Walt Disney World, officially known as the Walt Disney World Resort, needs no introduction 🙂 However, it can be a very daunting place to plan to plan to visit. This month’s FTB Destination Guide is jam-packed with Disney World vacation tips and everything you need to know to get the most from your Disney vacation.
Disney World’s Main Attractions
The Magic Kingdom has the most rides and attractions of all the Disney World Parks. You can easily spend two days here if you plan on riding all of the rides. The park is divided into six themed lands, with each having its own unique atmosphere. Whether you’re wandering the lush, tropical pathways of Adventureland or the wild west style storefronts of Frontierland, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another place. The enormous Fantasyland area is the most kid-centric of the four theme parks, but there are rides and shows that are fun for all ages. For more of a thrill, try one of the park’s three mountains: Space, Splash, and Thunder. Make sure you stick around until the evening to cap off your day with the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular, Happily Ever After.
Epcot was Disney World’s second park and is divided into two areas: Future World and World Showcase. Future World is in the front of the park and is dominated by Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth, a massive geodesic dome. This dome not only provides awesome photo ops but contains a slow-moving ride that takes you through the history of human communication. Don’t miss Soarin’, a simulator ride that sends you flying through some of the world’s most famous landmarks. Next, be sure to visit Test Track, which puts you right in the action for vehicle testing. The back of Epcot is centered around the World Showcase Lagoon and features pavilions representing the United States and ten other countries. Many of the workers come to the US for year-long cultural exchange programs so you may find yourself striking up conversations with people from all over the world. Epcot’s pavilions are also famous for their food and drink stands. Each of the non-US pavilions serves foods and drinks from the country they represent.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios started out as a theme park devoted to movie magic and vintage Hollywood charm. It is currently undergoing a major overhaul and will be opening new areas devoted to the fan-favorite Toy Story and Star Wars franchises. It’s also home to two of Disney World’s most thrilling rides: Tower of Terror, a gut-flipping drop ride that transports you into the Twilight Zone and Rock’n’Roller Coaster, a thrilling launch coaster that zooms through loops while blasting an Aerosmith soundtrack.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney World’s youngest theme park is all about the animal world and conservation. It’s centered around the Tree of Life, a massive artificial tree that features intricate carvings representing animals large and small. One of its premier attractions is Kilimanjaro Safaris, which gives you a chance to ride in a safari vehicle through savannahs full of African animals. Thrill-seekers will love Expedition: Everest, a roller coaster that winds through Disney’s version of the Himalayas. The most crowded area of the park is the newly-opened Pandora area themed after the world of Avatar. The special food and drink offerings and its two rides, Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey draw long lines every day. Animal Kingdom also features two of the best shows on the property if you need a break from the heat. Finding Nemo – The Musical tells the story of Finding Nemo with the addition of Broadway-quality showtunes and beautiful costumes. Festival of the Lion King treats guests to some of the best Lion King songs while mixing in some incredible gymnastic and dance performances.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon
Typhoon Lagoon is one of Disney World’s two water parks and is the perfect way to relax for a day between theme parks. Legend has it that a tropical typhoon hit the beach area and left fishing equipment and surfboards strewn about and even left a boat on top of the centerpiece mountain. The park’s biggest attraction is its enormous wave pool that produces waves large enough that surf lessons are offered outside of park hours. It also features a water coaster that zips you up and down chutes in large rafts, among other traditional water slides.
Blizzard Beach is Disney World’s newest water park and features the most unlikely of Florida themes – a ski resort. The legend here is that a freak snowstorm swept in and inspired the creation of ski slopes, but once the Florida heat returned, those slopes were turned into a watery playground. The most thrilling ride, Summit Plummet, is a speed slide that takes you from the top of the parks’ centerpiece, Mount Gushmore, to the bottom in a matter of seconds. Don’t miss the family raft ride or the toboggan-style slides on the “Mountain” either. If you’re not into climbing all the stairs to the top, you can sit back and relax in a chairlift.
Disney Springs is a shopping and dining district that has undergone major renovations in recent years. You’ll find plenty of Disney souvenirs and merchandise, of course, but the main draw here is the endless array of famous stores and restaurants. There is cuisine for any taste from Morimoto Asia to Sprinkles Cupcakes, and everything in between. Name brands like Coach and Columbia have stores in the bustling shopping area. There is plenty of fun for kids too, as Rainforest Café and the T-Rex café have family-themed dining.
Disney World’s Best Food & Drinks
You can’t go wrong with any of Epcot’s table service restaurants. The San Angel Inn Restaurant in the Mexico pavilion has one of the best atmospheres of any dining location, with its romantic twilight scenery. Germany’s Biergarten restaurant offers a German-style buffet, lots of beer, and live music.
At the Magic Kingdom, the Be Our Guest restaurant is consistently one of the hardest reservations to get. It offers counter-service during breakfast and lunch and table service during dinner. The main dining room looks like the ballroom of Beauty and the Beast and is absolutely stunning. Cinderella’s Royal Table is another top reservation at the Magic Kingdom. Located right inside of Cinderella Castle, it features a chance to meet some of the most popular Disney princesses right at your table.
Disney resort hotels
The Disney resort hotels also have some incredible dining options. Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge features down-home cooking with a rowdy atmosphere. It will have kids up and out of their seats and may lead to your table being buried under a mountain of ketchup bottles. Animal Kingdom Lodge features two highly-rated restaurants that serve cuisines from various parts of Africa. Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian is the ultimate in fine dining.
For cheaper and faster-paced dining, Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Café at the Magic Kingdom and Flame Tree Barbeque at the Animal Kingdom are some of the best.
There is no visit to Disney World complete without sampling some of the iconic snacks. Whether you’re trying a Mickey-shaped pretzel the size of your head or cooling off with a Dole Whip – a pineapple ice cream treat so beloved that it appears on merchandise – you’ll never go hungry.
Getting around Disney World
At 40 square miles (64 sq km), Disney World is enormous. The resorts and parks are linked by a free transportation system that includes, buses, boats, and monorails. Buses run regularly from each resort to get guests anywhere they need get. There is no set time schedule for the official transportation, but wait times are rarely more than 20 minutes for the next bus.
The monorail system links Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, and three of the Magic Kingdom resorts. The iconic striped trains even wind their way right through the Contemporary Resort hotel. If you’re staying at the Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary, the monorail will be your fastest way to get to the Magic Kingdom.
Disney World also makes use of several different boats. A large ferry carries passengers from the Magic Kingdom parking lot to the park, and smaller boats crisscross Bay Lake linking Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge to the Magic Kingdom. You can also take boats from the Port Orleans resorts to Disney Springs.
Guests staying at the official Disney World resorts can also make use of the Magical Express, a free bus service that runs from Orlando International Airport (MCO). Disney will even collect your luggage for you so you don’t have to stop at baggage claim and drop it off right to your room.
Places to stay in Disney World
Official Disney World resorts are divided into three categories, plus a campground. The hotels vary widely in terms of theming and price, so shop around and check out the current room discounts on the official website before booking.
These are the cream of the crop with the best theming and amenities. They’re expensive with the cheapest rooms costing around $350 per night and the most expensive topping out around $1000. They are beautifully decorated, and generally, have elaborate pools with waterslides and excellent dining options. Some of my favorites are Polynesian Village, the Wilderness Lodge, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
These are mid-range hotels that combine beautiful theming with slightly more affordable rates. Rooms will run from the mid $200s per night to $400 depending on room size and season. These hotels will generally offer well-themed atmospheres, above average pools, and food court or sit-down dining. Some of my favorites are Coronado Springs and Port Orleans: French Quarter.
These hotels are the most affordable Disney World hotels but accordingly have the fewest amenities. They have motel-style rooms with exterior entrances and are themed with larger-than-life icons representing Disney characters or pop culture icons. The pools are plainer and lack the elaborate theming and waterslides that you’ll find at other resorts, and you’re limited to food courts on-site. They’re good options for vacationers on a budget as rooms can be booked for as little as $100 per night during the slow seasons. My favorites are Pop Century and Art of Animation.
Disney World also has a large campground called Fort Wilderness. It has traditional campsites for campers and RVs as well as small cabins with their own bathrooms. The campsites are linked by an internal network of buses that move guests to the main bus stops and boat launch for connections to the parks fairly quickly. Sites can be booked for less than $100 per night and cabins are between $300-400 per night.
Don’t Miss Out on Disney World’s…
Festivals at Epcot
Three annual festivals take place at Epcot and each has its own special flavor. The Festival of the Arts in January and February includes interactive art and chances to learn skills like painting and drawing. The International Flower & Garden Festival takes place during the early spring and features elaborate topiaries themed after Disney characters and flower displays. The International Food and Wine Festival during the fall brings kiosks full of small plates and wine samples to the World Showcase area and is heaven for foodies.
The Magic Kingdom hosts Halloween and Christmas parties throughout the fall that are to die for. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party encourages all guests to dress up in costumes, trick or treat in the park, and meet special characters. The Halloween parade and fireworks are among the best at Disney World. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party also has special character meet and greets, as well as bottomless hot chocolate and cookies.
Night time shows
All four theme parks feature incredibly choreographed night shows that feature fireworks, lasers, projections, and in some cases, performers.
Things to Know about Disney World
- Disney World officially opened in October of 1971 when the Magic Kingdom first greeted guests.
- Hidden Mickeys are scattered throughout the parks and resorts. Keep a sharp eye out for the iconic Mickey silhouette as you’re exploring.
- Employees at Disney World aren’t just employees, they’re called Cast Members. Their work outfits aren’t uniforms; they’re costumes.
- FastPass+ reservations allow guests to reserve time slots to skip the line for up to three rides and attractions ahead of time. Guests staying at official Disney resorts can book theirs 60 days ahead of the beginning of their reservation and other guests can book theirs 30 days ahead of time. FastPass+ reservations can be made on the Disney World website or on the official app. These passes are a must because with a FastPass+ you typically wait less than 10 minutes for some of the most popular attractions with wait times that can surpass an hour.
- Download the free official Disney World app to book FastPasses, check current wait times for rides, view show schedules, and even pre-order your food at certain counter service restaurants.
- Guests at official Disney World hotels get a free Magic Band as part of their room package. These can be customized and are shipped about a month before the trip. Magic Bands serve as your room keys and can have park tickets, FastPasses, and credit cards linked to them so you can actually spend a whole day at the parks without even carrying a wallet. Non-resort guests can reuse old Magic Bands or buy them in the parks.
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Kris is a Michigan native who grew up road tripping around the United States. She visited Disney World over a dozen times before becoming a Cast Member in college. She’s now employed full-time as a traveling consultant and fits in as much leisure travel as possible in between business trips. When she’s not on the road, you can find her baking insanely sweet desserts, writing about her adventures, and desperately trying to teach her dog some manners.