This post is about Disney World. If that’s not your thing, skip it.
They said it couldn’t be done. Guidebooks, advice from experts, even my own experience. However, the Old Man found some guy on the internets who said it was possible, and so it was this source we bought into.
The mission: Florida’s Walt Disney World - all four parks - in one day. On a weekend day during the peak summer season, no less. The challengers: myself - an out of shape, chain-smoking, oft-hungover layabout; and my dad - the Old Man, who is, well, old - 60 in a couple of months. Our assets: lots of Disney World experience (though none since 1996,) my inexplicable ability to walk tirelessly for countless hours (so long as there’re no hills) and the Old Man’s ability to operate at full capacity on minimal sleep.
To prepare tip the scales in our favor as much as possible, we headed to Orlando on Friday afternoon and checked into the Dolphin, a well-located hotel on the Disney property. The Dolphin proved the best of all worlds. Because it isn’t owned by Disney, cheap rates were available online. However, it’s still considered a “Disney” hotel, and thus is served by Disney transit and allows for early entry into one park. Also in our preparation, we went to a cheesy Orlando Dinner show - Al Capone’s, which featured unlimited drinks, all the better to coerce an earlier bedtime.
The Capone’s, sadly, didn’t get me to sleep any earlier. Between eating too much bread and the lack of liquor service during the second act, I was pretty sober by the time we got back to the hotel. The Old Man, of course, fell asleep right away and rifled into a full-blown Chewbacca snore session, so I didn’t fall asleep for hours.
My alarm blared at 6:29 a.m. I almost hit the snooze, but thought better of it, lack of sleep be damned. I may show up late for work pretty much every day, but I get to Disney parks on time. We were out of the hotel a little after 7, coffee in tow. Animal Kingdom was opening at 8 for Disney hotel guests, one hour early. We skipped the line for the bus to the park and drove, and got a space in the second row of the enormous Animal Kingdom lot. No traffic so far. Good news.
We entered Animal Kingdom for the first time (it opened in 1998) and moved to the center of the park, waiting for the rope to drop and allow the early morning crowd into the ride are. I was already sweating like crazy. So was the Old Man. So was every other person in the crowd, and nobody had even walked anywhere yet. The rope dropped at ten till 8, and we rushed off to Expedition: Everest, a roller coaster in a far corner of the park. No line this early of course, we were on maybe the second train of the day. We considered riding it again, but we had a schedule to keep and headed for Kilimanjaro Safari, which in usual Disney fashion was the farthest point in the park from where we were. After a short wait and a long (20 minute) ride, we moved on to Dinosaur, which again was the longest possible distance from the exit to Kilimanjaro.
After completing Dinosaur, we had finished the three highest rated, most popular rides in Animal Kingdom, and it was only 9 a.m. The park had opened to non-Disney hotel riffraff at this point, so we headed for the exit. We drove toward Disney Hollywood Studios (which used to be called Disney MGM Studios, and is how I will refer to it for the rest of this piece) and stopped at the good old McDonald’s drive through, conveniently placed (and airport priced - $16 for two breakfasts!) beside a Disney highway. We scarfed food and I guzzled more coffee (McD’s large iced coffee is 32 ounces. That’s basically 1 liter for you metric speakers) as I drove to the MGM parking lot.
MGM would be a slightly larger operation than Animal Kingdom. Two of Disney World’s premier rides are there, next to each other in fact - the Rock n Rollercoaster (new to us) and the Tower of Terror (did it years ago). We got a Fastpass ticket for Tower, then got in line and rode Rock n Roll. While waiting to redeem our Fastpass, we rode the Great Movie Ride (still fun, but dated, it used to be MGM’s headliner) and picked up a Fastpass to Star Tours before looping back to ride Tower of Terror, which we were Fastpass eligible for at this point. Still a beaute. We doubled back to Star Tours, redeemed our Fastpass, and knocked out the last of the important MGM rides. By noon, we were back in the MGM parking lot.
This was it for the car. I took it back to the Dolphin lot, since the Dolphin is walking distance to Epcot, and it would be easier to take a bus to Dolphin than Epcot later on. Since the clock had struck noon, we cracked beers for the walk to Epcot. We entered through the World Showcase gate, and made a bee line for Future World, where all the good rides are. Sadly, the walk through World Showcase only lead us through the England and Canada pavilions - easily the two dullest countries represented. It was lunch hour, but we didn’t want to waste time walking to any of the country pavilions that serve decent food, and we sure as hell didn’t want to eat in England or Canada.
After an aborted attempt to ride Soarin’ (no more Fastpassses there, 60 minute wait) we headed to Spaceship Earth. It was much improved from a few years ago, plus it’s 15 minutes long, allowing us to sit for the first time in awhile. We picked up a Fastpass for Test Track (and were amazed they were still available) and then got in line for Mission: Space. After that, we decided to bite the bullet and wait out Soarin,’ which was now listed at 90 minutes. Fortunately, it only took 45. We still had some time to kill before we could use our Fastpasses on Test Track, so we rode Journey into Imagination (which still features the hilarious Imagination song that South Park mocked) got a beer, shopped for souvenirs, and went to the Mexico Pavilion to get food and margaritas. After finishing Test Track, we left Epcot and hopped on the Monorail.
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom at around 6. We’d made it. All four parks. However, we didn’t come to Magic Kingdom to declare four park victory, we came to squeeze a full day of Magic Kingdom rides into 5 hours. This is the park that we had spent the most time in over the years and that had changed the least since our last visit, so we didn’t really need to bother with maps.
We started in Fronteirland, and were shocked and delighted to discover Fastpasses available for Spalsh Mountain. Splash Mountain has long boasted the longest lines at Magic Kingdom, and is an old favorite. I missed it in Japan because it was closed when I was there, so I was happy to be able to skip the line and ride it here (sadly, Space Mountain was closed this time, and for all of 2009, so we were out of luck there). After getting Splash Fastpasses, we rode Big Thunder Mountain, and then my all-time number one Disney favorite - Haunted Mansion. We followed this with the Hall of Presidents, a show I’ve generally avoided, but they had recently finished the Obama robot so we wanted to check that out. Amazingly, Fox News didn’t have anybody to stand in front of the theater and shout-down robot-Obama’s speech. Next came Pirates of the Caribbean, and when we left that it had gotten dark out. Following this, in rapid succession - It’s a Small World, Philharmagic, Splash Mountain, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Buzz Lightyear, before we paused to watch the nightly fireworks. We hopped on Autopia, since we happened to be next to it when the fireworks ended, then Winnie the Pooh’s Adventures. At this point, we had time for one last ride, so we made our only repeat of the day and headed for Haunted Mansion. Of course, we shopped on Main Street after the park closed. The Old Man looked for a present for his girlfriend, I looked for food, because I was toast at this point. I bought a $3 candy bar, which lasted maybe 20 seconds.
All in all - 4 parks, 23 rides, 17 hours, 3 beers, 40 ounces of coffee, 0 purchased bottles of water, and probably about 20 miles on foot. We rode every ride that matters. It can be done. However, for most people, it probably shouldn’t be.