Disney World is in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland is in Anaheim, CA. This is a guide to Disney World which consists of 4 main theme parks, several water parks, many resorts and hotels, and other retail shopping areas like Disney Springs.
The 4 theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. Within each theme park, there are lands. For instance, in Magic Kingdom, where you see the iconic Cinderella’s castle, the lands are Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Main Street, U.S.A., and Tomorrowland. While each theme park has a overall theme, each land has a theme as well.
For details on each individual park, click below. For overall planning guide, continue reading.
Magic Kingdom is the first park in Disney World. It’s the most famous because that’s where Cinderella’s castle is. There is firework show every night.
Going to Disney World requires foresight and planning because it can easily get overwhelming, tiring, busy, and extra crowded. You will likely walk 5-10 miles per day. You need to pick dates, buy a flight to MCO airport, pick and book a Disney hotel or nearby accommodations, buy Disney admission tickets (~$100+ per day per adult), make park reservations for your admission tickets, make dining reservations for fancy restaurants if you wish, download and use the Disney app, and link all your family and friends to your account – all while looking for discounts.
You should consider the crowds, Disney events, holidays, weathers, duration, and discounts to figure out your timing. Disney World is always busy, but the busy season is when kids are not in school which is summertime. Additionally, whenever there are holidays like Thanksgiving or Halloween or Christmas, Disney World also gets busy. As a preview, if you download the Disney World mobile application, you can easily see how long the wait times are for popular rides for a given park. Disney crowds are big crowds and lines can be many hours long for the best rides. However, if you go to Disney World during the down seasons like before summer starts like May or right after school starts but before the winter holidays like late September, you can avoid crowds. Weekdays will also always be better than weekends, so optimize for that too.
Disney Events and Festivals
There are a lot of Disney events and/or holidays you will actually want to be in Disney for like the annual Epcot food & wine festival. In Epcot, they have a large area or neighborhood called “World Showcase” that is comprised of 11 country pavilions. During the food &wine festival, every Epcot country pavilion offers special, local cuisine, and the menu changes every year; for instance, it could be like lamb chops in Australia ($8.50 for one) or cheese bread in Brazil. Things can be very tasty but watch out everything in Disney World or related to Disney World is expensive. I would allocate $50-100 per person for food and drink per day. Disney drinks and snacks can be super good. Check the Disney event calendar for cool happenings at the park.
Given its Florida location, it’s always hot and can easily get very very hot. It can get rainy and humid too. The coldest month is January where weather is still in the 70’s. Orlando also gets hurricane season so don’t get trapped. Definitely check the weather before you pick your dates.
Since there are 4 theme parks, I would recommend at least 4 days in Disney World so you don’t feel rushed. You could do more than 1 park in a day but you will feel rushed and a park hopping ticker does cost more than a single park ticket.
Given the price of everything Disney, you should be on the look out for discounts on admission, resorts and hotels, transportation, and flights. Disney’s website itself has an ever-changing list of discounts that are good. Also check for corporate, military, healthcare, or AAA discounts.
Where to Stay
While expensive, staying on Disney owned properties has its perks. The 2 main perks are easy, efficient, free transportation from the resorts to each park and the extra magic hours where you get to enter the park 30mins before non-Disney resort guests can. Definitely use the Disney World website itself to research the options. There are even partner hotels that get these 2 key perks or at least offer substitutes.
If you want to stay on a Disney property, my short list is:
We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, Florida for 6 nights; it comes with extra magic hours because it’s a Disney partner hotel and they offered complimentary chartered buses that took us to the parks and the retail shopping and dining area known as Disney Springs (does not require a ticket). Since we flew in from the West coast, we lost 2 days to flying 5-6 hours each way, making it a 7-day trip with 5 days in the theme parks itself. We went in late Sep to early Oct and just in time for the annual Epcot food and wine festival, which was particularly amazing and fun that we went to Epcot for 2 days in attempts to eat our hearts out. Fantastic!
We were really lucky and we were able to catch the 50th birthday celebration of Disney World. Given our great timing, almost all the best rides were less than 25min waits and many of them had no wait. We did a great job avoiding crowds by maximizing weekdays, not weekends.
A MUST-DO! Download and use Disney World Mobile App!
Definitely download the Disney World mobile app to add all your plans and your Disney party all together. You can use the app to see how long each ride’s wait time is. You will also need this app to navigate through the park, make reservations, and order food at certain dining facilities. Also, when you see photographers around Disney, they take your photos for free and you can choose to buy them if you want to later as the photos make it into your app.
Additionally, you should add your admission ticket to your iPhone or Android phone’s mobile wallet for ease. Then, when you go on rides, you will be able to tap your phone to get your ride photos linked to your account.
In addition to your typical packing list, I would also suggest the following specials items. As everything in Orlando has a tourist mark-up and everything has a Disney “tax,” the less you buy, the less you’ll feel scammed. You don’t want to buy the overpriced sunscreen in the park.
- Small backpack to carry minimal items: you do not want too big because a lot of the rides only have space for small to medium sized bags
- Reusable water bottle: There are some food and drink stations that do offer free iced water you can use to manually fill your water bottles. Or just use the water fountains.
- Reusable utensils: Disney offers plastic disposable utensils and it’s just a waste and killing the world
- Reusable napkins: Disney offers single use napkins but it’s also such a waste and avoidable
- Hand sanitizer: You never know when a snack or drink will catch your eye
- Cooling towel: to cool off
- Sun hat or hat: because the sun will be beating you down
- Mouse ears: for photos, you can buy cheap ones off Amazon or buy premium ones inside each park for $30.
- Mineral, not chemical, sunscreen: mineral sunscreen doesn’t poison your blood stream with hormone disrupters for multiple days like chemical sunscreen does
- Mini misting fan with a water spray bottle (optional): Because it’s hot as hell over there
- Large, not small, external battery with long charging cord: you will take lots of photos and you will run out of batteries. You will need an extreme external battery, not a small one.
- Swimsuit and goggles: if your resort has a pool
- Waterproof phone case: if your resort has a pool or you want to take pictures on water rides or in water parks
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