Cinderella Castle lit up at night

Walt Disney World in Florida is the most magical place on Earth, captivating visitors of all ages with its enchanting theme parks, world-class resorts, exciting attractions, spectacular shows, and endless fun. Spanning nearly 40 square miles, this massive entertainment resort features four theme parks, two water parks, over 25 themed resort hotels, four golf courses, and the Disney Springs outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. Since opening in 1971, Walt Disney World has evolved into the premier family vacation destination, drawing millions from around the globe to experience the magic. Let’s explore all that Walt Disney World has to offer.

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History of Walt Disney World

The story of Walt Disney World began in the early 1960s when Walt Disney secretly started purchasing large tracts of land in central Florida. By 1965, he had acquired over 27,000 acres, twice the size of Manhattan, to build his “Florida Project.” Walt envisioned a larger, more expansive version of Disneyland that would include a futuristic city called EPCOT. Sadly, Walt Disney passed away in 1966 before his Florida project could be realized. His brother Roy took up the reins and led the construction of the resort, renaming it “Walt Disney World” in honor of Walt.

On October 1, 1971, the Magic Kingdom theme park and two hotels opened to guests, and Walt Disney World was born.Over the next five decades, Walt Disney World expanded with the addition of Epcot (1982), Disney’s Hollywood Studios (1989), and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1998). New resort hotels, water parks, and other attractions were added through the years, cementing Walt Disney World as the top vacation destination.

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The Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom was the first theme park to open at Walt Disney World and remains the most iconic. Walking down Main Street U.S.A., you’re transported to the early 1900s, with quaint shops, old-fashioned vehicles, and ragtime music playing. At the end of the street, the majestic Cinderella Castle beckons. The park is divided into six themed lands radiating out from the central hub:

  • Adventureland – A exotic land of jungles, pirates, and tiki gods. Don’t miss the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Frontierland – Rustic American Old West setting featuring Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain.
  • Liberty Square – Colonial America with the spooky Haunted Mansion as the main attraction.
  • Fantasyland – Fairy tale village home to the most kid-friendly rides like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
  • Tomorrowland – Peek into the future with Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

The Magic Kingdom is known for its fantastic rides, magical character meet-and-greets, lively parades, and stunning fireworks spectaculars. It’s the most popular park for families with young children.

Mickey Mouse in front of 100 years sign

Epcot

Epcot, short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is a celebration of human achievement focusing on technological innovation and international culture. The park is split into two sections:

  • Future World – Features attractions exploring science and technology like Spaceship Earth, Mission: SPACE, and Test Track.
  • World Showcase – 11 pavilions representing countries from around the globe, each with authentic architecture, cuisine, merchandise and entertainment. Kids can collect activity cards from each country.

Epcot hosts several major festivals throughout the year highlighting flowers and gardens, food and wine, arts and culture, and holiday traditions from around the world. It’s a great park for older children, adults, and foodies.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Step into the glamorous world of Hollywood at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This park celebrates the magic of movies and television with thrilling attractions and dazzling shows. Top attractions include:

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – A haunted elevator ride
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – An indoor roller coaster
  • Toy Story Land – Shrink down to the size of a toy in Andy’s backyard
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – An immersive land set on the planet Batuu

Live stage shows, parades, and nighttime spectaculars add to the cinematic fun. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is perfect for thrill-seekers, Star Wars fans, and movie buffs.

Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest theme park in the world, spanning 580 acres. Part zoo, part theme park, Animal Kingdom is home to over 1,700 animals representing 250 species. The iconic Tree of Life stands at the center, carved with 325 animal images. The park features several themed areas:

  • Africa – Go on a safari through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve to spot lions, elephants, giraffes and more.
  • Asia – Explore the crumbling ruins of Anandapur on Expedition Everest.
  • DinoLand U.S.A. – Travel back in time to see dinosaurs on DINOSAUR.
  • Pandora – The World of Avatar – Fly on the back of a banshee and sail through a bioluminescent rainforest on two cutting-edge attractions.

In addition to the rides, Animal Kingdom offers incredible animal encounters, Broadway-style stage shows, and exotic dining options. It’s a hit with animal lovers and adventure seekers.

"it's a small world" sign at night in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park

Attractions for Kids

Walt Disney World is a paradise for kids, with dozens of attractions designed just for them. Little ones will love riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant, meeting their favorite princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall, and singing along on It’s a Small World. Older kids can’t get enough of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash, and Avatar Flight of Passage. Throughout the parks you’ll find play areas, splash zones, live shows, and character interactions to keep kids of all ages entertained.

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Entertainment and Shows

No trip to Walt Disney World is complete without seeing some of the world-class entertainment. From dazzling stage shows to spectacular parades to jaw-dropping fireworks, there’s something for everyone. Must-see shows include:

  • Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom – A Broadway-style retelling of the classic story
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage at Hollywood Studios
  • Happily Ever After fireworks at Magic Kingdom – A stunning display of lights, lasers and projections
  • Harmonious at Epcot – A nighttime spectacular celebrating Disney music and stories

Check park times guides for the daily entertainment schedule and get in line early for the best seats.

Royal Table Dining Hall

Dining at Disney

With over 400 restaurants across the resort, Walt Disney World is a food lover’s dream. You’ll find everything from grab-and-go snacks to gourmet sit-down meals to whimsical character dining. Some of the most popular restaurants include:

  • Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom – Dine inside the Beast’s enchanted castle
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom – Eat in a storybook setting with Disney princesses
  • Tiffins Restaurant at Animal Kingdom – Savor international cuisine in an exotic setting
  • Space 220 at Epcot – Dine among the stars in this immersive space station themed restaurant

Don’t forget to save room for the classic Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar and other iconic Disney snacks and treats! The Disney Dining Plan allows you to pre-pay for your meals and snacks, making budgeting easier.

Disney Dining Plans

Disney offers two dining plans that provide a set number of meals and snacks per night of your stay:

  • Disney Quick Service Dining Plan – Includes two quick-service meals and one snack per night, plus a refillable resort mug. Prices start at $57.01 per night for adults.
  • Disney Dining Plan – Includes one quick-service meal, one table-service meal, and one snack per night, plus a refillable resort mug. Prices start at $94.28 per night for adults.

With the Disney Dining Plan, you can redeem two table-service credits for specialty experiences like dinner shows and character dining. Everyone in your party must purchase the same plan.

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Garden Rocks Dining Packages

During the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival, you can book a Garden Rocks Dining Package that includes a meal at a participating EPCOT restaurant and guaranteed seating at one of the Garden Rocks concerts. Package prices for 2024 range from $50-$99 for adults and $21-$50 for kids, depending on the restaurant. Participating restaurants include:

  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
  • Biergarten Restaurant
  • Coral Reef Restaurant
  • Garden Grill Restaurant
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse
  • Rose & Crown Dining Room
  • Spice Road Table

Packages go on sale February 6, 2024 and are available on concert days (Friday-Monday) during the festival. Same-day dining packages may be available at Regal Eagle Smokehouse.

Disney's BoardWalk with the Swan and Dolphin at Night in Walt Disney World

Disney Resort Hotels

One of the biggest perks of staying at a Disney resort hotel is the close proximity to the theme parks and free transportation. With over 25 hotels to choose from, there’s something for every family size and budget. Value resorts offer fun themes at affordable prices, while moderate resorts provide more amenities like sit-down restaurants and themed pools. Deluxe resorts and villas cater to luxury travelers with lavish decor, upscale dining, spas and more. Some of the most beloved resorts include:

  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – A South Pacific oasis along the monorail
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – An African lodge overlooking a wildlife reserve
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – A rustic national park lodge with a geyser and bubbling springs
  • Disney’s Riviera Resort – The newest resort inspired by the grandeur of the European Riviera

Staying on-site also comes with perks like early theme park entry, extended evening hours, and the ability to make individual Lightning Lane ride reservations.

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New Attractions and Upgrades

Walt Disney World is always evolving, with new attractions, shows, restaurants and hotels debuting regularly. Recent additions include the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster at Epcot, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot’s France pavilion, and Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a revolutionary 2-night immersive adventure. Older attractions receive upgrades too, like the new scene added to Spaceship Earth at Epcot or the re-imagined Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland. During the 50th anniversary celebration, icons at each park are transformed at night with glittering lights and projections.

Happily Ever After Fireworks Show At Magic Kingdom In Full HD

Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World

One of the best perks of staying at a Disney Resort hotel or select partner hotels is Early Theme Park Entry. This benefit allows eligible guests to enter any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Disney’s Animal Kingdom) 30 minutes before the park’s scheduled opening time.

How to Get Early Theme Park Entry

To take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry, you must be staying at one of the following:

  • A Disney Resort hotel (Disney Deluxe Villas, Deluxe Resorts, Moderate Resorts, Value Resorts, and Campgrounds)
  • Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
  • Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
  • Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
  • Shades of Green Resort
  • Select other hotels on Walt Disney World property (full list available on Disney’s website)

In addition to valid theme park admission and a park reservation, you’ll need to show your Resort ID (MagicBand, Disney MagicMobile pass, or room key) to enter the park early.

Attractions Open for Early Entry

During the 30-minute early entry period, select attractions and lands will be open in each park. While subject to change, some of the most popular Early Entry attractions include:

  • Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Epcot: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Test Track
  • Hollywood Studios: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Na’vi River Journey

Not all attractions will be operating, so check the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date list on the day of your visit.

Transportation for Early Entry

Disney’s bus, monorail, Skyliner, and boat transportation from the resorts to the parks typically begins running about 60-90 minutes before the official park opening time. This allows Early Entry guests to arrive at the parks in time for the 30-minute early admission.For example, if the official park opening is 9:00 AM with Early Entry at 8:30 AM, expect the transportation to start between 7:00-7:30 AM. To be among the first in line for Early Entry, plan to be at your resort’s transportation stop about 90 minutes before the official park opening.

Tips for Early Theme Park Entry

  • Arrive early: To maximize your Early Entry time, aim to be at the front of the park 30-45 minutes before early admission begins. This may mean lining up for resort transportation 90+ minutes before the park’s scheduled opening.
  • Prioritize popular rides: Focus on knocking out headliner attractions with the longest wait times during Early Entry, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios.
  • Have a plan: Know which attractions you want to hit first and map out the most efficient route. Many guests head to Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom or Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios, so consider starting in Tomorrowland or Toy Story Land instead.
  • Utilize Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes: Pair Early Entry with Disney Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane purchases for high-demand rides not open during the early admission period to get the most out of your day.

Early Theme Park Entry is an excellent way for Disney Resort hotel guests to get a head start on their park day and experience some of the most popular attractions with minimal wait times. With some strategic planning and an early alarm clock, you can make the most of this valuable perk.

Wondrous Journeys - Disney100 Fireworks Spectacular Full 4K

Hidden Secrets and Tips

To get the most magic out of your Walt Disney World vacation, here are some insider secrets and tips:

  • Look for Hidden Mickeys throughout the parks – subtle Mickey Mouse shapes camouflaged in the decor
  • Ride popular attractions during parades or fireworks shows to avoid long lines
  • Mobile order meals through the My Disney Experience app to save time waiting in line
  • Pick up free celebration buttons at your resort or guest services for birthdays, first visits and more
  • Visit during off-peak times (January-early March, late August-September) for lower crowds
  • Take advantage of the single rider lines at Test Track, Expedition Everest and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Explore the resort hotels, even if you’re not staying there – each has unique dining, shopping and entertainment
  • Save money on souvenirs by buying Disney gifts at nearby retailers like Walmart, Target and Disney’s Character Warehouse outlets

Goofy topiary holding cake

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?

The best time to visit depends on your preferences, but generally, the least crowded times are January (except New Year’s Day) to early March (except President’s Day weekend), late August through September, and select weeks in October, November and December (except holidays). April-July and holidays tend to be the busiest.

How much are Walt Disney World tickets?

Ticket prices vary depending on the number of days and options selected. As of 2023, a base 1-day, 1-park ticket starts at $109 per day, while a 4-day ticket starts at $447.70 ($111.93 per day). Park Hopper and Park Hopper Plus options are available for an additional fee. Prices are subject to change. Check out our discount Disney World tickets for some great savings!

What is the difference between a Park Hopper and base ticket?

A base ticket allows entry to one theme park per day for each day of the ticket. A Park Hoppefffffffffffffffr ticket allows you to visit multiple parks on the same day. For example, you could start your day at Animal Kingdom and hop over to Epcot in the evening.

Do I need a Park Pass reservation to enter a Disney World theme park?

Yes, in addition to valid park admission, all guests are required to make a Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit each day. Park Hopper tickets only require a reservation for the first park; you can hop to additional parks after 2pm without a reservation.

What is Disney Genie and how does it work?

Disney Genie is a complimentary digital service in the My Disney Experience app that helps you plan your day at the parks. It provides a personalized itinerary based on your interests and real-time conditions like wait times and reservation availability. Disney Genie+ is a paid service that allows you to access Lightning Lanes (expedited queues) at select attractions for a fee.

What are Magic Bands and do I need them?

Magic Bands are colorful, waterproof wristbands that function as your park ticket, PhotoPass card, room key, and payment method. They are not required but are convenient. Alternatively, you can use a Key to the World card or the My Disney Experience app’s Disney MagicMobile feature, which turns your phone into a park ticket.

Can I bring outside food and drinks into Disney World?

Yes, guests are allowed to bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages into the parks. Exceptions are glass containers (baby food jars are allowed) and alcoholic beverages. Coolers are permitted but must be no larger than 24″ x 15″ x 18″.

What is the best age for Disney World?

Disney World offers magical experiences for all ages, but many agree the “sweet spot” is when kids are 3-12 years old. They are old enough to remember the trip, young enough to believe

Mickey in front of EPCOT ball

Conclusion

Walt Disney World is more than just a theme park – it’s a world-class resort destination filled with magic, adventure, fantasy and fun. From the classic attractions of Magic Kingdom to the futuristic thrills of Epcot to the exotic lands of Animal Kingdom, there’s something for every member of the family to enjoy. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder guests return year after year to experience the Disney magic. As Walt Disney himself said, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” and at Walt Disney World, dreams really do come true.