Cinderella castle at the end of main street usa
Amusement parks,  USA

Disney World Orlando Florida: Basic Guide for First-time Visitors

Disney World Orlando Florida is what dreams are made of. Disney World is large and can be overwhelming, especially for first time visitors. When coming with the right knowledge and a bit of a plan, it can be lots of fun and you will have a fabulous time.

We visited in October 2014, a road trip with a toddler, and returned in July 2015. Both times we visited with our son, he was 4 and 5 years old on the visits. He loves it, whenever he talks about returning to Disney, he’s talking about Disney World. He says: ‘Mom, I want to go to Disney, the one we have to fly to, not the one we drive to’. The one we can drive to is Disneyland Paris, about 6 hours away from our home.

This blog is about the pre-pandemic times, with up to date info. If you want to know more about the measures in place right now, visit the Disney site.

Some Facts about Disney World Orlando Florida

Disney World is in Orlando in the state of Florida in the USA. The Walt Disney World Resort has an acreage of 101 km², which makes it a little bit larger than Utrecht, the city we live in. 77 Thousand people work in or at the resort.

Disney World Orlando has 50 million (!) visitors yearly. It’s the largest and most visited amusement destination in Florida. The theme park was founded in 1965 and opened with Magic Kingdom in 1971. Since them 27 hotels, 9 partner hotels, a campground, Disney Springs, various sporting facilities, Disney BoardWalk, 2 water parks and 3 other parks have been added. Recently a 4th park has been added Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

All the different parts of the park are connected with each other through 2 mono rail lines, 3 gondola lifts, several water taxis, ferry’s an extended road network and dozens of busses. Between the hotels and different parks run free busses with a frequency of 2 or 4 times an hour. This way you don’t have to drive yourself between the parks, but can just hop on a bus and let yourself be transported to your destination for the day.

Things to do at Disney World

Now I will cover all  the separate parks shortly and other attractions of Disney World in Orlando Florida.

Entrance to Walt Disney World, a car driving on the road going under the sign.
Entrance to Walt Disney World

There are 5 parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. All those require separate entrance tickets, although you can have combination tickets for more than one park at the same day.

Next to this there are 2 water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.

Other attractions are Disney Springs (former Downtown Disney), a party- and shopping area. There’s no entrance fee for this. On Disney Springs has the largest Disney Store in the world: World of Disney Store. Next to that there’s Disney BoardWalk.

Disney World Orlando FL has several sport facilities: Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland are mini golf courses. Next to that 5 golf courses: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course and Disney’s Palm Golf Course.

Magic Kingdom

The park it all started with. The theme of this park is the romance of the past, future and the fantasy. There are 5 different themed area’s inside Magic Kingdom: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. This park has the highest record of visitors each day, it’s the most popular and what most people visit on their trip to Disney World Orlando Florida.

Entrance to Magic Kingdom, with halloween decorations up. Paul and Yuri in the middle of the picture
Entrance to Magic Kingdom

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain and It’s a small world are the most famous rides in Magic Kingdom.

The Electrical Parade, a lit up mushroom with a butterfly and a ladybug in front of it.
The Electrical Parade

Epcot

Epcot, the ball at the beginning of Epcot
Epcot

This park is perfect for families with kids who love gaming, technology and the future. Our gaming loving son really enjoyed himself here. But the park is not just fun for kids, also for adults there’s plenty to see and do. The theme is human accomplishments and a hopeful look at the future. There are 2 themed area’s inside Epcot: Future World and World Showcase. World Showcase has 11 pavilions, each representing a different country (Canada, UK, France, Morocco, Japan, USA, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, Mexico). You can go from Japan to Germany in a matter of minutes. Future World has 7 pavilions.

Discovering something new. Yuri is looking into a magnifier, Paul is sitting behind him. Other people are also standing at the table
Discovering something new

Most famous attractions include Frozen Ever After, Test Track, Spaceship Earth, Soarin’ and The American Adventure. The park is centered around a large lake. The lake is used for firework-, water- and lasershows.

Fireworkshow at Epcot
Fireworkshow at Epcot
Fireworkshow at Epcot
Fireworkshow at Epcot

Hollywood Studios

A nostalgic Hollywood themed around the making of movies and television. There are 6 themed area’s: Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Grand Avenue, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story land, Animation Courtyard and Sunset Boulevard.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania! And Star Tours – The Adventures Continue are the most famous attractions. Hollywood Studios revolves a lot around shows and spectacle.

Animal Kingdom

The theme of Animal Kingdom is the preservation and value of nature. With special emphasis on animals. Whether it be animals from the fantasy, the past or the present.

Oasis, Discovery Island, Pandora – The World of Avatar, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland USA are the 7 themed area’s inside the park. The most popular attractions are Avatar Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR. Animal Kingdom has several animal ranges on the premise. Animal Kingdom is just like Epcot centered around a large lake, called the Discovery River. The evening show Rivers of Light is being performed on this.

Typhoon Lagoon

One of the two water parks, with each its own theme. Typhoon Lagoon is centered around an area that has been the victim of a tropical cyclone. There are 3 area’s: Typhoon Lagoon, Mount Mayday and Hideaway Bay.

The park is centered around a large swimming pool: Typhoon Lagoon Surf Pool. A lazy river surrounds the whole park. The most popular attractions are Humunga Kowabunga, Miss Fortune Falls, Crush ‘n’ Gusher and the Castaway Creek.

Blizzard Beach

An area that’s been hit by a sudden snowstorm, but where the snow is already melting, causing a lot of water areas. There are 3 themed area’s: Green Slopes, Purple Slopes and Red Slopes. Center of the water park is formed by a large swimming pool: Melt-Away Bay. Cross Country Creek, is a lazy river surrounding the park. The most popular attractions are Summit Plummit, Teamboat Springs, Toboggan Racers and The Chairlift.

Our experience

In 2014 we went to Disney World as part of our road trip in Florida. Our visit was in the second half of October, for 3 nights. We went to Magic Kingdom twice and once to Typhoon Lagoon. We stayed at Disney’s Pop Century Resort and had all our meals either at the hotel or at one of the parks. Other things to do in the area are Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, Lake Jovita Golf North Course and Everglades National Park.

A year later we made a road trip from New York to Orlando and on from Orlando to San Francisco. We again stayed 3 nights at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. We had our breakfast and dinner at the resort and lunch in the parks. This time we went twice to Epcot and once to Typhoon Lagoon. This visit was at the end of July.

What we loved

Both times we loved our stay at Disney World. It can be overwhelming at first, because of the size. We spent a good amount of time the first time around finding our hotel. Pop Century Resort is a fun hotel, with plenty of things to see and do. We liked the price-quality that much that we booked it again. We liked the nostalgic high rise walk man and other memorabilia scattered around outside the buildings of the resort. I still have good memories of watching Big 4 on the lawn outside.

Watching a movie on the lawn, Paul and Yuri from behind sitting on the grass. The screen a lot further
Watching a movie on the lawn

Typhoon Lagoon is our favorite and where Yuri still talks about returning to again, it was that much fun. We chose Typhoon Lagoon over Blizzard Beach, since the first is more suited for smaller kids with its attractions. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t enough to keep us adults entertained all day long. There’s enough for every age at Typhoon Lagoon.

Magic Kingdom is fun and has enough attractions to keep you entertained for hours. Epcot is our son’s favorite above Magic Kingdom. He loved it so much with its technology and screens. So he asked to go again the second day, so we did.

Tips for visiting

What we should have done

  • Don’t just show up, book your hotel upfront. The first time we just showed up at the front desk of the hotel, they still had a room for us, but were 99% booked up. Oops, as Dutch persons we weren’t aware that Halloween gets celebrated the whole month of October. So with the Not So Scary Mickey Halloween part in the evening, Disney is packed.
  • When visiting in October get tickets for the Halloween part, we didn’t and I wish we would have done.

Good to know

  • Unlike with Disneyland Paris you don’t automatically have entrance tickets for the park when you book a Disney hotel at Disney World. You have to buy these separately. The tickets differ per day in price. The price differs on when you go and how many days. There’s a price difference between the theme parks and the water parks. The theme parks are over a 100 dollars per person per day.
  • The Magic Bands are very handy. Everything is on them, the entrance to the parks, the Disney Photo Pass, the key to your room and you can pay with bands. So you don’t need to bring your wallet or paper tickets, just the Magic Band is enough. You can add details and limitations to the Kids Magic Bands. So when they get list; your phone number, their name and so on is on the band. As of January 1st the Magic Band isn’t complimentary anymore.
  • Refillable Mug. Buy one and you can refill the mug the whole day throughout the park. There’s a different one for the water parks. This is a lot cheaper than having to buy a drink each time you’re thirsty. Disney wants you to buy a different mug for each family member. We just bought one, and drank all 3 from it. You just have to wait 5 minutes before you can refill the mug again.

Other usefull stuff

  • Use My Disney Experience, an online profile in which you can make plans and reservations.
  • Dining Plans, if you can figure out how it works and want to stick to the rules, it can save you money. It’s a selection on where to eat. With drinks and snacks for a discount price.

Hotels

There are 3 price categories in the hotels: value-hotels, moderate-hotels and deluxe-hotels. 9 of the hotels are from well-known chains.

Walkman at Pop Century Resort, as large as the building about 4 stories high
Walkman at Pop Century Resort

Disney World Orlando Florida is something you need to experience for yourself

Disney is truly a magical place, it will cost a lot, but you will have memories for life!

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