So You Want to Go to Disney – Part 4: The Parks

Chances are pretty good that, if you have made it this far in our series, you have at least a passing knowledge of the four theme park gates within Walt Disney World. On the off chance you don’t, I’ll briefly describe each one below, but this is mostly going to attempt to answer a question I get more than I would have anticipated: Which park(s) should we go to?

Part 4: WHICH PARK(S) SHOULD YOU GO TO

The simple answer is, you guessed it: It depends.

Each park has its own, unique positives and (yes) negatives and different people respond differently to each one. So, I’ll do my best to put forth my limited opinion on each. Beginning with the big one:

MAGIC KINGDOM

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This park is the whole point. It’s usually the reason people come to Disney World in the first place. “The Most Magical Place On Earth” is what you get when you combine Disneyland with lots and lots of room to build. It’s bigger than its older sibling in Anaheim. Everything about it is bigger. And it is wonder personified. A friend of ours, upon seeing Cinderella Castle for the first time, remarked “I don’t even know what I’m feeling? What is this?” And that about sums it up.

The classic attractions and parades and characters and shows are all there. Guests should expect to spend at least 1 if not 2 full days exploring the Magic Kingdom depending on how many days you are visiting. And even that probably won’t be enough time. If you get Park Hopper, multiple evenings at Magic Kingdom is never a bad thing.

But, it’s the most visited theme park in the world. Which, of course, means it’s almost always crowded. Have something of a plan going in, get your FastPass+ reservations in line, and have a blast. Spontaneity is great, but being somewhat strategic about when you try to hit certain rides and finding ways to avoid the oppressive summer heat is not a bad thing. Check wait times in the My Disney Experience app and don’t be afraid to alter course. There’s literally something around every corner, so it’s hard to do it wrong.

EPCOT

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No park at WDW is as divisive as EPCOT. We absolutely love it. Others absolutely hate it. Most fall somewhere in between. The misconception is that EPCOT is for the kids up front (Future World) and for the parents in the back (World Showcase). The truth is, there’s a lot for both throughout. You can do anything from rushing through and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of all the pavilions as fast as you can, to taking your time and exploring every nook and cranny. There are a handful of marquee attractions (Test Track, Soarin‘, Frozen Ever After, Spaceship Earth) and all of them are great in their own right. Even smaller or lower-trafficked attractions like Turtle Talk with Crush and Living with the Land are a must. The World Showcase offers 11 cultures in a picturesque stroll around the lagoon. And despite its reputation, there’s plenty for the kids to do. Kidcot stations are located in each country’s pavilion where children can meet someone from that country, color or collect stamps in a sort of passport. Model trains, koi ponds, and impromptu character meet-and-greets break up the walk for kids.

EPCOT is visually appealing. The food is outstanding. Characters are easier to meet here than at Magic Kingdom. And it’s HUGE. It is as detailed or as glossed-over as you want it to be.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

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Let’s be honest. At the time of this post, Hollywood Studios is in total flux while they are building Toy Story land and Star Wars land (slated to open in 2018 and 2019, respectively). Both will be awesome, but it currently renders what many already consider a “half-day park” even more so. That said, all of the “good” rides and attractions are still open (Star Tours, Toy Story Mania!, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, etc). The Star Wars element is there thanks to recent additions like the Launch Bay and live shows, but is not as great as it’s going to be when the expansion is done. There’s a lot of Disney Jr. stuff there for the littler kids, too. It’s a nice option for a morning if you are getting Park Hopper. Otherwise, it’s a tough sell depending on how many days in the parks you end up planning.

That said, there are lots of characters to meet, a number of fun dining options and live shows (Fantasmic!). Certainly enough to keep a family entertained for a few hours.

ANIMAL KINGDOM

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While we are being honest, I have to admit that we have never done a full day at Animal Kingdom, but our kids are probably too young to take full advantage of it. Some consider it a bit of a half-day park as well. But, that’s probably not fair. The handful of rides they have are great (at least, the ones we’ve ridden). Expedition Everest is awesome. Both Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo the Musical are outstanding. There is lots of interactive stuff for the kids (Wilderness Explorer program, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, etc.). There are (as is clearly the case, everywhere) great food options. We have yet to have *that* moment at Animal Kingdom, but it’s certainly not a stretch to understand why so many folks enjoy it.

Encountering animals is the whole idea behind this park, so there are obviously lots of chances to do so. Kilimanjaro Safaris is arguably the best thing about Animal Kingdom and is a can’t miss. But, there are other, non-motorized, options as well. If you love animals, the chances that you will love this park are pretty high.

Plus, there are lots of new attractions that have become available in the last year or so. More evening and night entertainment options like Rivers of Light have been added as the park has begun to stay open longer. And, then there’s the recently opened, Pandora: The World of Avatar. Both marquee attractions, Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, are amazing. Those who are fans of the movie – and anyone else, really – are sure to enjoy this new addition.

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Just…you know, be patient for now.

OTHER OPTIONS

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Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf

Beyond the four major parks, there are many, many things to do at Walt Disney World, including Disney’s two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon – and the newly re-imagined and expanded Disney Springs shopping and entertainment district. As well as mini-golf, the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and any number of things to do at other resort hotels. The Boardwalk and Fort Wilderness resorts, in particular, have a bunch of activities and things to see.

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Disney Springs

Disney Springs is great for a couple of reasons. 1) It’s free. No ticket required. 2) There’s lots of restaurants and bars and shops and live entertainment to keep you busy. For those who skew older than, say, 3rd grade…it can be a good nightcap to any evening at Disney World.

Planning the amount of time you want to spend in each park is crucial. Make sure to check things like Extra Magic Hours and other special offerings which could ramp guest numbers up at a particular park on a particular day. Details like this generally can be found at the same sites you check out for crowd calendars. Also, if you are planning more than, say, FOUR days in the parks, do yourself a favor and schedule some downtime. Be it a full day to lounge around the pool and check out Disney Springs, or a day to sleep in and take in an afternoon/evening at a park instead of a full day. You’re going to be tired and it’s essential to find time to rest. And resting at Walt Disney World is almost as much fun as playing.

<<Part 3: Dining

Part 5: How to Get Around>>

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