I’ve grown up going to Disney parks almost annually. To say that it’s one of my favorite places in the world is an understatement. However, I know that not everyone is as big of a Disnerd as me! I know that the idea of going on a Disney vacation can be very daunting to some people. In fact, it might be so overwhelming, trying to plan around the sheer size of Walt Disney World, that people may get frustrated and quit all together.
Enter my Disney World 101 Series! This series of blog posts is going to break it down to the absolute finest terms, so even people who have NO CLUE how Disney World operates will be able to plan a vacation. It may seem scary, but I promise you – it’s not!
So, welcome to the first entry in my new series – the park breakdown. This article is going to explain the differences between all the Disney World parks. What is the difference between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot? Which park has the castle? Where can you meet the princesses? All these questions and more will be answered as I explain the basics of the four Disney parks, PLUS the Disney Springs area.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the Walt Disney World parks!
**this post contains affiliate links! This means I may receive some sort of financial compensation from my recommendations. Please see my disclaimer for more information!**
The Magic Kingdom
Let’s start with the original – the Magic Kingdom. If you’re thinking of the giant Disney castle that you see in all their marketing – this is the view you’re thinking of!
I could walk this park in my sleep! All areas of the park branch from the main “hub” in Main Street USA. Each land is themed around something different. Adventureland, Liberty Square, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland each house different themed attractions and experiences.
All your Disney classics are at this park – it’s a small world, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain – the list goes on and on. In addition to tons of great rides and dining options, you’ll be able to meet your favorite Disney characters. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the rest of the gang are all hanging out around the Kingdom.
The Magic Kingdom also features amazing parades and shows like Festival of Fantasy, and a nightly firework spectacular, Happily Ever After. This is my favorite park and I could visit it again and again. If you’ve never been to a Disney park, I HIGHLY recommend you start here! This will set the stage for all the magic you’re going to experience on your amazing trip!
The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – also known as EPCOT – is the second park built by Disney. You’ll likely recognize the giant “golf ball” of EPCOT the second you step in the parks, although it actually houses an amazing attraction called Spaceship Earth.
This park is actually like two parks in one! The entrance to the park is located in Future World, where innovation and technology come alive. Then, venture in to a special cultural experience at World Showcase. 11 countries each get their own little piece of the land around World Showcase Lagoon, where you can find attractions and dining experiences designed to transport you around the world, without leaving Florida.
Epcot is one of those parks you could spend multiple days in trying to see everything. There’s a lot of hands on experiences in Future World for guests of all ages, with sections of the park exploring sustainable food growth, the world’s oceans and conservations of ocean life, advancements in technology and so much more!
If you’re looking for more “classic” Disney experiences, there are plenty of rides and attractions to keep you entertained. Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track, and Mission Space are all thrill rides that are sure to get your heart racing. In World Showcase, you can meet Disney characters in their country of origin. Snow White is often hanging out in Germany, Belle is in France, etc.
Be sure to make time for Epcot in your touring plans, and make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes because there is a LOT of walking at this park!
Hollywood Studios, when it originally opened, was called MGM Studios. The name change came later, but the theme of the park remains the same – this is where you can find anything and everything MOVIE related at Disney parks! This is where you’ll find some of the best thrills in Disney, including the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
In addition to some great thrills and shows, such as Fantasmic! this park is where you will find the new “Star Wars Land” when it opens in Fall 2019. It’s actually called Galaxy’s Edge, and is one of the most anticipated openings in Disney parks history! Star Wars has quickly taken over HWS – as has Andy’s toys Woody and Buzz! Yes, Hollywood Studios also has the new Toy Story Land, which opened in Summer 2018.
Every single nook and cranny of this park is stuffed with magic inspired by Hollywood and the movies. If you’re a fan of films, especially blockbusters, this is a definite must see on your list. Or if you’re just a huge fan of thrills, you definitely have to carve time out for this park.
The newest Disney park, the Animal Kingdom park is all about conservation and the beauty of wildlife. From the moment you walk in the park, you can find colorful birds, adorable sloths, and all manner of creatures as you travel through themed areas of the park.
One of the highlight attractions of this park is Kilimanjaro Safaris. As you drive by in your safari car you’ll be able to see animals from Africa such as lions, giraffes and zebras all up close as your cast member driver gives you a tour! In the Asia part of the park, you’ll find Expedition Everest, a thrilling roller coaster adventure into the Himalayas, complete with yeti!
For a bit more whimsy, head over to Dinoland USA, which is, predictably, dinosaur themed! Here you can also find some of Mickey’s friends such as Chip and Dale in their dino hunting gear, and is also home to the DINOSAUR attraction.
Finally, the most recent opening at Animal Kingdom is Pandora. Based off the Avatar movies by James Cameron, this section of the park transports you to an alien planet. Here you can meet the Na’vi, eat new food, and experience one of a kind attractions.
If you’re an animal lover, you have to stop by this park. Besides the attractions, Animal Kingdom is GORGEOUS, and just wandering the park itself is a treat. If you’re planning on stopping by here, be sure you get Fastpasses for the new Pandora attractions, or you’ll be waiting in line for a LONGGG time!
Disney Springs and Other Hidden Gems
Wait, there’s more! In addition to the 4 parks, there is also an area called Disney Springs. Disney Springs was previously known as Downtown Disney. It is the perfect place to stop if you want to experience top notch dining, shopping and nightlife experiences. If you’re looking for that perfect souvenir, you’ll definitely find it here. If you want to find the perfect little bar to hang out at with your significant other for a night away from the kids, you’ll find it here as well!
There are a few other hidden gems hiding around Walt Disney World! Be sure to check out these other entertainment areas:
Disney’s Boardwalk – In addition to being one of the Disney resort hotels, the Boardwalk is like Disney Springs but on a much smaller scale. In addition to shopping and dining, you’ll find Jellyrolls, a super popular nighttime hangout spot for the 21+ crowd, as well as classic Boardwalk activities like midway games, bicycle rentals, and more!
Mini Golf – There’s two mini golf courses hidden in Walt Disney World! Fantasia Gardens mini golf and Winter Summerland mini golf course are both extra activities you can explore if you need a day away from the parks.
The parks and main entertainment areas of Walt Disney World are the bread and butter of the resort. When you go to Disney, you go for the parks and attractions. Now, you know the basics of the four theme parks, as well as a few more areas that you’ll want to check out on your vacation!
If you’re looking for more help, be sure you check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. This guide is updated every year and has the best information you could possibly ask for when planning a trip to Disney. The authors also compile actual guest reviews of restaurants and attractions. So you know you’re getting an HONEST review of everything – from the resorts to the parks and everything in between! Going to Disneyland? They have a version for that too!
What’s your favorite part of Disney parks? Any questions about the parks? Let me know in the comments below!
Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter as well! You’ll receive updates when I post new Disney content!