The theme parks of Orlando, Florida are one of the best attractions in the United States. They bring in thousands of annual visitors from all over the world. Walt Disney World is known around the globe for its attention to detail and magical experiences in its many parks.
Give yourself at least one full day to see the bigger parks or take advantage of the late in the day entry. There are also two water parks open during the warmer months. If it’s your first time visiting Walt Disney World, we’ve shared some of our best tips below.
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Hotels In and Near Walt Disney World
There is an inherent advantage to staying in the Walt Disney World hotels. First, there’s the convenient location. You can walk or take the onsite transportation to the theme parks.
Guests also get to enter the parks one hour earlier than the general public, allowing you to go straight to the rides that will eventually have the longest lines, as well as to get a Fast Pass.
Early admission alternates between parks and seasons. You can also get Magic Bands, which operate as room keys, Fast Passes, and Photo Passes.
There are dozens of hotel properties within Walt Disney World that we couldn’t even begin to cover them. Each is located near one of the parks or near Disney Springs, the entertainment district. In addition to the official Disney hotels, there are also affiliated hotels that have some of the same perks at a cheaper price.
Coronado Springs Resort is a popular conference hotel close to the Animal Kingdom and Blizzard Beach. The Swan and Dolphin Resort is within walking distance of Hollywood Studios. Port Orleans is another favorite of ours, in the Epcot area.
If you plan on camping, be prepared to drive around 10 miles to Kissimmee‘s Tropical Palms RV Resort. Camping facilities exist at other parks, but this is the closest to Universal beyond that. It boasts RV and tent sites as well as cabins and year-round amenities.
WDW Info covers every single hotel at Walt Disney World, so read their individual reviews for more information.
Walt Disney World Theme Parks
The most well-known park at Walt Disney World in Orlando is the Magic Kingdom, centered around Cinderella’s Castle. It’s completely possible to do the Magic Kingdom in one full day, but you might want to go back for special events like fireworks.
Highlights inside the Magic Kingdom are the aforementioned castle, the Spinning Teacups, Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. There are more rides for younger kids here than in other Disney parks.
For a quick bite, you can grab a sandwich or hot dog from one of the many kiosks nearby. Aloha Isle has the famous Frozen Dole whip, but I always go to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, a quick dining spot with burgers, fries, and sandwiches. You can also bring your own sandwiches if you want to lug them around in your bag, but coolers are not allowed.
Read our guide to the Magic Kingdom.
A close second is Epcot, also known as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It features two sections, Future World and World Showcase, set around the “golf ball” style design of Spaceship Earth.
Unlike the Magic Kingdom, Epcot is more about the experiences than the rides. There are a few rides, but only one that has a single rider lane and few that allow Fast Passes.
Highlights in terms of rides at Epcot are Spaceship Earth, the Test Track, and Soarin’. Kids love the Frozen ride. The American Adventure film is another can’t miss experience.
The real draw to Epcot is the food and drink, which is among the best in any of Disney’s theme parks. Within the World Showcase, there are dozens of outposts serving the cuisines of Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Morocco and more.
Read our guide to Epcot.
As the name implies, Hollywood Studios (previously MGM Studios) is Disney’s film and television-inspired park. It once operated as a functioning studio but now contains rides from your favorite franchises. Many of the streets are created to resemble parts of Los Angeles including Sunset Boulevard.
It’s also where the new Star Wars area is set with the innovative Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride. Other favorite rides and experiences in Hollywood Studios include the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and Slinky Dog Dash.
In Hollywood Studios, visitors will find a variety of dining experiences from sit-down restaurants to fast-casual. Make reservations for Oga’s Cantina, which only lets you stay for 45 minutes. BaseLine Tap House, The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, 50s Prime Time Cafe, and The Hollywood Brown Derby are also great.
Read our guide to Hollywood Studios.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the newest theme park, inspired by the incredible wildlife found throughout the world. It has real safaris and animal encounters as well as thrill rides, especially those centered around the classic film The Lion King.
The park does have some rides like Avatar Flight of Passage, Dinosaur, Expedition Everest, and Kali River Rapids. But it’s really the animal encounters that make the park so special. Where else in Florida can you see African lions and gorillas?
The food at the Animal Kingdom is inspired by Africa with both fast casual and table service restaurants. Tiffin’s Restaurant, Circle of Flavors: Harambe at Night, Nomad Lounge, and Flame Tree Barbecue are among the popular options.
Comparable to Universal Orlando’s CityWalk, Disney Springs is Walt Disney World’s dining and entertainment district. But unlike at Universal, it’s not connected to one park but rather stands alone.
Here you’ll find fun activities like the Aerophile hot air balloon and the Amphicars. There’s also a bowling alley, movie theater, virtual reality experience, and the House of Blues music venue.
Disney Springs has dozens of incredible restaurants ranging from quick eats at food trucks to award-winning chef restaurants. If you choose the latter, be sure to make a reservation as many parkgoers eat dinner here. Jaleo, Morimoto, and Raglan Road are favorites. The bars are also open until around 2 am.
The complex also has shops from big names like Anthropologie and Uniqlo as well as Disney Springs exclusive stores like DisneyStyle. The Lego Store and Once Upon a Toy are popular with kids, along with the Star Wars Headquarters and its two outposts.
Read our guide on Disney Springs.
Tickets and Fast Passes to Walt Disney World
Tickets to Walt Disney World vary in price depending on how many parks you want to visit during your stay. They typically start at over $100 per person for one park. But there are some cheaper tickets sold online and through companies. AAA members also receive discounted tickets.
Park Hopper tickets add on cost but are convenient if you’re looking to hit the highlights in many parks. If you have a Park Hopper pass, you can also spend the morning at one park and the afternoon at another.
It’s smart to do as much research in advance as possible and visit during low periods, namely while school is going on and when it’s cold, but not during the holidays. Also, think about how many parks you’ll be seeing and how long you’ll spend at each.
Touring Plans is a great resource for deciding the best time to go to Walt Disney World. They have a Crowd Calendar that estimates the crowds based on time of year and school holidays. They can also help plan your trip for a low annual fee.
Consider getting a MagicBand, which comes with your stay many of the Disney resorts. It will serve as your room key, park entry and can have FastPasses loaded onto it that let you hop the line at specific rides. Plus, you can get them in different colors and add decorations to them.
Disney offers one free Fast Pass per day, but you get additional ones for staying at one of the onsite hotels. Once you’ve used that one, you can add others at one of the kiosks around the park or on the app.
Download the official My Disney Experience app to change your Fast Pass choices, get directions to attractions, and order meals for pickup. You can also use Fast Passes for character meet and greets.
- Conquering The World One Drink at a Time, Rebel Girl Tees
- Rose Gold Sequin Mickey Minnie Ears, CaSales
- Disney Magic Band Decals, Wish Upon a Memory
Cost-Saving Methods for Walt Disney World
There’s little you can do about the cost of visiting the parks, but you can save money in other ways. Traveling during the off season is one way, as is staying in one of the affordable hotels.
Eating in the parks quickly adds up, especially in Epcot. Set up gift cards to control your spending. If you’re flexible, leave the parks during mealtimes to find cheaper food.
For example, most hotel rooms come with coffee makers so skip the line at Starbucks. Bring something light like granola bars to eat before you get on the bus. You can also bring a drink into the park, namely a water bottle to refill throughout the day.
If you can, leave the parks for lunch, which will usually give you a much-needed break from the crowds. All parks are close to at least one resort and all have restaurants. For example, I hopped over to the Caribbean Resort for lunch at their restaurant. Eating on International Drive for dinner also saves cash.
It might be easy to get sucked into souvenirs, especially if it’s your first time, but you can buy many of them elsewhere. The only ones that are really unique to the parks are pins.
Additional Tips for Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World has multiple options for transportation between hotels and parks. The Monorail runs near the Magic Kingdom area and its neighboring hotels. Buses connect nearly every hotel to the parks, Disney Springs, and the Transportation Center. Boats also go between hotels and parks. And the new Skyliner runs from Hollywood Studios to its area hotels.
But while there are plentiful options to get around, it can be difficult to get from point A to point B. For example, if you want to go from the Swan and Dolphin Resort to the Coronado Springs Hotel for dinner, you have to take a bus to Disney Springs and then transfer from there to Coronado Springs, even though they’re essentially across the street from one another. In some cases, it might be more convenient to hire a taxi or rent a car.
Keep in mind that there are also multiple entrances into each theme park. At the Magic Kingdom, there’s an entrance by the Contemporary Resort that bypasses the chaos of the main train station. Epcot can be accessed by the International Gateway near the Beach Club Resort. Steps to Magic has even more ways to get into the parks.
Read our guide to saving money on your trip to Orlando.
Have you been to Walt Disney World? Share your tips below!
For more tips, follow our Disney World and Florida Theme Parks board on Pinterest. I received complimentary park entry for two.