A guide to Walt Disney World Resort

By Eloise Barker

Photography by ©Disney

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March 2018

What if you could make someone’s dreams come true? Walt Disney World Resort in Florida can help you out: they’ve been in the wish-fulfilment business for decades. Their six wonderful parks have everything you could want – rides, resorts, restaurants and nightlife – to make your trip amazing. This really is the most magical place on earth.

Six amazing parks

Magic Kingdom Park

Best for: Magic Kingdom Park is where Walt Disney World began and is still full of timeless fairy tale magic. Fireworks cascade over Cinderella’s Castle at the new Happily Ever After night-time spectacular, The Haunted Mansion is ghoulishly good, and Main Street USA swells with music, and even smells of fresh cookies.

The lowdown: In this pocket of childhood memories, you’ll float, rather than walk towards your first view of Cinderella’s Castle. Mickey’s PhilharMagic and “it’s a small world”, both beloved rides, are practically run on a mix of nostalgia and children’s smiles. Book into the Be Our Guest restaurant and make sure you try their cupcake, topped with curiously-named ‘grey stuff’; just like they say in the Disney song, ‘it’s delicious’!

Top tip: Embark on Disney’s version of the three-peak challenge: ride Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – one after the other.

  • Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

    Live the fairy tale

    Discover a world where Cinderella doesn’t vanish after midnight and – oh, boy! Is that Mickey Mouse? Stay at an on-site resort near the Magic Kingdom and discover the magic at Walt Disney World.

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Best for: No one should miss out on the fun at Epcot, Walt Disney’s mash-up of science project and world fair. Split your time between 11 countries, meeting Mulan in China, Snow White in Germany and Aladdin in Morocco and then experiment with space and speed on the big rides at Future World. Soarin’ Around The World is the ride everyone talks about. With the help of a big screen and piped-in scents it takes you flying over the wonders of earth.

The lowdown: Little tiddlers will love meeting their favourite Finding Nemo friends in Turtle Talk with Crush, where they can discuss current affairs with the wise surfing turtle himself through an ocean window.

Top Tip: Epcot’s impressive Spaceship Earth monument photographs well at sunset, which is also a lovely time to visit. Stay late and watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, quite possibly the best fireworks display at Disney.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Best for: Bringing film to life in a blaze of attractions, shows and state-of-the art sound, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is for movie lovers.

The lowdown: Toy Story Land is a newcomer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but the classic favourites, like the Tower of Terror and the Fantasmic! evening show aren’t going anywhere. The Star Wars area will attract anyone who is ready to Jedi. The riotous Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith is always ready for an encore, whilst stage shows from the casts of Frozen and Beauty and the Beast will enchant little fans. If you want to stop for lunch, enjoy home-style cooking at the 50’s Prime Time Café, where ‘Mom’ will make sure your children eat their greens.

Top tip: Whip your youngsters into shape with a dose of Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, where they’ll learn to channel their energy into forces for good instead of evil. Book them in as soon as you get to the park as the slots fill up quickly.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Best for: Part safari, part theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park has a yeti and a tribe of Avatar’s Na’Vi as well as white rhinos, tigers and cotton-top tamarins.

The lowdown: Your family will love watching the uproarious celebrations at the Festival of the Lion King, whilst even the most intrepid might lose their cool when they discover the big-footed surprise hiding within Expedition Everest or the monstrous Banshee on Avatar’s Flight of Passage. Hungry as a horse? Tiffins restaurant is a popular stop for lunch.

Top tip: The Kali River Rapids are the most pragmatic way to cool off in the middle of the day, but be warned: on this white water adventure you will get more soaked than a washed sock.

Book a holiday

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

    Alive with magic

    Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park has the best beasts – and the roller coasters are really wild. Book a holiday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

  • Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park.

    Soak up the sun

    Castaway Creek curves all the way around Typhoon Lagoon. Jump in and take the scenic route.

  • Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

    Travel in time and space

    At Epcot you can explore the whole world - and say, "ice to meet you" to Elsa and Ana in Norway.

Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park

Best for: Confusing skiers – this Disney water park is themed around an alpine ski resort.

The lowdown: You’ll find big slides and fun rides centred around Mount Gushmore and the water is a civilised 21°C throughout the park. One of the biggest rides is Summit Plummet, which you can see from far, far away. The faint-hearted might want to keep it at a distance. Shaped like a ski jump, this waterslide shoots you like a piece of pneumatic post through a tunnel at a phenomenal 60 mph. Little children will love splashing around at Tikes Peak, where there are special miniature slides. For afters, nothing beats Cross Country Creek, a lazy river so lethargic you’ll never want to leave.

Top tip: Beat your friends at Toboggan Racers to cement your place as pack leader. Cool Runnings!

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park

Best for: A tropical-themed day at a water park. Waves lap at your feet, calypso music comes drifting on the breeze, and ice cream comes served in a bucket.

The lowdown: Typhoon Lagoon is dominated by a seismically stupendous wave pool and a long lazy river. The Crush ‘n’ Gusher ride will do you no harm… unless you’re a banana. Based on an abandoned fruit processing plant this ride is a fruity blend of water slide and roller coaster. Pick a buddy to ride with you on your double float. You might be happier sprawled on a lounger with a picnic, though, in which case the sandy beaches are all yours. Little ones will love their special play areas.

Top tip: Sign up to purchase early morning surf lessons (payable locally) at the wave pool before the park opens.

What's new

Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Playtime hits the big time in 2018 at Hollywood Studios, when Toy Story Land arrives. Prepare to get your springs in a twist on the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster and spin into space on the Alien Swirling Saucers.

Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Star Wars has landed at Hollywood Studios. Find yourself surrounded by Stormtroopers as the score swells, and enjoy the daytime and night-time shows, rides and chances to meet your favourite characters. In short, a whole universe of attractions are already open, whilst the exciting new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge launches in 2019.

Frozen Ever After at Epcot

Frozen fever has taken over the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Have a laff with Olaf the optimistic snowman and take the family river boat ride, where you’ll be buoyed along with hit songs from the film. Singing Let it Go isn’t mandatory, but if you break out your best Elsa impression you certainly won’t be doing it solo.

Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

When Pandora opened in 2017, it brought a whole new world to the Animal Kingdom: that of the hit film Avatar. There are two ways to explore Pandora. First, take a gentle boat trip through the blooming bioluminescence of the rainforest on The Na-vi River, where the animatronics really are some of the best in any theme park. Second, don your headset and swoop above the trees on the excellent Flight of Passage ride.


Don't miss

The Star Wars experiences

The lowdown: There are plenty of ways to enjoy Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, here are just a few for starters – use a high-tech flight simulator to embark on an important space mission at the revamped Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, then head to Launch Bay to nerd out on memorabilia (and give Chewbacca a call if you see him wandering around at the entrance). At the daytime show, A Galaxy Far Far Away, watch Darth Vadar strut his stuff on stage, and make sure you enrol your kids early in Jedi Training. Visit A Galactic Spectacular on its running nights to be star-struck. The show features colossal high-tech projections of famous film sequences and accompanying fireworks and lasers.

  • ©Disney ©&™ Lucasfilm Ltd

    Thrilling experiences

    Get ready, Jedis. Sign up your children for Jedi training in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    Book flights

What’s the best ticket?

The lowdown: Have the fullest experience of the parks by buying Disney’s Ultimate Ticket, which can be purchased for 7, 14 or even 21 days. With Ultimate Tickets, you’ll have access to all six wonderful parks. These tickets include Memory Maker, which means that you can document your trip with the help of park photographers and ride cams. You’ll be able to skip the standby lines on your favourite rides by using FastPass+, and you can book your chosen rides in advance. This ticket is only available pre-departure.


Where to stay?

Budget: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Stay for: A cheerful hotel which is lovingly loyal to Disney theming. Little fans of Finding Nemo, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Cars will be delighted with the colourful on-site décor here – the poolside pops with colourful guppies and coral centrepieces, plus it’s the largest resort pool at Walt Disney World. It’s ten minutes by private coach from Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Know this: The rooms’ mini kitchens – complete with cutlery, including Ariel the Little Mermaid’s favourite utensil, the dinglehopper – are very useful for meal times.

Budget: Disney’s All Star Music Resort

Stay for: Disney’s All Star resorts are great value for groups to use as a base. The All Star Music Resort is no more than 20 minutes from the parks by the regular shuttle, and kids will love the family rooms, decorated Disney-style, and the pizza room service. You can use both the resort pools and dip your toes in the big Art of Animation Resort pool, too, where underwater speakers warble Disney hits while you swim.

Know this: Each building is themed around a different musical genre, so you could end up sleeping next to a pair of giant cowboy boots.

Mid-range: Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside


Stay for: This big resort is heaped high with Southern hospitality. You can even toast marshmallows on an outdoor fire pit. With multiple pools, there are plenty of places to swim, including a waterslide area. You’re just 15 minutes from the rest of the world at Epcot and you can take an atmospheric river boat ride to get there.

Know this: Rent a bike to help you travel around the resort with breezy ease.

  • Disney’s All Star Music Resort.

    Family suites

    There's room for the whole family band at Disney's All-Star Music Resorts.

    Book a stay
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.

    A spacious haven

    Inspired by the easy Louisiana lifestyle, Port Orleans Resort has a swimmin' hole, a fishin' hole, and plenty of restaurants at its Riverside Mill

    Book a stay
  • Disney's Art of Animation Resort.

    Just keep swimming

    You'll find the largest pool in the whole of Walt Disney World at Disney's Art of Animation Resort, complete with state-of-the-art underwater speakers.

    Book a stay

Mid-range: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Stay for: Tropical rooms and sandy beaches. Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort is getting a facelift but much of its 200 acres is still up and running. It’s set around the lagoon of ‘Barefoot Bay’ and themed like a series of pirate-plundered islands. There are hammocks scattered around the lagoon, ready for daytime downtime.

Know this: Try booking the special buccaneer-themed rooms: for those who prefer booty sleep to beauty sleep.

Luxury: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

The lowdown: The lion sleeps tonight – and so will you – within roaring distance (15 minute’s coach) of the entrance of the Animal Kingdom. The on-site restaurant serves African and American cuisine and adults might appreciate a sip of Pinotage from the South African wine cellar.

Know this: If you book a Savannah View, you can sit and watch the animals in the park – giraffe, zebra, gazelle – ‘til the cows come home.

Luxury: Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Stay for: Quietly spread out amongst parks and lakes, Saratoga Springs has enough space for a golf course and plenty of activities, from tennis to treating yourself to Disney nail art at the spa. The vast complex is themed around the famous New Yorker country retreat. It’s bucolic and comes with paddocks and ponies, yet it’s only walking distance from busy Disney Springs.

Know this: You can stay in a special ‘treehouse’ suite, and pretend you’re a classy version of Tarzan.

Luxury: Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Stay for: This massive hotel has a striking Victorian-inspired design, and is decked out in old-style Florida clapboard. Horse drawn carriages pass by and an orchestra plays mood music in the lobby. Catch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from the hotel’s marina; the Magic Kingdom Park is just ten minutes away by monorail, or a calm water taxi journey.

Know this: Come Christmas, the hotel erects a giant gingerbread house and a preposterously tall Christmas tree. Mary Poppins pops in for character breakfasts – well, if it’s good enough for Mary…

Resort benefits

If you stay on site at Walt Disney Resorts

Come for the themed hotels, stay for the benefits: there are many good reasons to stay on-site when you visit Walt Disney World. If you book Disney's Ultimate Ticket your party can link their Magicbands (ticket, hotel key and credit card all on one wristband) and you’ll be able to access the parks early and stay up late with the Extra Magic Hours. With the complimentary shuttles, getting to the gates of each park is a breeze. And for the family who likes to plan, you can decide which rides to use on your three daily FastPass+ tickets and book them up to 60 days prior to your actual check-in. Not only that, you can take advantage of Disney Dining plans to help budget your family’s meals. Download the resort’s app: My Disney Experience, for a Disney World Map and all your tickets, alongside ride wait-times, and your FastPass+ and dining reservations.

Find out what's included in the Disney Dining plans

  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.
  • Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.

    Classic Florida

    The Grand Floridian was inspired by old-world luxury, but with plenty of fresh modern perks – like pristine pools and a monorail which whisks you straight to the Magic Kingdom.

    Book a holiday
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

    Savannah View

    Some rooms at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park look out over the savannah. Step out onto your balcony to greet passing giraffes.

And after all that...

Discover Disney Springs

Can you feel the love tonight? Yes, yes you can at Disney Springs. When the parks close for the evening, there’s no better place to go for a date, have a family evening or a meal with friends. Prepare to be bombarded with entertainment, from DJs with your steak at STK Orlando, to pagodas made of sushi at Morimoto Asia, to taking a vintage Amphicar for a dip in the lake. You can bag designer brands in Disney Springs town centre, or buy a hundred variations on the Mickey Mouse ears at the massive World of Disney shop. Wear them proudly for dancing at the Cuban Café.

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