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Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World from a Self-Proclaimed Expert

Updated on September 15, 2016

Second Hometown

Born in Southwest Florida, my family and I took many, MANY trips to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. Some years I would go 4 to 5 times, visiting all 4 theme parks in one determined trip. When I took my first trip, I was just over a year old. Back then there were characters walking freely around the park, ready and waiting to greet children and sign autographs. The wait times were shorter, there was no Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom, but it was still a ton of fun.

It's been almost two years since my last Disney experience and I must admit - I'm beginning to feel a form of withdrawal. Over the years I have gathered a great deal of knowledge that can only be gained from multiple, exhausting trips to the happiest place on Earth.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is my cousin Nicole and I during my first trip to Disney.  (I'm the little one...)  This picture was taken just before getting in line to ride "Spaceship Earth" at Epcot.That's my mom holding me up to pet Eeyore at the Magic Kingdom.Me making faces at Tweedle-Dee...or Dum.
This is my cousin Nicole and I during my first trip to Disney.  (I'm the little one...)  This picture was taken just before getting in line to ride "Spaceship Earth" at Epcot.
This is my cousin Nicole and I during my first trip to Disney. (I'm the little one...) This picture was taken just before getting in line to ride "Spaceship Earth" at Epcot.
That's my mom holding me up to pet Eeyore at the Magic Kingdom.
That's my mom holding me up to pet Eeyore at the Magic Kingdom.
Me making faces at Tweedle-Dee...or Dum.
Me making faces at Tweedle-Dee...or Dum.
My big brothers and I goofing around on our room's balcony at the Contemporary Resort.
My big brothers and I goofing around on our room's balcony at the Contemporary Resort.
The WIlderness Lodge...beautiful!
The WIlderness Lodge...beautiful! | Source
Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Disney's All-Star Music Resort
Disney's All-Star Music Resort

Disney Resorts & Hotels

On my vacations with my father and two older brothers, we would almost always stay at Disney's Contemporary Resort near the Magic Kingdom while on occasion staying at the Grand Floridian or Polynesian Resorts. On the other hand, when I would travel with my mom we would stay at either the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground or the Wilderness Lodge. I can honestly admit that there is not one resort I didn't enjoy staying at. Each hotel has the same, Disney-style feel while mixing in their own flair to go along with the individual resort's style.

Now that I am older (and have to pay for my own trips!) I stay at one of the "value resorts" - Disney's All-Star Movies, Music and Sports Resorts, Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts. A little off the beaten path near Animal Kingdom and ESPN's Wide World of Sports, these resorts offer the same great accommodations as their big brothers, but at a discounted price. I highly recommend these hotels, especially for Florida residents. You can't beat the prices and you still have access to bus transportation so you can avoid those nasty parking fees at the park gates.

All Disney Resorts have access to all four parks and other area located around the property whether it be bus, monorail or the ferry. The best part about staying at a Disney Resort hotel? Guests are granted access to one of the four parks an hour early OR can enjoy an extra two hours after normal closing time.

Walt Disney World Resort Location

A markerWalt Disney World -
Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830, USA
get directions

So popular - they put it on a shirt!
So popular - they put it on a shirt!
Source

Park Transportation

“!Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!”

I learned how to say that at a very young age and thoroughly confused my parents. That phrase you hear at least a dozen times while riding the monorail. "Please stand clear of the doors," followed by the Spanish version chimes over your head each stop before the tram moves along. Although at the end of the night the wait for the monorail can be extremely long (especially at Magic Kingdom after the fireworks because it's the primary way to get back to the hotels AND the parking lot), but it is generally efficient while moving from place to place during normal hours. There are two main routes for the monorail - one is a giant loop around the Magic Kingdom Resort area including stops at the Magic Kingdom, general admission parking lot, the Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian and Polynesian. The other route takes you from the general admission parking lot at the Magic Kingdom to Epcot.

Buses are the other mode of transportation to make your way around the Disney property. They take you EVERYWHERE, but my tip here is to make sure you get on the right bus. I know - it sounds like common sense. There are specific lines for specific destinations and the actual bus has a sign flashing on the front. If you're on a schedule it can throw quite a wrench in your day, especially if you accidentally travel the completely opposite way in where you want to end up. (Confession/Example: I once got on the Magic Kingdom bus from Hollywood Studios to go to Animal Kingdom. DUMB. It added at least an extra hour onto our day, easy.)

The ferryboat is another option to take you from the Magic Kingdom entrance to the parking lot. At night after fireworks it's a faster option than waiting for the monorail, but except for then, I personally avoid it. It's slow and takes a ridiculous amount of time for people to get on and off.

Walt Disney World Property Map

Source
That's my, "OMG, it's super hot" face.
That's my, "OMG, it's super hot" face.

Be Prepared - it will be HOT, HOT, HOT!

There is a very short time during the year where you can visit Disney World and not have to worry about passing out from heat exhaustion. Spring, summer and most of fall are a mixed bag when it comes to weather in Florida. Thunderstorms, hurricanes and torrential rain are always a concern, but the biggest weather obstacle that is a given is the HEAT. (FYI: For some reason, Animal Kingdom always seems to be the hottest park. Keep a bottle of water on hand at all times!)

While dressing for the park (particularly in the spring and summer months) be sure to dress appropriately - tank tops, shorts, sunglasses. Hats are always a wonderful option. No, not silly Disney hats and character ears. Hats that will give you some protection from our beautiful yet brutal Florida sun. And even though it is Florida and you are on vacations - don't wear flip-flops to the parks. Your feet will thank you for wearing comfortable shoes.

Also, be sure to pack your own sunscreen because the sunscreen available for sale on property is SUPER expensive. No matter how nice the landscaping looks in pictures - there is NO shade at Walt Disney World. NONE. Well, there's a little...while you are on an indoor ride! After waiting an hour in the blistering sun, that freezing cold blast of AC never felt so good.

My mom & I with the Country Bears at Magic Kingdom.  One of the only times I have been at Disney and it was chilly outside.  It was wonderful!
My mom & I with the Country Bears at Magic Kingdom. One of the only times I have been at Disney and it was chilly outside. It was wonderful!

Which park has what? Here's a basic breakdown:

Disney World Park
What sets them apart?
Best ride/attraction
Magic Kingdom
Everything Disney
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/The Haunted Mansion
Epcot
World Showcase: Great food variety - and BEER!
Test Track/World Showcase
Hollywood Studios
Biggest, baddest rides
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular/Rock 'n' Rollercoaster
Animal Kingdom
Animals...REAL ones!
Kilimanjaro Safaris/DINOSAUR

Disney Tour - All 4 Parks

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cinderella's castle - the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom"Space Mountain" located in TomorrowlandInvisible horse outside of "The Haunted Mansion""Spaceship Earth" - centerpiece of EpcotThe Sorcerer's Hat - centerpiece for Hollywood Studios"The Hollywood Tower of Terror"Me in front of the San Francisco backdrop Studio Backlot TourRiding the ant inside the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids!: Movie Set Adventure" - a big playground based on the movie"The Tree of Life" - centerpiece for Animal Kingdom.  Also home to the "It's Tough to be a Bug!" 3D show based on "A Bug's Life"Tree lady walking around the parkAH!  Giant BATS!
Cinderella's castle - the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom
Cinderella's castle - the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom | Source
"Space Mountain" located in Tomorrowland
"Space Mountain" located in Tomorrowland | Source
Invisible horse outside of "The Haunted Mansion"
Invisible horse outside of "The Haunted Mansion" | Source
"Spaceship Earth" - centerpiece of Epcot
"Spaceship Earth" - centerpiece of Epcot | Source
The Sorcerer's Hat - centerpiece for Hollywood Studios
The Sorcerer's Hat - centerpiece for Hollywood Studios | Source
"The Hollywood Tower of Terror"
"The Hollywood Tower of Terror" | Source
Me in front of the San Francisco backdrop
Me in front of the San Francisco backdrop | Source
Studio Backlot Tour
Studio Backlot Tour | Source
Riding the ant inside the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids!: Movie Set Adventure" - a big playground based on the movie
Riding the ant inside the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids!: Movie Set Adventure" - a big playground based on the movie | Source
"The Tree of Life" - centerpiece for Animal Kingdom.  Also home to the "It's Tough to be a Bug!" 3D show based on "A Bug's Life"
"The Tree of Life" - centerpiece for Animal Kingdom. Also home to the "It's Tough to be a Bug!" 3D show based on "A Bug's Life" | Source
Tree lady walking around the park
Tree lady walking around the park | Source
AH!  Giant BATS!
AH! Giant BATS! | Source
Fireworks on Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom
Fireworks on Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom | Source
"Main Street Electrical Parade" at the Magic Kingdom
"Main Street Electrical Parade" at the Magic Kingdom | Source
"Illuminations" at Epcot
"Illuminations" at Epcot | Source
"Fantasmic!" at Hollywood Studios
"Fantasmic!" at Hollywood Studios | Source
Maleficent in dragon form during "Fantasmic!"
Maleficent in dragon form during "Fantasmic!" | Source

Nighttime Shows!

Walt Disney World has fantastic nighttime entertainment available at every park with the exception of Animal Kingdom. No matter which show you would like to attend at which park, its SUPER important to show up early to get a good seat or spot along the parade route.

The Magic Kingdom ends the night with the classic "Main Street Electrical Parade" followed by an impressive fireworks display. Floats and popular Disney characters are decked out in unique lights that flash along to music as they make their way through the park. It's been years since I have sat through the parade. Instead, if you're not interested in the show, this is an excellent time to ride the biggest rides! Either way well before the parade starts, make sure you pick which side of the route you want to be on, because once it starts - you are stuck!

Epcot features an evening show called "Illuminations". The incredible fireworks and light show takes place over the lagoon in the center of World Showcase. It's an awesome show with wonderful effects and music. Being over the water, as long as you are somewhere around the edge there isn't a bad seat and unlike the parade you aren't blocked from either side of the park while it's going on.

"Fantasmic!" is the nighttime at Hollywood Studios and it has everything! Fireworks, live action, boats, pyrotechnics, projections of Disney films onto screens of mist and best of all - Maleficent as a fire breathing dragon! It has tons of Disney characters teaming up with Mickey Mouse to stop the popular Disney villains. The show is amazing and a must-see, but it fills up FAST!

Want to meet Tigger?! You're going to have to wait...

That's me - patiently waiting to get my picture with Tigger & Pooh.
That's me - patiently waiting to get my picture with Tigger & Pooh.
I finally got my turn!  And I embarrassed Tigger right away.
I finally got my turn! And I embarrassed Tigger right away.
My boyfriend Sean didn't have to wait long to meet Buzz Lightyear...we were second in line.  Lucky!
My boyfriend Sean didn't have to wait long to meet Buzz Lightyear...we were second in line. Lucky!

Final Tips & Advice

  • Fast Passes: Use them. They are great, especially on those super hot days. Even if you only cut off 10 minutes from your wait time, it's worth it! But be warned - those people you speedily pass waiting in the regular line WILL HATE YOU. Just wait until you are in their place. You'll understand. Just hold back the urge to trip anyone.
  • Character Meetings: Unlike when I was little, your kid's favorite Disney characters no longer wander freely around the park. When you do see them, they have another Disney employee with them and they are on their way to a specific location for a meet & greet. If your kids want that autograph (and they do) this will be another line you have to wait it.
  • Bird Poop: Trust me, it's a thing. While visiting MGM (now Hollywood Studios) my mom & I were pooped on so many times waiting to see the live "Beauty and the Beast" show we came up with a song: "Be our guest, be our guest, let a bird poop on your chest!" Witty, I know.

Good luck!

Walt Disney World Resort Visitor's "Mash-Up"

Walt Disney World Experience

Which is your favorite park inside of the Walt Disney World Resort?

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    • RoddyJDryer profile image

      Roddy J Dryer 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I worked at Disney for 12 years and my wife still does. She has been there so long that she was on the opening crew for Epcot. But with all of that, I could never quite understand the Spanish for "please stand clear of the doors," until I saw it written here.

      Thank you for that!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      Thanks for sharing your Disney experiences. As a Disney Annual Passholder for the past 14 years, I can confirm that your advice and recommendations are spot on! But... I just have to ask... bird poop??? Really??? In my hundred-or-so visits, I've never been a victim. But, certainly my next visit to Hollywood Studios will have me "looking up" quite often!

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 4 years ago

      We live about an hour away, and we love tent camping, so we will get annual passes and camp out at Ft. Wilderness for a night or two-- great way to stay on property, get all the perks of a mod resort and pay less than $50 per night (off-peak season prices). Bring a cooler with PBJ sandwiches and it's the best bargain around.

      But sometimes we like to go all out-- like next week we're taking an 8-day stay at PORS, taking in Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party & the Food & Wine Festival.

      Love the hub, great Disney trips.

    • Mamajo3304 profile image

      Jodi 4 years ago from Indiana

      We took a family vacation there when my kids were 3 and 5 and they don't remember one thing about it. :( Next year when my daughter turns 21 we are going on a cruise with friends and one has a 6 yr old and we are thinking of going to the Magic Kingdom for a day (cause it's the little ones dream). Hopefully my daughter will remember (and probably hate me) for this trip there!

    • Tygher41 profile image
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      Megan Carroll 4 years ago from Boynton Beach, FL

      Thanks! What's crazy is my family didn't even have annual passes until I was in high school...not sure why. I avoid that ride at all costs! The trick is to come up with an excuse, like "I'll watch everyone's bags and stuff," ha!

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 4 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Nothing like hearing from an expert! Super hub covering the important elements of a Walt Disney World trip. Living so close it becomes routine to visit the park, especially with the park passes. I think the best time to go is late fall, when it's still warm, but not oppressively hot, between Thanksgiving and the New Year. A good hat is a must and comfortable shoes. And be prepared if you go on the It's A Small World ride, you will feel like screaming by the end of the ride. Nighttime is magical.