The best 8-day general Disney World trip plan for families

by Shannon Albert 34 comments Like the Facebook page

(Article last updated: April 21, 2016)

8 day general trip plan for familiesIt's all of my favorite things for most families at Disney World, all gathered in a big post, including where to stay, what to eat and how to tour.

Let's get started...

Before you leave on your trip

Write a letter to any character (pick 1 that appears in the parks to be safe) and they'll send you an autographed postcard in return.

Write as many times as you like, such as once for each child, or to each of your favorite characters. Not everybody receives a response, but many people do, so it doesn't hurt to try.

mickeypostcard

Send your letter to the this address:

Walt Disney World Communications
P.O. Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

Where to stay

There are so many great resorts to choose from. Here are my recommendations in each category.

Value Resorts - Art of Animation or Pop Century
The Art of Animation resort is the newest resort and people often pick their section based on which character they like the most.

That makes sense (the rooms/sections are fabulously themed), but be sure to request a specific building so you don't end up spending half of your vacation walking to get food or to the bus stop.

For a Cars suite, request building 1 with a room near Animation Hall.

art of animation cars suite

For a Lion King suite, request building 10 with a room near Animation Hall.

art of animation lion king suite

The Nemo buildings cost a bit extra and either building will work (buildings 4 and 5), but request a room closest to Animation Hall.

art of animation nemo suite

Another great Value Resort is Pop Century. I highly recommend paying for an upgraded Preferred Room so you're closer to the main building.

pop century

The rooms are not themed around a character, but the ability to guarantee a good location with a Preferred Room makes it a good option.

Moderate Resort - Port Orleans Riverside or Caribbean Beach
Moderate Resorts are the least appealing to kids since there really isn't a hook to draw them in.

All of them are perfectly fine, just not quite as "fun" as some of the Values and Deluxes.

I really like Port Orleans Riverside as long as you pay to upgrade to a Preferred Room to reduce loooooong walks.

This resort has both a food court and on-site restaurant, a cruise for kids ages 4-12 departs from the marina, there are carriage rides and you can take a boat to Disney Springs.

port orleans riverside

Another good option is Caribbean Beach Resort which has beautiful grounds, marshmallow roasting at the beach, Island of the Caribbean Pirate Adventure cruise for kids age 4-10 and the option to book a pirate room (be aware that the pirate rooms cost an extra $25-50/night and are located in the most remote village).

caribbean beach resort pirate room

Deluxe Resort - Contemporary Resort or The Polynesian
There are several good options in the Deluxe category.

I'd suggest The Contemporary Resort as one good choice. Not only does it have the monorail going through the building (so cool!) but Chef Mickey's is located there, you can walk to Magic Kingdom, the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Voyage departs right from the hotel, and you can view Magic Kingdom fireworks and The Electrical Water Pageant right from the resort.

You also have easy access to the other monorail resorts (and you're a boat ride away from The Wilderness Lodge) which have great restaurants that many families love.

contemporary resort

Another attractive option is The Polynesian which is located on the Magic Kingdom monorail, and you can opt to walk to the Epcot monorail at the Ticket and Transportation Center as well.

You can take the monorail to Magic Kingdom, enjoy a great pool and restaurants, view The Electrical Parade and Magic Kingdom fireworks from the hotel, and have the option for on-site childcare.

The itinerary below is just an example. You'll need to rearrange your days according to the best parks on your days. Many of the things mentioned below are quite popular and should be booked 180 days in advance.

Day 1 - Arrival Day

Yea! After months of counting down the days, your trip is finally here.

Arrive at your resort, get settled and explore your hotel. Head to Chef Mickey's for dinner to kick off your trip with classic characters and lots of napkin-twirling fun. (This reservation should be made 6 months in advance.)

chef-mickeys

Take a spin on the monorail and then head back to your resort to get ready for your first day in the parks.

Day 2 - first Magic Kingdom day

Head to Magic Kingdom bright and early for an 8:00 breakfast at Crystal Palace. Arriving before the park opens means a chance to get a great pic with the castle in the background without all of the crowds to clutter your photo. It also means that you won't miss out on prime touring time (which is between park opening time and lunch).

Crystal Palace

Another favorite pre-park opening breakfast is at Be Our Guest which is a Quick Service but requires reservations. It's less expensive and much faster than Table Service options, allowing you to spend less to get into the park early and finish up before the park opens so you can immediately begin touring. Get more info on Be Our Guest reservations.

After breakfast, head to Fantasyland right when the park opens. Have FastPass+ reservations made in advance for Big Thunder Mountain, Jungle Cruise and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Be sure to hit these rides:

  • Peter Pan
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • It's a Small World
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Big Thunder Mountain with FP+
  • Splash Mountain
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Jungle Cruise with FP+
  • Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • Lunch

For lunch, you might want a Quick Service lunch after having a big breakfast. Pecos Bills and Columbia Harbour House are good choices that are nearby.

Other good options after lunch:

  • Use FP+ for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Carousel of Progress
  • Mickey's PhilharMagic
  • Afternoon parade

In the evening, see the parade and stay for fireworks. There's a special Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party that allows you unlimited desserts (as long as they last) and prime viewing for fireworks.

tomorrowland terrace fireworks dessert party

The dessert party can be booked just like dining reservations. It is popular so you'll want to try to do that 180 days in advance.

After fireworks, you may want to consider an Uber if you aren't staying at a Magic Kingdom-area resort. Lines can be long and it could take over an hour to get back to your resort. The best way to do that is to walk to The Contemporary and get picked up there.

Visit the Magic Kingdom touring plans to view all of the options for touring Magic Kingdom, including 1 and 2 day options and plans for families with little ones.

Day 3 - Epcot

Arrive at Epcot by 8:15 or 8:30 or so for a 9:00 open time (they usually open up a little early).

Have FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Soarin', Turtle Talk with Crush and Spaceship Earth.

Head to these rides:

  • Test Track
  • Sum of All Thrills
  • Mission: Space
  • The Seas Pavilion, including Turtle Talk with Crush (use FP+ if needed)
  • Ride Soarin' with FP+
  • Living with the Land

One good lunch option is Garden Grill which happens to be my favorite character meal in all of Disney World. The food is delicious, the character interactions are the best I've experienced, and it's conveniently located in the same building as Soarin'.

After lunch, walk toward the World Showcase to start exploring. Stop by a kiosk to sign up for Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure.

Explore the World Showcase, following the instructions given to you for your adventure. Each country's tasks can last around 30 minutes so it's a great way to keep kids busy while exploring the shops and buildings.

phineas and ferb world showcase adventure

As you explore the World Showcase, be sure to do these things:

  • Ride Three Cabelleros in Mexico
  • Stop and watch some of the entertainment. Check WDWent.com before your trip and/or use the Times Guide to plan out what you'd like to see.

Around dinnertime, snack your away through the World Showcase or sit down at 1 of the many restaurants to eat. Teppan Edo, Biergarten, and Restaurant Marrakesh are family-friendly restaurants to consider in the World Showcase.

Exit Epcot through the International Gateway (located near the U.K. section), and head to the Boardwalk area to meet your boat at The Beach Club marina to take you on an Illuminations cruise.

These cruises depart 30 minutes before Illuminations is scheduled and take you on a short boat ride and end with a great view of Illuminations as you're parked under the bridge that connects France and the U.K. sections of the World Showcase. Unlike the cruises near Magic Kingdom, this one actually gives you a prime viewing spot.

These reservations need to be made 6 months in advance.

illuminations

If you feel up to it, explore the Boardwalk area and then consider getting a taxi or Uber to get back to your hotel to avoid a really long commute by bus.

Visit the Epcot touring plan page to view all of the Epcot touring plans, including a version for families with little ones.

Day 4 - Hollywood Studios

Arrive at Hollywood Studios by 8:15-8:30 or so.

Make FastPass+ reservations ahead of time for Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror and Star Tours.

After riding Toy Story Mania the first time, do things in this order:

  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
  • Tower of Terror (use FP+ if necessary)
  • Ride Toy Story Mania again with FP+
  • Star Tours (use FP+ if necessary)
  • The Great Movie Ride

Options for the rest of the day:

  • Star Wars Launch Bay
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • MuppetVision 3D

For your meals, check out these 2 great restaurant options that many families love...

Hollywood and Vine is a buffet restaurant which includes Disney Junior characters. There are a lot of American dishes and a kids section of the buffet with typical kid-friendly foods.

hollywood and vine

Another fun restaurant is the Sci-Fi Diner which has guests sitting in "cars" facing a screen. This restaurant is known for their milkshakes.

sci fi diner

End your Hollywood Studios day by viewing Fantasmic and Star Wars fireworks. It's a great show, but some dark imagery could scare younger children.

Fantasmic

Exit Fantasmic at the top right of the theater to put yourself back at the front of the park for fireworks.

Visit the Hollywood Studios touring plan page to view all of the Hollywood Studios touring plans, including a version for families with little ones.

Day 5 - A day outside of the theme parks

Sleep in and then head to Disney Springs to explore lots of activities that kids love.

  • T-Rex Cafe - dinosaur-themed restaurant that many children enjoy trexcafe
  • LEGO Store - fill up a small or large cup with LEGOs for a set price. They also have mini-models that are free to build and take home once a month. Check their website for the date when it's being offered. lego store downtown disney
  • Characters in Flight - in the summer, this tethered balloon lifts guests 300 feet in the air for a 6 minute "flight" characters-in-flight
  • Once Upon a Toy - there are approximately 7 gajillion things for sale here including Mr. Potato Head parts that you can stuff in a box, build your own light saber and special versions of toys/games that are themed after Disney theme parks onceuponatoy

Before or after spending some time in Disney Springs, visit one of the water parks. It's best to visit the water parks right when they open or the last few hours that they are open.

Not sure which one to visit? Check out my comparison of Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.

Day 6 - Animal Kingdom

Arrive at Animal Kingdom by 8:30 or so and then follow my normal touring plan which includes these things before lunch:

  • Expedition Everest (use FP+ if you want to ride again later)
  • Primeval Whirl (48" height minimum will exclude many kids)
  • Dinosaur (terrifying for many young kids...and me)
  • Triceratop Spin
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Flight of Wonder

Head to Tusker House for Donald’s Dining Safari Lunch with Donald and Daisy Duck in their safari gear. The menu includes lots of roasted meats, stews and great desserts.

donaldmeal

After lunch, head to Kilimanjaro Safaris to use your FastPass+ and see Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo - The Musical show.

Take a bus from Animal Kingdom to Ft. Wilderness for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show which has times at 4 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

This family-style meal has food that everybody can enjoy and the corny, silly entertainment appeals to all ages. Make these reservations 180 days in advance.

hoopdeedoo

It's usually difficult to travel between resorts but transportation is provided after the show to get you back to your resort.

If you do an early Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue time, you can head back to Animal Kingdom in the evening to enjoy the park at night, including seeing Rivers of Light.

Visit the Animal Kingdom touring plan page to view all of the Animal Kingdom touring plans, including a plan for families with little ones.

Day 7 - Magic Kingdom

Start your second Magic Kingdom day by repeating favorites from your first day and riding Tomorrowland Indy Speedway.

After that...

  • Buzz Lightyear (repeatedly, if you like)
  • Space Mountain (using FP+)
  • See Monsters, Inc., Laugh Floor
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority
  • Lunch

In the evening, leave Magic Kingdom for a fun dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe at The Wilderness Lodge which is just a short boat ride away from Magic Kingdom. This restaurant is super silly. Be sure to ask for extra ketchup, napkins or straws and see what happens.

After dinner, head to The Contemporary for the Pirate and Pals fireworks cruise which departs from The Contemporary. You normally have to be there about 2 hours before Wishes is scheduled so an early dinner reservation would be best so that you can get to the cruise on time and have a bit of an appetite for the snacks provided.

Visit the Magic Kingdom touring plans to view all of the options for touring Magic Kingdom, including 1 and 2 day options and plans for families with little ones.

Day 8 - Depart

On your departure day, get your bags packed and head out for 1 last fun event before going home.

Head out for breakfast at 'Ohana (located at The Polynesian) or Grand Floridian's 1900 Park Fare.

At 'Ohana, you'll see Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and other friends, dressed up in their Hawaiian attire. The breakfast is all-you-can-eat American breakfast plus extra things like Hawaiian pork sausages, Island-style potatoes and Hawaiian breads. Kids are often included in various activities that take place while you eat.

Although 1900 Park Fare is known for their great Cinderella meals, breakfast here includes more general characters like Mary Poppins, Alice & the Mad Hatter, Pooh and others. The breakfast buffet includes custom-made omelets and carved ham along with light and fluffy mini pancakes or Mickey-shaped waffles.

1900parkfarebreakfast

If you're getting back to the airport using Magical Express, it'll pick you up 3 hours before your flight so be sure to allow time for that.

Head home with lots of great new family memories made, knowing you've experienced the best-of-the-best at Disney World.