A guide to Walt Disney World Resort

By Eloise Barker

Photography by ©Disney

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Discover a world where Cinderella doesn’t vanish after midnight and where you don’t have to wish upon a star to make someone’s dreams come true. Whether it’s your first time, your kids’ first time, or your first time without the kids – it’s always the right time to discover the magic of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the original home of all things Disney. This year is the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and we can’t wait to celebrate this milestone with you.

Disney Park Pass System

Before you visit a Disney park you must now make a reservation using the new Disney Park Pass system. You’ll need to create a My Disney Experience account, so you can link your valid theme park tickets for each person in your party (ages three and up) to your account. Once your admission is linked to your account, you can begin to make a park reservation by selecting your date, park and time from the available reservations. To enter a park, both a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date are required.

Know before you go and check out Disney Park Pass Availability and make your reservation immediately after you purchase your ticket. Please note that dates and theme park selections are limited and subject to availability.

Don't miss

Magic Kingdom Park

Best for: Magic Kingdom Park is where Walt Disney World Resort began and is still full of timeless fairy tale magic. Fireworks cascade over Cinderella’s Castle at the Disney’s Enchantment night-time spectacular, The Haunted Mansion is ghoulishly good, and Main Street, U.S.A. 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 PhilharmMagic 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’!

Tips for little visitors: The Bippity Boppity Boutique is no ordinary shop. Fairy Godmothers-in-training will give children a royal makeover in their magical salon – from painted nails to perfect up-dos. If your children love playing princess, this is the ultimate treat – and you can save money if you bring your own dress to complete the look.

Tips for bigger visitors: Plenty of adults flock to Magic Kingdom Park to relive cherished childhood memories. Embark on Disney’s version of the three-peak challenge: ride Space MountainSplash Mountain and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – one after the other. Oh, and don’t miss a chance to take a photo in front of the purple wall in Tomorrowland for your Instagram.

  • 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: A world in miniature, Epcot is for explorers. There are 11 country ‘pavilions’ to explore – great for anyone who wants to channel Phineas Fogg and circumnavigate the world at pace – and in Future World you can experiment with space and speed on impressive rides. 

The lowdown: The park fans out around a lake with the famous Spaceship Earth monument right in the middle. Split your time between 11 countries along the shore, meeting Mulan in China, Snow White in Germany and Aladdin in Morocco and then fast-forward to Future World, the other area of the park. Soarin’ Around The World is the ride everyone talks about here. With the help of a big screen and piped-in scents it takes you flying over the wonders of earth. Mission: SPACE is for more intrepid explorers – but do it before lunch, not after.

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

Tips for bigger visitors: Stay late and watch the evening nighttime spectacular, Harmonious on Epcot’s lake: it’s 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: Despite exciting new openings at Hollywood Studios, classic favourites like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ and the Fantasmic! Evening show aren’t going anywhere. The riotous Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is always ready for an encore, whilst colourful Toy Story Land will enchant little fans. If you want to stop for lunch, enjoy home-style cooking at the 50s Prime Time Café, where ‘Mom’ will make sure your children eat their greens.

Tips for little visitors: 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.

Tips for bigger visitors: It’s all about Star Wars. Even diehard fans will be impressed by the level of detail and love that’s gone into recreating the galaxy far, far away.

  • 50's Prime Time Café

    Prime time

    Reserve a table at the 50's Prime Time Café, hosted by Coca-Cola®, up to 60 days in advance and look forward to some good old-fashioned family time.

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Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park

Best for: Confusing skiers: there’s nothing chilly about this great water park, which is themed around an alpine ski resort – just one that ‘melted’.

The lowdown: You’ll find big slides and fun rides centred around Mount Gushmore and the water remains 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.

Tips for little visitors: 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.

Tips for bigger visitors: If you’re too old and wise to tackle Summit Plummet, then try Humunga Kowabunga. This water slide drops you straight into a dark tunnel. So, you’re not as wise as you thought.

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.

Tips for little visitors: There’s a special play area just for little kids, Ketchakiddee Creek, where you can while away the hours with little ones.

Tips for bigger visitors: Why not 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

With Toy Story Land now open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, playtime has finally hit the big time. 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 including the exciting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a cartoon? On Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can step straight into the film and follow Mickey and Minnie on a wild train ride. Goofy’s in the driving seat… what could possibly go wrong? This dark ride will use exciting ‘two-and-a-half-D’ effects to bring Disney’s classic Mickey Mouse Cartoon Shorts to life.

Where to stay?

Budget: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Stay for: This cheerful hotel 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 Resort. 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.

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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Mid-range: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Stay for: Enjoy 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 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…

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.

    Splash around

    It'll feel you're in the Caribbean when you take a dip in the heated main themed pool, with water slide and waterfalls.

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  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

    Treehouse Villas

    These self-catering, three-bedroom villas stand on stilts ten feet above the ground in the woods at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

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  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

    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.

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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 and wear them proudly for dancing at the Cuban Café.