With the exciting news that Walt Disney World is reopening in phases (July 11 & 15), I thought that I’d reflect upon some fond memories there.
Back in 2012, one of my good friends and Disney colleagues took a trip to Walt Disney World. We had an absolute blast, and this post is just to summarize our experiences and share updates in the parks since then. All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the company.
Keep in mind that my opinions of the parks were written years ago, on my phone, typed in an e-mail format to my parents. Although I’ve tried to update certain sections with things that have been added since our visit, remember that I’m not a certified destination guide.
Also, please remember to only check certified sources like the official site when it comes to reserving tickets and booking your stay in regards to the ongoing situation with COVID-19. My best advice is to also follow updates from Carlye Wisel on her Instagram and Twitter, since she is the most knowledgeable and reputable theme park journalist out there. Please use your own judgment and precaution when traveling, especially if you do choose to book a flight to Florida amidst everything.
My Experience & Perspective
As of 2020, Walt Disney World is about 43 square miles of land – that’s literally almost the same size of San Francisco (49 square miles). Disneyland Park in Anaheim is only 500 acres in comparison.
Walt Disney World spans four theme parks, whereas Disneyland is only two. Be prepared to do a LOT of walking when you visit Walt Disney World. Comfortable shoes like Allbirds are a huge necessity. Also bring a lot of water, since you’ll feel like you’re in the desert for every second of the day.
My friend and I are huge Disney nerds, so we loved our trip. However, the heat and humidity was enough to scare me off. I’m not quite sure I’d ever want to go back, especially when there are so many other Disney parks I can revisit that have more ideal weather.
It’s advisable to travel to Florida in October – January, when the season is temperate and not as humid. October wasn’t too bad, but we found the most humid park to be Animal Kingdom because of all the trees and forest-type environment.
We stayed at Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort, which was a snazzy deal. There are over 20 Disney resorts on property here. That’s insane compared to Disneyland’s mere three. Talk about scrunched space back in California, am I right?
Unlike Disneyland, Walt Disney World puts special emphasis on its queues, thus making them more interactive and entertaining for visitors. Since Walt Disney World obviously brings in far more tourists per year than Disneyland, the queues need to hold your attention longer. Our favourite queue was Haunted Mansion.
Magic Bands & FastPass+
When we went to the parks, we only had old-fashioned FastPasses. However, 2013 debuted Magic Bands, which are colourful wristbands with a lot of special privileges. If you book a Disney hotel, you’ll automatically get one. If you’re staying off-property, you can buy them online before your visit.
You’ll definitely want to research these guys, since it’s highly advisable to invest in them (or else you might not have a chance to ride any of the top attractions). Additionally, FastPass+ allow you to reserve FastPasses way in advance (no more paper ticket FastPasses in Walt Disney World).
Much like other Disney parks, we were thrown off when we first walked into Magic Kingdom. Main Street USA was much more spacious, and certain things were shuffled around and placed in slightly different spots than back in Disneyland.
We felt very disoriented. Both Nondie and I didn’t enjoy how many little kids were running around in this park, so Magic Kingdom was easily the least of my favourite parts of Walt Disney World.
I did get a hot-second visit back to Magic Kingdom a few years ago, thanks to coincidental timing of being in Orlando at the same time as one of my best friends (thank you, Thalia & Tu!). We were all semi-forbidden from sharing photos of us here during those exact times (#adulthood), so this is a little photo montage to that visit.
Cinderella’s Castle is stunning, much moreso than dinky Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. It looks especially beautiful in the Christmastime, which we sadly didn’t get to see (but photos suffice).
Tomorrowland was much more futuristic than Disneyland and I really enjoyed how much more space it had. The PeopleMover was my favourite attraction, especially since part of the track goes right through Space Mountain. We also loved how interactive the queue was for Space Mountain (despite how it took us 10 minutes just to exit the damn attraction).
Haunted Mansion had such a crazy-interactive queue with moving blocks and touchable musical walls. However, Disneyland’s version of the attraction is so much better; the Walt Disney World version seems more eerie and creepy than anything.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party was a cheesy treat for us since we went during Halloween. We thought that Disneyland’s version of this was better overall (theming, decor, candy, treat trails), but their Boo To You Parade was fantastic. There were so many characters and intricately designed floats, and the dance sequences were brilliant.
Adventureland was okay, but we thought the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction just paled in comparison to Disneyland’s. And NO INDIANA JONES ATTRACTION?! That was ludicrous.
The Fantasyland expansion was the highlight of Magic Kingdom. We didn’t get reservations for any of the restaurants, but we saw the interior of Be Our Guest and were blown away.
Gaston’s Tavern was open for guests at the time, and soft openings were in effect for Storytime with Belle and Ariel’s Grotto. It made us feel slightly sad that our Fantasyland in Disneyland didn’t have any space at all for this level of expansion.
We just missed the opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but it’s clearly listed as one of the top attractions to experience while in Magic Kingdom.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic show (3D) was cheesy but cute [edit: you can also see this in other parks, like Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris]. It’s not a big must-see unless you have kids.
We’re not sure why we bothered with the Carousel of Progress, which was extremely outdated and cheesy, but if you’re in for a good laugh, you can waste about 20 minutes there to have a sit.
Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory was cute and very similar to Turtle Talk with Crush – again, great for families/kids.
Epcot was (and still is) my favourite part about Walt Disney World. I remember being so enamoured with the fact that you could “travel the world” without even buying a plane ticket. You can eat, drink, and shop around all the main highlights of our world within the little boundaries of this large park.
Just keep in mind that you don’t go to Epcot for the attractions – it’s more for World Showcase and the international experiences.
If you’re looking for a cute souvenir, getting a passport book and getting them stamped in each respective country is great for kids who haven’t traveled abroad yet. We got this in 1996 during my family trip to Walt Disney World, and we still have it today.
We were there for the Food and Wine Festival, which takes place annually in October. If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, try and align your vacation plans with this festival. Its tagline was “Taste your way around the world,” and we did just that. At the time I went, I hadn’t even gone abroad yet. Reflecting on my photos, it’s unreal to see how realistic all the landmarks are in comparison to the actual things.
My favourite areas of Epcot were (obviously) New Zealand and Japan, since I had the most photos of those two.
If you’re in California, the Disney California Adventure Park’s Food & Wine Festival is their equivalent, just on a smaller scale.
The themed merchandise tailored to each country was astounding. I don’t remember any of it now (especially since I only bought one thing), but looking through my old photos was like a blast to the past. It’s scary to think how much they have nowadays at the parks, since merchandise has just boomed tenfold since we went. They had branded Duffy bears and Mickey and Donalds wearing country-specific clothing, for crying out loud.
We dined at Marrakesh (a Moroccan restaurant) and loved it, aside from the fact that we didn’t get live entertainment since we went too early (darn). We also loved the design of Future Showcase since it reminded us of Innoventions in Disneyland.
The Sum of All Thrills attraction was sponsored by Raytheon and really educational for all ages. We were quite sad that Test Track was being renovated during our visit, since that’s one of the top attractions to experience in Walt Disney World.
If you get motion sickness or claustrophobic, don’t go on Mission Space. It wasn’t the best attraction anyway, so I’m not sure how it’s stayed around so long – I have no doubt it’ll eventually be replaced by a newer, more technologically hip attraction eventually.
As far as shows go, we loved comparing Illuminations and Fantasmic!, even though both had clear differences from the ones in Disneyland. Illuminations, the same name of the fireworks spectacular in Disneyland Paris, was really neat – but it still doesn’t hold a candle to Disney California Adventure Park’s World of Color.
Hollywood Studios, both here and in Disneyland Paris, is sorta like the red-headed stepchild of all the parks. It’s not really the best and usually ends up being everyone’s least favourite, but I’ll detail why I actually liked it below.
It’s obvious why Imagineers built Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in this park. It definitely had the most free space and could use higher attendance (thus alleviating some of the guest count strains from the other parks).
While I sadly haven’t been to Galaxy’s Edge here or back at Disneyland, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the attractions and the design of the land itself. Read blogs and updated resources like this source for more information.
There are three top attractions you want to see here: Rock N’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Midway Mania. Don’t fuss yourself too much if you miss the last one, since it’s the same version as the one in Disneyland (and Tokyo DisneySea), but the queue is a lot cooler. The Pixar Studios sign that leads you to the attraction is too damn cool to miss, though. It mirrors the exact sign in Emeryville to a T.
Rock n’ Roller Coaster is also at Hollywood Studios in Disneyland Paris and it’s suuuuper fun (if you like fast roller coasters, obviously).
Tower of Terror is way more suspenseful than Disneyland’s old version (which has sadly now been replaced by the motion-sickness-ready Guardians of the Galaxy attraction). The elevator even freaking rotates at the very END of the ride here! Definitely don’t miss Tower of Terror here.
The 50s Primetime Cafe is so cute and well-themed like “mom’s house.” They even yell at you for having your elbows on the table! You get to watch 50s shows while eating, which is all the more enjoyable.
The Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exhibit was very educational. You walk through a series of exhibits that showcase the history of the company, followed by a 30-minute show. Definitely a good place to stop when you’re done with walking for the day!
Because of the 2017 expansion with Pandora- The World of Avatar, Animal Kingdom is probably the most important park of Walt Disney World. No other Disney theme park in the world has this land yet, which is why most families choose to come overseas to Florida rather than California.
If you watch YouTube ride throughs or The Imagineering Story on Disney+, Pandora seems out-of-this-world. I’d suggest trying to see this first before anything else in Walt Disney World, since the line for Flight of Passage is supposedly insane if you don’t have the Magic Band (and don’t even think about attempting the 5+ hour standby queue).
Also, if you have the money, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s the only on-property hotel where wildlife is literally outside your balcony window – and yes, it’s ethical. We loved our time here so much (visiting a Disney colleague), that we didn’t want to leave.
We loved the Festival of the Lion King. It was upbeat, colourful, and full of phenomenal performers, including fire dancers and gymnasts. It definitely blows a lot of Disneyland’s shows out of the water (alas, a bigger park means a bigger budget) and probably the most spectacular Disney show I’ve ever seen. You don’t want to miss this.
Expedition Everest– Legend of the Forbidden Mountain was hands-down my favourite attraction in the entire resort. Just like Pandora, you can’t find this attraction in any other theme park, so you want to be sure to hit this one up as soon as possible (yes, FastPass+ is also available here).
Kilimanjaro Safari is an awesome way to get up close with animals. It’s the closest I’ve been to a safari in South Africa and really well designed, especially in terms of animal welfare and well-being.
The Dinosaur attraction was a bit of a joke to us. It seemed to have the same exact track as Indiana Jones but on a much scarier and darker scale (and without nearly any cool special effects like Indy). We also thought this ride would never end… “HOW long have we been sitting here?!”
All the Good Stuff about Walt Disney World
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Walt Disney World, except for that buggin’ humidity. The on-property hotels had an efficient transportation system and we also loved the breakfast served each morning.
Animal Kingdom’s Pandora- The World of Avatar, Epcot, and attractions such as Expedition Everest are all unique reasons to come to Walt Disney World. Keep in mind that Orlando is filled with theme parks (not just Disney) – it’s truly a vacation destination, so there’s also not much to do around Orlando except go to the parks, eat, and then buy a bunch of Disney-related things.
Disney Springs is really cool. My last visit was in 2018, and I loved walking around and seeing how many stores were added.
It blows poor Disneyland’s Downtown Disney out of the water – it’s so large, you could probably spend all day wandering around there. Also, you can see (some of) the park fireworks from here! A cool bonus if you’re too poor to spend money on an Annual Pass.
As mentioned before, the Magic Band and FastPass+ additions here make this park really efficient and lot more likely that you’ll get on some of your favourite attractions (vs. Tokyo DisneySea, which has 2-hour queues for things the minute the park opens). As of now, Disneyland Paris is the only other park that offers an upgraded FastPass option (VIP FastPasses).
All the Less Favourable Stuff about Walt Disney World
There were way too many tourists and crazy kids (bigger space means a ton more guests). And more guests means more ECVs (those crazy motorized wheelchairs that only seem to exist in America, ugh). It also means a higher likelihood of getting lost.
We were quite disappointed that they didn’t have nice Halloween overlay except in Town Square. It lacked that loveable Disney/Happiest Place on Earth feeling (perhaps that’s changed in the past 8 years since it’s been awhile). We didn’t smell any of the same food aromas they pipe through on Main Street in Disneyland – maybe it was due to the humidity washing everything away.
We were also promised hotel amenities and leisure activities for free thanks to our CM perks… and did not receive any. We’ll remember this forever, Florida.
We thought the parks were so large and spread out that it affected the quality of things. Can you tell that we’re biased toward Disneyland much?!
Disneyland Park is the original idea from Walt Disney. You can’t replace that. No matter how small Disneyland is, the property still has amazing things to offer. I try to convince all of my traveler friends to come to California over Florida just because the weather is more favorable (and who wouldn’t want to go to the original Disney park, anyway?).
Overall, any trip to Walt Disney World will be memorable. We really enjoyed our trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando as well, but overall, Walt Disney World is way worth your money more.
Again, please consult better guides like Carlye Wisel’s official site, since this isn’t meant to be a planning guide. Happy travels!
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