When you purchase admission to a Walt Disney World theme park, you automatically earn the right to come and go as you please.
Disney doesn’t make you stay at the park all day. Instead, you can re-enter whenever you like. After all, it’s a little slice of paradise, not a prison.
Still, some Disney guests don’t know how to process this information.
Should you leave Disney parks or not? That depends on you. Here’s what you need to know.
About Leaving the Parks
A quote that gets tossed around a lot is that Walt Disney World covers twice as much ground as Manhattan.
That statement’s actually a bit outdated. Disney’s even bigger now.
Even so, you can understand the thought process here. You wouldn’t show up in Manhattan and expect to do everything in a day.
Similarly, you might want to do stuff in other parts of New York City. So instead, you set your own itinerary.
That same thought process applies at Disney. As a result, some people pack as if they’ll spend the rest of their lives at a theme park.
They bring snacks, suntan lotion, an umbrella, a smartphone charger, bottled water, a change of clothing, and…I could go on. You get the gist.
Others – like me! – take a different approach. We’re the “grab our keys and go” crowd, although our phones have replaced our keys.
People like us know that we won’t spend all our time at the park on a given day. So, we pack lighter and presume we’ll forage for whatever we need.
Third-party vendors happily supply all the goodies…as long as you’re willing to leave the parks. But, of course, you can also purchase much of it at Disney shops.
The opportunity cost of leaving the parks is obvious. You’ll experience fewer attractions and amenities during your visit.
Honestly, that’s not always a bad thing, though. Sometimes you can grow tired and frustrated in a large crowd in the Florida heat.
In such instances, you may not enjoy an attraction as much as you would when you’re in a better mood anyway.
So, there are pros and cons to leaving the parks. Let’s briefly explore them.
Right now, you’d need about 17 hours to ride everything at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, presuming you wait an average amount of time at each attraction.
Now, park pros, especially those smart enough to stay at official Disney resorts, can avoid at least a third of that wait time, if not more.
Still, let’s presume that you’re newer to the parks. You only have about 12-14 hours of park time each day to start.
When you leave the parks for a couple of hours, that total goes down by roughly 15 percent. So, you’ve automatically subtracted from your park experience.
You would probably need to skip rides with long lines like Slinky Dog Dash, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Would you still have fun? Of course! Hollywood Studios overflows with E-ticket attractions, the kind that will warm your heart.
What you won’t get to do is everything, which bothers completionists.
Also, the rides I just mentioned are among the most hyped at Walt Disney World. So you’ll want to tell your friends you did them.
This brings me to another con. If you plan to leave for a while, you may feel pressured to purchase Disney Genie+ or a Rise of the Resistance Lightning Lane.
These decisions will increase the price of your park visit for that date. So yes, leaving the park might literally cost you more money!
Finally, when you leave the parks, you add to your overhead. You must rely on Disney’s transportation system, usually the buses.
So, you’ll spend time waiting on buses to arrive. You’re sacrificing at least 45 minutes of your park day just for the transportation aspect.
If you want to shop or eat elsewhere, it’s probably two or three hours of lost park time.
I’ve previously discussed two things I love to do at Walt Disney World. One is park hopping, while the other is resort hopping.
Park hopping simply means leaving, say, Hollywood Studios and spending the rest of the day at Magic Kingdom or one of the other parks.
Resort hopping occurs when you exit the park to spend time at one of Walt Disney World’s spectacular resorts.
We do this at least every other day during a Disney vacation. I’m captivated by the amenities at these hotels, especially the shopping and dining.
So, by leaving the parks, I spend a more relaxing vacation day fluctuating between hectic crowds and tranquil hotels.
The same premise applies to Disney Springs, a popular destination for guests who leave the parks.
However, you’ll find more benefits beyond Park Hopping and Resort Hopping.
To wit, you can swim at your hotel pool during your downtime.
I do this regularly, especially when staying somewhere like Disney’s Beach Club Resort, home to Stormalong Bay.
The combination of a park morning followed by a pool afternoon works well for me. I can pace myself better and avoid the risk of overdoing it at the parks.
You shouldn’t overlook that aspect when deciding on what to do. Central Florida temperatures can rise above 80 degrees on most days and over 95 during the summer.
When you commit to spending 12+ hours at the park, you decide you’re okay with getting sweaty and sticky. So, there’s a smell…
Meanwhile, when you leave the parks at some point, your hotel room shower is waiting to cool you down and clean you off.
Should You Leave the Parks or Not?
To a large extent, the answer depends on how often you’ve visited Disney in the past. Also, the size and age of your traveling party play a factor.
Guests who have spent plenty of time at Disney in the past don’t feel the need to hang out at the parks all day.
We haven’t necessarily seen and done it all, but we’ve experienced enough that few attractions qualify as must-dos.
So, leaving the parks doesn’t feel like as much of a loss in opportunity cost for us. But, of course, infrequent guests may feel differently, which is understandable.
As for the traveling party, parents traveling with children won’t get to decide for themselves. A kid’s tantrum is always the final determinant here.
For everyone else, the question comes down to personal preferences. For example, I cannot stand the thought of spending 12 consecutive hours in a park.
In fact, I vividly recall some times when I could smell that somebody else had…and I wanted to stand FAR away from them.
However, many Disney fanatics approach the parks like marathons. They’re going to finish no matter what. And I respect that.
Ultimately, whatever works best for you and yours is the correct answer.