Disney World
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Travel & Culture

Walt Disney World: Part 1

I apologize upfront, but this is going to be pretty long, I love Disney and there is a lot to share. In this post, I am focusing on general Disney World, the hotel, and EPCOT. Part 2 will focus on the remaining parks and Disney Springs.

Magic Kingdom
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The obligatory Castle picture

Disney World is probably my all-time favorite vacation destination. I have been going routinely since I was a kid. I since have shared my love of WDW with Rob, who never went as a kid. Rob and I actually got engaged in Disney World and we have basically been at least once a year since we got married.

What I love about Disney World, even without kids, is that there is so much to do and it’s possible to find something new every time. I have never had the same experience there. Between restaurants, snacks, rides, areas, , shows, etc. there is so much to enjoy. I am really excited to share some of my favorites with you!!

For this trip, we spent effectively 5 days in WDW. This allowed us to take advantage of our hotel, all of the parks, and the Disney Springs area. Overall, we got super lucky with great weather overall (definitely a toss up at times). Weather you have kids or not, I definitely recommend a trip to WDW.

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Got to love Fireworks at Disney World!

Our itinerary looks like this:

  • Sunday: Fly in and EPCOT
  • Monday: Magic Kingdom, Hotel Pool for an afternoon break
  • Tuesday: Magic Kingdom morning, Animal Kingdom afternoon, Disney Springs evening
  • Wednesday: Hotel Pool morning/lunch, Hollywood Studios afternoon, Magic Kingdom evening
  • Thursday: Magic Kingdom morning, fly home afternoon

General Disney World Tips

Here are some of my general basics for a trip to WDW. This is not all inclusive and some may be a bit obvious; however, they are important and can save you time and/or money.

Magic Kingdom Main Street Trolley Show
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Make sure to give yourself time to watch some of the pop-up shows!

Planning Tips

  • Know when you are entering your FastPass+ and Dining reservation windows. Popular rides will go quickly and dining reservations can be sparse.
  • Think about how you space out your FastPass and dining reservations so that you aren’t rushing or have to traverse the park multiple times. Allow yourself time to take in the parks, there are a lot of fun things that occur that you may miss if all you are thinking about is that next FastPass.
  • Disney offers the Magical Express, a free bus service between the Disney hotels and the airport. They even give you special luggage tags for checked bags and they will collect the bags and bring them to your room for you. I recommend that if you check bags to do that at least. I have largely stopped using the bus though as it is a little slower. You generally have to wait a bit to leave and then may make multiple stops. An Uber/Lyft is definitely faster and will run you about $30.
  • Allow yourself about 1.5 days for the Magic Kingdom, there are a lot of rides and things to do. EPCOT can fill a day if you take it slow and explore all of the country pavilions. Animal Kingdom can fill a full day as well, but generally I give it a half day. Hollywood Studios is still in a bit of a transition period and really is a half day park until the Star Wars area opens.
  • Disney offers dining plans for guests staying on property. These give you a flat rate for specific dining options each day. Think about how/what you want to eat as it may cost you more. If you don’t plan to eat at a sit-down dinner every day or you don’t snack a lot it may not be worth it.
  • Know what special events may be going on while you are there as these can be a double edged sword. Holiday seasons have a lot of special ticketed events at the Magic Kingdom which will limit your time in the parks and result in crowding on general admission days.
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  • EPCOT festivals occur throughout the year and expand the food options available. These are very popular with visitors and locals though so expect large crowds on weekends (general problem due to the increase in “Drinking Around the World” groups).
  • Run Disney race weekends can be a good time to go as the parks tend to be a little emptier first thing in the morning. Lesson learned on this trip though, traffic will be really bad immediately after a race and can impact your ability to get around. This is especially true near the Magic Kingdom.

On-site Tips

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Boats are a great way to get around the Magic Kingdom area!!
  • Be flexible once you arrive. Do not be afraid to change plans and do something different. Make sure you have the WDW app downloaded to your phone so you can adjust FastPass and dining on the fly. Note, dining reservations generally need to be cancelled 24 hours in advance.
  • Minimize how much you bring to the park. All bags get inspected and more than likely you will need to empty your pockets for a metal detector. Depending on your timing and entry method, lines can be long.
  • Know that weather can vary greatly while you are there. In the summer, account for afternoon storms most days. In the off-peak seasons be prepared for cooler weather and warmer weather.
  • Either bring a reusable water bottle or you can get cups of water FREE at any quick service dining location just by asking.
  • Building on that, make sure to drink plenty of water if it’s warm or sunny. Avoid sugary drinks (which there are many), they can dehydrate you and cost more money.
  • Get to the Magic Kingdom about an hour before the park officially opens. You will be allowed into the park so you can explore Main Street and the area around the Castle Hub.
Magic Kingdom
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Early arrival in the Magic Kingdom!
  • If you buy something in the park and have a day or two left on your trip, you can have it sent to your hotel for pick-up at the gift shop.
  • If you are celebrating something (birthday, anniversary, first visit, etc.), make sure to stop at guest services for a button. It may feel silly at first but cast members will often give you a lot of help. You may even get an opportunity to do some unique things.
  • If traveling with kids and a stroller, make sure you are ready to get your kid out of it for some transport methods. Also strollers generally need to be parked in specific locations around the park before going on a ride or some dining locations.
  • Disney offers a lot of ways to get around property (buses, boats, walking, and a special Lyft service called Minnie Vans). Keep in mind that the property is HUGE and it can take time to get between two points. Generally, plan on 30 minutes total for getting around.
  • The hotels have a lot of great restaurants; however, getting between two hotels is the hardest as generally buses don’t run those routes. You either need to transfer at one of the parks or use a service.
  • Minnie Vans are an interesting service. It has a flat fee regardless of distance or number of passengers. The up-side is that the drivers are all specially selected Disney cast members; they are friendly and knowledgeable with a very good knowledge of the routes on property.
Disney Transport bus
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The ubiquitous Disney Transport Bus

Hotel: Wilderness Lodge

Disney Wilderness Lodge
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Love the grounds.

This is one of our absolute favorite Disney hotels and this was our third stay there. The Wilderness Lodge has a really great location and theming that makes it a great place to stay overall. It has a feeling of a Pacific Northwest or California mountain lodge and the building and grounds are gorgeous. It is a relatively compact resort so everything is easily walkable and its got great views of Bay Lake.

Location-wise, it is a great compromise between convenience and privacy. While technically a Magic Kingdom area resort, it isn’t on the Monorail like the others. Therefore, you see a lot less general traffic. That being said, it is very easy to get to the Magic Kingdom from the hotel. There are little ferry boats that run routinely either directly to the park or to the Contemporary Resort, which has a walking path to the park.

As far as the rooms, they are subtly themed with a woodland, rustic feel that doesn’t feel over the top. In general, this is something Disney has done a really good job of in the last few years. They have generally restyled most of the deluxe resorts to go for a more simple, clean in-room theme. Some people have lamented this, but I prefer the change as it makes many of the resorts feel more in-line with the market.

The hotel has two pools, the main pool has a slide and hosts activities for kids. It’s also fed by the waterfall on property and has a view of the “old faithful” geyser. The second pool, the Boulder Ridge Pool, is relatively new and was added during the recent Vacation Club expansion. Theming and space wise its a little closer to a “quiet” pool but its still family focused and can get a little loud. It does have some first-come-first-serve cabanas that you can claim.

The Room: Old Faithful Club Level

This room upgrade came as a huge surprise to us. When we got in to Orlando, we were not expecting to be able to get up to our room right away (it was only about 10am). So we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that we had a room assignment on the WDW app. I thought we could just head to the room, but Rob wanted to check in at the desk first. When we got there, they pulled up our reservation and told us they were getting a cast member from the “Welcome Team.” So we wait about a minute and someone comes out with sign with our name on it. They walk us up to the club and give us a tour on the way to our room.

The room wasn’t really all that different inside; however, THE VIEW. We were on the top floor with a direct view of the Magic Kingdom and Contemporary. I couldn’t believe it when we first talked out on the balcony. We also had some specialty chocolates waiting in the room along with personalized daily itinerary sheets. The other in-room perk was an expanded set of bathroom amenities. This may seem small, but it included a SPF 50 sunscreen bottle, aloe gel, and a few other items. The sunscreen and aloe were appreciated as it is VERY easy to get sunburned.

The Club Lounge was a real highlight of this experience. The lounge had a dedicated concierge desk to help with any last minute planning. The real perk though was the 5x per day food/drink service. Every morning was a pretty decent breakfast buffet set up. The afternoon and evening provided snacks, hot d’oeuvres, and deserts along with wine/beer/spirits. This combined with the view of either the park from the balcony or into the hotel atrium, made it a great place to spend some time for breakfast or happy hour.

Hotel Dining

The Wilderness Lodge actually has a pretty large number of dining options compared to other Disney hotels. There are two full restaurants, two bars, two quick service options, and the every present sundry store. The sit down restaurants are Artist Point (Snow White Character Dining) and Whispering Canyon (a family-focused rowdy experience). We have never eaten at either but they are generally pretty crowded, especially Whispering Canyon. Artist Point is getting more popular now that its a character dining experience, historically it was on the quiet side.

Geyser Point Bar
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Geyser Point Bar & Grill

The first bar is the lounge associated with Artist Point, the Territory Lounge. You can get some light snacks and breakfast here as well. Territory is a pretty classic lounge feel to it and can be a nice place to spend some time in the evenings. The other is Geyser Point which is outdoors and has a full lunch/dinner menu as well. I love spending time out there as you get a great view of the lake. We did lunch here on our pool morning day, I had a turkey sandwich and Rob had a crispy chicken sandwich. Both made for excellent lunch options that felt a little more elevated than quick service. They do have some lighter options like a salmon salad that sounded really good.

Lastly, the quick service options are Roaring Forks which is the standard deluxe resort quick service. Many of the hotels have something roughly equivalent to this, its not bad but its pretty standard fair similar to what you’d find at an in-park option. The other is a quick service window at Geyser Point, which provides a wider range of options similar to what you get in the bar/restaurant itself.

EPCOT Highlights

disney world
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Ready to get to the park, so stop taking picture Rob!!

EPCOT is the obvious park for foodies and our first stop on this trip. In general, there are so many styles due to the World Showcase, as each country pavilion has at least 1 restaurant with some having 2 or even 3 options. Some of my favorites are in the Mexico, Japan, and France pavilions and at this point we have tried all of the restaurants in those. For this trip, we did a mix of new and old. We tried the Via Napoli pizza restaurant in the Italy pavilion. We also had a snack/drink in the Tutto Gusto wine bar and dinner at Chefs de France.

When we were there, it was the International Festival of the Arts. This festival occurs every year in the late winter and generally leads right into Flower and Garden. Disney has started setting up some of the additional food booths during this festival given how popular they have become during F&G or Wine & Food. Unfortunately, the food offerings this time around were a little weaker. It is not really the focus of the festival, so this isn’t shocking. I only saw a few options that sounded really good this year and didn’t really bother with them too much.

Rides

Spaceship Earth EPCOT
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The Spaceship Earth ball

EPCOT has a few really great rides and Disney is currently working on adding a few more. Despite this, EPCOT is not a “ride park” necessarily. Its really only got 3 big rides right now: Soarin’, Test Track, and Mission Space. Of those Mission Space is the only one I would really call a “thrill ride.” So, if you are looking for roller coasters, look elsewhere, at least until the Guardians of the Galaxy ride opens.

Soarin’ is one of my favorite rides in WDW. From a ride engineering standpoint, it’s easily one of the most impressive rides. It used to be focused on scenes from California, but it was recently revamped and expanded and now features various global scenes. While the change was necessary, as the old footage was getting really old and the quality was showing it, I can’t help but miss the old stuff. The new footage, which is actually mostly CG from what I can tell, is something I am still getting used to.

Test Track is the other big ride that I like. You get to “design” a car and then “test” it. This is a pretty fun aspect of the ride; Rob always loves playing around with it. The ride itself was re-themed a few years ago for the better and it feels modern and futuristic now. We did not ride this time due to time and FastPass limitations, but it’s worth doing if you can.

Other rides that are worth checking out, but are much slower paced are:

Carolina Reaper EPCOT
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Carolina Reapers being grown in the Land Pavilion
  • Living with the Land (Land Pavilion): A boat ride through the greenhouse in the Land pavilion. The food grown here ends up in the Garden Grill Restaurant in the pavilion. Generally pretty easy to get on.
  • Grand Fiesta Tour (Mexico Pavilion): A boat ride focusing on Mexican culture with Donald Duck and the Three Caballeros characters. A bit like It’s a Small World. This ride sees more crowds than it used to, look for a slow period to avoid using a FastPass.
  • Seas Pavilion Nemo Rides: Either a slow ride through the aquarium with Nemo Characters or Turtle Talk which is an interactive experience with Crush (great for kids). Typically easy to get on without a FastPass.
  • Spaceship Earth (in the ball): A slow paced look at Human History and innovation. If you time it right, lines can be short but they can get really long.
  • Frozen Ever After (Norway Pavilion): Formerly called Maelstrom, rebranded for Frozen. It’s a mild boat ride that features a small drop to add a little thrill. Typically has a long standby wait time, so get a FastPass if you want to ride.

Dining

Epcot France
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The France Pavilion, home to 3 dining options, an ice cream shop, and a wine tasting bar. Also a stand for Grand Marnier Slushies.

EPCOT has a massive number and variety of dining options. Future World (the front of the park) has 2 quick service and 2 table service options. The quick service are Electric Umbrella (main plaza) and Sunshine Seasons (Land Pavilion). They both serve pretty standard fare so they aren’t anything exciting but if you just need something basic they make a good stop. The table service options are Garden Grill (Land, character dining) and Coral Reef (Seas), both are good quality but not terribly exciting given the other options available.

World Showcase is really the highlight of EPCOT from a food standpoint. You get so many cuisines and price points you can’t go wrong. Quick service wise, Mexico and Japan are my favorites. You can get a very good meal for a pretty good price at both. France has a quick service in the back that offers simple bistro style options that is worth a look. The China pavilion quick service is pretty good for a snack as well. Overall, if you want to stick to quick service and save money, that is very easy in EPCOT and you can have good variety!

Via Napoli Epcot
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My brother joined us for lunch at Via Napoli

For table service options, there are almost too many options in World Showcase lol! I would say pick a style you like and go for it. We tried Via Napoli in the Italy pavilion this trip. I will say that ambiance-wise, it was pretty basic; however, the pizza was pretty good compared to what you’d find anywhere else on property. Tutto Gusto, which is the wine bar in Italy, is definitely worth a stop. It is very small but offers a great wine list and has lighter fare (cheese plates, sandwiches, pasta). You need to time it right, which is tough as they don’t do reservations, otherwise you can have a bit of a wait. But if you can get in, definite give it a try.

For dinner, we had Chefs de France. This is the lower tier of the two table service options in France. The other Chez Paul, is more upscale and suits a special occasion. We ate there under a previous name when we got engage and the food was AMAZING. Anyway, back to Chefs, it’s pretty classic French food and includes some hearty dishes and bistro fare. It is definitely very accessible and you will get a lot of food so its a great option.

Some other favorites are either restaurant in the Mexico pavilion, Tokyo Dining, Le Cellier Steakhouse. A hidden gem is also the Tequila Bar inside the Mexico Pavilion. It’s gotten really crowded with people trying to get margaritas unfortunately (just go to the marg stand outside for those please), but the real focus of this place is a super extensive tequila menu perfect for tasting.

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