The Miller Family Four-Park Birthday Challenge

by Alice McNutt Miller
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 1, 2014 Issue #771 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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.

Alice MillerI will have a significant birthday next month. The kind of birthday where people throw you lavish parties and ask you how you are enjoying your new AARP benefits.

My husband wanted to know if I wanted him to throw me a party to mark the occasion. I thanked him profusely for offering to plan a big shin-dig where I would spend all evening laughing nervously at over-the-hill jokes and responding to questions from my well-intentioned younger friends about how old I must feel, and said that I had bigger plans in mind.Really bigger plans.

I have never actually been able to visit any of the Disney parks ON my birthday, and sport one of those fun "It's My Birthday" buttons, so I decided this was the time. I also had this crazy idea that I wanted to spend the day with my family visiting all four of the major Disney World theme parks in one day. I dug through the AllEars® archives and found some information on previous four-park challenges, and decided to make my own rules, prep the family, and give it a whirl.

This will not be one of those challenges where you get off of the bus, take your photo in front of each park, and then move quickly to the next. No, this challenge will require significant time spent in each park, but will also hopefully be paced so that, while it will be a really long day, we will manage to have some fun.

My first task was to set the Rules of the Game (which are as follows):

  • We will visit all four major theme parks in the course of one day. "Day" being defined as from the time we get up in the morning, to the time we hit the hay, exhausted, later that night.
  • We must use Disney transportation to get from our hotel to the parks, from one park to another, and back to our hotel.
  • We must ride or experience at least three major attractions in each park. "Major" means you have to stand in line for it, does not include character meet and greets (thank goodness, the Anna and Elsa thing would have blown the entire day), and can include either rides or shows.
  • Every member of the family needs to take part in the attraction. That means we will avoid attractions that one or more member of the family refuses to ride on a regular basis, for one reason or another. As they say in Disney's "High School Musical":"We're all in this together." (Your earworm for the day. You are welcome.)
  • FastPass+ may be used, and reservations may be made in advance for one of the parks.The recent changes to FastPass+, allowing for additional reservations to be made in more than one park after all previous FastPass+ reservations have been exhausted, may help us as we move through the parks during the day. I will report back on how well that works.
  • We need to eat one meal in each park. We will eat breakfast, lunch, dinner in three different parks, and the word "meal" applies to a snack in the fourth park.
  • No member of the family will be able to carry a bag during the day. I don't want to have "Guest with Bag" delays. We will apply lots of sunscreen in the morning, and we will carry a few small travel size tubes in our pockets. Cargo shorts will be a must to carry reading glasses, ID, cash, etc.

The plan:

Because of park hours, where I would prefer to eat lunch and dinner, and logistical concerns, we plan to hit the parks in the following order: Hollywood Studios; Animal Kingdom; Epcot; and Magic Kingdom.

Hollywood Studios
: Hollywood Studios has morning Extra Magic Hours scheduled for the day that we plan to visit, so we will visit that park first. With an opening time of 8:00, I plan to drag my family out of bed early, and be waiting to catch a bus from our hotel to the Studios by about 7:15. I have not made FastPass+ reservations for this park, since I am hoping we can do the required three attractions and have breakfast relatively quickly with the help of the Extra Magic Hour. This is the order I plan to do things:

  • Toy Story Mania.We will proceed down Hollywood Boulevard in an orderly fashion, whilst still walking with great purpose, and get in line for Toy Story. We will wait as long as it takes. We will ride, and as usual, I will get crushed by my family members. I will try not to take this personally, even though it is my birthday.
  • We will then head to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and get into the Single Riders Line (unless the regular line is less than 20 minutes, in which case we will use that one). Once we are through one of the lines, I anticipate that the ride itself should not take very long, since it involves taking "a really fast car."
  • By this time, my crew is likely to be starving, so we will stop for breakfast at either Fairfax Fare or Starring Rolls Cafe. Where we go will depend on whether I desire something sweet (Starring Rolls Cafe for a pastry) or savory (Fairfax Fare for an egg sandwich).
  • Ride The Great Movie Ride. While this is ride is on the longish side to be included in the Challenge, the lines usually move fairly quickly in the morning, Daughter No. 2 won't ride the Tower of Terror, Dad won't ride Star Tours, and I love it. So there.
  • We will then leave the park and go get a bus for the Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom: My goal is to get to the Animal Kingdom by about 10 a.m., and use FastPass+ for the following three rides:

  • Kilimanjaro Safari – FastPass+ time: 10:25-11:25.Again, this is a long ride, but my view is that if you are going to take the time to go to the Animal Kingdom, you need to see the animals. Plus, I love pretending that I am in Africa, when in reality I am in a theme park in Central Florida.
  • Expedition Everest – FastPass+ time: 11:25-12:25. A few years ago, this would have been one ride that we would not have been able to include in the Challenge, because Daughter No. 2 would not ride it. She has since changed her views, however, thank goodness. Maybe the Yeti will have magically come back to life, just because it is my birthday.
  • Dinosaur – FastPass+ time: 12:25-1:25. This is one of those rides that should be great, but somehow in my mind falls short (especially if you have been able to ride Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, which uses similar technology, but is SO much better executed). We still ride it every visit, though, probably because there are very rarely any lines, and it is cool inside.


  • We will have a snack in the Animal Kingdom, fulfilling the meal requirement for that Park (although I may time this snack for the fruit stands at Harambe Fruit Market between Kilmanjaro Safari and Expedition Everest); and
  • We will leave the park and get a bus to Epcot.

Epcot: My goal is to get to Epcot by 2 p.m., where we will:

  • Attempt to get a FastPass+ for something. I probably won't really care which attraction, as long as we can get one (it cannot be for Mission: Space, though, because Dad won't ride that one).
  • Have lunch at either Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar or Spice Road Table.At this point, I think we will need a bit of a breather, and I would like a sit-down meal. However, I don't want to make an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) for lunch, since I don't really know what time we will get to the park. Since neither of these restaurants take ADRs, I won't be stressing about that. I haven't had a chance to try either of these restaurants, so I will poll the family to see what they are most interested in.
  • Do whatever three attractions we can fit in. We may try the single rider line for Test Track, since that is the family's favorite Epcot ride. Spaceship Earth is usually a good bet, and as long as it isn't raining, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros is usually just a short wait.
  • We will then leave the park, and take the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom, the final park of the day.

Magic Kingdom: I hope to arrive at the Magic Kingdom some time in advance of our 8:00 p.m. ADR for dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant (where I plan to partake of some birthday "Grey Stuff" and a well-deserved glass of French wine). The Magic Kingdom is scheduled to be open until 11:00 p.m. on the day of our visit, so this should give us enough time to fit in dinner and our three required attractions. Once we have arrived at the park, we will:

  • Attempt to get a FastPass+ for something. Anything. It doesn't really matter. Oh, except the Tea Cups, Dad doesn't do those (frowny face; this is my favorite ride, EVER).
  • Do three rides/attractions and have dinner, in whatever order makes sense.
  • Leave the park, and take the Monorail back to our hotel (I planned that one well, didn't I?).
  • Collapse.

Well, that is the plan.I will be sure to report back after the big day, and let you know how everything went. In the meantime, my family is being put on a strict training regimen, which includes: practicing walking very fast, while not breaking into an unsafe run; checking the My Disney Experience app for wait times, then debating the probable accuracy of the time being reported; being able to walk by freshly popped popcorn without being tempted to stop; practicing slowing, posing for, and taking photos without breaking stride; and continuing to smile and be in good spirits even after hours of pounding the theme park pavement.

Wish us luck!

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The Ultimate Disney Day: Six Parks, Two Coasts:

Also, see some of enthusiastic planner Alice's other features for AllEars®:

The Tyranny of the Spreadsheet:

Planning a Trip Using My Disney Experience

Why I'm Grumpy:



Alice McNutt Milleris 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 now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout 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.