An Intro to the Wonderful World of Disney – what is WDW?

How many of you grew up watching the “Wonderful World of Disney” on TV? I know when I was a kid, watching Tinkerbell fly over the castle, and wave her wand, made me want to be instantly transported from my parents’ living room in Corner Brook, Newfoundland to Orlando. Maybe that’s why my I’m so fanatical about the place now. Disney truly is a place of magic. My own family never tires of it – trip #18 to Orlando is now in the planning.

Most kids and adults alike want to go to Walt Disney World. But when newbies try to dip their toe in the water, it can seem a little like they’re jumping in a strong current meant only for the best swimmers.

No fear. First – make sure you have my number 🙂 – check! Get your life jacket (if you really can’t swim) – check!  Now, jump in!  C’mon. The water’s warm!

Here’s a little intro to just what is the Wonderful World of Disney in Orlando, Florida.

First things first – Walt Disney World is huge.  47 square miles of reclaimed swamp land huge! And any place that huge comes with maps and guides galore, and an alphabet soup of acronyms. Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando is much larger than Disneyland (DL) in Anaheim. (In fact, WDW has parking lots bigger than DL.)  While there are similarities (especially in Magic Kingdom), the two Disneys are quite different.

WDW encompasses 4 major theme parks, two water parks, 22 onsite resort hotels that range from value to super deluxe, a sports complex, shopping, over 100 restaurants (many award winning), and a wide assortment of other recreational activities.

There are four major theme parks to WDW. They are Magic Kingdom (MK), the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow (EPCOT), Hollywood Studios (HS – although formerly known as MGM Studios), and Animal Kingdom (AK).

MK has seven different bits, or “lands” as Disney calls them. Each section has its own flavour and feel; with references to Disney movies usually in abundance.  Each “land” has its own theming, and theme-related “attractions” (which is what Disney calls its rides and roller coasters, shows or movies, adventures, or learning experiences – everything gets lumped under that name) .

First, there is Main Street USA – a nostalgic tribute to days of yore, with streetcars, barbershop quartets, horsedrawn wagons, and a little town with stores, bakeries, ice cream shops, and a city hall. (My favourite part of each trip is  slowly walking down Main Street USA, taking in the sights and smells, and then walking towards Cinderella’s castle).

Then there’s Adventureland with the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, the Jungle Cruise, and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Frontierland has Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Liberty Square has the Haunted Mansion and Liberty Belle Riverboat. Fantasyland has Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel (my first ride each trip), It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s flight, Dumbo, and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Mickey’s Toontown Fair has Goofy’s Barnstormer, and Toontown Hall of Fame. And Tomorrowland has Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, and the Carousel of Progress.

MK reigns supreme for kiddies, but there is also a lot for teens and adults to do. It is my family’s favourite park. We always get park hopper passes, because no day at Disney feels complete unless we spend some time at MK – even if it’s to see a parade or watch the fireworks.

Epcot is divided into two main bits or sections: Future World and World Showcase. For the IT geeks and kids that love gadgets, Future World is home – there are many interactive games and displays about science and technology. My kids love the “Image It” /”what if” labs, and the Imagination Pavilion.  And, of course, Soarin’ is one of my family’s all-time favourite rides. Mission Space, Fast Track, and The Seas with Nemo are also well-loved.

World Showcase has pavilions from around the world – you can walk around the lagoon, and visit Mexico, Canada, the UK, China, and Italy (among other countries). Each pavilion in World Showcase has attractions, restaurants, and shops.  You can learn about each country, see an attraction (the rides in Norway and Mexico are great), and eat in spectacular restaurants. (Le Cellier, San Angel Inn, and Coral Reef are particularly good spots.)

HS is the third park, and its theming, not surprisingly, is related to movies.  There is a Playhouse Disney for the little ones. There are also a lot of princess activities with the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, as well as a large Belle show, with oodles of princess merchandising.  

For the action folks, there’s the Indiana Jones stunt epic, the Lights Motor Action stunt show, the American Idol experience, Star Tours, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, and my family’s new fave ride in HS – Toy Story Mania.  One event that shouldn’t be missed at HS is the Fantasmic! show. It only runs select nights now, but it is quite the show to take in in the amphitheatre – all Disney characters appear at some point, and Sorcerer Mickey battles evil in an awesome show.

AK is the fourth park, and it is themed around animals. There is a lot of attention given to animal conservation and protection too (e.g., no straws or plastic lids on drinks – which can be problematic with wee ones. Bring your sippy cups.)

There is the Kali River Rapids ride that my family loves (you’re going to get wet – either deal with it, or wear a rain poncho), and the Kilimanjaro Safaris. My 10 year old loves Expedition Everest – I’ve ridden it once, and likely won’t again. (It was the scariest ride I’ve ever been on). I’d rather ride Tricera Top Spin with my 4 year old, and learn about  Dinosaurs in the boneyard (or ride the big dinosaur ride). 

One of my family’s favourite activities is to take in the Lion King show at AK. My husband, Bill, has quite a record of being selected to be one of the audience participants they recruit for each show. It’s quite a wonderful show, with huge floats, monkey acrobats, and characters from the movie, and some pretty terrific singing too. Well worth taking in. (Note, though: AK is open, with little shade – so it can get killer hot – wear a good hat, and go early in the day.)

Plan your days around the “extra magic hours” when you’re staying at an onsite hotel. Since you’re working with me, you already know which park is open early, and which is open late. You already have your dining reservations in hand. So you can hop between the four major theme parks each day, depending on hours and extra magic hours, see the parades and fireworks, work around the crowds, and just have an awesome time!