Grab your Mouse Ears, sunscreen, and a pair of comfy shoes-you’re headed for Orlando!
Orlando is the most popular vacation destination in the world. Every year, tens of millions of people arrive by plane, car, and train to hit the theme parks, restaurants, and many other attractions of this once-rural Florida city. With so much to do and so many ways to do it, it can be easy for you-and your wallet-to get overwhelmed. But don’t worry! We are here to help.
This Disney World Savings article is the perfect way to minimize problems and maximize fun. Inside, you’ll find great tips on many of the top destinations, plus helpful information about the Orlando area. From theme parks to shopping, this is your source for vacation information for the whole family.
Disclaimer: Orlando is a constantly-changing, dynamic destination. Attractions, restaurants, rides, and more close and open throughout the year, sometimes with little to no notice. This travel guide was accurate at the time of publication and may be subject to updates throughout the year. If you have any questions or concerns about any information in this guide, please feel free to email us or call the theme parks directly.
The Walt Disney World® Resort
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, visited by millions every year. What was once a swampy patch of Florida soil is now the Walt Disney World Resort (WDW)-a massive vacation and entertainment wonderland with four main theme parks, two water parks, 23 hotels, seven golf courses (five championship and two mini), a racetrack, sports complex, ten marinas, more than 140 places to eat, and more.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that WDW offers. Let’s take the resort one world at a time so you can plan your trip, your way.
The Magic Kingdom®
You walk through the gates and there it is, like the opening scene of your very own fairy tale-a beautiful castle at the end of a picturesque village street. Welcome to Main Street USA, the beginning of your Magic Kingdom (MK) experience.
Main Street USA is where it all begins, a perfect shop- and restaurant-lined thoroughfare that leads you to the five worlds beyond. Along the Street, you will find delightful shops featuring all the Disney merchandise you can handle, plus some specialty items like hand-blown glass ornaments (with working artisans who you can watch). Guest Services is also on Main Street; remember to stop there for dining reservations (always a good idea) and information on attractions that may be down for maintenance, parade times, special events, and anything else you might need. This is also the place for stroller and wheelchair rental.
While Main Street USA is primarily thought of as the gateway to the “real” attractions, there are some great things to do here as well, especially for those times when you need a break from the crowds and the heat. Here are our Main Picks for Main Street:
Get a haircut! No, seriously-for just under $20, you can say you got your haircut at a real, old-fashioned Barber Shop. You can even include some “magical” touches, like highlights.
Send a postcard! Stop by City Hall and mail a postcard to the folks back home. It will be stamped as coming from The Magic Kingdom; mail it to yourself for an inexpensive souvenir.
Grab your ears! The Le Chapeau shop is the best place to get those iconic ears. Now you can customize the design and build your own hat, so everyone can have their own personal set.
Ride the rails! This is a great way to relax. Use the Walt Disney World Railroad to wind your way around the park or take a trip to Frontierland. It’s a particularly great way to end the day, especially if you can time it for sunset.
Main Street USA is also the place for parades. Check with guest services for parade times and types; they can change throughout the year and for special events. Remember that the best viewing spots get taken early, so stake your concrete claim and use the time to relax.
Beyond Main Street USA, five additional worlds await: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, and Tomorrowland. Each world has its own attractions, restaurants, and shops; let’s take them one at a time so you can plan your stops.
Adventureland: Pirates and jungle adventures are the order of the day! Explorers and swashbucklers of all ages come here for exotic entertainment, including street performers and the pirate training camp (ask a cast member where the next “class” will be). Here’s what you shouldn’t miss:
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Enchanted Tiki Room
Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Frontierland: This Old West land is where you will want to grab your first FASTPASS tickets-send one member of your party over as soon as you arrive and get your reservation for either Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Splash Mountain. If it’s getting near lunchtime, hit Peco Bill’s for reasonably-priced (for a theme park) burgers. Then saddle up for these must-do’s:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Country Bear Jamboree
Liberty Square: This is one of the smaller lands but it’s also one of the most loved. There are only three attractions here, and every one of them is a definite do:
The Hall of Presidents
Liberty Square Riverboat
Fantasyland: Currently undergoing a massive expansion that will double its size, plenty of Fantasyland is still open for fun and more will debut throughout the year. The entire place is due to be ready by 2014, so don’t be surprised by all the walls and scaffolding you may see until then.
Families with younger kids will find themselves spending a lot of time here, but older visitors can still find plenty to love. For many visitors, this land is the very essence of the Magic Kingdom; here are a few reasons why.
Mad Tea Party
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
It’s A Small World
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Under The Sea:Journey of the Little Mermaid
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Tomorrowland: This is a nostalgic look at what we once thought the future would look like, with great rides and a very fun atmosphere.
Stitch’s Great Escape!
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
What a Character!
Throughout the entire WDW Resort are plenty of chances to meet and greet your favorite
Disney characters. While there are reservations-only places for guaranteed
meetings – such as character meals – there are also locations throughout
the resort where you can stand on line to shake hands or get a photo. For example, MK has
several specific areas set up for character greetings, including City Hall at
Town Square, the Adventureland Congoasis, and Ariel’s Grotto.
Characters are also know to make appearances near the rides associated with
them, as well as other places throughout the park. Check with Guest Services to
find out when and where your favorites will be meeting and greeting.
Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow-it was Walt’s dream city, but it opened instead as the theme park known as EPCOT. If you want your vacation to include rides, technology, world cultures, and street performers, you’ve come to the right place.
While MK is heaven for little ones, EPCOT is ideal for older kids and adults, especially tech-savvy teens and ‘tweens. This park is also known for having some of the best food on Disney property, along with some of the hardest reservations to nab-if you’re heading over during a high-capacity time of year, plan accordingly by calling 1-407-WDW-DINE
EPCOT is split into two areas: Future World and the World Showcase.
Future World: This is the place for most of the rides, interactive exhibits, and constantly-changing technology. Things are nice and organized here, so it’s easy to see everything in one day. But if you want to know just the must-do’s, we’ve got the list for you.
Journey Into Imagination with Figment
Living with the Land
World Showcase: This is the place for culture, shows, food, and a few rides. The World Showcase is a way to see some of the most famous destinations in the world without a passport.
Each country – or pavilion – features food, goods, and cast members from the country itself. Shows and movies round out the experience. The permanent World Showcase Pavilions are Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. Mexico and Norway both feature boat rides – Gran Fiesta Tour featuring The Three Cabelleros and Maelstrom.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
It’s time for the magic of the movies, Mouse-style. Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) is the WDW tribute to “the Hollywood that never was, and always will be.” this is the place for movie faves, tv greats, and three of the best thrill rides anywhere. DHS is also where you will find most of the newer Disney characters, including monsters inc and both new and classic muppets.
DHS is a well-organized, compact park, which makes it easy to do in one great day. If you find yourself with time to spare, though, be sure to see as many shows as possible; DHS is known for some of the best. and be sure to stay late for Fantasmic! It’s considered the best of the nighttime shows, and it’s the only regular park event that features the disney villains. Grab seats early, no matter what time of year, or enjoy dinners and a show by making reservations for the Fantasmic! Package at either The Hollywood Brown Derby, Mama Mellrose’s Ristorante Italiano, or Hollywood & Vine.
Here is your list of absolute musts for DHS:
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Aerosmith Rock n roller coaster
The Great movie ride
Toy story mania
Indiana jones stunt spectacular show
Muppet vision 3D
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
Animal Kingdom (AK) may be the youngest of the WDW parks, but it’s popularity is right up there with its sibling amusements. This “Natazu” (say it out loud and you’ll get it) features live animals, good food, great rides, and some truly stunning architectural touches, even by Disney standards.
AK is divided into lands (like MK). Some are based on world regions, with theming and animals native to the region, and others are more imaginative. Here’s the rundown of what’s where
Oasis: Many people make the mistake of rushing through this entry point; don’t be one of them. Take your time and see miniature deer, sloths, macaws, iguanas, and more.
Discovery Island: the park’s center is dominated by artistic wonder The Tree of Life. The Tree stands 14 stories tall, is 50 feet wide, and has a carved “bark” tapestry featuring 325 different animal likenesses. Wildlife trails surround the tree as well, with viewing areas for lemurs, flamingos, red kangaroos, and massive Galapagos tortoises. Inside the tree is a theatre where you can experience It’s Tough To Be A Bug, a creepy crawly interactive movie show-it’s a park fave!
Camp Minnie Mickey: take the little ones here for small-size fun and most of AK’s character meet and greets. This is also the home for The Festival of the Lion King show, which inspired the award-winning Broadway musical.
Africa: welcome to Harambe, a beautiful African village that is your path to Kilimanjaro Safari and a ride through African animal territory. Once you descend from your safari vehicle, you exit to the Paganini Forest Exploration Trail for a look at lowland gorillas, including a magnificent 500-lb silverback male and his family. Take your time through these trails-this is one of the few places in the world where you can observe these amazing primates. After, take the little ones to Rafiki’s Planet Watch after, as a reward for their patience-they’ll love the Affection Section petting zoo.
Asia: You’ve discovered the kingdom of Anandapur, which means “place of delight.” The Imagineers did an amazing job of creating the feeling of a crumbling, archeological wonder, so be sure to keep an eye open for intricate details. Of course, that might be hard to do since your whole party will be running to get to Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Disney’s newest thrill ride. FASTPASS it for sure-this coaster is worth your entire visit. On a hot day, head next to Kali River Rapids, where the churning waters guarantee a soaking good time for all. More up-close animal viewing can be had at Maharajah Jungle Trek, including Bengal Tigers.
Dinoland U.S.A.: It might not be the best dinosaur attraction in the world, but it’s still good Disney fun. The Boneyard is a place for kids to dig, climb and slide while parents get some time to sit and watch. Then take the whole family to Dinosaur, a fun, fast-paced race against time. Finally, grab a seat for Finding Nemo-The Musical. This gorgeous, visually-stunning reimagining of the popular film is considered THE must-see show of the entire Walt Disney World Resort.
Our Tips for the WDW Parks
FASTPASS: It’s like making a reservation for your favorite WDW attraction. Just insert your admission ticket, annual pass, or resort ID, and the machine prints out a pass with the time you should return to the ride. You can’t choose your time, and you can only have one active FASTPASS at a time, but that doesn’t matter — on a busy day, it can save you hours of waiting on lines.
A FASTPASS Tip: If you miss your scheduled time, don’t worry. Your FASTPASS is good for any time after the time on your ticket.
Ride while other guests are busy: Mealtimes, parades, and fireworks often take people away from the major attractions. Ride while everyone else is distracted and you may experience far shorter wait times.
Don’t rebuy-refill! WDW has water fountains throughout the park. Bring your own water bottles (the park allows them) and refill throughout the day.
Snack to save time: Snack stands offer quick, light options for meals on the go-remember that a heavy meal is likely to slow you down, especially in hot weather.
The WDW Water Parks
Welcome to the 66-acre ski resort of Mount Gushmore! Blizzard Beach features a white sand beach and a tropical lagoon. This is the youngest of the Disney water parks, but it’s also the most popular; in fact, it’s the most popular water park in the country. It’s got great rides for all ages, from thrills and speed to lazy and relaxing. Here are a few highlights:
Cross Country Creek
Melt Away Bay
Slightly smaller and a bit more relaxed in both theme and thrills than Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon is WDW’s second water park. Crowds tend to be a bit smaller here, since it is the older of the two parks, but you can still expect long waits and crowded pools during high attendance times of year. Typhoon Lagoon’s waters are kept at a warm – but still refreshing – 75-80º F all year round, making this a water park of choice even in Orlando’s short winter.
The story of Typhoon Lagoon centers around Miss Tilly, a shrimp boat that ended up stuck atop volcano Mount Mayday after “the storm of storms.” On the half hour, Miss Tilly still blows her whistle, as Mount Mayday tries to dislodge the ship by sending a geyser of water straight through her and up into the air.
The most well-known attraction at Typhoon Lagoon is probably the Shark Reef. Here, you can snorkel and even scuba with live sharks (leopards and bonnetheads), as well as stingrays and assorted tropical fish. Those visitors not quite brave enough to get in the water (the sharks are not dangerous!) can view the fish via the portholes of a “sunken tanker.”
There are nine waterslides as well, running the gamut from thrills to pure laziness. Here’s the rundown on some of the favorites:
Crush ‘n’ Gusher
Gang Plank Falls
Sports, Shopping, and More
Disney’s Wide World of Sports® Complex
This is Disney’s homage to sports and the people who both play and love them. It’s a 220-acre megacomplex with a baseball stadium, ten baseball and softball fields, six basketball courts, 12 tennis courts (fully lighted), six volleyball courts (sand, of course), a track and field complex, driving range for golfers, and even two indoor roller hockey rinks. The multisport auxiliary Josten Center offers another six basketball courts, 12 more volleyball courts, and two more roller hockey rinks.
Sports fans should know that big names often make appearances here, too. The Atlanta Braves come for Spring Training every March, and the NBA, PGA, NCAA, and Harlem Globetrotters all host events and games here. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also use the Sports Complex as their training camp in July and August.
Call 407-WDW-GAME for more information, including a calendar of events and also ticket information.
This interactive, indoor theme park is the perfect choice for the tech- heads in your group or for the whole family on a rainy day. It features five levels of cutting-edge games, where virtual reality meets adventure, all with a touch of that special Disney pixie dust. Teens will LOVE it, but there is something for everyone. Don’t miss virtual versions of popular MK rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold, Virtual Jungle Cruise, CyberSpace Mountain, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpets.
CyberSpace Mountain is a particular fave, where Bill Nye the Science Guy helps you create the coaster and then lets you ride it-it’s truly a customized ride experience. Artistically-inclined guests should check out Animation Station for a crash-course in Disney-style animation. Get here at opening for the most action with least wait-afternoons and evenings here can become unbearably crowded.
WDW features 99 total holes of golf, spread over six courses. There are also two mini-golf complexes, competing with similar sites all over Orlando. While big golfers in your party might want to plan big outings with their buddies (tee times can be booked 60-90 days in advance), Oak Trail is the best place to get in a quick nine holes. It’s a lovely and quiet walking course suitable for beginners, expert linksmen, or even families. There are some great challenges, notably at holes 5, 6, and 7. Other courses and mini-golf include:
Lake Buena Vista
Fantasia Gardens (mini)
Fantasia Fairways (mini)
Winter Summerland (two mini courses: Winter and Summer)
And remember, spikeless golf shoes only! Sneakers or similar athletic shoes are also permitted.
If shopping, dining, and a state-of-the-art multiplex are part of your dream vacation, this is where you’ll want to spend some time. It’s split into three areas: West Side, Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), and The Marketplace.
West Side has DisneyQuest and amazing dining experiences, such as Bongos Cuban Café, the House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck’s, and Planet Hollywood. There is a 24-screen AMC movie theater, featuring all your first-run needs in a beautiful art deco setting. West Side also features Cirque du Solei La Nouba, a Disney-exclusive show by the world-famous avant-garde troupe. Buy tickets early if you want to see the show – its popularity is nearly unrivaled. And new for 2013 is Splitsville, a two-floor, 30 lane bowling and entertainment complex featuring live music and great dining.
Pleasure Island was once the over-18 center of Downtown Disney, with clubs and restaurants catering to an all-adult crowd. That ended in 2008, and the area has been partially unused since. But things are changing! Disney announced plans in late 2010 to transform Pleasure Island into a brand-new shopping and dining area, Hyperion Wharf. Construction is expected to take three years; some shops and restaurants will remain open during the long renovation, including Raglan Road Irish Pub & Bar, Fuego by Sosa Cigars, Paradiso 37, and Orlando Harley-Davidson.
Disney Marketplace has great restaurants, too, notably Fulton’s Crab House for succulent seafood on a beautiful riverboat. Captain Jack’s (no connection to the Johnny Depp character) is the place for oysters and cold beer, in a casual waterfront restaurant that also has a great childrens menu. Kids will also love the Rainforest Café, where there are often live animals (mostly parrots) on display outside. Marketplace is also home to the World of Disney. No trip is complete without a visit here, though parents trying to stick to a budget might want to corral the kids once they get through the door!
Getting Around The Mouse: Transportation at the Walt Disney World® Resort
Monorail: The Walt Disney Monorail system has been in place since the park opened in 1971. It originally ran around the circumference of the Seven Seas Lagoon but was expanded in 1982 to offer monorail transport to EPCOT. If you are staying in one of the Magic Kingdom hotels
– The Contemporary, The Polynesian, or The Grand Floridian – the monorail goes right through your hotel. Everyone else picks up the monorail at either the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or the Transportation and Ticket Center, known as the TTC.
The TTC is the central point for Disney transportation. In addition to monorails, the TTC is also where you can find Disney (and other area hotel) resort buses, ferry boats, water taxis, and a massive parking lot for cars, taxis, and buses.
Buses: Disney resort buses run to all the Disney hotels, the main parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and the Wide World of Sports. There are dozens of buses for each location, but the routes are not always the most direct. Also, the buses can be extremely crowded at peak periods, such as opening, closing, and meal times. Be aware of time – if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, the buses may not be your best option.
Parking: While the monorails, ferry boats, water taxis, and Disney buses are complimentary, if you prefer to use your own car, the daily parking fee is $14 for cars and motorcycles, and $15 for trailers and campers. Your parking pass is good for the entire day, no matter how often you move your car. Disney Resort Hotel Guests and Annual Pass Holders do not have to pay for parking anywhere in the Walt Disney complex. It is always complimentary.
Fun for all ages
WDW attracts guests of very ages, from families with young children to retirees and spring breakers. Everyone has their own favorites, but if you’re looking for some planning help, here are our picks for the best options for the most common age groups: Kids, Teens and Adults.
Please note the following abbreviations for each park:
MK = Magic Kingdom® Park
EP = Epcot®
DHS = Disney’s Hollywood Studios™
AP = Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Park
Best for Younger Kids
Attractions: Voyage of the Little Mermaid (DHS), Monsters Inc Laugh Floor (MK), Finding Nemo: The Musical (AK), Buzz Lightyear (MK)
Eats: 50 Prime Time Café (DHS), Cosmic Ray’s (MK), Coral Reef Restaurant (EP), Toy Story Pizza Planet (DHS)
Best for Teens
Attractions: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (DHS), Philharmagic (MK), Phantasmic (DHS), Rock n Roller Coaster (DHS), Haunted Mansion (MK), Space Mountain (MK), Splash Mountain (MK), Mission: Space (EP), Expedition Everest (AK)
Restaurants: Pecos Bills (MK), Via Napoli (EP), Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (DHS)
Best for Adults
Attractions: Muppet Vision 3-D (DHS), Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (DHS), Test Track (EP), Soarin’ (EP)
Restaurants: Victoria and Albert’s (Grand Floridian Resort), California Grill (Contemporary Resort), Narcoosees (Grand Floridian Resort), Chefs du France (EP), Jiko (AK Lodge), Rose and Crown (EP), Le Cellier (EP)
We sincerely hoped you enjoyed reading our guide to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Have a great trip!