My Favorite 5 Day Walt Disney World Itinerary…Seriously, This Is What All of My Disney Trips Look Like
Trying to put together a game plan for a trip to Walt Disney World? You’ve come to the right place.
I’m not going to lie…going to Disney World these days is…complicated. And there are a billion websites dedicated to hashing out the endless details of a Disney “vacation.” What to do, what not to do, and what order to do it in.
Well, this isn’t that. This is the itinerary that I personally use pretty much every time I go to Disney World.
And I’ve been a lot. I’ve been going to Walt Disney World since I was a kid and now almost 30 years since my first trip, I’ve done countless trips with family, friends, people who have never been before, etc.
So I’ve got a game plan!
My strategy when I go to Disney isn’t to do everything every single time. It’s to do what I think is “the best” they have to offer and the things that I personally enjoy the most.
Soooooo….if you want personal recommendations from a Disney fan and not a Disney encyclopedia, then buckle up!
My Favorite 5 Day Walt Disney World Itinerary
First things first, this is my go-to itinerary for a 4 NIGHT trip to Walt Disney World.
I love love love Walt Disney World as much as the next person, but I think four nights is the sweet spot for a theme park vacation. After 4 days of waking up early, walking 10-15 miles a day, staying up late, and eating theme park food, I’m usually ready to go home.
And yes, Disney has all manner of resorts and places you can go for “downtime” but since I travel a lot I’ve learned that Orlando isn’t really my preferred place for a restful vacation.
So, do people come to Orlando for a full week? 10 days? 2 weeks? Absolutely! Do they have a blast? I’m sure. But this is how I like to do it and how I always organize it when I take people to Disney with me that haven’t been before…
My Trip Itinerary
I fly into Orlando, and I usually get to the airport about noon on the day I arrive and leave on a 5PM flight on the day I go home. So I usually opt for a 5 day park hopper ticket even though I’m only there for three full days.
Yes, you could extend your trip by two nights to get five full days in the parks, or you could just do three days and opt for some free, out of the park activities on your arrival or departure days, but here’s how Disney park tickets work:
Once you’re locked in for a three day pass, it’s relatively inexpensive to add days. Going from a one day to a two ticket? Almost double the price. Going from a four day ticket to a five day ticket? Only about $20.
So for me, getting those two extra half days in the park really lets me do a lot and I think it’s worth it to pay extra.
And really, if you end up just going to Disney Springs or something else “free” on those half days, you’re going to end up spending just as much money shopping, eating, etc.
Where I Like to Stay
Okay, where you stay really does matter. The big decision is on Disney property or off. If you’re coming for a quick-ish trip and you’re focused on visiting the theme parks, you really want to stay on Disney property.
Besides proximity and transportation options, they’ve added one big perk for resort guests that make it hard to pass up.
Whatever the posted opening time for the parks are each morning, Disney resort guests get in 30 minutes earlier. And with 30+ resorts worth of people getting that perk, if you don’t have it, you’re basically guaranteed to start the day out with long lines for attractions as soon as you can get inside.
Plus Disney gives resort guests a head start on making Lightning Lane and Genie+ reservations each morning so sometimes it’s hard to get on the most popular new rides if you’re staying off property.
So I’m definitely an “on property” person. But that still leaves a lot of options to narrow down.
I like a nice place to stay so I’m naturally more of a fan of Disney’s “Deluxe” resort options although I’m always happy staying at Pop Century when it’s a budget trip.
I’ve stayed pretty much everywhere on Disney property, and I always keep coming back to the Epcot Resort area.
There’s a pocket of resorts at the back of Epcot that has access to enter the park through the International Gateway. Yes, that’s right. You can WALK to Epcot. Plus there’s also boat transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
The Disney deluxe resorts in this area are Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club. They’re both fantastic options, although the Yacht & Beach Club definitely have the best pool on property.
But there’s also a trio of resorts in this area that are actually owned by Marriott but get all of the Disney perks. The Swan and Dolphin (and new Swan Reserve tower) are a GEM on the Walt Disney World hotel scene.
You get all of the perks of staying at a Disney resort (early entry, early Genie+ booking window, transportation, etc.) plus the GREAT location where you can walk or take the boat to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios AND they’re usually half to a third the price of Disney’s resorts in the same area (Boardwalk, Yacht Club and Beach Club).
So even if you’re not part of Marriott Bonvoy’s rewards program (you should be!) it’s still usually a much better deal. And if you do have Marriott status, these hotels usually have great point redemption rates and it’s just always nice to earn points even if you’re paying cash.
The last few Disney trips I’ve done, I’ve been staying at the Swan Reserve and I LOVE it. If it’s an adults only trip, I think Swan Reserve has the slight edge. The Swan (Westin) has queen size beds while the Dolphin (Sheraton) only has doubles. But honestly, they’re all three pretty equal (and share so many of the same amenities) so I’d probably just go with the best rate.
When I Like to Go
I’ve been on Disney World trips pretty much every month of the year. There are different reasons to go at different times, but in general my absolute favorite time of year to go is April and May. It’s warm enough that it feels like summer but without the absolute brutal heat and humidity of a Florida summer. So you can take advantage of mid afternoon pool breaks, but the big summer crowds haven’t arrived yet.
But the #1 reason I love visiting this time of year is because it’s during Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival!
Epcot is at its best when there’s a festival going on (which honestly is pretty much most of the year these days) and Flower and Garden is my favorite.
You pretty much get the same number of food booths that they have for the Food and Wine Festival (late summer through fall) but Epcot is positively BLOOMING. Dozens and dozens of elaborate topiaries and flower displays really make the whole park pop and honestly, once you’ve been to Epcot during this time, everything else is kind of a let down.
BUT…I will say…if you’re heat adverse then I also really like going mid January through February when the Festival of Arts is running at Epcot. I’ll be honest…weather is a mixed bag in Florida this time of year. It could be 80 and it could be 30 but it’s usually pretty cool in the mornings and evenings and very pleasant in the afternoons which make for pretty perfect weather for spending long days running around the parks.
My Park Strategy
So I already said that I recommend a 5 day ticket to cover three full days and parts of my arrival and departure day.
But I’m also very firmly “team park hopper” and “team Genie+”.
Generally speaking, here’s the park strategy that works best for me:
I pay for Genie+ (Disney’s “skip the line” service that usually costs $15-25/person per day) and I usually end up paying for the extra lightning lane too (each park has one ride that you can pay for separately to skip the line).
I like to do as much as possible when I come to Walt Disney World. It costs a LOT to come play and I’m not going to start pinching pennies once I get here. Now I get that if you’re here for 6-10 days you could get by without it, but with a shorter trip it REALLY makes a difference with how much you can do.
I also like to go to two different parks a day (sometimes more!). Maybe it’s because I’ve visited a lot and I just have patterns for how I like to do things, but I like to spend the morning in one park, take a break in the afternoon, and then usually head to another park late afternoon.
It works with how I like to spend time at Epcot especially during a festival (a little bit every day but not a full day from open to close).
OKAY HERE WE GO!!!
DAY 1: ARRIVE & Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Okay, I said it earlier but I fly into Orlando (MCO) and usually arrive about 11:30 to 12. I grab an Uber/Lyft at the airport, check in at the hotel and I figure the earliest I can be at a park is by 2PM.
Since I usually stay at the Swan Reserve, it’s really easy to get to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but I like to head to Hollywood Studios on the first day for two reasons:
- It’s my favorite park ; )
- It’s the park that works best for “stacking” Genie+ reservations
Hollywood Studios has a pretty high concentration of “must do” attractions and even when you start there first thing in the morning, your Genie+ reservation times usually end up being for later in the afternoon. So it’s the perfect park to show up to mid afternoon with a whole slew of Genie+ reservations to walk right on the park’s most popular attractions.
So let’s assume you’ll get to the park by 2PM.
We’re going to pay for Genie+ AND the Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance so here’s how to work it:
At 7AM ORLANDO TIME (so adjust for the time zone that you’re traveling from. For me, that’s 6AM), make your first Genie+ selection for Slinky Dog Dash. Be ready and push the button right at 7AM. Return times are usually mid afternoon right at 7AM so it should work well.
As soon as you do that, then buy the Individual Lighting Lane for Rise of the Resistance. You’ll obviously want to pick a time after 2PM.
Two hours after the park opens, you can make your next Genie+ selection. So check the park hours and set an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget. If the park opens at 9AM, you’ll be able to make your next reservation at 11AM.
Slinky Dog Dash is the hardest reservation to get (it books out the fastest), but pretty much everything else moves slower. So starting at 11AM you’ll have to start monitoring return times and you’ll want to pick rides that are booking farther out.
Example…at 11AM if the return time for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is for 11:30AM but Millenium Falcon Smuggler’s Run is for 4PM, then go with Smuggler’s Run since it’s going to run out of availability quicker.
Every time you make a reservation, set an alarm for 2 hours and then go back in and make another one. Each time, you’ll just pick the next best option in terms of ride popularity (what you want to ride) and how far back the return times are.
It sounds complicated (and it kind of is), but if you can wrap your mind around it, it works REALLY WELL. I know I said you’ll have to pick the best option every time and that can change, but generally, I’ve found that this pattern/availability holds pretty well:
7AM Book Slinky Dog Dash Genie+ Reservation
7:01AM Book Rise of the Resistance Lightning Lane
11AM Book Smuggler’s Run Genie+ Reservation
1PM Book Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Genie+ Reservation
3PM Book Toy Story Mania Genie+ Reservation
5PM Book Alien Swirling Saucers Genie+ Reservation (maaaaybe depending on availability)
Those are the times that you will login to your app to make the reservations, NOT the “call back” times they’ll give you.
With a little luck (the stats mostly just work out this way), you’ll walk into the park at 2PM (or a little before) and have FOUR reservations already made to walk right on popular rides and a good plan to make two more while you’re there.
Here’s the only little snafu you could run into…it’s possible (but unlikely) that it’ll give you an early call back time for Slinky Dog Dash (you can’t pick the time, it just gives you the next available). Well a 10AM call back time won’t work (you’re on a plane, duh) so you’ll need to “modify” the reservation time to later.
Also, Disney won’t officially verify this but I’ve heard it from mannnny cast members…you can’t show up BEFORE your call back time, but they won’t turn you away if you show up AFTER your call back time. Example: if your reservation for Rise of the Resistance is from 2:05PM to 3:05PM…you can’t show up at 1:45PM but if you show up at 4:15PM they’ll still let you on.
This is helpful, because you could end up with some overlapping reservation times and it’s nice to have a little breathing room especially if you want to stop for lunch/dinner.
Speaking of dinner…throwing a dinner reservation into the middle of this ride stack will complicate things, but it can be done. You’ll just want to be a little more mindful of how your call back times are laid out (which may mean you have to spend more time checking for times to modify and move around) and I would go with a later dinner reservation (7PM) instead of something earlier than may be right in the middle of your stack.
If you want a sit down dinner, make reservations at Sci Fi Dine in Theater or 50s Prime Time for a FUN TIME. The food at either isn’t going to knock your socks off (I mean, it’s solid), but they’re both “experiences.”
And I’m REALLY excited to try the new Roundup Rodeo BBQ in Toy Story Land when it opens in March.
If you want to play it more by ear, there are plenty of decent counter service options in Hollywood Studios (Docking Bay 7, Backlot Express, Commissary, etc.).
Since it was a big day traveling and you were likely up pretty early, I don’t plan a late night on the first day. I like to get a good night’s sleep so I can hit the ground running the next day!
And don’t worry too much about not getting the perfect Genie+ stack, I’ve got another day in Hollywood Studios planned where you’ll be able to pick up everything you missed today.
DAY 2: Magic Kingdom
Yay! Your first full day at Disney! Nothing starts a Disney trip off like walking through Cinderella’s Castle so I always like to visit Magic Kingdom pretty early in the trip, especially if I have people with me who haven’t been before.
THIS is what people think Disney will be like.
Good news! I think a day at the Magic Kingdom is a lot less complicated than Hollywood Studios and Genie+ works pretty well in this park so logistically it should all be a lot simpler than yesterday.
The only little hitch here is that TRON is getting ready to open in this park which is going to change things a bit.
It’s opening in April and here’s what we know so far: you can only ride via the virtual queue (a lottery) or an individual lighting lane.
So I would try for the virtual queue at 7AM and if you get it, great! And if you don’t then you can buy a lightning lane immediately. And if you’d like to ride it twice, do both!
At 7AM you’ll also be able to make your first Genie+ selection. If Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an option (it’s currently the park’s Individual Lightning Lane but when Tron opens it’s speculated that it’ll move to the Genie+ pool of attractions) then go with that first. It’s wildly popular and gets pretty long lines.
I’m going to make a pretty bold confession here…I don’t have a lot of “must do” rides in the Magic Kingdom (I’m sure TRON will change that). I think the park is largely nostalgic and the attractions aren’t on the same level as some of the newer stuff they’ve been adding to other parks. And what’s nostalgic to you depends on, well, you.
So…MY personal favorite list in the Magic Kingdom:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Peter Pan’s Flight
Mad Tea Party
It’s a Small World
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Enchanted Tiki Room
Meeting Ariel in her Grotto
If you’re into the “classic Walt Disney” nostalgia era then you’ll want to hit:
Pirates of the Caribbean
Enchanted Tiki Room
It’s a Small World
Peter Pan’s Flight
Carousel of Progress
If you’ve got older kids who want to “ride” stuff:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
If you’ve got kids who are prime time in the “Disney magic” era, then you’ll want to prioritize anything based on a movie/character that they know and love and don’t forget about character meet and greets! The Magic Kingdom is one of the best parks to meet princesses, Mickey and the Gang and so many more.
So basically, a day at the Magic Kingdom can fluctuate pretty wildly depending on what you’re interested in, BUT whenever I take people with me I always insist on:
- Walking THROUGH the castle to see the murals and the general splendor. They rope it off before and after shows on the castle stage but they open it back up throughout the day.
- A ride on the Peoplemover through Tomorrowland.
- Strolling through all of the lands.
- Soaking up some atmosphere on Main Street USA.
However you play this day, I STRONGLY recommend making reservations for an early dinner at Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
It’s one of my family’s favorite restaurants on Disney property and my dad will rarely commit to a Disney trip if it doesn’t include dinner here.
It’s hard to get a reservation though! They open 60 days in advance and they’re usually gone in seconds. We’ve had pretty good luck just walking up when they open though.
Okay, I told you I like to park hop…so let’s go! Jump on the monorail at the Transportation and Ticket Center (walk over from next door at the Polynesian) and head to Epcot.
I love walking around Epcot’s World Showcase in the evening, but lately I find myself drawn to Epcot for one BIG reason…Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind!!
This new coaster at Epcot is Disney’s best ride HANDS DOWN. It’s absolutely THRILLING (Fun! Crazy! Wild!) but without a big fear factor and I could ride it over and over and over.
It currently has a virtual queue (likely to go away once TRON opens in the Magic Kingdom) BUT you can buy an Individual Lightning Lane to walk right to the front of the line so I like to do that as much as possible on a trip.
Make a reservation for later in the evening (after dinner) and then plan on sticking around for the nighttime fireworks show.
But before you go towards the World Showcase to see the big show, you’ve got to go to the bottom of Spaceship Earth to watch the light show. They started this for the 50th anniversary and I really hope they keep it around because it is FABULOUS. They do several different versions and they run continuously until the fireworks start. I think it’s a must-see.
Okay, about the fireworks show…it’s currently a show called Harmonious which I saw on my last trip and LOVED, but they’re supposed to be changing it out to a new show this spring.
But whatever they’re showing, the Epcot nighttime show is always worth seeing.
And when the show is over you can just walk back to your hotel!
DAY 3: Animal Kingdom
Jambo! You’re going to LOVE Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I think it’s the most underrated Disney park BY FAR and whenever I take people to Disney for the first time, our Animal Kingdom day always ends up being the best overall day.
Besides some truly great rides and attractions, this park hits a home run with live entertainment and “things to do” when you’re not on a ride.
And never knowing exactly what you’re going to see with live animals just makes it exciting.
Okay, Genie+ works soooo well in this park. With Genie+ and a Lightning Lane, you’re really not going to end up waiting for anything. All day. It’s crazy.
At 7AM book your Lightning Lane for Avatar Flight of Passage and then book your first Genie+ reservation for Kilimanjaro Safari.
If you can get to the park within 30 minutes of it opening (it opens usually an hour earlier than the other parks) I would recommend going straight to Kilimanjaro Safari and getting in the regular line (if it’s 30 minutes or less) and then using your Genie+ later so you can ride it twice.
Because of the animals, it changes every time you ride so I think it’s always worth a repeat.
At 10AM when you can make your second Genie+, I’d go for Navi River Journey, then Expedition Everest then Dinosaur.
If you’re visiting when it’s hot out and you want to ride Kali River Rapids (I usually skip it), then I’d prioritize getting a Genie+ maybe after Navi River Rapids. It gots long lines in the summer.
Besides your rides that you’ll do with Genie+, you MUST MUST MUST go to the Festival of the Lion King show. It’s super popular and always fills up so don’t wait until the last minute to get in line.
For lunch I’d do Satu’li Canteen (although I also love Flametree BBQ) and the Mo’ara Margarita at Pongu Pongu in Pandora is one of my favorites.
I’ve written so much about live entertainment and other things to do in Disney’s Animal Kingdom here, but to sum it up, you’re not going to want to miss:
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
Maharajah Jungle Trek
The Character Flotilla Parades on the Discovery River
For dinner, make reservations at Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. To clarify…this is at the hotel not in the theme park and you’ll have to take a bus over there but it’s not very far.
It’s one of my family’s FAVORITE Disney restaurants. It’s buffet style African inspired dishes which I think is such a good way to try new things but even picky eaters are going to be pleased here.
Depending on how you time your dinner reservation, it might be worth going back to the park to see Pandora after dark. Nothing special happens there, but the whole land really comes alive with lights and it is so pretty to walk through.
If you’re a big nighttime show/fireworks person and you’re up for a late(r) night, then you may want to hop over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (you could get a bus straight from the lodge) to see Fantasmic.
I’ll be honest, it’s not my personal favorite show but it’s mostly because it’s such an ordeal. It’s in a big outdoor amphitheater in the back of the park and you have to get there pretty early to get a seat. Get there an hour before to get a good spot in the center and honestly by 30 minutes to showtime it really starts to fill up. But on nights where they run two shows, the second one is always less crowded.
It really is a spectacle. And if you’re staying in the Epcot resort area, you can just walk back to your hotel after it’s over (there’s also a boat because it’s a pretty long walk).
DAY 4: Epcot
Okay, I know I said I mostly like to pop into Epcot in the afternoon/evenings for a stroll around World Showcase and a little festival appreciation, but Epcot’s got some pretty good rides in the last couple of years so it’s worth a morning.
Since Epcot opens later (usually an hour after Magic Kingdom) and I like to stay back in the Epcot Resort area, it’s super easy to walk over and do Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure right when the park opens with no wait.
So my Epcot strategy is usually:
7AM (hopefully) get a Cosmic Rewind boarding group for the virtual queue
7AM Buy a Lightning Lane for Cosmic Rewind (I told ya, I like to ride as many times as possible!)
7AM Book Genie+ reservation for Frozen Ever After
Instead of booking a Genie+ for Remy, I head straight there when early entry starts.
After I ride Remy, I like to stop for breakfast at the bakery in France.
Throughout the day, you’ll grab Genie+ reservations for:
Soarin’ (a must do)
Test Track (I usually skip)
Mission: Space (I did it once and never again)
Besides Genie+ rides, Spaceship Earth is a classic and I always enjoy spending a little time in the Seas with Nemo and Friends. Be sure to go upstairs to see the manatees!
And while I’m in the area for Soarin’ I like to squeeze in a ride on Living with the Land.
A lot of the timing and pacing for a day in Epcot depends on your Genie+ and Lighting Lane return times, but generally speaking after I ride Remy in France, I head to Future World (the front of the park) to spend the morning and then plan to be back in the World Showcase for the afternoon and evening.
Besides Epcot’s attractions, the park also has a surprising number of character meet and greets, especially around World Showcase.
Meet Alice and Mary Poppins in the UK, Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco, Belle and Sleeping Beauty in France, Snow White in Germany, etc.
Now…it’s your last night in Walt Disney World so I say go out with a bang…
One of my absolute favorite things in ALL of Walt Disney World is the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground.
It’s a dinner show and it is FUN. It books pretty far in advance so you’re going to need to be on top of this and you’ll want to coordinate the seating (there’s usually at least two and sometimes three when it’s busy) with the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom.
And you’re not going to want to miss the big fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom. Starting in the beginning of April, the spectacular Happily Ever After is returning to the Magic Kingdom and IT IS SOMETHING TO SEE.
Take the boat from Fort Wilderness over to the Magic Kingdom and find a spot along Main Street USA to watch the show and you won’t be disappointed.
DAY 5: Hollywood Studios or Epcot & GO HOME
Since you’re staying in the Epcot Resort area and it’s only a half day before you head to the airport, I usually like to spend my last morning at either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
If I can get a boarding group for Guardians and a Lightning Lane, then that usually sways me towards Epcot, but if you haven’t been to Disney World very much, you’ll probably want to head over to Hollywood Studios to wrap up some of the attractions that you missed on the first day.
If you get there when it opens, you should be able to rope drop Tower of Terror and Rockin Rollercoaster pretty easily since most people are usually headed to Rise of the Resistance or Slinky Dog Dash first.
So just use your Genie+ to double back towards your favorite attractions from day 1!
Want more Walt Disney World posts? Check these out…
Disney Trip Planning Timeline (When to Book What)
The Best (i.e. My Favorite) Time to Go to Walt Disney World
My Favorite Things to Do in the Magic Kingdom
Tips for a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park Strategy
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