This mega-scale park, with its own monorail, sections of eight-lane highway, and thousands of acres of rides, amusements, parks, and hotels, is larger than a good sized international airport...and about as easy to navigate. Disney World is in fact an unfenced 40-sq-mile area. But within this, although several miles apart from each other, are four contained, spotlessly sanitized theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Also within the Walt Disney World® parameters are two water parks, two shopping districts, golf courses, more than 20 Disney-owned-and-run hotels, countless places to eat, a police force, transport systems (did someone say monorail?), and kennels for the pooch.
And let's clarify something else: Walt Disney World® offers a lot more than rides. The huge number of attractions include interactive meet 'n' greets with well-known characters, including Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, as well as more contemporary casts such as Gaston, Elsa, Anna and so on. Then there are parades, musical productions, interactive facilities, Disney promotions of the latest projects and plenty of stunt shows. And (here's the surprising part), it's not just for kids. Disney World has cleverly maintained its loyal following, resulting in hundreds of thousands of more mature visitors who just can't get enough, through programs, cuisine, cruises and behind-the-scenes tours.
Each of the four parks has its own theme, although when most people think of Walt Disney World®, they're often thinking of one of the four parks – the Magic Kingdom, with Cinderella's Castle at its core. This is the Disney of commercials, of princesses and pirates, Tinkerbell and dreams come true; this is quintessential, old-school Disney with classic rides such as It's a Small World and Space Mountain.
Epcot is a wonderful sensory experience. The park is divided into two sections that are situated around a lake: Future World and World Showcase. Future World has Epcot's only two thrill rides plus several pavilions with attractions, restaurants, and character-greeting spots. World Showcase comprises 11 re-created nations featuring country-specific food, shopping and entertainment. This is the place to slow down a little and enjoy, where you can smell the incense in Morocco, listen to the Beatles in the UK and sip miso in Japan.
Hollywood Studios conjures the heydays of Hollywood, with a replica of Graumann's Chinese Theatre (the main focal icon), but most of the activities reflect unabashed 21st-century energy with attractions focusing on everything from Star Wars Jedi training to Indiana Jones stunt shows, from Muppet extravaganzas to the latest craze, the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
Set apart from the rest of Disney both in miles and in tone, Animal Kingdom attempts to blend theme park with zoo, carnival and African safari, all stirred together with a healthy dose of Disney characters, storytelling and transformative magic. Like the other parts, it's also divided into different sections, with wildlife experiences, rides, and musical shows at every corner, including the The Lion King and Nemo. At the time of research, Animal Kingdom was about to open another area: the much-awaited Pandora – The World of Avatar.
To round off the Disney experience, Walt Disney World® runs a number of accommodations, including family options and couples' luxury experiences. The advantage of staying at one of these is that most things, including meals and transportation, are arranged or easily accessible to you (but, although they make things run smoothly, especially if you have children, they're not the be all and end all; other hotels nearby also offer similar services). But they do serve up further fun and yes, even more entertainment including opportunities to dine with Disney characters. It is well designed for travelers with disabilities, with wheelchair rental, easy access and excellent arrangements for line access and the like.
In short, an experience at Walt Disney World® is extraordinary. It's an unabashed stimulation overload of music, light, sound, color, thrills and spills. It offers an other worldliness that is fully, inexplicably intoxicating, no matter your age. And that's despite the long lines, the occasional jostling and the over-priced meals. For most of the time, this is indeed the Happiest Place on Earth.
And, just when the sun has set and you think you're done for the day, there's more; each park has a nighttime fireworks show (the names of which change according to the annual program).
Daily ticket prices vary, but a ticketing system introduced in February 2017 provides for multiday tickets (one park per day over a set number of days) and Park Hopper options, which allow you to 'park hop' (note: logistically, this is time consuming and, with the exception of, say, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, not very feasible).