Your “Never Been to Disney” Guide to Walt Disney World® Resort
Walt Disney World® Resort is huge. HUGE. There is so much to eat and see and do, and so many ways to do it, that we could never come remotely close to covering it all here. This book barely does it all, and it’s over 800 pages.
What we CAN do is give you a brief idea of what you can expect.
Okay. So give me the briefest summary possible.
Walt Disney World® Resort is comprised of four separate theme parks, all connected by a system of boats, monorails, and buses: Magic Kingdom® Park, Epcot®, Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park , and Disney’s Hollywood Studios®. On top of that, it also has countless other attractions, including two water parks, golfing, indoor theme parks, spas, a lively boardwalk, a downtown area…and on and on.
For your vacation, you’ll most likely be booking some combination of hotel (on-site at Disney or off-site in Orlando), park tickets (to one or all parks), and (if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel) dining plan.
So! What should I see?
This is where we want to reiterate that there is way, way more to see at Walt Disney World® Resort than we could ever cover here. But! Here are some of what people generally consider the “must-sees” in each park.
Magic Kingdom® Park
Magic Kingdom® Park is split into six themed lands: Main Street, U.S.A, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
You can’t miss Cinderella Castle (it’s in the dead center of the park, right at the end of Main Street, U.S.A), but you definitely need to take a moment to admire it: either on its own during the day, or at night during the Wishes™ fireworks show (which you also need to see).
Magic Kingdom® Park is also home to some of the most iconic Walt Disney World® Resort attractions, like it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Thrill-seeker? You’ll also want to visit Splash Mountain and Space Mountain.
You’ll also want to set aside time to meet your favorite Disney Characters, who are scattered amongst the park and normally available at preset times and locations. You’ll find everyone from Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh to Cinderella and Elsa and Anna from “Frozen,” so make sure to bring your autograph book.
Epcot® is made up of two distinct worlds, Future World and World Showcase.
World Showcase’s main attractions are its 11 international pavilions, each of which represents a different country. You can spend days shopping, eating, and drinking your way through each of them.
In Future World, the 18-story Spaceship Earth will take you on a journey from the past into the future. Not far enough? Try Mission: SPACE , which will show you what it’s like to be an astronaut, and Soarin'™, where you can take in the sights, sounds, and smells as you simulate gliding over the countryside like a bird.
At night check out IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, an inspiration of music, fireworks, lasers, and special effects.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios®
The glitz and glamour of Hollywood take center stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®, which pays homage to everything from “Toy Story” to “Star Wars.” Film (and TV and movie) buffs can visit the famously terrifying Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and “Star Wars” fans will want to make it a point to visit Star Tours –The Adventures Continue.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park
The focal point of Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park is (fittingly) the animals. Explore over 100 acres of African Savannah on Kilimanjaro Safaris as you become surrounded by free-roaming wildlife in their natural habitat, and check out the 145-foot-tall Tree of Life to find out why It’s Tough to be a Bug! in (creepy crawly) 3-D adventure. Too tame? Experience a high-speed train trek forward and backward through the treacherous Himalayan unknown on Expedition Everest™–Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.
Looking to beat the heat? Check out Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach. You can snorkel with sharks and tackle 120-foot waterslides, or (if you’re feeling a bit more mellow) sunbathe the afternoon away after a float down a lazy river. Either way, beating the Orlando heat for the day is always a visitor favorite.
Where should I stay?
The biggest decision to make is whether or not you’re going to stay at a Disney Resort Hotel.
In addition to a bunch of off-site Orlando-area hotels, there are over 20 Disney Resort Hotels. Disney Resort Hotels include complimentary airport service, complimentary transportation between the hotels and theme parks, extended theme park hours, MagicBands*, and the ability to make FastPass+ reservation 60 days out instead of the normal 30*.
Figure out what’s more important to you in a hotel – Price? Location? Amenities? – and use that to help you narrow down your options. Since Disney Resort Hotels are often sold bundled with theme park tickets and/or dining, you’ll want to figure that out before you move on to choosing the rest of your vacation options.
*Speaking of which, what are MagicBands?
What AREN’T MagicBands? Introduced this year, MagicBands are hypoallergenic, waterproof bands that you wear and can use to enter the parks, unlock your Walt Disney World® Resort hotel room, store and use your FastPass+ reservations, charge things to your Walt Disney World® Resort hotel room, and link to your Disney PhotoPass photos. They’re basically magic bands.
*And what’s FastPass+?
Disney FastPass+ lets you reserve access to things like attractions, shows and Character experiences in advance of your trip so you don’t have to stand in line.
You can choose up to 3 experiences a day at one theme park, and your reservations will be built into your MagicBand so you can enter FastPass+ lines with a swipe of the wrist. The best part? It’s absolutely free, and built into every ticket or package automatically.
What kind of tickets should I buy?
There are a lot of different ticket options, depending what you want to do and how long you want to do it for.
You can purchase up to 10-day park tickets, which will get you into one park per day. To that, you can add on:
- A Park Hopper Ticket, which allows you to visit all four theme parks in one day.
- A Water Park Fun & More Ticket, which gives you four visits to the water parks (or “and more,” which refers to the three golf courses interactive theme park, and two miniature golf courses that you also have access to)
- A combination Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More Ticket, which lets you do both.
So in conclusion, there are a lot of different options for ultimate flexibility.
What should I eat?
There are a ton of restaurants at Walt Disney World® Resort (literally over 100 – way more than we could ever list here), and they serve just about every type of food you can think of in just about every different way you could think of.
Of the four parks, Epcot® is the most well-known for its food. With 11 international pavilions, serving up a different country’s national food and drinks, you can spend the day trying German bratwurst and French pastries – and everything in between. Other well-known restaurants can be found at Magic Kingdom® Park including the “Beauty and the Beast”-themed Be Our Guest restaurant, where you can dine in the Beast’s castle, and Cinderella’s Royal Table, where guests can dine with their favorite Disney princesses.
You’ll either be paying á la carte or, if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, buying a Disney Dining Plan. Like theme park tickets, there are different options you can choose from based on how much you think you’re going to be eating – Quick Service, Dining, or Deluxe Dining.
It’s also worth taking a look at some of the special events held in the parks throughout the year. You can purchase tickets to seasonal celebrations like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom® Park, or watch the calendar to visit during the Epcot® International Food and Wine Festival and Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival.
Whew! So like we said, there’s a lot going on at Walt Disney World® Resort. Shoot one of our consultants a note if you want to learn more or book a trip without doing all the legwork yourself – they’re Disney experts and know the entire Resort literally backwards and forwards.
What do you think – are we missing anything? What are your best “never been to Disney” tips?