Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Disney nut. Heck, even people who don’t know me can tell because I’m usually walking around wearing something Disney related. One day I was talking about Walt Disney World with a classmate in college. I don’t know how the conversation ended up there but I was telling her about the Ultimate Touring Plan challenge, where one tries to complete all attractions in a park in one day. Then she asked me a fateful question…
“Have you heard of the WDW46?”
One Google search later and I knew I had to take the challenge on. I had always been fascinated with theme park touring strategies, and the WDW46 challenge seemed like the ultimate test for a theme park junkie like myself. But what is the WDW46, now known as the Parkeology Challenge? Long story short, the challenge is to ride every ride across the four Walt Disney World parks in a single operating day. The rules would be too long to list out here, but the most important rule is no cheating. A challenger can’t have someone assisting them with park hops, Fastpasses and the like, and using things like VIP tour guides and hard ticketed events are out of the question. Everything else is fair game. On top of that, every ride has to be operational, which means if a ride was closed for a scheduled refurbishment during your run, you wouldn’t be eligible for a completion. (For the full list of rules check out Parkeology.com)
I wouldn’t try the challenge until over a year later, and it would take me several attempts to come out victorious. I think before diving into the story of August 15th, 2018, it would be interesting to take a brief look at my other attempts, because I would apply lessons learned from all of them.
A Brief History of my Parkeology Challenge Attempts
Attempt #1: December 14th, 2016. My first attempt was really me testing the waters. I didn’t expect to finish and I was trying the challenge just to try it. Frozen Ever After was the newest ride at the time and a difficult FastPass to score. I had booked one 60 days in advance, not knowing what I know now about modifying. It was a 16 hour day, and with 47 rides it seemed doable. In fact, one team did complete that day. However, Hollywood Studios closed at 7 that night and I was relying on the now defunct Express Transportation buses for my park hops. I arrived at DHS with 30 minutes left in its operating day. I finished three out of the five rides there before the clock ran out. My final count was 26 rides. Lesson learned: prioritize better.
Attempt #2: March 14th, 2017. In the months between my first attempt and this one, I had been studying the strategies of other challengers who had either completed or came close to completion. I had learned how to grab and modify FastPasses more efficiently. The conditions seemed similar to my previous attempt, but since Magic Kingdom opened at 8 am, I had 17 hours. I had made FastPasses for DHS in the early afternoon with the hope of being able to pull a Frozen at EPCOT later. However, crowd levels were much higher than anticipated that day. Some long waits at DHS and a Great Movie Ride breakdown meant that I wouldn’t be able to get to Animal Kingdom in time for Wildlife Express. I got through 16 rides before the dream died. Lesson learned: don’t subject yourself to the AK squeeze.
Attempt #3: December 6th, 2017, the Parknado. The stars aligned and conditions seemed perfect for completion. An early Extra Magic Hour at AK meant the newly opened Pandora rides would be an easy knockout. I had gotten my drivers license over the summer, so I wouldn’t have to rely on any buses or unreliable Uber drivers for park hops. So what went wrong? I thought it would be fun to try the challenge with a teammate. This teammate had to spend eight minutes in the bathroom after Flight of Passage, which ruined everything. The challenge ended in heartbreak after we missed the last Main Street Vehicle run of the morning. The dream died after a measly four rides. Lesson learned: I never should have run with a teammate in the first place.
This Is My Chance?
After seeing my each attempt get progressively worse I was convinced that I’d never be able to do this challenge successfully. That changed when Disney announced they’d be doing 7 am Extra Magic Hours at DHS through the whole summer after Toy Story Land’s grand opening. The Libery Square Riverboat was scheduled to return from refurbishment on July 20th. The perfect day seemed to be laid out before me: July 25th, 2018. 7 am opening for DHS. 1 am closing for MK. I wouldn’t have considered a run in the dead heat of July but those conditions were too good to pass up, until tragedy struck. Disney extended the riverboat’s refurbishment and all hope seemed to be lost. I was ready to abandon the challenge then and there, until some things happened.
First off, a fellow challenger, Marty King (known as @MKing7403 on Twitter) pledged to donate to Give Kids the World in honor of anyone who decided to attempt during the summer, $0.48 per ride, $100 for a completion, morphing the challenge into a fundraising effort. On top of that, the guys at Parkeology changed their rules so that any run, whether a ride was being refurbished or not, was eligible for a completion. Which leads me to…
Attempt #4: July 25th, 2018. I had conducted extensive field research in the months leading up to this attempt. I rehearsed and timed my park hops. I spent an entire morning studying the Main Street Vehicles. I honed my FastPass skills to perfection. I was poised and confident for this one, until the rope dropped at DHS and Toy Story Land’s cast members let the crowd know that Slinky Dog Dash wouldn’t be opening on time. I sure wasn’t going to let that stop me. I ended up riding Slinky right before leaving DHS. A 30 minute standby wait wasn’t ideal, but it saved me a park hop later in the day. However, that led to me arriving at MK much later than I wanted to. Several rides I wanted to hit early had built up long waits. There were other delays, like a phone battery scare and a very long Test Track singles line at EPCOT, but Slinky was the real killer. But I thought to myself, “you know what? One more time.” My mom and I had a stay booked at the Polynesian in August, and I had snagged myself some FastPasses for the 15th so I’d have another chance at the challenge.
The Big Day
I had my alarm set for the ungodly time of 4:30 am. I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, brushed my teeth, hopped in my car, and hightailed it to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There were five other teams taking on the challenge that day. Not only was I the first challenger at the DHS gate, I was the first guest there period. Getting to a theme park that early is always the spookiest thing.
It wouldn’t be long until I saw the other challengers arrive, and before I knew it we were lined up at the turnstiles waiting to be let in. It was here that I had to take part in a tradition I’ve created for my Parkeology Challenge attempts, the pre-rope drop selfie.
Typically for the summer 7 am Magic Hours, Disney would open Toy Story Land at 6:30. Apparently by now this wasn’t the case. 6:30 came and went and we were still being held. Then came 6:40 and I immediately got 7/25 flashbacks. What if Slinky is closed again? At around 6:50, the cast members started leading the crowd towards Toy Story Land. I did my best to stay at the very front of the pack, knowing if I could get on the first Slinky run of the day I’d be in great shape.
Ride #1: Slinky Dog Dash
Things went off without a hitch! Slinky behaved himself that morning and I was on and off the ride before 7 am, quite the difference from 7/25!
Ride #2: Alien Swirling Saucers, a.k.a ASS
I’m sorry, but the abbreviation for Alien Swirling Saucers will always be funny to me. I couldn’t let this tweet go by without taking advantage of the joke.
Ride #3: Toy Story Midway Mania
For the Give Kids the Ride challenge, I pledged to donate a dollar for every challenger who got a best in vehicle score on this ride. I was hoping to make a donation for my own score, but I think another challenger had me beat.
Ride #4: Rock N Roller Coaster
I always take off my hat and glasses for this ride, so my Rock N Roller selfies have traditionally looked like hot garbage. I either have the worst hat hair, or my lack of glasses emphasize how childlike I actually look (surprise surprise, I’m 25). I think this is the first time I’ve had a Rock N Roller selfie that doesn’t look like trash. I had the pleasure of riding with other challengers, a mother and daughter team that goes by @2louloubrandi on Twitter. They had never ridden Rock N Roller before so it was fun seeing their reactions. Also, as I was approaching the ride, the background music in the courtyard was We Are the Champions. If that’s not prophetic I don’t know what is.
Ride #5: Tower of Terror
One of the other bonus challenges, courtesy of the Epic Disney ladies, (@epic_disney on Twitter) was to ride Tower of Terror with your eyes closed, which I did. It’s an interesting sensation, certainly.
Ride #6: Star Tours
There were only eight other people in my StarSpeeder, and I’m pretty sure most of them were challengers. I ended up being the rebel spy too! Hollywood Studios done!
I left the park’s gates right as Extra Magic Hour was ending and the general public was being admitted. I hopped in my car, made a quick u-turn, and was on my way to MK. When I arrived at the TTC, I decided to spring for preferred parking, which I think was a godsend for two reasons. For one, it saved me several minutes of either walking or tram riding. That probably doesn’t seem like much, but in a challenge like this, every minute counts. On top of that, the parking attendants hand out water bottles to guests going into the preferred lots. Hydrating is just as important as being efficient. As I like to say, hail hydrate… Anyways, as I’m walking in I see the express monorail had built up a significant line so I make a sharp left towards the ferryboat. I see the boat pulling in as I’m getting in line! What incredible luck! I arrive at the MK gates well before its 9 am opening. I see one of the Main Street Streetcars heading down the street towards Town Square, so I follow it with the hopes of hitching a ride. I run into two other challengers, Joseph Carpenter and his wife Jessica (@doitforjqc on Twitter) doing the same thing!
Ride #7: Main Street Vehicles
We rode the streetcar together and of course we all sang Jingle Bells. My old nemesis from previous attempts, but thankfully I wouldn’t be worrying about it.
After the streetcar ride there was still some time before rope drop, so I positioned myself at the entrance of Tomorrowland and joined the crowds walking towards…
Ride #8 Space Mountain
I thought about going to Astro Orbiter first but I know Space Mountain tends to build a line quickly.
Ride #9: Astro Orbiter
Speaking of lines, Astro was basically a walk on but those elevators are slooooooow, and loading is always slooooow. Also, I don’t like heights. Can you tell? This is the one ride at WDW that terrifies me.
Ride #10 Tomorrowland Speedway
This is another ride that’s good to knock out early. It loads slowly and on 7/25 it always had a long line, even during the evening EMH. Funnily enough, I saw one of my old coworkers who had transferred to this attraction. I told him what I was doing and he wished me the best of luck.
Ride #11: Splash Mountain
Splash was a ride I felt was important to hit early, since it doesn’t stay open for evening EMH. On top of that, even before the ride closed for the night on 7/25 it had a substantial line. Wanting to avoid a repeat of that, I crossed the hub to Frontierland to knock this sucker out. It was posting a 25 minute wait, that I think ended up being closer to 30 or 35. Quite agonizing, but I was glad to have this ride out of the way.
Ride #12: Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
My raft driver recognized what I was doing when I wasn’t getting off at the island. Then he tried to tell me it was a bad day to try the challenge, since MK was supposedly expecting large crowds. I guess the joke is on him?
Ride #13: Walt Disney World Railroad
I had some pretty good timing with this one, since the train was pulling in right as I was getting in line.
Ride #14: PeopleMover
Another early closer, and usually one with a short wait. An easy pickup, but a favorite nonetheless. I was hoping to see my friend @PeopleMoverCone but I didn’t have any luck on that front.
Ride #15: Carousel of Progress
Yes, it moves, so it’s a ride. Always a reliably easy pickup, but it has caused some trouble for challengers in the past. If any audience member gets antsy, stands up, and tries to leave mid show, the entire thing stops and forces everyone to repeat a scene. Thankfully I didn’t encounter that issue. I did take part in another bonus challenge, staying awake through the entire thing.
I had my first FastPass scheduled at Animal Kingdom, a 12:35 for the ever elusive Flight of Passage. After Carousel of Progress, it was time to make my way over there. I took the resort monorail back to the TTC, found my car, and before I knew it I was at the gate of AK and on my way to my favorite ride. I like to say that I hopped from CoP to FoP…
Ride #16: Flight of Passage
I have an unhealthy addiction to this ride and riding it during a challenge makes it all the more exhilirating. “Sivako” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re trying to ride every ride in one day! On a less fun note, I saw a little girl in the preshow room who was clearly frightened, but her parents were forcing her to ride. It seemed to take longer than usual to get the ride started and I can only assume it was because of that. Thankfully it wasn’t too long of a delay, but still, shame on those parents.
Ride #17: Wildlife Express
Disney recently announced that they’d be closing Rafiki’s Planet Watch permanently, so it’s wild (hyuck) to think that this challenge would be among the last times I’d be riding this train. On a happier note, I ran into another challenger here, Shannon, aka @dolewhipper on Twitter! We had a nice chat about the challenge and bad safari drivers. It was a good time.
Ride #18: Kilimanjaro Safaris
This is another one that tends to cause trouble for challengers, because animals are unpredictable and love to plop themselves in the middle of the truck paths. Thankfully they were behaving themselves and I ended up making great time. My safari driver even told an excellent joke…
What do you call a scared group of giraffes?
A tower of terror…
Ride #19: Expedition Everest
I could ride this thing over and over and never get tired of it, but I had other priorities. Thankfully the single rider line treated me very well.
Ride #20: Kali River Rapids
I’ll take this opportunity to express how disappointed I am that Disney toned this ride down so much. I remember going on this ride as a kid and coming off of it, I’d be so soaked it was like a jumped in a pool. In the past few years I’ve been coming off with barely a sprinkle. It was a pretty hot day, so admittedly, even the light sprinkle was appreciated. While in line, here I pulled my next FastPass for…
Ride #21 Primeval Whirl
Not many people are fond of this one, but I kinda like it. I can’t really call it a good ride, but I enjoy spinning and drops so I always have a good time here. There were some grey clouds in the sky and a light drizzle happening as my time machine was going out, but thankfully things still went without a hitch. While waiting in line I found a Dinosaur FastPass and was trying to bump it earlier, when this little baby popped up…
Score! The time wasn’t ideal but I wasn’t going to let it go without a fight. I kept refreshing as I got in line for my next ride…
Ride #22: TriceraTop Spin
As soon as I got on this ride the rain became quite a bit heavier. I’m pretty sure I got wetter on this little spinner than I did on Kali earlier. Something very similar happened to me on 7/25 with Dumbo. I think it’s just my destiny to get rained on while riding spinners.
I kept refreshing and refreshing but my Navi refused to move. I walked over to Dinosaur to find a 35 minute posted wait. I got in line and hoped for the best, and used it as an opportunity for a snack break.
Ride #23: Dinosaur
From getting in line to getting in my time rover was about 30 minutes. Not ideal, but it meant that I was able to go straight to Navi River Journey without having to wait for my FastPass to come up.
Ride #24: Navi River Journey
Animal Kingdom done and halfway through! How cool is it that the AK leg of my challenge is bookended by the Pandora rides?
While waiting in line, I pulled a FastPass for Soarin’ and was looking to assess wait times at the other EPCOT rides. My heart stopped when I saw Journey into Imagination listed as temporarily closed. I tried my best to stay calm and hope it would come back up by the time I got to the park. I remember walking around EPCOT the previous day, walking past Test Track, jokingly yelling at it, “hey Test Track, you better behave yourself tomorrow!” Maybe I should’ve been yelling at Figment. I wear a hat with his name on it! Why would he betray me like this?
I arrived at EPCOT and started making my way towards The Land. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to peak over at Imagination. Sure enough, Figment was open and posting a 10 minute wait!
Ride #25: Journey into Imagination with Figment
Lesson learned here: My Disney Experience is poop when it comes to ride closures. Only trust your own eyes.
Ride #26: Soarin’
When flight attendant Patrick said “nice work pal” I’d like to think he was talking about me and how well I was doing with my challenge so far.
I pulled my next FastPass for Spaceship Earth, making sure to leave myself enough time to knock out other rides. The nice thing about EPCOT is that there are relatively few rides that build long waits. Having long rides that are indoors and air conditioned doesn’t hurt either.
Ride #27: Living with the Land
Rides like this are the reason I like to say that EPCOT is a chill park, not a thrill park.
Ride #28: The Seas with Nemo and Friends
One of the most frustrating things during a challenge is winding through a dark, curvy Nemo queue with a family of slow walkers in front of you. Insert that Ludacris song here…
Ride #29: Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth is one of my top favorite rides. I find it so soothing and relaxing, even as I had my phone out frantically searching for my next FastPass. Speaking of which, I felt that there were two FastPass pulls that were going to be critical to my success. One was Navi River Journey. The other…
After pulling this I started to feel confident in my ability to finish. Also Spaceship Earth did this to my face…
Ride #30: Test Track
This ride can be a gamble. Not only does it break down if you even look at it funny, the singles line can be either a godsend or your worst nightmare. On 7/25 it was my worst nightmare. Not only was it incredibly backed up, but my iPhone’s lightning cable stopped working completely, leaving my battery in the reds. It was not a fun time. This time it was the complete opposite. Not only was the singles line almost a walk on, but my phone was at full battery. I was using a fresh new lightning cable, and I even had a backup in my car just in case.
Ride #31: Mission Space
I’m a brave soul and can handle the Orange mission just fine, but for challenges I always go Green, because the wait is always shorter.
Ride #32: Frozen
This ride has grown on me. It’s a cute little ride, even though it has no business being placed in World Showcase. Plus, riding it during a challenge is just so satisfying. I may or may not have been singing along to Let it Go.
Ride #33: Gran Fiesta Tour
EPCOT done! I was singing along to The Three Cabelleros too. I was over the moon with happiness at this point. Not only had I cleared three parks, I was the first challenger that day to clear three parks!
I had been chatting with my best friend throughout the day and keeping him updated on how the challenge was going, since he had been getting an earful of my strategies for months. He reminded me that a Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic was happening at EPCOT that night, and of course, I reminded him that using it would be against the rules…
My best friend is funny is what I’m saying. Looking back, doing the challenge on a Moonlight Magic night was advantageous. I imagine it drew away a lot of people that would otherwise have been at Magic Kingdom. Speaking of MK, it was time to make my last park hop of the night. I parked at the Polynesian to save myself an awkward drive later. The walk from the Poly to the TTC is close, if not identical, in time to the walkfrom the parking lot. I hopped on the express monorail and battled the Happily Ever After crowds on my way to my next FastPass…
Ride #34: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Magic Kingdom mountains, done! This ride is super fun at night. I pulled my next FastPass for Jungle Cruise, the last of the early closers. On my way I saw Pirates posting a 25 minute standby wait and went for it…
Ride #35: Pirates of the Caribbean
The line stopped for several minutes right before I was about to load. It seemed like the ride was having some technical issues. Even then, my wait was much less than 25 minutes. And yes, that guy behind me is totally photobombing.
As I was walking out of Pirates of the Caribbean, Happily Ever After was going off and the Go the Distance segment was starting. It was the perfect mood music!
Ride #36: Jungle Cruise
Ah, my dream role. One day I swear I will work this ride. In the meantime, I had the pleasure of riding with one Skipper Marcus, who was one of the most engaging and funny skippers I had ever seen. He made me laugh during a challenge, which is a feat for anyone. I had to tweet out a #CastCompliment for him.
Ride #37: Magic Carpets of Aladdin
I pulled a FastPass for this one even though it definitely wasn’t needed. I grabbed my last FastPass of the night for Buzz Lightyear, unsure if I’d even be able to use it. I had several other rides I wanted to knock out before EMH started.
Ride #38: Haunted Mansion
Ten rides left! My goal was to knock out everything I had left that wasn’t in Fantasyland, so I could spend EMH focusing solely on that. Since Buzz was the only thing I had left in Tomorrowland it seemed doable.
Ride #39: It’s a Small World
I wanted to knock out the longer rides as early and as quickly as I could so I could more easily maximize my EMH time. The problem was, once I got off I had very little time left to make my Buzz FP. I bolted towards Tomorrowland as fast as my little legs could carry me. Was I going to make it?
Ride #40: Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
I made it! I think I tapped my MagicBand as soon as the clock struck 11, but still I made it. It’s written all over my face. That’s my “I just made this Fastpass barely under the wire” face. As for my score, I think I was the lower end of Space Ace. Definitely not my best, but can you blame me?
Ride #41: Under the Sea
Us challengers like to joke about Under the Sea being such a difficult ride to pick up, almost on the level of FoP. Of course we’re kidding. It’s one of the easiest rides of the whole challenge. Easy walk on, especially during evening EMH.
Ride #42: Dumbo the Flying Elephant
With 42 rides down, at this point I bested my run from 7/25! On top of that, I ran into Shannon again. We were both neck and neck in our ride counts and we were the only challengers left with a shot at completion!
Ride #43: Barnstormer
Theme park fans like to refer to a short wait time as a “walk on.” In this case Barnstormer was an actual, literal walk on. There was no one else in line!
Ride #44: Mad Tea Party
Another bonus challenge was to spin your teacup, which most challengers generally aren’t fond of doing. I of course obliged, even though spinning with one hand is indeed difficult.
Ride #45: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Pooh was posting a 10 minute wait, even though I think it ended up being closer to 15 or 20. While waiting I was looking at MDX assessing the wait times at Peter Pan and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, when another panic happened. The carrousel was listed as temporarily closed. At this point there was little I could do except hope for the best. I asked my Twitter followers for good vibes and many faithfully obliged. They must have worked pretty well…
Ride #46: Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
I walked over and sure enough those horses were spinning. It was like a repeat of the Figment incident from earlier…
Ride #47: Peter Pan’s Flight
This was posting a 40 minute wait that actually ended up being 20. It looked like I was in the clear but I didn’t want to celebrate just yet. I still had one more ride left. Since I had some time to spare I stopped in the Pooh gift shop for a bottle of water. I think I did a good job of hydrating throughout the day, but the water bottle I had clipped on my belt was empty and I was parched at that point. Once I had my hydration I hopped in line and waited patiently for my moment of truth. I still didn’t want to celebrate. What if the ride breaks and everything was for naught? Well…
Ride #48: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Whenever I told people about the Parkeology Challenge I got two different reactions. I either heard “that’s really interesting, how can I follow,” or “you’re crazy and that’s impossible.” Well here I am proving the naysayers wrong. Wasn’t it Walt Disney that said, “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible?” Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I was screaming and hollering through the whole ride, “I DID IT I DID IT,” much to the chagrin of the lady sitting next to me…
A bit further behind me Shannon was waiting to finish off her successful run. I wanted to stay and congratulate her as I was getting off, but as you can imagine, I was dead tired. She even told me herself that I should go to sleep. I dragged my tired self out of Magic Kingdom, ferried back to the TTC, walked to my room at the Poly, and promptly plopped on my bed.
By the next morning the whole day seemed like a dream. I remember waking up and thinking to myself “where am I, what happened… oh yeah, I completed the Parkeology Challenge!” Scrolling through all the congratulations tweets was so incredibly satisfying after two years of trying. Of course, not only did I ride every WDW ride in a day, but in doing so, between Martin King’s donation for my run, and my own fundraising page, I raised over $200 for Give Kids the World! All together, us challengers raised over $29,000 dollars, and being part of that is something I can be proud of.
I was hoping in the future I’d be able to try for a full completion of 49 rides, but since Disney extended the riverboat’s refurbishment again that’s never going to be possible. That said, if you look at the timestamps on my photos, you’ll see that after Peter Pan’s Flight, I had a cushion of time before getting in line for Mine Train. How much of a cushion? About 22 minutes, the duration of a riverboat ride. Considering the other small delays I encountered, this means that had the Riverboat been open, I still would have completed. I may have done 48 rides on August 15th, 2018, but to me, it’s an honorary 49. If that’s not satisfying I don’t know what is.