Beginners Guide to Disney World

01 December 2023
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There’s no end to what you can experience on a Disney holiday. Dash through galaxies on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom. Globetrot eleven countries at Epcot and go deep-sea exploring with Nemo. Try a soft serve Dole Whip, make a wish at Cinderella’s well, have tee-time on a golf course, and succumb to spa pampering after a day of park fun.

Inspired by a mouse and larger than some countries, Disney World Florida is “imagineered” to provide a whole new dimension of magic. Every aspect of your Neverland adventure is sprinkled with fairy dust. Horses wear special clip-clop shoes. Smellitzer machines pump vanilla and strawberry scents into the air. All visitors are called guests and ever-friendly Disney characters never point their fingers – even Grumpy the dwarf considers it rude. This is the place where elephants fly, and grown-ups wear Mickey Mouse ears.

If all of this sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. Disney World Orlando covers over 100 square kilometres and is made up of four major theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom; and two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Getting there, getting around, and making the most of all the magic on offer requires careful planning, which is why we’ve put together the ultimate beginner’s guide to Disney World.

When to go:

Deciding when to go depends on what you want to experience, and your sensitivity to massive crowds and heat. Disney World Florida is sunny for most of the year, but it does experience some pockets of rain during the cooler months.

The park is busiest during school holidays, around Thanksgiving and Easter, and during the festive season from late December to early January. Mid-February to mid-April is a good time to set off on your Disney World trip as crowds are moderate and the heat is bearable. However, some rides are likely to be closed for maintenance.

Getting there:

Most flights to Disney World from Johannesburg have at least one stopover with a variable flight time depending on your airline. Don’t forget your “visitor for pleasure” visa when entering the United States.

Where to stay:

Staying at a Walt Disney Resort hotel places you at the centre of all the magic, close to the theme parks and water parks. You also enjoy the benefits of complimentary transportation to and from theme parks and water parks, extra magic hours before parks open and after they close, first access to FastPass+ to reserve certain shows and attractions up to 60 days before arrival, and free MagicBands.

What to see and do:

Trying to relive all your childhood Disney fantasies (even with the help of some pixie dust) could take a year. So, make a list, relax, do what you can, take your time and enjoy the rides.

  • Magic Kingdom: Visit the Haunted Mansion to encounter hundreds of ghoulish illusions.
  • Epcot: Experience the techno-wizardry of a scientific-themed Future World.
  • Hollywood Studios: Go 0-60 in 2.8 seconds on the Rock n’ Roller indoor roller coaster.
  • Shop: Shop the world of Disney for Mickey Mouse souvenirs.
  • Monorail: Hop on Disney’s Monorail system for a fun way to get around.
  • Blizzard Beach: Test your grit on the world’s fastest body slide.
  • Wishes Nighttime Spectacular: Witness the power of imagination, story, fireworks and special effects.
  • Character Dining: Breakfast with Donald, lunch with Mickey or take tea in Wonderland.
  • Animal Kingdom: Go on a safari on a Disney World trip.
  • Universal Studios: See a wand choose a wizard and soar above Hogwarts Castle.
  • Romantic dinner: Hire a sitter, splurge and book a candlelit dinner for two.
  • Discovery Cove: Swim with dolphins, snorkel, relax on a beach and feed tropical birds.

Getting around:

Specific Walt Disney Resort hotels offer complimentary transportation and parking. Disney World Orlando is as big as San Francisco, so consider hiring a stroller for your littlies.

Become best friends with your Disney World Florida map and focus on one area at a time to avoid darting back and forth. Also, remember to book experiences and attractions in advance and jump the queues with a FastPass+.

Top tips:

  • Disney Florida packages include a dining plan, but if you’d like to treat yourself to a table-service dinner, pre-book a restaurant.
  • Make use of the Disney Baby Swap ‘rider switch’ policy where one parent rides an attraction, while the other waits in the next ride queue with your toddler.
  • Allow yourself some rest time by starting early and avoiding the park from 3pm to 4pm when it’s melting-hot and crowded.
  • Wear comfy walking shoes.
  • Keep a handy stash of disposable nappies, over the counter medication, and hand wipes – these are readily available on site, but you’ll save money by bringing your own.
  • Slather on the sunscreen, take generous glugs of water, and wear your hat and sunglasses.
  • Ride all or at least one of the headliner roller coasters – you can’t possibly head home after your Disney holiday without having screeched your way down a steep incline.

Rediscover your inner child on a Disney holiday. Let’s get planning!

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