Walt Disney World
Cinderella's Castle of Magic Kingdom. Space Ship Earth of Epcot. The Tree of Life of Animal Kingdom. The Chinese Theatre of Hollywood Studios. These are the symbols of magical lands that together make up Walt Disney World®, the world designed by Walt Disney, and opened in 1971, to be the 'Happiest Place on Earth.'
Walt Disney World® itself is like a child. One minute, you think you can't take another looong line. Or cafeteria-style restaurant serving fried food. Or overstuffed shuttle bus. And the next, it does something right – maybe it's the fireworks, maybe it's a particular ride, maybe it's the corny joke of the guy who drives the horse-drawn carriage down Main Street. Or maybe it’s seeing the speck of glitter on your kiddies’ content faces as they finally fall asleep after a huge day.
All is forgiven. Disney works its magic.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Walt Disney World.
An acronym for 'Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,' Epcot was Disney's vision of a high-tech city when it opened in 1982. It's divided into two halves: Future World, with rides and corporate-sponsored interactive exhibits, and World Showcase, providing an interesting toe-dip into the cultures of 11 countries. Epcot is much more soothingly low-key than other parks, and it has some of the best food and shopping.
Set apart from the rest of Disney both in miles and in tone, Animal Kingdom attempts to blend theme park and zoo, carnival and African safari, all stirred together with a healthy dose of Disney characters, storytelling and magic. It's the greenest, and most calm, of the Disney experiences. Don't miss Finding Nemo – The Musical, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest. Pandora – The World of Avatar and (within it) the Na'vi River Journey are great new additions.
Board a jeep and ride through the African Savannah on Kilimanjaro Safaris, pausing to look at zebras, lions, giraffes and more, all seemingly roaming free. This is one of the Animal Kingdom's most popular attractions, so come early or use your FastPass+.
Who needs the hassle of a passport and jet lag when you can travel the world right here at Walt Disney World®? World Showcase, one of two themed sections of Epcot, comprises 11 countries arranged around a lagoon. Watch belly dancing in Morocco, eat pizza in Italy, and buy personally engraved bottles of perfume in France, before settling down to watch fireworks about world peace and harmony. Disney was right: it truly is a small world after all.
Adventure Disney-style means pirates and jungles, magic carpets and tree houses, and whimsical and silly representations of the exotic locales from storybooks and imagination. Don't miss Pirates of the Caribbean – the slow-moving boat through the dark and shadowy world of pirates remains one of the most popular attractions at Disney.
Wild West Disney-style. Splash Mountain depicts the misadventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox, complete with chatty frogs, singing ducks and other critters. The 40mph drop into the river makes for one of the biggest thrills in the park, and you will get very wet! With no steep drops or loop-dee-loops, mild Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster is a great choice for little ones.
Though the theming as a Jetsons-inspired peek into the future falls flat, Tomorrowland holds a few wildly popular Disney highlights. Come first thing or use a FastPass+ for Space Mountain, an indoor coaster into the star-studded galaxies of outer space, and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, a cross between a ride and a video game.
The ramblin' 19th-century mansion houses Haunted Mansion, another classic favorite piece of low-on-thrill and high-on-silly fun, and the only real ride in Liberty Square. Cruise slowly past the haunted dining room, where apparitions dance across the stony floor, but beware of those hitchhiking ghosts – don't be surprised if they jump into your car uninvited. While mostly it's lighthearted ghosty goofiness, kids may be frightened by spooky preride dramatics.
The simple and sweet outdoor theater performance of Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage follows the storyline, incorporates the classic songs, and doesn't fall back on any special effects or crazy shenanigans. It's a rock-solid classic hit with the Disney-princess-loving crowd. For thrills and chills rather than frills, two of Disney's most talked about rides are in Sunset Blvd: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock 'n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.