Walt Disney World opened on 1st October 1971 and today it is the most visited vacation resort in the world. The resort is similar in size to San Francisco and over 52 million guests visit annually.
Walt Disney World has eighteen themed resort hotels, ten Disney vacation Club Resorts, nine non–Disney hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, several golf courses, a camping resort and various other entertainment venues. There is clearly a lot for any beginner to get their head around.
Visits to Walt Disney World do take a little planning to make the most out of your vacation. Our guide Walt Disney World for Beginners will give you a helping hand if you are either a first time or repeat visitor.
Did you know that Walt Disney World has more than 200 restaurants, more than any other single-site vacation destination in the world?
Also did you know that over 10 million hamburgers & 1.5 million turkey legs are consumed at Disney World each year?
Walt Disney World is the most visited vacation resort in the world and unsurprisingly it has a lot of history and some fascinating statistics. Click this link to see some of our favourite Walt Disney World facts.
Planning your visit to Walt Disney World is an essential activity. The resort is massive and planning your trip can initially feel overwhelming.
Walt Disney World Resort includes 4 Theme Parks, 2 Water Parks, a multitude of dining spots, recreation and other fun things. Ensuring you don’t miss those must-do attractions can feel an impossible task.
However, with a bit of research and careful planning you can soon create the perfect vacation. Plus the planning can become one of the best parts of your vacation.
To get the most from your vacation it is essential you understand Fastpass+ & how to make Advanced Dining Reservations. Prior to making your plan make sure you know how both work.
Launched officially in 2014 Fastpass+ is Disney’s attraction reservation system. Fastpass+ allows you to book attractions in advance of your arrival at Walt Disney World .
Your reservation allows you to join a much shorter queue so you can experience the ride quicker. If you don’t use Fastpass+ you will spend a longer period in standby queues. In busy periods this will mean you will experience fewer attractions.
To use Fastpass+ before you visit you must have either:
Guests who are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort(including Swan & Dolphin plus select Disney Springs Hotels) can book 60 days in advance plus the number of days of their stay.
Other ticket holders have a shorter 30 day reservation window. This does mean guests staying at a Disney Resort do have an early advantage and those staying outside need to be well organised at 30 days.
Disney Advanced Dining Reservations are restaurant reservations made in advance at the majority of Disney Table Service Restaurants. Disney restaurants do fill up and standby lines, if they exist, can be long. An Advanced Dining Reservation can make sure you get into your favorite restaurants and quickly.
All guests can book reservations for Disney restaurants 180 days in advance. Disney resort guests can reserve 180 days in advance of their day of arrival and make up to 10 days of Advance Dining Reservations that same day.
Read more about Fastpass+ & Advanced Dining Reservations here.
When planning your vacation to Walt Disney World what the weather will be like is likely be something you have considered. Orlando enjoys year round sunny weather but some months are very hot & also very wet.
The coolest month is January but even then you will enjoy an average temperature of 70°F(21°C). Summer months are very hot and humid with thunder storms on around half of the days. July is the warmest month and you can expect a temperature of up to 91°F((33°C).
The Atlantic Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 each year and continues through November 30th. The majority of hurricanes are in August & September. It is unusual for hurricanes to ruin your vacation but occasionally it can happen including in 2017.
Want to avoid crowds on your vacation?
Disney World is busy!
On occasions it is very, very busy!!!
Walt Disney World will be busy during most periods of the year. However; it is busiest in Summer Months, Easter, Thanksgiving, New Year, Independence Day & Christmas.
There are lots of websites telling you how to avoid the crowds but our experience is they often tell you different answers and overall Disney World seems to be getting busier. Events such as the Food & Wine Festival now drag people to the parks during traditionally quiet periods.
Bigger crowds do mean longer opening hours but longer waits. This does not mean you shouldn’t go especially if annual leave means you can’t go in quieter times. In our opinion you will have a great time no matter when you go!
Our advice to avoid the crowds:-
We all make mistakes and there are plenty of Disney World Mistakes you can make. Thankfully most Disney World Mistakes are unlikely to ruin you vacation. If they do happen adjust your plans and continue to have a great vacation.
Here are our Top 20 Disney World Mistakes to Avoid so you have a great vacation.
Here is a collection of tips to help you plan the perfect Walt Disney World vacation.
Why not put a few extra park hours into your Disney World Plan? Wouldn’t it be even better if there was less guests?
Guests of select Walt Disney World Resort Hotels can enjoy extra time in the parks each day. Extra Magic Hours occur either before parks open or after they close to regular guests.
However; remember there are 30000 hotel rooms in WDW so that is a lot of people who can attend. Extra Magic Hours can be very busy and will often significantly increase the numbers visiting. Non Disney Resort guests can be greeted with a full park at 10 a.m..
If you are not staying in a Disney Resort in our opinion you should avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours. Even guest staring at a Disney Resort might want to consider avoiding.
Click here to learn more about Extra Magic Hours.
Happy to ride on your own? Can’t get a Fastpass? Then the Single Rider Line at a limited number of attractions could save you considerable time. As long as you are happy riding on your own when a gap becomes available a cast member will fill it with a single rider.
Walt Disney World has not embraced this as much as other theme parks e.g. Universal Orlando. Currently it is only available for Test Track, Expedition Everest & Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. To learn more click here.
My Disney Experience is your guide to Walt Disney World and essential for planning your vacation. You can:
You can use My Disney Experience on the Walt Disney World website but the true magic comes through the app.
Filled with handy features the app lets you view and update your plans, make dining reservations, search maps of all 4 theme parks, get real-time attraction wait times and more. Plus with free WiFi now available throughout Walt Disney World you can access this information anywhere.
You can find details on how to download the app here.
There are 4 theme parks in Walt Disney World each with their own unique ambience. All 4 theme parks are large and usually take a minimum of 2 days to complete. Guide maps & show times are available at the entrance to all parks. If you download the My Disney Experience App on your smart phone you can also access this information anywhere. When planning make sure you include time for parades, shows plus meal breaks.
The Magic Kingdom was the very first theme park to open in Walt Disney World on the 1st October 1971. Today it is the most popular theme park in the World. It often attracts large crowds and has a maximum capacity of 100,000 which is often reached on National Holidays. The parks icon is the blue & gold turreted Cinderella Castle which rises 189 feet above the park’s 142 acres.
Its layout and attractions are based on Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. The park is dedicated to fairy tales and Disney characters.
Read more in our guide Magic Kingdom for Beginners.
Epcot opened on October 1st 1982. It covers 300 acres and is more than twice the size of Magic Kingdom. It was the 2nd Theme Park to open in Walt Disney World. The park is represented by Spaceship Earth, a giant sphere that also serves as an attraction of the same name.
Epcot is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement and is split into 2 sections Future World & World Showcase. It is often described as a permanent World Fair.
Read more in our Beginners Guide to Epcot.
Dedicated to show business the park opened on the 1 May 1989. The theme park was launched by Disney in response to Universal Studios opening in Orlando. Previously the park’s icons have been the Earful Tower & the Sorcerer’s hat but now the park is without an official icon.
Until 2008 the park was officially known as Disney-MGM Studios. 10.8 Million guests visited the park in 2015 making it the eighth most-visited theme park in the world.
Read more in our Beginners Guide to Hollywood Studios.
Animal Kingdom was the 4th park to open at Walt Disney World on April 22, 1998. It is the largest park in Walt Disney World covering more than 400 acres. 10.9 million guests visited the park in 2015 making it the 4th most visited park in the United States.
The park’s icon is The Tree of Life a 145 foot tree sculpture. Animal Kingdom is dedicated to a kingdom of real, ancient and imagined animals. In total there are around 2000 animals representing 300 species.
Read more in our Beginners Guide to Animal Kingdom.
There are 2 water parks in Walt Disney World.
During winter periods just 1 water park remains open with the other undergoing maintenance.
There are 2 main entertainment districts to discover Disney Springs & Disney’s Boardwalk.
The story of Disney Springs begins at our new Town Center, which is oriented around a series of bubbling natural springs that first attracted settlers to the area. From there, the town grew to encompass three additional neighbourhoods.
Previously known as Downtown Disney the conversion to Disney Springs was completed in Spring 2016. Originally opening in 1975 Disney Springs now consists of over 150 stores, restaurants and entertainment locations.
Disney Springs is split into several neighbourhoods each with a distinct feel. The neighbourhoods are:
Disney Springs is open everyday and has no admission fee and includes free parking. There is a preferred parking area that currently costs $10.
Bus transportation is available from all Walt Disney World resorts. There are water-taxis running to Disney Springs from Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, Old Key West & Saratoga Springs Resorts.
The Boardwalk is a smaller dining and entertainment complex which is also the home of the Boardwalk Inn & Villas. The Boardwalk is a quarter-mile promenade containing dining, shopping and nightlife options. It is designed to look like a Mid-Atlantic seaside village from the early 1900s
Walt Disney World is the home to 3 Championship Golf Courses and a smaller 9 hole walking course. To learn more about Disney World golf click here.
There are also 2 themed miniature golf complexes called Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. Each complex has 2 separate courses.
With over 30,000 hotel rooms; 3,000 Disney Vacation Club units & 799 campsites the accommodation options in Walt Disney World are numerous. Disney World Resorts provide unique theming, accommodation to suit a range of budgets & the opportunity to stay in the middle of the action.
If you are visiting Walt Disney World nothing beats being in the heart of the action by staying in a Disney World Resort. In addition guests staying at Disney owned resorts get a number of perks including:
However; there are cheaper options by staying in some of the many hotels & villas located throughout the Orlando area. Although the closeness and the added extras make Disney World Resorts a popular option for many guests.
To learn more about Walt Disney World Resorts click here.
Getting around Disney World without a car is easy. Disney has its own fantastic internal travel network. From buses, monorail & ferries you will be transported across Disney World for free. Services are regular and reliable.
However; it does take a little longer than driving so remember to leave plenty of time if you have made dining or fastpass reservations.
It is also worth remembering that direct routes are not available to all locations. To travel to another resort you will usually have to change at either a Theme Park or Disney Springs.
To read more about Orlando transport options click here.
Getting from Orlando International Airport without a car to Disney World Resorts is a breeze via Disney’s Magical Express.
Once you are through immigration and baggage claim follow the signs to Disney’s Magical Express which is located on Side B Level 1. You will need to quickly register at the check-in desk and you will then be transported; usually after a short wait; to your Disney Resort for free.
If you are returning to Orlando International Airport at the end of your vacation the day before check-out a Transportation Notice will be delivered to your room. You will need to bring with you this notice to board your coach.
MagicBands are now a key part of many guest’s Disney World Vacation. This rubber bracelet acts as your park tickets, your room key, your room charge card, your Fastpasses are linked with them, they store your photographs, manage your dining reservations and your Disney Dining Plan. A built-in Radio Frequency Identification Chip provides the technical stuff.
If you are staying in a Disney Resort you get a MagicBand free. In advance you can pick your colour on the Disney website. These will be shipped to your home address in the US only or can be picked up from your resort reception.
Other guests can buy a band in advance or in the parks. Whilst you can still use a traditional ticket for you park entry and Fastpass+ you will miss out on the extra interactions if you don’t have a MagicBand.
Disney Photo pass allows guests to buy photographs taken by photographers throughout the park. Your Photo Pass pictures can be accessed through the My Disney Experience App. Purchases can be made online or at theme parks.
Guests will be given a card by a photographer which can then be scanned after each photograph is taken. Guest with Magic Bands can have these scanned and not carry a separate card.
Memory Maker is a package which allows you to download and keep all the pictures you have taken in a 30 day window including ride photographs. Memory Maker is cheaper to buy before you arrive and is often included as an extra in Disney World resort bookings.
From snack carts to quick service counters to Character Meals to table service to some of the top restaurants in the United States there is an almost limitless list of dining options in Walt Disney World which are bound to suit every budget.
Guest who might think that Disney World is all about burgers and fast food will be surprised by the options available. However; if you want a burger Disney World does serve over 15 million a year.
The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan offered at Walt Disney World for those staying in Disney owned resort hotels. Meals are added to your Magic Band or Card and you present your card to pay for your meal.
The plan must be booked before arrival with a valid park ticket and is not available to guests not staying in a Disney resort. It is also open to Disney Vacation Club members.
On occasions Disney offer free dining packages to guests as part of their reservation.
To learn more about the Disney Dining Plan click here.
Walt Disney World is one of the best places to visit if you have food allergies or intolerances. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is the recipient of a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) Award. The award was given for their dedication in proving a safe and enjoyable dining experience. Having visited Disney World several times with my daughter who has lactose intolerance we have seen the commitment from staff to offer a safe dining experience.
To learn more click here.
Character Meals are located throughout Walt Disney World. They are offered at each theme park plus at several resorts. Whether it is Mickey Mouse, a Disney Princess or Winnie the Pooh there is likely to be a character meal where you can meet your favourite character.
Whilst they often don’t offer the best food character meals are always great fun. They also offer the opportunity to meet some of the most popular characters without the queues you will meet in the Theme Parks.
To learn more about character meals click here.
Over coming months we will be creating an expanded section on Disney World Dining. Please keep checking back.
Love them or hate them if you have young children; & perhaps if you don’t; you are going to spend a bit of time seeking them. Fastpass Plus & Character Meals can significantly cut the amount of time waiting to see your favourite character but waiting on occasions is unavoidable.
Character meets in Walt Disney World are now very organised affairs. Today it is unusual to find unexpected characters just wandering around a park. Many of the biggest character meets can now be reserved in advance using Fastpass.
The My Disney Experience App or the time guide; available at the entrance; will tell you where you can meet your favourite character. Guest relations or any Cast member will help if you are struggling to find your idol.
Whilst most Character Meets are well advertised a few still occur which will not show on your park guide. Character Palooza is an unpublished character meet and greet that occurs on any day that Hollywood Studios holds performances of Fantasmic here you will find between 5-10 rare characters.
Throughout 2018 there will be regular Special Events & Festivities at Walt Disney World. These special events help make a Disney Vacation extra special and magical.
3 festivals will make their annual return to Epcot in 2018:
Over in Magic Kingdom we will see the return of the annual parties:
Both these parties have an extra admission cost but are a great opportunity to experiences rides with little wait, meet rare characters and see special entertainment.
Here is a link to some of the special events held in earlier years.
The big 2018 event is the opening of Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios. However, there are a selection of other new attractions and facilities opening. To find out more click here.
We will be further expanding this guide in coming months adding new content.
Please keep checking back and let us know of anything you would like to see included in this guide, any errors we have made or any questions you might have.
You might find the following articles useful to continue your planning:
Plus are you planning to Visit Universal Orlando? Here are our Top Tips.
Happy vacation planning!