Disney World trip planning can be a lot. In this Disney World theme parks overview, we’re taking a quick look at the highlights of each park, some history, top rides and shows and other details that will help you decide how much time to spend at each park. With park hopper tickets, you can enjoy more than one park in a single day. If it’s your first time visiting Walt Disney World Resort, it’s likely you’ll want to visit each park at least once. Seeing what each park has to offer can help you choose how to spend your time on your vacation. With a park hopper, you may decide to head back to a different park later in the day to catch your party’s favorite nighttime show again. Read on, for all the delicious and delightful details.
Walt Disney World Overview
Walt Disney World Resort is located near Orlando, Florida. The closest airport is Orlando International Airport (MCO) and it’s about thirty minutes away depending on the time of day. There are four Walt Disney World theme parks. Disney World also has two water parks: Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park. There is also a shopping and dining complex on the property called Disney Springs. There are dozens of official themed hotels that Disney refers to as resorts. Resorts are categorized in value, moderate and deluxe tiers. Each tier is in a different price range and offers varying amenities. There is complimentary transportation by way of bus, boat, monorail and gondola for Walt Disney World Resort guests. Outside of theme parks, dining and shopping, Disney World has much more to offer like boat rentals, full service spas and the celebrated Cirque du Soleil show Drawn to Life.
Disney World Theme Parks Overview
Magic Kingdom Park
Magic Kingdom is the original that started it all on the east coast in 1971. This park has a similar overall concept to Disneyland. Disneyland is the very first Disney theme park located near Los Angeles, California. At Magic Kingdom there is a Main Street that leads you into a central hub with Cinderella Castle. This picturesque icon has a restaurant and a makeover salon inside. Then there are five lands that surround the castle: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Frontierland and Adventureland.
Magic Kingdom Attraction Standouts
Each land offers something nostalgic and fun for the whole family to enjoy together. Memorable rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover have been enjoyed and beloved for generations. For those wanting a little more thrill, Magic Kingdom has Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Even the more thrilling rides are still doable for most people. Disney World theme parks don’t have extreme outdoor rollercoasters like you may have seen at other theme parks. Most Disney Parks attractions are much more approachable for the little ones and little ones at heart.
Magic Kingdom has the most rides of all the parks at Walt Disney World Resort. You’ll be enchanted with Fantasyland’s colorful, magical attractions like Prince Charming Regal Carousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Under the Sea Journey of The Little Mermaid and the Mad Tea Party. In Tomorrowland, you can test your aim at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and go through time at Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Over in Adventureland, enjoy classics like Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Jungle Cruise. When people think of Disney World attractions, they’re often thinking of the favorites found at Magic Kingdom Park. The newest thrill ride at Walt Disney World is located here also. Over in Tomorrowland, guests can speed through the grid at Tron Lightcycle / Run starting April 4th, 2023.
Magic Kingdom Entertainment Overview
This park is mostly about dark rides, family rollercoasters and indoor attractions. There is not much entertainment for the whole family here compared to other parks. This is, however, a great place to meet Disney characters whether they appear somewhere outside, at a character meal or in a themed indoor meet and greet. The big entertainment highlight at Magic Kingdom these days is the Festival of Fantasy Parade. This parade takes a central route, has many large, colorful floats and all kinds of characters. Each night, a firework show takes place at Magic Kingdom. This is a huge highlight as not all of the parks have one. Fireworks have become part of a traditional end to a Disney day. You may want to end more than one day at this park to enjoy the fireworks.
Note that Magic Kingdom does have seasonal parties like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. These are a blast with their own special complimentary treats and seasonal entertainment, parades and firework shows. The parties are an additional cost and separate ticket from your day at the park. They are fun to attend but if you’re not attending, it’s good to know the park will close early and you won’t get the full day experience.
Magic Kingdom Dining Highlights
Magic Kingdom has many memorable and themed dining experiences. You’ll need an advance dining reservation for some of the top experiences like dining in Beast’s castle at Be Our Guest Restaurant. Definitely plan to book a reservation as soon as they become available for inside Cinderella castle at Cinderella’s Royal Table if that’s important to you. Pooh and his friends are happy to see you at The Crystal Palace restaurant buffet.
There are quite a few quick service, walk up restaurants at this park as well. These are lower budget and don’t require a reservation. Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza are popular and you’ll usually find chicken nuggets and fries. Casey’s Corner is located on Main Street, U.S.A with outdoor seating that let’s you take in castle views. Quintessential Magic Kingdom treats include churros, popcorn and assorted Mickey ice creams. A rainbow swirl lollipop is a photogenic fan favorite among the littles as well.
Epcot debuted in 1982 inspired by the idea of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt Disney once had a concept for a perfectly master planned city. As the idea for what would be built at Walt Disney World Resort evolved, Epcot morphed into more of a permanent world’s Fair. Today, Epcot is a full on theme park centered around themes like culture, communication, technology, nature and Disney characters.
The park’s main draw is the festivals it holds, the most popular being the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Other festivals include the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Each features small plate food and beverage offerings from themed kiosks and special entertainment.
Epcot Attraction Standouts
For regular offerings, Epcot has well loved attractions like Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track and, the newest family coaster at Disney World, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. In the Norway pavilion, Frozen Ever After is a delight for littles who love Elsa and Anna. Guests can also meet the two princesses in this area. The Seas with Nemo and Friends offers a gentle adventure underwater for the whole family.
Epcot Entertainment Overview
Epcot has quite a bit of entertainment throughout the park but especially in World Showcase and even more so for the holiday season. Many countries offer a show of some kind themed to the culture of that region. In Mexico, world renowned mariachi players grace the promenade every day. Over in Italy, a juggler does a high energy one man show. In Japan, you can experience mesmerizing drummers. There are also characters throughout world showcase like Snow White in Germany, Belle in France and Mulan in China.
During festivals, the outdoor theater in the America Pavilion often has world class entertainment. There’s a Broadway performer series during the Arts festival. For Food and Wine, many classic artists visit year after year like Boyz II Men, Hanson and Kenny G. Each year for the holidays, Epcot offers Candlelight Processional. This experience features a full cast member choir, youth choirs, the Voices of Liberty, a live orchestra and a celebrity narrator. You might catch Whoopi Goldberg or Chita Rivera telling the story of Christmas.
Epcot Dining Highlights
Epcot foods to remember vary by the season as the festivals rotate new flavors in and out. Some restaurants have really made a mark on guests. Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion is a popular dining spot, known for its savory dishes. Coral Reef Restaurant offers an interesting perspective in its location next to an aquarium. Garden Grill Restaurant features a family style meal in a slowly rotating restaurant with visits from farmer Mickey, Pluto and others. Quick stops in World Showcase countries also have notable tastes. Chips and guac and a margarita is a great way to start your circle around the world in the Mexico pavilion. The Kringla Bakeri in Norway has a coconut covered, cream filled treat called school bread. Each corner of Epcot has something yummy to be discovered.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has origins that include a live working studio. Television shows and even some classic Disney animated films were produced here. Over the years, the park has transformed from a behind the scenes look at the entertainment industry. Guests today will feel a strong Star Wars presence in the land dedicated to the films but also throughout the park. Hollywood Studios also has Toy Story Land. Fantasmic! is a unique nighttime spectacular that happens nightly.
Hollywood Studios Attraction Standouts
Some of the vacation destination’s best thrill rides are at Hollywood Studios. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror bring excitement to the end of Sunset Boulevard. In the center of the park, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway takes guests on an indoor, family friendly adventure. Toy Story Land is a colorful trip through Andy’s backyard. Slinky Dog Dash will take you on a gentle coaster ride. Give Toy Story Mania your best shot as you whip around the indoor track.
The big draw of Hollywood Studios is the range of Star Wars experiences. On planet Batuu, guests can experience one of Disney’s most ambitious attractions yet. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is an indoor, larger than life experience that takes you right into a movie. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run lets you ride in the driver’s seat of the famed space craft. Near Batuu, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue is still bringing guests on flights around the galaxy.
Hollywood Studios Entertainment Overview
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the best big show entertainment offerings around. Prepare to be wowed by stunts and an incredible set at Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage is an enchanting telling of the classic animated film with live singing and dancing. Hollywood Studios has one of the best nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World Resort as well. Fantasmic! shows nightly and features characters, lights, water screens and a pyrotechnic finale. You’ll love the music and the outdoor stage and set.
Hollywood Studios Dining Highlights
There are some exciting themed dining experiences at Hollywood Studios. In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo is a quick service location with a menu you’ll remember. Hollywood & Vine lets you dine with either Disney Junior characters or Minnie and friends during seasonal offerings. The Hollywood Brown Derby channels glamour with an upscale menu. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant seats you in what feels like a car at a drive in movie theater.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 and advertised itself as ‘not a zoo.’ This park is centered around animals but offers so much more. Animal Kingdom is meticulously designed with fascinating detail and accuracy in its cultural depictions. This park has top attractions and many unforgettable eats.
Animal Kingdom Attraction Standouts
Kilimanjaro Safaris is a must do at Animal Kingdom. You’ll feel worlds away from a theme park as you pass by elephants, hippos, crocodiles and more from the safety of your ride vehicle. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is a wild, indoor, outdoor rollercoaster that also takes off in reverse! Dinosaur takes guests on a thrilling, prehistoric trip. Fly on a banshee in Avatar Flight of Passage or cruise through Na’vi River Journey.
Animal Kingdom Entertainment Overview
A day at Animal Kingdom is filled with fabulous entertainment by design. There are many walk around or out in the open performers you’ll see throughout the day. Expect to hear a jammin’ band, see tumblers in Africa, or spot a vine character on your travels.
There are a few shows you’ll want to plan into your day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Festival of the Lion King is a musical revue with talented singers, dancers and acrobats. You’ll love hearing these hits in a new way. Finding Nemo: The Big Blue.. and Beyond! is a live Broadway style musical featuring underwater favorites from the Finding Nemo and Finding Dory films. This show has phenomenal performers and a dazzling set and costumes. Both of these shows are worth planning your day around.
Animal Kingdom Dining Highlights
Animal Kingdom has some of the best places to dine at Walt Disney World. Whether you’re adventurous with a fork or like to play it safe, there’s something for you. Interested in Imagineer Joe Rohde’s global expeditions? Tiffins Restaurant shows off Imagineer travels for those with a polished taste. Satu’li Canteen takes eaters on Pandora on a culinary journey. This quick service restaurant is a top pick in the park. The nearby Pongu Lumpia cream cheese treat at Pongu Pongu is also a fan favorite.
For those who love characters meals, Tusker House Restaurant is the way to go. See friends like Donald, Mickey and Goofy in their safari finest at this buffet meal. Another spot to consider is Yak and Yeti. You can expect great food and a wide range of options in this intricately themed restaurant in Asia.
FAQs: More You Should Know About Visiting Disney World Theme Parks
What is the My Disney Experience app?
The My Disney Experience app can help you plan different details of your Disney World trip before you arrive and on your visit. This is an official and free Disney app. Signing into your Disney account, you can link all aspects of your trip including tickets, hotel and dining. You will want to plan ahead when it comes to both of those. Your daily itinerary is displayed within the app. You can change dining reservations, see park hours and wait times and more using this tool.
How much are Disney tickets?
Disney theme park tickets are priced by the day and can include access to one park or, with a park hopper add on, all parks. Disney World ticket prices also vary by park. One day, one park tickets for adults start at $109 and can cost up to $189. The least expensive time of year to visit is September. Children under the age of three get in for free and do not need a ticket.
What is a park pass reservation and do I need one?
As of early 2023, guests need to make a park pass reservation as well in order to enter a theme park. Park hopping can only be done after 2:00 p.m. Guests purchasing a single day ticket for a specific theme park on a chosen date will have their reservation made for them automatically.
Do I need dining reservations for my Disney World trip?
Many sit down restaurants at Disney World, referred to as table service restaurants, fill to capacity. It’s best to make advanced dining reservations. This can be done online or in the My Disney Experience app. Also consider restaurants at resorts for the widest range of options. These may have firework views or characters and can be just as fun, and delicious, as the parks.
What are Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes?
In the past, Disney offered a type of skip the line program referred to as FastPass+. This was a complimentary offering. There is now a paid replacement called Disney Genie+ that is accessed within the My Disney Experience app. Prices may range from $15 to $29 per person, per day and vary by date depending on demand. Disney Genie+ is purchased on the day of your visit and all attractions and return times are picked the same day. Some more popular attractions have an additional cost in order to skip the line. These are a la carte Lightning Lane purchases.
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