What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

Let’s talk about this photo…

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park
Kudos to this young woman who was able to stay in character while a grown woman ugly cried at her.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed of going to Disney World. Her grandparents wintered every year in Florida about two hours away from the happiest place on earth. Every couple of years or so, the little girl’s cousins would visit their grandparents and go to Disney World. She wished and wished that one year, it would be her turn. In the meantime, the little girl and her neighborhood friends would play and pretend that they were Disney princesses. Sometimes they would “sing” like Ariel giving up her voice to the sea witch (sorry, moms, for making you incessantly listen to that noise), other times they would fiercely fight colonists like the brave Pocahontas.

Then, one day, the little girl found out that the year she was going to Disney World finally came. She waited and waited, but it was not meant to be. The little girl’s dreams were dashed and she slowly came to realize that the closest she was going to get was watching Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun. Time passed and the little girl grew up. She had children of her own and, though it seemed like a long shot, she started dreaming of Disney World again.

One Christmas, she decided that she would pick up a part-time job and begin paying for a Disney World vacation. Ten months later, the grown-up girl and her family made their way to Disney World. It was during their day at Magic Kingdom that dreams really did come true. As they waited in line to visit Cinderella and a “visiting princess” the grown up girl glimpsed in and saw that said princess was Sleeping Beauty. The little girl that had been banished a long time ago, bubbled up to the surface. When she came face-to-face with her favorite princess, she cried. Tears of joy, tears of mended dreams, tears of relief, tears of an excited little girl, and tears of magical happy endings 20 something years in the making.  

What to Expect at Disney World

In a previous post, I shared the many tips and tricks of planning a Disney vacation. Now, I would like to share with you our experience and thoughts on the various aspects of Disney World. In my family’s typical fashion, we pulled up to the resort and checked in at midnight. Yep, midnight! And, even though it was midnight, our magical week at Disney began the minute we stepped into the lobby.

People who work at Disney are called “cast members” and they are all extremely helpful, friendly, and nice…even at midnight. The cast members at Disney are from all over the world, providing experiences with various languages and cultures. If you pay close attention to the name tags, it will have their country or state of origin and a list of the languages they speak. For example, in Norway, many of the cast members spoke Nordic in addition to English. It was also pretty amazing the amount of different languages we heard in passing because the other vacation dwellers were from all over the world. 

Of course, the best thing to expect at Disney World is that adults can be children again. No, I’m not talking children on Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, but just a chance to go back to a time of innocent joy. A time with no worries. Adults can be excited about all things Disney. It’s not abnormal to see just as many grown ups as children waiting to get pictures with their favorite characters and ride all the rides.

Animal Kingdom

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

Animal Kingdom is a place to “behold the magic of nature with rare animals and world-class entertainment.” Before visiting here, I described it as a glorified zoo, and planned this as our first day to get it out of the way. Surprisingly, this was one of our favorite days and Animal Kingdom is definitely not just a glorified zoo. It can be completely enjoyed in a day and we didn’t feel like we missed anything. Some of our favorite parts of the day were:

  • Expedition Everest 

    This is a roller coaster that looks like it goes in and around a mountain peak. We love roller coasters and Expedition Everest did not disappoint. The line can get really long so this would be a great one for FastPass+ if this up your ally. However, by the end of the day it was easy to ride without a wait if you just jumped in line. If you don’t want to ride, there is a pretty awesome view area where you can watch the riders.

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris 

    This is a ride in a large safari vehicle through the Savannah that is narrated by the driver. Ours was hilarious! While passing by a group of flamingos he informed us that the grouping was a flamboyance and then embellished that fact by saying that it was funny because that is also what his friends call him. Anyway, this was our first experience with open enclosure animals and it did not disappoint. Selfies with giraffes near by! How can you beat that? The Safari is a popular one so, again, worth a spot for the FastPass+.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug 

    This is a stage show for those that love It’s a Bugs Life. Fair warning, it’s dark like a theater and has minor jump scares. They do warn you about that before hand. However, even with the warning, some parents of littles stayed and the littles got really scared. (I’m not going to lie. There were times I was not thrilled with show. *cough, cough* spiders are in it *cough, cough*) We hit this attraction in the evening and there was no line so it may not be necessary to use FastPass+ for this.

  • Kali River Rapids 

    This is a classic ride that most everyone has been on at one point or another. It’s the one where you sit in a family sized tube raft and head down a river to be soaked by rapids, water cannons, and waterfalls. I have been able to ride some of these and walk away completely dry, but not on the Kali River! Everyone gets soaked! The good news is that they provide lockers for free (up to three hours) to store your stuff. This ride is popular and needs the FastPass+ if you want to bypass the long line. Though, it did look there was not a wait for the regular line later in the evening.

  • Bats! 

    We find all the animals pretty interesting and fun to learn about. However, one of the coolest animals were the giant bats. They were as big as large hawks and eagles. Even if bats aren’t up your ally, almost anybody can find and animal they love.

 

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

 

Hollywood Studios

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

Hollywood Studios is a place to “take center stage in the worlds of movies, television, music & theater.” This park is definitely another one that can be experienced in a day. It is the perfect mix of old-timey Hollywood and current cinema. Some of our favorites include:

  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 

    Okay, to be honest, this ride was a favorite for three out of the five of us. It is the thrilliest of thrill rides. I’ve experienced “drop” rides before and usually they only give you one good drop. The great thing about Tower of Terror is that the elevator drop happens a few times. Afterward, my son wouldn’t talk to me for a little while because apparently he wasn’t very fond of the elevator drop.  This is one of the most popular rides so FastPass+ is a must.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular 

    I am sad to report that previous to this show my children did not know who Indiana Jones was. Does this make me a bad, horrible, neglectful mommy? Yes, yes it does. Looks like I’ll need to add to the list of nostalgic things from my childhood to show my children. I digress… While it was pretty cool to see the show as an adult you kind of lose the magic because you know what is going on and how it works. The kids on the other hand loved it. We waited in line without using the FastPass+ and got decent seats, but if you want to sit front and center then it is worth it to use one of your slots.

  • Toy Story Mania 

    This ride/game was the hidden gem of the day. It’s tucked back in an alley way that doesn’t look like anything was going on. Since it was Toy Story I thought that, at best, the two youngest would enjoy it. I was wrong! Our whole family loved it and I would FastPass+ this ride three times in a row because we definitely would have jumped back in line if the line hadn’t been insanely long.

  • Fantasmic 

    We were two days into Disney at this point and I was still missing my “Disney Magic” moment. This amazing light, water, and pyrotechnic show reminiscent of Fantasia gave me goosebumps and had that true Disney spirit. Fantasmic was our first, and only, glimpse of Mickey Mouse. This show was also our first glimpse of traditional Disney characters and we all walked away in awe and super geeked.

  • Star Wars 

    Star Wars fans will need to visit here. When I had found out that Disney had purchased Star Wars from Lucas Films a little bit of my soul died. Um…thank you Disney! I’m sorry I doubted you. There is so much Star Wars stuff going on I can’t even begin to individualize it. From the crazy amount of memorabilia to Kylo Ren appreciating my son’s t-shirt to almost being smothered by Chewie when he gives you a Wookie hug to all the swag; it is STAR WARS HEAVEN! Some Star Wars experiences take FastPass+ and others do not. Don’t forget to line up on Hollywood Boulevard at the top of the hour for the March of the First Order and watch out for Captain Phasma.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • Unhindered Character Interaction 

    This park has a group of cast members called the Citizens of Hollywood. The Citizens are retro Hollywood and hilarious. Crowd participation is encouraged. Elsewhere in the park you can find some Jawas to snag a selfie with, the storm troopers will keep you in line, and the plastic army guys from Toy Story hand out stickers and pose for some photo ops.

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

 

Epcot (aka apricot, aka the big golf ball)

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • Mission: Space & Advanced Training Lab 

    Mission: Space is a simulation ride that is divided into Orange (intense) and Green (normal). Take the green path! My oldest and I went on the orange level while Hubby and the other two took the green level. I probably won’t do the orange level ever again. Also, this ride has barf bag but, thankfully, we did not have to use them. The best part is actually after the ride and is a fun place to play the team game at the Advanced Training Lab. Watch your time because it is insanely fun and we accidentally spent hours here. Advanced Training Lab can be accessed by entering through the gift shop if you want to skip the ride.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  •  SeaBase 

    This is a really awesome aquarium that will give you 360 degree views of underwater life. You can see dolphins perform from the underwater perspective and just get lost exploring underwater life. This is one of the attractions that sealed the deal for Epcot being our extra day of tickets. SeaBase is located after The Seas with Nemo and Friends, but unless you have littles that insist on going, feel free to skip the ride. Access SeaBase by entering through the gift shop.

  • Soarin’ 

    This ride is a simulation of a hang glider that will take you around the world. With a floor to ceiling IMAX screen, the ride definitely felt real. Those with a fear of heights should proceed with caution. This is a must for the FastPass+. We missed reserving a time and end up in the 90 minute line. That was the longest line we stood in the entire week but it was well worth it.

  • Test Track 

    My suggestion is to work this one backward. Enter through the gift shop and head to the areas where individuals can build concept cars. From there, everyone should be able to individually build a car and scan it to their individual magic band.

    From the beginning of the ride you have the opportunity to build your concept car but your group is placed at one computer, and thus you race one car. If you have a car pre-scanned then you can just stand and wait during the creation process. Then, each person can see the specs of their individual car during the ride.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • World Showcase

    I have heard that this is the part of Epcot that is pretty boring for little kids. We ended up having a blast here and Epcot ending up winning the free day because we all wanted to explore more. There are tons of different characters to meet in many different countries. We made sure to visit Elsa and Anna in Norway. Many other countries have different artifacts and cultural performances. Mexico was pretty interesting and my oldest daughter was able to use her knowledge from her AP Art History class to add more info about some artifacts.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 

    This right here was the reason we went to Disney in October. A former co-worker of mine told me about the festival and I was going to make it happen. Each country has a food booth with a few cuisine and drink options to sample. Sampler prices ranged from $3.75-$9.00. Bring all the money. I am proud to admit that I was able to sticker almost every country in my passport and then some extras.

    Some of my favorites were Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese (Farm Fresh), Grilled Lamb (Australia), Beijing Roasted Duck (China), Cannoli al Cioccolato (Italy), and Croissant aux Escargots (France). Yes, I ate snail…and so did my pickiest eater on the planet. Surprisingly, he was the most enthusiastic to try new things and offered up suggestions on what we should try. He even checked out a French cookbook from the school library, so we do some cooking at home.

    Don’t worry if you can’t make it during the festival. There are themed restaurants in many of the countries of World Showcase.

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park
Buttered Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread (Africa)

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is the place where you can “explore the lands of endless enchantment, where your fantasy becomes your reality.” We explored Magic Kingdom later in the week of our vacation with the idea that we were saving the best for last. While we had been having the time of our life so far, the “Disney magic” still hadn’t full on hit me. I wonder if my children felt the same. What I do know is that my youngest definitely had a magic moment upon entering Magic Kingdom and seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

Unfortunately, Magic Kingdom was the park that we skimped on (not intentionally). We missed over half of it. However, we still experienced a lot and this just gives us a really good reason to go back. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Mad Tea Party 

    The spinning tea cups is classic Disney. Hubby and I sat this one out because somewhere along the way we got old and spinning things just do not agree with us anymore. Watching the kids whirl by, spinning themselves silly was worth it though. This is the type of ride I associate with Disney and is a must.

    Dreams Do Come True, Part 2: A Summary of an Amazing Disney Vacation

  • Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor 

    My son has an amazing sense of humor and begged to go to this attraction. We almost skipped it because we were running short on time and there was way too much I was trying to squeeze in. I had to take a step back and remind myself that this was their vacation too. I’m glad we went. There were laughs all around and occasionally they put audience members up on the big screen in conjunction with the jokes. Our own little Elsa got this honor.

  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant

    I was all set to wait while my kiddos rode this. It is a kiddie ride after all, right? Who am I kidding. I was secretly wishing that I little enough to ride. Well, there is not actually an age limit on the ride and when my daughter asked if I would ride it with her I gleefully accepted. We rode at night when it was lit up and magical. With my daughter at the controls, I sat back and let the cool, Florida air rush by while I felt like a kid again. Trust me, stop being a grown up for 10 minutes and get on the Dumbo ride.

  • Characters 

    Magic Kingdom is the place to see characters; from princesses to classic Disney to park specific, there are a lot of them. Make sure to FastPass+ any princess/character you can and be prepared to wait in line for those that do not have one. We were able to see Tiana, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella with no wait at all. Amazingly, we visited Ariel in her Grotto during the Halloween party and we happened upon her while there was no line. Since there was no one behind us either we got to spend a little extra time hanging out. How cool! The longest we ended up waiting for a character we wanted to see was 20 minutes for Gaston and Belle.

    What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 

    With event dates throughout October this is one of the big Disney celebrations. The crowd in the park is light since it is a ticketed event. We experienced most of the rides we made it to at night and that was a pretty fun experience. The Halloween party was the only time adults could wear costumes in the park while we were there and many adults took advantage of that. Even though hubby and I did not dress up in costume, every ticket holder could trick-or-treat. It had been 20 years since the last time I had done that so I was going to town. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party also has many shows, a couple of parades, and fireworks so getting a copy of the schedule of events is important.

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

What to Expect at Disney World: A Guide to Each Park

All in all, it was an amazing, spectacular, perfect week! It’s true that you can’t possible see and get to everything at Disney but I hope that you find these reviews helpful in getting and idea of what to ride, see, and experience.  May all your dreams come true!

If you’ve been to Disney World, what attractions were your family’s favorites?


Make sure you never miss out on a parenting or community-related blog post: sign up to receive CRMB posts in your inbox.  While you’re at it, join our VIP List to ensure you’re one of the first to know about upcoming Cedar Rapids Moms Blog events and promotions!!

Jenn is a self-proclaimed Iowa girl transplanted from the mitten state a decade ago. Jenn, along with her husband Ben, is raising 3 sweet little Fritzlings; Erin (16), Robbie (10), and Penelope (9). Aside from doing an awesome job at momming, she works part-time in retail to help fund the fun stuff. Jenn can be found with a good book, playing Sims 4, writing, gardening, geocaching, cycling, outdoorsing…or drinking 5 cups of coffee in her spare time. Like a cat in a sunbeam, Jenn's most favorite thing in the world is napping.