Theme Parks at Walt Disney World
Mickey Mouse baloons float over Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom during twilight

Walt Disney World's Theme Parks

A Brilliant Guide from Wishful Thinking


In our Brilliant Guides, we simplify things. Get expert tips for first-timers & returning guests. Perfect for Disney newcomers & travelers from abroad, we cover the basics & highlight what matters most.

In our Brilliant Guides, we simplify things. Get expert tips for first-timers & returning guests. Perfect for Disney newcomers & travelers from abroad, we cover the basics & highlight what matters most.


Walt Disney World's Theme Parks

Four thrilling theme parks, two fun-filled water parks, hundreds of fine restaurants and shops, endless outdoor recreation, and world class entertainment. Let’s break down all your options.


Stop imagining Walt Disney World as just the Magic Kingdom. It’s time to explore all four of Disney’s distinct & dazzling theme parks, including EPCOT, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

Many first-time visitors incorrectly think of the Magic Kingdom as “Disney World.” If you’re new to Disney, let’s go over a few key things you need to know.


The four parks are not side by side. Remember: Walt Disney World’s property boundary covers an area of 43 square miles, roughly the size of San Francisco. It can take 25-30 minutes to drive between theme parks. EPCOT and Hollywood Studios are relatively close, but it still takes about 15 minutes to travel between those two parks.

Each is unique. They’re equally exciting, and they’re all very large, full-day parks. Many Disney guests have a favorite park — which may change over the course of a lifetime — but it’s easy to find fans of each. Read on to learn what distinguishes each park from the others.


The one with the castle. And the nostalgia. And more annual visitors than any theme park on the planet.

• Popularity: Extremely popular; the most-visited theme park in the world. Predicted 2023 attendance: over 20 million guests.  

• Vibe: classic, magical, inspirational.

• Theme: At Magic Kingdom, you’re a dreamer. This is a fun-filled land of adventure and fantasy with dozens of iconic Disney attractions, characters, and experiences. Forget the idea that this is a childrens’ park — easily half of the adults here aren’t accompanied by kids.

• Major attractions: TRON Lightcycle / Run, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, it’s a small world, Dumbo the Flying Elephant | Learn more about the most popular rides >

• Character Appearances: Regular appearances from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Alice, Ariel, Aladdin, Aurora, Belle, Buzz Lightyear, Chip & Dale, Cinderella, Country Bears, Eeyore, Elena, Fairy Godmother, Flynn Rider, Gaston, Jasmine, José Carioca, Judy Hopps, Mary Poppins, Marie, Max, Merida, Miguel Rivera, Mr. Incredible, Mirabel Madrigal, Moana, Mulan, Nick Wilde, Panchito, Peter Pan, Rapunzel, Snow White, Stitch, Tiana, Tigger, Tinker Bell, Winnie the Pooh.  View our ultimate guide to Walt Disney World’s character appearances >


The one with the giant metallic geodesic dome. Explore the worlds of science, technology, and nature. Walk through some of the world’s greatest cultures.

• Popularity: a bit less popular now, because it’s undergoing a massive renovation and transformation. Expect significant crowds when Moana: Journey of Water opens in late 2023.

• Vibe: tech geeky, fascinating, culturally immersive.

• Theme: At EPCOT, you’re a discoverer. After a significant re-theme, the park is now divided into different neighborhoods. At World Nature, World Celebration and World Discovery, you’ll visit pavilions that both inform and entertain. With the help of beloved Disney and MARVEL characters, you’ll learn about everything from the Big Bang to the aquatic world and the future of sustainable farming. In the World Showcase, you’ll discover delicious cuisine, cultural experiences, and ambassador-esque Cast Members who personally hail from 11 different countries. Thanks to its many outdoor bars, festival kiosks with tapas & small plates, and seasonal festivals, the World Showcase is a beloved destination to “drink around the world.”

• Major attractions: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Soarin’, Test Track, Frozen Ever After, Spaceship Earth | Learn more about the most popular rides >

• Character Appearances: Regular appearances from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Alice, Anna, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Elsa, Jasmine, Joy, Mary Poppins, Vanellope von Schweetz, Winnie the Pooh. View our ultimate guide to Walt Disney World’s character appearances >


The one with the classic Hollywood feel, plus two of the newest lands: one devoted to Toy Story and the other to Star Wars.

• Popularity: extremely popular, largely due to the ongoing popularity of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and the eagerness to ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. 

• Vibe: punchy, cinematic, escapist.

• Theme: At Hollywood Studios, you’re a storyteller. You literally enter into the world of the films and become part of the story. Because it’s got more thrill rides than the other Disney parks, this park is particularly popular with older kids & young adults. There’s not a whole lot for very young kids to do here; the smallest children are mostly consigned to character stage shows.

• Major attractions: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Slinky Dog Dash, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith | Learn more about the most popular rides >

• Character Appearances:  Regular appearances from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Chip & Dale, Pluto, Buzz Lightyear, Edna Mode, Elastigirl, Green Army Men, Jessie, Mr. Incredible, Sulley, Woody, Doc McStuffins, Fancy Nancy, Vampirina, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, Rey, Stormtroopers, Vi Moradi.  View our ultimate guide to Walt Disney World’s character appearances >


The one with the safari. Guests come face-to-face with more than 300 mammals, birds, and reptiles who freely roam through beautiful savannahs and tree-lined explorer paths. This is far more than a zoo; about half of the park features fun-filled rides & attractions inspired by animals — both real and fantastical.

• Popularity: less popular than Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, but the area devoted to the “Avatar” films is a major draw and features one of the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World.

 Vibe: natural spectacle, granola crunchy, relaxing serenity.

• Theme: At Animal Kingdom, you’re an adventurer. Come face-to-face with fascinating animals and enjoy state-of-the art attractions in a lush, verdant park. Relax in the shadows of huge overgrown trees, listen to the sounds of tumbling waterfalls, and see dozens of free-flying tropical birds overhead. Musicians, dancers, and animal experts from Africa and Asia bring their native cultures to life, inviting you to interact with a multicultural global village. 

• Major attractions: Flight of Passage, Expedition: Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris | Learn more about the most popular rides >

• Character Appearances: Regular appearances from Moana, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Chip & Dale, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Kevin, Dug, Russell, Launchpad McQuack, Meeko, Pocahontas, Rafiki, Timon. View our ultimate guide to Walt Disney World’s character appearances >

Get prices for theme park tickets ▸

Snow White, looking lovely, shows off the bow in her hair within EPCOT's Germany Pavilion at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida


Don’t spend your Florida days melting in the humid hot sun. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are ready to cool you off with refreshing, high-key thrills.  

If anything at Walt Disney World deserves to be more popular, it’s their two terrific water parks. Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon offer full days of fun with an affordable admission ticket. It’s especially affordable to add the water parks to a Park Hopper ticket.

Learn more about tickets for the water parks >


Imagine a snowy mountain ski resort where suddenly the temperatures soared and everything melted into slippery, splashy fun. That’s the concept behind this colorful aquatic adventure park. 

• Popularity: quite popular, especially during the summer, although a bit less popular than Typhoon Lagoon. It tends to close for longer refurbishment periods during the winter months.

• Vibe: whimsical, quirky, with bright and colorful ski lodge schmaltz. Disney extends its clever concept in all directions, including a “chair lift” that carries guests to the top entry points for the waterslides and a music soundtrack of holiday classics (as interpreted by California surfer bands).

• Major attractions: Summit Plummet, Teamboat Springs, Slush Gusher, Cross Country Creek

• Characters: it’s not uncommon to see Goofy — in his surfing outfit — greeting guests here. In 2023, a newly themed splash area for youngsters welcomed characters from “Frozen,” including Olaf, Anna, Elsa, Kristoff & Sven.


A massive wave pool, twisty waterslides, and a tropical village where everything’s tipsy — tossed to and fro as if a huge typhoon has just blown through.

• Popularity: very popular, especially in the summer months. And yet, even on its most crowded days, you can always have day full of splashy fun without much waiting around. Your fun is more likely to limited by thunderstorms than anything else.

• Vibe: tropical, tranquil, Caribbean island chill. In every way, this park is both fun and relaxing for guests of all ages.

• Major attractions: Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool, Crush & Gusher, Miss Adventure Falls, Humunga Kowabunga

 Character meet & greets: none are scheduled year-round, but it’s not uncommon to see Goofy, Lilo or Stitch greeting guests here.


Tickets are required for all water parks guests. View our tips on how to select the right ticket >


No; Disney does not require Park Pass reservations for visits to Disney’s Water Parks.


Nearly all guests bring a tote bag and then pick a “home base” beach chair for the day. Theft is very rare here, so many will leave their tote bags unaccompanied, but we suggest that you store electronics and valuables within lockers. It’s wise to bring your own sunscreen; the gift shops do sell popular brands. A change of clothes isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’d like to finish your day at a nearby area like Disney Springs (where restaurants and stores would not welcome guests in merely a swimsuit).


Both water parks feature private decks and cabanas which you may rent for the day: Beachcomber Shack cabanas (at Typhoon Lagoon) and Polar Patio cabanas (at Blizzard Beach.) You may rent them for a full-day or a half day.

You get a private space to relax for the day, your own private locker, fresh towels, and a cooler stocked with ice and bottled water. Plus, if you’d like to order food or drinks, you don’t need to queue up at the quick service locations: a server will bring them directly to you.

To rent a cabana, call 407.WDW.PLAY (407.939.7529)


Each water park has a wide selection of quick service restaurants and relaxing bar / lounges. There are no table service restaurants. The cuisine could easily be described as “theme park American” — ie., lots of burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza, and hot dogs — but thankfully, there are a handful of plant-based options and some terrific Caribbean jerk chicken.

Get price options for water park tickets ▸


Hungry? So is everyone else. But don’t dream of showing up at Disney’s most delectable restaurants without a reservation. 

There are more than 200 restaurants within Walt Disney World property, including 90 full-service sit down restaurants. Are you ready for a dizzying set of menu options which span the globe? Walt Disney World breaks down their eateries into three main categories: Table Service, Quick Service, and Kiosks.


A traditional restaurant set up, where you sit at a table, you order off the menu, and servers bring your food. All table service locations accept reservations; it’s often impossible to dine at the best restaurants without a reservation.

 Locations: Of the 90 table service restaurants around all of Walt Disney World, 30 are located within the theme parks themselves. The others are located at the Disney resort hotels or at Disney Springs.
• Dining style: Disney offers three styles of table service: fine dining, casual dining, and character dining. Select a fine dining restaurant for cloth napkins, tablecloths, wine glasses, specialty cocktails, and food that aims to impress. Here, the cuisine is prepared by gourmet chefs and served with artful, stylized presentations on the plate. Choose a casual dining restaurant for the feel of a local family restaurant, with paper napkins, more affordable prices, and a focus on comfort food classics. Some casual dining restaurants feature self-service buffets. Select character dining to enjoy your meal as beloved Disney characters pass through the restaurant, posing for photos and interacting with guests. 

• Popularity: Table service restaurants are the most popular (and most delicious restaurants) at Walt Disney World. If you want to eat well at Disney, it’s vital to book dining reservations well before your arrival. The most popular restaurants will be fully booked months in advance; anyone can make a free dining reservation 60 days before the date of your meal.

This is how Disney defines “fast food.” You place an order with Disney’s smartphone app — or wait in a physical queue and place an order with a cashier — then up your order from a counter, and sit wherever you like.

• Locations: Walt Disney World features quick service dining in all four theme parks, both water parks, every resort hotel, and at Disney Springs. The menus are surprisingly varied, with cuisine that goes far beyond burgers and chicken sandwiches. You’ll find vegetarian and vegan options, asian noodles, mediterranean grain bowls, sushi, barbecue and pulled pork, and a terrific variety of breakfast foods. 

• Popularity: the quick service restaurants are busiest during peak lunch and dinner hours (11:30 – 1:30 PM, 6-8 PM) which can make it a challenge to find an available table. Especially if you’ve got a larger party, you’ll probably want to avoid dining at those times. Disney’s quick service restaurants are better than your typical fast food joints, but it’s unlikely that you’ll remember the taste of anything you eat here. One thing to keep in mind: Disney’s quick service meal portions tend to be very large, which make them ideal for sharing. 


Walt Disney World’s kiosks offer some of Disney’s most unforgettable treats, from ice cream bars and popcorn buckets to churros and turkey legs.

• Locations: food service kiosks are scattered throughout Disney’s theme parks. Here’s where you’ll find a variety of frozen treats, including the iconic Mickey Mouse ice cream bar. Others serve delectable savory treats like pulled pork atop macaroni & cheese. Throughout the year, EPCOT hosts seasonal festivals where food kiosks serve a tremendous variety of cuisines from around the world. 

 Popularity: some of snacks sold at Disney’s kiosks have their own iconic, cult-like status. Disney’s upped their snack game considerably in recent years, with brightly colored snacks that were built to earn likes on Instagram. 


Walt Disney World hosts an ever-evolving selection of private dining experiences & events like fireworks dessert parties, fireworks dining packages, live entertainment dining shows and EPCOT festival dining demonstrations. Each of them requires a pre-paid, date-specific ticket; they’re set up differently than standard dining reservations.

Learn how to book tickets for dining experiences & events ▸


All Walt Disney World dining can be booked via the MyDisneyExperience website or smartphone appYou may also call 1.407.WDW-DINE (939-3463), but the wait to speak to a representative is often long. If at all possible, rely on the website / smartphone app.

View our guide on how to book Walt Disney World dining and what’s most popular ▸

If Wishful Thinking books your Disney vacation, we can book all your dining reservations for you. 

Let’s set up your Walt Disney World vacation ▸



Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort delights guest with a tasty hand-scooped ice cream sundae


No more tacky souvenirs and forgettable food. Designer stores, gourmet chefs, and free entertainment await you at Disney Springs, and it’s fully open for dining, shopping and live musical performances.

Disney Springs is a popular waterfront district devoted to dining, entertainment, and shopping. It’s home to more than a dozen of Orlando’s very best restaurants, over 50 speciality stores, and multiple outdoor stages hosting free performances nightly.

This area has changed names many times — it has previously been known as the Walt Disney World Village, Pleasure Island, and Downtown Disney. But after its recent expansion and rebranding, Disney Springs offers a vibrant community atmosphere and a terrific sense of place. It’s equally inviting for adults, kids, and families of all ages. You can head here for a fashion-focused shopping spree, go out with the grownups for a night of bar-hopping, or bring the kids to eye-popping toy stores and perky theme restaurants. From the description, this might sound like a glorified shopping mall, but it’s got far more:

Incredible Restaurants | Disney lured some of the brightest stars of the culinary world to open restaurants here. If you don’t watch “The Iron Chef” or follow the James Beard Awards, you may not know the names of Masaharu Morimoto, José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Art Smith, or Wolfgang Puck. But anyone who samples their incredible cooking knows a good thing when they’ve tasted it, and their restaurants here are honored as some of the most successful restaurants in the entire country. You’ll find everything from affordable quick service spots — where Chef Morimoto offers phenomenal ramen to-go — to sleek and swanky hotspots that make for a memorable date night. If you’re just here for a short visit, you can treat yourself to a Sprinkles cupcake, swing by a tasty taco truck, or enjoy a lakeside stroll with a microbrewery brew or a Starbucks coffee in hand. In recent years, the must-visit location here is Gideon’s Bakehouse, famous for its half-pound cookies which are very instagrammable.

• Stylish Stores | Only about half the stores at Disney springs are focused on Disney merchandise. (Thankfully, nearly everything you might see within the theme parks is also available here, plus a wide selection of designer handbags, jewelry, and apparel.) The other half includes upscale fashion shops like Coach, Kate Spade, Anthropologie, Uniqlo, Lacoste and Zara. Many kids get excited about the massive LEGO store, the Build-A-Dino workshop, and the huge retail temples devoted to M&M’s and Coca-Cola.

• Customized crafts & gifts  | If you’re looking for fun, kid-friendly activities to do as a group, you’re in luck. More than a dozen stores offer the chance to create your own customized crafts & gifts. At Uniqlo, you can create customized t-shirts and tote bags. Create your own signature scent at L’Occitane, create your own candle in the Marketplace, build a colorful bag of bath salts at Basin, or even decorate your very own dome cake at Amorette’s Patisserie (reservations required).

• Bowling | Splitsville Luxury Lanes is unlike any bowling alley you’ve seen — the bowling alleys are located all around the multi-level restaurant, giving you and your group the chance to feel like you’ve got a private bowling lane all to yourselves. The food’s terrific, too — especially the sushi! Make a lane reservation at Splitsville >

• Live Entertainment | In addition to the eye-popping spectacle of Cirque du Soleil’s terrific original show Drawn to Life, Disney Springs features multiple outdoor gathering spaces where every night, terrific musicians give free, live performances. You might be surprised by just how good these performers are; Disney’s talent bookers are on point! They’ve helped make Disney Springs a go-to-destination when you’re ready to relax and simply while away an evening. On Saturday mornings, kids are invited to join the fun with interactive kids-focused entertainers. On every night of the week, grownups are invited to have a seat with a drink and enjoy the atmosphere while a golden sunset sinks into the sparkling waters of Lake Buena Vista.

Disney vacations can feel frenetic and overwhelming if you’re constantly in the parks. Disney Springs can feel like a transporting, blissful escape.

To make sure you don’t miss out on the best of Disney Springs, get brilliant tips from our community ▸


No one should feel more exhausted when a vacation ends. A visit to a Disney Senses Spa can rejuvenate your year. And, select Disney resort hotels offer haircuts, blowouts, and full styling.

Yes, you can actually relax on a Walt Disney World vacation. Disney owns and operates two full-service spas. Senses — a Disney Spa at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Senses — A Disney Spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

Additionally, there’s a Mandara Spa at theWalt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. 

Disney also hosts four full-service hair and nail salons; they’re located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort, and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Here are a few ways to add a spa or salon visit to your Walt Disney World vacation:

• Schedule an afternoon escape | The spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is just a five-minute journey from the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. During the park’s busiest afternoon hours, dash over to the spa for a relaxing massage, a refreshing cucumber-scented bath, or a revitalizing facial. If you’re in no hurry to return, perhaps enjoy the complimentary whirlpool or steam room until it’s time for dinner. After a relaxing meal or a glass of wine at one of the Grand Floridian’s delicious restaurants, you can head back to the Magic Kingdom and finish the day with fireworks. (If you’re at EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, consider the nearby Mandara Spa or Ship Shape.)

• Enjoy some alone time as a couple | Disney’s spas offer couples massage and side-by-side treatments that range from 50 minutes to two hours. If your vacation is a romantic getaway, this just might be the highlight of your entire trip.

• Treat the kids | Both spas and all four salons at Walt Disney World offer manicures and pedicures for kids aged 4 to 12. They must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times — this isn’t a full escape from parenting — but they’ll surely smile when they get a special sweet treat at the end of the service. You can bring in the kids for a quick haircut too. Take note: this is different from the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique.

• Get into the act with a character-inspired makeover | Each of Disney’s four full-service salons feature Character Couture, which are individualized makeovers inspired by your favorite Disney characters or themes. Whether you’re going for an evil villainess, an elegant princess, a brave hero, or a galactic defender, Disney’s professional stylists will skillfully work their makeover magic and take “Disney bounding” to a whole new level. Learn more >

Reservations are required for most of these services. View the spa and salon services and locations ▸


Ready to stop staring at screens? Dose up on some next-level adrenaline at dozens of outdoor activity areas.

What outdoor activities do you enjoy? Chances are good that you can do it at Walt Disney World. At dozens of dedicated recreation areas, everyone is invited to enjoy some fun in the great outdoors. And, you don’t need to be a Disney resort guest.

A few quick points about recreation and sports at Walt Disney World:

• Anyone can participate.

• Generally, you don’t have to be a Walt Disney World resort guest to partake in the fun. Although many of these activities are located on the grounds of various Walt Disney World resort hotels, only those which place within the pools of specific resorts are limited to their own guests.

 The costs are wonderfully affordable — and sometimes free. Pricing can change from year to year, but nearly always, the prices for these activities are quite low, especially compared to many other things at Walt Disney World.

• Space is limited, and reservations are often required. Disney only has so many volleyball courts, motor boats, and fishing poles. To keep things fair, Disney often asks for advance reservations, and you can usually book your reservation 180 days in advance.

Call Disney’s recreation line for info and reservations. Call 407-WDW-PLAY (407.939.7529) to inquire about the availability, pricing, and schedule for each of the activities listed below. (Some are subject to seasonal availability).


  • Archery
  • Basketball
  • Bike Rentals
  • Boat Rentals
  • Canoe Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Foot Golf
  • Golf — Walt Disney World has 4 PGA-level golf courses
  • Horseback Riding
  • Horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides
  • Kayak Rentals
  • Miniature Golf
  • Motorboat Rentals
  • Pony Rides
  • Pool Tables
  • Running Trails
  • Surfing — lessons and private sessions
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball

Discuss cool ways to add recreation to your trip: join our Facebook group ▸


Walt Disney World in 2024 & 2025

When is the best time to visit? How busy will it be in the theme parks?

Why should I book a hotel on-property vs. off-property?

What’s located at each theme park? What’s a must at Disney Springs?

What rides, dining, & experiences are most popular & need reservations?

How can I combine park tickets, dining, and hotel stays to save money?

What are realistic tips for transportation and getting places on time?

How much do park tickets cost? Which ticket options save money?

When & where do I use the smartphone app, Genie+ and MagicBand?

Join our community!

Ask questions. Share your favorite travel stories. Get expert-level free help for any Disney travel destination around the world. You’re invited to join our Facebook group! As Yzma would say, it’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

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Lovely girl is out for a walk

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Disney pays us to help plan your trip, from your first wish list until your departure. We’ll even assist you during your vacation until you’re happily back home.

Our trip planning is free. When you book a Disney vacation through us, you’ll pay the same price as if you booked it on your own, yet enjoy the bliss of a talented Wishful Thinking travel planner.

A Wishful Thinking travel planner is:

  • Bright. We’re nerd-level experts on Disney’s past, present and future.
  • Talented. We’ve been designing travel itineraries around the globe for 15 years.
  • Realistic. We help you prepare for everything and set honest expectations.
  • Whimsical. Spontaneous fun often produces our most treasured memories.
  • Inspiring. We’re still kids at heart who believe in the power of dreams.

It’s never too early to start planning!


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