Welcome to my Disney overview! I’m so excited to walk you through all things Disney World. But first: a little backstory on my history with Disney. My first trip to Disney World was at the age of 7. It was my Grandmother’s dream to go to Disney and unfortunately she never made it. So my Dad made it a goal to take me to live out his mom’s unaccomplished wish. My parents scrapped together everything they could to take me. And truthfully, it was kind of a disaster. Our trip was in the dead of February, snow season in the Northeast. In the middle of an ice storm, we headed to the Philadelphia International Airport before the sun was even out. Long story short, it took three planes, two airport stops, and almost 12 hours to finally make it to Disney World. We lost a whole day. Despite the disastrous start, I truly loved it. And my parents did too. We wound up visiting 4 more times throughout my childhood and into my teen years. While visiting after graduating high school, my Dad started up a conversation with one of the young cast members. It was in that brief conversation that I learned about the Disney College Program, an internship for college students looking to gain work experience with the Walt Disney Company. Four years later, I participated in the 2012 Fall Disney College Program. I’ve been back a few times since then and witnessed a lot of changes; some I love, some aren’t my favorite. Still, it’s truly my second home and happy place. (I have also visited Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris in France. Since I’ve only been a passive visitor to both, I will not claim to have intimate knowledge of those parks like I do of Disney World.) Now, onto the good stuff!
Disney World opened in October of 1971, 16 years after Disneyland opened in California. Walt Disney died before the opening of Disney World, so he never walked it himself. But he had a huge hand in its conception. In the early 1960s, Walt Disney used a handful of dummy corporations to acquire over 30,000 acres of land outside of Orlando. Some of the names of these dummy corporations, like Ayefour Corporation and Latin-American Development and Management company can be seen in the windows of the stores on Main Street U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. Other names of dummy corporations, like Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation, were repurposed. Today, Reedy Creek is the name of the Fire Department located on Disney World property. Roy Disney, Walt’s brother and the business brain behind the Disney Empire, opened the first theme park, the Magic Kingdom, which is very similar to Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom and has been mirrored at other Disney resorts around the world. It is the first and the classic. The four remaining theme parks, Epcot, MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios), and Animal Kingdom opened in 1982, 1989, and 1998 respectively.
Today, Disney World houses 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 27 themed resorts, nine non-Disney hotels, multiple golf courses, a camping resort, entertainment venues, and shopping centers including Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney. Disney World hosts guests from all over the world, including its Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members who have the opportunity to stay at specific DVC resorts and are eligible for special discounts. These special discounts are also extended to annual passholders.
I exclusively use Disney World’s website when booking my vacation. I know there are other sites but prefer to book direct so assume that everything I talk about from here on out is done by using their website. When planning your vacation to Disney World, it’s important to understand your timelines. Disney World reservations open up on their website 6 months in advance of the start day of your vacation. Depending on the time of the year, some resorts will book up quicker than others, especially if you’re looking at the holiday season. Something else to be aware of: resort blocks open up at different times. So if you’re browsing your options and see Pop Century available and then a week later, it’s no longer available, this means they sold the specific block of rooms that was open.
When you book your vacation, your account is automatically assigned a Magic Band for each person in your party. You can customize your colors and names 90 days out. Be aware that Magic Bands are complimentary for guests staying at a Disney hotel. All other guests must purchase their Magic Band or will receive cards as their tickets. Magic Bands are an incredible piece of technology. In the style of a bracelet, everything for your vacation is linked to it. You use this Magic Band to access your room, utilize your Disney Dining Plan, and use scheduled FastPasses. You can also link your credit card so that you do not have to carry anything other than your band to the parks. Fun fact, I was working at Disney World when they first began the rollouts of the Magic Bands. Disney spent over $1 billion on this piece of technology and its implementation around the resort. They had no idea if it was going to work since it had never been done before. Lucky for them, it’s been a huge success.
It is imperative that you make dining reservations prior to your visit. Walk ins to full service restaurants are rarely accepted at the top restaurants, especially during peak seasons and peak dinner hours. Dining reservations also open up at the 6 month mark of your start date. This can get frustrating if you’re looking to book some of the top restaurants. Because it is 6 months out from the start of your vacation, you can book your entire vacation’s dining experiences at once, even if your last day isn’t within 6 months. This means that if someone’s vacation started just one day before you, they’ve had access to the reservation system longer than you have. Plan ahead and have plan b’s if you don’t immediately get your first choices. And keep checking! Cancellations happen all the time meaning you’re never truly locked out.
FastPass is a system by Disney to help guests plan their days in the parks and skip most of the lines for a particular ride. Reservations for FastPass open up 90 days prior to the start day of your vacation. The reservation system works similarly to dining reservations in that some people may have had access to the reservation system longer than you have. Top attractions book out fast so it’s important that you book as closely to the minute of your 90 day mark as you can. Guests can reserve 3 FastPasses per day, per park. This means all 3 FastPasses must be booked in the same park; you can’t split them between multiple parks. In the old days, you could get just about as many FastPasses per day as you wanted. Truthfully, I miss the old FastPass system. It allowed for more spontaneous adventures and it was almost like a game trying to figure out how to get as many as you could in a day. But you can still have a lot of success with the new system. Fun fact: Disney did not actually implement the original FastPass system for guest benefit, as they advertise it (and as I said above). It was a security tool designed to better control crowds in specific areas of the park. With FastPass, they can better gauge and direct how many people are in which parts of the parks. As guests, we just benefit from it. Crowd control is actually something Disney is experts at but not something we often think about. Their crowd control expertise is sought after by companies around the world. TSA actually consults with Disney often when discussing airport crowd control, although let’s be real. They haven’t been as good at it as Disney, am I right?
Complimentary transportation is provided through a variety of means throughout the property, depending on your location. Buses are provided for every Disney resort to and from the parks as well as to Disney Springs and the two water parks. Each park offers park to park transportation for those park hopping. Certain resorts also offer boat and monorail transportation, detailed a bit more in my resort post. Recently, Disney began partnering with Lyft to provide guests with the Minnie Van option picking up guests at their hotel and dropping them off wherever they would like to go. This option is more expensive than traditional Lyfts and Ubers, which are also available.
Throughout my Disney series, I go into each piece of the park in detail. Hotels, dining, individual parks, and additional offerings all have their own posts. So if you’re looking for more in depth information about each piece of Disney World, make your way back to the Disney Series homepage and get started!