Disney World 4 Parks in 1 Day challenge: '19,338 steps later, my husband and I agreed we'd do it again'

Britt Kennerly
Florida Today
  • The "4 Parks in 1 Day" Challenge is where you hit Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios all in one day.
  • You and everyone in your party will need the park-hopper option or an annual pass to accomplish this most Disney of feats.
  • However you choose to get from park to park, factor in transportation time along with park opening and closing times.

A full day at Walt Disney World can be exciting and exhausting and is often both.

For visitors who dare throw caution and pixie dust to the wind, there's the "4 Parks in 1 Day" challenge, where you hit Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios all in one day.

There's no ceremony for those who triumph or prize, except the knowledge that you did it and have the pictures to prove it.

But it's a challenge which, once presented  to a Disney diehard like me, must be met – or at least discussed, if not attempted.

I'd thought about doing this for the eight years my husband and I have been WDW annual pass holders, figuring that we'd give out halfway and still be at Disney World, so how bad can that be?

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The stripped-down, unofficial ground rules version goes something like this: At each of Walt Disney World's four parks, all parties involved must ride at least one ride, eat at least one snack, and take pictures at an iconic photo spot and.That's it, really. Some purists will insist on a more stringent set of rules, rides, transportation must-dos, being there from rope drop to close – but nobody made them boss.

Clouds gather over Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom before a downpour on Aug. 21, 2021 – the day FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly chose to do a "4 Parks in 1 Day" challenge at Walt Disney World.

Still, simply showing up and getting into the park won't cut it because someone will want proof. OK, maybe no one, but you'll be prepared and have funny anecdotes.

So on a late August (yeah, we'll get to that) day, Doug and I hit the road for Walt Disney World, 54 miles from our house.

We mapped out the day well in advance. We took what I thought were the bare essentials in my backpack, which, after about three hours, weighed 932 pounds.

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We started at Animal Kingdom, then drove to Hollywood Studios. Drove from there to Epcot, parked the car, took the monorail to Magic Kingdom, walked from Magic Kingdom to the Polynesian Resort (not by choice) and from there, took a bus back to Epcot for our final ride, snack and photos. 

One of the musts for a "4 Parks in 1 Day" challenge at Walt Disney World: eat a snack at each park. Here, FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly hoists a Wookie Cookie at Hollywood Studios.

Here's how we navigated the day, which started at 2 p.m. with the realization that it's hot. And the heat index was 109. And the trams, closed since the parks reopened last year amid the pandemic, still aren't running. 

A Dole Whip cone from Trilo-Bites was the perfect pick-me-up when the heat index was 109 at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Yes, 109 hot, icky-sticky, cone-drippy degrees.

At Animal Kingdom, we chose the Dinosaur ride then stopped for a Dole Whip cone and took photos at the Tree of Life. We were back in the car and headed to Hollywood Studios within 90 minutes.

We were inside Hollywood Studios just before 4 p.m., rode Tower of Terror, got photos and ate a Wookie Cookie at Backlot Express after grabbing a quick flight on Star Tours. Departure time by car for Epcot: 5:11 p.m.

Here, we mixed it up a little, taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom to avoid the long hike from the Magic Kingdom parking lot to the Transportation and Ticket Center, the hub where you can board the ferry, bus, or monorail to get to Magic Kingdom.

s part of completing the unofficial "4 Parks in 1 Day" challenge for Walt Disney World fans, Epcot's Soarin' was one of the last stops of the day for FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly.

At Magic Kingdom, we hit Pirates of the Caribbean at 6:42 p.m. We exited the ride to a Florida downpour, which didn't stop until we were leaving, and ate pretzels and cookies. It got windy. We got soaked but slogged on, boarding the monorail to head back to Epcot, our final challenges and our car.

Alas, at the Transportation and Ticket Center, we learned the monorail to Epcot was down. The solution: A brisk 15-minute hike to the Polynesian Resort for a bus to Epcot, a walk during which not much was said except when soaked from the knees down despite my umbrella, I actually shouted at a rainbow. Happily, we were picked up by an incredibly kind bus driver who drove the two of us, the only passengers, to Epcot.

Back at Epcot by 8:20 p.m., we rode Soarin' and Spaceship Earth, ate Goofy candy and had cold drinks. We took some of our last pictures of the day in front of the geodesic icon housing Spaceship Earth. In most, we look dazed and hungry because, except for a quick sandwich, it was a snack kind of day. In the only picture I'll ever let anyone see, my husband is looking off into the distance, probably at the spot where trams used to pick people up, remembering the good old days.

Total elapsed time to get to our car and declare ourselves victors: 7 hours, 35 minutes. Total steps: 19,338. Total chance we will do this again in this lifetime ... we'll talk.

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Sydney Perrine, a Melbourne native who now lives in Orlando, and her friend Nikki Raffles not only did the four Disney parks in early 2019, they threw in Universal Orlando too. (In our case, that would've meant getting up before noon and who wants to do that on a day off?)

They did it college-student-budget style.

Hollywood swingin': As part of the "4 Parks in 1 Day" unofficial challenge at Walt Disney World, FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly and her husband, Doug, stop for a photo before riding the Tower of Terror pictured in the background.

"We decided on taking a photo of the park icon, got one snack and split it so that we wouldn't have to buy so many," Perrine said.

"And then we went on one ride in each park. This is when they had FastPass, and we had that for one (attraction). But for the rest, we chose the not-as-popular rides so we wouldn't have to wait in line for so long. I would definitely say go in with a plan and be OK if that plan changes because there are going to be rides that shut down. We planned on Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom, for example, but when it was closed, went on the Triceratops Spinner, which counted as a ride. We were exhausted, but we'd definitely do it again."

Britt Kennerly and her husband, Doug, ride the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios as they take on the unofficial but fun 4 Parks in 1 Day challenge at Walt Disney World.

That's the right approach: With a little planning and a lot of patience – and breaks whenever someone in the party needs one, for food, bathroom stops, or exhaustion – it's a doable and memorable adventure.

Here are just a few essentials for a day with as few blisters and as many social media worthy moments as possible:

The cost

You and everyone in your party will need the park-hopper option or an annual pass to accomplish this most Disney of feats. If you're not a pass holder, adding Park Hopper, allowing you to go from park to park in one day, will set you back $65 on top of your admission. Plus, you can't go to a second park until 2 p.m., and after you've been to your first park – for which you'll need a reservation in advance. Which leads to...

Timing is everything

However, you choose to get from park to park – bus, monorail, ferry, Skyliner, Lyft, car, shoe leather – factor in transportation time along with park opening and closing times. As do many four-parkers, we chose Animal Kingdom for our first stop because it closes first, and ended at Epcot since it closes later than do Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. And remember: The 50th-anniversary celebration is on. You will not be alone even if you're by yourself – expect a crowd.

FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly and her husband, Doug, completed the "4-Parks-in-1-Day" challenge at Walt Disney World on Aug. 21, 2021. Final stop: Epcot.

Hydrate

Water's $3.50 a bottle at Disney parks. If that doesn't float your boat, pack a water bottle and fill it at any of a number of water fountains. Just don't let up on the hydration. And watch any alcohol intake, especially if you're driving later in the day. My advice: Stick with water, energy drinks, or pop. Booze will only slow you down.

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Hoping to complete a "4 Park in 1 Day" challenge at Walt Disney World? Don't forget the umbrella and/or poncho if there's a good chance of rain.

Wear sensible sport/walking shoes

Whichever park you choose, those non-running trams are going to look like the car of your dreams by the time you hike from the parking lot to your destination. You wouldn't think you'd see footwear on others that make you hurt just looking at them, but by Jove, you'll see flip-flops with absolutely no support; platform heels that are 1977 disco-worthy; and small children tumbling to the ground and screaming after sliding out of backless Crocs. You might make it through the day, but you'll pay. Oh, how you'll pay.

Don't stuff your backpack

My mother-in-law, a world traveler, was fond of saying, "Take twice as much money and half as many clothes." At Disney World, ask yourself: "Do I need this?" You need ID, your credit and/or debit cards and/or cash, and, depending on the forecast, a lightweight poncho. Masks are a must. You'll need them for all indoor attractions, stores and on Disney transportation. Maybe a hairbrush or comb, some kind of hat, snacks, sunscreen and any needed medication. You know best what you have to have on you, but I assure you: When wearing a backpack and the back of your T-shirt feels like you slid down a sweat-filled Splash Mountain on said back, some "have to haves" turn into stuff that's weighing me down.

On Aug. 21, 2021, FLORIDA TODAY columnist Britt Kennerly and her husband started their version of the "4 Park in 1 Day" unofficial challenge at Walt Disney World. The heat index at 2 p.m. was 109 degrees, but at 9:35 p.m., they completed the adventure.

Check the forecast

Unless you must because you planned your Disney trip during the summer, try a four-park challenge between December and April, when some days can be blessedly, wonderfully cool. And remember: This is Florida. We have sun. It also rains here. If you must do a four-park challenge when the chance of rain is greater than 30%, bring an umbrella. Or at least a real poncho. If it's greater than 70%, consider rescheduling.

Make it your own

Don't let anyone, including me, tell you how to schedule your day. Our modified challenge was just right for us.

Those purists who demand you stay for fireworks?

Phffflugh. That's the sound of a raspberry being blown through parched lips (again, HYDRATE).

Nineteen thousand, three hundred and thirty-eight steps later, my husband and I perfected that "Phffflugh" – and agreed: We'd do it again.

Maybe. On a breezy day in February.