How to Have a Magical Time at Disney World Florida
Walt Disney World Resort—usually known simply as Disney World—is the flagship of the Disney Corporation, an astonishing 27,000 acres of fun. With four theme parks, two water parks, more than a hundred restaurants, cafés, and other places to eat, two dozen hotels and resorts, and shopping and entertainment areas, Disney World offers endless fun for the whole family.
There’s so much to see and do here that it can feel a little bit overwhelming the first time you enter the complex, so it’s definitely useful to spend some time planning in advance what you want to see and do.
Where to Stay: Disney World’s Range of Accommodation Options
There are 31 hotel and resort accommodation options located within or near the Disney World Florida complex, all of which offer transportation to the Disney World parks on a daily basis. Prices range from under $100 per night to more than $500 per night, so there’s something there to suit most budgets. Here’s a selection from the list of Disney World Florida hotels. Most Disney world packages will include the accommodation and more; however, it is always advisable to keep your options open to other accommodation package prices
The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort comes in at under $80 a night, making it the cheapest option. There’s a range of RV full-hookup options, as well as sites designed for tents. This option is pretty bare-bones but does feature a range of recreational options, with swimming pools, a ranch, campfires, wilderness adventures, and sports equipment rentals.
At just under $100 per night, there are three additional options—Disney World’s All-Star Movies, Music, and Sports Resorts. Located in the Animal Kingdom Resort Area, each is decorated and furnished according to a different Disney theme, and all have pools, food courts, and other amenities to make your stay more enjoyable.
Starting at around $180 per night, Disney’s Port Orleans, Caribbean, and Coronado Springs Resorts offer a little more luxury, and a range of on-site recreational activities. Fabulous swimming pools, as well as carriage and surrey rides, fishing, a games arcade, and evening campfire activities, mean you can have a great time without ever leaving the resort.
There’s a wide range of options in the $300 to $450 price range too, each with its own theme and gorgeous décor and furnishings. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Retreat continues the camping theme, but this time, visitors stay in rustic but comfortable cabins. Other options include Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Beach Club Resort, and Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, each boasting comfortable accommodation, a range of dining options, and plenty of family fun activities. Saratoga Springs also offers a full-serve wellness spa with revitalizing and rejuvenating treatments such as massage, hydrotherapy, and facial and body treatments.
At the very upper end of the price range—starting at over $500 per night, and with suites at over $1,000—is Disney World’s most luxurious accommodation option, the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Choose from hotel resort-style accommodation or opt for a private villa, and enjoy access to nearly a dozen dining options, and a wide range of recreational activities. The on-site spa offers a variety of massage options, as well as facial and body beauty and relaxation treatments.
Note that these prices are tax-exclusive, and are the lowest possible accommodation prices. For most hotels and resorts, it’s necessary to purchase a package that includes accommodation and tickets to Disney World, in order to secure the lowest room prices.
What to See and Do at Walt Disney World
Of course, wherever you choose to stay, Disney World itself is the main event, and most people who visit plan to spend as much time there as possible. If you’re visiting Disney World for the first time, try to spend at least a couple of days here, to make sure you get to see and do everything you want to. If you do plan to spend more than one day exploring, be sure to buy a multi-day ticket, as these offer better value for money than purchasing multiple single-day tickets.
It’s hard to definitively say what the best Disney World attractions are; the answer to that question is going to depend on your own personal preferences, if you’re taking children to Disney World, and how old they are, and plenty of other factors. But there are definitely some highly popular rides and shows that continue to attract large crowds of people year after year. Some of the most popular attractions include:
- Expedition Everest, a backwards roller coaster that journeys through snow-capped mountains, where riders encounter a yeti.
- Soarin’ is a hang-gliding simulator that provides an incredible experience, definitely not to be missed.
- The Jungle Cruise, a favourite of Walt Disney himself for the humour of the commentary of the various Captains throughout the ride.
- Space Mountain, a roller coaster that journeys through the darkness of outer space, with fabulous music and incredible lighting.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a new attraction that provides a smooth experience that’s perfect for those who prefer a more gentle kind of coaster.
- Splash Mountain has long been a favourite with park-goers. This log flume ride is absolutely thrilling, with some excellent animatronics and audio features, and a scary-but-fun drop at the end.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle isn’t a ride or a highly impressive show—more of an encounter with Belle—but it’s an attraction that is often the highlight for children who experience it.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a runaway minecar-themed rollercoaster, fast-paced and exciting.
- The Haunted Mansion is a slow ride, and very dark, but the scares you’ll experience in here are more the funny kind than the kind that causes adrenalin-pumping terror—so kids tend to enjoy it as much as the adults.
This is by no means an exhaustive list—there are literally thousands of things to do in Disney World, including hundreds of rides—so while it would take a very long time to see and do everything, there’s so much variety that there definitely is something for everyone to enjoy.
Using the FastPass+ Booking System
A Walt Disney World package offers a free booking system called FastPass+ which allows you to book in advance a window of time for going on a ride or participating in another popular activity, without having to wait for hours in line. This can be great for booking highly popular attractions at each of the theme parks. Some of the best attractions to see using FastPast+ include:
Magic Kingdom: Anna & Elsa Frozen Meet and Greet, Peter Pan’s Flight, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Enchanted Tales With Belle, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Epcot: Test Track, Soarin’, Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Rock N Roller Coaster
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids, Kilimanjaro Safaris
Using FastPass+ on these attractions will save you the most time, but be sure to choose the ones that actually interest you and your family to get the most out of this booking system. You can book FastPass+ reservations online when you purchase Disney World tickets in advance and stay at a Disney World hotel. Alternatively, you can make reservations at the park using your ticket or MagicBand.
Magic Hours: Disney World at Night
Some of the Disney World theme parks are open for what is called magic hours, in the evenings, and for some parks, this is the best time to visit. This is definitely true for the Magic Kingdom, which features lighting displays that are best viewed at night, as well as fireworks, and the Main Street Electrical Parade. Rides such as Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are simply incredible at night, and if it’s at all possible, going on these rides during the Magic Hours is not to be missed.
Also note that attractions can stay open past the park’s official closing hours. If you get in line for a ride at five minutes to closing time, you can stay in line and take your ride even if you wait an hour or more. This can be a great way of enjoying popular rides that have long lines during the day.
Eat and Drink: Disney World’s Best Snacks and Meals
Disney World features well over 100 restaurants and cafés. Some of these are located in resorts and hotels in the various parks, while others are in the parks themselves.
Many restaurants and cafés are of the walk-in variety, allowing you to choose where to eat as you please, but some restaurants are highly popular, and for these it’s essential to book in advance to make sure you can get seats. Dining reservations can be booked up to 180 days in advance, and this is highly recommended, especially for the most popular restaurants such as Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table, and other character or theme meals. It’s also important to reserve if you’ll be visiting Disney World with a large party. It’s often possible to walk in and get a table at less-frequented restaurants in a party of two or three, but for four or more people reservations are necessary at most places.
Some restaurants are open early in the morning for breakfast, even before the first rides start operating. These include Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Crystal Palace, and booking a breakfast table can provide another opportunity to get these highly sought-after reservations.
Also note that many restaurants and cafés are included in the Disney World dining plan packages, which can be purchased along with certain accommodation packages. These packages provide a daily allotment of one or more meals and snacks depending on the plan you choose, so there’s no extra charge for meals that are included in the plan.
Finally, here’s a list of must-try snacks that are big favourites with first-time visitors and Disney experts alike.
- Dole whip is a simple but amazingly delicious blend of pineapple juice and soft-serve non-dairy ice cream. Available at Aloha Isle in Adventureland, and Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian Resort.
- At the Beaches & Cream restaurant at Disney World’s Beach Club Resort, try the Kitchen Sink, a massive dessert with eight scoops of ice cream, chocolate, peanut, and butterscotch sauces, whipped cream, cake, and chocolate—best eaten by a group of four or more people!
- Disney World’s churros are famously known as one of the favourite treats of almost all Disney aficionados. Crispy, chewy, delectable cylinders of fried dough, covered in cinnamon and sugar; it doesn’t get much better than these.
- Check out the 50s Prime Time Café or the Tune in Lounge, both located in the same building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, for the best milkshakes in the park.
Getting the Most Out of Disney World
Disney World is magical, but it’s also expensive and usually very crowded—there’s no doubt about it. But with some careful planning and preparation, you can save money and make your trip more enjoyable all-round. Here are a few tips to help you get the most value and enjoyment from your trip.
- Book and plan your trip with an authorised Disney Vacation Planner if possible. It doesn’t cost anything, and can help make planning easier.
- Go in the off-peak season if you prefer a less crowded experience. Orlando, Florida is warm all year round, so there’s no need to avoid certain times of the year due to bad weather. For example, October and November are generally good times to visit—the weather is warm but not too hot, and it’s less crowded than in the summer months.
- Another way to avoid the crowds is to avoid visiting around public holidays, especially Christmas and the New Year, as well as 4th of July, which are always very busy.
- FastPass+ can be great for saving time at meals and seeing Disney characters, but it’s not always the best option for rides. At certain times of the day, for less popular rides, it may be faster to wait in line.
- Many meals are large enough for two people to share, allowing you to save by ordering a single dish for two, with extra fries or sides to round out the meal.
- Adults with smaller appetites can also order from the children’s menu, for portions that are both smaller and cheaper
- Celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary? You can get a “Celebration” badge from your hotel or in the park to wear while you’re there, you may receive special treatment from time to time. This isn’t a guaranteed thing—it’s more a case of being in the right place at the right time, but it can provide a fun bonus for your trip.
Finally, don’t forget to look out for the Hidden Mickeys! Mickey Mouse images are concealed all over the parks and resorts. It can be lots of fun looking for them, and it’s a great way to keep the kids engaged and entertained while waiting in line for rides.