When our family does Walt Disney World, we like to "hit the ground running" (an expression I use a lot and makes my wife tired just thinking about it). I consider us to be "park warriors", who can spend basically all day, every day at the parks for a week long vacation. In general, this is the strategy I recommend - if you're taking a pool day, you're spending the same amount of money on your resort. You might as well make the most of it.
Not all park days are created equally, however, and on our last trip we had a couple of particularly long, marathon-like days in the parks. Part of this was due to the hours being extended during the Spring/Easter season, and part of it was trying to take advantage of both going early and staying late to beat the crowds. This post will talk about both of these days (which cover around 17-18 hours from the time we woke up until we left the parks) and discuss the similarities and differences between them, how and when to take breaks and how these days fit in the larger vacation time we had.
The first marathon day we had began at Animal Kingdom and ended at Epcot. Animal Kingdom typically opens the earliest of any of the parks - in our case, official park opening time was 7:30 a.m. With early park entry, that would mean that in order to be at the front of the rope drop pack, we would need to be at the park before 7:00 a.m. This meant a 5:30 wakeup time, which was not ideal for anyone but we knew this in advance. It was also early in our trip, so we still had plenty of energy (or so I hoped).
My goal was to be at the bus stop by 6:15 a.m., and we missed that mark, but just barely. We could see a bus pulling away as we were walking there. I suspect that was the Animal Kingdom bus, though it was possible it was a Hollywood Studios bus (the latter of which opened a half hour later, but considering the next bus we saw at our stop was for Studios, I guess they were running that early).
The bus was efficient that morning though, and we were on one by 6:30 if I remember correctly. I discussed this in other posts, but we ended up making the decision to purchase the Individual Lightning Lane for Flight of Passage, rather than try to rope drop it. We got into Animal Kingdom right around 7:00 but I was worried we were going to be too far behind the rope drop crowd and didn't want the ILL to sell out.
I won't rehash everything about that morning as it was discussed elsewhere, but we had a great morning hitting all of the headliner attractions without Genie+, and then using our ILL for Flight of Passage. We ate lunch at Sa'tuli Canteen (one of the best quick serve restaurants in any park, in my opinion) and did some less crowded things as the afternoon approached (Festival of the Lion King, It's Tough To Be A Bug, among others).
Our plan for the evening was to be at Epcot for Extended Evening Hours. I didn't plan on arriving much before 9:00 p.m., which is when those hours started. But our plans from the prior day had been thwarted, as Harmonious had been rained out (or rather, an unrelenting deluge of rain was happening, and we didn't wait to find out if and when Harmonious had run). That necessitated a change of plans, as we had to arrive at the park earlier to make sure we got all the way back to World Showcase and got a spot to see the show, which began at 9:00.
I mention this here because part of that plan was to take an after dinner break at the resort before heading over to Epcot. With a more compressed time frame, I was worried that this was going to be an issue. Plus we were getting tired already from all the walking and we had done basically everything we had wanted to do in Animal Kingdom. Rather than getting more tired and re-doing attractions just for something to do, we worked to move up our dinner time.
Funny sidebar to this story - when we had originally booked our Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) for Rainforest Cafe, the only time available on this day was 4:15. I don't know about you, but that's an odd time for dinner in our household. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we managed to move that to 6:00, a more reasonable time. Unfortunately, now that seemed like it was going to be too late to eat and get back to our resort for some relaxation time before leaving again. We ended up going to Rainforest Cafe earlier and asking if they had any earlier times. I would encourage you to do this if you ever want to change your reservation day of - the app showed nothing available, but the restaurant had a few times for us including the one we ultimately took - 4:30. Time is a flat circle.
While I wasn't thrilled about eating so early, it actually worked out very well for us in the context of our day. We were done and back to our resort in the 6:00 range (can't remember exactly) with the goal of leaving for Epcot by 7:30. What I do remember is that we were burned out when we got back, so even though there wasn't a lot of time, we took a brief power nap and recharged for our next park. I hadn't counted on a nap here, but it was absolutely necessary given how we felt.
We then managed to get to Epcot on our new schedule - I won't go over everything we did, as that is covered in our Extended Evening Hours post. With some of the bigger rides down, we didn't accomplish everything we wanted to, but we still saw Harmonious, rode Remy's Ratatouille Adventure and a few other things. One of my fondest memories of that night was jumping on Spaceship Earth right before the Extended Evening Hours ended with almost no one left in the park. We probably left Epcot around 11:30 that night after being awake from 5:30. A long day to be sure.
Our next super long day was just a couple of days later. This one was confined only to Magic Kingdom. Our plan was to rope drop (with early park entry), stay for a while, leave to eat lunch, take a nap and then return for Extended Evening Hours, which went until 1:00 a.m. at that park. That is basically what we ended up doing, but with a few unexpected changes.
Since Magic Kingdom didn't open until 9:00, we arrived around 8:15 or so, prepared to take advantage of early park entry. Again, I won't rehash everything we did as that's in a separate post, but I will say that it was easier to arrive before rope drop in this case than at Animal Kingdom! That's probably why the crowd was larger too.
We had a table service lunch planned, which helped break up the day. This was largely by design (see our review of Steakhouse 71 for more). That also gave us more flexibility for dinner, as we could grab quick service anywhere and at any time we felt like it (the opposite situation from Animal Kingdom). It got us out of the park at the hottest part of the day, and I figured we would eat, nap and return to Magic Kingdom around 5:00 or 6:00 and prepare for our long night ahead.
The best laid plans tend to go awry, and that's what happened here. While lunch was delicious, it took us longer than I had counted on. By the time we made it back to our resort (which, even though it was close to both MK and the Contemporary, still took some time), we ran into some Disney magic in form of a PhotoPass photographer set up with the Cinderella slipper and storybook. As much as I had wanted to nap here, we couldn't pass up the chance at what amounted to a private photo session reminiscent of the (still closed) Bibbity Bobbity Boutique.
After that, our kids wanted to use the pool. I had baked in some time for this, but again, things take longer than you expect. In order to not rush through pool time, I had resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn't get to nap. We did manage to get some quiet time in before we went back to the park, maybe a half hour or so. From there, we had a wonderful time at the Extended Evening Hours.
Ultimately, the day I thought we would need a nap turned out just fine. Maybe it was the thrill of being in a mostly empty park or maybe it was just adrenaline, but we all made it until we left the park around 1:30 that night. And the day that I DIDN'T think a nap would be strictly necessary, we absolutely ended up needing it. What lesson can be learned here? I don't know! Except that every day is different and you'll never know how your body will feel and react on any given day.
These were two very long days, but they felt very different as they were happening. Perhaps because the second one only involved one park (and a resort that was a monorail ride away) but it didn't seem as tiring and strenuous. As I said above, I would always encourage trying to pack in as much as possible when you can - both of these days were designed around taking advantage of Extended Evening Hours.
The one thing I will say is try not to plan these days back to back. We didn't, but the day in between suffered a little, as we had no energy to get up super early and hit Hollywood Studios after being up late the night before and knowing we had another busy one the day after. When planning, I would encourage you to think about the sequence you're doing the parks in, and whether you can do a late arrival to give yourself time to recover. It worked our for us, but was not my ideal plan. Just something to keep in mind when trying to push your limits - as my wife said, the plan didn't account for human frailty. I'll do better next time!