A trip to Walt Disney World can be seriously overwhelming. Gone are the days of showing up, riding what you want, and eating whatever sounds good. Nowadays, there’s so much to consider. Dining reservations at hundreds of table service restaurants, Genie+, Individual Lightening Lanes, and transportation from MCO are all exacting considerations that can make or break your next Disney vacation. “Overwhelming” is probably a bit of an understatement. Maybe “chaotic” is a better word. Either way, numerous things could go wrong on your next Disney World vacation without proper planning.
As Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, remains one of the top tourist destinations in the world, the popular vacation spot has seen tremendous growth since its opening. It has witnessed the addition of three Parks complimenting the original Magic Kingdom, the construction of thousands of Resort rooms, and expedited development in shopping and dining locations. As Disney World grows, proper planning becomes more of a priority. However, although a lot has changed at Disney World since its opening in 1971, one thing hasn’t. There is a correct order (according to me) to visit the Parks.
Walt Disney World’s Four Theme Parks
Excluding water parks, Walt Disney World is home to four amazingly immersive Theme Parks. Although Magic Kingdom was Disney World’s first Park, serving as the flagship for what we know today, the famous vacation destination quickly boomed as it garnered a worldwide audience. Within 25 years of opening, Walt Disney World had extended its offering to four main Parks, each providing a unique experience to visiting Guests.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re planning a vacation. You’ve probably tirelessly scoured the internet looking for a cumulative list of “best-ofs” and “must-dos.” That’s not really what we’re doing here today, but there may be some vital information below that is helpful in planning when you’ll watch fireworks, see specific shows, or if you’ll rest and do a Resort day. We definitely encourage you to continue reading as we provide you with a 100% accurate, non-biased (just kidding), and well thought-out order to visit each Park at Walt Disney World.
Disney World Planning Day Number 1: EPCOT
Opening in 1982, Walt Disney’s original idea for his Florida Project was to build an experimental community where people could live and work. Obviously, this idea never came to fruition; instead, Disney created a Park that featured innovation, education, and cultural appreciation. EPCOT has seen the most change over its lifetime when compared to other Disney World Parks; although some will tell you this is bad, the concept of change is crucial as it reflects Walt Disney’s thoughts on continuing to provide up-to-date attractions, technology, and shows to visiting Guests.
EPCOT is home to many older attractions like Spaceship Earth that maintain an intense love from Disney World faithful and newer attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind that require intense scheduling and competitive planning even to experience. Despite amazing rides like Soarin’, Test Track, and Journey Into Imagination (I said it), the biggest draw to EPCOT is the World Showcase.
Encompassing Crescent Lake, the World Showcase features eleven different pavilions, each dedicated to its own country. In these countries, Guests will find authentic entertainment and, more importantly, food and alcoholic beverages. Each pavilion also offers unique shopping options specific to its country of origin. Guests can enjoy braised beef at Chefs De France and head next door to the United Kingdom for a lovely tea.
If you’re a world traveler, you will want to visit EPCOT on your first day. Make sure to get up early and try your hand at Disney World’s virtual queue system, but with rides like Frozen Ever After and Ratatouille, there’s plenty to enjoy. EPCOT fills up later in the afternoon as Guests tend to Park Hop there to “drink around the world.” In getting there early, lines are usually much shorter, although the World Showcase typically opens at 11 a.m. There’s a lot to see and do at EPCOT; however, once you clear the front of the Park, mostly there’s only food, drinks, and shopping. You can stop in and enjoy a few shows around the World Showcase. Maybe you’ll get lucky and visit during one of EPCOT’s many festivals. However (unless you’re looking to partake in adult beverages), there’s little to do once the sun sets, and many find the alcohol-fueled behavior of Guests to be too much.
Disney World Planning Day Number 2: Animal Kingdom
Let me begin this section by making this loud and clear. No matter what you’ve read, Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World IS NOT a half-day Park. Although it is one Park at Disney where you can do everything in one visit, Animal Kingdom is a full-day Park if you know what you’re doing. There are many people out there that will tell you otherwise, and although I’ll admit that I have an unreasonable passion for Animal Kingdom, there’s much more to the Park than meets the eye.
Animal Kingdom was Walt Disney World’s final addition (so far) in Florida. Opening in 1998, the Park was mostly the brainchild of Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde. His eccentric style and exclusive attention to detail are on full display at Disney’s largest Park. Full of fantastic entertainment like The Festival of the Lion King and timeless rides like Expedition Everest: Forbidden Journey, Animal Kingdom is a diamond many Disney World Guests don’t appreciate. In addition, Animal Kingdom hosts some of the best food options on Disney property with Tiffins and Flame Tree Barbeque.
Animal Kingdom, first and foremost, is Disney’s crowning conservation jewel. The Park is home to many different types of animals that you’d generally find in zoos. However, Disney offers a different approach by allowing Guests to ride through exhibits such as Kilimanjaro Safari. Animal Kingdom is also home to Pandora, The Land of Avatar, with fan-favorite attraction Flight of Passage. Not only does the Park has immaculate theming in Discovery Island, Africa, and Asia (not you, Dinoland USA), but it has floating mountains! Come on, people, Disney-made mountains float, and you can ride on the back of a banshee! How cool is that?
The reasoning for planning Animal Kingdon on your second day at Walt Disney World is simple. After a full day at EPCOT and a hot day exploring the wilderness at Animal Kingdom, you’ll most likely be exhausted. Good news, the Park closes much earlier than its neighbors. As Animal Kingdom is home to various wildlife, the Park usually closes around 7 p.m. This will be a lot of much-needed rest time for day 3!
Disney World Planning Day Number 3: Hollywood Studios
All rested up from that earlier closing time at Animal Kingdom? Good, ’cause we’ve got a wild day of thrills and intergalactic espionage ahead of us. Fittingly, the third Park built at Walt Disney World was MGM Studios, known today as Hollywood Studios. Opened in 1989, the Park was created as a working amination and film studio at Walt Disney World. Highlighting film production and old Hollywood, MGM today (HS) looks much different than it did 30 years ago. Featuring high-speed entertainment, some solid eats, and the second-best stage show at Disney World, you can expect high capacity on the third day of your vacation. Plan accordingly.
As the Park pays homage to the golden age of film, you’ll find many references to Disney classics and other Disney-acquired properties. Indiana Jones, Pixar, and Disney Junior take center stage at Hollywood Studios. You can hang with Elsa, Olaf, and Anna at a Frozen Sing-a-long and then pop in for an unexpected drop at the Tower of Terror. Not good enough? You can also ride with Slinky Dog and rock-out in the dark with Aersmith on Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. Oh, you can also check out the only ride at Disney featuring Mickey Mouse at Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. There’s seriously so much to do and see; however, most visit Hollywood Studios for one reason.
If you didn’t know, Hollywood Studios is host to the most popular attraction in all of Disney World. It’s also one of the most undependable rides at Disney, but that’s information for another story. Rise of the Resistance is the big draw to the newest Disney World land Galaxy’s Edge. Outshining its littler brother, Smuggler’s Run, this attraction is an absolute must-do. Yes, even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan. Speaking of Star Wars, there’s plenty of it! Build droids and lightsabers, hide from Kylo Ren and the First Order, or wash down a ronto-wrap with an ice-cold cup of blue milk! Disney Imagineering really brought the intergalactic space opera to life, and you aren’t going to want to miss any of it!
Visiting Disney World’s third Park on your third day is a happy coincidence. However, we picked it for day three for one uncomplicated reason. You’ll want to save Magic Kingdom fireworks for your last night. Instead, enjoy Fantasmic! Hollywood Studios’ unique nighttime spectacular features Sorcerer Mickey using his imagination to defeat all of those terrible Disney villains. This nighttime spectacular is easily the most elaborate you’ll find at Walt Disney World, and it’s well worth the crowds and late night to see.
Disney World Planning Day Number 4: Magic Kingdom
You made it to day 4 of your Walt Disney World trip! Congratulations! You’re in for a treat today, as saving Magic Kingdom for last was the best way to ensure your vacation ends on the highest magical note possible. Outside of Tron: Legacy Lightcycle Run (you’ll need a virtual queue) there aren’t many exciting options at Magic Kingdom. To be honest, the food here is probably the worst of the four Disney World Parks, but we’ve saved the best for last for a very specific reason.
Magic Kingdom opened alongside Disney World in 1971. Featuring fan-favorite attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, and the Enchanted Tiki Room, Magic Kingdom is where Disney storytelling comes to life! Featuring Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasy Land, and Tomorrowland, Guests to Magic Kingdom can meet princes and princesses, hang out with their favorite Disney (none royalty) characters, and ride original Disney concepts that hold a special place in all of our hearts! Follow the Carousel of Progress as it highlights advancement in technology over the decades, race through the mines with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or launch through Space Mountain while munching on a turkey leg (actually don’t do this). There’s something for everyone at Magic Kingdom.
As mentioned, Disney World’s flagship Park is home to classic rides created specifically for the Florida opening or brought over from Disneyland concepts. it’s a small world; Peter Pan’s Flight and the Hall of Presidents are all great examples of unique Disney World experiences that reside in Walt’s original Park as well. On top of fantastic, nostalgic rides, you’ll find lots of snacks at Magic Kingdom. Although not known for its food, there are still a couple of A-pluses to devour. Casey’s Corner has a large variety of hotdogs. Visit Main Street, U.S.A. Confectionary to satisfy that sweet tooth. Or dine with some of your favorite characters at Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Crystal Palace.
We’d have to write an entire article to discuss all there is to do at Magic Kingdom, but the real reason we suggest you do this Park on the last night of your Disney World vacation is because of Happily Ever After. This tremendous emotion-invoking fireworks show is centered around Cinderella Castle. It includes a captivating projection display put to a musical accompaniment that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Despite the use of lasers, fireworks, smoke, and projections, the real star of the show happens right at the climax. As the music belts over a sea of people (weather permitting), Tinkerbell takes flight! It’s truly magical to witness and is the perfect way to end your Disney trip. If you doubted coming back, Happily Ever After will have you checking booking rates on the monorail back to the car.
You’ve come to the end of your stay. Soon the Disney blues will set in, but not to worry. You can keep up with everything going on here at Disney Dining. Although our advice isn’t the gospel in terms of visiting Disney World, we think it’s a great way to manage your Park time and leave Disney World with a lasting, magical impression. Of course, you can always do things your way. There’s no harm in that, but if you don’t visit Disney often, we definitely suggest saving Happily Ever After until your last night.