, and hit the rides you said, POTC, Peter Pan, Small World, but think about swapping one for a lesser known attraction, like Stitch’s Great Escape or Monster’s Laugh Floor (kids text jokes in and see if they can be delivered for laughs-my kids love when ours are chosen). I’d wrap up with ice cream or over-priced popcorn and watch the fireworks to remember why you came as a family in the 1st place. With some planning, I’d actually book the dessert party special, so kids can access a cookie buffet in a less crowded space and parents can sit. You all are welcome to come with us any time. We are now up to 4 times a year, but don’t hit every park on every trip. We use apps to check wait times, park schedules (Animal Kingdom always closes 1st, so I’d never go there last) and we even can check the shortest distance between 2 points (bus, boat. monorail, or on foot). It isn’t for everyone, but a touring plan that includes 4 parks in 1 day doesn’t sound like fun for anyone!

  2. Harry Turpin
    United States
    February 2, 2012, 9:43 pm

    We’ve always used the park hopper option to visit break the parks up…but we always end up back in Epcot’s world showcase to have a delicious dinner. Even if we don’t get to see everything, the flexibility certainly is nice!

    I remember doing the parks in one day..marathon session…we managed to make it on all the major rides and still had a fantastic time…but boy, were we tired!!!

    Great post!!!

  3. Kelsey
    Florida
    February 3, 2012, 11:15 am

    The park hopper option for tickets isn’t to do EVERYTHING in one day, it is more for doubling. If you finish at Animal Kingdom and you still have time in your day you can head over to Studios. By combining the day with the two parks you just knocked out having to buy separate ticket for each park!

  4. Fiber Internet Providers
    February 3, 2012, 10:35 pm

    So nice to read about your blog. We haven’t been in Disneyland, always on postcards and pictures. Most of my friends told me that you can never explore Disney World in a day, you should have make yourself checked-in their Hotel or nearest one. We’re so excited to know that in Hong Kong Disneyland, there’s a new attraction called “Toy Story Land”, my kids love Woody and Buzz so much, so I guess we should explore there first. I believe it is smaller than Disney in Florida. Thanks so much for this great information! I would Love to see Disney World!

  5. Rizki Ramadhani
    Indonesia
    February 4, 2012, 9:25 am

    Nice to see the castle of Disney inside the National Geography, while others are nature, human, and social photos.

  6. Alexander
    February 5, 2012, 8:04 am

    F

  7. Alexander
    February 5, 2012, 8:16 am

    From 9 till 17.30 is definetly too much! And not only for kids :) Disney Lands are places for relaxation, and almost 9h journey sounds rather as a hard work. I suggest to try not everything in one visit, and thus, share a positive emotions with about 13 mln of people, which are guests of Disney every year in US , Europe and Japan. Discover Europe and beyond at http://travel-europe-eu.blogspot.com/

  8. Jema
    Texas Usa
    February 7, 2012, 8:57 am

    Wow that’s a very tight schedule you have huh. Though planning is good but Alexander is right, it should be a time for relaxation and not a speedy roller coaster ride lol

  9. Linda
    NY USA
    February 7, 2012, 11:36 am

    I guess you “saw” all 4 parks in one day, but you sure didn’t enjoy the experience of Disney. You can say “I did it!”, but you really didn’t truly enjoy the four parks at all, you just raced throughl- and the poor kids : (

  10. RaeA
    February 7, 2012, 11:42 am

    Leaving Animal Kingdom for last sounds like a “rookie mistake,” as well as not understanding the popularity of Toy Story Midway Mania in the Studios. TSMM and Soarin’ in Epcot share honors as the rides with the longest waits. Toy Story is frequently out of Fast Passes before morning ends. In Magic Kingdom, I hope of those three rides you hit Pan first. Its line can get very long. Pirates and Small World have better capacity than Pan and move guests through pretty quickly (though Small World’s boats always seem to back up before the unload spot).

    If I were doing all four parks in the same day, I’d hit Studios first to ride Toy Story, then Animal Kingdom since it has the shortest hours, Epcot (without planning to ride Soarin’), and finally Magic Kingdom, which usually (but not always) has the latest hours.

  11. [...] Christopher Elliott wrote an article for the National Geographic web site on the idea of visiting all four parks in one day (Source). [...]

  12. hadi
    cincinnati, OH
    December 16, 2012, 1:21 am

    So guys please someone advice me if I just have one day what should I go or do there……..

  13. Michelle
    New England
    December 17, 2012, 2:33 pm

    My husband and I have been a few times, we took our daughter for the first time 3 years ago. This April, we’ll have one full day before heading off on a cruise, so we got a 1 day Park Hopper and will attempt to hit the highlights. (Our vacation week is off from the majority of the country, so hopefully that’ll work to our advantage) Our daughter will also be 8 then, so no stroller needed this time around. I think the author was right hitting MK first, since it’s so kid-centric, but AK always closes the earliest. Get that out of the way midday! Epcot is open the latest, most of the time, so save that for last.

  14. lisa
    Canada
    March 9, 5:19 pm

    There is NO WAY to do even one park in a whole day. This is just my own opinion. Standing in line eats so much of your time and if you have kids, you have to stop to take more breaks, then eat lunch, snack and bathroom pit-stops. All this cuts into the time you really have to explore the park and its main features. Staying in a vacation home near Disney can save you and your group a lot of money, so the savings can be spent on exploring the park on another day. Staying in a vacation home enables the individuals to make breakfast, pack snacks and you can even spend a day during your trip relaxing in your vacation home, hanging around the pool and rejuvenating before returning to another park for the next day.
    http://www.rentavilla123.com
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  15. julia
    disney world
    May 2, 5:50 pm

    I want to go to disney world

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