Planning a Disney World Vacation gets complicated for many because Walt Disney World isn’t just one place. In fact, covering over 40 sq. miles, the Disney World Parks combined is the size of San Francisco. Spanning 4 theme parks, two water parks, 30+ resorts, and a shopping center. As a result, unlike other vacations, this one is more than just buying tickets, booking a hotel and showing up. Luckily, we’re hear to break it down, so that you can understand the layout of Disney World Parks in Orlando Florida, and get a handle on how much time you need to cover it all. Consider this your complete guide to the theme parks in Disney World.
We’re sharing the important rides, and restaurants in each park, so that you can make a plan to do all your favorite things on your next trip to the parks. As one of the major theme parks in Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney World sees about 58 million people a year. With most vacationers planning between 7-10 days per visit, there is so much to do that you typically won’t get it all in. Therefore we always recommend a few tips to help you make the best decisions when it comes to planning your vacation.
- Review the Disney World Event Calendar to check what events, and crowds may look like for the dates of your visit.
- Decide How Many Days for Disney World you’d like to plan. While it’s a huge resort, how long you stay is up to you and based mostly on what you hope to do while you’re there.
- If this feels overwhelming to you, consider using a Disney Travel Agent to help you create your best vacation. Authorized Disney Travel Planners offer their services for FREE and is a great resource, if you’ve never visited before.
Walt Disney World Theme Parks
We’ve said it before, Disney theme parks in Orlando, Florida are multiple places that see millions of visitors a year. Luckily all these places are connected by complimentary Disney Transportation to help get you around Walt Disney World. Here are the places to visit on your trip.
Walt Disney World has four theme parks, each with their own theme, rides, restaurants, and shows.
- Magic Kingdom Park: Home to Cinderella’s Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantasyland. Disney’s most popular park with over 25 attractions.
- EPCOT Park: Walt Disney’s original concept for a community of tomorrow, EPCOT includes the World Showcase, Festivals, Spaceship Earth and areas honoring Nature, Technology, and Celebration.
- Animal Kingdom Park: Home to over 2000 animals, Animal Kingdom includes animal habitat trails, animal shows, Pandora, and rides like Expedition Everest, and Kilimanjaro Safaris.
- Hollywood Studios Park: Disney’s Original MGM Studios park, this park honors old Hollywood, Star Wars and Toy Story. Home to churros, light sabers and the Tower and Terror.
The Water Parks at Disney World are typically open on opposite schedules throughout the year to allow for cleanings and refurbishments. The Water Parks at Disney require an additional ticket.
- Typhoon Lagoon: This Disney Water Park is themed as a tropical oasis with a lazy river, surf pool and water slides. However, it’s been hit by a “typhoon”, causing a bit of chaos.
- Blizzard Beach: Featuring a Santa Claus on vacation storyline, you can find “snow” at Blizzard Beach, a snow monster and even the snowgies from Frozen.
Other Places at Disney World
These places at Disney are open to the public and do not require a park ticket to visit.
- Disney Springs: The shopping center at Disney Springs includes stores, restaurants, and live music. It’s also home to the Splitsville bowling alley, a Movie Theater and the Cirque de Soleil show.
- Disney’s BoardWalk: The Boardwalk includes a variety of restaurants, beaches, and recreation. It’s also home to 3 Disney Resorts; Disney’s Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Disney’s Boardwalk Inn.
Magic Kingdom Park
Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando is home to Cinderella’s Castle and opened in 1971. By far the most famous of the Walt Disney World parks, it is, however, also the smallest. Magic Kingdom includes Main Street U.S.A. inspired by Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, and popular classic attractions like It’s a Small World, and Pirates of the Caribbean. This Park consists of six themed lands combining everything old, with everything new. Featuring classic rides like the Mad Hatter Tea Party in Fantasyland alongside the newer attractions like TRON LightCycle Power Run in Tomorrowland. Magic Kingdom has the most rides of any Walt Disney World Park and even though it’s the smallest will take the longest to get through get everything offered here.
Magic Kingdom Resorts
The Disney World Magic Kingdom theme park is near several resorts that get you close to the action. If you’re looking for hotels near Magic Kingdom, you have a couple of options. Easy transportation via the Monorail allows for easy access to and from the park from the Disney Monorail Resorts. These resorts include Disney’s Contemporary Resort, The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, and the Polynesian Village Resort.
You can also grab a boat from Magic Kingdom to the nearby Wilderness resorts. Both Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort are a quick boat ride to the park, and offer a nature filled alternative to a typical Disney hotel experience.
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
Magic Kingdom Restaurants
Magic Kingdom is filled with restaurants. Unfortunately, restaurants at Magic Kingdom are not usually the best, and we always recommend heading to the Monorail Resort restaurants instead. However, if you’re planning to stay in the park to eat, we suggest Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, and The Crystal Palace. Home to Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest, these are some of the hardest to get Disney Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World. They are also some of the most expensive, and we don’t feel they’re worth the cost.
If you’re looking for something easy and cheaper, you can check out the Best Quick Service Restaurants at Magic Kingdom. Again, the theme park food at Magic Kingdom is not the best, so we try to stick to things that are simple. Pinocchio’s Village Haus has flatbreads, and Friar’s Nook has great potato barrel Bowls.
Magic Kingdom Rides List
Of all the parks, you most need Disney Genie+ for Magic Kingdom because there are so many rides. And waiting in line for rides throughout the day is near impossible when crowds are typically the worst at this park. Popular Rides at Magic Kingdom include the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain. The newest ride at Magic Kingdom, TRON, requires a Lightning Lane or Virtual Queue Board Pass. Check out the Magic Kingdom Park List of Attractions Checklist for all the rides to plan for!
Magic Kingdom Disney Characters
Mickey Mouse, Tinkerbell, and Disney Princesses are all available to meet at Magic Kingdom. These Disney Character Meet and Greets don’t typically have the longest lines, but if they are a priority for you, be sure to plan for them! You can also catch Donald and Daisy, Winnie the Pooh and more Disney favorites in this park. Lines are lowest for characters in the morning and between 2-4 PM. Check out the list for where to find Disney Characters in Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom Shows and Parades
Magic Kingdom is famous for its Festival of Fantasy Parade and the fireworks show, Happily Ever After. Both are Disney Must Dos at Magic Kingdom, and you should plan for it! This means a 3pm parade in the park, and an 8 or 9pm Fireworks Show to stay for in the evening. Be sure to check the My Disney Experience App, for showtimes.
Magic Kingdom Events
Best known for it’s seasonal events, you can attend parties at Magic Kingdom and Disney After Hours events. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in December are very popular and an excellent way to take advantage of rides with fewer guests in the park, exclusive snacks, and seasonal fun!
EPCOT combines the worlds of technology, nature, and culture, bringing life to Walt Disney’s original idea of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. While his original idea included self-driving cars, solar-powered homes and an international marketplace, the current version of the park is changing with times. As a result, EPCOT is in the midst of several construction projects beginning to complete. Grounded in an overarching goal of creating four neighborhoods within EPCOT these themed areas further solidify the desired look and feel of each experiential land.
These four neighborhoods are World Celebration, acting as the central spine of the park, World Nature showcasing everything on the land and sea that makes up our human experience, World Discovery, featuring technology and space with a focus on innovation and World Showcase comprised of multiple countries sharing cultural experiences in each pavilion. From engineering your own vehicle at Test Track to strolling through nature in the Moana’s Journey of Water attraction, there are many things to explore in EPCOT.
EPCOT Area Resorts
Resorts near EPCOT Park can be found in the Disney Boardwalk Area. Disney’s Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Boardwalk Inn are all within walking distance of the park. You can also find Disney Marriott Hotels in the EPCOT area, giving you even more options of places to stay. Disney’s Swan, Swan Reserve and Dolphin are also other hotels near EPCOT if you’re looking to stay close by. Other resorts included in this area are Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney’s Riviera Resort, both accessible via the Disney Skyliner, with a station at the EPCOT International Gateway.
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
Restaurants at EPCOT combine a lot of different cuisines, as a result of the World Showcase. Home to signature dining experiences at Monsieur Paul and Le Cellier, you don’t have to spend a fortune for a good meal. We most like Via Napoli for the pizza, La Cantina de San Angel for the empanadas, and Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie for everything else. You can also see all the Disney Princesses at once for character dining at Akershus in Norway. Many of the restaurants here are good and you can find even more Quick Service Restaurants at EPCOT that are budget friendly.
EPCOT Rides List
Most known for Spaceship Earth at the entrance of the park, there are many popular rides in EPCOT worth riding. Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Soarin’ are favorites, and usually require a ride strategy or lightning lane pass if you’re hoping to stay out of long lines. Favorites like Test Track, and Living with the Land are also here. Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind is a thrill rollercoaster that brings back to the past, with fun music. It does require a Virtual Queue Boarding Pass to snag a place in line or a Lightning Lane Pass if you’re hoping for a shorter wait. Check out the EPCOT Park Checklist for details on all the rides.
EPCOT Disney Characters
Characters in EPCOT include Snow White in Germany, Aurora and Belle in France, Mulan in China, and Donald Duck in Mexico, among other. With more characters than you realize be sure to check out the list of EPCOT characters to make sure you have your favorites on the list.
EPCOT Shows and Parades
EPCOT doesn’t have parades, but they do have a nighttime spectacular called, Luminous. Luminous combines music, pyrotechnics and fireworks for a nightly show featuring familiar Disney music and a message about our shared humanity. You can see this show nightly, for a dazzling display on the World Showcase Lagoon. Truly an amazing fireworks show you can even see it from the beaches of the Boardwalk and nearby hotels.
Walt Disney World hosts 4 festivals at EPCOT park annually. Each festival has it’s own theme, specialty foods, shows, performances and merchandise. Here are the festivals you can see every year at Epcot. First, the International Festival of the Arts happens from January through mid-February. Second, the Flower and Garden Festival takes place from March through mid-June. Third, you can visit the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival late July- November. And Fourth, the International Festival of Holidays in December. Check out all the details on each festival at EPCOT.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom covers 500 acres of landscape comprised of six areas featuring unique cultures, wilderness, and over 2000 animals. The Oasis and Discovery Island features lush landscapes, shops, and the Tree of Life as the centerpiece of the park. Bringing the lands of Africa and Asia to the forefront, Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers winding paths through the Maharajah Jungle Trek, and the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. DinoLand U.S.A features the world of the past, while Pandora World of Avatar brings guests 4.4 million lightyears away. Here you’ll find Walt Disney World’s most popular ride, Avatar Flight of Passage.
Animal Kingdom Area Resorts
If you’re heading to Animal Kingdom, know that this area of the Disney World Parks, is somewhat remote. Still, there are 5 Disney Resorts in the Animal Kingdom Resorts Area. While none of them are within walking distance, and you can only travel to Animal Kingdom by Bus, here are the Animal Kingdom resorts to know. The Disney All-Stars Resorts; including All Star Music, Movies and Sports are nearby. As are Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. These resorts only offer Disney Bus transportation, but if you’re hoping to finding somewhere close to Animal Kingdom to stay, then it’s typically a 10-15 minute bus ride from these resorts.
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Animal Kingdom Restaurants
Offering a variety of unique cuisine, hailing from Africa, Asia and even Pandora, the food at Animal Kingdom is unique and flavorful. The Tusker House Restaurant offers character dining with Mickey and Friends in their Safari Gear, and Nomad Lounge serves some of the best drinks and appetizers to be had in the park. If you’re looking for the Best Quick Service Restaurants at Animal Kingdom, then Satu’li Canteen offers delicious power bowls to keep you going through the day. Animal Kingdom is also great for specialties like dumplings at Mr. Kamals, and Pineapple Dole Whip Cake from Tamu Tamu.
Animal Kingdom Rides List
The most popular ride at Animal Kingdom is Pandora’s Flight of Passage. This flight simulator ride has consistently long waits, typically about 1-2 hours long. As a result this is an ideal ride to grab a Lightning Lane Pass for, or to rope drop as soon as the park opens. Due to Animal Kingdom’s shorter hours, there is less time to ride rides. However, there are a few main ones you should be sure to have on your Animal Kingdom Must do list. Kilimanjaro Safaris takes you across the savanna so you can see the animals and is a must see for many at the park. Expedition Everest gets you face to face with a Yeti, and Dinosaur is a must do for anyone eager to outrun a T-Rex, courtesy of a rickety old jeep. Get a full list of Animal Kingdom Rides in the Checklist.
Animal Kingdom Disney Characters
Some of the most unique Disney characters can be found at Animal Kingdom Park. Moana, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Russell and Dug, and Kevin from UP! are all available for meet and greets throughout the year. Plus, you can also see Donald Duck, Launchpad McQuack and even meet Mickey and Minnie in their Adventurer outfits. Animal Kingdom characters can also be seen in flotilla boats sailing along the discovery River throughout the day. A fun treat if you’re not up for standing in line to see them close up. Check out all the Disney Characters at Animal Kingdom you can see on your next visit.
Animal Kingdom Shows and Parades
Due to Animal Kingdom’s early closing, usually by 6pm there aren’t typically nighttime spectaculars, like the other parks. However, on nights when they are open later you can watch the Tree of Life Awakenings Show, which also offers a holiday version during December. Throughout the daytime hours, Animal Kingdom does not offer parades, but does include a steady stream of Disney Character Flotillas that sail Discovery River. Check the My Disney Experience App for showtimes. You can generally see up to 5 different character floats in a day.
Animal Kingdom Events
Disney After Hours Events are sometimes offered at Animal Kingdom throughout the year on select dates. Giving guests the chance to see Pandora at Night, and take advantage of a nighttime safari on the savanna. You can check the Disney Website and the app for times when specialty events are available. Note, that they are in addition to your park ticket, so plan to budget extra if you’re hoping to snag a spot at a late night event.
Hollywood Studios has had many names over the years, but the focus of honoring cinema has stayed the same. Featuring some of Disney’s most popular film franchises like Toy Story, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the Muppets, Hollywood Studios has rides and experiences perfect for both kids and adults. Home to popular rides like Slinky Dog Dash, Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Hollywood Studios offers a variety of fun for everyone in the family.
Hollywood Studios Area Resorts
Nearer to EPCOT Park than you realize, and actually connected by a walking path from EPCOT to Hollywood Studios, the Hollywood Studios Resort Area includes the EPCOT resort area as well. As a result, all of the BoardWalk Resorts are within walking distance of Hollywood Studios. In addition, there are a few other resorts connected to Hollywood Studios via the Disney Skyliner. These Skyliner Resorts include Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, the Riviera Resort, Art of Animation and Pop Century. As Skyliner resorts guests staying at any of these 4 locations can take the skyliner to both EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
- Swan Hotel
- Dolphin Hotel
Hollywood Studios Restaurants
Dining at Hollywood Studios is much like it is at Magic Kingdom, somewhat sub-par. While Woody’s Lunch Box over in Toy Story Land is fantastic for a quick lunch, and the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge is wonderful for an upscale meal, other options inside the park are basic theme park fare. The exception my be the Ronto Wraps over at Ronto Roasters, which are a must-try Disney Snack. You can check out our Best Quick Service Restaurants at Hollywood Studios to make sure you’re only picking the best ones.
Hollywood Studios Rides List
Home to Rise of the Resistance, Mickeys Runaway Railway and Slinky Dog Dash, there are plenty of rides here that are popular and fun. Though lines do tend to be long, if you plan the busiest rides in the morning, you’ll be able to fit indoor rides, like Star Tours, and Toy Story Mania, in during the hot afternoon hours. And don’t overlook the shows; Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular, and Muppets 3-D are all fun additions to your Hollywood Studios Day. check out the List of Attractions at Hollywood Studios for everything to see and do while you’re there.
Hollywood Studios Disney Characters
The main characters to see at Hollywood Studios include the Pixar Pals, Star Wars characters, and Woody, Buzz and Jessie in Toy Story Land. You can also see Mickey and Minnie at Red Carpet Dreams, if you’re looking for a Hollywood version of your favorite power couple.
Hollywood Studios Shows and Parades
While Hollywood Studios doesn’t typically have parades, you can sometimes see cavalcades, or motorcades throughout the park. You can also catch the Green Army Men and Stormtrooper March performances that are shown intermittently throughout the day.
The main shows at Hollywood Studios are Fantasmic and Wonderful World of Animation. Fantasmic is show that takes place at the outdoor theater, complete with moat, pyrotechnics, fireworks, and storytelling as Mickey and the Disney Villains have a showdown. The Wonderful World of Animation show takes place on the facade of the Chinese Theater. Featuring memorable Disney scenes and songs, this is an honor to the animation of Disney.
Hollywood Studios Events
Events at Disney’s Hollywood Studios often include Disney After Hours, on select nights throughout the year. And during the holidays, you can catch Jollywood Nights, which is a holiday party after hours in parks. Both require additional tickets and get you access to the park after closing.
Disney World Parks Guide
Hopefully this post has helped you get a handle on all the Disney World Parks to visit while you’re in Orlando Florida. If you looking for even more to do, be sure to check out the Disney Water Parks. In addition, visiting the Disney BoardWalk, and Disney Springs to your trip are also free and worth your time!
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.