Beginner’s Guide to Disney World
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Disney World is like no other place on Earth. It’s not simply an amusement park, but more of an experience. It’s a place where anything can happen, where the movies come to life, and one can be a princess for the day.
Disney provides an experience that appeals to everyone, young and old, singles and families. There is a huge diversity of activities to choose from like Nascar racing, golf outings, high-end spa treatments, shopping, five-star dining, sports competitions, camping, fishing, or just sitting by the pool. We haven’t even talked about entering a theme park yet!
There are four major theme parks at Walt Disney World; Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Each park is unique and requires separate entry.
Magic Kingdom is the theme park. It is everything that is Disney magic. Cinderella Castle is the centerpiece, and some of the most classic attractions are here like Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion and more.
Epcot is split into two regions, Futureworld, where most of the thrill rides and attractions are located, and World Showcase, which is home to 11 pavilions each hosting a different country. Epcot might be known as a foodie’s paradise. There is a huge variety of dining options, everything from burgers to steak, seafood and ethnic fare.
Hollywood Studios is based on old Hollywood. Some of my favorite attractions are located here, Tower of Terror and Aerosmith’s Rockin Rollercoaster. There are some terrific stage shows as well such as Beauty and the Beast and Indiana Jones’s Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Animal Kingdom is the park where Animals are the focus, as the name would suggest. However, it is not your neighborhood zoo. Kilimanjaro Safaris takes you on a trek through the African savanah. Expedition Everest is a thrill ride through the a Himalayan mountain. Of course there are lots of options to visit a wide variety of animals here too.
Where’s Harry Potter-land? Harry Potter is located at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, about 16 miles away from Disney World and closer to the city of Orlando.
Walt Disney World is located about 30 miles southwest of downtown Orlando, and 22 miles from Orlando International Airport.
Some people are surprised by the size of Walt Disney World. It’s a huge piece of real estate that straddles two counties. It’s different from Disneyland in California, which is very compact.
If you stay at a Walt Disney World owned and operated resort, transportation to and from the airport is free through a service called Disney’s Magical Express. There is also free bus transportation from your resort to each of the theme parks as well as Downtown Disney, a shopping and dining district.
Where to Stay
There are 26 official “Disney” resorts. These are owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company. A wide variety of budgets can be accommodated. I highly recommend a stay in a Disney resort. It brings you closer to the magic than anywhere else. There are also a number of unique benefits at these resorts found nowhere else. Some of these benefits include free parking at both the parks and resort, free wifi, no resort fees and extra time in the theme parks.
The Disney Resorts:
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
Disney’s Pop Century Resort
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort- Riverside
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort- French Quarter
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas- Jambo House
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas- Kidani Village
Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Beach Club Villas
Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
Disney’s Old Key West Resort
Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa
The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Pixie Tip: Book through AAA, or consider a Disney Vacation Club rental (private transaction) through a service like David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
When to Go
Summer might seem like a great time to visit, but unless you’re accustomed to tropical heat and humidity, it might be a shock to the system. There’s also hurricane season to consider. While a hurricane hitting Orlando may seem unlikely, the effects have been felt in the past. Hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 1st, with the strongest storms more likely to occur later in the season.
Major holidays are generally crowded, and therefore increase the cost. Christmas to New Years Day is typically the most crowded (and expensive) time of year to visit.
Personally, I prefer to visit in early to mid-November, early December, and January.
Walt Disney World tickets costs are based on the number of days spent inside a theme park. The theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. A one-day, single park ticket is equal to $89 per adult and $83 per child. Days 1-3 are the most expensive, where a 4-10 day ticket becomes much more of a value.
Park Hopper Option
The park hopper option allows you to go between parks each day. This allows a visit to Epcot in the morning and Magic Kingdom at night if you wish. For the budget-conscience, this is an unnecessary upgrade. Each theme park will take an entire day or more.
Water Park Fun and More Option
Access to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and DisneyQuest may be purchased as an add-on. However, this upgrade is only worth it if you plan on visiting a water park or DisneyQuest more than once.
Discounts on tickets are hard to come by. Florida residents do get a small discount, and sometimes an annual pass could make sense. Discounted tickets are sold by BestofOrlando.com and Undercover Tourist.
Many of the better table service (sit-down) restaurants at Walt Disney World book far in advance. If you are going on the dining plan, it’s important to make at least some dining reservations ahead of your vacation. Click here to make reservations online.
Great Table Service Restaurants:
Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
Raglan Road (Downtown Disney)
Chefs de France (Epcot)
Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria (Epcot)
Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom) *Table Service at Dinner*
‘Ohana (Polynesian Resort)
Great Counter Service Meals:
Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe (Animal Kingdom)
Cooke’s of Dublin (Downtown Disney)
Earl of Sandwich (Downtown Disney)
Sunshine Seasons (Epcot)
Tangerine Cafe (Epcot)
Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom) *Counter Service at Lunch*
Great Signature Meals:
(These restaurants take 2 Disney dining plan credits)
Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
California Grill (Contemporary)
Le Cellier (Epcot)
Citrico’s (Grand Floridian)
Hollywood Brown Derby (Hollywood Studios)
Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom)
Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club Resort)
Want more? Read the full-length book Save the Big Bucks at Walt Disney World: Discounts, Deals, and Freebies 2014available on Kindle.