Ultimate Insider’s 101 guide to Disney World – The Parks Overview

Our family just cannot get enough of Disney World and let’s face it, while the resorts are awesome, the restaurants are great and the shops are fun, the reason our kids want to come back are the parks.

Just to get one thing out there, when we talk about parks we are not including the water parks – they’re great but we will cover them in a separate post, what we are talking about now are the four Disney World theme parks the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I will be doing detailed posts on each individual park later but this will give you a flavour of what they offer so if it is your first time and maybe you cannot decide which to do first or maybe you can’t make it to all of them and have to choose, this will give you some help in deciding what is best for your family.

The Magic Kingdom

Probably the most famous theme park in the world, the Magic Kingdom is the heart of Disney World, at its center is the incredible and iconic Cinderella’s castle, or as our children refer to it Mickey’s castle.  From the moment you arrive you can’t help but be happy and when you take your first eye-opening steps on to Main Street USA you will be transported to a world of Disney sights, sounds and memories that will always be with you and make you smile on the dreariest of days!

Split into different lands there are things to do and places to see with rides galore for all ages.  The Magic Kingdom has the rides that most people really associate with Disney World “the classics” which are all really popular with our kids, they love them and you can’t go a week without mention of Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain or the Haunted Mansion!  In my view the Magic Kingdom is the “must see” of Disney World and you should plan to see it first as it sets up the whole vacation and really gets you into that Disney spirit.

Recommend that you fastpass (what’s this? We’ll cover it in another post) the newest additions to the park like the frozen character greeting with Elsa and Anna, as well as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with your third pick being either Big Thunder Mountain or Space mountain as they tend to have the longest wait times for walk ups.  Best place to eat here?  I would have to say that food is the biggest let down at the park, generally it is not good and we would always rather eat at a resort, but if we had to pick then we would go for the Crystal Palace for character dining with the cast of Winnie the Pooh and Casey’s Corner for a quick service meal of hotdogs and fries.  The afternoon parade and the fireworks at the end of the day are legendary and always spectacular – we tend to view from a spot on the tomorrow land side of the centrum in front of the castle (just near the ice cream parlour).  The views are great and it is only a few hundred yards from the exit…


Epcot 2014

It’s a close call, but Epcot is our second favorite park at Disney (something the whole family agrees on, a rarity!) another icon awaits in the form of the Spaceship Earth geosphere otherwise known as the giant golf ball.  Arriving on the monorail is the best way to enter as the tracks wrap around spaceship earth and give you some spectacular sights across Epcot’s other iconic landmark, the world travellers showcase which is an incredible trip around the world in the form of different “countries” complete with their own iconic landmarks spotted around a giant lake.  Can’t visit Italy?  no problem St. Mark’s Square in Venice is here (and having been to both I know which version I prefer!!!)

Now, best rides at Epcot is a bit of a heated debate in our house.  For me, it is Soarin, which is a fantastic flight simulator with sights and sounds of California as your feet dangle almost touching the trees of the Redwood and the Golden Gate Bridge there is a wonderful sense of awe and freedom – it’s great!  However, Cam prefers Test Track where you can design your own car and take it for a ride on a track hitting 60mph! Mimi is a big fan of the Nemo clam shell ride which is a nice slow sing along ride with spectacular graphics projected on to a real life aquarium.  And my husband?  He loves the space simulator, mission space (orange level) which hits you with a few g’s of force and can make you feel queasy.  Nice!

Food at Epcot is in abundance.  Great variety and options for all budgets.  For character dining head over to Norway and join the princesses at Akershus or Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto at the garden grill which is a revolving restaurant serving family style meals some of the ingredients are even made in Epcot – which reminds me of the must see Lands tour. Quick Service, we sometimes stop by La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico which is, quick, sheltered from the sun and overlooking the lake.

Animal kingdom

Animal Kingdom Tree

Disney’s take on a zoo is something else entirely!  A wonderful place to wander around feeling like you have been magically transported to exotic locations that inspired the lion king, jungle book and other adventures.  The centrepiece here is the tree of life, a huge carved tree at the epicentre of the kingdom and a great place to have a photo of the family (I recommend the bridge crossing just before it).

Rides here are a bit different.  Everyone loves the Kilimanjaro safari where you take to a jeep for a ride across the Savannah (prairie to you and I!) spotting giraffes, elephants, lions (always snoozing on the top of the big rocks), cheetahs (always at the back boundary lying under the trees, cats – what can you do?) it really is like nothing you can experience outside of going to Africa!  If you want to get soaked from head to toe (not just a little “log flume” type wet but a sopping “I have to buy new clothes” kind of wet) then go for the Kali river Rapids or else go for the speed up a mountain and come down faster (and backwards) fun of Expedition Everest.

Food options are not great here.  Character dining at Tusker House is ok but a little cramped and usually takes a long time to get seated.  There is a great little shack around the back of dinoland which has refreshing floats and wonderful HUGE ice cream sandwiches, yummy!

Also, look out for the new “Rivers of Light” night time experience that looks set to be yet another magical experience that we are looking forward to seeing when it debuts in Spring this year.

Hollywood studios


Where we all met Disney – at the movies!  What does this really mean for our family?  FROZEN and STAR WARS that’s what!  The frozen sing along is a must visit for anyone with a little girl (say anyone under the age of 100) while the chance to build ice castles (seriously!) is just one more example of something you won’t find everyday…unless you are at Disney world!

The studios, as you might expect, are more focussed on shows than some of the other parks.  So you have American idol, the Muppets, a stunt show, Indiana Jones, Little Mermaid and Playhouse Disney to name a few.  What this means is that real “rides” are in short supply, especially for little ones which explains why Toy Story Mania is so INSANELY popular.  It is frankly not worth the wait unless you get some fast passes.  For bigger kids however the studios has two of the best.  First up, the Tower of Terror.  A spooky old hotel complete with ghost story and an atmosphere that is difficult to escape – the tension is palpable as you strap in for a ride that takes you 13 stories high, gives you a glimpse of the park from that height and a view of miles around before dropping you straight down!  Daddy and Cam come out of that one white as a ghost every time they do it, but they keep going back!  Second, Rock n Roller Coaster – insanely fast and I’m told one of the best rides out there (I never quite “got around” to going on it myself you understand), and hubby’s fav. 0-60 in 2 seconds anyone?

The best character dining can be found at Hollywood and Vine where little ones can meet Disney junior favourites like Sophia the First. Again the best dining options are a quick monorail or boat trip away at the end of the day at one of the resorts.

Don’t forget to visit Fantasmic on nights it is showing.  Amazing show and I’ll talk more about it in a future post….

Finally…I would love to hear about your trips and recommendations…always love to hear about other people Disney experiences…Have a magical week!x♥x

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