Walt Disney World Resort in Florida - the essential guide

Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the size of Greater Manchester, and the range of things to do can be both exhilarating and a little bit daunting.

But don’t worry when it comes to planning your visit, we've got you covered with advice from Virgin Holidays – the number one holiday company to Florida, on how you can have the best travel experience with Virgin Atlantic, finding the right place to stay, insider must-see attractions as well as enjoying top-notch food.

How to get to Florida

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

One Mumsnet user swears by Virgin Atlantic for their Twilight Check-in where you can drop your bags off the night before. Once you're on board, Virgin Atlantic promise a superb in-flight experience for the whole family, including seatback screens showing films for all ages and a range of meal options that will satisfy any taste. They even promise to keep your kids entertained, providing an activity-filled backpack as well as cartoons and kids' programmes, so you never know – you might get some peace. They also have daily flights to Orlando from across the country, including London Gatwick, Manchester and summer services from Glasgow and Belfast.

You will need an ESTA to enter the United States – take a look at our guide to visas and ESTAS.

Getting to Walt Disney World Resort: a word from Virgin Holidays

Most Mumsnet users recommend not renting a car if you’re planning on spending most of your time in the Parks because “car park prices are steep for each individual car”. There are plenty of car alternatives: taxis, shuttle buses or, if you stay on International Drive, the Linx bus.

However, “if you’re staying in a Disney Resort Hotel your airport transfer will be included” – Disney’s Magical Express provides complimentary coach transfers between Orlando International Airport and your Disney Resort Hotel on arrival and departure, plus luggage delivery service to your hotel room.

Prefer to drive? One benefit of a hire car is that it makes visiting other sites in Orlando, like Boggy Creek and Cape Canaveral much easier. You can also enjoy complimentary standard parking at all Disney Theme Parks. Standard overnight Disney Resort Hotel self-parking is also available, fees apply from 1st January 2020.

There are also plenty of car alternatives: taxis, shuttle buses or, if you stay on International Drive, the Linx Bus.

Where to stay

Staying at a Disney Resort Hotel: A word from Virgin Holidays

Staying in a Disney Resort Hotel means you get extra hours in the Parks and you save lots of travel time and grief

With more than 25 unique Disney Resort Hotels to choose from, there really is something to suit everyone at Walt Disney World Resort — all with the legendary service, quality and attention to detail for which Disney is so famous. Set in the heart of the magic, it’s a treat to be able to pop back to the hotel for a midday dip in the pool, and still make it back in time for evening entertainment. There's many benefits of staying at a Disney Resort Hotel:

Extended Theme Park hours
With Extra Magic Hours, each day one of the Disney Theme Parks opens earlier or stays open later, so Disney Resort Hotel guests can enjoy selected attractions for longer (valid Theme Park admission and Resort ID required).

Disney Dining Plans
Exclusive to Disney Resort Hotel guests, these handy flexible plans allow you to dine throughout your holiday in up to 100 restaurants across Walt Disney World — and now offer even more drinks choices, including alcoholic options and speciality soft drinks!

Disney FastPass+ planning
Guests at Disney Resort Hotels get early access to reserve some Disney FastPass+ attractions, shows and more — up to 60 days before they arrive!

Complimentary MagicBands
Disney Resort Hotel guests can use their secure MagicBands to access Disney Theme Parks (with valid admission), unlock their Disney Resort Hotel room, check-in at the FastPass+ entrance for attractions and entertainment they selected, make payments at shops and restaurants, and link Disney PhotoPass photos to their Disney account. Plus, they can personalise their MagicBand with their name and choice of several iconic colours (up to 10 days before arrival)!

Complimentary transport
Disney’s Magical Express provides complimentary coach transfers between Orlando International Airport and your Disney Resort Hotel on arrival and departure, plus luggage delivery service to your hotel room. Once at your hotel unlimited usage of boats, buses and monorails transport you around Walt Disney World from early morning to late at night. And from autumn 2019 the Disney Skyliner will connect Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot to selected Disney Resort Hotels. Still want to drive? Enjoy complimentary standard parking at all Disney Theme Parks. Standard overnight Disney Resort Hotel self-parking is also available, fees apply from 1st January 2020.

Complimentary WIFI
Disney Resort Hotel guests can enjoy complimentary WiFi throughout their hotel, so they can stay connected and keep up with friends and family back home whenever they like.

One Mumsnet user recommends Disney’s Pop Century Resort: “I’ve stayed there several times as a party of two, three and four (with two teenagers) and I’ve always found plenty of room."

If your children are animal lovers, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge can make for an unforgettable experience – as one visitor explains: “we stayed in a Savannah room and had a couple of giraffes outside our room most of the time.”

Self-catering

If you'd like to have your own space, then staying off-site is always an option.

There are loads of lovely villas and hotels in easy reach of the parks.

One Mumsnet user says “we always stay in a villa as it gives so much freedom (and there's no fighting over sun loungers). You can get a really nice villa from around £400 per week and many will do odd durations of stay, like 10 days.” Or, if you want the best of both worlds, Walt Disney World Resort offers a range of Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts – they're self-catering Resorts with fully equipped kitchens/kitchenettes. They offer all the comforts of home in spacious villas or studios, and have access to pools, recreation, restaurants and more.

Walt Disney World Resort Parks: a word from Virgin Holidays

With Disney’s Ultimate Ticket, adults and kids alike will enjoy watching some of their favourite storybook Characters come to life. Disney’s Ultimate Ticket is only available to purchase pre-departure, and allows you to come and go to all SIX Parks as much as you like, all at one incredible price. Plus, it allows you to book Disney FastPass+ service in advance, and includes Memory Maker with every adult ticket purchased.

To save time whilst on holiday, it makes sense to buy your tickets when you book your holiday. As well as helping you budget, it means that you and plan what to visit and when. That way, as soon as you land in Florida, you can concentrate purely on enjoying the magic.

With access to all 6 Parks, there’s so much magic to discover. Here’s some of Virgin Holiday’s favourites:

For those who can take the thrill, the world-famous Splash Mountain and Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom Park have a reputation for a reason; 5-storey drops and high-speed twists and turns are the name of the game – even the bravest among you will feel the adrenaline rush! Or how about heading to PandoraThe World of AVATAR at Disney’ Animal Kingdom Theme Park, where floating mountains defy gravity and where nature comes alive and mystical rivers flow?
Make sure you get to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and experience the new Toy Story Land, where you can whizz along Slinky Dog Dash family rollercoaster, or head to space (and maybe get picked by The Claw!) on the Alien Swirling Saucers attraction.

And don’t forget to stop by Frozen Ever After at Epcot and set sail on an enchanting boat ride across Arendelle.

The fun doesn’t stop after dark, either! By night, marvel at Rivers of Light, the immersive night-time spectacular at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and fall in love with the magic of nature. Of course, no day is complete without ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the nightly Happily Ever After fireworks display at Magic Kingdom Park. Fireworks never looked so good.

When you’re tired out from all the attractions and adventuring, there’s no better time to head to Sandy White Beach at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park for a well-deserved chill. For some family fun, head to Miss Adventure Falls and board a treasure raft and hit the high seas for the longest ride in the history of the Disney Water Parks!

Or if you fancy chilling in a ski resort, visit Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. And don’t miss Summit Plummet where you can plunge at over 55mph straight down a sheer 120ft slope — there’s even a digital clock at the bottom to display your top speed!

Basically, Walt Disney World Resort is your oyster, and a magical one at that. There’s no right way to do it. As long as you do it.

Where to eat

Surviving on packed lunches alone is unrealistic for even the most organised family. Plus, you’d be missing out on a key experience: eating in themed spots like Be Our Guest Restaurant – the Beast's enchanted castle.

If you're someone who likes planning everything in advance, then you might consider buying a Disney Dining Plan, which gives you a set number of meal credits for you to use during your stay (exclusive to Disney Resort Hotel guests). The credits comes loaded onto your MagicBand for you to use at the point of purchase.

If you get the Dining Plan, book the nice restaurants before you go.

We'd recommend you book the most popular Character Dining restaurants. It is worth doing your research well in advance to make sure you manage to meet the Characters your kids will love. There's an app which makes it even simpler.

If you're eating in the Park, dining options are plentiful and include cuisines from all over the world, not just fried food (unless that’s what you're about on your hols – no judgement here). “You can go burgers/nuggets/fries all the way, or not touch them at all. The range is huge,” advises one fan. There are also many healthy options available. A trip to Satu'li Canteen in Pandora – The World of AVATAR will have you thinking vegetables and grilled chicken is the best food combo of all time.

Free Disney Dining & Drinks offer: a word from Virgin Holidays

Magic is back on the menu…Virgin Holidays is currently offering Free Disney Dining & Drinks. Book a dream Walt Disney World holiday with Disney Park Tickets for five nights or more, and everyone in the party enjoys FREE Disney Dining, or FREE Breakfast every day of your stay! After that, all you pay is the tip and any extras you choose.

Book between 25 April – 5 November 2019 for selected arrivals 1 January–3 October 2020 and receive:

  • A free Disney Dining Plan when you stay at selected Disney Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts.
  • A free Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan when you stay at a selected Disney Moderate Resort.
  • Free breakfast when you stay at a selected Disney Value Resort.

The Disney Dining Plans offer a huge range of up to 100 dining venues across the whole Walt Disney World Resort, from fine dining and Character Dining to healthy options, family fare and good food on the go. Lots of dietary requirements are catered for, plus you’re not restricted to your Disney Resort Hotel - dine in other Disney Resort Hotels, all six Disney Parks, Disney Springs and Disney’s BoardWalk too.

You get one drink with each Self Service and Waiter Service meal on the Disney Dining Plans, with a huge variety of options to choose from.

Book your dream Walt Disney World Resort holiday including Free Disney Dining with Virgin Holidays before 2nd July 2019 and receive 14-Day Disney Park Tickets for the price of 7, as well as $100 Disney spending money to spend throughout Walt Disney World Resort. Whether you wish to buy a souvenir to mark your epic holiday (who doesn't love those Mickey and Minnie headbands?) or simply put towards those sweet treats, there's no doubt the extra spending power will boost your stay!

Walt Disney World Resort with small children

Travelling with a toddler isn’t for the faint-hearted – particularly when it involves flying thousands of miles across the Atlantic – but with a little bit of prep, a trip to Walt Disney World Resort with a little one can be more fun than you think. Plan for naps, and remember that you'll be doing a lot of walking – bring a stroller or hire one in the Park.

All 6 Disney Parks have attractions and experiences for little ones. Virgin Holidays favourites in Magic Kingdom Park can be found below:

  • Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: Defeat Zurg in this shooting-gallery game where you fire lasers in a thrilling space battle. Inspired by Disney·Pixar’s Toy Story.
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid: A musical attraction that allows guests to board a giant clamshell and enter Prince Eric’s castle.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: A superb 3D adventure with Donald Duck.

All of these are suitable for young children.

Hit as many of the Disney shows/parades/fireworks as you can.

“There are a good few attractions past Cinderella Castle geared at younger kids too, like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and of course, “it’s a small world” – if you can hack the tune being stuck in your head for the rest of your life,” advises one Mumsnet user who brought a three-year-old.

One tip on our Talk boards is to visit the Park later than you would normally – if you can get your toddler to cooperate. “I did notice that if you can hang out and go later in the afternoon, loads of the toddlers have passed their peak by then and gone off to eat/nap, and you may not have to wait so long for attractions.”

There are plenty of shows too, like the Festival of the Lion King or the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade, which can be even more fun with a toddler. “Because of his age (two) we got picked out of the crowd several times during the opening ceremonies,” recalls one Mumsnet user.

And don’t forget, very young children can find entertainment in the most surprising places. “Our son is really into trains, and loved the monorail from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom Park.”

Packing list for Walt Disney World Resort

  • “A great tip is to buy one of those neck cord things to attach to your sunglasses. That way you don’t lose them whenever you're out and about. They also won’t fall off your head and break. It’s been especially useful for the DC who always seem to misplace their sunglasses.”
  • “Waterproof ponchos for the downpours (I got mine very cheaply on Amazon).”
  • “Small backpacks to take to the Parks.”
  • “Don't bother packing any fancy clothing, it's not that kind of holiday.”
  • “We had proper hats and cardies to protect from the sun, plus lots of sturdy carrying bags and water bottles.”
  • “Either take a buggy or buy a cheap one from Publix or Target when you're there. Very useful for carrying water around in as well as your kids. You can also hire one in the Park."

Get to know the Virgin Holidays Florida experts

Chris Cunningham
Virgin expert

Job title: Virgin Holidays Florida Expert
Family detail: Couple and baby
Favourite Park and why: Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park is my favourite Disney Park as Pandora – The World of AVATAR that they’ve built is just unbelievable. AVATAR Flight of Passage is the most immersive breathtaking attraction I’ve ever been on – it almost made me cry!

Shelley Nicholls
Virgin expert

Job title: Virgin Holidays Florida Expert
Family detail: Has two teenage children
Favourite Park and why: Epcot is my favourite Disney Park. In the evening I love wandering through World Showcase and experiencing multiple different countries and cuisines, followed by the fantastic fireworks in their night time spectacular.

Emily Best
Virgin expert

Job title: Area Manager and Virgin Holidays Florida Expert (with 25 visits under my belt)
Family detail: To-be-married couple – Disney honeymoon booked for October
Favourite Park and why: Magic Kingdom Park – the oldest and the best. Nothing quite beats walking up Main Street, U.S.A and seeing Cinderella Castle, it’s truly magical and gives me goose pimples every time.

Age or height restrictions may apply to some attractions.