Walt Disney World Florida is right at the top of many family’s “must-see” holiday destinations, and we were lucky enough to be invited to the park as guests, as part of our trip to Florida with Visit Orlando last half-term.
With only one day to spend at Disney, we only saw a tiny fraction of what was on offer, visiting the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. On a tight schedule, we certainly made the most of our VIP tour guide, who walked us miles around the park in just 10 hours (I’m not kidding – our fabulous guide, Fred, had a pedometer which showed we walked 13,000 steps around Disney that day).
Magic Kingdom is the original Disney park – based on fairy tales and classic Disney characters – you’ll find Main Street and the famous castle here. Hollywood Studios – as you’d guess from the name – is more about Disney movies, from Jurassic Park to Toy Story.
If you fancy a VIP tour experience, then you can book a guide for around $300 an hour for a group of up to 12 people. Having a guide is amazing – they know the best routes to get from anywhere to anywhere, they find you the best spots to watch the shows, parades and fireworks, and they can take care of everything from lunch reservations to finding you the nearest restroom at a moment’s notice. As a VIP guest, you’ll also have unlimited Fastpass access, which means you can join the express lines at the most popular rides and attractions.
I think I’d splash out on a guide if I ever visited again – visiting Disneyworld Florida is so expensive and such a rare opportunity, that spending an extra hundred pounds or so per person in a large group seems like a small price to pay to ensure we had as much fun as possible. The Disney guides are incredibly knowledgeable in pointing out little things you’d otherwise miss, and our guides were so fantastic with the children, making the day extra special for them. That said, you don’t have to be a VIP to have an amazing experience at Disneyworld.
Here are our highlights of the day:
The absolute best ride for all the family in Hollywood Studios is Toy Story Midway Mania – if you’ve played the video game, it’s like being put in the middle of this Toy Story carnival, and you get to shoot all kinds of targets and see your competitive urges get WAY out of control. It’s a REALLY popular ride, so head there early to get a Fastpass, if at all possible.
There are a few brilliant rides for mini thrill-seekers – Flea’s favourites in Hollywood Studios were the Aerosmith Rock and Roll Coaster (0-60mph in three seconds) and the Hollywood Tower of Terror, which is lots of fun and genuinely spooky! These are the two big rides in Hollywood Studios so I’d suggest you try and go straight to one to get a Fastpass, then ride the other while the queues are still small.
Take in a show for a chance to sit down – the Lights, Motors, Action show was great in Paris, but in Florida we went to see American Idol, where you get to see people auditioning for the chance to audition for the ‘real’ American Idol and the live audience get to vote for who wins. It was a fun experience, and Flea is still outraged that “her” singer didn’t get through!
In the Magic Kingdom, the big attraction for 2013 is the new Fantasyland, which is a must-see for any young (or old) fan of Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid. There are themed rides and a new Princess Hall, along with the Be Our Guest restaurant, where you can be served lunch in a hall that’s a perfect copy of the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast. There’s even a glass dome with a magic rose inside, if you hunt carefully enough!
There’s something a little quaint about the Magic Kingdom – the rides here are all gentle, with the biggest thrills to be had on Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain, both ideal coasters for younger kids.
The buildings and scenes are all so beautifully designed that it’s fun to just to walk around and take it all in – and if it gets too hot, I’d recommend the “LeFou’s Brew” at Gaston’s Tavern – a refreshing mixture of frozen apple juice and marshmallow with a mango foam topping. It’s a bit less sweet and sickly than the Butterbeer over at Universal, and comes in a souvenir tankard or princess cup, for just under $10.
The park is busy, especially in Fantasyland, so make sure you keep a refillable water bottle with you. If it all gets too hot, head for the circus-themed water playground next to the train station, where the kids can be sprayed with water by a variety of circus animals – the toilets are on one side of this playground and it can make for a fun game of “dodge the spray” if you don’t want to get wet. I lost this game, obviously, much to Flea’s amusement.
However you choose to spend your day at Disneyworld, there’s only one sensible way to end it – with the Disney Electric Parade, which winds its way down Main Street. The lights on the buildings are all dimmed, and it’s a fabulous spectacle. You need to get a good spot well in advance for the parades – it’s worth noting that the parade usually starts at the large gates just at the start of Main Street, and you’ll get a great view here.
When the parade finishes, there’s a 30 minute gap before the start of the first fireworks show of the evening. This year, the theme of the show is “wishes” and it’s the sort of moment you put your camera down, hold hands with someone special, and just enjoy the magic of it all. So you’ll have to excuse the one, slightly dodgy photo below – I was too busy dealing with something that seemed to have got caught in my eye at the time…
Five Top Tips for Walt Disney World, Florida
- Wear comfortable shoes. It’s an absolute essential as the parks are HUGE, and there’s lots of walking – you won’t notice until the next morning quite how much of a pounding your feet can take
- Plan a show for the hottest part of the day – especially during the summer, when a bit of air conditioning will revive everyone
- Download the free Disney Magic app – you can plan rides and check show times, but once you’re inside the park it will let you check how long the lines are on different rides
- If it’s your first visit, get one of the “first time” badges from Guest Services and people who work at the park will be EXTRA nice to you
- All around Disneyworld there are hidden Mickeys – if you visit the Be Our Guest restaurant in the new Fantasyland, see if you can spot the hidden Minnie on the painted ceiling!
We visited Disneyworld as part of a trip to Florida as guests of Visit Orlando. All admission tickets, travel and accommodation costs were met by Visit Orlando. You can find more photos of our trip over on Facebook. Heading to Orlando? Why not check out the Orlando Holiday Planning tool, and read our other reviews of Florida attractions: