Everything You Need To Know About Walt Disney World

20 November 2015

Walt Disney World is truly like no place on earth. Tackle this epic theme with our tips on the best spots to eat, shop, stay and play.

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The Magic Kingdom & Beyond

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Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, really is a world unto its own. At roughly twice the size of Manhattan, this monolith of Disney magic comprises four main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), two water parks, more than 30 choices of accommodation and 300+ dining options.

There's a little bit of magic stitched into every pair of Mickey Ears and sprinkled onto every candy apple at Walt Disney World, with the power to bring out the kid in all of us. Walt Disney World is a place for generations of Disney fans to meet their favourite silver-screen princesses, heroes and even villains, indulge in a little nostalgia, and get their hearts racing on some of the world's most iconic attractions.

The Essentials

  • Country: USA
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Visas: Australians holding valid passports can apply for a ESTA visa waiver, provided their travel is for 90 days or less.
  • Tipping: Tipping at Walt Disney World is common practice, especially at restaurants where 15–18% is recommended. Cast Members (general park staff) do not accept tips.
  • Electricity: USA power outlets are set at 110–120 Volts using an A / B socket. You will need an AUS  to USA adaptor.
 You'll love Walt Disney World even more when you're in the know! (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Orlando Weather

Temperature (avg °C) Rainfall (max mm)
J - 21.5 J - 61
F - 23 F - 61
M - 25.5 M - 96.5
A - 28 A - 66
M - 31 M - 89
J - 33 J - 193
J - 33 J - 185
A - 33 A - 180
S - 32 S -155
O - 29 O - 89
N - 25.5 N - 56
D - 23 D - 66

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GETTING THERE

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It's a lengthy journey from Australia to Orlando, but good things come to those who wait. The most common flights to Orlando include a stopover in either Los Angeles or Dallas, with other popular stopover options including Honolulu, San Francisco and New York City.

The journey can take anywhere from 20 to more than 24 hours depending on your departure point and length of stopover. You will clear customs and immigration upon arrival into the United States, before continuing your journey via a domestic flight to Orlando.

If you're staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can take advantage of the complimentary Disney's Magical Express shuttle service between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Walt Disney World, departing from Terminal B, Level 1.

Flight Information

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GETTING AROUND

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 All aboard for Walt Disney World! (Image: Ashton Rigg)

By Bus

Walt Disney World's free public bus system is by far the easiest and most efficient way to get around, with busses travelling between all Disney resorts, theme parks and water parks. Buses run from 45 minutes before park opening time to one hour after the parks close and until 2:00 a.m. at Downtown Disney (soon to be known as Disney Springs).

By Monorail

The monorail is an enduring symbol of Walt Disney's futuristic thinking. There are three separate monorail lines at Walt Disney World connecting Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian Resort, Polynesian Village Resort, and Epcot via the Transportation and Ticket Centre. The monorail is complimentary for resort guests.

By Boat

Given that many of the resorts at Walt Disney World are set on Orlando's iconic lakes, it makes sense that you can get from Point A to Point B by boat. There are water taxi connections to the Magic Kingdom a handful of resorts close by, and to Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney.

Did you know...? There are hundreds of 'Hidden Mickeys' throughout the parks, purposefully placed on buildings, attractions and even in shrubbery by Disney's Imagineers.

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WHERE TO STAY

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 A pop of colour at Disney's Art of Animation Resort (Image: Ashton Rigg)

There are a whopping 31 different accommodation options on offer at Walt Disney World, from high-end resorts to family-friendly abodes and even a campground thrown in for good measure!

If you're travelling under time constraints, location is key. Planning your accommodation strategically will ensure you don't wait precious Disney moments getting from one end of the 103-square-kilometre park to the other.

For a truly unique experience, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and wake up to giraffes and zebras ambling along the savannah outside your window.

Our top picks

Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Step into a world of colour at the Art of Animation Resort. This budget-friendly resort is perfect for large families, with suites catering to as many as six people. Bunk down with Mater and Lightning McQueen in Radiator Springs, stay under the sea with Nemo or Ariel, or say 'hakuna matata' to a Lion King room.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

As the newest and most luxurious of resorts at Walt Disney World, the Grand Floridian oozes style and sophistication; it's not uncommon to see brides and grooms saying their 'I dos' here. The Grand Floridian is well connected to the parks, just one monorail stop or a 5-minute boat ride to the Magic Kingdom.

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WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

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 Oo la la! Parisian fare at Epcot (Image: Ashton Rigg)

There are more than 350 dining options at Walt Disney World, from casual buffets to dinner shows. Along with a swag of eateries, Downtown Disney (soon to be rebranded as Disney Springs) is home to a fleet of food trucks peddling iconic fare like chicken and waffles.

To really take your tastebuds on an adventure, head to Epcot. This permanent World's Fair is home to a world of fare, from German biergartens to Parisian patisseries. And remember: you can always rely on Starbucks for a decent coffee and a spot of free wi-fi!

Our top picks

50's Prime Time Cafe
Disney's Hollywood Studios

Kitschy in all the right ways, the Prime Time Cafe will transport you back to 'mom's kitchen' circa 1950. Sit down for a classic TV Dinner of Cousin Ann's Traditional Meatloaf, Mom's Old-fashioned Pot Roast or Aunt Liz's Golden Fried Chicken – or try a little of everything with all the fixings. Finish it off with another blast from the past: a pineapple upside down cake. Reservations are highly advised (as are using your manners; no elbows on the table!) and don't forget that entree in America is equivalent to our main.

Sanaa
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

Sample the spice of life and a unique outlook at Sanaa. The Indian-style bread service is a must to start, with a delicious assortment of naan bread paired with raitas, chutneys and pickles that cover the spectrum of spice. Expect tikka, tandoori and other mouth-watering flavours from India and Africa among the many delicious mains. If you're lucky enough to score a table by the window, you'll have a front-row seat to zebras, giraffes and gazelles exploring the savannah outside.

 A taste of Africa at Disney's Animal Kindgom Lodge (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Character Dining

Along with 'FastPass' and 'MagicBand', 'Character Dining' is a phrase that will soon be added to your Disney vocabulary. Imagine Pluto coming around to give you a cuddle in between bites of pancakes, or having an in-depth Q&A with Alice In Wonderland about the benefits of eating dessert for breakfast. Character Dining is a unique Disney experience and one that you should definitely book in advance.

Our top picks

1900 Park Fare
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Step back in time at the charming 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort with a Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, a Wonderland Tea Party, or a Happily Ever After Dinner featuring  Cinderella herself. Characters who might drop by for a photo op include Mary Poppins, The Mad Hatter, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh.

Tusker House Restaurant
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park

Would you like a safari with that? Tusker House at Disney's Animal Kingdom is an ode to a colourful Harambe marketplace, with traditional decor and your favourite characters donning their best khaki threads. The buffet overflows with delicious grilled meats, curries, veggies and salads. Save room for a snap with Safari Mickey!

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SHOPPING

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 So many souvenirs, so little time... (Image: Ashton Rigg)

LEGO lovers will find their mecca at Downtown Disney, where you can make a family portrait of little yellow characters or even build your own droid from Star Wars. Pin trading is serious business at Disney.

You will see people weighed down with metal they've collected over several years, and Cast Members (staff) displaying their favourite pieces proudly. There's a pin for practically everything too, from the Haunted Mansion attraction to Mickey's little-known predecessor, Felix the Lucky Rabbit.

While you shouldn't leave without a pair of personalised Mickey Ears, another unique purchase to be on the lookout for are the collectible Vinylmation characters. Make it interesting with a lucky dip!

Our top picks

Emporium
Magic Kingdom Park, Main Street U.S.A

You can really lose yourself in a sea of souvenirs at Emporium. There's no shortage of places to get a pair of Mickey Ears or a plush Pluto at Walt Disney World, but Emporium is the cream of the crop. It's the largest souvenir shop in the Magic Kingdom and perfectly positioned for some last-minute shopping as you exit the park. You'll find everything here from Vinylmation figures to Minnie Mouse aprons.

Disney's Days of Christmas
Downtown Disney

Are you one of those people who listen to Christmas carols year-round and put up the tree on December 1 without fail? If this sounds like you, Disney's Days of Christmas is a must-stop shop in Downtown Disney. Stuffed full of festive joy, this shop specialises in Christmas ornaments and yuletide decorations, not to mention a dedicated Frozen room. Christmas decos make for the perfect keepsake to relive the Disney magic every December.

Disney Souvenirs

A pair of Mickey Mouse Ears is the quintessential Disney souvenir, but you're by no means limited to the classic black. These days, 'ear hats' come in all shapes and sizes, from Star Wars' R2D2 to Chip 'n Dale, plus sequinned mouse ear headbands for all the Minnies out there. You can get your Mickey Ears and other apparel personalised with an embroidered name or monogram too!

Other classic souvenirs include the cuddly plush toys, silhouette cut-outs, keep-cups and, for the kids, an autograph book to collect the scribbles from their favourite characters around the park. Pressed pennies are a fun and easy souvenir too, with penny pressing machines located all throughout Walt Disney World.

TIP: If you want to save your credit card from a workout and those pesky transaction fees, consider putting some money onto a Disney gift card and using that for all your souvenir shopping.

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TOP ATTRACTIONS

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 Use your FastPass+ and avoid the queues (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Cinderella Castle

It's impossible to miss Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. Inside reveals character dining at Cinderella's Royal Table and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which offers magic makeovers for little princes and princesses.

Splash Mountain

You'll be singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah as you glide along a gentle river passing all sorts of country critters. The Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain ends in a splash – down a five-storey waterfall!

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Climb aboard an open four-wheel-drive for a journey through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, where your tour guide will help you spot rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, lions and more, roaming wild and free.

Star Tours: The Adventure Continues

In a galaxy far, far away, a 3D flight simulator will launch you into the world of Star Wars, travelling to the worlds of Tatooine, Naboo and Hoth. May the Force be with you.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Wondering where those bloodcurdling screams are coming from? Take the elevator up the Hollywood Tower and be greeted by otherworldly hotel guests, before plummeting 13 storeys.

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SHHH... INSIDER SECRETS

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 Your MagicBand is your best friend (Image: Ashton Rigg)

FastPass+

FastPass+ is your best friend at Walt Disney World. Once you've purchased your ticket and have linked it to your online Disney World account, you can choose three attractions per day and reserve your timeslot, allowing you to jump the queue at the most popular rides and shows.

Extra Magic Hours

Imagine having one of the theme parks at Walt Disney World (mostly) all to yourself! Extra Magic Hours is a special perk for guests staying at Disney's resorts. Each day, one park opens an hour early and stays open two hours after closing. All resorts have weekly schedules of the Extra Magic Hours.

Park Hopper

When purchasing your Walt Disney World tickets, there are a few add-ons worth considering including the Park Hopper option, which gives you same-day access to all four theme parks. If you want to visit Disney's Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon water parks, you'll need the Water Parks Fun & More option.

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MORE OF FLORIDA

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 There's even more to love in Miami!

While you're in the Sunshine State, why not broaden your scope beyond the Magic Kingdom? Orlando is conveniently located in the middle of the Florida peninsula, making it a great base to explore more of this great southern state.

Miami

From the Art Deco district to its yacht-filled marinas, Miami is pure eye candy. Miami turns up the heat with its unique Cubano influence – the neighbourhood of Little Havana is particularly popular for food tours. Miami is renowned for its sun-kissed beaches. South Beach is perfect for partiers, while quieter stretches of sand can be found at Miami Beach Central.

Tallahassee

Florida's capital tends to get overlooked in favour of glitzier destination, but this genteel Southern town should be high on the list for history buffs. Tallahassee is especially outdoorsy, home to the world's largest freshwater spring and endless nature trails. There's also a growing craft beer scene, perfect for beating the Florida heat after you've hit the trails.

Tampa

Tampa is an eclectic mix of family-friendly fun, Spring Break revelry and big-league sports. It's a great place to (safely) see 'gators in the wild or catch a ballgame in the warmer months. The revitalised Ybor City historical district offers a glimpse at Tampa circa 1880, with its main thoroughfare even recognised as one the 10 Great Streets in America.


Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Walt Disney World Orlando.


Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg