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A Disneyland Fan's Guide to Visiting Walt Disney World

February 4, 2015, 11:57 AM · A reader yesterday asked a great question about planning a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort:

You'll find lots of advice around for Walt Disney World fans planning their first visit to Disneyland, but not nearly as much for people doing the other way around. So here ya go — here are some tips for a Disneyland fan making a first trip to Walt Disney World:

Cinderalla Castle
Disney World's much larger castle, as seen before Disney tore up the entire hub in front of it to make a vast, treeless fireworks viewing zone

1. Don't get intimidated by the size

Walt Disney World is huge — more than 27,000 acres, compared with just 510 acres for the Disneyland Resort. You could fit 53 Disneyland Resorts inside Walt Disney World. The Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle stands 189 feet tall, compared to Sleeping Beauty Castle's 77 feet. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when making the switch from west coast to east coast, as a Disney fan. But don't. There are fewer attractions across the four Walt Disney World theme parks than you will find in the two Disneyland parks. The general layout of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland is pretty much the same. The entrances to California Adventure and Hollywood Studios are almost identical. You'll feel right at home here, only you'll feel a lot smaller.

2. That said, respect that size

Forget that internal clock you've developed over the years that tells you how much time you need to walk from Space Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean. The pathways and distances between attractions are much larger in Lake Buena Vista than in Anaheim. While many things might be in pretty much the same place in the MK and Disneyland, you'll need longer to get from one to the other in the Magic Kingdom. Set aside more time to get around, and don't plan on moving through attractions at the same rate that you do in California.

3. Don't even try to park-hop

At Disneyland, park hopping is as easy as walking a hundred yards or so across the esplanade. We often bounce back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure three or four times on a typical day trip. But park hopping is an entirely different beast at Walt Disney World. The only two parks you can walk between are Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and that's a long, long haul. No, you'll need to take monorails, boats, buses, or your car to get between the parks in Florida. That might sound cool (especially the monorails!), but keep in mind that the trip between parks can take up to an hour out of your day for each "hop." That's time you've paid for with your park admission. Don't waste it. With so much to see in each Walt Disney World theme park, we always recommend that first-time visitors save the money and skip the park-hopper option. Focus on one park per day and leave the park-hopping for when you're an experienced visitor who knows how to work the system to better advantage.

4. Focus on what WDW does best, or at least different

Here are the best attractions for a Disneyland fan to visit at Walt Disney World:

In the Magic Kingdom:

In Epcot:

In Disney's Hollywood Studios:

In Disney's Animal Kingdom:

5. Don't forget Fastpass+

Walt Disney World allows visitors to make their Fastpass ride reservations up to 30 days in advance of their visit — 60 days if you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel. Advance reservations, for rides and for restaurants, are a must when visiting WDW to avoid long standby queues. Log into the "My Disney Experience" on DisneyWorld.com to start planning your visit. You can reserve three Fastpass+ reservations per day, as well as make additional restaurant reservations. (The restaurant reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance.) Focus on getting reservations for the attractions and restaurants listed above, then just go with the flow to experience the rest of the parks. If you book your Fastpass+ reservations for early in the day, you can get additional Fastpass+ reservations in the park, one at a time, after your first three reservations are up. You can make those reservations with cast members at Fastpass+ stations around the park, or via Disney World's My Disney Experience app.

6. Explore the hotels and beyond

With its much larger size and more than two dozen hotels, Walt Disney World is much more a full-featured resort than Disneyland is. If you're visiting for more than four days (one per park), use your extra time in part to explore some of the better hotels on property. Take the monorail from the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian hotels. They all have some great restaurants and character meal options. Ride the boat or walk the path from the International Gateway entrance in Epcot's World Showcase over to the Yacht and Beach and Boardwalk hotels. (That's the path you'd take to the Studios, too, if you really want a long walk.) Ride the boat from the Contemporary over to Fort Wilderness for the Hoop-Dee-Do Review dinner show or Trail's End buffet. (Stay for the nightly campfire, too.)

Beyond the hotels, Disney has two water parks, golf courses, and its own, much larger Downtown Disney, which currently is a massive construction zone as Disney refurbishes it into a new concept, called "Disney Springs."

7. It's going to rain

Okay, it doesn't rain every day of the year in Central Florida, but afternoon thunderstorms make frequent appearances at the Walt Disney World Resort. When you get there, notice how many attractions have covered queues and wait areas in Disney World, compared with at Disneyland. That's because of the rain. If you're visiting during the summer — when it never rains in Southern California — don't forget to pack a light rain jacket for your Orlando visit. You'll need it.

Okay, fellow well-traveled Disney theme fans: What else would you like to tell a Disneyland fan making his or her first trip to Walt Disney World?

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Replies (17)

February 4, 2015 at 12:10 PM · Thanks, Robert! We were able to snag reservations at Teppan Edo and the Hollywood Brown Derby, but have tried every day for 4 months to find a reservation for Be Our Guest with no luck! I'm happy their FastPass+ system won't be up and running until after our visit.

Can't wait to experience the awesomeness of the giant Disney World!

February 4, 2015 at 1:09 PM · Yesterday Disney changed the lunch system for Be Our Guest. Fastpass + is out. Beginning Feb 25th you can reserve lunch on My Disney Experience or the dining phone reservation system. Rumors are also abound that they will be serving breakfast in the future.
February 4, 2015 at 1:35 PM · Yeah, we received an email inviting us to participate in the pilot for the new lunch reservation system (they were calling it FastPass+ at the time), and they were completely booked by the time I clicked the link on the email. Bummer!

Does anyone know if walk-ups are accepted for dinner at Be Our Guest (or any table service restaurant for that matter!)? I realize that may require a ridiculously long wait, but, is it possible?

February 4, 2015 at 2:10 PM · #3 conflicts #6. If you can't do 2 parks in one day, you'll have even less success with hotel hopping especially if you don't have any plans to eat at the hotel restaurants. Instead, you should visit Downtown Disney for at least one visit and shop at the big Disney store, which is the biggest and busiest Disney store I've ever seen on a rainy day.

I have contrary advice on table restaurant selecting. If you're from the west coast, it makes little sense to eat at Teppan Edo or other asian fare since we get lots locally. Disney charges so much for their Americanized version. You're better off picking unique restaurants that have a particular Disney feature like characters or a food you don't have much here. Akersus comes to mind. Norwegian fare plus princesses are two unique features you don't see much in California. French food is also in short supply in the west coast. Be My Guest would be a great choice as is Cinderella's Royal Table for medieval fare.

With size, you should use Disney transportation. I haven't had any trouble despite the reputation of over crowded busses. Leave the car at home. If you want to visit outside attractions, then that's the only exception.

February 4, 2015 at 2:57 PM · No, it doesn't. Note that #6 says, "If you're visiting for more than four days..." Hit the four parks on the first four days, one park per day, then do extra stuff.

Strong point on Teppan Edo. I just listed the top three from our reader ratings, but I'd lean toward the French restaurants, too. I'd also steer clear of Via Napoli in Epcot, even though I love it, simply because it's almost a clone of Naples pizza in Anaheim's DtD.

February 4, 2015 at 3:07 PM · Great article. Your advice about things taking longer to get to when walking is fantastic advice. It is quite a haul across the MK East to West. Here is some of the advice I give California friends who go to Florida for visits:

Everything is very well marked once you are on WDW property. Don’t use GPS to get to specific locations because you will often be directed to back of house locations rather than the guest entrance. I can’t tell you how many times I would encounter guests in the employee parking lot when I worked at Universal Orlando. They were looking for guest parking but the GPS would bring them to the business offices.

While there are about the same number of attractions in FL as in CA, there are some you just don't need to bother with in FL in favor of doing other things. Why? Either they are exactly the same in CA, or the version in CA is just so much better, why waste your time in FL. Here are a few examples:

It's Tough to be a bug, Muppet Vision, Toy Story Midway Mania, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Sorin', Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

Then there are the attractions that are in both, but the FL version is simply different and better enough that they need to be experienced:

Splash Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, The Tower of Terror, The Nighttime projection show on the Castle

Try to plan your visit during one of the two big festivals at Epcot. The Wine and Food Festival in the autumn and the Flower and Garden Festival in the Spring are both amazing events and while they increase attendance, they will also give you a lot of extra fun while you are there.

Gosh, there is SO MUCH to say, I can't wait to see the advice others give.

February 4, 2015 at 3:19 PM · As a West Coast is better fan (I know, but my first 20+ experiences were at Disneyland) and a DVC member who visits Florida at least every other year, just remember THERE IS NO COMPARISON. Each coast has a unique flavor and feel. Try to pick up the experiences that are different. See ALL the shows! Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King are not to be missed. We always try to take ferry to MK at least once as it is so much fun to see from Bay Lake! And most importantly, if you have a car and need a break, you are NOT very far from the outside world! It took me 5 trips and finally a rental car to realize that we were right on the edge. There is wonderful shopping and other great attractions in Florida and grocery stores that are very close.
February 4, 2015 at 3:46 PM · @ Anon Mouse.
My wife and I have spent several days hotel hopping so it's quite possible thank you. We walked from Hollywood Studios once around the Boardwalk, enjoying that whole lakeside area.
Another day we spent a happy afternoon on the monorail stopping off at the Polynesian, the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian. I can recommend both itineraries if you have the time....
February 4, 2015 at 4:32 PM · If you're traveling in the winter months, just remember that central Florida can still get pretty chilly. Bring a few warm layers, and gloves and a hat. When cool, beware of wet rides unless you brought dry clothes, or you will feel cold and uncomfortable. This is pretty much true for December through February at least.
February 4, 2015 at 4:43 PM · "it's quite possible thank you"

Nice to know its possible. ;)

I just think its not a priority for the first timer. That's all. Resort hopping is oversold as I found it to be a waste of time (that's just my opinion). With limited time, it might be better spent if you know what specifically you might get out of resort hopping. Also, I don't recommend going to any resort restaurants merely based on a restaurant's reputation. Again, with limited time, there are already many restaurants at your resort, the parks, and Downtown Disney. It's an extra hassle to find a bus to bring your back to your home resort (2 legs with 1 transfer). I'm just trying to not steer you wrong. Thank you.

February 4, 2015 at 5:01 PM · I have to say there are restaurants that are worth traveling around the "World" for.
Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of my favorite places to eat at WDW, and the only buffet I go to.
Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge is the PERFECT place to take a big gang of loud kids and not feel bad about them being a big loud gang.
Artist Point, also at Wilderness Lodge is outstanding.
Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian is in a league all its own.
The Hoop-dee-do Musical Review is perhaps the most fun you can have with a plate of food in front of ya.

I'd leave a park early and head back to my room to freshen up before dinner at any of the above locations.

February 4, 2015 at 9:29 PM · Great, great advice.

Dinosaur/Indy:
I think the, "If you ride Dinosaur, keep in mind that it's the same track as Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride, just with a different theme." point is overblown. @Robert: When you, and many others, focus on the track, I think it gives an impression that theme is meaningless, as if it was just a different name on an identical roller coaster in two different locations. This is a blog about theme, right? ;)

They use the same system and share a layout. Yet, the experiences are very different, starting at the queue to completion. From the variations in the way the vehicles move, to how the show buildings are used, to the story lines, the majority of those people who ride both are not going to notice (or care) that the track is the same. Sure, they'll say, "oh, it's like Indy," or vice versa. But the same track argument is overly dismissive of the overall experiences. (And I get the West Coast bias, as the Indy attraction, from queue on, is a better overall experience for most people. Yet both are worthwhile.)

February 4, 2015 at 10:40 PM · I would probably just add that Splash Mountain MK>Splash Mountain DL. The boats move slower, allowing you to appreciate the scenery more and the story has more of a cohesive flow.
February 4, 2015 at 11:13 PM · Havent been to Anaheim yet, but...

- In Downtown Disney, you can find Disney Quest, an "indoor interactive theme park". Not worth it unless so have an extra day and want to cross it off the list.

- If you are planning on visiting the Universal parks, remember you need the "park to park" to get on the Hogwarts express

- If you have extra time, check this: http://bestkidfriendlytravel.com/2012/06/18/top-20-non-disney-attractions-in-orlando/

February 5, 2015 at 8:12 AM · Prepare to be both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the attractions and the layouts in the parks. You'll miss the atmosphere and length of Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, but you'll probably be more impressed by the duration and theming of Splash Mountain. I would really encouraging enjoying the areas that are not duplicates or close copies of what you have in Anaheim - I personally love getting a great, quiet lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square, then strolling across the street to rest afterward watching the Hall of Presidents show in a big, comfy theater. And I cannot stress this enough: arrive early to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios if you want to have a good time and see the major attraction at each. Otherwise, expect long waits and disappointments.
February 5, 2015 at 8:12 AM · I found out the hard way about #2 and #3 during my trip to WDW. I purchased Park Hopper tickets and then never hopped :)

For me, it wasn't just the size of the parks, but also the size of the attractions. I assumed I could do the same number of rides in MK as DL. I would just run through the queues in MK because how different could they be? I feel I missed the opportunity to appreciate many of the differences between the 2 parks. In the future, I think I would plan on visiting fewer attractions and focusing more time on each attraction, even if they are "duplicates".

February 6, 2015 at 11:59 PM · I know it's been mentioned here a few times, but I'd wholeheartedly recommend 'Be Our Guest' if you can get in. I managed it a few weeks ago and it took my breath away. The food was a little 'safer' than I expected, which was good for me, so nothing to be worried about there. My advice though, make sure your entire party is there on time. They won't let you come in late, which is something that happens to my group frequently. It's all at once or not at all.

Also, the Safari in Animal Kingdom was an unexpected surprise. So good we had to go twice.

Oh, and maybe better not to wait over 60 minutes for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, even if the line is amazing.

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