First Timer’s Guide to Walt Disney World Rides and Attractions
So you’re going to Disney! You and your entire family are filled with excitement and are just counting the days until you can see the Disney World castle and go on Walt Disney World rides.
To get the most out of your trip, a little planning goes a long way. There is no end to the number of things you can do while there, BUT lines can be long, attractions sold out and many, many steps to get from here to there. While the steps are a plus if you’re one of those Fitbit fanatics, for everyone else, less really is more.
Before You Even Pack
As much as you would like to believe that there is a “Disney World Secrets” website with discounted tickets, there isn’t. You can get discounts if you live in Florida or are a veteran, and a Disney World annual pass will save you a lot of money if you plan to go more than once. But, beyond that, it just isn’t happening. If there is some sort of super-secret site with discounts, help a blogger out and leave the info in the comments below!
Since there is no discount, the best place to buy tickets is online. This way you can link them to the My Disney Experience page, and have one central location for all things Disney: tickets, reservations, fast passes, etc.
Once you’ve set up your Disney account and purchased your tickets or your Disney annual pass, it’s time to start making your mark on the Disney footprint. The first time people go to Disney, they are always shocked by how far in advance attractions are sold out – it’s not just days, it is literally MONTHS. The attractions that sell out the fastest are:
- Bippity Boppity Boutique – prince anThe Magic Kingdom is the most popular, most well-known part of Disney World, and the best time d princess makeovers for children 12 and under
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – dine at the Disney World castle and enjoy a 3-course meal (with alcohol for adults), and five princesses visit each and every table for autographs and pictures (this one is so popular, it’s pay in advance).
- Be Our Guest Restaurant – another 3-course meal with alcohol, but no princesses visit the tables. The early morning slots from 8 am – 9 am, which is outside of normal Disney World opening hours, sell out incredibly fast so do not delay if you want one of these.
- Frozen Ever After in EPCOT
- Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios
- Peter Pan’s Flight in the Magic Kingdom
If you are interested in any of these experiences, advance reservations are absolutely essential. Reservations open 180 days in advance, and you better believe that there are moms and dads online at 11:59 pm on day 181 waiting to get their spot for dinner at Disney World castle.
Fast Passes. These are free, expedited tickets that help guests skip the lines. You can reserve up to three fast passes online at any one time, and they are valid during any of the Disney World opening hours. For Walt Disney World rides like Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror, fast passes can literally save you one to two hours of queuing. So pick your top three Walt Disney World rides and go ahead and reserve a time. You can change or cancel with no penalty.
What to Bring to Disney?
You can buy anything you need at the parks, but it will easily be two to three times as expensive, so if you want to save your money for on-site activities, be sure to bring the following:
- My Disney Experience App – for accessing all of your tickets, your Disney annual pass, fast passes, reservations as well as making new ones and having a map at your fingertips.
- Portable charger – constantly checking wait times and looking at your map can be a battery drain. Bring a portable charger like the My Charge portable charger
- Ponchos – it rains heavily almost every afternoon in the summer
- Comfortable shoes – Clarks sandals are the best ever sandals for long days on your feet, and they’re cute to boot.
- Sunscreen / hats / sunglasses
- Waterproof case for phone and tickets
- Backpack – many of the Walt Disney World rides require you to put your belongings in a locker while you ride, so go with the smallest option that holds the things you need.
Some say the best time to visit Disney World is in the fall. Crowds are smaller, and it’s not quite as hot. However, if you have kids in school, the best time to visit Disney World is the summer or at Christmas.
Also, if you plan on going more than once in a calendar year, check out the Disney World annual pass. Not only do you get a break on the ticket price, but you also get discounts on merchandise, photos, and parking.
What to Do in Walt Disney World
Every park except EPCOT has an opening show, and each of them has impressive night time finales. The Magic Kingdom has fireworks displays every night right in front of Disney World castle. EPCOT has fireworks PLUS lasers. All shows are extremely popular, so get there about 30-45 minutes before it starts to get a good viewing spot.
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is the most popular, most well-known part of Disney World, and the best time to visit Disney World if you’re going to Magic Kingdom is first thing in the morning. Lines are shorter, it’s not nearly as hot, and the kids haven’t hit the wall yet.
This park has everything from real live Disney characters to nightly fireworks. The iconic Disney World Castle is here, as are all of the most famous Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, etc. It also hosts two of the most popular experiences in the whole of Disney World: dinner with Cinderella and princess makeovers.
Cinderella’s Royal Table
This insanely popular experience invites guests inside Disney World castle, for one-on-one time and pictures with the most famous of Disney characters, Cinderella. This is followed by a magical walk up a red-carpeted staircase, and upon entering the dining hall which is lined with stained glass windows and chandeliers, guests are treated to more personal time with five different princesses (which ones vary from meal to meal) and a dessert which lets the kids decorate their own cupcakes.
This is one of the few attractions that are open outside of Disney opening hours, so if you want early access, shoot for a breakfast reservation before 9:00 am.
Bippity Boppity Boutique
Almost every little girl’s dream at one time or another is to be a princess, and here is where that dream comes true. Also inside Disney World castle, Fairy Godmothers-in-training take each princess to be to the Royal Closet where they can change into their princess gowns, high-heeled light up shoes, tiaras, and scepters.
Then, they are whisked off to their own personal makeover chair where they get to pick their own princess hairstyle, makeup, and fingernail polish. It takes about an hour, and there are different packages available, so it’s actually better to call the Disney helpline to make your reservations.
The best time to visit Disney World if you plan on doing both of these is in the morning. Do the makeover first, so the kids can sport their fairy tale look all day long, and then head over to Cinderella’s Royal Table so they can show off their new look to the princesses themselves.
Top 3 Walt Disney World Rides in the Magic Kingdom
The three “mountains” are the most popular Walt Disney World rides in this part of the park.
This rollercoaster rockets riders through a series of twists, turns, climbs and drops in the dark. It’s even fun for kids as young as 5 or 6, as long as they like excitement.
This log flume ride will definitely cool you off in the hot Orlando summers as you float down the mountain, drop down the hills, speed through the tunnels and basically get soaking wet.
Big Thunder Mountain
This “runaway” roller coaster starts in the dark and then goes careening around the side of Big Thunder Mountain, full of drops and thrills. With its 40” height minimum, it’s great for all ages. You can kick it up a notch, too by going at night.
Walt Disney World EPCOT
EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was originally meant to be an actual city of the future in which people would live a “normal” life. It was meant to be the centerpiece of Walt Disney’s “Florida Project” (AKA Disney World), and Magic Kingdom was actually constructed to help finance EPCOT.
The theme of this park is to see what other places on Earth look like, but also to imagine what the places we can’t yet reach are like. Experience the evolution of communication on the spaceship Earth Geosphere or the giant golf ball; travel around the world and experience 11 different countries; meet all the princesses and other Disney characters like Mickey, Alice, Mary Poppins and Baymax; and take your pick from a number of thrilling, futuristic rides.
Top 3 Walt Disney World Rides in EPCOT
Test Track Presented by Chevrolet
If you feel the need, the need for speed, then you have to go on the fastest of the Disney World rides. At 65 mph, you blast around an indoor and outdoor track in a car you designed.
Train for a mission to Mars. You and three other crew members will work as a team to get your rocket to the Red Planet. A word to the wise, though, the Orange level spins, tilts and basically simulates G-Forces in a very real way, so if you are prone to motion sickness, go for the novice Green training.
Soar 40 feet high on this simulated paragliding ride, and you will not only see the California countryside below you, but you will actually smell it, too.
Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom
The best time to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom is about 10 minutes before normal opening hours, when you can see the opening show at Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom, which features Mickey and his friends arriving on an amazing safari truck, ready to go on adventures. The centerpiece attraction at Disney World Animal Kingdom is Pandora – The World of Avatar, which immerses guests into an exotic natural world of Pandora, filled with floating mountains and bio-luminescent forests and a 3D ride that takes you on a flying
adventure on the back of a mountain banshee.
There are plenty of opportunities to interact with Earthly animals as well. Disney World Animal Kingdom offers a petting zoo, self-guided treks through the Pangani Forest to see gorillas and a walking tour of Southeast Asia on the Maharajah Jungle Trek.
To 3 Walt Disney World Rides in the Animal Kingdom
Trundle through the Disney World Animal Kingdom’s African Savanna in an open-air Safari truck to see 34 different species of African animals, including hippos, lions, cheetahs, white rhinos, and zebras.
Some call this the most thrilling roller coaster of all the Disney World rides. While tearing around the recreation of Mt. Everest both forward and backward, you will experience the tallest peak and biggest drop of any coaster in the park.
Kali River Rapids
Disney World Animal Kingdom can become unbearably hot in the summer, and this ride is the perfect antidote. This round, 12-person raft ride takes you 90’ up and then back down again, climaxing with a 20’ plummet at the end which is sure to cool you off.
Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios
Toy Story Land is a brand new land that just opened in July of this year, and the best time to visit Disney if you want to do anything in Toy Story Land is whenever you are able to get reservations or a fast pass. Boasting the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster, Alien Swirling Saucers bumper cars, and a 4D carnival themed arcade, it is crowded but worth the wait – just be sure to get your fast passes.
Also in this park are all the Star Wars attractions, including the Star Wars Launch Bay where you can meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca and many performances featuring Younglings, Storm Troopers, and other Star Wars favorites.
You can also visit Disney Jr. characters, the cast of Frozen, and other Disney characters in the park for any of your group that isn’t into Star Wars or Toy Story.
Top 3 Walt Disney World Rides in Hollywood Studios
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Board haunted elevators at the basement level of the abandoned Hollywood Tower Hotel, and then be rocketed straight up to experience weightlessness and then dropped right back down. At 199 feet tall, this is the second tallest building at Disney and known for its thrill factor.
Toy Story Mania
You and a partner will travel through a 4D arcade, blasting away at moving targets and earning points along the way. There are five different virtual games to test your skills, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get sprayed with water or blasted with air! It’s probably the most popular of all the Walt Disney World rides right now, so be sure to get a fast pass.
The motion simulated jump to hyperspace in 3D is star-tastic! On a Starspeeder 1000 piloted by C-3PO you will race all around the galaxy through a battle on Crait, the Naboo oceans, and even the Death Star. May the force be with you on this one!
Disney World Secrets
- Consider using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner to book your trip. It is free – they get a commission from Walt Disney – and they can:
- organize all-inclusive Disney World packages
- tell you the best time to visit Disney World
- get you a Disney annual pass
- advise you one the best Walt Disney world rides to go on, and
- give you Disney opening hours for each park.
- Book Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner for an unforgettable view of the nightly fireworks from the Disney World castle
- Book either Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest early in the morning. They are open outside of Disney opening hours and take reservations as early as 8 am, so you can get a jump on the day and early access to the park.
- If you’re going to meet the Disney characters, lines are usually shortest in Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom and have the longest waits in the Magic Kingdom
- If you want a behind the scenes look at the parks, get in line just before the park closes. The attractions don’t close in line with normal Disney opening hours: they operate until the lines are gone. This is a great way to not only see the park after the gates close, but also beat the lines!
If you want an actual book to take with you into the park instead of apps on your phone, try one of these bestsellers:
The Easy Guide to Walt Disney World 2018 – Brief, step-by-step advice on how to get the most out of your trip, including information on the Disney annual pass, ride requirements and suggested itineraries.
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2018 – explains how Disney World works, and how to use that insider’s knowledge to your advantage. Great resource, particularly if you’re getting the Disney annual pass.
That’s all, folks!