Well summer is over and we’re back to our regular lives. I hope you had an enjoyable summer. Where did you go? To the beach? I love the beach! To the mountains? I love hiking tree-lined mountain trails! I had a great vacation! I went to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Hurricane Irma hit Florida a week or so after I left but did minimal damage to Disney World. So no worries—you won’t be going there anytime soon anyway and what damage did happen will be all taken care of by then.
If you’ve never been to Disney World I really recommend it, no matter what age you are. [Note: While you will see people there with toddlers, bringing your own will complicate your life–requiring naps, getting tired and cranky, etc. You and they will enjoy the experience more after they’re six or seven.] I mentally feel 50+ years younger when I am there and I always have a great time. From your resort (if you’re staying on site, which I recommend), to the parks, restaurants, shopping areas, and lounges you’re surrounded by all things Disney. There is a wonderful themed pool at each resort. Some resorts have beaches, many have table service restaurants, others have lounges and some have entertainment.”
Disney World has four theme parks: Magic Kingdom (the first park to open on October 1, 1971), Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. There are also 2 water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), 29 resorts and a campground, 5 golf courses, 2 mini-golf courses, many lakes (offering water sports, boating, and fishing), 2 dinner shows, an entertainment district (BoardWalk), and a shopping/restaurant district called Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
Each park is located in a different area of Disney World, which is massive―the size of San Francisco or 25,000 acres. Animal Kingdom Park is 500 acres, Epcot is 300 acres, Hollywood Studios is 154 acres, and Magic Kingdom is 107 acres. Just for comparison, Disneyland in Anaheim, California is 85 acres (they have now opened a second park there, California Adventures, 72 acres). So a vacation in Disney World means walking, walking, and more walking but you’ll love the free buses to get you from your resort hotel to the parks. There are also two monorail lines and boats along waterways. Each Disney World park is different with different attractions and shows. I’ll give you a hint of what’s in each park and what’s coming soon, later in the article.
One thing about Disney World is that it is always changing (this was Walt Disney’s wish) and there are big plans for the future. After years in the making, WDW opened Pandora ― The World of Avatar on May 27, 2017; more on that and other planned additions later. Disney just announced the addition of gondolas that will link Epcot, Hollywood Studios, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Art of Animation, and the Pop Century Resorts when completed.
Some Basic Information about Disney World
Disney has made it easy for you to have a good time and one of the best innovations they came out with is the MagicBand. Guests wear MagicBands on their wrists, which serve as room keys and park admission tickets. You can also load a credit card and PIN on them to charge all your purchases during your stay. You may want to carry a little cash too, just in case. Lock your credit card in the room safe for the duration of your stay. You can get around from park to park to resort using the available transportation within Disney World. The basic form of transportation is by bus but the monorail and boats run from select parks to select resorts. You can even get to and from Orlando International Airport and your resort via Disney’s Magical Express–at no additional cost. All of these are free but if you want to spend money, there is Uber, taxis and other paid Disney methods to get around. Disney World is centrally located in Florida, as this map illustrates.
Also under the easy category are hundreds of restaurants, quick service and table service alike. You can purchase a Dining Plan, which isn’t free but can make meals easy. You can select a Dining Plan option if you’d like and have it loaded onto your MagicBand.
Admissions to Disney World theme parks come in one park per day and park hopper. The park hopper allows you entry into more than one park per day and costs extra. You can purchase admission to water parks, which also costs extra. The trick with park tickets is, the longer you stay the cheaper they get. Don’t get comfortable with prices, resort room and theme park tickets tend to increase some each year.
Disney World has great entertainment: stage shows, parades, fireworks, rides of all kinds, and character meet and greets including dining character meet and greets. There is actually so much to do at Disney World, you cannot possibly do it all in one visit–well, maybe if you stay for a month. You need to choose what you want to do and schedule some events in advance. You can even schedule some of your rides and attractions using Disney’s FastPass+ system. With this system, you can schedule three popular rides per day up to 60 days in advance (30 days if you’re not staying on property). Your FastPass+ selections are also loaded onto that MagicBand and are available through My Disney Experience (a Disney World account you’ll find invaluable, it is available online and by mobile app). Restaurant reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance (staying on property or not), this is a must if you prefer many of the popular restaurants. As you can see Disney World is not a place you can just wing it, you must do the research and you must plan. What does FastPass+ mean? FastPass is a means of riding popular Disney World rides by using a separate line that usually moves faster than the regular line (called standby lines).
Planning is critical
Before you go online or call Disney to make your reservations, you need to have a plan. See my section “Research” below for questions you’ll need answers to before making your reservation.
When to go? First, you need to decide when you want to go. To be honest, I would like going anytime, but I find it more enjoyable when it is not so crowded. The summer months and during Christmas/New Years are insanely crowded. When our children were young, my husband and I vacationed at Disney World during the children’s spring break from school. At that time of year, it is crowded but manageable. Generally, the least crowded (and slightly cheaper) times to go to Disney World are January, February, late April through the first week of May, mid-August through mid-September, and mid-October through the first week of December. Each year is slightly different based on traditional crowded times and events. Using an online crowd calendars can be helpful. Every year, planning a Disney World vacation gets more complicated. Disney opens new attractions and closes some old ones; they are constantly adding special events (such as this year’s brand new event the Epcot International Festival of the Arts held on weekends this past January and February). There are many events throughout the year; two of the most popular are the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the fall. There are also paid events like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. So, first decide when you want to go.
Know Where You Want To Stay
Pick Your Resort. The best way to enjoy everything Disney World has to offer is to stay on property. When you stay on property, you’re not only immersed into Disney, you get all the benefits from free transportation throughout the resort to Extra Magic Hours (which allows those staying on property to get into select parks early or stay there later). There are three categories of resorts (at different levels of expense): value (the least expensive), moderate (in the middle), and deluxe/deluxe villas (the most expensive). There is also a campground for tent camping and RVs. All the resorts are beautiful and uniquely designed. Some resorts are massive and a few are in a lodge format but rather large nonetheless.
After you pick which level of resort (value, moderate, deluxe or deluxe villa), you need to pick the resort in that category that best fits your needs. Do you want to be centrally located or near a specific park? Do you want to be at a resort on the monorail line (deluxe resorts only)? Can’t decide? Try looking at a Disney World property map that shows where all the resorts are located; travel time to the parks might make a difference. Or, look at photos of the resorts on the Disney World site or other places online, design and resort features may make a difference.
After you select your resort, look at that resort’s map and decide where within that resort you would like to stay. You will find that different locations within each resort will have a different price. If you have preferences, you can put in a special request when you make your reservation. Another resort option is to rent Disney Vacation Club points. I will admit I do not know much about this except that it exists. It involves staying at a Disney Vacation Club (timeshare properties) resort by using a member’s points. Theoretically you can save money and stay in a very nice resort room. If you’re interested, this is another research item.
If you see discounts advertised for your resort after you have made your reservation, call and ask Disney to apply the discount to your reservation. Disney World usually announces discounts, in the spring for the summer and fall months; this includes the Free Dining Offer. Expect a long wait to talk to a representative about the very popular Free Dining Offer once Disney World announces it. Try calling as soon as they open for the day.
How Far In Advance to Make Your Reservation
Believe it or not, 6 months in advance is not too soon. In fact, I highly recommend that you consider this your minimum. You will find that even 6 months out, some resort rooms will not be available. There are people who make reservations 12 months in advance. There are also conference centers at select resorts; those holding their conference at Disney World will book rooms 1 year or more out.
The key to an enjoyable Disney World vacation is to do your research before you make any of your reservations for resort accommodations, dining and FastPass+ selections. Heads up: if you’ve never been to Disney World, it is expensive, but don’t get scared off, there are ways to minimize the cost. You will need to know how much money you can afford and tailor your vacation planning according to how much money you can afford to spend. In addition to the official Disney World website, there are hundreds of unofficial Disney World websites that provide lots of information all presented differently (three of my favorites are: Walt Disney World Info, All Ears and Disney Tourist blog). If you don’t find these to your liking, there are many more! You can download maps to help you get the lay of the land. You’ll be able to see photos and videos of resorts, rides, shows, attractions, and even food.
Some things to research:
- How are you going to get there
- What type of resort do you want
- how many days do you want to stay and how many park ticket days to buy
- do you want park hopper tickets
- do you want one of the dining plans
- Do you want other add-ons like water parks and MemoryMaker (see explanation below; it’s cheaper if bought in advance), Magical Express (this is a free service from Orlando International Airport to your resort), and travel insurance (currently $77.50).
Finally, you will also want to get an idea of how much all this is going to cost. One way to get an idea about costs is to go to the Disney World website. Here’s what you can do there:
- You can plug in your dates
- select a resort type then a resort
- select a package (room plus theme park tickets and more if desired)
- Select a type of room, park tickets, dining plan, MemoryMaker, etc.
- get a total BUT don’t finalize it or go to checkout (there may even be some available discounts on the resort page, you can also search for “special offers” on the Disney World home page to see additional offers).
MemoryMaker is uses the PhotoPass photographers that are stationed all over Disney World. If you purchase this in advance, the photographer will scan your MagicBand after taking your picture and you can view the photos on My Disney Experience (some will be available shortly after taking the picture and all will be waiting in My Disney Experience when you get home for you to download). You might want to sign up for the free online Walt Disney World Planning Videos. There are also loads of Disney World videos online most on YouTube, check out this page.
All the Fun! All the Parks!
Fun for everyone! Disney World is all about fun! It is a fun place and don’t let anyone tell you it is just for kids. Not true! There is something for everyone at Disney World, for kids and kids at heart. If you’ve never felt like a 10 year old and you’re currently in your 50s or 60s or older, well this is the place for you! Besides all the rides and attractions (from thrill rides to slow and easy rides) there are live shows and entertainment, character meet and greets, tours (an added cost to the park entry fee), and hundreds of restaurants some with Disney characters. There is a Magic Kingdom Park parade and fireworks every night at three of the four parks and new nighttime events at the fourth (Animal Kingdom). You can even go on safari by doing the Kilimanjaro Safari at the Animal Kingdom Park. If you just want to get away and still be an adult, that’s okay too. Disney World has nighttime entertainment, lounges, spas and fitness centers, you can play golf, go fishing, lots of things to rent (like horse-drawn carriage rides, kayaks and boats, bikes, canoes, and surrey bikes to name a few), and there is lots of shopping.
A New “Land” Just Opened. There is always something new and exciting happening at Disney World. The newest attractions are at the Animal Kingdom Park. The Pandora ― The World of Avatar just opened May 27, 2017. In collaboration with James Cameron and based on his movie Avatar, the new land offers a thrill ride, the Avatar Flight of Passage, where you fly on the back of a mountain banshee (you know those flying dragon creatures from the Avatar movie) during an exhilarating 3D ride over the incredible landscape. This is a thrill ride, although not a roller coaster, thrill ride is an appropriate description of Pandora’s Flight of Passage ride. There is the Na’vi River Journey, a slow family-friendly reed boat trip through caves where you pass exotic glowing bioluminescent plants deep into the rainforest in search of the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. These rides are amazing! There is also the new Valley of Mo’ara where you can walk through during the day or at night amid floating mountains, glowing fauna and flora and even a lighted walkway at night. I am so excited! I just returned from a visit to Disney World and I was able to go through the new “land” both during the day and at night. I was also amazed to see the Animal Kingdom’s staple attraction, the Tree of Life, come to life after dark. I attended the Rivers of Light show, a nighttime show that is simply amazing. Take a look for yourself.
Also coming to Disney World soon is a Star Wars themed resort. This immersive experience will make you feel like you are in the Star Wars galaxy from the moment you enter. Every window will have a view into space. Disney World has not announced the exact location within park for this resort.
Magic Kingdom. The original Disney World Park is one of the most popular parks. If you are into thrill rides there are the mountains: Space, Splash, and Big Thunder. Classic rides: Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, Astro Orbiter and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, it’s a small world, Jungle Cruise, and the Mad Tea Party. There is a show, Mickey’s PhilharMagic. There is an afternoon parade, lots of character meet and greets, and nightly fireworks and that is just a highlight. What’s coming soon: a new attraction based on Tron coming to Tomorrowland and a new theater will open on Main Street, U.S.A.
Epcot. This park is divided into two parts: Future World and the World Showcase. Future World houses the iconic Spaceship Earth ride, Innoventions, Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Soarin’, and Test Track. The World Showcase is the home of eleven countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. Each represented country has some or all of these: themed rides, attractions, entertainment, and restaurants. There is a spectacular nightly fireworks production―Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. There is also lots of entertainment by represented countries and character meet and greets. What’s coming soon: a new ride based on Ratatouille; it will be in France just past the Eiffel Tower. China is filming a new show. There is a new Guardians of the Galaxy ride planned. If Epcot didn’t have enough restaurants, there is a new one planned to be above Mission: SPACE and you will dine above the Earth; sounds interesting doesn’t it.
Hollywood Studios. This is the movie themed park. Currently some of the rides and attractions are: the show Muppet*Vision 3D, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Star Tours – The Adventure Continues, several Star Wars related attractions, a Toy Story attraction, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and the stage show Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Beauty and the Best Live on Stage. What’s coming soon: Star Wars Land (officially called Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge) scheduled to open in 2019 and Toy Story Land (to open summer 2018). Opening where The Great Movie ride used to be will be Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Animal Kingdom. This park has many outdoor attractions to enjoy. There are many trails to follow to see animals. There are also thrill rides, slow rides and some in between. The new Pandora – The World of Avatar, as mentioned above, is located here. Some of the rides are DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Kilimanjaro Safari, Kali River Rapids, Primeval Whirl, and more. There are shows: Festival of the Lion King and It’s Tough to be a Bug! What’s coming soon: I haven’t heard of anything else being added to Animal Kingdom since Pandora just opened.
Stuff no one tells you about Disney World
It is huge! Each park is huge and you will do a lot of walking. It is important start walking months before you go to Disney World. You can easily walk miles a day at any of the parks. If you’re not used to walking, it can be a grueling experience. Don’t wear new shoes to Disney World, bring those that are well worn in, this is extremely important. You can also shop for stuff like ear hats and backpacks before you leave home; the Disney Store sometimes will even have sales. Stuff you buy at Disney World is expensive.
If you don’t want to do all this work yourself, many travel agents can help you with this. However, you still need to provide them with your budget, when you want to go, and other information as I have mentioned. I have heard that some of them will do everything for you at no cost to you and will apply any discounts and deals that pop up automatically.
One critical thing to know: you cannot do it all in one visit. You need to select what you can do or want to do and set your priorities. You can always go back. Be aware that things are always changing at Disney World. They will discontinue a ride or event and replace it with something else periodically.
I have found that you cannot find all the answers about going to Disney World on the official Disney site. I have my favorite sites to consult (I listed three above), there are literally hundreds if not thousands unofficial Disney information sites. All you have to do is to put “Disney World” or “Disney World Planning” or whatever you want to know into a search engine and you’ll get many, many results. You can even search on specific things like MagicBands and find answers. Many websites will contain pictures of the parks and resorts. YouTube contains many Disney World videos to help you get a good idea of what things really look like.
I hope you found this information is helpful if you are planning your Disney World vacation. This is just a highlight, believe it or not, there is so much to know and so much to do at Disney World that it is impossible to put into one article. I know some things but I don’t know everything about it. Have fun!