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10 Things To Do on Disney World Arrival and Departure Days

10 Things To Do on Disney World Arrival and Departure Days

There will be few days better than the day you arrive at Walt Disney World and can officially say you’re on vacation… but that also means that it’s going to be a huge bummer when that vacation comes to an end, and you have to leave the Disney bubble for the real world where the food is not Mickey-shaped.

But both of these days are still part of your trip, and no matter how much time you have, there are a lot of ways to make them count.

Your Disney World arrival day is a great time to set the stage for the rest of your trip, while you’re full of excitement and anticipation for the adventures ahead. And your Disney World departure day, while a bit sadder, is a great time to squeeze a little extra magic out of your trip before heading home.

The most important thing is to not leave your arrival and departure days to chance. Check out the tips below for suggestions and tips on how to best plan for each!

Things to consider when planning your arrival and departure days

Before you get too far into planning, here are some things to keep in mind:

How long is your trip?

We usually recommend that you start and end your trips with a bang, but how long you are planning to be at Disney World should help determine what your arrival and departure days look like. Longer trips make it easier to not rush to the parks right away. But if your trip is on the shorter side, you may want to consider spending either your arrival or departure day in the parks.

What time are you arriving and departing?

The actual time of your arrival or departure has a lot to do with how you should spend your first or last day of vacation.

If you arrive at Disney World late in the day, it may be better to relax at the resort and get settled in, or to keep your plans to a dinner reservation to keep things simple. On the flip side, if you’re heading out early on your departure day, you may want to plan a fun breakfast reservation for before you hit the road or leave for the airport.

The more time you have after you arrive or before you leave, the more options you have for entertainment. If you arrive sometime before lunch, and you have a ticket (or are an Annual Passholder), you may want to go directly to the parks. If you have a late departure time, it can also be worth it to hit the parks one last time, especially one that is convenient to access from your resort.

Bell services at your resort are happy to hold your luggage on your arrival and departure days while you go have fun, just be sure to leave enough time to pick it up before you leave.

Be aware that, unfortunately, Disney’s Resort Airline Check-In Service is no longer available, and that Disney’s Magical Express service came to an end in January 2021. That being said, there are still some pretty convenient options for airport transportation that will take you to and from your Disney resort, though you will need to book these services separately from your WDW vacation, and they come with an additional cost.

Our FAVORITE things to do on Disney World arrival and departure days

Head directly to the parks

With a shorter trip, it may be worth it to spring for a park ticket for your arrival and/or departure day, especially if you’ll be sticking around for more than a few hours. This way, you can hit the ground running — or really make sure you go out on a high note. On your departure day, this can be a great day spent doing all the things you didn’t get to during your trip (or visiting the attractions you want to check out again).

If you have purchased a Walt Disney World Vacation Package, you’ll need to officially check-in before you’ll be able to access your park tickets or Disney Dining Plan credits, and if you use online check-in, you can do so without visiting your resort first.

Just make sure that when you do online check-in that you select an arrival time that is before when you’d want to head to the park to ensure that your tickets are activated when you’re ready to use them.

If you don’t have a package, as long as your tickets are bought and linked to your account, you’ll be good to head directly to the parks without having to worry about checking in.

Enjoy a relaxing pool day

For those who may not want to purchase theme park tickets on their arrival or departure days, hanging out at the pool at your resort can be a great way to pass the time. Whether you’re kicking off your vacation or ending it, relaxing is a great way to start — and you will be able to access the pool at your Disney resort even if your room isn’t ready when you arrive.

Visit a water park

If you’re not up for a full park day but still want something exciting to do on your first or last day of vacation, one of Disney’s water parks might do the trick. You can choose from either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, though a separate ticket will be required for entry if you haven’t bought one already.

Blizzard Beach Chairlift

If getting in enough park time isn’t a cause for concern, then one of the ideas below for longer trips will be a great option for you.

Make a reservation at a character meal

Dining at one of the resort character meals is one of our favorite ways to start and end our Disney World vacations, especially since it doesn’t require a park ticket.

If you plan on using only Disney transportation, you’ll need to allow at least an hour to get there, plus keep in mind you’ll likely need to transfer at least once.

If you are planning on doing a character meal (or any meal) at a resort other than the one you’re staying at, the easiest way to get there will be via a ride service like Uber or Minnie Van. This can save a lot of time and stress, especially if you’re traveling from your resort to another. You should plan on spending about $10-15 for an Uber, or between $20-40 for a Minnie Van ride, depending on the distance between the two resorts.

Chef Mickey's

There are several different character meals to choose from, but there are a few we’d recommend that happen to be fan favorites. First, there’s Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which features Mickey, Minnie, and the gang. It’s open for breakfast and dinner, and offers typical American fare, along with many kid-friendly items on the buffet.

Other favorites include breakfast Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort, which features yummy food (order the sour cream waffle!) and Mickey and friends dressed in super adorable, artsy costumes. If dinner’s what you’re after, you may also enjoy Story Book Dining at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, which features Snow White, the Evil Queen, Dopey, and Grumpy.

Catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from outside the park

We recommend that you plan to watch the fireworks at Magic Kingdom from inside the park at least once, but your arrival day is a great day to catch them outside the park, especially if you don’t have a ticket for that day.

This is especially true between late fall and spring when they are shown earlier in the evening (meaning you can still get to bed at a decent time after a busy day of travel).

There are lots of places to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks outside the park and you could even pair a nice dinner with the show. We recommend California Grill at the Contemporary, which can be pricy but worth it!

Magic Kingdom fireworks at the Polynesian

It can also be a lot of fun to grab dinner at ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and then hang out on the beach to watch the fireworks since the resort does play the soundtrack during the show. Grab a Dole Whip before the fireworks start to really make the moment perfect!

Explore your resort

We often hear people mentioning that they wish they would have set aside more time for relaxing at their resort.

The Walt Disney World resorts are amazing, but it is easy to find yourself so busy with the parks that you forget to make time to explore them.

Your arrival day (and departure day) are a good time for that. Even if your room isn’t ready or if you’ve already checked out at the end of your vacation, you’ll have full access to all the amenities in the resort.

All of the Disney World resorts will have special activities scheduled each day, like movies and crafts. Schedules for those will be available at the front desk.

At certain resorts, you will also find bike rentals, watercraft rentals, and even carriage rides. Check out the How to tour Disney World resorts post for more ideas.

Take a ride on the monorail

Having dinner at a resort on the monorail can be a great excuse to hop on and take a loop or two around Disney World. It can also be fun to create your own monorail bar crawl (though you might want to take it easy if you plan on being at the park for rope drop first thing in the morning!).

Epcot Monorail

This is also the perfect time to check out the Epcot loop, especially if you aren’t staying at a monorail resort. You’ll get a good view of the park from up there.

The monorail is totally free for anybody to use, regardless of whether or not you’re staying on property. Just keep in mind that you will go through security checkpoint before you board, similar to the process of entering the parks.

Or a trip around the Skyliner

The Disney Skyliner is another free and fun method of transportation around Walt Disney World, stopping at a few different hotels and parks while offering scenic views from above.

Disney Skyliner over Caribbean Beach

The easiest way to get to the Skyliner would be to take a bus from your resort to Hollywood Studios, and the entrance to board is close to where the buses will drop you off. Along the route are resorts, along with Epcot, and a lot of options for food and drink.

Stop at the Riviera for a fancy meal at Topolino’s Terrace, or hop off at Epcot and take a short walk to Disney’s Boardwalk, where you’ll find several options for dining ranging from casual to more upscale, snacks, drinks, and entertainment (and some beautiful waterfront views).

Visit Disney Springs

Disney Springs is a great option, especially for departure days. There you will find lots of options for shopping, dining, and entertainment. You can even kick back and see a movie or go bowling — it’s hard to get bored there!

Some people choose to save their souvenir shopping for Disney Springs so they don’t have to carry their purchases around the park. Most of what you can find in the parks can be found somewhere at the Springs — most likely in the huge World of Disney store that serves as one of the area’s big draws.

There’s plenty of shopping here, both in Disney themed shops and stores you’d find in your local mall, like Uniqlo and Lululemon.

Go for a round of mini-golf

The Disney bubble is home to regular golf courses, yes, but the mini-golf courses are much more fun in our opinion — plus, they’re beautifully themed.

At Fantasia Gardens, which is located near Disney’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, you’ll find two courses to choose from. You can get here by taking a resort bus to the Swan and walking over, and there is also a parking lot there if you can drive.

winter summerland miniature golf course

The other mini-golf offering at Disney is Winter Summerland, which can be accessed by driving or taking a bus to Blizzard Beach. There are also two courses here, one summer-themed and one winter-themed.

Mini-golfing does come at an additional cost of $14 per adult and $12 per child.

Walt Disney World arrival and departure days dos and don’ts

Do

  • Try to start and end your trip out with a bang.
  • Make full use of Bell Services to store your luggage before your room is ready and after checking out.
  • On your arrival day, save time to get your room organized, your bags unpacked, and your park bag ready to go. You’ll thank yourself for it in the morning!
  • Remember to pack your TSA-approved sunscreen and swimsuits in a carry-on if you plan to swim on your arrival day.
  • Save room in your luggage if you plan on buying stuff on your departure day OR plan to have stuff shipped home.
  • Schedule grocery, stroller, and scooter/ECV deliveries on your arrival day so you’ll be ready to go on your first full day at Walt Disney World.
  • Use online check-in before arriving at your resort to ensure that you can go straight to your room when it’s ready, using your phone or MagicBand as your key.

Don’t

  • Schedule a reservation too close to your arrival. If you are flying, we recommend not planning any reservations for any closer than 3 hours after your scheduled arrival time. If you are driving, give yourself 2 hours after you plan to arrive to your resort.
  • Try to do too much on your arrival day, especially if you have a full day of travel before you arrive. You don’t want to start off your vacation sleep deprived and grumpy.
  • Underestimate the fun you can have by just spending your arrival day exploring your resort — or how great it can be to go to bed early that first night and wake up refreshed and ready for your first park day!

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Do you have some other Disney World arrival or departure day ideas or traditions? Feel free to share in the comment section.

If you’re like most people, by the day you are scheduled to leave for your Walt Disney World vacation you’ve probably been counting down for weeks or months (and sometimes even years).

Your Disney World arrival day will probably be full of lots of excitement and anticipation, but it is also an important time to set the stage for the rest of your trip.

And, conversely, the day you plan to head home will probably be filled with some dread and sadness, but there are some things you can do to make the return trip a little less of a downer.

The most important thing is to not leave your arrival and departure days to chance. Check out the tips below for suggestions and tips on how to best plan for each!

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Laura

Thursday 25th of April 2019

mini golf and disney springs on arrival day. always. i personally have never understood a park day on arrival or departure day. you simply lose too much time and it winds up being a waste.

Sarah KNIGHTLEY

Saturday 29th of December 2018

That was really useful information and just what I was looking for, thank you!

Angela Romanelli

Saturday 10th of November 2018

On my arrival day, I have done Disney Springs. Going to my favorite stores and trying out a new eatery. Last time I was there, I went back to Disney Springs on my last day, but next go around I may do a breakfast somewhere.

Valerie

Sunday 2nd of September 2018

Ordering groceries ahead of time was the best decision we made after 15 years of annually going to the Park. Having snacks, drinks, amd fresh fruit to choose from in our rooms is cheaper and faster than stopping in the cafes. And for those with little, ordering a stroller to meet you at your hotel is fantastic. They are much more comfortable than Disney strollers, and you can take the,—obviously—outside of the parks.

John

Wednesday 1st of August 2018

We are arriving late afternoon on May 1st and will be checking in (Pop) then taking a bus to Hollywood Studios and switching to a Port Orleans Riverside. We will then go see YeeHaw Bob for a fun filled first evening at the World. Big Fun!!!