I just completed the Disney half marathon, along with about 18,415 other participants. Starting in the parking lot at Epcot at 5:30 am I ran on the dark highways of Orlando into the Magic Kingdom, where Cinderella's castle was a fantastical beacon in the pre-dawn light. The hard part was leaving Walt’s original Florida park and running back to Epcot.
Where to Stay:
When heading to Disney, you have a basic choice to make- stay on-site, or off. Staying on-site can be quite expensive if you opt to stay in a luxury villa, or inexpensive if you stay at a camp site operated by Disney for as little as $55/night. Our family loves Animal Kingdom, a room with a view of the animals never disappoints. (Disney even opened homes for ownership, if you have an extra $3-5 million plus you need to spend, check out Golden Oak.) Like everything Disney the cleanliness and attention to detail, no matter where you stay, is meticulous. If you arrive by plane, you can even use the Magical Express, a bus from the airport. Disney picks up your bags from the airline and whisks them off to your room, making it the easiest transition from airport to destination in the world. (This is included with your room if you stay on-site.)
Whether you stay on resort or not you can get a RFID wrist band (a Magic band) that serves as a park ticket, room key, FastPass+, credit card, and all around magic wand.
So, while there’s an option for every visit- housing on-site requires more advance planning than almost any vacation out there. It is safe to say starting to plan 13-15 months ahead is about the right lead time. Though, you can always do a last minute visit and gobble up someone else's cancellation!
Where to Go:
Animal Kingdom- have a child that loves animals? Do you love animals? This is the most wooded and shaded park, making it the hands down winner for our family, especially in the summer. Between the Avatar world (Pandora) and ride, the Safari (do the behind the scenes tour if you have the time and money!), Expedition Everest, and the Kali River Rapids, it is easy to spend multiple days here. This is just the tip of the ice burg! Make sure to go to the Lion King show too- pretty amazing!
A member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, Animal Kingdom is more than just thrills and rides, there is serious work going on here to help endangered species.
Magic Kingdom- the granddaddy of them all, home to the iconic castle -this is what you think of when you think of Disney. Home to the Princesses, Disney main street parades and the traditional cartoon characters, the barbershop quartet, the list goes on and on and on- not to be missed! Especially the fireworks shows. And a quick tip- stay after the show and experience the shortest lines on those rides that had hour long waits during the day!
Epcot- Of that 48 million visitors to Disney World a year about a quarter go to Epcot, which actually stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Opened in 1982, EPCOT is one of four parks that take up more than 25,000 acres. The World Showcase of countries is as close to Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, China, Mexico, Morocco (1984), and Norway (1988) as many citizens of the US will ever get. Staffed with people from these countries, this is a G rated trip around the world with none of the hassles of international travel (though for me, that’s often the fun part of the trip!). Considering the scale of Disney, the cuisine from around the world is remarkable good. Test Track is the fastest ride at Disney, Norway has the newest ride with Frozen Ever After, and if you have little kids with you, Turtle Talk with Crush is one of the cutest things in the world. Crush actually engages with the children- Disney magic at its best. Disney biologists produce 30 tons of food a year from the gardens at Epcot that is used on-site, with a focus on sustainability and food safety and production, there's a lot going on behind the glitter and sparkle.
Hollywood Studios: In a few short months the most anticipated expansion at Disney is arriving. Star Wars is about to arrive in the form of a resort experience like no other, complete with Star Wars Resort. Costumes will be provided for your stay and magic keyed to your band, you will apparently be a Sith or a Jedi... and who knows what else will happen!
Well, this is just a little smidgeon of Disney, there are tons of blogs and research out there brought to you by Disney fanatics (http://thedisneymoms.com/); but, as the child of people who scoffed at the Magic of Disney, I can tell you this magical place has got to be seen to be believed, and is quite the place to visit!
Please let us know your tips about visiting Disney!