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The length of your trip can make or break a Disney vacation...

Underestimating how much time you actually need for a Disneyland or Walt Disney World resort vacation remains one of the most common mistakes guests make when booking trips to Disney parks. Particularly in the case of Disneyland, 1-2 days may seem like more than enough—maybe 3-4 days for Walt Disney World.

There is a lot to do at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort—aiming too low when planning days for your trip can result in unnecessary stress taking over your vacation. Fun trips become exhausting as you frantically try to fit in every experience, and in the end, many guests are disappointed they missed too much. Even having a perfect itinerary may not be enough to see everything if your vacation is too short.

So how much time do you actually need to have a magical time at Disney parks?

A few important considerations

Mickey and Minnie dressed up with castle for 50th Anniversary
Image: Disney

Before we dive into specifics about how much time you’ll need when visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort (we’ll be focusing on Disney’s US parks), there are a few important points to consider that will affect how much time you will need in each park.

The most important of these is the age of your party members—particularly if you have kids. Kids’ contagious joy is a large part of what makes Disney parks magical, but kids introduce a number of crucial factors to Disney trips. For one thing, the age of your kids will play a big role in how much time you’ll be able to spend in the parks. Children under the age of four tend to have mixed reactions to Disney parks—some enjoy the sights and sounds while other experiences might be surprisingly frightening. Babies and toddlers are likely to require extra attention that may require you to plan extended breaks (even a return to your resort). Many kids under four tend to enjoy the resort pool more than anything else on a Disney vacation.

Kids from the ages of about 4-5 up to 11 will likely want to spend a lot of time enjoying Disney’s kid friendly rides. Magic Kingdom tends to be a favorite park of younger kids at Walt Disney World (Disneyland Resort is more evenly split in its kid-centric attractions thanks to the addition of Cars land at Disney California Adventure). There are certainly things for kids in this age range to enjoy at all of Disney’s parks, but depending on their favorite characters and activities, there may be parks you’ll want to spend extra time at if it matches their interests.

Pre-teens and teenagers tend to scorn all things “kiddy” unless they have a strong nostalgia attachment to a particular park. We’ve explored before how teens’ favorite parks at Walt Disney World tend to be pretty much anything but Magic Kingdom (even Epcot, which they really enjoy!). Beware the trap of planning your whole vacation around the youngest child if you have teens—they’re going to want to experience much, much different things and enjoy a little autonomy in some of those choices. Teens are likely to enjoy both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure since both have an excellent selection of attractions for teens.

Four adult friends at Magic Kingdom with Celebration Buttons
Image: Disney

If your party is entirely made up of adults, you may not have much interest in kid-centric attractions at all—this will dramatically shift the amount of time you need in each park. In particular, it may reduce time at Magic Kingdom to less-than a full day unless you have strong nostalgia for that park. On the flip side, the other three parks (particularly Epcot) might be places you’ll want more than one day to explore.

In all of the above scenarios, ride preferences will play a significant role—classic Disney fans are likely to want to spend a lot of time at Magic Kingdom while Star Wars fans and thrill seekers are likely to enjoy Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom best. If you know you are likely to really enjoy a particular park, it’s worth planning extra time there.

One last important consideration—adding a park hopper option to your ticket might be worthwhile. While some guests prefer the one-park-per-day model, park hopping can add some welcome flexibility into your touring plans. Right now, guests can only park hop after 2pm, but this still opens up a lot of opportunities for creative itinerary planning. In particular, if you will be visiting Disneyland Resort for 3-4 days, it can prove well worth it to add a park hopper option onto 1-2 of those days.

So how much time do you need at each Disney park? Let’s start with the smaller of Disney’s two US resorts…

Disneyland Resort (California)

Iron Man posing at Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure
Image: Disney

Home to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Disneyland Resort packs a lot into its small confines. Surrounded on all sides by the bustling tourist traps of Anaheim, it’s easy to assume Disneyland Resort can easily be enjoyed in one day—this is a problematic assumption as these two parks absolutely brim with attractions.

Most experts recommend a minimum of 3-4 days to enjoy Disneyland Resort—there’s just too much to experience to hit it all in 1-2 days in most cases. On a three day trip, this would mean dedicating one full day to each park, with a third day either spent revisiting one of the two or park hopping.

Of the two, many guests would say Disneyland is the park most deserving of a two day visit. Between the park’s broad selection of classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Indiana Jones Adventure, The Matterhorn, and recent additions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, you are going to need more time than you might think. For Star Wars fans, Galaxy’s Edge alone can consume a good portion of a day.

Disney California Adventure may have gotten off to a rocky start in its early years, but this park has balanced out well as another strong contender worthy of more than a single day visit, largely thanks to expansions like Cars Land, Avengers Campus, and attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT. Once again, you are likely to need a full day minimum, but an extra half-to-full day will give you breathing room to explore.

But what about Walt Disney World Resort...

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Comments

We book seven day stay but only five day pass. Our first travel day after check in is spent at Downtown. Our second travel day is spent enjoying the resort. The five other days are spent with one at each park and the extra day at MK. This setup is nostalgia driven. We know exactly what we want to see and make an itinerary accordingly. MK is our first park and with a dining plan, we will also chose to eat at one of the three resorts if sitdown isn't available in the park. Sit down dining availability determines the order in which we see the other three parks. May not work for all but it served us well.

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