Disney Parks 101

The famous Mr. and Mrs. Mouse!

When I began planning my trip to Disney World one month ago, I thought it would be super easy. Pick a hotel, buy tickets, and show up. As it turns out, planning this type of trip is far more complicated than I ever imagined it would be! Over the next month, I will be sharing my tips and tricks to make your trip to Disney World a lasting and impressionable one. Obviously, with only a month of planning under my belt, I have far less experience than many other bloggers, but, hopefully, even with my very little experience, I can help you plan the trip of your dreams.

So far, I've shared with you the importance of magicbands and how to find the right hotel. Today, we're going to talk about the Disney parks and property in Orlando and what all there is to do there. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we can't discuss anything further (like which ticket you should buy) unless you have some idea of what you are getting into.

It's important to note that much of the Disney property is available for public access even without a ticket. You can go shopping at one of the biggest Disney stores in the world, eat fantastic food in the Downtown Disney area, take in street entertainment at Disney's BoardWalk, or explore some of the majestic hotels and resorts on the property. Seriously, there is so much to see and explore (and buy!) that you don't even really need to enter the parks at all for a vacation. 

But let's assume that you are going to Disney World to experience the parks, because … who doesn't? What are the parks like? Which is which? And do you really need to visit them all to have a truly authentic Disney experience?

Well, like every other part of Disney planning, what you experience is all on you. What do you want to see? What do you want to do? What are must-dos on your vacations?

Where dreams come true!

Magic Kingdom is, in my opinion, the best place to take kids under 10 or who are totally into the theme park experience. It is Six Flags on Disney-steroids. It's amazing and crazy, and no visit to Disney World is authentic without it. But, with all of that being said, my husband and I have no real intention of visiting during his first trip to Disney World, because he is not a Disney fanatic. Here are the bare bones of what you need to know:

+ Two parades daily featuring kids' favorite characters – one in the middle of the day and one at the end of the day that is lit up with magic, twinkle lights.
+ Fireworks to end the day! And light up toys to buy your kids.
+ The classic rides are here like It's A Small World, Toy Story, Dumbo, Mad Tea Party, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain.
+ There are rides and an area just for the youngest kids inside the park.

I recommend, of course, riding the classics, enjoying one or both parades, and totally getting into the character experience at this particular park. If you are looking for a more thoughtful, smart experience, one of the other parks might be better suited for you. :)

Not the type of spaceship you are used to seeing, I guess?

EPCOT is my favorite park. It's actually split into two sections with focuses on science, history, and cultural differences. I recommend this park for adults and older children.

The first section of the park, which opens around 9AM, offers a look into the future and what, owner, creator, and envisioner extraordinaire Walt Disney was hoping to create when he came up with the Disney World concept – an "experimental prototype community of tomorrow". Beginning with transportation (monorail), the goal was to have American corporations and world-leading other countries helping to expand knowledge and build a strong community where, quite literally, anything is possible. (Anyone seen the movie Tomorrowland?) Some of my favorite rides in this science based section of the park are the Carousel of Progress (showing how society has changed over time), Spaceship Earth (another history and technology based ride originally sponsored by AT&T), and Living With the Land (a science based tour explaining advancements in technology and how it is helping us to work with what we have to create better options for food that we will consume in the future). Another informative, experimental ride that I have not yet ridden but gets high reviews is Test Track.

The second section of the park doesn't open until later in the day and is primarily about culture, history, and heritage. If section 1 is about the science and history of the world, section 2 is more sociology based dealing with the history and science of people. Focused around a lake (or lagoon), you can visit 11 countries learning about the culture, enjoying food, taking in short explanatory movies, and riding simple rides to get a better idea of what the place is like. Walt Disney had originally hoped that individual countries would contribute money and ideas for this portion of EPCOT, but that idea never came to fruition. Today, the countries you can explore include: Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Norway, China, Japan, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the US. I have to say that the food found in this area of the park is mind-blowing, earth-changing, and simply magnificent. Justin and I will be going for the Food and Wine Festival this year, and I am so excited to try the foods from so many different countries. If anyone can get it right (outside of the home countries, that is) Disney can. :) At the end of the day, they set off fireworks over the lagoon.

Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom is one of the most recently built parks with its focus being on animals. Think: Disney zoo. Here you will find a reminder of what was (dinosaurs), what is (animal encounters), and what could be (conservation efforts). I apologize for not having more to share, but this park is really simple. If you like animals and you want to see what Disney is doing to save the animals of the world, go. If not, don't. Easy as pie. (Although how easy is pie, really?)

Stay at the Tower of Terror at your own risk. (Hollywood Studios)

Then there is Hollywood Studios which, if the other parks centered on imagination, history, science, culture, and animals, then this park spotlights movie magic and art. Basically, this park, if you've been to any of the others, can be a bit underwhelming. Kids can play on a Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground while adults enjoy an Indiana Jones theatrical show, the Rock N Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith, or visit one of the scariest hotels in the world at the Tower of Terror. This year, since it is the last year that it will be exhibited, Justin and I are planning to see the Osborne Dancing Lights Christmas show, which we hope will be all that it is hyped up to be. The good news is that Hollywood Studios will be going under major renovations in the next fews years, and, my hope is that when the new exhibits and shows open, the Disney Corporation will have extensively rethought the park and it will be even better than it was before. (As of this summer they got rid of a behind-the-scenes look at Disney creators drawing out and envisioning the newest Disney movies; most likely due to the rise in computer animation as opposed to hand drawn animation.)

Though I have never been to them, you can take in any number of water rides at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon. I imagine it is very similar to parks like White Water which you can find all over the US with the main difference being: in Florida, it gets HOT. Even into November, the temperatures for Justin's and my trip to Orlando are looking to be as high as the upper 80s and as low as the 70s. Don't even bother going in the summer when it is likely to be in the upper 90s or low 100s except for the days when it rains. And it's not even a single day that it rains during the summer. As is usual with most beach locations, the sky can look perfectly clear one second with a pop up rain storm coming in and absolutely pouring from the sky for 5-10 minutes before disappearing again. That, my friends, is Florida weather. So, if you want to visit a water park in the winter, go here. Otherwise, just enjoy the water parks in your home state. I promise – the heat is not worth it.

Finally, let me just throw a bone to the other parks in the area. You could visit Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, Sea World (which, despite recent claims of mistreating the animals, I loved as a kid!), Busch Gardens (more of another zoo type experience), or, the cheaper and not as worth it, Universal Studios. (If you have the choice between Universal and Disney, go to Disney, imho.)

So Disney thoughts? Orlando thoughts? Which parks would you visit during a trip to Orlando?

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