A first timer's guide to Walt Disney World, Orlando

So you've decided to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. You're going to have an incredible time and you're probably bursting with excitement already. Disney World is a magical place and any experience within the parks is unforgettable, no matter what your age. But Walt Disney World is a crazy and chaotic place with enough things to see and do to keep you entertained for months, never mind a week or two.

A guide to Walt Disney World, Orlando © wbeem - Flickr Creative Commons
A guide to Walt Disney World, Orlando © wbeem - Flickr Creative Commons

A first timer's guide to Walt Disney World: introduction to the parks

Without making it sound like a military operation, you need to be organised and prepared to make sure your visit to Walt Disney World Orlando is a smooth and happy one. There are four theme parks and two water parks at Walt Disney World, Orlando:

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is the classic theme park where childhood dreams come true, even if childhood is a distant memory. This is where you will find the famous Cinderella Castle and six magical lands filled with rides and your favourite Disney Characters.

The Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World © Jeff Krause - Flickr Creative Commons
The Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World © Jeff Krause - Flickr Creative Commons

Epcot

Epcot focuses on technological innovations and learning experiences. It's a combination of rides, shows, attractions and events that help visitors explore the whole world without leaving the park.

Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios gives you a glimpse into the glamour of Hollywood. Go behind the scenes of your favourite films and enjoy a huge range of shows.

Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom is one of the world's largest animal parks. It is home to more than 1,700 animals and focuses on conservation, caring and education. Thrill-seekers and wildlife lovers alike will enjoy meeting the animals and learning about their habitats.

Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach

Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are the two water parks at Walt Disney World. Among the many swimming pools, water slides, lazy rivers and giant waves, you can also learn to surf or simply relax in the sunshine.

Where to stay

If you want the full Walt Disney World experience, it's best to stay in a resort hotel onsite. You could book a private villa or a hotel in downtown Orlando, but lots of people choose a Walt Disney World resort hotel thanks to the added extras.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

If you stay in an onsite resort you benefit from free airport transfers, and you can use Disney's transport system to get to the parks. You can enjoy extended theme park hours plus a FastPass+ band to skip queues at rides. And of course, there's the added bonus of being surrounded by Disney magic 24/7.

Disney has a huge range of accommodation options from great value hotels to deluxe villas, campgrounds, romantic resorts, themed hotels and wilderness lodges. There's something to suit every budget, style and taste, and all resorts are conveniently located near to the parks.

Use the Walt Disney World app

Walt Disney World has a free app that can make planning, organising and preparing each day much easier. You can use the app to find out exactly what's in each park, and also to buy tickets, make reservations, see restaurant menus, check wait times and modify your FastPass+ experiences. The app is especially good if you're with children as it helps them to plan days out and feel involved in the preparation.

Visiting with small children

Walt Disney World has every base covered when it comes to visiting with small children. Make sure you take advantage of the Rider Switch service, which allows adults to queue for rides together and keep their space while one parent goes on the ride, and the other waits at the front of the queue with the baby or young child. The first parent can then cut to the front of the queue and swap, while the second parent has their turn on the ride.

Dining with Disney characters - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Dining with Disney characters - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

You can also rent pushchairs at each park. Many parents opt to do this for just an afternoon. This allows tired kids to have a rest without lugging a pushchair around for an entire day.

Top tips for a fun and hassle-free visit:

  • Transport: be aware that transport to the parks can take a long time. Give yourself at least an hour to get to the park, particularly if you're travelling first thing in the morning.
  • Take a break: if you're visiting Orlando on a two week holiday then plan a few days to chill out, afterall, that's what holidays are all about. There are 11 spas and fitness clubs across the Disney resorts, so book yourself in for a pamper session and enjoy an indulgently relaxing day.
  • Dining: meal times can be some of the best experiences of the day. Whether you're dining with your favourite Disney character, watching a show while you eat or going to a themed restaurant, Disney dining will not disappoint. Make sure you book some speciality experiences for some unforgettable meals.
  • Evenings: Disney's BoardWalk area is the place to be come nightfall. Stroll along the promenade, enjoy the entertainment and choose from one of the many restaurants and bars available.
Disney's BoardWalk entertainment area - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Disney's BoardWalk entertainment area - photo courtesy of Walt Disney World

For more information on visiting Walt Disney World, as well as other nearby theme parks, check out our dedicated Orlando holidays page. Here you'll also find current offers on flights and holidays from the likes of British Airways, Thomson and Thomas Cook.

Monica Stott

Monica Stott
Posted on Wednesday 11th February 2015 in: City Family North America Travel tips

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