Conquering Walt Disney World: The Vacation Kingdom of the World
There are many Disneyland’s but only one Disney World. One thing that separates Walt Disney World from other Disney resorts is the sheer size of it all. With an area larger than the size of Manhattan and roughly the entire city of San Francisco, Disney World is limited only by imagination. The flip side is that it can be an intimidating place for first timers.
The 43 square mile complex includes 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 27 Disney owned on site hotels, golf courses, camping, as hopping mall, sports complex, and more. Disney World is located a few miles south of Orlando Florida. Thanks to the large presence of Disney, Central Florida has become the biggest tourist destination in the United States. Once a small town swamp, the greater Orlando area is now a theme park and tourist mecca with countless theme park and tourist destinations to choose from.
While most theme parks have been a spontaneous endeavor where you show up at the park and ride what you feel like, Disney World has become an uber planners dream and a spontaneous travelers nightmare. It’s certainly possible to simply show up, but you will be at a considerable disadvantage and may miss out on experiencing popular attractions and restaurants. Dining reservations open up 180 days in advance and ride reservations open up as much as 60 days in advance. Popular rides and restaurants often are booked up well in advance. Those looking to lead technology behind on vacation are in for a rude awakening as well as the reservation systems are all online through your smartphone app. In park kiosks are available for those who do not have smartphone access. All in all a Disney World vacation has become one designed for those who plan out every part of their days months in advance.
When To Visit And How Long To Stay
Central Florida rarely sees temperatures below 50 degrees, even in the winter. This makes it a year around destination and popular with those looking to escape the cold of winter. Florida does have hot humid and rainy summers. Avoid the summer months if you want good weather.
Disney World is busy year around however it gets uncomfortably crowded around holidays. The heaviest crowds and highest prices are around any holiday when school is out. Avoid Spring break, Thanksgiving, and the week between Christmas and New Years. Halloween, and 3 day weekends like Memorial Day and Veterans Day are also popular. The least crowded times to visit would be right before or after holidays such as January, mid May, or before Spring Break.
With so much to do, you could easily spend two weeks at Walt Disney World and not see everything. A week is the average visit for most guests. For most people one day at each theme park is enough. The hotels are destinations in their own right with plenty to see, do, and eat. Other outdoor activities including sailing on Bay Lake can provide an option for those looking to not spend their entire time in a theme park.
Money and Tickets
You may purchase tickets online or in person. It is recommended you purchase online in advance to avoid long lines at the ticket gates. Tickets online can be purchased on the website, the Disney World app, or through authorized resellers such as Undercover Tourist at a slight discount. The biggest advantage of buying in advance however is being able to pre-book ride reservations for popular attractions. If you show up and purchase tickets on the day of, you maybe shut out of the most popular attractions.
Disney World employs a dynamic pricing system with prices cheaper during the off season. In addition to lower crowds you also have cheaper ticket prices.
The first thing to determine is how many days and whether or not you want to visit multiple parks on the same day (park hop.) Parkhopping is more difficult to do at Disney World than other Disney parks since they are so far apart from each other. The best option for most people is to only visit one park per day. It is less stressful and cheaper to only concentrate on one park per day.
Getting To Disney World
Disney World located a short distance from downtown Orlando Florida. Most people will fly in and then either rent a car or take Disney provided transportation to the park. There are few public transportation options. There is no train. Uber and Left are available along with shuttle services with companies like Mears.
Most visitors will arrive at Orlando International Airport (MCO.) Guests staying at a Disney owned resort are offered complimentary transportation from the airport to their resort via Disney’s Magical Express. You may also take a shuttle or ride sharing service such as Uber to Disney World.
All the major rental car companies operate out of Orlando International. Driving from the airport take the 528 west to Interstate 4 south. There are multiple exit options depending on your destination within Disney World. Follow the signs to your resort or theme park. Note that the 528 is a toll road.
Walt Disney World is located off Interstate 4 approximately 15 miles south of Downtown Orlando. There are multiple exits. Follow the signs for the appropriate exit for your destination.
Getting Around Disney World
Disney World is not a walkable resort. To get from one park to another or from a park to a resort you will have to use transportation. You must pay to park at the theme parks and only guests can park at the resorts. The exception is if you eat at the resort. Parking is free at Disney Springs, but there is no transportation directly from Disney Springs to a theme park.
Disney has multiple forms of public transportation available. Disney’s bus system is as complex as a large city. Busses connect all of the resorts with the theme parks. Monorails connect the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Parking for the Magic Kingdom is located across a lake from the park. You may take a Monorail or a ferry from the parking lot to the park. You may also take a ferry from the Wilderness Lodge Resort to the Magic Kingdom. All of these transportation options are free.
Disney also offers a Minnie Van service for an extra charge. The service offers door to door service from anywhere on property. The service is run by Lyft. Uber also operates within Disney World to get guests quickly from place to place.
Disney World is a massive resort with 4 theme parks, two water parks, and plenty of hotels and entertainment options on site. For better and worse the resort is very spread out and connected by a hundreds of miles of roads. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom for example are over 10 miles away from each other. This can make it time consuming to get from place to place.
With so much to do you can easily not leave Disney property and find plenty to do for weeks. Theme parks, water parks, shopping, restaurants, golf, water sports, and more give variety to your vacation experience. That being said, more than likely most of your time will be spent inside a theme park. Disney World has four of them each with a different theme. Magic Kingdom is Disney standard castle park with various lands radiating from Cinderella Castle. Epcot is a worlds fair featuring Future World and World showcase, which has pavilions displaying the pride of various countries around the world. Disney’s Hollywood Studios shows is a celebration of movies and Animal Kingdom is a unique Disney take on a zoo.
Disney World has 27 Disney owned hotels and several non Disney owned hotels on site. The toughest decision maybe which hotel to choose from. There are so many different themes to pick from including Polynesian, New Orleans, wilderness, or have a room themed to one of your favorite Disney characters such as the Little Mermaid or a Cars character.
To save money you may also choose to stay off site. Inexpensive options can be found in nearby Kissimmee or Orlando that will save you big on accommodations.
As mentioned before the resort is very spread out. The Magic Kingdom is located in the back of the property. In the middle you have Epcot with Hollywood Studios nearby. Animal Kingdom sits in the south west corner and hotels are spread all over the resort complex.
Magic Kingdom has 6 themed lands. From left to right there is Main St. USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tommorrowland.
Epcot has two lands. Future World and World Showcase. Disney’s Hollywood Studios consists of Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Blvd., Animation Courtyard, Muppets Courtyard, and Echo Lake. Toy Story Land opens in 2018 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in 2019. Animal Kingdom has The Oasis, Pandora: the World of Avatar, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, and Dinoland USA.
There are two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Disney Springs is an outdoor mall with shopping and dining locations. ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is an athletic complex featuring sports venues that host athletic tournaments and cheerleading competitions.
The four theme parks of Disney World feature plenty of attractions for fans of all ages. Some of the most popular attractions for each park are listed below.
- Pirates of the Caribbean Follow the rollicking life of a pirate in this well themed boat ride.
- Splash Mountain quintessential log flume ride combining world class animatronics and thrilling log ride that usually ends up getting guests somewhere between wet and drenched.
- Country Bear Jamoboree underrated show featuring singing bears.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad the wildest ride in the wilderness. Runaway mine train through Frontierland.
- Haunted Mansion tour a mansion full of ghosts looking to recruit new members.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family friendly roller coaster adventure following the seven dwarfs
- Peter Pan’s Flight classic dark ride following the adventures of Peter Pan
- Space Mountain classic roller coaster in the dark
- Spaceship Earth explore the history of innovation in the icon building of Epcot.
- Soarin Over The World soar to famous landmarks aroudn the world including the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal.
- Test Track design a car and then take it out for a spin on the track in his high speed attraction.
- Mission SPACE simulate a space launch and explore a foreign planet. There are two versions of the ride. The intense orange mission and the green mission for those who get motion sick.
- Frozen Ever After boat ride through the world of Frozen
- The American Adventure Explore the history of America as told by some of its more influential and important figures.
- Impressions de France amazing film showcasing the wonders of French life
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Enter an elevator with a mind of its own in this adventure sure to make you scream.
- Toy Story Mania Try your luck at carnival style games themed to Tory Story characters.
- Star Tours the Adventures Continue Climb aboard a speeder and get involved in a Star Wars themed adventure.
- Rock N Roller Coaster wild roller coaster in the dark with an Aerosmith music track.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Avatar Flight of Passage climb aboard a banshee for a 3D adventure.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris go on a safari through Africa to encounter lions, elephants, giraffes and many more animals. The best safari outside of Africa.
- Exhibition Everest High octane roller coaster through Mount Everest and come face to face with a Yeti.
- Dinosaur go back to the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth in this turbulent dark ride.
- Walking Trails there are multiple trails throughout the park to visit gorilla’s, tigers, birds and more.
Shows and Entertainment
Disney World has plenty of shows and entertainment options to compliment rides. Some of the best options are below.
- Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom wonderful stage show in Africa section of the park
- Finding Nemo the Musical at Animal Kingdom musical themed to the underwater world of Nemo.
- Flights of Wonder at Animal Kingdom encounter birds from around the world
- Indiana Jone Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Go backstage and see how stunts are pulled off from the Indiana Jones films
- For the First Time in Forever at Disney’s Hollywood Studios join in and sing some of your favorite songs from the movie Frozen
- Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Stage production of the classic beauty and the Beast
- The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History at the Magic Kingdom Famous American tales of history as told in a way on the Muppets can deliver.
- More it Shake it Dance it Play it Street party at the Magic Kingdom Lively stage show in front over Cinderella Castle
- Voices of Liberty at Epcot cappella musical group singing patriotic songs
- Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom an upbeat and enjoyable daytime parade featuring some your favorite Disney characters
- Happily Ever After at The Magic Kingdom Spectacular fireworks show that is a perfect way to end your day
- Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot a celebration of Earth as told through fireworks, lasers, and pyrotechnics
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Fireworks show with a Star Wars soundtrack
- Fantasmic! At Disney’s Hollywood Studios Follow Mickey Mouse through his dreams and learn to ward off his nightmares in this show filled with pyrotechnics and water screens.
- Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom A beautiful but low key nighttime show of water screens and floats overlooking a lake.
There are several special seasonal events that take place throughout the year. Some celebrate traditional holidays while others are special Disney created events.
- Halloween The spooky holiday has become almost as popular as Christmas for theme parks. The Magic Kingdom is the park to go for Halloween entertainment. The popular Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a separate ticketed event that takes place on select night from late August into the beginning of November. Special decorations, meet and greets with Disney characters, trick or treat stations to load up on candy, a special parade, and fireworks show are all part of the festivities.
- Christmas Holiday Season Disney World has plenty of special holiday events going on. Decorations are located all over the theme parks as well as the resorts. The Magic Kingdom has a special ticketed event called Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party featuring a special parade, fireworks, shows, and meet and greets. Epcot has the popular Candlelight Processional featuring Christmas music and story told by celebrity guests. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a special holiday themed fireworks show.
- Festivals Epcot has food festivals that cover almost the entire year. The Food and Wine Festival in the fall began it all with booths featuring special wine and food along with workshops from celebrity chefs. The Flower and Garden Festival in the spring shows Epcot at its most beautiful with topiaries and gardens filling the space along with food booths. The Festival of the Arts in the winter showcases the arts of music and painting.
- Run Disney Throughout the year there are various 10K’s, half marathon’s and full marathon’s that take place on Disney property, allowing participants to run through their favorite Disney World landmarks.
Food and Shopping
There are plenty of dining options to choose from. If you love variety then Epcot is the place for you. Eat around the world at each of the different World Showcase countries. Watch a movie while sitting in a car at the Sci Fi drive-In at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or share a meal with the witty Jungle Skippers from the Jungle Cruise at the Jungle Skipper Canteen Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps the most popular restaurant on property is the Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom.
There are also a lot of options outside of the theme parks. The Award winning Victoria & Alberts is at the Grand Floridian Hotel. Disney Springs has numerous dining options for all kinds of budgets including The Edison, Morimoto Asia, Boathouse, Paddlefish, D-Luxe Burger, and Earl of Sandwich. To get into the the most popular restaurants you should book reservations in advance. Reservations open up 180 days in advance for dining and can book up fast.
The best two pieces of advice for tackling the theme parks are get here early and use FastPass+. Those staying in a Disney Resort and have purchased tickets in advance can book ride reservations on line through the website or app 60 days in advance. Those not staying on property can book reservations 30 days in advance. Popular rides can book up fast and so it is best advised to book as soon as possible. You may change reservations anytime you would like including while in the park.
The basics are this. You choose 3 attractions in advance of your visit. Once you have used those 3 attractions in the park you may choose a 4th for later in the day if they are still available. After using the 4th you may book a 5th and so on. The three parks not named Magic Kingdom have a tiered system. You can only choose 1 of your 3 attractions from Tier 1 and then choose 2 from Tier 2. Once you have gone through your three attractions you may choose an attraction from either tier the rest of the day.
The most popular rides book up quickly. Below are attractions in order of most important to book.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Enchanted Tales With Belle
- Splash Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Frozen Ever After (Tier 1)
- Soarin Around The World (Tier 1)
- Test Track (Tier 1)
- Space Ship Earth (Tier 2)
- Mission Space (Tier 2)
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Toy Story Mania (Tier 1)
- Rock N Roller Coaster (Tier 1)
- Tower of Terror (Tier 2)
- Star Tours (Tier 2)
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Avatar Flight of Passage (Tier 1)
- Navi River Journey (Tier 1)
- Kilamanjaro Safaris (Tier 2)
- Expedition Everest (Tier 2)
- Dinosaur (Tier 2)
Many of the shows are also included in FastPass reservations. Most of the time it is not advisable to waste a FastPass on a show as getting them for rides is more valuable. Getting a good seat for a show is usually not an issue if you show up 30 minutes in advance of the start time.
- Be sure to download the free Disney World app for wait times, show schedules, and to reserve ride times
- Check the park calendar for hours and attraction refurbishment schedule so you know what rides and shows will not be operating on your day.
- Make use of Single Rider lines at select attractions to save time waiting in line. They can be found at Test Track, and Expedition Everest.
- Wi-Fi is available in all the hotels and theme parks. Coverage is fairly good, but be aware that it can drop in and out or be slow due to so many people using it.