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The ultimate guide to Walt Disney World for parents

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the size of Bristol, and the range of things to do can be both exhilarating and a little bit daunting  - here’s our expert guide on how to make the most of your trip to Disney, with tips from parents who have been there, done that.

By Rebecca Roberts | Last updated Oct 31, 2022

Mumsnet guide to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

In association with

There’s been lots of changes at Walt Disney World Resort since its phased reopening in July 2020, following the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if you’re the ultimate Disney expert, the resort has changed in various ways so if you’re planning a trip soon, it might be time for a refresher course. 

Whether you’re a Disney pro or a first timer, we've got you covered with advice from Mumsnetters on how you can have the best travel experience, finding the right place to stay, insider must-see attractions as well as enjoying top-notch food.

Keep reading to find our Mumsnet ultimate guide to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Walt Disney World Resort: a quick overview

The Walt Disney World Resort is smack in the middle of Florida, and Orlando International Airport is only 20 miles from the Parks. 

The resort itself spans a massive 40 square miles - which is roughly the same size as Bristol - and is home to four Theme Parks, two Water Parks, more than 140 restaurants, a couple of dozen onsite hotels, and endless shoes, attractions, shops, Characters, and rides. 

At the moment the resort is holding the World’s Most Magical Celebration, an 18-month anniversary event running until April 2023, and if you’re planning on visiting during 2023, you can book now and pay in instalments! That’s right. New for 2023, you can book your dream Walt Disney World holiday now and you’ll not only lock in today’s price, but also get plenty of time to pay for it.

Simply put down a deposit from £50 per person, then pay the rest in flexible instalments - you decide how much and when. All with no fees or interest. 

About the Parks at Walt Disney World Resort

Now that your family is onboard - does it take much convincing, really? - knowing what Theme Parks and Water Parks are there will help you to figure out where to spend your time. So, let’s break down the parks for you. 

Magic Kingdom

Probably the Theme Park you think of first when you dream of Walt Disney World Resort. We’re sure you’ve seen oodles of photos of the famous Cinderella Castle located in the pride of place in Magic Kingdom. It’s Walt Disney World’s original park, and is home to many classic rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World and Dumbo the Flying Elephant - to name a few. 

This park is superb for little ones, and even offers a splash park to cool down in. But don’t be fooled, it has a whole host of roller coasters too to keep the thrill seekers happy. 

EPCOT

This Theme Park wasn’t supposed to be an amusement park - in fact, it was originally proposed to be a fully fledged ‘city of the future’, or more precisely, an ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow’ (EPCOT). 

Nowadays, this huge park is filled with dozens of restaurants, innovative rides and even allows you to travel the world. It’s a slower paced park, and shares the delights of 11 different countries for you to explore. From the UK and France, to China and Mexico, each destination area offers fun rides, amazing places to eat and a huge variety of entertainment. EPCOT is also home to the popular Frozen Ever After ride, a favourite amongst Mumsnetters and a must do for any young fan of Disney’s Frozen. 

Frozen at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

Hollywood Studios

Home of two of Disney’s top franchises, Hollywood Studios is the place to go for Toy Story and Star Wars fans. The theming here is outstanding, that even Disney outdid themselves. 

Toy Story fans can ride Slinky Dog Dash, have a friendly competition on Toy Story Mania and can enjoy some iconic photo opportunities with their favourite Toy Story Characters. Hollywood Studios is also where you’ll find Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. 

For Star Wars fans, you’ve hit the ultimate jackpot here. You can discover your own Star Wars story and live your own adventure in a galaxy far, far away - not forgetting the opportunity to fly the famous Millenium Falcon yourself. 

Animal Kingdom

Finally, this one’s for the animal lovers. Animal Kingdom is where you can watch the beloved Festival of the Lion King, glimpse real African animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari and visit the out-of-this-world Pandora - The World of Avatar. A day here is breathtaking, and Animal Kingdom is a beautiful Theme Park and a great place to see nature at its finest. 

Not forgetting, young explorers can become Wilderness Explorers in an interactive experience across the park where kids can complete activities and collect more than 25 badges. Definitely a must-do for Up fans, animal and nature lovers. 

…and not forgetting the Water Parks

As well as the four Theme Parks, Walt Disney World Resort is home to two Water Parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Both offer amazing water slides, large man-made beaches and wave machines, and kids play areas - all with that touch of famous Disney magic. They’re often overlooked, but depending on your time here, they’re a great way to spend your day to rest your feet between your park visits.

Perks of staying at Walt Disney World Resort

For the ultimate, fully immersive Disney experience, it’s highly recommended that you stay onsite at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. There are 25 hotels to choose from that form the Disney Resorts Collection. These resorts are staffed by Disney Cast Members and all offer legendary service, quality and attention to detail for which Walt Disney World is so famous… Not forgetting the perks available!

Here’s the full list of perks for hotel guests to enjoy during their stay:

  • Transport to/from the Parks
  • Early Theme Park entry 
  • An expanded dining reservation period
  • Early access to event tickets
  • Online check-in
  • Magic Band discounts
  • Early access to Lightning Lane time slots to purchase
  • Complimentary towels at Disney’s two Water Parks
  • Charge merchandise to your room so you don’t have to carry it around all day
  • Extended evening hours (only for guests at Disney Deluxe Hotels and DVC resorts)
Water rides at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

Enhance the Walt Disney World magic

To make sure you have the ultimate family holiday at Walt Disney World Resort, there are a few things available to make your entire experience a magical one. 

One of the biggest changes at Walt Disney World Resort since the Covid-19 pandemic is park pass availability. Guests heading to any Disney Theme Park or Water Park must now make a park reservation via the Disney Park Pass system, as well as having a valid admission ticket.

Mumsnet users say

“Don’t forget you must make park reservations now. Don’t leave it til the last minute, as they get booked up.” nettytree

My Disney Experience app

Thanks to the handy My Disney Experience app, everything you need to book during your Walt Disney World holiday can be done in just a few clicks on your phone. 

Set your My Disney Experience account up before your trip, and link your tickets, your park reservations, dining reservations, Genie and Genie+ services and use it to book Lightning lanes.

Disney Genie and Genie+ service

Genie and Genie+ are both tools that provide on-the-go planning, and allow you to customise your itinerary to help you maximise your time in the parks. The former is a complimentary service, which is great for helping you plan your day based on you and your family’s interests. You can also view wait times, order your food, make dining reservations and more. 

For an additional fee, there’s Genie+, which allows you to bypass the standby lines for attractions and instead enter the lightning lane - cutting your waiting times for rides. 

Mumsnet users say

“You Need genie plus to get lightning Lane access to some rides. You have to be on it at 7am booking onto lightning lanes. I paid for a couple of rides because I'm not willing to queue for hours.” ZenNudist

NEW! Book now and pay in instalments

Book your dream Disney holiday now and you’ll not only lock in today’s price, but also get plenty of time to pay for it. Simply put down a deposit from £50 per person, then pay the rest in flexible instalments - you decide how much and when. All with no fees and interest.

Book your 2023 Walt Disney World holiday now

Magic Bands at Disney

Magic bands can be purchased ahead of your visit, and come in a variety of colours and themes. They’re used to access the Theme Parks without having to carry physical passes, and are also the key to your hotel room at your Disney hotel should you decide to stay on property. 

Special event tickets at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Resort holds special events, tours and parties throughout the year so there’s always something on the calendar. From the 50th Anniversary Tour to the Behind the Seeds tour at EPCOT, and from Disney After Hours to two of the most popular events, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party - there’s always something extra going on you can take part in. 

To find the full schedule of special events at Walt Disney World Resort, click here.

Attractions and entertainment at Walt Disney World

There’s a total of 173 attractions at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando; 41 of them are at Magic Kingdom, 42 in EPCOT, 17 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and a whopping 46 at Animal Kingdom. 

Naturally, the sheer number of rides and attractions here can be a bit overwhelming - as we’ve said, it’s a lot to pack in during your holiday! The age of your family members will no doubt determine which rides you fit into your schedule, as for the safety of riders, some have height restrictions along with age requirements. 

From fast-paced roller coasters to gentle spinners, along with incredible shows and white-knuckle water slides, there’s lots to do across the property. 

Best Walt Disney World rides for adults and older children

  1. Test Track at EPCOT
  2. Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom
  3. Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom
  4. Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom
  5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Magic Kingdom
  6. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith in Hollywood Studios
  7. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom
  8. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios
Little girl at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

Best Walt Disney World rides for babies, toddlers and young children

  1. Disney World Frozen Ever After in EPCOT
  2. Astro Orbiter in Magic Kingdom
  3. Mad Tea Party in Magic Kingdom
  4. Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid at Disney World in Magic Kingdom
  5. The Seas with Nemo and Friends in EPCOT
  6. TriceraTop Spin in Animal Kingdom
  7. It’s a Small World in Magic Kingdom
  8. Na’Vi River Journey in Animal Kingdom
  9. Alien Swirling Saucers in Hollywood Studios
  10. Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy in Hollywood Studios

Must-see shows at Walt Disney World

Here are the parades and shows at Walt Disney World Resort you shouldn’t miss…

  • Fireworks at Magic Kingdom
  • Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom
  • Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade in Magic Kingdom
  • Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage in Hollywood Studios
  • Rivers of Light: We Are One in Animal Kingdom
  • IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth in EPCOT
  • Finding Nemo the Musical in Animal Kingdom
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Hollywood Studios

Where to eat and dining reservations

If there’s one thing Walt Disney World Resort perfects time and time again, it’s their dining options. There are hundreds of dining outlets and restaurants available all across the resort, with options to suit everyone’s tastes and preferences. 

We take a look at the available options.

Character dining experiences at Walt Disney World

Meet beloved Disney Characters during a fun-filled, family-friendly dining experience. While an additional cost, Mumsnetters favour these unique dining experiences as they’re a good way to see your favourite Characters without waiting in a queue. 

“We’ve eaten in the castle. I loved it. Food was nice enough but you are meeting the princesses IN THE CASTLE. That is what you are paying for and for me it was totally worth it.”

MarcelineMissouri

Thankfully, most if not all Walt Disney World character dining experiences are back following the Covid-19 pandemic. Do keep in mind that some of the character dining reservations require a valid ticket if the restaurant is in one of the Theme Parks. 

Here’s a list of all the character meals at Walt Disney World for 2023:

  • The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom
  • Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Garden Grill Restaurant in EPCOT
  • Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios
  • Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Topolino’s Terrace - Flavors of the Riviera at Disney’s Riviera Resort
  • Tusker House Restaurant in Animal Kingdom

We’d highly recommend booking in advance the most popular restaurants. It’s worth doing your research well in advance to make sure you manage to meet the Characters your kids will love. The My Disney Experience app makes it easy to book these dining experiences. 

Dining options at Walt Disney World

As well as the memorable Character meals, Walt Disney World Resort offers several other dining options that are available across the property. These include:

  • Fine/signature dining: these outstanding restaurants serve up memorable dining experiences, and include Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom, Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and STK Orlando in Disney Springs.
  • Counter service dining: satisfy your hunger with a quick, yet tasty meal without reservations - a great choice if you want an easy bite to eat while in the Parks! 
  • Casual dining: sit down to a relaxing meal at one of these family-friendly restaurants.
  • Rooftop dining: for a memorable meal that offers panoramic views of Walt Disney World Resort, don’t miss the chance to dine at any one of the following rooftop dining choices: California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Topolino's Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera in Disney’s Riviera Resort and Toledo - Tapas, Steak & Seafood in Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. 

What Mumsnet users say

“We went to California Grill in Contemporary Resort for dinner. We loved it - the food was delicious and we could watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Not cheap but worth it.” Imonaplane

“Our favourite meals were the Rainforest Cafe at Animal kingdom, also the Harambe market and the Pandora quick service place -Satuli? Fantastic good quality food.” stevenage42

“We liked Narcoossees at the Grand Floridian. Lovely food & relaxed atmosphere. You can also watch the water pageant on the lake & see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom.” GuiltyPleasure

Booking your dining reservations

It’s worth mentioning now, that to dine in at an in-park table-service restaurant, you need a confirmed dining reservation for the total number of guests - regardless of their age, plus a park reservation and a valid admission ticket for the same date for all guests aged three and up. 

So if you’re travelling with a baby or toddler under three, make sure to include them in your dining reservations as a counted guest. 

Cinderella castle at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

Getting around Walt Disney World itself

Staying onsite at Walt Disney World Resort means there are several handy ways to get around the resort and to the Parks available to you. 

  • Disney’s bus network: almost anywhere you want to go at Walt Disney World Resort is conveniently accessible by buses, which run continuously
  • Monorail transportation: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and select Disney resorts are just minutes away by monorail, and there’s 3 separate lines that travel across the resort
  • Water transportation: enjoy a leisurely cruise on a water taxi or ferry boat to help you get around the resort
  • Disney Skyliner: cruise around Walt Disney World Resort in an aerial gondola

Start planning your Disney holiday

Here are a few things you can do to help you start planning your trip:

  • Agree on your duration and budget
  • Book in advance and pay in instalments to help spread the cost
  • Make a list of what everyone wants to do 
  • Download the My Disney Experience app
  • Do you research, watch YouTube videos
  • Watch your favourite Disney movies
  • Book your park passes ahead of time
  • Book your dining reservations ahead of time

Book now and pay in instalments 

New! Book your dream Disney holiday now and you’ll not only lock in today’s price, but also get plenty of time to pay for it.

Simply put down a deposit from £50 per person, then pay the rest in flexible instalments - you decide how much and when. All with no fees or interest.

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