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How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2013, my sister and I attempted something that we'd never done before: we headed to all four parks at Walt Disney World in one day. (You can see our efforts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

Yes, I know. It seems completely crazy. And I'm here to tell you that it is--but it's also a lot of fun!

When we decided to embark on our 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge, I did a little research, but didn't find too much on the best way to approach it. So, here I am now, on the other side of the challenge, to share my tips with you in the hopes that you'll try out this awesome way to experience one of the world's most famous theme parks.

Preparing

In our room at Pop Century before we head out on the challenge

Leave nothing to chance. Before you set foot in the parks, you'll want to outline where you want to go, what rides you want to experience, and where you'll eat. This may seem like overkill, but it helped us immensely when it came to budgeting time in the parks. We had a printed out schedule with arrival and departure times, transportation information, and notes on what we wanted to accomplish in each park.

If you're not familiar with the parks, outline everything on a map. (The concierge at the Disney hotels should have copies to give you.) You don't want to use your precious time searching for the next ride.

Use the Magic Hours to your advantage. Research which parks are opening early and closing late so you'll have the maximum amount of time to complete your challenge. These are only available to Disney property guests, so this is one time that staying onside might be worth it.

Lay out your clothes the night before. Since this is an intense way to tour the parks, you'll want to get as much sleep as you can. Don't waste another five or so minutes in the morning picking out your clothes when you can rest instead!

If you're super cool like I am, your comfy outfit can include a monogrammed Minnie Mouse decal. And you can match your sister. 
Wear the most comfortable clothes possible. Even though I'm a huge proponent of dressing semi-decently while you're in the parks (see that post here), this is one day that I give you a pass to put on those exercise shorts and extra soft t-shirt and just go for it. By the end of the day, you will be sweaty, exhausted, and probably crabby, and you don't want your wardrobe to cause you to feel even worse.

Getting through the Day

Start early. Very early. No sleeping in today! If you're going to conquer all four parks in one day, you're going to need every minute. Plus, crowds are much lighter in the mornings, so you'll be able to blast through a few more rides before you have to move onto the next park.

Pack a small backpack with a water bottle. It's easy to get dehydrated when you're outside all day in the Florida sun, so quick pit stops at the water fountains to refill your water bottle will keep you going. I don't care for the taste of the plain water at Disney World, so I always pack something to flavor it. These are both lightweight items and won't get in your way while you're running from park to park.

See that green backpack my sister is carrying? It was a lifesaver! (Not literally. That would be no fancy backpack.)
Go easy on the meals. I'm all for eating that yummy Disney food, but this is one day that your gastronomic exploration will have to take a backseat. My sister and I did include plenty of snack stops along the way, but we made sure to eat smaller portions than we usually would and stay away from big, carby meals. We didn't want to risk getting super sleepy post-meal time!

Be prepared to skip rides on your itinerary, if necessary. Occasionally, rides will be shut down for awhile for repairs or because of the weather. Don't try to wait around until it's back up, or you'll lose momentum. Find a replacement ride, and then check often to see if your preferred ride is back up and running. If it is, quickly go on it. If not, keep moving on. You've got a lot of park to see!
Don't lose valuable time waiting around for rides to re-open. Test Track, I'm looking at you.
Know that you will hit a wall. It will not be fun when it happens, so take a minute to sit down, drink something, and then get back up and go some more. I nearly called the entire challenge at about 4:30 PM on the day we attempted it because, all of a sudden, I was exhausted, hot, and a little dehydrated. My sister convinced me to stay, and she ushered me into a nearby restaurant. By the time I ate and cooled down, I was ready to go for a few more hours.

I look happy going into the Animal Kingdom, but my meltdown was just an hour or two away.


Pace yourself. You'll be in the parks continually for 12+ hours (our challenge took 15!), so don't run yourself ragged in the first few moments. Identify two or three rides per park, and do those first. If you've got time before you need to move on, go on another one or two.

Where we went wrong: 

  • We attempted the challenge in June. This is not recommended! Not only was it blazing by 10 AM, but there were so many people there. Fighting the heat and the crowds at the same time was a major factor to why I got so burnt out mid-afternoon. 
  • We waited around when Test Track was closed down for a summer thunderstorm. Instead of just leaving and trying something else, we waited around for over 30 minutes. Not only did we get sleepy in the cool building, but we also wasted a good chunk of time that could've been spent somewhere else. Thankfully, we learned our lesson by the time we got to our third park of the day (Animal Kingdom) and skipped waiting around when we found that Dinosaur was closed.
  • We weren't well rested. Instead of getting a full night's sleep before attempting the challenge, we'd only slept a few hours. We'd driven to Florida from South Carolina the night before, leaving Charleston at 5 when my sister got off from work. We arrived in Orlando around midnight, and then got back up for the challenge at 5:45 AM or so. We both would've felt better by the end of the challenge if we'd had a restful night's sleep!
Even though it was intense, the 4 parks/ 1 Day Challenge was a lot of fun for both my sister and I. We're huge fans of Walt Disney World, and we've been dozens of times, so it was exciting to see the property from a new perspective. 

Would you attempt the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge? How would you go about organizing your day?