Quick Summary of Guide
As noted by the title, this introductory guide is specifically for Disneyland Resort (DLR) vets – especially those considering a first visit to Walt Disney World (WDW). DLR vets who have not been to WDW for a long time may also benefit. For such people, the most important thing to understand is that DLR experience is not adequate preparation for a WDW visit. WDW is much larger and more complex than DLR, and pre-planning is much more important. Fortunately, there are many more planning resources for WDW than for DLR.
Aside from the larger size of WDW (almost 50 sq. miles, about the size of San Francisco or twice the size of Manhattan – vs. 1 sq. mile at DLR), there are differences between the two resorts of which the DLR vet should be aware. The body of this topic will explore these in more detail. Here the differences will be summarized.
WDW has four theme parks compared to DLR’s two. It also has two water parks, many more restaurants, water sports, golfing, etc. WDW is thus much more of a full vacation experience than is DLR.
Aside from the WDW resort being larger than DLR, the parks themselves are also larger. WDW’s Magic Kingdom is about 25% larger than DL. In general you will be doing more walking at WDW than you do at DLR. While physically larger, it does not offer as many attractions - about 30% less. Most would agree than Splash Mountain is clearly better at MK, and that Pirates of the Caribbean and the newly revamped Space Mountain are clearly better at DL. After these few the differences are marginal, in my opinion. It is common for people to prefer the ride at their “home” park.
One key difference at WDW is the need for transportation around the resort. Since everything is so spread out, you either need to use a car to get around or use Disney’s transportation system. As far as travel time is concerned, tests have shown that each of these takes about the same amount of time overall.
Disney’s system is free to everyone, and consists of buses, boats, monorails and trams. Buses and boats nominally arrive every 20 minutes, and in our experience this system worked quite well. But it does take longer to get places than DLR, as one always has to assume a twenty minute wait for a bus or boat, and then the duration of the bus or boat ride itself. DLR vets accustomed to easy park access may find this all a bit frustrating. This also makes parkhopping much more time consuming than at DLR, and with the shorter park hours and less consistent weather at WDW we found that we spent 30-50% less time actually inside the parks at WDW than we do at DLR.
WDW has about twenty resort hotels, and nothing really comparable to DLR’s “good neighbor” hotels. There are of course offsite hotels at WDW, but in general these hotels have no formal connection to WDW as do the DLR good neighbors. The benefits of staying at a Disney hotel at WDW are greater at WDW than DLR. Benefits include closer proximity to the parks and other WDW activities, close proximity to the Disney transportation system, extra hour privileges to the parks, and a greater feeling of being immersed in a Disney experience.
Because parkhopping is more time consuming and difficult at WDW, many people choose not to do it. The biggest reason to park hop at WDW is for dining and park entertainment, not for rides.
The dining options at WDW are much larger than DLR, and for many visitors dining is an integral part of their WDW experience. If you do not pay a lot of attention to dining at DLR, you should at WDW. There are dinner shows and many well themed restaurants, both inside and outside the parks. Plus Epcot’s World Showcase offers quality ethnic dining options in abundance. WDW has pre-paid dining plans that are a good option for some, as well as hotel options with full kitchens.
Unlike DLR, WDW is located in a lower population density area and thereby draws many less local visitors than DLR. This means less day trip visitors. This also means that the difference in crowds between weekends and weekdays is much less at WDW. For planning purposes, you do not need to distinguish between the two. The only exception is the water parks in the summer time, where locals do seem to make weekends more crowded than weekdays.
You should plan at least six days to visit WDW. Even with six days, you will not come close to experiencing everything. And since a WDW trip is longer than DLR, and involves more walking, plus more exposure to wet or humid weather, planning full or half “off days” is more important at WDW.
WDW has extra hours available outside of regular park hours. At this time these are only available to those who stay at a WDW resort hotel. Unlike DLR, these extra hours are available both before and after regular park hours, and encompass all four theme parks and, in some cases, the water parks. While using Early Entry at DLR is a no-brainer for most people who have it available, there is no agreement among WDW vets on whether using the extra hours is a good thing. More details on the different schools of thought are given in the main body. Whether you choose to use the extra hours or not, just know that care should be taken to plan your days with these extra hours in mind or you may find yourself dealing with longer lines than necessary.
The main body below explores the above topics and others in more detail, and also includes links to other resources.
Why I Wrote This Introductory Guide
After making my first visit to WDW in 2006 and learning a bit how WDW vets think, I decided to provide some information for WDW vets who may be considering a visit to DLR. I included this information in “A Guide to DLR for WDW Vets” www.micechat.com/forums/showthread.php?t=30900. This topic gave extensive information about DLR. I do not have anything near the WDW experience or understanding to write anything authoritative about WDW and thus have no intention of doing so. However, I felt my research into and observations about WDW may help get DLR vets pointed in a constructive direction should they consider a visit to WDW. Thus this is an introduction to WDW for DLR vets.
The DLR experience is not adequate preparation for WDW’s much greater scale. A WDW experience differs from a DLR experience, and I will try to help DLR vets understand some of the differences so that they can have the best experience possible.
2. Why Plan For WDW?
3. WDW: Past and Present
4. Planning Resources for WDW
7. Touring WDW: Parkhopping and Other Differences From DLR
8. Dining and Food
9. Differences between WDW Magic Kingdom and Disneyland
10. Touring Plans
11. How Many Days Do You Need at WDW?
12. WDW as a Vacation Spot
13. Best Time To Visit WDW
14. Extra Magic Hours at WDW
17. Entrance Tickets
18. Non-Theme Park Activities at WDW
19. Not To Be Missed at WDW Resort
20. Other Destinations in Orlando and Florida
ADR – Advanced Dining Reservation
AK – Disney's Animal Kingdom (WDW)
AP - Annual Pass
BB – Blizzard Beach (water park at WDW for older kids)
DCA – Disney's California Adventure (DLR)
DL - Disneyland
DLR – Disneyland Resort
DME – Disney Magical Express (transportation service between WDW resort hotels and Orlando airport)
DTD - Downtown Disney
EE – Early Entry (at DLR)
EMH – Extra Magic Hours (at WDW)
FP - FastPass
MGM – Disney-MGM Studios (WDW)
MK – Magic Kingdom (WDW)
MYW – Magic Your Way (ticket plan for WDW)
TGM – Tour Guide Mike (subscription Internet resource for WDW)
TL – Typhoon Lagoon (water park at WDW for younger kids)
TTC – Transportation Transfer Center (a hub in the WDW transportation system)
UOG – Unofficial Guide to WDW (book by Sehlinger)
WDW – Walt Disney World
2. Why Plan For WDW?
A DLR vet can fall into several different categories. People from these different categories will need to understand different things about WDW.
One common item that applies to all types of DLR vets is that WDW is more complex than DLR. Thus planning is even more important for WDW than DLR. If you take a relaxed approach to WDW planning, there are certain things you may (or will) miss that require reservations months ahead of time. I have devoted a section to WDW Planning Resources later in this guide.
First let’s discuss those who typically visit DLR on multi-day visits. If you fall into this category, you already have a reasonable idea of the issues of travel, hotels, dining, etc., when visiting a Disney park. If you are planning a first visit to WDW, your DLR experience will be helpful but, as stated already, you should know that WDW is much more complex. If you do a lot of planning for DLR, those skills will come in handy at WDW. If you do not do much planning for DLR, you would be well advised to consider spending more time planning for WDW than you do for DLR.
Second are those who regularly make day visits to DLR. Such visitors probably have Annual Passes. The logistical aspects of a multi-day visit to WDW are of course much more complicated than a day visit to DLR. Even if you consider yourself a DLR expert, you should put in some effort to understand how WDW works.
Third are those who make occasional day trips to DLR. To such people WDW will be an overwhelming experience compared to DLR. Many vets of this type only visit DL and not DCA. Such people do not understand very well issues related to multiple parks. For this group planning is also very important.
Finally are those who have made occasional Disneyland visits but have not been in recent years. Disneyland has changed a lot since 2001, becoming Disneyland Resort while adding an entirely new theme park (Disney’s California Adventure – DCA), Downtown Disney (DTD) and a new hotel. This has made Disneyland more complex. The importance of preparation is again stressed for this type of visitor.
3. WDW: Past and Present
Today the Magic Kingdom at WDW is the most highly attended theme park in the world. According to Amusement Business magazine, in 2005 MK drew 16.1 million visitors while DL drew 14.5 million - about 10% less.
When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955 it launched a multi-billion dollar theme park industry. Walt Disney chose to locate it in Orange County, California in an unpopulated area where it was anticipated future population would grow. Due to limited resources Disney was not able to control the area around Disneyland and a bunch of non-Disney hotels sprung up. This prompted Disney to pursue construction of the first Disney hotel - the Disneyland Hotel - in order to get some control over this aspect of park visitation. The DLH was not originally owned by Disney. But eventually they bought it.
Disneyland's early success led Walt Disney to the idea for WDW - a place where Disney could control a larger land area and have essentially infinite room to expand. This happened in 1971 with the opening of WDW, five years after Walt Disney's death.
Walt Disney also envisioned and discussed his vision for Epcot, and Epcot finally opened in 1981. In response to competitive entertainment pressures in Florida, WDW later added the Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1999.
The MK closely parallels DL, while the MGM park is the one which most parallels DCA. Epcot and AK are thus the most different from DLR, and thus most likely to feel “un-Disney” during your first visit there.
According to Amusement Business, the most respected source for such numbers, here were the top 10 theme parks in North America in 2005:
1. Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 16.1 million, +6.5 percent
2. Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. 14.5 million, +8.5 percent
3. Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 9.9 million, +5.5 percent
4. Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.6 million, +5 percent
5. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, 8.2 million, +5 percent
6. Universal Studios Florida at Universal Orlando, 6.1 million, -8.5 percent
7. Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., 5.8 million, +3.6 percent
8. Universal's Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, 5.76 million, -8.5 percent
9. SeaWorld Orlando, 5.6 million, +0.2 percent
10. Universal Studios Hollywood, 4.7 million, -6 percent
See this link for more information: www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/200512/2
4. Planning Resources for WDW
As stressed elsewhere in this guide, developing a plan for WDW will help make your trip there more successful. Fortunately, there are more planning resources for WDW than for DLR.
The official WDW website is www.disneyworld.com.
If I had to recommend one planning resource for WDW, Tour Guide Mike (TGM) would be it. “Mike”, who founded TGM, is a former WDW Jungle Cruise Cast Member, and later worked for WDW as a VIP tour guide. He eventually founded a company to privately provide WDW tour guides to VIPs such as celebrities and CEOs of major corporations. He has been in the WDW parks regularly for many years and has a lot of excellent advice about all aspects of WDW.
For about $20 you can sign up for his website www.tourguidemike.com which is another business Mike has developed. There you will find information on parks, touring, dining, hotels, shows, transportation, etc. But even more than this practical information you will find philosophical advice on how to tour WDW. They also have active forums where you can post questions and get helpful answers from other “TGMers”.
It is true that much of the practical information on TGM (in the form of “articles”) can be found for free in other places (but often not as organized as on TGM). To me that information is not the most valuable part of TGM. Rather it is the fact that you are getting up-to-date information from someone who knows the parks and is in the parks on a daily basis. For instance, while we were at WDW a tropical storm passed through Orlando. I had never been in a tropical storm before, and certainly had never tried to visit a Disney park during such a storm. I and other visitors that month got a message from Mike himself warning about the storm and giving real time advice about how to deal with it – including how it would likely affect park visitation. I had a laptop computer with me, and used that to continue checking TGM during our visit to get this kind of information.
TGM gives advice on which days are better to visit which parks for each day of the year. He rates each park on each day of the year as a green, yellow, or red day. I found this advice alone to be worth the cost of the subscription. Further, each day is rated ahead of time on a scale of 1-5 for crowds.
Note that some people who sign up for TGM find it overwhelming at first. Stick with it for a few days. Most people learn their way around in short order.
The second most useful resource is a book by Sehlinger called “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World”. The book is “unofficial” in the sense that it was not sponsored by Disney. Hence the author is free to be absolutely honest about WDW. This book is full of tons of useful information. While TGM’s tone is very peppy, the UOG (as it is known) is very business-like (almost anti-peppy). The UOG is the most respected print resource for WDW.
A big part of the UOG for many people are the touring plans – recommendations on which rides to go on for different types of people, and what order to do the rides. The UOG people have gathered tons of statistical data on WDW related to rides, shows, etc. They have a free resource which rates every day of the year on a scale of 1-10 as it depends on crowds www.touringplans.com/tp2/UG2_index.php?PageID=14. This website used to list best days a year in advance for free, but now it only lists them one month in advance. If you want to see them further in advance, it appears you must buy a copy of the UOG or subscribe to the site.
The UOG book does provide printed touring plans for certain people groups, but these become outdated very quickly based on Disney policy changes. On another area of their website you can subscribe for about $7 and get a psuedo-custom touring plan for your category of visitor (e.g., families with young children, families with teens, groups with no children, etc.) for the particular day you plan to visit. I signed up for the UOG information, and personally did not find it nearly as useful as TGM. But others do.
Another resource dedicated exclusively to touring plans is RideMax (www.ridemax.com). RideMax will create a custom touring plan for the specific days you want to visit, and the specific rides you want to go on.
The most popular WDW Internet forum is the DIS forum. See www.disboards.com. There are also WDW forums on MiceChat (www.micechat.com) and MousePlanet (http://mousepad.mouseplanet.com).
There is also a lot of quality information for free on All Ears – www.allears.net. You can find cost savings information by checking out MouseSavers – www.mousesavers.com. Sign up for their monthly e-newsletter to find out about the best deals. The WDW Passporter is a print resource that many people find valuable. See www.passporter.com.
Maps of the four WDW parks and certain hotels can be found on www.willcad.org. Each week WDW puts out a “Times Guide” which lists entertainment schedules for the upcoming week. This site gives reliable Times Guide information online: http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares.
There is a special fan website dedicated to Disney-MGM Studios here: www.mgmstudios.org.
Getting around WDW is much more complicated than DLR. There are four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-some hotels, and more. These are spread out over a resort that is miles across. WDW vets are accustomed to the issues of transportation and thus take it in stride, but DLR vets who are accustomed to hotels within easy walking distance and a 1-2 minute walk between DL, DCA and DTD may find getting around WDW frustrating. The best approach, in my opinion, is just to accept this as part of the price for having access to so much more at WDW than DLR and not allow it to overly frustrate you.
Disney has its own transportation system that anyone can use, whether or not you are staying at a WDW hotel. This system includes buses, boats, monorails and trams. You can also hire taxi cabs or limo services. Taxis are the fastest transportation around WDW.
The whole system is more complicated than I have space to explain here. Depending on whether you stay at a Disney hotel or off-site, or whether you have a car or not, will influence how you move around. And different Disney hotels have different transportation services. For instance, the resort at which we stayed did not provide bus service to the Magic Kingdom (MK), but did provide boat service. To the other three parks and the two water parks we had bus services.
The Disney transportation system is organized as a hub-and-spoke system. There is a central hub called the Transportation Transfer Center (TTC). Each theme park also acts as a hub. Nominally the buses and boats run every 20 minutes. Note that from some locations to others in WDW, there is no direct bus or boat service. Thus you must go to a hub and connect to your final destination. With a nominal twenty minute cycle for buses and boats, and having to catch connectors, this means it can take a very long time (well over an hour) to get to certain places. This is compounded during busy times of the day where you may not be able to catch the next bus or boat because the line is too long, so you will have to wait more than one cycle. In my opinion, if you cannot get directly to your destination, it is much better to spend $10-15 for a taxi.
There are three monorail loops at WDW. One takes you from the TTC to MK, a second takes one from the TTC to Epcot, and a third loops though several Disney hotels to MK and the TTC.
Overall we found the Disney transportation system to be as good as could be reasonably expected. But the fact that you have to use transportation to get around adds to the complexity of visiting WDW. Rather than knowing how long it will take you to get from point A to B (as at DLR), there is a significant uncertainty at WDW because you do not know how long you might have to wait for a bus or boat.
For instance, one morning we were on our way to Epcot and a frustrated lady was there with her daughter, also planning to go to Epcot. She had a breakfast reservation, and it had been raining all morning which must have slowed everything down. She was there waiting for the first Epcot bus for ninety minutes. Ninety! We were fortunate to have gotten there about 5-10 minutes before the bus arrived. Because of the need for some form of transportation, to me it felt like there was a barrier between us and the WDW parks that I do not feel at DLR. That is part of the price you pay at WDW to have access to more parks and entertainment.
The UOG has detailed time estimates to get from almost anywhere in WDW to somewhere else for both Disney and personal transportation. A good rule of thumb if you are at a WDW hotel is to assume it will take you 60 minutes from the time you leave your hotel room until you are the gate of the park you are visiting that day. This can be much shorter for certain hotels which are closer to certain parks. If you think having your own car will get you from A to B faster, the UOG shows overall that this is not true. In some cases cars are faster, while in others they are slower. Remember that car travel requires parking and, at the parks, waiting for trams.
Note that the issue of transportation can mean you will spend less time actually in the parks at WDW. I checked our trip reports, and found that we spent 5-8 hours of each day actually inside one of the parks at WDW, while at DLR we typically spend 10-12 hours of each day in the parks. If you are a person who likes to take an afternoon hotel break, at DLR this may require 10-20 minutes roundtrip. At WDW it can mean 1-2 hours out of your day just for transportation back and forth to your hotel – and that does not include the actual time spent at the pool or napping. In general I think it best to just accept that you will spend less hours per day inside the parks than at DLR and not less this frustrate you. If you manage to achieve equal hours per day, consider that a bonus.
If your group is a bit larger and there is a possibility of splitting up, one of the advantages to using Disney transportation is that it is easier to split up. If you are all in one car and staying offsite, it is harder for part of your group to leave early to go back to your hotel room, for example. If you are using Disney transportation and staying onsite, anyone who wants to leave early can do so – either to return to the hotel, hop to a different park, or whatever. We did this on numerous occasions.
Most people who fly to WDW fly into Orlando airport. If you stay at a WDW resort hotel, you can use the free Disney Magical Express (DME). This is actually quite a bit more than mere transportation, as DME will also handle your luggage both to and from your WDW hotel. You can thus just walk off the airplane, get on a bus and, if you want, go straight to a park and DME will get your luggage from the airport luggage area to your hotel room. To do this, you need to sign up a few weeks ahead of time so you can get DME luggage tags before you fly. We had a good experience with DME at the airport, but got tripped up returning to the airport on DME. Nevertheless, I would recommend DME as a good option. Here is a number for them: (866) 599-0951.
If you are not renting a car, but want to have some food for your trip, there are cost effective limo services who will make a 30 minute grocery store stop on the way to WDW so you can stock up on food. A limo service with a good reputation is Sunray (800-204-4355). If getting food is important, the Dining and Food section discusses grocery delivery services.
Finally, do not be penny wise but pound foolish. A trip to WDW will cost you thousands of dollars. Use a $10-15 taxi to get places when it is important to you. Usually we were able to use buses to get to parks for morning rope drop, but on a few mornings Disney transportation was not convenient to certain parks from where we stayed, so I got a taxi to make sure we got to the parks early. Spending $10-15 on a taxi compared to thousands of dollars already spent is often smart if you otherwise might have to wait an extra 30+ minutes to get somewhere.
WDW has about twenty resort hotels with about 22,000 rooms. The first choice to make at WDW is whether to stay at one of the WDW hotels or stay at a non-Disney hotel. Note that there are a few non-Disney hotels inside WDW. WDW touts the perk of Extra Magic Hours for all WDW resort hotel guests, and this is discussed elsewhere. Many would say EMH is not that valuable. I would thus not let EMH be the deciding factor on whether you stay onsite or offsite.
To my mind the biggest advantage of staying onsite is better access to the transportation services, from which you can get anywhere at WDW from a bus stop right outside your resort hotel. But be aware that some of the resort hotels are sprawling, and it can take quite awhile to get to the bus stops from your room. For example, some rooms at the Coronado Springs Resort are a 15-minute walk to the bus stops at the front of the resort. So if you decide to stay at a Disney resort hotel, pay attention to these things, and where your room is actually located at the more spread out hotels. Resources like TGM and their forums are invaluable for this kind of information, in my opinion.
Some of the WDW hotels have a Monorail pickup at the hotel, which can easily take you to the MK. This is an advantage for some.
Other advantages to Disney hotels include proximity. There are several hotels within walking distance to both Epcot and the MGM park. If you like the close walking hotels at DLR, then one of these hotels may be a good choice because they offer walking distance accommodations to two of the four WDW parks.
There are good rates at numerous non-Disney hotels just outside of WDW. To my mind, if you stay at a non-Disney hotel then a rental car or use of a taxi is a no-brainer. Waiting for the occasional hotel shuttle involves too much wasted time for me.
Again, there are more resources at WDW than DLR for making this kind of decision. TGM and the UOG were both helpful to me.
Finally note that WDW has a campground at Ft. Wilderness, which has all of the privileges of the resort hotels should you decide to camp.
7. Touring WDW: Parkhopping and Other Differences From DLR
When you visit WDW you have so many more options than DLR. There are four theme parks, two water parks, and a host of other entertainment options. These include Downtown Disney, watercraft rentals, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, nightclubs, dinner shows, athletics, etc.
Visiting WDW takes more time than DLR. If you want to experience the theme parks fairly well, most would say that MK and Epcot each requires at least 2 days, and MGM and AK each require at least 1 day. Thus 6 theme park days is a good rule of thumb. We actually spent two days at each park and still did not see everything – although we did ride headliners several times and did not focus on trying to actually do everything.
Those who have been to DLR and visited DL and DCA know how easy it is to park hop at DLR. At WDW it is more complicated because of the transportation issues. While we constantly park hop at DLR, we chose not to do this at WDW. One of the main reasons is FastPass collection. We like to collect these during the day. If you park hop at WDW, you will be going to a park where the FastPasses for the major rides will often be gone when you get there. We found this just too disadvantageous at WDW. We therefore stuck with one park each day to avoid wasted time for transportation and to better make use of FastPass for headliner rides.
However, one of the major reasons to park hop at WDW is dining. In summary, WDW offers a much greater variety of quality dining options than does DLR, and getting to different parks for dining is important to many WDW visitors. This often requires parkhopping. See the Dining section in this guide for more information.
With the four parks at WDW, there are more shows, parades and fireworks to see than at DLR. While the timing of shows and parades at DLR is fairly constant, many of the show times at WDW can change from week to week. The “Times Guide” gives show times for Sat.-Sun of that week. This information is determined by the Monday before each Saturday. This site gives reliable Times Guide information online: http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares. Also, you can call Disney on Monday or thereafter to find out show times for the following week. I recommend doing this, as we left on our trip on a Friday and Saturday was our first day at WDW. Before we left I knew all of the show times for the week we were there, which helped us plan how to fit in the shows we wanted to see. You can call either 407-824-2222 or 407-WDW-INFO (939-4636) for show time info.
8. Dining and Food
One area where WDW clearly outshines DLR is in the area of dining. It is not that the food is better per se, but that your options are much broader. First there is Epcot’s World Showcase, where ethnic dining options abound. Then there are Disney dinner shows outside the parks such as the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue and Polynesian Luau. You can make reservations for these shows many months – even years – in advance. This is very different from DLR where dining reservations can be made at most 30-60 days in advance. You should research these well ahead of your trip and make reservations as soon as possible. Even if you are not sure you want to do them, make reservations anyways and then cancel them after you make your final plans. There is no penalty for canceling.
There are some really creative dining locations such as MGM’s SciFi Diner which is themed as a drive-in movie theater. You sit in a “car” and watch old SciFi movies on a large screen while you eat. For all of these advanced dining reservations (ADRs) are highly recommended - especially if you want to eat at certain times or during regular meal hours. For instance, the day we were at MGM they were not taking walk-ins for the SciFi diner at all. Only people with ADRs were allowed to eat there that day. Fortunately I had made an ADR for my family of six or we would have missed this opportunity, which turned out to be a highly remembered part of our trip.
There are also lots of character dining options. My experience at DLR is that for many DLR vets this is not a big part of their DLR visit – but for some it is. At WDW it is a much bigger deal. You can get meal reservations with Disney characters at a number of venues there. These typically require an ADR as well, so planning ahead is highly recommended.
Detailed information about Disney restaurants (inside and outside the parks) can be found in numerous places, including TGM and the UOG. To make dining reservations call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).
There are a couple other things to know about dining at WDW. One is that some of the WDW resorts and off-site resorts have suites with full kitchens. This can be a money and time saver. If you take this route, there is a private grocery shopping service you can access who will buy your groceries for you and deliver them to your room. We used this service at WDW and recommend it: www.wegoshop.com.
Second is that WDW offers a pre-paid “Dining Plan” where you pay about $40 per day per person and you can eat at the WDW hotel and park restaurants (with certain restrictions). The dining plan is sometimes thrown in as a free perk during certain non-peak season times.
9. Differences between WDW Magic Kingdom and Disneyland
The Magic Kingdom (MK) and Disneyland (DL) each are anchors at their respective resorts. They have a lot in common. How do they compare?
While Internet polls show that most visitors prefer WDW to DLR, they also show that most visitors prefer DL to MK.
MK is about 25% larger than DL (107 vs. 85 acres). It has about 30% less rides than DL, but it is much more spacious. The hub area is much larger than at DL, and the castle is much larger and spectacular at MK. MK does not have a Matterhorn mountain, which serves as the primary visual landmark at DL. The castle is the primary visual landmark at MK.
The basic layouts of the parks are similar. You enter through one of two tunnels onto Main Street. Main Street leads to a central hub in front of a castle, and around the hub are different themed “lands”. TomorrowLand is on the right, FantasyLand is straight ahead through the castle, ToonTown is beyond FantasyLand, and AdventureLand and FrontierLand are on the left.
MK does not have New Orleans Square. It does have Liberty Square, which does not exist at DL.
I found Tomorrowland at MK to be much more inspiring than at DL. I liked the futuristic look there, and there are many more attractions at MK.
Fantasyland is much, much larger at MK. And with this much space it actually has less rides than DL. The theming in MK’s Fantasyland is not nearly as strong as at DL, in my opinion.
Fantasmic is not performed within MK at WDW. It is performed at a dedicated theater at the MGM park. It is roughly similar to DL’s version, but does not have access to the sailing ships as at DL’s Rivers of America and hence this part of the show is not as strong.
Attractions at MK but not at DL
- Country Bear Jamboree (used to be at DL but was removed)
- Carousel of Progress (used to be at DL but was removed)
- Hall of Presidents
- Stitch’s Great Escape
- Aladdin’s Magic Carpets
- Swiss Family Treehouse (used to be at DL but was changed into Tarzan’s Treehouse)
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority (used to be at DL but was removed - was called the People Mover)
Attractions at DL but not at MK
- Indiana Jones
- StoryBook Land Canal Boats
- Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (used to be at MK but was removed)
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin
- Davey Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
- Star Tours (located at WDW MGM)
- Honey I Shrunk the Audience (located at WDW Epcot)
- Innoventions (located at WDW Epcot)
- Tarzan’s Treehouse (used to be Swiss Family Treehouse at DL)
- Columbia Sailing Ship (in addition to the Mark Twain which is similar to MK’s Liberty Square Riverboat)
- Disneyland: First 50 Years (similar to the one at WDW MGM)
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse
- Monorail (I counted this at DL but not MK because it is more of a ride at DL than pure transportation – you can get on this “ride” in the middle of Tomorrowland at DL rather than outside of the park as at MK)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Ride (this is still being refurbished and will reopen in 2007)
Disneyland also has more headliner attractions than MK. It is fair to say that MK has five headliner attractions:
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion
Disneyland has all of these plus two more:
- Indiana Jones
Without going through each ride one by one, most would agree that MK’s Splash Mountain is a better ride than at DL. Most would also probably agree that Jungle Cruise is better at MK.
There is debate about whether DL or MK’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is better, as is there debate about Haunted Mansion. Suffice it to say that these rides are fairly similar.
Most would agree that Pirates of the Caribbean is better at DL. Before DL’s Space Mountain revamp the rides were fairly similar. Since the completion of the revamp in 2005 most would agree that DL’s Space Mountain is better.
It’s a Small World is fairly similar in the interior, but the large and creative exterior at DL would lead most to say that DL’s Small World is better.
Other attractions can be debated. In some cases MK may have the better version, while in others DL may have the better version.
A list of “not to be missed” attractions and shows at WDW is given in a later section titled: “Not To Be Missed at WDW”.
To see another take on the differences between MK and DL, see http://allearsnet.com/dlr/tp/dl/dlmk.htm.
10. Touring Plans
As mentioned already, there are resources which will help you plan how you tour the parks.
TGM (www.tourguidemike.com) has “Sample Plans” for all four parks that are quite good and are integrated into the whole TGM philosophy. These are a good starting point if you decide to subscribe to TGM. These plans are static plans, but they are regularly updated based on Mike’s experience in the parks. These plans are not based on statistics, but regular park experience and intuition – which some say is a better approach.
RideMax (www.ridemax.com) is a software package that lets you create customized touring plans for the four parks based on wait time statistics.
The UOG authors have an online resource called www.touringplans.com. Here you can get access to touring plans based on wait time statistics. These plans are more static than are RideMax’s.
The UOG book has touring plans, although since these are in print they are cannot be updated.
11. How Many Days Do You Need at WDW?
Whereas DLR can be thoroughly experienced in 4-5 days, even with 10 days at WDW you will not come close to experiencing everything there. To get a fairly good experience of the four parks you will need 2 days at each of MK and Epcot, and 1 day each at AK and MGM. Thus six days would be a reasonable minimum number of days to plan for WDW. The maximum days depends on your budget and available time. Obviously the more days, the better.
One of Tour Guide Mike’s best pieces of advice is that touring WDW is more like a marathon, not a sprint. When my family visits DLR it is much more like a sprint for 3-4 days. I agree with TGM that this approach at WDW will wear you down and detract from your trip. WDW has two water parks – one geared more towards younger children (Typhoon Lagoon) and the other towards older children (Blizzard Beach). If you are going at a warmer time of year, one approach is to visit theme parks for two days, and then each third day visit a water park for a more relaxing day to rebuild strength.
12. WDW as a Vacation Spot
Many DLR vets are day trip visitors. The idea of taking a “vacation” to a Disney park may seem like a foreign concept to some DLR visitors. But to most WDW vets, this is exactly what WDW represents. The numerous and diverse activities available there, all on Disney property, makes it what some people call a “whole vacation experience”. To more fully experience WDW, you should look into some of these other activities.
13. Best Time To Visit WDW
The high and off seasons at WDW parallel DLR’s. Summer, Christmas, and Spring Break are very busy. Jan-Feb is slower, as is Sept-Oct.
At DLR you are left to your own experience and anecdotal reports on Disney forums to find out which days are less crowded. At WDW there are several resources you can use which will help you decide when it is best for you to visit WDW – and if you do, which parks to visit on which days.
The UOG people use historical data to rate how busy WDW will be throughout the year, and recommend which parks will be least crowded on which days. A list one month in advance is given for free at this link www.touringplans.com/tp2/UG2_index.php?PageID=14. You can get this list for days many months away by buying the UOG or subscribing for a low fee.
Once you have decided the time frame of your visit, I found the information on TGM on which parks to visit on which days much more thorough (he explains why parks will be more or less busy) and up-to-date than UOG’s and would recommend you use TGM for this.
It is my understanding that 70% of DLR visitors are local day trip visitors, while only 15% visitors of WDW are local day trippers. This has several implications. First is that the difference in crowds between weekends and weekdays is much smaller than at DLR. Thus you do not need to pay attention to weekends vs. weekdays at WDW.
Second is that most WDW visitors are less knowledgeable about WDW than many of the DLR locals who visit DLR more regularly.
Third, and strangely enough, human nature trumps everything at WDW and park crowd buildup is roughly similar between WDW and DLR. Thus even though many thousands of people stay at WDW hotels a short distance away from the parks, they still like to arrive to the parks 1-2 hours late and leave a few hours early each day. Thus getting to the parks before they open is just as valuable at WDW as DLR, and allows you to experience a similar amount of short lines. The same is true near park closing.
14. Extra Magic Hours at WDW
DLR and WDW have a history of offering extended park hours to certain visitors. These perks change over time and the current form of these perks will most likely change in the future. Therefore the information in this section is the most likely of all sections in this guide to become outdated.
Since 2004 WDW has offered Extra Magic Hours (EMH). These are offered only to WDW resort hotel guests, and allow entry one hour early or three hours late into certain parks on certain days. WDW has frequently changed the days of the week and the specific parks for EMH. On any given morning or evening, only one of the four parks will have EMH and sometimes none of them will. During EMH only certain rides are open, and the rides are different between EMH mornings or evenings.
WDW promotes this perk to its hotel guests and many people use it. As there are times when MK is open until midnight or even 1AM, MK literally stays open on some evening EMH days until 3 or 4AM.
Regarding planning for or around EMH, one thing you definitely do not want to do is go to a morning EMH park after the EMH period. In other words, if the park opens at 9AM and the EMH morning starts at 8AM, do not go to that park that day if you plan to arrive at 9 or 10AM. Go to another park that day. If you do not stay onsite at WDW you will not have EMH, so you should just avoid EMH parks altogether. One exception to this is during certain busy times of the year, WDW will open a park for morning EMH every day of the week. When this happens, you have no choice but to visit that park on a morning EMH day. If you are WDW hotel guest, it is worthwhile to get up early and go to EMH on those days.
If you stay at a WDW resort and have EMH privileges, it is debatable whether you should actually use them (except for the special case just described). There are several schools of thought. One is that most people are reluctant to get up early for EMH and thus you should only use the EMH mornings. A second school of thought says that MK is the only park worth going to for EMH because it has many more rides open than the other parks. A third school of thought is to get in as many park hours as possible and use EMH as much as possible, both morning and evening. And still a fourth school of thought is that EMH is too crowded during high season and should be avoided, but during low season it is worth doing. A final school of thought is that since current WDW park tickets do not include park hopping (you can add park hopping for extra cost), many people choose the EMH parks that day and since they have not bought the hopping option they are stuck with whatever crowds exist that day at the park. In such cases, the benefits of extra hours are outweighed by the extra crowds and longer lines during the park regular hours. Personally, although we had EMH privileges I was most persuaded by the final school of thought, and we just always chose parks on each day that did not have EMH either morning or evening.
WDW has a FP system that works very similarly to DLR’s. If you are a FP expert at DLR, here are some things you should know that work differently at WDW:
1. There are no disconnected FP machines like DLR’s GRR or RR.
2. Expired FP’s – DLR has accepted expired FPs on the same day for many years now. It is known to be policy at DLR. WDW has been less consistent than DLR in this area, and it is more common at WDW to have an expired FP rejected by a CM. However, we used expired FPs on numerous occasions without any rejections at WDW.
3. FP Windows – If you get into DLR at opening and get a FP, the return window is typically 40-45 minutes away. WDW parks are more unusual here. At MK they typically add a one-hour delayed window to FPs obtained at park opening, and then 40-45 minutes thereafter similar to DLR. But the other three parks do not seem to do this for some reason. Some parks will give you a window two hours away, but then list on your FP ticket that you can get another FP before that window opens (maybe in 45 minutes). DLR has never done anything like this in my experience. It is thus important at WDW to pay attention to both the FP windows and the printed time on the FP for when you can get your next FP.
4. FP Distribution When Rides Are Down – In my experience at DLR, when a ride goes down, the FP machines are always taken down as well. If a ride goes down at WDW, they may keep the FP machines going when they think the delay is not going to be too long. This really confused me one morning when Expedition Everest at AK did not open until two hours after the park opened due to mechanical problems, but they kept giving out FPs the entire time. I could not figure out whether to get a FP or not, and I did not like that the window was two hours later which would disrupt my next planned FP pickup an hour later. I was thus pleasantly surprised when I got the EE FP that although the window was two hours away, it told me I could pick up my next FP in 45 minutes.
5. FP and EMH – There have been reports that FPs are distributed during Extra Magic Hours, but in most people’s experience they are not distributed – except at MK for morning EMH. Since we never visited EMH parks I did not get to see this first hand.
Like California, it does get cold at WDW during the non-summer months. But it can also be warm during the winter months as well.
The average annual rainfall in Anaheim, California is 10 inches. In Orlando, Florida it is 50 inches. You should always keep a rain poncho with you at WDW so you can push through on park visits in the rain, which is often of short duration. In fact rain is often a good thing, in that it forces other visitors out of the parks and leaves them less crowded after the rain stops.
The heat and humidity at WDW in the summer months will sap the energy of even well conditioned visitors. Especially in the summer, you need to pay attention to this and make sure you have plenty of rest time built in to your schedule and drink plenty of fluids.
The summer and autumn in Florida is hurricane season. In recent years this has of course been a big issue in Florida and at WDW. While we were at WDW, a tropical storm came through and poured rain for two days. We did not let this slows us down though.
17. Entrance Tickets
The current WDW ticket program is called Magic Your Way (MYW). You can purchase as many parks days as you want (up to 10). If you want to park hop, this costs extra (about $40 per person). You can either pay at the gate for things like water parks or DisneyQuest, or you can pay extra ahead of time and add this onto your MYW ticket. You can pay extra such that your MYW ticket never expires. If you did this, it would be smart to buy the full 10 days on your ticket, and then use them at any time in the future. You can also buy all of these options after you buy the ticket initially. For example, you can add days or water park access to your ticket while you are at WDW.
You can also buy an Annual Pass. After you get up to a 10 day ticket, you are starting to approach the AP cost. Some people will buy an AP for just one person in their group, which allows them to get hotel discounts and food discounts which will offset the cost of the AP over say a 10 day ticket.
Each entrance ticket must be assigned to a specific person in your group because when you enter a theme park or water park there are biometric turnstiles which will match your fingerprint with your entrance ticket so you cannot switch it with another person.
If you stay at a WDW hotel, one of the things you can do (which we did and I found overall to be convenient) is to get a hotel room key for each person in your group and have your entrance tickets added to this key. The key looks like a credit card, and each person will have their name on a key. Purchase privileges can be added to these keys, so that minors can use them to buy food and gifts at the parks and have them charged to your room. This key is also what you use to get Fastpasses.
Overall I liked this feature, but with six in our group we had to be careful to control the keys. If a child took a key to get into the hotel room, I was careful to ask for it back. If a key is lost, Disney will replace it for you – and it remembers how many ticket days you have, etc. So losing a key is not a big deal except there is a bit of hassle for you having to go back and get the key replaced. If you lose a key at the parks, then you can get it replaced there as well – but until you do you will not have it available for Fastpass collecting.
18. Non-Theme Park Activities at WDW
There is just so much to do at WDW it would take a long time to discuss it all, and then I would still miss many things. You can learn about these things at place likes TGM, UOG and the DISboards. Here are some examples:
1. DownTown Disney – movie theaters, restaurants, shopping, entertainment
2. Pleasure Island – mostly entertainment
3. DisneyQuest – unique five story arcade – my kids loved DQ – but it is being removed in the next 1-2 years
4. Water Parks – there are two Disney water parks
6. Water sports – fishing, boating, jet skis, etc.
7. Horseback riding
8. Disney shows outside theme parks – Hoop-Dee-Revue and Polynesian Luau
During our trip my kids were in the 10-15 age range, and I allowed them to take Disney buses to DTD and see movies on two different days. One can of course see movies at home, so doing this at WDW is not necessarily the best use of time. However, we had full off-days and half off-days built into our ten-day schedule, and I reasoned a movie was a good way for our kids to conserve energy in an air-conditioned theater. So we allowed them to do this.
19. Not To Be Missed at WDW Resort
A DLR vet may have a different set of “not to be missed” attractions than the average visitor. Here is my list for DLR vets.
Splash Mountain – Similar to Splash at DL but better. The story line is much more thorough and complete at MK.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Fairly similar to BTMRR at DL. We liked the one at MK better.
Haunted Mansion – Similar to HM at DL and very fun.
Philharmagic – This is a fun 3-D show unique to MK, and because it is unique you should be sure to see it.
Space Mountain – This is included only because it is a headliner, but the MK version is far behind the current DL version
Spectromagic – A fun night time parade. It is kind of similar to the Main Street Electrical Parade. I liked it better than MSEP, but not as well as the current Parade of Dreams at DL.
Wishes – Fireworks show over and above the castle. If you want you can book water cruises and watch the fireworks from a boat outside MK.
Soarin’ – The same attraction as DCA. The line and queue are not as well themed at Epcot, but the ride itself is of course spectacular. This is the most popular ride at all of WDW. In truth a DLR vet can easily skip this ride because it is the same as DCA.
Test Track – Has the theme of an auto testing facility where you ride in a car through different test zones. Closes during bad weather.
Mission Space – A simulated rocket launch to Mars. Uses a motion simulator with visuals to simulate a space launch, and it is quite convincing. Known for making people feel ill. I feel ill after riding Star Tours type rides (and thus never ride Star Tours anymore), but was fine with this ride. They now have two versions – one that spins to simulate launch forces and one that does not spin and is thus less intense.
Illuminations – Currently the most spectacular show at WDW, in my opinion. It is a fireworks and laser show on the lagoon inside Epcot. You can reserve water cruises to watch this from a boat inside Epcot.
World Showcase – An entire section of the park where there are a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment themed to different countries.
Rock ‘n Roller Coaster – This was easily one of our favorites at WDW. A very well themed inside looped roller coaster with a 0-60 mph start similar to California Screamin’. This was my second favorite ride at all of WDW.
Tower of Terror – Very fun ride, better and longer than the one at DCA. The MGM version has a random drop sequence so each ride is different.
Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show – An intense auto and motorcycle stunt show in a stadium setting. Very good.
Indiana Jones Stunt Show – A show which demonstrates how movie stunts are performed.
Fantasmic – Performed at an outside theater at MGM with concrete seating. You can get reserved seating by getting a special dinner package. Such reservations work very differently than the dessert reservations at DL Fantasmic.
Expedition Everest – The newest Disney mountain. Opened in 2006, an awesome themed roller coaster where you will encounter the Yeti as he attempts to prevent your intrusion into the mountain. This was my favorite ride at all of WDW.
Kilimanjaro Safari – A ride in a safari truck through an area of open wild life. Well done.
Dinosaur – Uses similar technology to DL’s Indiana Jones and very well done. You will travel back in time to find a dinosaur and bring it to the current time.
Flights of Wonder – The best bird show I have ever seen. Worth the time.
Festival of the Lion King – A fun musical production
Finding Nemo – Never saw this, as it was not finished when we were there. Decided to add it here so you know about it.
Mulch, Sweat and Shears (at MGM) – Classic rock street band that performs on the Streets of America. Lots of fun.
Four For A Dollar (at MGM) – Acapella quartet that performs before the Beauty and the Beast show
Beauty and the Beast (at MGM) – 25 minute stage show on outside covered stage
DiVine (at AK) – Hard to describe, but a live woman who blends into the jungle. Unique.
Live animal areas at AK – Monkeys, Pangani Trail, and Maharajah Trek
Living Seas (at Epcot) – Largest aquarium in North America
20. Other Destinations in Orlando and Florida
Here I will direct you to other resources such as DIS or UOG. We spent this entire trip at WDW and did not experience anything else in the area.
Two of the biggest possibilities are Universal Studios Florida (USF) in Orlando which has two theme parks, and Kennedy Space Center (KSC). KSC (which I have visited in the past) is an hour away and you can go to the visitor center there and arrange for space center tours.