Hello readers, your friendly guides editor Chris here again. My family’s three-week trip to Walt Disney World wraps up in a few days, so before we head out of here I thought I’d put together a list of fun and awesome things to do at the four main parks — Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
People new to the parks are often overwhelmed with the number of attractions, shows, and restaurants there are to try. Then they see how long the lines are at many of the best attractions. (Two hours isn’t unheard of in some cases, which is why I highly advise planning ahead with the Fastpass+ system.)
They quickly realize it may not be possible to do everything in a day or two at any given place. This list of my family’s favorite activities may help narrow things down a bit.
Note: There are plenty of things not mentioned on this list that are still fun and/or worthwhile; I am sure to have left off something you either have enjoyed or would enjoy, or something I simply haven’t tried myself yet. I can only write from my own experiences.
WDW’s primary park, the one with Cinderella’s castle in the center. For this reason, people often think of (and sometimes refer to) Magic Kingdom as Disney World itself.
The park is split into a handful of themed “lands” that circle around the castle: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Obviously you should explore all of them while visiting, but here are the attractions, etc that I would recommend:
- The Barnstormer (Fantasyland) — If you’ve got kids in your party— or adults who usually don’t care for thrill rides — this junior roller coaster is surprisingly fun.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Frontierland) — The classic roller coaster just about everyone thinks of when they think of Disney World (Space Mountain being the other).
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Tomorrowland) — A moving, shooting-gallery game that has you spinning your vehicle and firing lasers at targets throughout for points. It’s fun to compare scores with family members at the end, but then again I usually win against my wife and 4yo son so I may be biased. (Pro tip: there’s a target in the first room worth 100,000 points per hit.)
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Fantasyland) — As far as I’m concerned, this newer coaster is essentially Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but slightly gentler and with a Snow White theme. That’s not to say it isn’t fun though, because it is. The “dark ride” section in the middle with the Seven Dwarfs animatronics is excellent.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (Adventureland) — A favorite of ours because the ride is longer in duration and, when we’re visiting in the summer, an entertaining way to escape the heat for a while.
- Jungle Cruise (Adventureland) — The main draw here, at least for us, are the skippers’ dry puns and sarcastic jokes. Some skippers are better than others, so you may have to ride multiple times for best effect.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle (Fantasyland) — A group of parents and kids, some of whom are selected to play various parts, go into a room where the story of Beauty and the Beast is told by Belle herself and a few of the castle’s characters. My son got chosen as the Beast last time we went in (it was so cute), and I’ve been selected to be one of the knights in the past.
Wishes Nighttime Spectacular (Cinderella’s Castle) — An awesome fireworks show that includes a bunch of video projections on the face of the castle. The fireworks can be viewed from anywhere in Magic Kingdom, but the best viewing area is in the central plaza in front of the castle.
Unfortunately, the area becomes packed with people an hour or two beforehand (yes, people do wait that long in advance) and cast members are tasked with keeping the walkways clear and/or moving along, so finding a good spot can be tricky. Prepare in advance.
- Main Street Electrical Parade (various locations) — There are plenty of parades, dance parties, and shows-on-the-street that spring up around the park all day, but the nighttime Electrical Parade is easily the coolest with its brilliantly-lit floats and characters.
- ‘Be Our Guest’ Restaurant (Fantasyland) — Here, you actually get to eat in Beast’s castle from Beauty and the Beast. They’ve got multiple rooms to choose from, each based on castle sets seen in the film.
- The Crystal Palace (Main Street, U.S.A.) — If you don’t mind dropping some money on a meal, Crystal Palace offers a delicious breakfast buffet (I haven’t tried their lunch or dinner buffets yet, but have heard good things) where you get to meet Winnie the Pooh characters while dining.
- Liberty Tree Tavern (Liberty Square) — You may or may not have to make a reservation way in advance, but the large Thanksgiving-style dinner is worth it.
- Sleepy Hollow (Liberty Square) — The waffle sandwiches here are where it’s at. I recommend the one with nutella and fresh fruit and the sweet-and-spicy chicken one. Mmm.
- Tortuga Tavern (Adventureland) — Affordable barbecue sandwiches with beef brisket or pork. Need I say more?
- Main Street Bakery (Main Street, U.S.A.) — Basically a full-service Starbucks. A caffeine godsend.
- Aloha Isle (Adventureland) — The place to get Dole Whip, a pineapple soft-serve treat that you’ve got to try at least once. I don’t even care for pineapple much but this stuff is delicious.
- Stitch’s Great Escape! (Tomorrowland) — I don’t know why they haven’t shut this one down yet, it’s so lame. If you must try it, know that the unnecessary shoulder harnesses they use are super uncomfortable and there’s a point where a character “belches” a stinky smell near your head.
- Tomorrowland Speedway (Tomorrowland) — If I wanted to drive a car in traffic, I’d just leave Disney World.
- Tom Sawyer Island (Frontierland) — There are a couple neat caves to explore I guess, but the rest is meh and getting a boat ride to and from the island takes too long.
Originally conceived as Walt Disney’s vision of a utopian city of the future, Epcot is my favorite of the four parks. Half of Epcot (aka Future World) is a sort of ongoing World’s Fair with attractions and celebrations of human achievement, and the other half (World Showcase) is like a miniature trip around the world with individual countries — each with its own restaurants, shops, etc — arranged around a lake.
Spaceship Earth (Future World) — You know that giant silver ball that is Epcot’s hallmark monument? Well it’s actually a slow ride you can go up into and see the fascinating evolution of communication, data preservation, and technological advancement throughout human history.
One of my favorite parts is when the ride takes a picture of your face near the beginning and uses it in a silly cartoon based on a questionnaire you take at the end. I always try to make the ugliest face possible for best effect. You can even have the video emailed to you afterward for sharing the laughs with your friends and family.
- Mission: SPACE (Future World) — A four-person space shuttle launch simulator that puts you in the role of navigator, pilot, commander or engineer. The G-forces you’ll experience are pretty intense, so don’t go into this one if you have any health concerns.
- Turtle Talk with Crush (Future World) — In this interactive show, Crush (the sea turtle from Finding Nemo) speaks to the audience (“Whoa, check out the humans in the human tank!”) and answers questions from kids. Every viewing is a little different thanks to the kids’ questioning, but it’s almost always hilarious.
- Soarin’ (Future World) As I write this, Soarin’ is actually closed for a huge refurbishment, but until now it’s been one of our favorite rides. Basically if makes you feel like you’re flying over a number of landscapes, some with accompanying scents for even more immersion (my favorite is the orange grove). There will supposedly be a whole new video when the ride reopens, so I can’t speak to what that will be like but I’m sure it will be awesome.
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends (Future World) — A simple “dark ride” with characters and scenes from Finding Nemo, but the animations and such are well done. I also love the seagulls at the line entrance occasionally yelling, “Mine! Miiiiiine! Mine!”
- Living with the Land (Future World) — A little boring of a ride if I’m being totally honest, but it’s a great way to show kids where food comes from and what the future of farming might look like.
- Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival (Future World) — You go into a theater and watch three Disney/Pixar short films with 3D glasses and in-theather lighting effects to go with what’s happening on-screen. This is great in itself, but my favorite part is the pre-show presentation video where John Lasseter gives insight into the creative process at Pixar.
- IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (World Showcase) — Nighttime fireworks spectacular on the World Showcase lake, complete with music, a video globe, and large fireball effects that give off enough heat to be felt all around the lake.
- Biergarten Restaurant (World Showcase, Germany) — It’s expensive for sure, but this German-food buffet with a live band and communal tables is worth trying at least once. Some of the best food we’ve had in the parks.
- Katsura Grill (World Showcase, Japan) — An affordable place with sushi, teriyaki chicken, chicken cutlet curry, and my favorite, shrimp tempura udon. Everything is delicious and filling here.
- Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie (World Showcase, France) — Like a traditional French bakery, with a number of delectable sandwiches and pastries to choose from.
- Nine Dragons Restaurant (World Showcase, China) — A sit-down Chinese place with a good variety of dishes and combination platters.
- Yorkshire County Fish Shop (World Showcase, United Kingdom) — A tiny place with good fish and chips. That’s all you need to know.
- Journey Into Imagination with Figment (Future World) — People either love or hate this ride. I happen to fall into the latter camp, and my wife in the former. YMMV.
This park draws inspiration from the heyday of Hollywood back in the 1930s and 40s. If you love movies (especially classic ones), you’ll love Hollywood Studios.
- Great Movie Ride (Hollywood Boulevard) — Ride through a series of famous movie sets (such as Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, and Singin’ in the Rain, to name a few), complete with animatronic replicas of famous movie stars, while your “tour guide” offers some insight and actually becomes involved with the story at one point.
- Muppet*Vision 3D (Streets of America) — The Muppets never fail to make me laugh, and this short 3D film experience is no different.
- Star Tours — The Adventures Continue (Echo Lake) — A motion-simulated ride through the Star Wars universe, “piloted” by C-3PO and with cameos from characters like Darth Vader and R2-D2. Each ride is a little different, and the ride now includes a segment inspired by The Force Awakens.
- Toy Story Midway Mania! (Pixar Place) — You ride through a series of screens while wearing 3D glasses, each with a different game you have to fire at. They include dart throwing, ring tossing, plate breaking, and more. Like the Buzz Lightyear game in Magic Kingdom, it’s always fun to compare scores at the end (except this ride is even more fun).
- Disney Junior — Live on Stage! (Animation Courtyard) — If you’ve got kids, this one’s a no-brainer. You sit on the floor with other families and watch surprisingly well-executed puppet versions of Disney Junior shows like Sophia the First, Doc McStuffins, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. They do a good job getting the audience involved throughout, and I’ve never seen a kid have a bad time there.
- Fantasmic! (Sunset Boulevard) — Nighttime fireworks spectacular with laser lights, animated projections on spraying walls of water, and pyrotechnics. The amphitheater fills quickly, so get there early.
- Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple (Echo Lake) — Kids get “trained” to become Jedi Knights. What’s not to love about that? The only downside for me is that I’m too old to do it myself.
- 50’s Prime Time Cafe (Echo Lake) — Like eating comfort food with a family in the 1950s, etiquette corrections and all.
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (Commissary Lane) — Your table looks like a car in a 1950s drive-in movie theater. While dining you get to watch a bunch of old clips and movie trailers, which is fun (especially the ones “predicting” the future).
- Anaheim Produce (Sunset Boulevard) — A produce stand with fresh fruit and other snacks. ‘Nuff said.
- Pizza Planet (Streets of America) — It’s nothing at all like the one in Toy Story. Pizza’s not even that great. So disappointing.
A park themed around animal conservation and nature. Lots of plant life and animal habitats to see. You could probably experience the best of Animal Kingdom in one day.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris (Africa) — Take a ride through an African savanna and view real animals along the way while the driver tells you interesting facts about each one. They stop at each animal so you can typically get a good photo before moving again.
- DINOSAUR (DinoLand U.S.A.) — Remember that movie Dinosaur? Eh, I barely do either, but this ride is a fun way to revisit it. Fair warning though: It’s very jerky and a little intense for young ones.
- Festival of the Lion King (Africa) — A live show featuring songs and characters from The Lion King. It’s superbly well done.
- Finding Nemo — The Musical (DinoLand U.S.A.) — Yes, they made a stage musical based on Finding Nemo. The songs are nothing to write home about but the stage effects alone are worth a viewing.
- Flame Tree Barbecue (Discovery Island) — The St. Louis ribs and jalapeno cornbread call my name every time I visit Animal Kingdom. So good.
- Pizzafari (Discovery Island) — What can I say, it’s pizza. I mainly like the restaurant name ¯_(ツ)_/¯
- Rainforest Cafe (near main entrance) — Yeah, yeah, it’s one of those overpriced themed chains. It’s still fun to eat there sometimes, especially when the “animals” start going wild throughout the place.
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (Discovery Island) — This “4D” show based on A Bug’s Life used to be more impressive, but it’s not aging well. Plus, I don’t like the stinky bit and the part where you’re painfully jabbed in the back by a “bug sting”.