In the second of our Disney travel guides (catch up on our Disneyland Paris guide here), we give you all the juice on what you need to know when planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Back again with her endless knowledge is Travel Counsellor Tina Hopkins to share all the insider tips you need for a Disney experience of your dreams.
Walt Disney World covers an area nearly 40 miles square in Florida, USA. Many families look forward to a holiday in there, but with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Disney Springs AND the choice of over 25 resort hotels where do you start?
The Magic Kingdom
In the middle of six lands stands the magnificent Cinderella’s Castle. There really is something for everyone in this theme park. Little ones can happily spend the day in Fantasyland; with many rides having no height requirement the whole family can enjoy them! For those looking for more of a thrill, there are the three mountains; Space, Splash and Big Thunder.
Walt Disney himself imagined EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Here you can explore The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Or design your own car and take it for a test drive at Test Track. Then take a stroll around the world, or World Showcase at least; travelling through 11 countries sampling their culture and cuisine.
Experience the glamour of old Hollywood OR drop 13 stories in Tower of Terror OR do both! Have you got a Star Wars fan in your party? Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge has just opened and is Disney’s most immersive theming yet.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Ever wanted to go on safari? Or how about travelling back in time to get up close and personal with a dinosaur? Animal Kingdom has it all! Finding Nemo – the musical will take your breath away and The Festival of the Lion King will have you singing all day long.
Disney Water Parks
There are two water parks at Disney World. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon is a tropical playground with one of the biggest inland wave pools. You can even book to take a surfing lesson! The second is Blizzard Beach- the story goes that a freak snowstorm hit Florida and Blizzard Beach was formed from the melting snow.
Disney’s shopping, dining and entertainment district with many world-famous chef’s restaurants. If you need to do a little souvenir shopping visit the world’s largest Disney Store here too.
Beyond the Parks
Make time to explore beyond the parks. Disney World is home to three miniature golf courses, as well as three championship golf courses. You can also take carriage rides, hire a boat to explore the waterways, or take one of the tours offered at the theme parks or resorts.
Top Tip: To make the most of your time in the parks use Fastpass+, it’s a way to skip the queue on your favourite rides by booking an hour slot up to 6o days before your visit. If you have a young family, but still love the big rides – use the rider switch service. Fastpass+ and Rider Switch are available at all 4 theme parks and are included in theme park admission.
This Sounds Great! How do I get there?
Visiting from UK the only viable option is to fly. Flights operate many times daily into Orlando International Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport.
Top Tip: When you’re looking for flights, be sure to check whether they fly into Orlando International or Sanford International Airport as Sanford is an hour away from Kissimmee area.
When is the best time to visit?
Florida is known as the sunshine state and it does get very warm. September heralds the beginning of the hurricane season, but you can expect short sharp downpours if you visit in August. Don’t let that put you off though, the showers don’t usually last long and they do cool you down. In short, any time of year is a suitable time to visit! Undoubtedly travelling in the school holidays will mean the parks are busier, but with good planning that won’t stop you having a memorable holiday.
Top Tip: If you’re planning to visit in our Summer holidays, go later in August as American schools start back around the third week in August.
What’s new and upcoming?
2021 sees the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World and Disney are celebrating with a bang! There promises to be tonnes of new attractions, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, TRON Lightcycle Power Run, to name but a few.
Don’t let the sound of construction put you off for a 2020 visit though. New rides, lands and shows are already open such as Star Wars- Galaxy’s Edge or are going to open soon, like Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway or the night-time show EPCOT Forever.
As Walt himself once said about Disneyland “it will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. It is something that will never be finished” and this is definitely a value that Disney World have upheld.
Where should I stay?
With over 25 resort hotels in Disney World, the choice is huge – how do you choose which one is best for your holiday? Hotels fall into one of four categories: –
- Value Resorts: Offering great value but losing nothing of the Disney Magic, all rooms can comfortably accommodate a family of 4. There are also suites at the Art of Animation Resort suitable for families of 5 or 6. All the hotels feature Disney themed rooms, offer counter service food courts and having swimming pools
- Moderate resorts: They have all the amenities available at the value resorts plus guest rooms are slightly larger, there are table service restaurants, slides at all the main pools and more recreational activities ranging from fishing to mermaid experiences. Did you know you can even stay in a cabin in the wilderness in central Florida?
- Deluxe Resorts: If you prefer a more luxurious stay, with added extras such as concierge services, then a deluxe resort will offer exactly what you’re looking for. The theming is immersive and ranges from Victorian elegance at the Grand Floridian to the tropical islands of the Polynesian. Most deluxe level rooms offer balconies and larger rooms than at the moderate resorts. They’re often conveniently located close to one of the theme parks.
- Deluxe Villa Resorts: Great for larger groups or families, with the added benefit of self -catering facilities with fully equipped kitchens or kitchenettes.
Top Tip: Staying at a Walt Disney World resort offers a range of benefits: –
- Disney World has an extensive travel network to get you around, so there’s no need to hire a car. There are buses, boats, monorail, Skyliner and even ‘Minnie Vans’. Disney also offers airport transfers on the Magical Express to and from Orlando International Airport.
- As a Walt Disney World resort guest, you’ll be able to make your dining reservations and Fastpass+ selections earlier than day guests.
- Each day a different park will open earlier or stay open later just for resort guests. These are called ‘Extra Magic Hours’.
- Each guest will each receive their own MagicBand included in the price of their hotel stay. This will be your theme park ticket, hotel room key and store all your Fastpass+ reservations.
I’m Starving, let’s eat!
With over 100 venues in Disney World you won’t go hungry. There’s everything from self-service, buffet and table service restaurants to suit all budgets.
Exclusively available for guests at Disney Resort Hotels, there are three Disney Dining Plans available:
- Disney Quick Service Dining Plan: In addition to one refillable resort mug for their stay, each person is entitled to 2 self -service meals with one alcoholic or soft drink per meal and 2 snacks per night’s stay. Available in over 50 locations.
- Disney Dining Plan: In addition to one refillable resort mug for their stay, each person is entitled to 1 counter service meal and 1 waiter service meal each with one alcoholic or soft drink per meal and 2 snacks per night’s stay. Available in over 100 locations.
- Disney Deluxe Dining Plan: In addition to one refillable resort mug for their stay, each person is entitled to 3 self or waiter service meals each with one alcoholic or soft drink per meal and 2 snacks per night’s stay. Available in over 100 locations.
Dining credits are all loaded onto your MagicBands at check-in. Each time you buy meals and/or snacks you’ll be given a receipt with your outstanding balance. They’re so flexible you can use them for multiple snacks/meals in one day until they’re used up.
Top Tip: Book ahead of time to ensure your choice of restaurant and time are available. As a Disney resort guest, you can book your table service meals up to 180 days in advance – the popular restaurants fill up quickly.
- Be sure to watch the Disney daytime parade and the evening fireworks at least once during your visit. Timings vary according to the time of year, so check them out prior to your visit.
- Get up close and personal with the Disney characters who can be found throughout the theme parks and water parks. Character meals are a great way to meet your favourite character without having to wait in line.
- Don’t let travelling with small children put you off. Children under three years of age are Mickey’s special guests and are free to enter the parks, eat for free at all buffet restaurants and can eat off a parent’s plate at other table service locations. Disney also has Baby Care Centres located in each park with everything you will need to look after a little one.
So there you have it – you now have everything you need to plan your Disney World vacation like a pro! Are you hoping to visit Disney World soon? Do share in a comment below.
Picture credits: blazerowner Symphony in the Stars with Sorcerer Mickey via photopin (license), photo credit: rocket2722 SSE & Yellow via photopin (license), CL Photographs From Behind Cinderella’s Castle via photopin (license), hecpara “You must take your place in the Circle of Life” (Lion King wing at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort) via photopin (license)