Walt Disney World encompasses 30,080 acres (47 square miles) of central Florida’s swamp land and includes four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-four themed resorts, and an array of other attractions including golf courses, a downtown area, a sports arena, putt-putt, and more. When planning your jam-packed, drunken, incredible, let’s-do-that-again Disney vacation it’s important to know what’s available to you, what areas are must-dos, and which can be avoided. Here I’ll give you a run down of each of the four theme parks and what you can find inside each one.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Personal rating: 5/5 Stars
Animal Kingdom is Disney’s newest park and was opened in the spring of 1998. This park is, you guessed it, animal themed and encompasses a range of wildlife environments, both real and fantasy. Themed areas here include Asia, Africa, Dinoland USA, Oasis, Discovery Island, and Camp Minnie Mickey. Attractions as well as the decor match the themes and as a guest you’ll truly feel as though you’re venturing into the jungles of worlds unknown (go Disney, right?!).
What not to miss: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, The Festival of The Lion King
Other notable attractions: Primeval Whirl, Maharajah Jungle Trek, Finding Nemo: The Musical
What to avoid: Most of Dinoland (other than Dinosaur and Primeval whirl).
*Use Fast Pass for Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Kali River Rapids.
*Travel the park in a circle to avoid backtracking. For real, this park is HUGE. And it’s annoying when you find yourself in Asia and you want to be in Camp Minnie Mickey.
*Don’t miss a chance to examine The Tree of Life! It’s fake, yes but it’s iconic and there are several designated viewing areas to witness its brilliance.
*Learn something new! Not only is this park a butt load of fun, it’s educational! Talk to the cast members and animal keepers and learn about an animal you’ve never seen before. If the learnin’-stuff isn’t for you, talk to the cast members anyway. They get paid to stand in one spot all day and would probably appreciate your sun burnt face to talk to.
*Take pictures. Animal Kingdom is definitely an oasis of photo ops!
*Sit back and relax! Seriously. There’s so much to see and listen for.
Personal rating: 3/5 Stars
Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened in the spring of 1989 as MGM Studies and doubled as a theme park and a filming studio. The park is no longer used for filming and production but still holds true to the Hollywood theme and allows guests to experience the magic of the movies. Disney’s Hollywood Studios houses six themed areas: Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, Animation Courtyard, Pixar Place, and Sunset Boulevard.
What not to miss: The Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, Toy Story Midway Mania, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rockin’ Roller Coaster
Other Notable Attractions: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, Muppet Vision 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid
What to avoid: The American Idol Experience (seriously, what the hell is that crap?!), Disney Junior Live on Stage
*This park allows guests to experience a lot of themes and attractions (especially those twenty-somethings!). Take it slow and easy and realize that you don’t have to experience everything! Pick and choose based on your own interests.
*Go to Pizza Planet. Just do it.
*Go for a Star Wars weekend.
The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT)
Personal Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Walt Disney initially planned EPCOT to be a utopian and futuristic city that would feature new technologies and innovations for select Americans to experience on a daily basis. Sadly, Walt died before this idea could become a reality and EPCOT was opened in 1982 on a much smaller scale as a theme park. Split into two areas, Future World and World Showcase, The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow can be viewed as a permanent world’s fair and allows guests to experience innovations of the past, present, and future.
What not to miss: Soarin’, Misson: Space, Spaceship Earth, Test Track
Other Notable Attractions: Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo and Friends
What to Avoid: Turtle Talk with Crush, any interactive play area (and there are a lot!)
*Use Fast Pass for Soarin’. This attraction is a MUST DO. Also, if heights are a worry for you, make sure you get in the loading line that’s furthest away from the ride entry door (there are three). This hang glider hangs out closer to the floor.
*Set aside at least half a day to experience World Showcase which presents eleven of the world’s countries.
*Make a reservation to enjoy one of World Showcase’s authentic restaurants.
*Take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Disney did a really excellent job of making each country look authentic.
*EPCOT is an EXCELLENT place to meet characters. Get a “times guide” which will tell you where each character will be and when. Most princesses will appear in World Showcase and the classics will hang out at The Character Spot. Come on, relive your childhood fantasies.
*The Nemo ride is cool I guess but is primarily for toddlers. Go ahead and ride it but don’t wait for it.
*Step 1: Try a drink in every country. Step 2: Plan on taking public transportation home.
* There are so many ways to spend money in EPCOT. Create a budget and STICK TO IT. You’ve already spent an embarrassing amount of money for and on this trip. Make sure you can feed yourself when you get home.
*Use the circle vision presentations for the air conditioning! Or for a nap. No judgement here.
Magic Kingdom (Which, admit it, is the reason why we all go to Disney World)
Personal Rating: 6/5 Stars
Ah, Magic Kingdom. The most beautiful, wonderful, magical place on E-arth. Opened in 1971 as the first of Disney’s Florida project, Magic Kingdom was created to help guests “leave today and enter a world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy”. Well, Walt, congratulations. You did it. Millions of people flock to your park each year to experience your dreams and the wonder you’ve created and we couldn’t live this magic without you. So thanks. Hosting themed areas Mainstreet USA, Tomorrowland, Fronteirland, Adventureland, Liberty Square, and Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom truly lives up to its name and offers the world the opportunity to simply be themselves in a place that’s outrageously incomparable.
What not to miss: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid, The Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Other notable attractions: Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Haunted Mansion, Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, go ahead and ride Dumbo- relive your childhood!
What to avoid: The Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents (although a travel guide did tell me that this was a great place to breast feed), Enchanted Tales with Belle
*GET HERE BEFORE THE PARK OPENS. 45 MINUTES BEFORE THE PARK OPENS. THIS IS NOT AN OPTION. Seriously, you’ll want the advantage and you’ll get to see the day’s opening show (which makes me cry every time). Then, B-line for Space Mountain, get a Fast Pass, ride it, then use your Pass to ride it again.
*After Space Mountain, experience the rest of Tomorrowland. Then go back to Mainstreet USA and enjoy the grandeur of the theme as well as the views of the castle. Work your way through the others areas and save Fantasyland for last. I repeat, save Fantasyland for last. I guarantee shorter lines if you wait plus, you’ll leave with the memories of what Magic Kingdom truly is fresh in your mind.
*Don’t be a Scrooge McDuck. Forget all of your cares here. Everyone is happy and the cast members work here just to experience Disney every single freaking day. Don’t ruin the integrity of the park for them and don’t ruin it for yourself.
*Get a turkey leg, a Mickey shaped pretzel, and a Mickey shaped ice cream. What do you have to lose? Except your money. You’ll probably also gain a thing or two with all of those calories. Do it anyway.
*Purchase needless head gear. It makes the day more fun.
*Travel off of the beaten path. There’a a lot in Magic Kingdom that most people miss or bypass. You may just run into a character or a quite place with a great view to rest.
There you have it, folks. Now you have no excuses. Go. Enjoy. Live.