7 Dwarves with Castle Background

Walt Disney World Trip Planning for Shorter Trips

The Walt Disney World resort has almost endless possibilities for the intrepid traveler. 4 theme parks, dozens of resorts, hundreds of restaurants, shows, tours, and so much more. Most people will plan for a week or more for a Walt Disney World trip. But what if you don’t have a week? Should you throw in the towel and go somewhere else? Absolutely not!

You can have an incredible vacation of any length at Walt Disney World, but you won’t be able to do it all. Arguably, planning is even more important for a shorter trip. There is no way you’ll be able to do everything you want in less than a week or so of dedicated touring. You’ll have to make some important decisions before you leave home to make sure you can experience what matters most to you. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

We’ve done a few shorter trips over recent years and I admit that at first it was so hard not to stuff a weeks worth of touring into 3-4 days. I know it’s difficult to fight the urge to do one more ride or hop to another park for a couple hours because you can. Most of us don’t get to Disney World as often as we’d like so why wouldn’t you optimize every minute? Our answer to that is because it actually takes some of the joy away from the last days of the trip. If you’re a park open to park close type then maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but for us we’ve realized if we try to do too much we end up exhausted and cranky towards the end of the trip.

What we do now is have a particular reason or theme for a shorter trip. For example, we are currently planning a 3 night trip to Walt Disney World in December specifically to go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and experience Magic Kingdom at Christmas time. EPCOT is my favorite park, but I doubt we go there on this trip. If we do another park it will be Hollywood Studios because I love how that park is decorate for Christmas. We’re going down because it’s Christmastime, that’s our theme, so our plans will be centered around that. In all honesty, the theme is important to keep me in check. If I don’t give myself some constraints I know that as soon as I’m on property my brain will try to maximize every minute.

Along the same lines I’ve found that if I’m staying at a deluxe resort in walking distance to a park, I’m way more likely to just “pop in” for a few minutes whenever I have some downtime. I mean I’m paying a premium to stay right next to a theme park so it would be silly not to take advantage of that, right? That’s one way to think about it, but also that necessarily means you’re paying $500+ a night for a resort that you barely spend any time at. It kind of feels like a lose-lose. I kid, it’s very much a win-win, but too much of a good thing can be real.

Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans French Quarter

I’ve found moderate resorts to be the sweet spot for short trips, specifically Coronado Springs or Port Orleans French Quarter. They’re both fantastic resorts in general, but they lend themselves towards slowing down a little due to the proximity to non-park amenities. French Quarter is a short boat ride away from Disney Springs and all it has to offer. I know Disney Springs isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it has great food and some non-park fun in the way of movies and bowling if shopping isn’t your thing. In case ngoing to Disney Springs doesn’t feel like slowing down to you, French Quarter’s sister resort, Port Orleans Riverside, has some unique amenities that are just a short walk away. Riverside offers fishing and a horse pulled carriage ride around the resort. Both of these activities force you to slow down a little an appreciate the excellence that Disney imagineering achieved with the entire Port Orleans complex. This resort is one of the the best themed resorts on property.

Whereas Port Orleans French Quarter shines due to easy access to something outside of the resort, Coronado just gives you everything you need right there. Gran Destino tower is essentially a deluxe caliber resort in terms of dining options. Toledo is basically California Grill’s cooler step-sibling and may even be the better culinary experience at this point. Three Bridges out in the middle of the lake is a fantastic atmosphere for relaxing with a snack or cocktail at any time of day. It’s even open until midnight! Coronado also has a great feature pool – the Dig Site pool – with great theming, atmosphere, and swimming. Finally, the grounds themselves are just fantastic for a run or stroll with 3 varied themes in addition to the opulence of the tower. We find this the perfect resort for slowing down and nesting a bit away from the chaos of the parks.

I know some folks reading this are going to rightly point out that if you’re only staying for a few nights why not go with a value and save some money? That’s perfectly reasonable and probably the better way to think about it. But for us, that doesn’t work because of what we like out of our resorts. First, I like a resort with a lounge and a lounge that’s open late at that. We love the ambiance of the lounges at Disney World and being able to chill out for an hour or two at a lounge is a necessity. If our short trips were so short we wouldn’t have time to relax, then a value would be just fine. Again, it’s about what’s right for you.

As you’re probably starting to see, my natural tendency is to make everything as efficient as possible which tends towards a maximization mindset. This is something I have to manage for shorter trips not just during planning but also once I get into the parks. Especially on shorter trip I find myself naturally running from attraction to attraction to make sure I get as much in as possible. Is it really a trip to Disney World if I don’t ride It’s a Small World? My brain tells me absolutely not, but that’s just not true. I love It’s a Small World and honestly, it’s almost a 100% certainty I’ll ride it. I’ve actually rope dropped it before. It wasn’t something I planned and speaks to the big reason why I don’t try to maximize rope drop anyway as you can read more about in in this article, but I digress. For most of us there are probably a handful of attractions that are truly “must dos”. Another critical piece of the planning puzzle for a short Walt Disney World trip is to focus on the attractions that matter most and accept that there will be some great attractions you won’t get to experience this time around.

An extension of this concept is to apply the same thinking to the parks. If you’re heading down primarily to experience certain unique park experiences, then focus on those parks. If you’re going to experience a new attraction, then forget about 1 or 2 of the other parks. Disney parks have so much to experience, so much nuance and hidden or subtle awesomeness that sprinting through them is really doing yourself a disservice. For us, this means that we pretty easily cut out Disney’s Animal Kingdom as our first cut. I love this park, but that’s because I love the animals and the core mission of the park. The attractions just don’t change much though. Pandora opened in 2017 and that was really the last big addition to the park. Everything since has been a subtraction ostensibly in the name of progress and future improvements, but a near-term subtraction nonetheless.

What other park to cut out is a much harder decision. EPCOT is my favorite and always has a festival going on, Magic Kingdom is Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios has some of the best attractions on property AND has some pretty cool theming around the holidays. The choice ultimately comes down to preference but will almost always be Magic Kingdom AND either EPCOT or Hollywood Studios. It’s a difficult choice, but a crucial one if you’re only there for a 2-3 days.

This was just a peak at my thought process when thinking about a shorter trip to Walt Disney World. Spoiler alert: this wasn’t just random, I am in fact in the early stages of planning such a trip. We’re waffling between a trip in October for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, or December for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (or maybe both!) to take advantage of a short duration Southwest Companion Pass that we qualified for via a credit card sign up bonus. It’s hard not to plan trips when flights are $60 for 2 people! Once we’ve made a decision I’ll do another post mapping out our trip so you can see how it all came together. In the meantime, let me know how you approach planning a short jaunt to Walt Disney World!

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