You are going to Walt Disney World! But sadly, the trip has to be a short one. It’s an unfortunate conundrum. There simply won’t be time to see and do it all. Choices will have to be made.
For visitors to Walt Disney World on shorter trips, the big question is what parks to prioritize and which ones to skip. What is the right answer will differ from Disney guest to Disney guest. How many days do you have? What are the ages of your children, if any? Are there any rides you simply cannot see yourself skipping? What rides are closed for refurbishment during the time of your visit? What are the anticipated crowd levels? Where are you staying? Do you have a park hopper ticket or are you limited to one park per day?
Looking back on my own Walt Disney World travels over the last several years, the two parks I skipped the most were Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. I have not yet missed Magic Kingdom or Epcot on a single trip. But I will admit to being an Epcot fanatic. Not everyone is going to feel the same way.
So with my biases disclosed, here is how to make the smart choices for you and your family if you need to skip a park or two on your next Walt Disney World vacation.
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Last updated: April 3, 2021.
Should You Skip Magic Kingdom?
Unless you are a very frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, I simply cannot recommend that anyone skip the Magic Kingdom on any trip, no matter how short. It’s a classic. Seeing the castle is part of feeling like you have truly come home to Disney again.
So many rides are the perfect fit for every age and interest. There are thrill rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain. There are Disney classics perfect for the whole family like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise.
If you are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, Magic Kingdom is the one must-visit park. In fact, I’d often recommend families with younger children spend extra time at Magic Kingdom even if it means skipping two or all three of the other parks on a quick trip.
Should You Skip Epcot?
The conventional wisdom in 2021 is that Epcot is the park to skip right now. The park is undergoing a massive transformation, with new rides and attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the Moana-inspired Journey of Water, and a new nighttime spectacular Harmonious coming in the next year or two. The park is filled with construction zones and is light on attractions and entertainment offerings in the meantime.
But not everyone should skip Epcot. If you happen to have a foodie in the family, Epcot is not to be missed. The food choices around World Showcase are too enticing. This rule is doubly true if you are visiting during one of the special festivals (Food & Wine Festival, Flower & Garden Festival, or Festival of the Arts) that bring even more food choices to Epcot.
Travel-lovers also shouldn’t miss this park. Walking around the world and seeing all the countries represented is really meaningful. I remember so well looking around Epcot when I first visited with my family during my childhood and thinking “I’m going to visit every one of those countries one day.” (Two more to go.) It’s an inspiring educational experience that isn’t replicated anywhere else at Walt Disney World.
That said, I do think it’s probably wise right now for families with young kids to skip Epcot. The park is quite spread out (lots of walking) and there are very few attractions aimed at the little kid set at the moment. That said, if you have a little Frozen fan in the family, throw this recommendation out the window. Riding Frozen Ever After in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion and seeing Anna and Elsa might have to be a priority.
Should You Skip Hollywood Studios?
When I first published this guide a few years ago – before Toy Story Land opened in 2018 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in 2019, I recommended that a lot of guests skip Hollywood Studios until the “coming soon attractions” were complete. Now that they are here – along with the brand new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway in 2020 – there is a lot more in Hollywood Studios worthy of a stop.
If you are traveling with teens or thrill ride junkies, Hollywood Studios should be on your must-do list. It’s home to two of the best thrill rides at Walt Disney World – Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, not to mention Star Tours which is pretty thrilling too. The addition of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance seals the deal.
I hear often that families with young kids should skip Hollywood Studios. I disagree – to a point. The park has a lot to offer toddlers and preschoolers in regular times – Disney Junior Live on Stage and Disney Junior character meet-and-greets, the Little Mermaid and Frozen shows, and quite a lot in Toy Story Land. The smaller footprint of the park makes it manageable for walking with kids with a lot of attractions close together. So don’t write it off with little kids, depending on their interests and favorite characters.
Of course, in 2021 with so many shows closed, however, Hollywood Studios isn’t quite as robust as it could be. It’s still not a full day park. The restaurant offerings still leave quite a lot to be desired. But if you have a park hopper ticket and can split one of your days between Hollywood Studios and another park, it’s worth it.
Should You Skip Animal Kingdom?
Animal Kingdom is my most-skipped park in the last five years, both with and without my family. I always felt it was kind of a half-day park with a bit of filler. Longer hours and the opening of night offerings in Animal Kingdom helped somewhat.
The opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar is what truly changed everything for me and for many visitors. Anyone who hasn’t seen Pandora yet is not going to want to skip this park. The ride Avatar Flight of Passage might just be Disney’s best ever.
That said, if you have an extremely short visit (less than two full days) and likely will be coming back to Walt Disney World soon, I’m not sure I can recommending doing Animal Kingdom just for Pandora. If you can’t get a Fastpass+ for one of the Pandora attractions (note: Fastpass currently isn’t being offered in 2021) or can’t either rope drop the park or close it down to avoid some of the crowds, you are going to be wasting a ton of time in the Pandora queues. If you already have limited time anyway, this may not be time well-spent.
In 2021, shows are few and far between, making Animal Kingdom even less than a half day park, especially for families with young kids. With its remote location, you can lose a lot of time in transit just getting to Animal Kingdom – time that might be better spent at a park closer to your hotel.
So who shouldn’t skip Animal Kingdom? Just as with Hollywood Studios, thrill ride lovers should still give it a strong look. Expedition Everest is one of Disney’s best coasters. And with Flight of Passage adding another thrill ride to the more moderate thrills of Dinosaur and Kali River Rapids, there is a cluster of attractions for adrenaline junkies that is competes with the offerings of Hollywood Studios.
Tips to Make the Most of Shorter Disney World Visits
If you are planning a shorter visit to Mickey’s Orlando home, here are a few parting Disney World tips to help you make the most of your trip.
- Planning is Key: Planning is always important for making the most of your time at Disney World, but that adage is especially true on shorter visits. Maximize your time. Book those Fastpasses and character meals as soon as you can. Have an itinerary and plan and stick to it. Efficiency is king!
- Don’t Waste Time on Transit: Disney’s transportation system is hit or miss on occasion. If you have a short trip, you really can’t afford to waste an hour standing at a bus stop for a shuttle that never comes. Fortunately, alternatives are now cheap and plentiful. Uber and Lyft are alive and well on Disney property (Uber even offers Uber Car Seat if you have a kiddo who needs transportation).
- Stay on Disney Property: With maximizing your time as a priority on shorter trips, consider staying in a Disney resort rather than an off-property hotel or condo. After all, for just a night or two, you aren’t going to be saving a lot of cash by staying off-property. Additionally, shorter trips mean you are less likely to need the amenities of many of the off-site options like condos with kitchens to cook, etc.
- Book the Right Disney Hotel: Even if you do stay on-property, I’d take your hotel planning a step farther. Think ahead to what parks you want to visit before booking your hotel. It would be silly, for example, to pay the big bucks to say in Yacht Club or Beach Club (within walking distance of Epcot) and not plan to go to Epcot. Similarly, it would be a major waste to splurge on the Grand Floridian or Polynesian and not go to Magic Kingdom.
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