Here’s the table of contents so you have an idea of what we are covering. Click on the links to skip right where you want to go:
- Disney Basics
- Preparing for your visit to the parks:
- Park Guide
- A side note for Floridians.
It has been 32 years since my first visit to Disney. I have literally lost count of how many times I have visited the parks. My son is only five and has visited 10 times. Disney has always been a big part of my family’s life. The month of May alone I went three weekends in a row! Since I met my husband a lot of our special occasions have been celebrated at the parks. Many years in a row that was our New Year’s destination until it became too crowded. It also became a tradition to visit the parks on our anniversary, Valentine’s Day and my hubby’s birthday in February every year when we are not living abroad. Every visit you learn something new, you see something different, and you are filled with wonder at how much attention to detail the Disney brand has. Although I am generally not a big fan of large corporations I have to say Disney does a great job of keeping the magic alive. The magic has a price though, The day passes to Magic Kingdom (Disney’s first and biggest park) have gone from $23 when I was four on my first visit to over $100 today. Only ten years ago the prices were 50% less! This is why people think I spend thousands of dollars a years visiting Disney but I am also known for being a smart, frugal traveler. I don’t believe in wasting unnecessary dollars! So here’s my guide on doing it right, getting the most of your trip, having fun as a family and for the lowest possible price.
Disney has four major theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. They also have two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach and two mini themed golf courses Fantasia Gardens, near the Swan Hotel and Fairway Miniature Golf and Winter Summerland Miniature Golf by the Blizzard Beach waterpark. There’s also Downtown Disney, an area with great restaurants shopping and entertainment. Disney Quest is there, it’s an arcade and interactive experience you can enter and play for one flat fee. Finally, ESPN Wide World of sports is also a part of the area but it’s mostly used for special sports events. There are several resorts all in the same area. It’s a could be considered a city within a city. This guide will cover the main four parks for the sake of brevity.
This guide is intended to give you all the basic information in one place so you don’t have to browse through hundreds of pages on the Disney sites or other hack blogs.
Recently Disney has gotten a lot of backlash because of articles stating that they are cutting out the middle class. I think that it’s mostly because people want to do the FULL Disney experience including staying at the resorts. There are certain things you can do to reduce your budget and still go. The one place where it’s hardest is with the actual entrances to the parks. Here’s the run down for non-Florida residents.
Most people think there’s nothing you can do to get a ticket discount to Disney. The worst thing you can do is simply show up to the park. Unless you are a Florida resident and are traveling in January, that’s a bad strategy.
As a matter of fact, if you are a Florida resident I would avoid going in the summer all together, the discounted tickets are blacked out from the end of May through the end of August, the parks are very full and hotel prices triple. It’s simply not worth it.
My Florida Resident guide comes out in the fall so look for it! For those (non-Florida residents or residents traveling in the summer) trying to understand prices here is what you need to know. Going for one day is the most expensive thing you can do. If you came all this way to go to Disney they will convince you with math that the more days you come the better deal you get. A simple ticket lets you go to one park for one day on each of the days you are there. To be able to move around from park to park you need buy what is called a Park Hopper. If you also want to visit the water parks it can be added to your package for a fee. The water park option also includes Disney Quest, the two mini golf courses and the ESPN sports complex on Disney property. You can add either or both of these things for an additional fee.
If you are staying five days or less the prices are as follows as pulled directly from the Disney site:
Here is the breakdown of the add-ons discussed earlier. Notice these options have perks. The extra two visits when you add the water park fun can be used at the arcade in Downtown Disney or either of the mini golf parks.
The Disney site can be hard to navigate, there’s just so much to read!
There’s just so much information it’s hard to cut through the clutter sometimes. Now that you understand passes a bit better you can visit their online calculator so you don’t have to use the math. With the number in your party, numbers of days you will visit and added features you want you can get an easy grand total by clicking here. You can also purchase your tickets through that link if you’re ready.
Water Park Tip: These parks are a lot of fun and the add-on is worth it for families staying for a week or more. Keep in mind, however, to arrive early to get a beach chair. Make sure to bring towels, a change of clothes and lots of sunscreen. Typhoon Lagoon has less thrilling rides than Blizzard Beach but both are great fun.
Free or Discount Options
Some people see”Official Disney Ticket Outlet”, “Free Tickets” or “Discount Tickets” online and everywhere in the Orlando and Kissimmee area. BEWARE, many are scams. Here are the only ways you can reduce the price of your entrance (besides the ones listed above or the Florida resident discounts).
- Book a Package to Stay at a Disney Resort: The Disney site offers a series of packages that may work for you if you MUST stay at their property, if it’s something you really want to do. However, this will jack up your overall vacation budget. Staying onsite can be VERY expensive. More on this in the hotels section.
- Do a Timeshare Presentation: For about 90 minutes of your time (or more) you could get into the parks for free. The higher-end resorts tend to give the best rewards. However, avoid Westgate if you don’t want pushy sales reps. I would do some research before arriving to ensure it’s a place close to where you are staying or maybe even the hotel you chose already offers them. If you are already at the resort just ask the front desk, many have a list of options at partner resorts. The one big caveat is to get it in writing before you start the presentation to ensure the time limit and reward are guaranteed. Set an alarm on your phone to leave right at the end of the time agreed. Sometimes the sales pitch tends to run longer if you’re not cautious. Be firm that you are not interested and that you’d like to receive your reward right away. If you’re having a hard time getting them to move on, just mention that timeshare resales are offered for a fraction of the price and that should suffice. Make sure the tickets have the features including park hopping and multiple days. I should note, I did this once 14 years ago when I was tight on vacation money. I would never do it again. It really drains you and the times aren’t always convenient. You end up having to stay an extra night which usually ends up equaling the freebie.
- Buy a house. Are you in the market for a house right now? No, I am not kidding. Lennar homes is giving away annual passes to people that purchase their homes. Like I said discount or free tickets are hard to come by so I’d figure I’d share all the ways I know how!
- Packages offered by travel agents are also an option. They book groups for certain weeks of the year and can pass on the savings to you in forms of package deals, ticket reductions and amenities. Be aware that some of these places are the timeshare places mentioned above so be up front ask if this is what they are pitching. The overall savings are usually not much and are geared for people staying on property.
If you are a seasoned traveler you know that where you stay can determine the quality and variety of food, the choices of night activities after visiting the parks, and the time it takes you to get to the attractions you want to see. In Disney these are especially important. For years you’ve heard Disney is in Orlando. That’s not exactly accurate. Here is the run down.
There are four sections in the Orlando/Kissimmee area you should focus on during your visit to Disney World.
Lake Buena Vista is my favorite. This is where the parks are and where the Disney resorts are as well. There are hotels from every major hotel chain there. The plus of booking at these hotels is that you are paying considerably less than the Disney Resorts with the convenience of being close to the parks, using shuttles to avoid parking fees, and they are mostly three stars or higher. This is where I usually stay. If you’re looking for budget motels, this is not the area you should target. Some of these properties offer lower rates in the off seasons but for the summer the rates are moderate to high but not quite as high as the actual resorts.
Disney resorts are quite expensive. If you have a good budget for the trip and you are coming only once in a lifetime, then you could spring for the real deal. Here are a few issues you may want to consider, you will be a bit detached from anything non-Disney and everything you buy, eat or consume are Disney prices, that is unless you have a car. After spending the day at the parks getting into your car and driving several miles may seem like daunting task. It’s simply not convenient if you want to eat a variety of foods and find Disney merchandise for less. Disney food may get old quickly if you are spending several days at the parks and are sticking to budget options. I like having the choice of wandering out to other places. At nearby Lake Buena Vista there are many restaurant and shopping options with a variety of price ranges. Some of the resorts really make an impact, they have amenities and an unparalleled experience. You do get the Disney service and touches of magic throughout your stay but as nice as they are, they are not always what you’d expect given their price. Last month I stayed at the Caribbean Resort, one of the more expensive ones in Disney, and to be honest I was a bit disappointed. The “beach”, as beautiful as it is, is a human-made lake you can’t swim in! They do a great job with themes for the kids, our beds were pirate ships, they had a water park inside the resort and the details and events at the hotel are really nice and fun, but in the end the room is pretty much the same thing. I don’t think it’s worth the extra $200 a night if you are traveling on a budget, and if you are not spending that much time at the hotel. However, people that stay at the official Disney resorts have access to perks the rest of people don’t. They get extra hours at the park called “Extra Magic Hours”, early fast pass access, free parking at the park and free transportation, free Magic Bands, free transportation to the airport transfers and Character dining options as well as dining plan packages. If these amenities are worth it to you, by all means spend the extra money. A seasoned park visitor and friend of mine states “Stay onsite it’s the best guarantee to have a magical experience.” If you have the budget for it, more power to you.
RESORT HACK: If you want to pay the lowest prices possible at the resorts most people opt for staying at the low-budget properties but for an even more unique way to hack the price grab your camping gear and stay at the Disney’s Fort Wilderness near Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Sometimes the rates are quite reasonable especially if you have a large party, the experience there is worth every penny. Great pools, wildlife sightings and unique entertainment options.
I192, W Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway starts on the Turnpike crosses Kissimmee to I4 (the main highway in that area) which leads into the park and is one of the largest hotel area in Kissimmee since it also known as the main tourist strip in town. This road has every possible food chain and budget gift shop you can imagine. It also connects two sections called Maingate East and Maingate West referring to entrances to the Disney parks. Depending on what parks you are visiting you may want to look at this closely but either way anywhere on this road is close to pretty much all Disney parks and Downtown Disney. This area is also known as Downtown Kissimmee in some sites even though they are not exactly the same thing. It has plenty of budget hotels but also some great higher end hotels, timeshare resorts and properties with villas with amenities like kitchens and washer/dryer where you can stay with the whole family. Keep in mind, most of the properties there do not have shuttles to the park. Beware, some of the hotels in this area are VERY old and although they may be chains you recognize these particular properties are not maintained very well. They get such a huge influx of tourists a year they are able to stay afloat with minimal effort or upgrades. I would look closely at online reviews and avoid budget hotels in this area altogether. Although I no longer stay in this area because I really like the comfort of shuttling over to the parks and avoiding parking, I think it’s a great place to find something for every taste.
Hotel Stay Hack: Take a look at Groupon to easily find a large variety of discounted stays in this area. The best deals are the family villas.
International Drive also known as I-Drive is a fun area that has a good outlet mall, restaurants, Seaworld and Universal Studios theme parks are there too but it’s about 15 minutes from the Disney parks. Just like I192 you can find almost any chain and price range. It’s similar in variety to I192 but it’s a bit cleaner and newer. It’s a smaller more high-end strip. If you find a good deal and it’s worth the drive I’d still probably skip it unless Universal is part of your plans.
PREPARING FOR YOUR VISIT TO THE PARKS
There is much to consider about the parks. Most people don’t know all details even if they have visited several times. If you want to be a great planner make sure to download all the park guide maps (see the table of contents for links to printable jpgs) before you arrive to make a plan of how you’ll tour each park. This will also help you read this guide better. Before we start looking at attractions and such here are a few of the basics you should know to make the best of your experience.
Shuttle in or park? Things to consider. Shuttles from hotels off Disney property have limited set times during the day. If you plan your day right this can be very convenient and save you about $15 per car, per day. Park hopping can be a chore if you shuttled instead of parked. The biggest draw to parking is freedom, but we all know freedom isn’t free.
Apps: Nowadays apps keep us informed and ready for whatever we face, specially when traveling. Although the My Disney Experience app is the one you will need most to manage ALL aspects of your trip it’s important to know it’s a very large app and takes up tons of space on your phone. Other apps that are fun to have are Hidden Mickeys which helps you find unnoticeable mickey ears around the park, Photopass which we will discuss in a bit, and if you would rather check wait times and see the map on your phone download the DisneyWorld wait times app.
TECH HACK: Before you head out try to ensure you have cleared your phone of old photos and apps to make way for all the pics you’ll take and to ensure you have enough space for all the fun apps you’ll want to download. Remember: the My Disney Experience app takes up lots of space.
Magic Bands: Disney now offers RDIF chip enabled plastic bands in a variety of colors and styles that you can activate with all your trip details including your tickets, Fast Pass choices and Photo Pass memories recorded. You can link everything through the My Disney Experience section of their site or the app. Before, they were only available to guests staying at the Disney resorts but now everyone can get one! We have a couple of sets. Some with characters some in plain colors. You can also buy charms like the ones used on Crocs. They are a lot of fun, convenient and it makes your ticket harder to lose.
Fast Passes: The best way to get through the long summer lines is to pre-plan your day BEFORE you go. If you have tickets, get your FastPasses to each ride through the My Disney Experience app or disneyworld.disney.go.com. If you pre-purchased tickets and are getting your magic bands in the mail you can also link up your bands to manage your whole experience including your Fast Passes. Don’t fret if you are not pre-purchasing tickets. You can also do this upon arrival at any kiosk in the park. I suggest you do this IMMEDIATELY after arrival to ensure you have a good selection of times to choose from and so your whole party can go at the same times you selected. As you read the park guide below, look out for my FastPass picks for each park. Keep in mind you can’t get one until your current one’s time has run out. Each pass gives you a time window to make it to the ride. Be aware of the ride’s location before selecting subsequent passes to ensure you are not wasting all your day simply getting from one to the other. You will probably only get to use three a day so make your selections wisely. Keep in mind that having a Fast Pass does not mean you will have NO line, it means you are in a shorter line with other pass holders. In some parks meeting with characters is also available for a pass if it’s a very popular character. So if your child is really set on meeting a character make sure you get them a pass for the line.
Meeting Disney Characters: Some people have a goal of meeting all the princesses or characters of a particular Disney movie/show. Keep in mind that in order to meet most characters you must make a line unless you make reservations at a character eatery. Some of these restaurants are only open to guests of the hotels. However, if your child is not particularly inclined, you will find plenty of character meet options. Just look out around corners and hidden places and you’d be surprised who you find. The best way to find out where they all are is to take a look at your guide.
CHARACTER MEET HACK: Some people that don’t want to waste a fast pass rush right through to meet the character of choice upon entering the park. Keep in mind this is a popular mindset so towards the end of the day might actually be a better choice. Happy Meeting!
PhotoPass: Is a program Disney has that links all your pictures taken at the park to a ticket, given to you by any photog on the grounds, or band. Look out for photographers all over the parks. Sometimes they will have you pose in strange ways, play along you’ll get a surprise like this shot with Sebastian when you see your shots online. Once you log on to you account you can peruse photos (and some videos) and choose to purchase, edit and add embellishments them at that point. If you plan ahead and create an account before arriving you can begin adding memories before and after you arrive. You can upload photos and have them printed when you arrive. Additional features you can upgrade to with a PhotoPass+ include a CD with all your photos, access to your high-res photos to print where you want with a limited license and photos at select dining areas and attractions. After your trip you have 30 days to claim your photos. Note: you don’t have to create a separate account for this if you have everything linked up to your Disney Experience account.
Pin Trading and Autographs: You’ll notice as you walk the park that people and cast members (Disney employees) will be wearing lanyards filled with pins. You can buy a starter kit with a few pins and trade them with any cast member wearing pins. They are obligated to trade whatever pin you want. It’s a nice way to collect souvenirs of the different parks and rides and it’s an honored tradition. You will also notice the little ones walking around with autograph books. You can meet Disney characters all over the park, don’t forget to look for that in you map and showtimes guide to make sure your child meets the character of their choice.
Wheelchairs and ADA access: One thing to warn people wanting to use a wheelchair as a way to get past the lines. This no longer works like it once used to. Most attractions nowadays require that the person in the wheelchair make the whole line in their chair and will only make special accommodations when they have gone through the whole cue. If you truly need a wheelchair you can rent one onsite, or bring your own. The parks all have access and accommodations to ensure you get to experience most rides and attractions with very few exceptions.
STROLLER RENTAL HACK at MK: Strollers are available for rent at all parks for about $30 a day for a double and a single for $15. Magic Kingdom is not your average park. Your child may have outgrown a stroller but may still need it for this park. The day can get really long and there’s a lot of walking involved. If you are WAY past the gates where you can rent them just pass by ANY railroad station around the park and pick one up! Just make sure you do the right thing and pay the rental on your way out.
What to pack the day of your visit (Your “Day Bag”): You can bring coolers, food, medications and pretty much any supplies you need. Keep in mind that your bags will be searched upon arrival and you are not allowed to bring weapons or weird things like fireworks. Keep it simple. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, your camera, a poncho, band aids, pain killers, lots of water, sandwiches, fruit and snacks if you are eating at the parks.
What to wear: Avoid wedges, heels, or new shoes at all costs. Most people wear running shoes but for the water rides it may get squishy in there. I either wear really comfortable flips flops or sandals I know wont hurt and provide some support or sneakers that get dry quickly. Wear cool clothing, preferably shorts and avoid anything that can give you a farmer tan. Florida is very humid and hot, especially in the summer so wear clothing that will keep you cool and dry.
Bringing Your Own Food: You may bring a lunchbox or cooler but make sure you keep it simple, you don’t want to haul that thing around all day, especially at Magic Kingdom. I stopped eating at the parks when I became a healthier eater. It is also considerably cheaper to bring a simple lunch. This is also the best option for families traveling with someone with food allergies. This is also a great way to save time. Restaurant lines at the park can get really long. I’d rather eat my sandwich while I wait to get on a ride than making yet another line to get food. I do still buy snacks at the park. I absolutely must get Mickey ice cream. It’s a tradition for our family. It gets hot out there so bring plenty of water or a refillable bottle. If you like soft drinks or juice you can also purchase refillable cups at the park. You get to take a souvenir home and drink all day for less. I recommend this option if happen to consume juice or soda, especially if you are visiting the parks for several days. You can pay a small fee each day to get unlimited refills. At park prices it’s well worth it in the end. For restaurant recommendations in each park see each park’s breakdown for more details.
FOOD ALLERGY HACK: If any of your guests have food allergies most sit-down restaurants will make accommodations for most guests. However, don’t make the long line at a restaurant only to find out they don’t accommodate certain allergies. The best way to ensure you can get safe food is to check out your guidemap. Places that make accommodations are clearly marked so on their description.
Closures and rain checks: Keep in mind attractions are not open every day. Sometimes they are down for maintenance and it’s important to check before going to ensure the ride you want is open and functional. Some rides that close temporarily offer a replacement FastPass if you had a one for it but don’t expect a raincheck on account of an attraction closure. However, don’t expect rain checks for the parks themselves. These are as rare as snow in Florida. It’s the summer which means afternoons are almost rainy, just carry a poncho and remember to keep your socks dry.
As I mentioned before, Disney has four major theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. They also have two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach and two mini themed golf courses. Also, they have downtown Disney, an area with great restaurants shopping and entertainment. Disney Quest is there, it’s an arcade and interactive experience you can enter and play for one flat fee. I will break the four major parks down for you simply by park, what attractions to see, how to get around and how to do it comfortably. I will describe each one in order of preference from the one I like most to the one I like least.
Magic Kingdom: This is the original park, the first one Walt built. I’d start my trip here. The park is sort of an island. To get to it you must take the famous Monorail or the ferry. When you park your car or get off the bus you arrive at the ticket center then you take transportation to the actual entrance. Once we pass security at the entrance to Main Street by the stroller rentals you will find maps, showtimes and character meet times.
MK SECRET: The park was an improvement to Disneyland and as such it does everything to keep each “land” true to its theme. Therefore, Walt decided to build an underground, behind the scenes series of tunnels and chambers for Cast Members to use when moving from land to land.
The park is divided into lands”, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Main Street USA, Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Expect to be there all day and well into the evening. There is a lot to see, experience and do. If you have never visited this park you have to check out these attractions:
- Philharmagic is my favorite attraction. Short lines, great AC and a great 3D show with many Disney favorites. I am a total softie on the inside so I have a cried almost every time I watch this, don’t judge me. One caveat, some small children get scared with the dark room and the 3D effects.
- The new Fantasy Land: this isn’t just one attraction but every ride in this area is pretty cool and great for small kids or kids at heart. Snow White’s Scary Adventures roller coaster is great for the little ones but also fun for adults and Ariel’s Grotto is a new take on Disney’s typical ride.
- It’s a Small World: As much as Disney veterans dislike it because it features an annoying ear worm (song that just can’t get out of your head), if you visit Magic Kingdom for the first time you must see this. It’s simple and it’s been there since the park opened and it’s simply a must see for newcomers or people that haven’t been in a while.
- Space Mountain: Tomorrowland, the section of the park that has future-themed rides, is now a big thing thanks to the feature film. The main attraction there is Space Mountain. If you have never been I won’t tell you why it’s so cool. But although it’s an old roller coaster there’s something unique about it that you have to try. Like most coasters in the park the height limit for children is 44″. However, this coaster could scare little tall ones, so be aware. Like most rides they have swap opportunities for parents to be able to take turns while the other stays with the child. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is a very popular ride. Also in Tomorrowland, the ride features a little competition and fun for the kids and adults alike. The line always a bit long but it’s worth it. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Splash Mountain: If you want to go straight to the best in Frontierland go there. This ride is a trip. It has a nice surprise you won’t expect and that’s what makes it fun. You will get wet, your pants, shoes and belongings as well so be prepared. Also, be prepared to enjoy it! *FAST PASS PICK*
- Liberty Square is a pretty dull area to be honet, the highlights however are the Haunted Mansion a Disney classic and a place to rest your weary feet. If you are big into Americana and American History you might not find it a snore but I tend to go to the Hall of Presidents when I want to nap. One thing I do love to do while there is snack or have lunch with the large turkey legs they sell there. They taste delish and are quite filling!
- Many people miss Adventureland, it’s an island and people think it;s just there for show but it’s actually a great place for the kids to explore freely and play. The Swiss Family Treehouse is the best attraction. It’s so much fun to climb it and look at what a decked out tree house would be like. Instead of the Aladdin Carpet ride here I would do Dumbo over in the big tent circus area near the New Fantasyland.
- Most people breeze past Main Street USA but the shopping there is great. It’s also a great place to take the most memorable shot of your trip. There is a lawn space right when you enter.There’s a nifty little app you can use here called Main Street Windows that gives you secrets and history about each store in this street. If you are a true Disney fan you will really enjoy this. That is probably the best shot of Cinderella’s Castle and the park itself. I also like to take the train from there straight across the park when I arrive. Most people stay nearby but I like to start backwards to work best through the lines. If you stick to the end of this guide I’ll tell you how this railroad can save you trouble and money!
- Disney’s Toontown fair has a fun and traditional Dumbo ride, what makes it most unique is it’s cue system. The children get to play in an elaborate indoor playground while they wait for their turn on the ride.
- Side note: Cinderella’s Castle is NOT a ride it’s a restaurant and a private apartment. I know of someone who went to the park went into the castle, walked around and left. They had no idea that the other buildings had rides and attractions. Don’t feel silly if you thought this too!
- A lot of Disney novices will overlook the Main Street Electrical Parade on their guide and think it’s time to head home. This parade has been around since I was small and it is an important part of the Disney experience for the children. To see their favorite characters light up at night is a lot of fun. It’s a must-see.
- Celebrate the Magic takes the cake as THE BEST SHOW in all of the Disney parks. Imagine all the things you love about Disney projected on to Cinderella’s Castle. They transform the building into a musical and visual journey of the brand. You hear sounds from all your favorite movies and it closes with a spectacular fireworks celebration.
If you see nothing else on your trip you must see this. It’s as they call it “living art”.
CELEBRATE THE MAGIC SHOW HACK: According to the Disney site some areas closest to the Castle might actually be the worst places to catch the show. “For the best vantage point, stand anywhere on Main Street, USA, at the Castle forecourt or on the surrounding bridges.”
Where to eat:
- Very expensive: Cinderella’s Royal Table is the top notch Disney experience. Eating here will get you a real visit to Cinderella’s Castle and good food too. The decor is also amazing. If you want a high end dinner spot before you catch fireworks show, this is the place to do it.
- Sit Down: Be Our Guest is not for picky eaters but more for foodies. The best way to eat there is using the FastPass system because the lines are long. They serve a variety of French foods. Peruse the menu here. The least expensive option with good food is The Plaza Restaurant just off Main Street, on the way to Tomorrowland. It has a great view of the castle too.
- Quick: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland has something for everyone. Each “bay” offers a different type of food. I like that healthy eaters and those who like fast food can eat in one place. This is a large restaurant so seating issues are also avoided. The best burger in the park can be found at Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland. You can also get a great taco salad at Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
- Snacks: Aloha Isle is a walk up snack counter. My eldest son loves the pineapple Dole whips. It’s a great place to catch a tasty snack. The long lines are the only downfall. Sleepy Hollow has the best view of Cinderella’s Castle in the park and it also has great snacks. They have great funnel cakes and Nutella and fruit sandwiches. Ice cream carts are found throughout the park. I love the Mickey Ice Cream sandwich and my husband prefers the chocolate covered ice cream bar.
- Best breakfast: can be found at the Crystal Palace. How can you not love breakfast lasagna while interacting with the Winnie The Pooh Characters? It’s a great buffet in case you get to the park early.
Hollywood Studios: This park is filled with energy from the moment you enter. Right now, visually, the park is not as pretty as it once was. It is undergoing some renovations but the cast members are by far the most animated of all the parks. Upon entering you may just catch the characters of hollywood walking around in character performing fun skits right in the middle of the crowds. This park is small and could be done in a half day if you’re efficient and want to park hop.
- Tower of Terror is one of the scariest and most fun rides I’ve ever been on. I have ridden this coaster under different names for over 15 years and it never gets old. If you have ever watched the Twilight Zone this ride will be even more enjoyable. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Rockin’ Roller Coaster: Aerosmith rock music and speed, very cool ride but the lines are so long. Make sure to get a fast pass for this one.
- Toy Story Midway Mania: Make this ride your first ride or make sure you get a fast pass. The lines for this ride are ridiculously long. *FAST PASS PICK*
- For the First Time in Forever: Frozen Sing-A-Long Celebration is for the die-hard fans of the movie. It’s a pretty good production and it’s not my favorite compared to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid or some of the productions in other parks but if your child likes the movie they will really enjoy this show.
- Disney Junior, Live on Stage is a lot of fun if your child is small and watches the shows. You lay around on a carpet and watch their favorite shows come to life.
- Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set is a great place to let the kids just run wild and free. It’s a park with giant insects and leafs just like in the film. After standing in lines all day it’s a great place to let loose. I usually have my lunch in there or at the restaurant nearby just to let the kids blow off some steam.
- Star Tours is a great ride for the lovers of the Star Wars franchise. It’s a 3D ride that makes you feel like you are a part of Episode I. At the end of your tour you enter the merchandise store where you can design your own custom lightsaber!
- One Man’s Dream is often overlooked. But if you are a fan of all things Disney this is a great place to get plenty of back stories from the brand and the parks as seen through the eyes of Walt Disney himself.
- Lights, Motor, Action! Extreme Stunt Show is a park classic. It’s a lot of fun to witness what it feels like to be on the movie set of an action film. The only issue with this ride is that it often closes and the times are limited during the day. But if you are a fan of being behind the scenes this one will be really enjoyable.
- Fanstasmic is the closing show at the park. It’s not my favorite but if you have already caught the shows at Magic Kingdom (see above) and Epcot (see below) you might just want to watch this. It’s not going to be up there with those two but it’s sure to be great fun anyway.
Where to eat:
I make sure to pack food when visiting this park but if you are in a pinch here’s where to grab some fixings.
- Sit down: I like the Pizza Planet restaurant because it is close to the one shown in the Toy Story movies arcade and all. The pizza is not so bad either but do expect to pay a bit more than you’d like.
- Low Budget: The ABC Commissary offers a variety of low-budget food options. The best part is that it has lots on indoor seating. Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner is most popular with visitors of the park and the prices are reasonable as well. People like the pretzel hot dog, I’m not a fan but I get the draw.
- Snack: Near the Muppet Vision ride you can find a quiet place to catch some coffee and baked goods including the delish and quite large carrot cake cookie at the Writer’s Spot.
Animal Kingdom: When it comes to animal parks I tend to steer clear. I don’t think animals should be captured and enslaved for mere corporate profit. However, Disney is vested in science and technology. The animals in this park were rescued from the wild and kept there if re-release was impossible. Other animals were attained if already born in captivity which means these animals could not survive in the wild anyway. They do their best for conservation and for duplicating real-life enclosures so that the animals live a “free” life. The best part is the work they do. They take advantage of having these animals on-site to study them and try to get as much as they can to try to conserve and learn more about each species. Now on to the fun.
Here are my favorite attractions at this park:
- Expedition Everest: I love roller coasters so this is my absolute favorite ride in the park. This area of the park is full of beautiful places to photograph, you especially need to get a shot of the mountain. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Kilimanjaro Safaris is the ride that makes Animal Kingdom unique. It feels like a real African safari. The enclosure is designed for you to see a variety of animals from every corner of Africa. Since it’s realistic, you may miss some animals if they are hidden from view. For the most part though, you get to see a lot of animals including baby elephants and giraffes. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Kali River Rapids is a load of fun. Be prepared to get VERY wet. We wore ponchos and we still get soaked. The lines are long ALL day for this ride. What we usually do instead of using a fast pass is we wait until the end of the day near closing time to get through really quickly to the front of the line. We also do this to just rush to our car and change out of our soaked clothes. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo The Musical are two great productions. They are both a great mix of Disney ingenuity and production. The acting is fantastic but the puppetry is really unique and fun. Both of these are given several times during the day but they don’t run continuously so make sure you take that into account when planning your day.
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug can scare the little ones but it is so much fun. It’s one of those rides you don’t have wait long to get into but the end result is still really great. This 3D show is really cute and enjoyable for the whole family.
- Maharajah Jungle Trek is a visually stunning walking tour. It’s an animal exhibit with birds, bats, tigers, gorillas and other animals. This is a perfect example of what I meant when I said Disney really tries to make animal enclosures as close to the wild as possible.
- All of DinoLand USA is a really cute place for the younger kids. A place to let loose and let them run wild.
Here are the places I like to eat:
- Sit down: Oasis has The Rainforest Cafe. If you are not familiar with the chain, let’s just say they serve good american food for a moderate price. The decor is what children like most.
- Low budget: Yak and Yeti in Asia is my absolute favorite budget restaurant in all the parks. For the same price of a burger or sandwich you get real, fresh asian food in a carry-out box. I never pack a lunch when visiting Animal Kingdom because I look forward to eating there.
- Snack: I stick with my Mickey ice cream sandwiches for the most part and can be found in the carts all over the park but if you want to have a different tasty snack check out DinoBite Snacks. It sells Haagen-Dazs ice cream treats, chips and churros.
Epcot is probably my least favorite park but it has one of my favorite light shows.This park has considerably less attractions than Magic Kingdom and if done efficiently could be completed in a half day. What most people miss about the park is the many ways they showcase Disney’s commitment to innovation and science. The main theme of the park is the world itself. Each part of this section of the park called World Showcase represents a different country, Italy, Mexico, Japan etc… The best way to experience this park is to treat it like a trip around the world experiencing the different food, drinks and shopping from different cultures. Skip to the food section for my favorite pics. There’s also Future World East and West. The best attractions are:
- Spaceship Earth: It’s a nice, short lesson on human history from the perspective of technological innovation. It is housed in Epcot’s famous sphere. The animatronics and storyline are well done and it’s an important story that touches everyone. As slowmoving as it is, it’s also quite interesting.
- Soarin’: Is a gliding experience everyone will like well enough. The downfall is that it is often closed. *FAST PASS PICK*
- Mission Space: If your stomach can’t take turns skip this one because although the blue side doesn’t make you dizzy it’s not that impressive. The orange side, storyline aside, is pretty fun. You land on mars and an adventure insues.
- Turtle Talk with Crush is a really cute interactive show where kids get to “meet” Crush from Finding Nemo by the use of some really cool technology. It’s packed with the characters positivism and optimistic life lessons. Some parts of the show will make parents laugh as well.
- Gran Fiesta Tour is a cutesy ride themed after the vintage Disney cartoon “The Three Amigos”. Although the ride itself is not the most impressive it is the only ride currently working at the world showcase and it is a park classic.
- Living with the Land is going to change what you consider farm crops. They showcase agricultural and horticultural innovation. It is the coolest greenhouse you’ll ever visit. If you wonder how how science is changing the way we grow food you gotta check this ride out.
- IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is worth the park hopper ticket. If you want to skip the entire park and you’re not much of a foodie then you must at least come at the end of your day at other parks to check the show out. I would describe it for you but I don’t want to ruin it. This is my favorite park of the day at Epcot. You must check this show out.
Food: I think the best way to tour this appreciate Epcot is food and drink. If you are going during the summer you’ll miss the Epcot Food and Wine Festival but don’t feel discouraged, there is still much to taste and enjoy.
- Inexpensive food: Electric Umbrella’s Vegetarian Flatbread is good for every palette even if you are not a vegetarian. It is more like a gourmet pizza. The angus burgers there are also quite good. What people like most is the unlimited soda refills. The Fried Shrimp at the Epcot Refreshment Port are a nice surprise. Sunshine Seasons in the Land pavilion is a great place to eat some Asian Wok or a soup and salad with ingredients grown right in the park. Boulangerie Patisserie is unexpectedly authentic with its French cuisine it my pick for breakfast in the park. For italian food skip Tutto Italia and just get pizza at Via Napoli, you wont regret the choice.
- Midrange: the Orange Blossom Cafe in China might not have air conditioned eating but the food portions are worth it. Tangerine Cafe in Morocco has some unique food options but picky eaters might not like it. It’s perfect for those with a taste for mediterranean foods like hummus and couscous. I wouldn’t eat sushi in central Florida but I am picky when it comes to raw fish. If you must, Katsura offers sushi as well as teriyaki and other japanese favorites.
- Sit down: Spice Road in Morocco offers delicious middle eastern foods. If your heart is set on catching the Illuminations show this is the place to do it! Coral Reef is quite pricey but if it’s fish you’re craving this is the place to eat. Garden Grill is a character dining option with farmer Mickey and Friends stopping by for photo ops. The upside to the expensive fare is the fact that most of the food is grown nearby at Epcot’s magnificent greenhouse and it is all you can eat. This is a best pick for the Disney Dining plan.
- High end: If you have must have good french go to Monsieur Paul. It’s quiet and the service is great. It’s another great restaurant with views to illuminations. It’s $40 an entree. Le Cellier Steakhouse must be good, the reservations to this place are booked months in advance. San Angel Inn Restaurante has the best ambiance and it’s not that expensive. The margaritas are delish and the mexican food is quite authentic.
- Snacks and drinks: La Cava del Tequila has one of the biggest tequila selections I have seen outside of Mexico. It offers great mexican appetizers. Like a hearty snack? Head over to Germany and have wuster at Somerfest. Ever heard of a a snack that marries a croissant and donut? Visit The Refreshment Port by Canada and ask to add soft serve ice cream on top.
What to pack: There are literally dozens of packing lists online even specific to the parks so I wont add it on and make this guide any longer than it should be so I’ll share some essentials I can’t live without when I travel there:
- Band aids: You never know when you extra comfy shoes are gonna give you issues.
- Flip flops: There are so many reasons to pack this.
- Water-proof makeup: If you like to look your best in pics the whole day make sure your makeup hasn’t disappeared by the end of the day. Set that puppy with some loose powder and stick to waterproof mascara.
- High end camera / DSLR: I know your phone takes great pics but these memories need to be high-res. Just sayin’
- My a comfy backpack: Your day bag can save your life, and you’ll be wearing it and taking it off all day long. Keep that in mind when you grab one.
- Aluminum/glass water bottle: With Florida’s humidity you don’t want your plastic water bottle distilling all those nasty toxins into your drinking water. Opt for bringing your own refillable one.
- Ponchos: If you are coming to Florida in the summer expect torrential rains that can get you drenched in one drop. Disney will capitalize on this and charge you up the nose for ponchos. Buy your own and pack them in your day bag.
- A shady hat: even if you never wear them in Disney you will crave some shade sometimes. Bring it!
What to skip:
- Something really nice to wear: No matter where you go in Disney the dress code is pretty chill. If you’re not into frills then don’t bother getting dolled up.
- Bulky/leather shoes: We rarely wear these and never in the summer, leave them at home it’s just too hot for that.
- Cotton socks: unless you want blisters opt for polyester or some other dry-fit blend that ensures your feet stay dry.
- Heels: worth repeating. We accept flip flops with ANYTHING you wear. Especially in Central Florida. Just chill.
A note for Floridians: You must have no other option if you are traveling to Disney in the summer but I do hope this guide helped keep your costs down. If this guide has in some manner helped you make the decision to postpone your trip, don’t worry, I will write the ultimate guide for Floridians in a couple of months. It will include some of the basics in here but also a comprehensive breakdown of passes and Florida specific information. In the meantime, pass this guide along to any friend who assumes you have all the answers to Disney just cause you live here. THANKS A TON!