How to “Do” a Three-Day Weekend at WDW
by Alice McNutt Miller
AllEars® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the August 9, 2011 Issue #620 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Lots of folks spend a week, two weeks, or more on vacation at Walt Disney World. The Miller family has visited Walt Disney World many times, but has only spent one full week-long vacation there. Because we are a short two-hour flight away from Orlando, our normal trips tend to be for either three- or four-day weekends. Our kids' school district has four-day weekends for teacher work days in late October or early November (Hello! Food and Wine Festival!) and in late January or early February (low crowd season!), and we have taken ample advantage of those and other holiday three-day weekends (high crowd season!) for short trips to the World.
Since we visit often, we don't worry about hitting every attraction — or even every park — every time we visit. As a result, I have developed some strategies that can allow one to "do" a short trip to Walt Disney World in a satisfying — and potentially relaxing — way.
1. Plan your arrival and departure times carefully. If you are located within either a short drive or a short flight from Orlando, try to arrive on Friday evening — in order to be at the rope drop for your first park on Saturday morning — and leave late Monday afternoon — so that you can spend most of that day in the parks as well.
2. Stay on-site. With only a few days, you can maximize your fun, and minimize the hassle, by staying on-site at one of the Walt Disney World hotels. This way you can bypass the rental car counter at the airport, use Magical Express to get from the airport to your hotel and vice versa, and make use of the Disney World transportation to get around once you are there.
3. Identify your priorities. The three-day weekend strategy does require a bit of planning.Which parks are absolute must-dos for your family? Are there any that you are willing to skip on this trip? Are you keen on seeing fireworks or are you more interested in eating at a particular restaurant (make those Advance Dining Reservations as implied — in advance!)? Do you want to spend time at your hotel pool? Any other special activities you want to fit in? Mini-golf? SeaRaycers? Biking? Once you have gotten an idea of what you want to do, check the park calendars online, so that you know what hours the parks will be open and whether shows, fireworks, parades, etc. will be offered on the days that you want to visit. Finally, decide which three parks will be your "openers" each day, as these will be the parks where you can maximize your time as early arrivers.
4. Put a touring plan together. Once you have identified your priorities, the basic formula for each day is as follows (oh, and you will need Park Hoppers): 1) visit a park first thing in the morning, 2) have lunch at that park, then leave to 3) go back to your hotel for a nap, swim or other activity, 4) head to another park, have dinner at that park, see its evening fireworks or other show, and 5) return to your hotel for a bit of down time before 6) repeating the next day with slightly different elements.On Monday, you will omit everything after #2 and substitute: 3) go back to your hotel to catch the Magical Express to the airport.
5. The early bird rides more rides. Get up at the crack of dawn to maximize your time in the parks (I've said it before, and I will say it again: save sleeping in for the beach vacation). If your family needs a bit more sleep, simply avoid any parks with Extra Magic Hours, and tell them that they are lucky that you are standing waiting to sing "Good Mornin'!" at 8:45 a.m. rather than 7:45 a.m. You have chosen to stay on-site, so simply roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee and a bagel and head to the bus stop.
6. Be sure to build in some time for relaxing.A mid-afternoon break at the pool, a nap or movie in the room or a stroll around the grounds of the hotel are key for maintaining energy levels, especially if the parks are crowded. Try to get to bed relatively early, so that getting up early to hit the parks is not terribly difficult (except for the teenagers; it is always difficult for teenagers to get up early, no matter what time they have gone to bed). If you are travelling with young 'uns, consider skipping the fireworks, putting the kids to bed early, and making your evening activity a glass of wine and conversation with your spouse or BFF on the balcony.
To illustrate, I am including a suggested itinerary that meets all of the criteria above, and includes visits to all four parks. I've also included some of our favorite restaurant suggestions. Fill in the blanks with your own.
Early evening — Arrive at the Orlando International Airport. Catch the Magical Express to your resort. Have dinner at the resort and a quick dip in the pool, if you have time. Go to bed!
Morning — Go to the Magic Kingdom. Leave the park after lunch at __________ (Cosmic Ray's or Tortuga Tavern if it is open. I miss El Pirata y El Perico, but Tortuga Tavern is definitely easier to say.)
Early afternoon — Swim at the resort pool.Go down the slide, hoot, holler and find other ways to embarrass your children.
Late afternoon — Head over to Epcot between 4:00 and 5:00 for dinner at _________(Teppan Edo or Les Chefs de France). Watch "IllumiNations" then return to your resort. Go to bed!
Morning — Go to the Animal Kingdom. Leave the park after lunch at __________(the Yakking Yeti). (Oops, sorry. The Yak and Yeti. We like the food, but who came up with that name anyway?)
Early afternoon — Rent SeaRaycers at a resort marina. Do NOT attempt to take pictures while on the boat.You WILL get in trouble by the water ranger guys. Been there, done that.
Early evening — Have dinner at a _____________ (Magic Kingdom resort restaurant; our top choices are 'Ohana, California Grill and Narcoosee's).
Later evening — After dinner, hop on the Monorail and go to the Magic Kingdom for a few rides, some shopping and "Wishes." Return to your resort. Go to bed!
Morning — Check out of your resort, leave your bags with Bell Services, then head to the Hollywood Studios. Have lunch at ___________ (the Sci Fi Dine-In Theatre or 50's Prime Time Cafe).
Early afternoon — Go back to the resort to catch the Magical Express to the Airport. Cry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.