How Should You Spend Your Arrival Day at Disney?

One of the oddest parts of a Disney vacation involves the transition.

You start your day at your home, but then you grab your luggage and head to the airport.

MCO, Orlando


Hours later, you are standing at the gate of Walt Disney World. You have officially entered the Disney Bubble. And therein read the debate.

How should you spend your arrival day at Walt Disney World?

Disney World sign

Let’s talk about the timing

Before we discuss anything else, we should evaluate the obvious. Everyone shows up at different times throughout the day.

So, there’s no one standard answer here. When you arrive at 9 in the morning, you’ll plan your day much differently than if you’re getting there after 5 pm

Walt Disney World

You should know some stuff about both scenarios, too. I’ll call one option the early morning plan and the other the afternoon plan.

With the early morning plan, you’ll obviously enjoy more park time and other amenities on the Disney campus. That’s just common sense.

Summer 2021 vacation

Still, when you don’t start the day at Disney, you’ll experience some competitive disadvantages. We’ll discuss those in a bit.

With the afternoon plan, you can still check plenty of attractions off your list on day one. However, you’ll need to make more concessions.

Mickey and Minnie Balloons

By the way, I’ll take a quick look at late arrivals in the final section. A park strategy proves a bit impractical with that, but I can relate to your thought process.

Once you reach Orlando, you NEED to go to a theme park and ride something. It’s a compulsion.



The Early Morning Plan

Here’s my advice for an early arrival. First, you should select the park that’s closest to your hotel.

In doing so, you eliminate some of the aggravation that stems from Disney transportation. Yes, it’s free, but it’s mercurial in nature.

You don’t want to wait 30 minutes for a bus from your resort to a different Disney park.

Since you have less time on day one, you want to maximize it, right?

So, if you’re staying in the Magic Kingdom area, go to Magic Kingdom!

Contemporary Walkway to Magic Kingdom


If you’re at an All-Star Resort, get to the Disney Skyliner and then go to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios! This is not rocket science, my friends.

You will encounter a hiccup during your visit, though. Your schedule is probably messed up due to the travel.

Since airports require people to check in two or three hours early, you probably haven’t slept much. So, your body thinks it’s lunchtime at 9 am

You’ll want to account for these oddities. I’d strongly suggest a solid snack. If you eat this early on day one, your body will expect it throughout the trip.

Turkey Leg

Pick something filling like a box of popcorn or a turkey leg rather than something light like a churro or Dole Whip.

The other thing to remember is that you’ll want to take it easy on that first day. You’ve already experienced a hectic morning due to the travel.

Don’t add to your aggravation by going all-out on day one if you can avoid it. Otherwise, you’ll feel it a bit on later days.


Okay, a Disney theme park day starts at 6:55 am now. I call the situation the 7 am Struggle, and it’s real.

Disney wants guests to book their Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane reservations at 7 am

Within five minutes, the entire morning’s reservations can sell out. If you’re in mid-flight at that point, you’re reliant on airplane Wi-Fi to book. That’s…not great.

I presume you won’t get to reserve anything until once you’re in Orlando.

By that point, some top attractions like Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway may be gone.

Disney early entry attractions

Credit: Disney

Already, you’re making concessions, and you just got into town! It’s the harsh reality of the situation, one I know well.

My flights in Orlando usually arrive between 9:30 and 11:15 am So, this itinerary is one I use the most.


Photo: Fortune

What I’ll say is that you don’t need to angle for the top attractions on the first day anyway! You just got to Orlando. You’ve got plenty of time to do everything.

Don’t allow booking obstacles to frustrate you. Everything will work out great in the end.

Disney balloons

The Afternoon Plan

I say this a lot, but nobody ever believes me. Parks tend to clear out later in the afternoon.

You can tell this when you look at attraction wait time charts. Sometime on or around 3 pm, the parks hit a lull.

Magic Kingdom 50th

Conveniently, that’s around the time you’ll probably show up! So, you’re going in while others are going out!

This bit of kismet helps a great deal on your arrival date. However, you can still do a lot, especially at two parks in particular.


As such, my advice gets more specific here. Under the Afternoon Plan, you should visit either Magic Kingdom or EPCOT, preferably the latter.

Here’s why. Magic Kingdom hosts so many attractions that you’ll ALWAYS find something with a reasonable wait.

No, you won’t hop on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Splash Mountain immediately.

However, you can find a sweet spot that allows you to ride, say, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Pirates of the Caribbean during your first 60-90 minutes in the park.

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

Photo: Disney

I recommend EPCOT for two reasons, one of which I already discussed. Your body gets messed up on the travel day no matter what. So, you’ll want to eat.

EPCOT hosts some of the tastiest restaurants at Walt Disney World. On top of that, the park hosts a food festival more than half the time.

Figment Popcorn Bucket

You can grab a bite to eat, no matter whether you’re slightly hungry or absolutely famished.

Plus, depending on when you arrive, you can probably ride several attractions as well.

Some of EPCOT’s rides are nearly walk-on later in the afternoon and in the evening.

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

I speak from experience when I say that it’s uplifting to do lots of stuff on day one, especially when you reach the park late. It creates forward momentum for the vacation.


Some people will tell you to buy Disney Genie+ and/or Lightning Lane when you arrive late.

I agree with Lightning Lane in some instances. I mean, any Magic Kingdom visit with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train feels like a victory.

Disney Genie+ is a tougher sell for the reason I mentioned earlier. Stuff starts to sell out. Also, the windows grow less predictable as well.


You may only manage to book two or three attractions. That’s just not enough to justify the expense.

The other obstacle is the arc of time itself. Folks, I don’t care what Avengers: Endgame told you. You cannot go back in time.

The genius

Clocks only move in one direction…unless they’re broken. So, when you arrive at the park late, you’re not getting that time back.

For this reason, you should be checking wait times during your trip to the park. Have an idea of ​​what you want to do and what’s less crowded that day.

My Disney ExperienceWait time

Believe it or not, the answer changes daily. Your plan from last time may not work. You must be adaptable on day one.

Disney After Dark

Anyone who visits Disney a lot knows about this kind of trip. You decide to arrive in the evening so that you’ll have the whole day at the park.

Your day one is really your day zero. So, when you plan a trip this way, you tell yourself that you won’t do much.

Then, you reach Orlando and drop all semblance of common sense, strategy, or self-preservation. You’re going to Disney. Period.

Magic Kingdom at night

In such instances, you need one piece of information. Which park is open the latest? I’d expect the answer to be Magic Kingdom.

Wherever it is, that’s where you go. So I have some good news. People usually clear out of the place after fireworks.


On some nights, you can experience a sizable number of attractions in a short period.

So, the Disney After Dark strategy can work, even though you will probably sleep like the dead afterward.


You might want to set two alarms for the following morning.

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