Walt Disney World
The Walt Disney World Resort  located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near Orlando, is the flagship of Disney's worldwide theme park empire. It is, by far, the most popular theme park resort in the world. Some visitors describe it as a place of magic, wonder, and fantasy; others speak of fun, excitement, and relaxation; and still others complain of crowds, artifice, and unrelenting tackiness. As with most things, the essence of Walt Disney World lies near the intersection of those three views.
The centerpieces of Walt Disney World are the four theme parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Walt Disney World also has the world's two most popular water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, both heavily themed. Two shopping and entertainment districts, Downtown Disney and Disney's Boardwalk, provide extensive shopping, dining, and entertainment options. If none of that strikes your fancy, check out some of the lesser-known activities: golf, miniature golf, tennis, boating, spas and health clubs, backstage tours, character dining, and much more.
If you can't find something fun to do at Walt Disney World, you aren't trying hard enough.
Walt Disney World can roughly be divided into five distinct areas—one for each of the four theme parks, plus Downtown Disney. The various resort hotels, and the attractions and restaurants found within, are grouped with the nearest park.
The most important thing to understand about the Walt Disney World Resort is that it was designed to be fun for anyone. Don't make the mistake of staying away just because you don't have kids. Singles and couples without children who think a Walt Disney World vacation is just for kids ignore the many "adult" entertainments available throughout the resort. Gourmands, sun-worshippers, world travelers, thrill-seekers, comedy-lovers, film devotees, sports fans, club-hoppers, and history buffs will all find plenty of ways to have a great time.
Of course, if you do have kids, the best part of your Walt Disney World vacation is in experiencing the parks through their eyes. That is when you really understand Walt Disney's vision of a place where kids and parents can have fun together.
Walt Disney World is enormous, a multi-day resort destination. Each of its four theme parks is big enough to occupy visitors for a full day (and often two, depending on crowds). Unless you live nearby, four days is considered the bare minimum length of visit to even begin to experience the resort; some people stay as long as two weeks and still bypass some attractions.
Traveling to Walt Disney World represents a major pilgrimage for many American families. The "typical" visit involves flying into Orlando International Airport, busing to an on-site Disney hotel, spending about a week without leaving Disney property, and returning home. There are infinite variations possible, but this remains what most people mean when they talk of "going to Disney World".
Everything at Walt Disney World is carefully constructed and choreographed to maintain your perceptions of visiting an idealized world. Company jargon frames every aspect of customer service as part of the "show": employees are "cast members", visitors are "guests", and every prop and costume must be completely "in-character" while "on-stage" (visible to guests). While some people find this attention to detail cloying and artificial, the vast majority of visitors are happy to immerse themselves in this relaxing, carefree environment.
Even so, the realities of Walt Disney World can be stark: long lines, sweltering heat, rude guests, and expensive merchandise are common. There are ways to avoid the worst elements (namely by carefully choosing when to visit) and customer service is almost universally impeccable, even (or perhaps especially) when things go wrong.
Many first-time visitors try to do too much during their stay. Unless crowds are unusually small, this is a sure-fire recipe for burnout and exhaustion. You need to have a basic schedule in mind, but you should remain flexible in order to account for closed rides, full restaurants, special events, and just changing your mind. If the crowds get too heavy or the weather gets too hot, smart guests staying on-site head back to their hotels to relax, grab a snack, or take a swim, then return later in the day. Trying to adhere to a rigid schedule will only frustrate you and your family, and you're not going to Walt Disney World to get frustrated, are you?
With some careful basic planning, an open mind, and a cheerful attitude, a visit to Walt Disney World can be whatever you want it to be: fulfilling, exciting, relaxing, enlightening, or just plain fun. Whatever you chose to do, your visit is guaranteed to be an experience, in every sense of the word—one you'll never forget.
Enough books have been written about Walt Disney World to fill a good-sized bookshelf. One very informative set of books are the Imagineering Field Guides; there's one for each of the four parks (plus one for Disneyland). They go through each park area-by-area and feature great concept images (some rarely seen), behind-the-scenes details, and tricks of the imagineering trade.
Disney is a multinational media conglomerate, so it's not really surprising that there's a ton of video presentations that feature Walt Disney World.
Several television programs have filmed on-location at the resort. The 1990s-era Mickey Mouse Club (the one that gave Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake their starts) was filmed entirely at the production facilities inside the Disney-MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) park. Full House, Roseanne, Family Matters, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are among the sitcoms (mostly on Disney-owned ABC) with episodes showing the characters visiting Walt Disney World. Another fun option, if you can find it, is 1990's The Muppets at Walt Disney World, which was intended as a precursor to Disney's purchase of the Muppets (which finally happened in 2004).
Those shows only used the park as a backdrop, though, so they have limited "tourist" value. For meatier fare, there's always the yearly Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade, which often includes segments showing the latest and greatest attractions around the World. If you're going to watch the parade just to get planning information, though, you might as well just call Disney at +1 407 W-DISNEY and ask for their free vacation planning video . As expected, you won't find much official material that addresses the problems you might encounter at Walt Disney World, but they do offer a good introduction to the resort for first-timers who are trying to get a feel for the place before they go. Another good source of information is the official YouTube channel of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts .
Disney has also made a few full-length features based on various rides in the parks—the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy being by far the best—but don't expect the rides to have much of anything to do with the films. Okay, yes, Jack Sparrow can now be spotted inside the Pirates ride, but it's just a cameo appearance.
Last but not least, Walt Disney World is featured in three Disney "Sing Along Songs" titles. Campout at Walt Disney World is set at Fort Wilderness Campground, Beach Party at Walt Disney World covers a wide range of activities including the two water parks, and Flik's Musical Adventure is set at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Like all of Central Florida, the climate at Walt Disney World is humid and subtropical. Summer (May-October) is hot and sticky and winter (November-April) is mild and drier. Visitors from higher latitudes are often surprised by the sheer intensity of the summer sun in Florida, which can rise to within a few degrees of straight overhead in June and July. In late August through September, late afternoon thundershowers are very common; plan accordingly.
That said, climate problems are well known at Walt Disney World and there are several means to cope (see "Weather" in the Stay Safe section).
Inclement weather can often lead to the temporary closure of outdoor rides and live performances. In the case of rides, they will re-open after the weather improves, and FastPass tickets will continue to be accepted, even if the printed time interval has expired. Live performances may be either delayed or canceled outright. On the other hand, inclement weather could be a good thing, as outdoor queue lines tend to be shorter or even gone altogether.
When to visit
There used to be some times of year when the parks were relatively deserted, but not so much anymore. Now they just vary from "moderately busy" to "completely insane". Still, deciding when to go remains a game of trade-offs: you must decide whether to favor lower crowds or longer park hours, and decide whether you prefer scorching days or chilly nights.
The peak periods for attendance are late December, mid-June to mid-August, and mid-February to mid-April. Why? That's when kids are on break from school. If you have kids, you may have no choice but to go during these peak times. The bad news is that you'll be packed like sardines next to 50,000 of your new closest friends, you'll wait two hours to go on rides like Splash Mountain and Soarin', and you'll be paying a premium for the privilege. In the summer, you also get to listen to the kids complain about the heat. On the bright side, though, you'll have plenty of company, the parks are guaranteed to be open late, and as many rides as possible will be up and running.
If your schedule allows any flexibility at all, you should avoid these peak periods. Attendance is lowest in October, November (pre-Thanksgiving), December (pre-Christmas), and January. These can be very good times to go; crowds are low and prices are too, but keep in mind that you may find a few rides are shut down for maintenance, and the parks have shorter operating hours. In the winter, it's often too cold to go to the water parks, and you'll need a jacket at night.
The weeks between Easter and Memorial Day are another slow period, as well as the months of August and September; both periods provide a good balance of price, crowds, temperature, and operating hours, but you may need to take the kids out of school if you're bringing them along.
If your vacation dates are flexible, plan to arrive to the Orlando area on Thursday. Both Friday and Saturday are transition days for park visitors, especially in the summer months. Saturdays do draw in more Annual Pass holders to the park, but that is the major day that people either arrive or leave the area. This causes attendance figures to be down, making it a perfect day to visit the parks.
If you are planning to have a day of rest in your vacation, by arriving on Thursday you can enjoy two days of parks with reduced crowds and then use Sunday to rest. If during those first two days you are planning to visit the Magic Kingdom, plan to do it on Friday. Attendance figures pick up for that park on Saturday. You will be able to do more attractions in the first two days while you are revved up, and then it will allow you to relax and enjoy the park on the more crowded days.
As in most places in the United States, English is the default language throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. The cast members at World Showcase in Epcot are largely citizens of the featured countries, and so will be fluent in their native tongues as well as English. Other cast members throughout the property may also be bi- or tri-lingual; any such cast members can be identified by language signs on their name tags, representing the languages they speak . Spanish is also very common in Florida, and the US as a whole. Spanish speakers will not have any problems navigating the resort.
All four theme parks have an information center known as Guest Relations, near the main entrance. Cast members, who usually are multilingual, will be available here to answer any questions you may have.
Disney's Ears to the World, an audio headset that provides foreign-language translations of the dialogues of selected attractions in French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, or Spanish, may be rented at Guest Relations. However, there are a limited number of them available, so they must be returned. A refundable $25 deposit will be charged, and will be refunded upon return.
For guests with visual disabilities, linguistic services are in the form of audiocassette tour guides and Braille guidebooks, also available for rent at Guest Relations.
For hearing-impaired guests, assistive listening devices and captioning (handheld, reflective, and video) are available for selected attractions. Cast Members with knowledge of American Sign Language can be identified by the appropriate symbol on their name tags, and interpreters are available by appointment.
Orlando-Sanford International Airport (IATA: SFB) , which is farther away from Walt Disney World than is Orlando International, serves several flights from the United Kingdom, including those from Belfast in Northern Ireland. British carriers serving Sanford are Monarch Airlines , Thomas Cook Airlines , and Thomson Airways . If you are flying Direct Air  from within the US, or Icelandair  from Iceland, you will land here. The Disney's Magical Express service is not available here. Florida State Road 417 connects the airport to Interstate 4.
Allegiant Air  is the only airline that serves both airports.
Interstate 4 is the most direct driving route into Walt Disney World. Depending on your point of origin, the Florida Turnpike can be quite useful. This is particularly true when you might be arriving from Miami or all points south. If you will be arriving from a cruise at Port Canaveral, Florida State Road 528 links PC with I-4, with Orlando International Airport and the Turnpike en route.
Amtrak's  Silver Service  Miami–New York City routes serve Orlando. Service is four times daily, with two trains in either direction. Northbound trains from Miami arrive at 1:43 PM and 7:08 PM; southbound trains from NYC arrive at 10:17 AM and 12:55 PM. The Auto Train , which can carry both passengers and automobiles, serves nearby Sanford non-stop from Lorton, Virginia (in the Washington, DC, metro area).
The Disney Cruise Line  provides bus service to the Walt Disney World resort hotels from the DCL terminal at Port Canaveral, for passengers debarking the Disney Magic or Disney Wonder cruise ships. The one-way fare is $35 per person. For passengers debarking Carnival or Royal Caribbean International ships, other shuttle providers are available .
Greyhound  serves both Orlando and Kissimmee, with the latter being closer to Walt Disney World.
LYNX . Public transportation by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority. Nine LYNX routes provide service between Walt Disney World and the surrounding area. All except 56 travel via I-4 and Downtown Disney and serve the Downtown Disney West Side Transfer Center. Routes 300–305 are commuter routes with very limited service.
The Park Hopper option in particular is often overlooked, but it's strongly recommended because of the flexibility it offers. Without it, you could be stuck with nowhere else to go after doing everything you want to do at one park; or you could run out of time to do one last attraction and be unable to come back another day to pick it up. If you have seven-day tickets, it only costs about $7.50 a day to add this option; the value of being able to visit one park in the morning and another in the evening should not be underestimated.
Multi-day tickets do not have to be used on consecutive days. However, these tickets will expire 14 days after they are first used, so be sure to use all the days purchased prior to that. A no-expiration option can be added to any multi-day ticket with at least one day remaining; with this option, the ticket expires when the last purchased day is used, which can be months or even years after the initial use. A side benefit of this option is locking in your admission price for your next visit(s). The price for this option is variable, based on the number of days purchased.
The best feature of a Disney admission ticket is its flexibility. Options can be added even if the ticket has already been used at least once. For example, a base ticket (no park-hopping) can be upgraded to include park-hopping by paying the $50 cost for the option. Or, if a change in travel plans will not allow the user to utilize all purchased days prior to the ticket's expiration date, the "no-expiration" option can be purchased for the remaining days. These changes may be made at any ticket window or at the Guest Relations office inside each theme park.
The prices below were accurate as of August 2009 (6.5% Florida sales tax not included):
Children under age three are admitted for free.
Florida residents who provide proof of residence get discounts of varying degrees, but they can't purchase beyond a 7-day ticket (meaning that Florida residents who ask for the discount can't purchase 8-, 9-, or 10-day tickets). Annual passes are also available for frequent visitors or residents.
Disney resort guests (those staying on-site at Disney hotels) are usually best served by getting package deals that include both lodging and admission. Admission in those cases is "length-of-stay": from the time you check in at the hotel until closing time on the day you check out.
Getting around Walt Disney World is easy and often fun. You may walk, drive, or ride public transit (in this case, buses, monorails, or ferryboats). In most cases, the service is direct and non-stop. All Walt Disney World transit vehicles are wheelchair-accessible, and there is no additional fee to use any of them. If you are traveling with a stroller, you must take your child out of the stroller, then fold it and hand-carry it onto the vehicle.
In some places, walking is the most convenient way to travel from one area to another. Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the three resorts in between (Swan & Dolphin, Yacht & Beach Clubs, and Boardwalk) are connected by walkways, as is Downtown Disney to Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort. If you are staying at Disney's Contemporary Resort, you will find it quicker to walk to the Magic Kingdom than to take the ferry or monorail. From Shades of Green (a military-only resort) it's a five-minute walk to Disney's Polynesian Resort, to take the monorail or ferry to the Magic Kingdom; and from the Polynesian Resort it's another five-minute walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center, to take the monorail to Epcot.
Wheelchairs and strollers are readily available to rent at the entrance to each park; they can be brought onto some rides but must be left at the entrance of others. If you have a problem standing too long, or if walking on the hot pavement makes your feet ache, renting a wheelchair—manual or electric—can make a big difference.
Walt Disney World has an extensive bus system, so there is no need to rent a car unless you are traveling outside of the property. The bus routes are set up to facilitate travel from a resort to a park, but not from one resort to another or from one park to another. Most resorts have five bus routes originating from them, providing direct service to all four theme parks and Downtown Disney. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are also serviced by the Downtown Disney and Animal Kingdom routes respectively.
Disney's Boardwalk is actually part of a resort, so visitors from other resorts (except Swan/Dolphin or Yacht/Beach Clubs) will have to travel there via one of the parks. The most convenient option is Disney's Hollywood Studios, which has two connections to the Boardwalk: walking or ferry. (Although Epcot is the closest park to the Boardwalk, using it as an interchange is not recommended, as it would require entering through the main entrance and exiting out the back entrance, thereby costing the admission fee.)
Note that there is no bus service to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot from the Magic Kingdom-area resorts; they are served by the monorail system. Likewise, service to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios from the Epcot-area resorts is by ferry or walking. There is also no direct bus service between the theme parks and Downtown Disney. To travel to Downtown Disney from a theme park, or vice versa, you must travel to any resort and change buses. The most convenient resort for this purpose is Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort, which is right next door to Downtown Disney; you can get there via a pedestrian bridge, bus, or ferry.
The buses are reliable, fairly efficient, and reasonably comfortable, but they can be slow and inconvenient if, for example, you are traveling with young children or strollers. Expect to wait up to fifteen minutes for a bus to your destination, and another ten to thirty minutes to get there—possibly longer during the busy season. Also keep in mind that guests in wheelchairs have first priority when boarding.
Walt Disney World's monorail system is one of its signature attractions, and it's not even inside one of the parks. They do a great job of getting large numbers of guests from place to place, but they're also quite comfortable and fun to ride.
The monorail service is limited and only goes to certain areas, all originating from the Transportation and Ticket Center. There are three monorail lines:
If you are going to Epcot from the Polynesian Resort, you may walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center to get to the Epcot monorail; it's usually faster than taking the Resort monorail completely through the loop. It is also possible to walk to the TTC from Disney's Wilderness Lodge, which is not connected to the monorail. The distance is about half a mile, and takes around 10 minutes.
Walt Disney World also has several waterways which are serviced by ferryboats.
If you are staying at a hotel off Disney property, a car is absolutely recommended. Many off-resort hotels offer shuttle service to the parks, but the schedules may not be convenient. If you are staying on-site, a car is not necessary unless you wish to travel off property during your stay. Some people purchase groceries to use during their stay; while there are a couple of places on the property to buy them, better selection and prices are found off property. Other people use a car to avoid the delays that can sometimes affect the public transportation options.
Getting around Walt Disney World by car is not much of a problem. All you need to do is follow the purple directional signs with black Mickey Mouse ears to your destination. Your WDW resort will also provide a map of the complex.
The five golf courses (see below) are accessible only by car; however, complimentary taxi service is available for guests of Disney-owned hotels.
There are three Hess gas stations within the resort: on World Drive near the Magic Kingdom Resort Area entrance, on Buena Vista Drive near the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios, and on Buena Vista Drive across from Downtown Disney. The Hess stations on Disney property do charge market rate for their fuel, unlike a few Orlando gas stations where the cost of fuel is still outrageous despite the recent drop in gas prices. Gas stations along State Road 535 (Apopka-Vineland Road) near the Downtown Disney Hotel Plaza are notorious for pricing well above the market rate for fuel.
However, for sheer "chutzpah," you gotta hand it to Suncoast Energys, located on State Road 436 (Semoran Boulevard), just outside the Orlando International Airport. Its location across the street from the Hertz and Thrifty rental-car lots makes it a tempting top-off-the-tank stop, but be sure you take note of the pump price, which is usually $1.50-$2 higher than the local average.
Visit Orlando Gas Prices  to find the local average price and get addresses for other handy gas stations.
The parking fee at the four theme park lots is $14 for most vehicles (campers and trailers are $15; buses and tractor trailers are $18). Parking is free, though, for guests staying at any of the on-site Disney Resorts (your Key to the World card serves as your parking ticket), or who have a valid Annual Pass. The four theme park lots are huge, and are divided into subsections; this is to enable you to remember your car's location. To save you from having to walk the long distances, there are trams that will shuttle you from the parking lot to the park gates and back (except in the case of the Magic Kingdom, where the tram will take you to the Transportation and Ticket Center, from which you may take the ferry or the monorail to the park).
Parking at the two water parks or Downtown Disney is free. However, there are no parking lot trams available, so be prepared to walk far.
Valet parking is available at the Splurge resorts (see below under Sleep) for $12/day.
Where to rent
Several car rental agencies have locations on the Walt Disney World property:
See and Do
The traditional amusement park advice of arriving early and heading to the back of the park first tends to work well, although more and more guests are starting to catch on, so the benefit may be reduced.
Be aware that during the busiest times of year, lines can be up to two hours long for the most popular attractions. One option for avoiding these lines is the free service known as FastPass, available only at select attractions. Simply insert your park ticket into the machine, and you'll get a FastPass ticket with a time interval stamped on it, at any time during that interval, you may enter the attraction using a separate, shorter queue. Note that the FastPass queues may bypass some or all of the scenery and theming found in the longer lines, which for some guests is a significant part of the Disney experience. Consider what you may be missing if you choose to get a FastPass.
The Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is the main park, based on the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It is organized around the central landmark of Cinderella Castle, with various "lands" arrayed around a central hub. The lands are, starting from the main entrance and going clockwise around Cinderella Castle: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
The park is the oldest, most popular, and the most child-friendly, although many adults love it as well. Adult visitors who do not enjoy rides such as "It's A Small World" where you sit in vehicles that take you in a circle through a tunnel as animatronic figures sing children's songs to the riders, may want to visit Epcot or Hollywood Studios instead.
Though the FastPass system works well, it is not available for all attractions, and lines there can be endless but always keep moving. Food and merchandise can be pricey, but not too bad considering where you are. Plan accordingly for a trip and expect to spend at least $100 per person for a visit.
Despite it all, most people would agree that the lines, the crowds, and the prices are worth it for the experience.
Epcot is an "educational park." It is divided into two distinct areas, Future World and World Showcase. World Showcase is structured to showcase various international locations, especially in terms of food and/or trade goods. Don't miss the impossibly cheesy but fun Mexico ride along with the extravagant Maelstrom ride in the Norway pavilion. Future World is comprised of various "futuristic" attractions, many sponsored by various industrial concerns. The Test Track, a recent addition in which visitors go through the motions of tests for new cars, is a probably the most fun, and the most traditionally theme-park. Recently, Epcot has added Soarin', a ride where visitors "hang-glide" through many landscapes, and Mission Space. Epcot may appeal more to adult visitors, but the park has made efforts to appeal to the entire family in recent years with the addition of more character greetings and Kidcot funstops which encourage the children to work on a craft and interact with the cast members who are representing their home countries.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) opened in May 1989 as the third theme park of Walt Disney World. The park is themed around film and television, and features a variety of live shows and attractions based on some of the most iconic films from that era. Among the attractions are a few exceptional thrill rides, most notably The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (a 13-story-high vertical drop) and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (a horizontal launch, 0-60 in 2.8 seconds). The latest addition to the park is an interactive live stage show, based on the TV show American Idol. Also, Disney announced in September of 2009 that Star Tours, the classic ride themed after the Star Wars saga, would close down in October 2010 to make way for Star Tours 2, which will be coming to a galaxy near you in the Fall of 2011.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom, a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is a wildlife discovery park, organized in a Magic Kingdom-like format, with different continents revolving around the central Tree of Life. It's a mix between a zoo and a theme park. Naturalistic animal exhibitions are interspersed, and sometimes integrated, with typical Disney rides. Among these are a jeep safari past live animal enclosures, a raft ride through the deforestation of a tropical rainforest, a time travel ride which includes close encounters with dinosaurs and the newest ride, "Expedition Everest", which is a roller coaster ride and includes an encounter with the Yeti. While light on rides, there are also shows and plenty of animals to view (though the variety of species seems a bit sparse when compared to many larger city zoos). Animal Kingdom is more of a kid friendly theme park with many animals that would attract the attention of younger generations as well as Camp Minnie-Mickey, a special space for youngsters where they can meet all of their favorite characters.
Note: Under AZA animal safety policy, Animal Kingdom's restaurants do not provide lids for drinks. However, paper straws are now available. Also note that under that same policy, balloons are not sold in Animal Kingdom and may not be brought in from the other three parks.
Walt Disney World's two water parks, Blizzard Beach near Animal Kingdom and Typhoon Lagoon near Downtown Disney, with a combined total of close to 4 million visits, are the most visited water parks in the world. Unlike most ordinary water parks, both have a unique central theme. Blizzard Beach brings to life the absurdity of what would happen if a ski resort suddenly melted and Typhoon Lagoon is home to a fictional site of a typhoon storm, where there is even a tugboat atop a large hilltop.
Downtown Disney is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment paradise, geared primarily towards adults. Most of the entertainment activities are found on Downtown Disney Westside. The east side, known as Downtown Disney Marketplace, is made up largely of shops.
Disney's Boardwalk, located next to Epcot, is a smaller collection of nightlife themed as a 1920's Eastern Seaboard boardwalk. The Boardwalk is also home to carnival midway games, tandem bike rentals, the Atlantic Dance Hall, and the ESPN Club.
Often overlooked during a Walt Disney World vacation—whether due to time constraints or just lack of knowledge—are several recreational activities that have nothing to do with theme parks and rides.
Walt Disney World is home to four 18-hole championship golf courses, plus a nine-hole walking course and two different miniature golf experiences. 
The Lake Buena Vista and Osprey Ridge Golf Courses are in the Downtown Disney area. The Magnolia and Palm courses, which host the PGA Tour's Children's Miracle Network Classic, are in the Magic Kingdom area, adjacent to the Shades of Green resort. The four championship courses require standard golf attire, and metal cleats are not allowed. Golf clubs are available for rent; through the end of 2010, Disney resort guests can rent clubs and bag for free. A golf cart must be used, but it is included in your greens fee.
The Oak Trail Golf Course, in the Magic Kingdom area next to the Magnolia and Palm courses, is a nine-hole walking course. It's designed for less-experienced golfers and older children. The same rules and regulations apply here as at the championship courses, except golf carts are prohibited.
The five golf courses can be reached only via car or, in some limited cases, walking. The Disney-owned resorts offer complimentary taxi vouchers for their guests traveling to the golf courses. For more information or assistance, or to reserve a tee time, call +1 407 WDW-GOLF. Tee times can be reserved up to 90 days in advance if you're staying at a Disney hotel (up to 60 days in advance otherwise).
The miniature golf courses are Fantasia Gardens, across the street from the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel in the Epcot resort area, and Winter Summerland, right next to Blizzard Beach. Each has two 18-hole layouts, with whimsical, kid-friendly holes and decor.
Finding souvenirs is one of the easiest things to do at Walt Disney World; avoiding the expense is considerably harder. Many attractions, especially the most popular ones, route their exit queues directly into a merchandise store, usually one themed to the attraction. (In fact, several rides even take your picture, which will be available for purchase in the shop.) On the bright side, this does make it easier to find merchandise with a particular theme. Disney's Hollywood Studios is a particularly rich source of themed merchandise, especially for fans of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or the Muppets.
Sometimes overlooked by shoppers are the various resorts. All of the resorts have a gift shop of some sort, but many go further. The Grand Canyon Concourse on the fourth floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort, underneath the monorail platform, has several specialty shops including shops that sell jewelry, sundries, and housewares. Zawadi Marketplace at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge has unique African merchandise not available elsewhere. At Disney's Boardwalk, look for the Wyland Galleries, with underwater-themed prints and paintings, featuring the work of the artist Wyland. In fact, each of the resorts has something a little different that you won't find elsewhere on the property, and it can be fun to look for those little hidden gems.
Realizing that many of its souvenirs such as the giant Mickey dolls simply aren't made to be lugged around a theme park all day, Disney will save the day with its Package Pick-Up/Delivery service. Guests staying at an on-site resort hotel can have their purchases delivered directly to their rooms, while everyone else can have their purchases held at the Package Pick-Up window at the front gate of each theme park. The service is free of charge, but be sure to factor in delivery times—allow about 24 hours for a package to be delivered to your room, or about three hours for it to reach the front gate of the park.
The complete listing of stores on the property may be found on the Shopping page of the WDW website .
Like everything else, food is expensive at Walt Disney World. Fortunately, the food is pretty good, top to bottom.
At the bottom you'll find portable food carts and fast counter-serviceTemplate:IndexTemplate:Index (or "quick-service" in Disney's parlance) options. The small stands usually sell pre-packaged treats and snacks. The counter-service restaurants are on par with most chain fast-food joints in quality, but significantly more expensive in price. Still, it's not your typical amusement park fare; some of them are in fact quite good. Three excellent options are Cosmic Ray's Starlight CafeTemplate:IndexTemplate:Index in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, the Seasons Food CourtTemplate:Index at The Land pavilion in Epcot, and Flame Tree BarbecueTemplate:Index on Discovery Island at Animal Kingdom. The ABC Commissary at Hollywood Studios has a surprisingly international menu, and Toy Story Pizza PlanetTemplate:IndexTemplate:Index in the same park has arcade games to pass the time.
There is, however, a fairly big gap between the counter-service and the lower-end table-service restaurantsTemplate:Index. If anything can be said to fill that gap, it's the buffetsTemplate:Index, but there are not many around, and most of them feature walk-around characters. For table service, you'll find the menus tend to be surprisingly limited; although the food is generally good, if your party has a lot of picky eatersTemplate:Index you may have trouble finding a restaurant everyone can agree on. (Fortunately, Disney is very accommodating of special requestsTemplate:Index, so don't be afraid to ask for the demi-glace to be left off or to substitute fries for the au-gratin potatoes.)
At the high-end of Disney dining, you'll find some options on par with the best in the country, including perhaps the fanciest restaurant in all of Central Florida, Victoria and Albert'sTemplate:Index at the Grand Floridian. These high-end restaurants do tend to be found at the resorts; few people want to go out to a fancy dinner after walking around the parks all day without changing first. Don't feel like you have to leave the kids behind, either; every restaurant on property (except Victoria and Albert's) welcomes kids and will accommodate them as best as they can.
For the lowest possible prices, there are two McDonald's restaurants in the resort, at the intersection of Buena Vista Drive and Osceola Parkway between Blizzard Beach and the "All-Star" budget hotels, and in the Downtown Disney Marketplace.
If a dietary restriction requires you to bring your own food into the parks, it is permissible to do so, on the condition that it does not require heating or any other kind of preparation. To ensure freshness, carry it in an insulated lunch box or bag. Keep in mind, though, that Florida Department of Health regulations prohibit Disney's Culinary Cast Members from preparing, or even handling, foods brought in by guests.
One of the unique things about dining at Walt Disney World is the opportunity to interact up-close with favorite characters during Disney's character dining meals. Needless to say, these opportunities are extremely popular; for all practical purposes, advance reservations are required. In exchange for planning ahead, though, you will get to meet and take pictures with the characters, making for a memorable experience.
The range of characters to be found is enormous. Mickey and Minnie and the gang are the most common of course, at places like Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort, but you might also find Mary Poppins at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian, or characters from Playhouse Disney at Hollywood & VineTemplate:Index in Hollywood Studios. And of course the (fairy) godmother of them all is Cinderella's Royal TableTemplate:Index, inside the castle in the Magic Kingdom, where little girls can indulge their princess fantasies to their hearts' content, so long as their parents can actually get reservations.
Disney Dining Plan
Guests purchasing a Disney vacation package with hotel stay are eligible to participate in the Disney Dining PlanTemplate:IndexTemplate:Index. For a flat fee, the plan allows guests a set number of meals per person per night of their stay. There are multiple levels of plan available (prices are approximate):
The Magic Your Way Premium and Platinum packages also include Deluxe Dining.
A "snack" as part of the dining plan is a single prepackaged item, piece of fruit, or soft drink at any counter-service, snack cart, or merchandise location.
The Disney Dining Plan is accepted at any Disney-run restaurant on the property except Victoria and Albert's. In addition, some "signature" restaurants, plus the dinner shows, require two table-service credits for one meal. These restaurants are Artist's Point, California Grill, Cinderella's Royal Table, Citricos, Flying Fish Cafe, the Hollywood Brown Derby, Jiko-The Cooking Place, Narcoossee's, and Yachtsman Steakhouse, plus the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, Mickey's Backyard BBQ, and Disney's Spirit of Aloha dinner shows. Room service, where available, also takes two table-service credits, except for pizza delivery.
Excluded from the Dining Plan are most of the restaurants that are operated by outside companies, most of which are at Downtown Disney. These restaurants include Bongos Cuban Cafe, Fulton's Crab House, House of Blues, McDonald's, Portobello, Rainforest Cafe (both locations), T-Rex, and Wolfgang Puck's "The Dining Room". Wolfgang Puck Express, Wolfgang Puck's Cafe, and Planet Hollywood do accept the Dining Plan.
To use the Dining Plan, simply present your Key to the WorldTemplate:Index card to your server. Gratuities are not included, but you can charge the tip to your room account with your Key to the World card.
Advance Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World restaurants do not take reservations, per se. Disney's system for its table-service restaurants is called Advance Dining ReservationsTemplate:IndexTemplate:Index (ADRs). An ADR is, in the strict sense, a restaurant FastPass. Essentially, when you make an ADR, you are reserving a spot on the restaurant's waiting list. When you arrive at the restaurant at your reserved time, you will immediately be placed at the top of the waiting list and get the next available table suitable for your party.
The importance of ADRs cannot be understated. During the slowest times of the year, you may find you don't have any problem walking up to a restaurant and getting a seat within 15-30 minutes. If you don't particularly care where you eat, or are willing to eat early or late, you can probably get by without ADRs. But if you have your heart set on a particular restaurant, or you want to make sure you can eat right at noon or 6PM, you'll want an ADR. And if it's peak season, better safe than sorry; without an ADR you may find yourself searching high and low for a table even at 8PM.
Of course, you can also get by without ADRs if you decide to only eat at counter-service restaurants (which don't take reservations at all).
A few restaurants are so popular that they regularly fill up even during the slowest periods. ADRs are essential for these. The one that takes the cake is Cinderella's Royal TableTemplate:Index, inside the castle in the Magic Kingdom, which is usually booked solid within minutes of reservations opening. Le Cellier SteakhouseTemplate:Index in the Canada pavilion at Epcot has a reputation as the best steakhouse on the property and so is very popular. Victoria and Albert'sTemplate:Index at the Grand Floridian also strongly suggests ADRs so that you can get a menu customized to your tastes. ADRs are also a good idea for any of the dinner shows, and any meal featuring the Disney characters.
To make Advance Dining Reservations, do not try to call the restaurants directly. Call Disney Dining at +1 407 WDW-DINE (daily 7AM-10PM ET) to make all of your reservations. ADRs are accepted up to 90 days in advance of the date of the reservation (except Mickey's Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness, which allows 180 days). If you want to get in to any of the restaurants mentioned above, especially Cinderella's Royal Table, start dialing at 6:55 on the first day you can make the reservation, and keep hitting redial until you stop getting told they're closed.
New as of June 2009, you can book ADRs online. Go to Disney's restaurants page , find the restaurant you want to eat at, and see if it has an orange "Book a Reservation" button. As this is a new service, details are still being worked out, so you may want to stick with the tried-and-true phone call.
Note that guests staying at a Disney-owned hotel are allowed to make ADRs for their entire trip on the 90th day before they arrive. That means you can make an ADR for the seventh day of your trip 96 days in advance; this is a big perk of staying at a Disney hotel.
In most cases, cancellations can be accommodated without penalty, especially if done in advance. However, select restaurants will charge a cancellation fee if the reservation is canceled closer than 48 hours in advance. When making an ADR for one of those restaurants, the agent will ask for a credit card number; the card will only be charged for a no-show or a late cancellation.
Walt Disney World uses a four-part "dollar sign" dining price classification system:
Most counter service restaurants have $ ratings, and most table service restaurants are either $$ or $$$. Victoria and Albert's is the only restaurant with a $$$$ rating; the fixed price menu is $125/person.
Food is easier than easy to find in all four theme parks. In-park dining opportunities range from snack carts to the most common fast-food joints to the less common table service restaurants. Bear in mind that the hours between noon and 2PM are generally considered the "peak" dining time in the parks. If you find yourself eating lunch within this time frame, expect to wait 30 minutes to an hour in line before being served, unless you have a reservation at a table service restaurant. As an alternative, some snack carts serve fairly large portions (such as smoked turkey legs in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland), and have short lines most of the time.
Every park has low cost meals in the $3–$4 range for kid meals and $6–$8 for adult meals at the sandwich shops, ethnic specialty nooks, cafeterias, and communal dining halls. They provide ample food for the money. You can often feed your whole family for little more than the cost of one expensive entrée at any of the upscale restaurants.
All of the Disney Resorts have at least one restaurant, ranging from food courts at the Value and Moderate resorts to buffets and sit-down restaurants at the Deluxe resorts. Best of all, some of the hotel restaurants have Disney character greetings.
Most people when visiting other hotels make reservations at the resorts’ buffets and sit-down restaurants. However, what they don’t always realize is that some of the hotels’ most delicious and unique foods can be found in the resorts’ food courts and smaller dining areas—and for less money.
A large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available in Walt Disney World. There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing alcohol at WDW.
In Epcot, some try "Drinking Around the World," getting alcohol in every country of World Showcase. Or for a fun, free, and sober trip "around the world" try Club Cool in the Innoventions pavilion. They offer nearly a dozen unlimited free samples of Coke products made around the world.
Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom offer a small variety of draft beer at select dining locations.
Downtown Disney, Disney's Boardwalk, and the resort hotels have the largest selections of alcoholic beverages.
One of the most important choices you must make when planning a Walt Disney World vacation is whether to stay on-site at one of the famed Disney resorts, or off-site at one of countless less expensive but more traditional hotels.
For many visitors, a vital part of the Walt Disney World "experience" is staying at one of the 23 Disney-owned and -operated resorts. Each and every one of the Disney resorts is strongly themed, impeccably maintained, and a vacation experience all to itself. Although none of the resorts can really be called cheap—in fact, most of them are luxurious and priced accordingly—the least expensive resorts have rooms for as little as $82 a night in the off-season.
On the other hand, staying off-property can have its own perks. Lodging and food costs are cheaper, with discounts more available. You can book condos or home rentals for large groups, which allows you to cook meals making dining costs even cheaper and lodging costs very cheap. Many off-site resorts do have shuttle service to the Disney parks, although the service can be limited, potentially inconvenient, and may carry a fee.
One possible compromise is to stay at the Walt Disney World Swan or Walt Disney World Dolphin, which offer a more traditional hotel experience with most of the Disney resort benefits available, or to stay at a hotel in the Downtown Disney Hotel Plaza, which are fairly generic but very close to Downtown Disney.
Check-in time at Disney resorts is 3PM (4PM for the All-Star Resorts), and check-out time is 11AM—but don't fret if your flight schedule doesn't match up. You can do an early check-in starting at 8AM; leave your bags with bell services and they'll be delivered to your room when it's ready. You'll get your Key to the World card, so you can go enjoy the parks right away. Likewise at check-out; you can get into the parks all day on the day of your departure, so just leave your bags with bell services and pick them up before you leave for the airport.
Please see each district's Sleep section for details on individual hotels.
Please note that all Disney hotel rooms and other indoor areas are 100% smoke-free.
Disney classifies their cheapest options as "Value" resorts. These resorts are great for guests with a limited budget, or for families with young kids on whom the sophisticated theming and amenities at the other resorts would be wasted. Prices (one room, two adults and two children) range from $82/night for a standard room in the value season to $160/night for a preferred room during Christmas week. There is a $10 fee for each adult beyond two per room.
The Value resorts have basic rooms with exterior entrances and minimal amenities. The theming is bold and colorful—kids love the larger-than-life decorations—but not particularly evocative of any particular environment. Hotel amenities include food courts and swimming pools, but no sit-down restaurants or other on-site recreation options.
If you have a tent, camper, or motorhome, perhaps the best value on Disney property is at Fort Wilderness (near the Magic Kingdom), where you can rent a campsite for as little as $43 a night.
These are Disney's "Moderate" resorts. Guests who want the full Disney resort experience without paying for the extra luxuries and amenities at the Deluxe resorts will be more than satisfied by the Moderate resorts. Prices (one room, two adults and two children) range from $149/night for a standard room in the value season to $250/night for a preferred room during Christmas week. Prices can go even higher for the new pirate-themed rooms at Caribbean Beach and club-level rooms and suites at Coronado Springs. There is a $15 fee for each adult beyond two per room.
The Moderate resorts have basic rooms with exterior entrances. The theming is straightforward but fun and evocative of the appropriate time and place, from the Louisiana bayou at Port Orleans-Riverside to the warm Caribbean colors of the Caribbean Beach. Hotel amenities include food courts, sit-down restaurants (usually), limited room service, swimming pools with extras (such as a slide), and some on-site recreation activities.
Disney's "Deluxe" resorts and the "Deluxe Villas" fall into this category, the largest by far.
The Deluxe resorts are for guests who want the ultimate in Disney hospitality, with luxury-hotel amenities and signature Disney experiences. Prices in this category vary widely. Some basic rooms can be had for as little as $240 a night in the value season, but more commonly start at $355/night and go up to $835 or more for the best single rooms. Luxurious suites are available at most of the resorts, starting at over $1,000/night and going up from there. There is a $25 fee for each adult beyond two per room.
Deluxe resorts feature well-appointed rooms with interior entrances and extensive theming to match the resort. A Deluxe resort's decor is evocative and all-encompassing, with as much attention paid to detail as at any of the Disney theme parks. Hotel amenities include multiple full-service and casual restaurants, often with character dining; full room service; extensive pool and beach facilities with plenty of extras; numerous on-site recreation activities; and valet parking.
The Deluxe resorts are the Contemporary, the Wilderness Lodge, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian near the Magic Kingdom; the Boardwalk Inn, the Yacht Club, and the Beach Club near Epcot, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge near Animal Kingdom.
The rental cabins at Fort Wilderness (near the Magic Kingdom) have full kitchens, plumbing, and maid service. They sleep six for $265–$410 a night.
The Deluxe villas were created to be part of the Disney Vacation Club, a time-share program created by Disney, but when DVC members aren't using them, they're open to the general public. The villas offer a more "home-away-from-home" feel, with studios and one-, two-, and even three-bedroom suites available. Prices range from $295/night for a studio at Old Key West or Saratoga Springs during the value season to $2,215/night for a three-bedroom Grand Villa at the Boardwalk or Beach Club Villas during Christmas week. If that price seems astonishing, consider that those villas sleep twelve people!
Studios have a kitchenette; the suites have full kitchens, and the largest ones, Grand Villas, have full dining rooms. Most of the DVC resorts are attached to one of Disney's Deluxe resorts, sharing amenities with the "parent" resort; the others (Old Key West and Saratoga Springs) are standalone but have comparable amenities.
The DVC resorts are Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary and the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge near the Magic Kingdom; the Boardwalk Villas and Beach Club Villas near Epcot; the Animal Kingdom Villas near Animal Kingdom; and Old Key West and Saratoga Springs near Downtown Disney.
This covers only those resorts that are not owned/operated by Disney, but are located on Disney property. Template:Web If you're going to stay off-property, be sure to research your selection well. Lots of hotels advertise themselves as being close to Walt Disney World, often with the word "Maingate" in their names, but they could be several miles away in reality.
If you or a family member is an employee or retiree of the United States Department of Defense, including the military, you're in luck. Shades of Green, near the Magic Kingdom has rooms starting at $93, depending on the employee's pay grade. Amenities are somewhat limited, though; see the full listing for details.
For everyone else, affordable deals can be found at the Downtown Disney Hotel Plaza located adjacent to the Downtown Disney Marketplace. There are seven franchised or independent hotels in the Downtown Disney Hotel Plaza. Disney amenities are virtually nonexistent; only their proximity to Downtown Disney separates them from the other hotels in Lake Buena Vista. Their prices are quite reasonable, though, considering their location.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Walt Disney World Dolphin, located near Epcot and not far from Hollywood Studios, have most of the amenities of Disney Resorts but are operated by Starwood Hotels, under the Westin and Sheraton banners (respectively). They are ideal for guests who want a more traditional hotel experience while still being right in the middle of Disney property. The whimsical exteriors are a sight to see all by themselves.
Walt Disney World is a very safe area, and spends a lot of time and money ensuring that guests remain safe. But, do not be complacent or feel completely safe. Although the parks are relatively safe, and do have guards throughout, take caution, and watch the children closely. You are in a park with strangers, and although rare, there have been problems as you would have on any street in any country. Be aware at all times, and do not allow young children to roam unattended or be too far from your sight.
The above warning applies to the following attractions:
Stitch's Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom has the same restrictions, except for the prohibition on pregnant women.
If your child does not meet the ride's height requirement, there is a "rider swap" service available. This service enables one person to wait with the child while another goes on the ride; afterwards the person waiting with the child may board the ride without having to wait in line. Ask a Cast Member for more information.
Also note that lap children are not permitted on most rides, especially if there are restraining devices.
If you are planning to visit the other Orlando theme parks, you might want to consider getting the Orlando Flex Ticket ($235), which is valid for 14 consecutive days beginning with the first use, and gives unlimited admission to Universal Orlando Resort (both parks), SeaWorld Orlando, and their water parks; or the Orlando Flex Ticket Plus ($280), which covers Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens, and also includes a free round trip shuttle bus to Busch Gardens from Orlando (see right).
For a broader spectrum of entertainment options, the Go Orlando Card  is available in increments of 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 days and gives free admission and express entry to a number of attractions in and around Orlando and Kissimmee. Unfortunately, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal are not included in the Go Orlando Card. Template:Web
International Drive , Orlando's dynamic tourist corridor, featuring a multitude of attractions, dining, and shopping, makes for the perfect side trip. Here you can also find Orlando's other two world-famous theme parks: