Here's a map to give you an idea of how the parks are situated:
Sorry about the quality. Check the Disney site for a current map.
Each park has a particular logo or landmark.
Magic Kingdom is Cinderella's Castle
Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life
Epcot is the Spaceship Earth sphere
Disney Hollywood Studios is Mickey's Sorcerer's Apprentice Magic Hat
Let's start with the most popular park--The Magic Kingdom
If you have wee little tykes, well, and even big tykes, they will want to go to Magic Kingdom (MK) first . . . the kingdom where all the princesses reside, many characters have special meet and greets, and my favorite--RIDES.
The biggest problem with going to the MK before any other park because every other park will be an emotional let-down. It all boils down to each visitor's expectations. None of the other parks come close to meeting a visitor's vision of all things DISNEY, except MK.
Don't get me wrong.
All the parks are wonderful and provide a very individual feel and style, but when people talk about going to Disney, they are really talking about going to the MK.
Here is a link to the 2013 map of the Magic Kingdom. If you happen to have an old map, then you need to realize Toon Town is no more and Fantasyland has expanded. The map is so large that I wasn't able to download it and have it be legible.
Familiarize yourself with this map. The more you can spend memorizing it the less time you waste trying to figure out what to do or where to go next. This map is available in the tunnel under the WDW railroad tracks and after you go through the turnstiles. The maps are also available in numerous languages . . . if you want to practice your foreign language or for those visitors from other countries.
So if you have one day or a few days to spend in WDW, the key is to be prepared and prioritize. If you purchased the Unofficial Guide to WDW, then they will give you all sorts of 'touring' plans to see it all, or almost all, of the park according to the time of year and traffic patterns.
Well, forget that!
Because of ALL those other people using those plans!
So how do you prioritize the park for your family?
How do you know what the height limit is for the rides?
How do you know if it's a wet ride/dark ride?
Which rides offer a fast pass?
What times do the characters have meet and greets, and where?
Which rides suggest possible motion sickness/neck and back issues?
How you figure it out is that you will do what I did--you will design a spread sheet. This section of a spreadsheet is from ten years ago when we went to Disney with our almost three year old.
Three years old is the magic number when they start charging for your child. The closer your kid is to three, the more fun everyone will have!
|Main Street USA|
|Swiss Family Treehouse--playground|
|Jungle Cruise FP|
|Magic Carpets of Aladdin|
|Pirate of the Caribbean D|
|Enchanted Tiki Birds--show|
|Splash Mountain D FP 40" SO WET|
|Big Thunder Mountain FP SO 40"|
|Country Bear Jamboree--show|
|Tom Sawyer Island--playground|
|Diamond Horseshoe Revue--show|
|Hall of Presidents--show|
|Liberty Belle Riverboat|
|Haunted Mansion D FP SC|
|It's a Small World|
|Peter Pan's Flight D FP|
|Mickey's PhilharMagic 3D--movie FP|
|Cinderella's Golden Carrousel|
|Winnie the Pooh D FP|
|Snow White's Adventures D|
|Dumbo the Flying Elephant|
|Mad Tea Party MS|
|Mickey's Toontown Fair|
|Mickey's Country House|
|Minnie's Country House|
|Hall of Fame--meet/greet--pictures|
|Barnstormer at Goofy's Farm|
|Space Mountain D FP 44" SO|
|Indy Speedway 52" to drive|
|Astro Orbiter MS|
|Carousel of Progress--show|
|Buzz's Space Ranger Spin D FP|
|Stitch's Great Escape D FP SC 40"
|SO---Switching off option|
This spreadsheet was originally designed when my daughter was almost three and visited WDW for the first time. Many of the rides have changed, but you can see at a glance what the rides/shows offer. This information is available on the Disney website and the unofficial guide. Take the time to design your own spreadsheet.
Only you know what information is pertinent to your family's choices for fun. We're a ride family and rarely go to the shows, but if you like the shows, then you need to know that the lines form roughly 30+ minutes prior to the show.
Switching Off -- this is an option where one parent rides the ride and switches off by taking the child so the second parent can ride the ride. It's quite common for parents to do this, so don't feel bad if you have to switch off. Disney is all about making the experience 'magical' for every member of the family.
Fast Passes -- think before you get a Fast Pass.
- Fast passes have return times. Check the time window for your return. Is it during a parade, or show, your daughter has her heart set on seeing? Do you have meal reservations on the other side of the park at this time? Will your kids be 'Disney'ed out' for the day and need to chillax at the hotel pool?
- A specific number of fast passes are generated for a particular window of return time. Some of the popular rides (Toy Story at Disney Studios, for example) will run out of fast passes within an hour of opening their gates. Or the return time will be 8:00 PM. Will you really be at the park at that time?
- Once you get a fast pass, you are locked from getting another fast pass until an hour before your fast pass is useable. For example: At 8:00 AM, you get a Fast Pass for Space Mountain with a return time of 2:00 PM. But you discover the line for Splash Mountain is 90 minutes long and you don't want to wait. You won't be able to get a fast pass for Splash Mountain until 1:00 PM. . . and, by then, the return times will be during the fireworks in the evening.
- Some fast passes simply aren't worth it, mainly fast passes for shows--Mickey's Philharmagic, or Stitch's Great Escape, for example. The auditoriums for the shows are HUGE, larger than you think when looking at the piles of people in the queuing areas. Don't fass yourself about it, and just plan to wait.
- Some fast passes are worth it, BUT you miss the pre-ride areas for a particular ride. The new-and-improved Winnie-the-Pooh ride is one example. The pre-ride area has fun things for the little ones to play with in Rabbit's garden.
- We've been known to get a Fast Pass for a later time AND then wait in line to ride the ride. Space Mountain is one we do this on. This gives us the opportunity to enjoy the queuing area with it's 'space invader' type games, but then we can usually turn right around and blow past everyone to ride the ride again.
*Hints & suggestions:
- Prepare your children to the fact that the characters are BIG. They might look small on TV, but they are big in person!
- Go early, leave early--whether it's for a nap or a swim in the pool. Everyone needs to decompress.
- Adults--stop at WalMart or a liquor store to buy adult beverages for your hotel room. You might want a beer at the Magic Kingdom, but you won't find any . . . unless they are serving it at the new Be Our Guest Restaurant in Fantasyland.
- Don't expect your little one's to be able to handle getting up early AND staying up late for the fireworks. Pick your poison, and plan to return to see it all when they are older
- Find a good seat early if you want to enjoy a parade. Sometimes you can walk up to a great place, but if it's the crowded time of year, budget some time to sit and chill.
- Keep hydrated. Florida is freaking hot and humid. Tempers flare when one is hot, hungry and tired.
- Don't push your kids to do something they don't want to do. If you have to, ride the ride first and then truthfully tell them what to expect.
- Even if you have older kids, don't miss out on some of the 'kiddie' rides. Peter Pan is NOT to be missed!
- Sometimes you can get on rides when everyone is waiting for the parade or fireworks. There's something about watching the fireworks while riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or Astro Orbiter. Been there, done that!
- If you don't want to wait in line for Dumbo, then ride Aladdin's Magic Carpet or the Astro Orbiter, both are a similar type of ride.
- Space Mountain seats one visitor behind the other, NOT side-by-side. If you have back or neck issues, you might want to rethink this ride. Have a family member reconnoiter the ride before you get on. I love it, but . . . it does jerk the crap out of you.
- Don't bother renting a stroller. Teach your kid to walk OR take an umbrella stroller.
- Some rides you might not be interested in, but take your time and wait in line. You've all heard of the It's a Small World song--yes, that particular earworm will stick with you the entire day!--but the ride is fun, colorful, and the kids love it.
- I didn't want to ride Peter Pan for the longest time since I never really liked the movie--GO ON THE RIDE! How many times do you get to ride in a flying ship??
That's it for now. I'm sure I've forgotten more than I wrote down. If you want more info then please ask me in the comments or email. I love Disney and will always talk about my experiences!