Cheers Sippin Gypsy Travelers! This series comes to you while enjoying my Sippin Gypsy Jalapeno Margarita, inspired by one of my favorite cocktails crafted at La Cava del Tequila at EPCOT in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida!
The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida is huge, and it's still growing. Walt's vision started back in the 1960s when he solidified the Reedy Creek Improvement District that would become the Walt Disney World Resort, its own city in central Florida. I am a loyal Disney fan, pass holder for more than 10 years, and a regular visitor yearly for more than 30 years. This series comes to you with the intention of offering my tips and suggestions to make your Disney experience memorable. I have broken up the Orlando Disney Experience into three separate posts:
Cocktails and Cuisine
Each one offers tips ranging from indulging in the luxury offered while visiting Walt Disney World to money saving hints as well. I'd like to ensure my readers understand that I am in no way affiliated with Disney. These tips come from my own personal experiences and suggestions. So without further ado here are my tips for visiting the parks at Walt Disney World Orlando!
Walt Disney World Orlando offers four separate theme parks including the iconic Magic Kingdom, EPCOT which celebrates innovation and our global community, Animal Kingdom that takes you deeper into being a good citizen of our planet and animal conservation awareness as well as the new land inspired by Avatar, and Hollywood Studios where you are transported into the movies. Walt Disney World also offers two themed water parks, Blizzard Beach with is a winter summerland retreat and Typhoon Lagoon with a nod to the enchanting notion of being shipwrecked in paradise. Don't forget about the still growing Disney Springs with great cuisine and shopping, There are different ways to enjoy each of these destinations. Due to separate content for cuisine and cocktails, this post will work hand in hand with my Cuisine and Cocktails post. Use both to plan out your days on property. Although it will cost more, I am a huge fan of the "Park Hopper" option. As you will read in my tips below, you will get more out of your experience if your ticket allows you to visit multiple parks during your stay. As a good rule of thumb, leave yourself a full hour to get from resort to inside the park or between parks to a reservation or Fast Pass Time.
The first of the parks in Orlando Florida, her gates opened in 1971 and have been the gateway to magical memories for children of all ages ever since. Magic Kingdom celebrates the stories and worlds of the beloved fairy tales many of us grew up on. Magic Kingdom is always busy. This is park is consistently one of the top visited theme parks in Western Hemisphere. The rides are not intimidating and definitely built with Walt's vision of being a place for children to enjoy! I have a love/hate relationship with Magic Kingdom as a local and mother. My children still love Magic Kingdom and when asked where they want to go... majority of the time its still emphatically "Magic Kingdom!!!!" I have learned to navigate this park effectively and have found a cadence that balances my adult sanity and my children's whims. Magic Kingdom is the only 'dry park' which means you can not get even a beer or glass of wine to enjoy while walking around. So often my day will start at one of the bars at the resorts around the monorail to enjoy a cocktail or three before heading into the park for a few hours.
1. Get Fast Passes as soon as you solidify which date you will be at Magic Kingdom. If possible secure Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain and either Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. These are the attractions that fill up fast and usually have wait times for more than 1 hour for most of the day. If possible aim to get Splash Mountain between 12-2 during the hottest part of the day but before the afternoon parade. Fun fact: once your fast passes for a park have been used, you can set up one fast pass at a time per ticket to enjoy more rides as available through out the day.
2. If traveling for young guests, you can use Fast Pass reservations to secure other popular kids rides that usually have long wait times include meeting the different princesses or Peter Pan's Flight.
3. Take a break in the late afternoon/evening. Enjoy dinner at one of the resorts accessible along the monorail and have a few more cocktails. It feels good to sit down away from the bustle of the park and have another cocktail or three before heading back into the park for the evening fireworks and catching rides in the dark. Since Magic Kingdom is usually open late, you really can still maximize your time there with a two to three hour break in your evening. Just set a reservation, if you are worried about timing. Dinner time wait times can easily be two to three hours or completely booked during peak season. My usual spots for cocktails and cuisine is at the Contemporary Resort because I can easily walk from the park to the resort. Look into either California Grill orThe Wave.
4. If your agenda allows, give yourself two evenings at Magic Kingdom. The first evening to catch the night shows, but the second evening, get onto the favorite rides again. Most of the wait times drop significantly during the fireworks.
5. Use the train to transport you from each "world" this allows your feet to rest and gets you close to your next destination. We usually get the train right when we first walk in on Main Street to head to Frontier Land to enjoy Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain. to start out day. We sometimes bring our own picnic lunch to enjoy on Tom Sawyer Island before heading back on the train to Mickeys Storybook Circus and Fantasy Land.
6. Take advantage of the air conditioned theater shows, Tiki Room,. Hall of Presidents, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Bear Jamboree, and Mickey's Philharmagic Shows give you a chance to sit, cool off and recharge before the stand in line for the next round of rides. Each "land" has its own theater show. I like the cadence of "ride/ride/show" to keep things at a nice pace. So for example, for a full day at the park, I spread out my fast passes to every three hours so I have time to stop and sit to either grab lunch or catch a show and get out of the sun. My ideal cadence if I can catch ideal fast pass times:
-Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a Fast Passfor 9am/Jungle Cruise/ Tiki Room
-Pirates of the Caribbean/Swiss Family Tree House/ Bear Jamboree
-Splash Mountain with Fast Pass for 12pm/Tom Sawyer Island and lunch/Festival of Fantasy Parade
Lunch on Tom Sawyer Island (I usually like to pack a picnic lunch. The island is shaded and not usually too crowded with tables near the playground so the kids can play while I set up lunch.
-Haunted Mansion/Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with Fast Pass for 4pm/Mickey's Philharmagic
*if traveling with younger members, switch out the fast passes for experiences in Fantasy Land including Peter Pan's Flight, Under The Sea and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
-Barnstormer/Dumbo/play time inside Dumbo with, air conditioning, comfortable seats for adults and a jungle gym to exhaust the little ones
-Tea Cups/Tomorrowland Speed Way/Carousel of Progress
-Space Mountain/ Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin/Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
7. Snack and hydrate often. The crowds, walking and hot sun will exhaust you more then you realize. Bring protein bars or granola bars or stop and nibble often. I pack for a snack per person for every three hours in between meals
8. When visiting with small children, I always suggest at least one complete change of clothes. Between Splash Mountain or Mickey's Storybook Circus splash pad, they will find a way to get wet. Everyone feels better when dry and refreshed, so bring a change of shorts and shirt and toss small flipflops in the bag...let them wear flip flips when running around the splash pad, then change back into dry socks and shoes when done. Unless you are staying within the resorts accessible from the monorail and can quickly get back to the resort to change and refresh, just bring it with you and leave it with the stroller.
9. Want to indulge? If this is one of your few trips to Magic Kingdom ever and you are here during one of the Halloween or Christmas holidays, do the party! There are separate shows and character interactions, ride access and snacks to enhance the experience. The Halloween Party is one of the only times adults can come to the park in costume! So fun!!
10. Rain happens... Florida hosts the lighting capital of the world. All the parks offer lockers to rent for the day. If your forecast challenges you with an afternoon shower, wear flip flops, keep a change of shirt or dress in the locker and be patient. Most of our spring and summer rain storms are short lived and result in the most beautiful evenings with picture perfect skies and ideal temperatures to continue your park enjoyment.
Two meanings here: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow or a local favorite: Every Person Comes out Tired. Epcot has long been my favorite park since I was old enough to enjoy a true cocktail! I remember anxiously awaiting my 21st birthday to indulge at Epcot and the challenge of "drinking around the world." While this is not an activity endorsed or even promoted by Disney, I'm sure they have loved the income awarded by this rite of passage for of age Disney lovers. Epcot is one of the easiest parks to conquer timing wise. There are very few rides offered here, the real experience is in the culinary elevation at World Showcase. 11 countries artfully nestled around a lagoon offer their own culinary staples as well as cocktails and beers or wine indigenous to that country. Epcot is one of the parks to truly splurge in. Most of your experience here will be around the cocktails and cuisine offered in the park. But outside of dining, here are my tips for making the most out of Epcot.
1. Fast Passes should be acquired as soon as possible for Soarin' and Test Track earlier in your day, and the Frozen Ever After Ride in Norway. Epcot isn't as exhausting so the ride/ride/show cadence doesn't necessarily apply here, but my recommended agenda is as follows:
Test Track with an 11am Fast Past/Mission Space/Spaceship Earth
*Mission Space makes me very dizzy. I personally opt out of this ride, but my husband and kids love this ride and often try to get on several times in a row
The Seas with Nemo and Friends/ Turtle Talk with Crush/Sea Base
Lunch in The Land Pavilion from the quick service option unless you are here for the Food and Wine Festival or Flower and Garden Festival
Soarin with a 2pm Fast Pass/Living with the Land/Pixar Short Film Festival
Journey into Imagination/Image Works 'What If Labs'
Begin your trek around World Showcase. Each country offers some form of a show either via a short movie or live performances as well as shopping and beverages representing that country.
2. When you first arrive to Epcot, enjoy the experiences across Future World. That massive silver 'golf ball' lovingly called by tourists is a forward thinking ride that celebrates the growth of the human spirit in communication and technology. The ride updates regularly and currently includes interacting with guests to futuristic prototype cities including underwater living or living in space. Future World with Fast Passes won't take too long to conquer. Your family could enjoy sleeping in, an hour or two at the pool then arriving to Epcot around 11 or noon to begin your adventure.
3. Set dinner reservations unless you're visiting during the Food and Wine Festival or Flower and Garden Festival. World Showcase offers an experience of 11 countries, but you will get hungry and you need time to sit down and rest in the air condition. Pick a country that most intrigues your culinary inquisitions and set a reservation. Many of the restaurants book up quickly and it is no fun to be sippin on great cocktails and hungry. I highly recommend a seating time around 6pm. This gives you time to get back to exploring World Showcase. Or if you will have completed most of your trek around the world request an 8:30 seating time so you can watch the evening show Illuminations of Earth. The best restaurants for this agenda are: La Hacienda de San Angel in Mexico, Rose and Crown Dinning Room in Great Britain or my favorite: Spice Road Table in Morocco.
4. If you're visiting during the Food and Wine Festival or Flower and Garden Festival, give yourself two visits to World Showcase. Perhaps this means a full day at Epcot on your first visit, then back for dinner on a different day after seeing Hollywood Studios earlier that day or relaxing at the resort for part of the day. Epcot adds charming vignettes of countries not normally represented around World Showcase, and offers you at least three small dishes and a beer, wine and or cocktail from each of these additional countries. You will want time to savor unique flavors and it can not possibly be done in one visit.
5. Consider leveraging Disney's childcare services when staying at resort or setting up older kids with an agenda to keep them busy while the adults enjoy World Showcase. I use my Fast Passes for the evening for my kids to go back to Future World while my husband and I with friends enjoy a refined version of 'drinking around the world'. The fireworks conclude your evening and can be enjoyed from anywhere around World Showcase. I especially enjoy wrapping up near Great Brattain or Mexico so we can grab a cocktail during the show. The Rose and Crown Pub has a back patio that sits right on the water, and provided there isn't a private event, this is the best spot to enjoy a cocktail and fireworks.
6. Epcot is one of the parks I do not bring snacks with me to. There is so much offered in food around World Showcase that we can easily find something in every country to taste and try and keep up our energy.
Animal Kingdom is officially my favorite park on the Walt Disney World Orlando property. I appreciate the culinary elevation at most of the restaurants on property. Animal Kingdom is another one of the parks that I do not pack snacks for. The food options around the park are delicious and many of them with healthy options. I also appreciate the education dedicated to the awareness of our social responsibility as citizens of this planet to Animal Conservation. Here are my tips for Animal Kingdom:
1. Secure Fast Passes for Avatar Rite of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids. Use the same cadence I suggested for Magic Kingdom to attempt ride/ride/show. My example for a day at Animal Kingdom is as follows:
Dinosaur/Primeval Whirl/Finding Nemo Show
Expedition Everest with a 12pm Fast Pass/Kali River Rapids with a 1pm Fast Pass/Maharaja Jungle Trek
Lunch from the quick service options in Africa Harambe Market and cocktails from the Dawa Bar across the way.
Kilimanjaro Safari/Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail/Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch
Lion King Show/Avatar Flight of Passage with a 6pm Fast Pass/Na'vi River Journey
Dinner and Cocktails at Tiffin *reservations highly recommended or dinner from the quick service station in Pandora Satu'li Canteen.
Tough to be a Bug/Tree of Life Awakenings Show/Rivers of Life Show
*Animal Kingdom also offers several private tour experiences that can truly enhance your visit. Most of these adventures are geared for older explorers from Teenager to Adult. Look into these depending on your travel party and budget.
2. Pack a change of clothes for after Kali River Rapids. While they do have a small water tight container in the middle of your raft for your shoes and personal belongings, you most likely will get soaked. I just put our items in the lockers across from the ride, and 'go with the flow' If we are soaked I have options to change.
3. Animal Kingdom after dark is a lot of fun. There are several live performances around the park conveniently adjacent to bars. Friends and I sometimes go to the park just in the evening for drinks and to walk around and enjoy the music and time together
4. The Land of Pandora is really spectacular at night with creative lighting and the bio-luminescence effect. If you aren't able to follow the above agenda, get back to Pandora in the evening just to check it out!
5. My kids really enjoy time in the Dinosaur Dig Sight. If your time permits you just want time to sit and sip on a cocktail consider taking them back here during a block of free time in between rides or before dinner.
This park is undergoing massive enhancements that will require my updating tips and a suggested agenda regularly over the next two years. Since acquiring the Star Wars franchise, Hollywood Studios has been adding exhibits and shows that indulge fans that tap into The Force. Hollywood Studios is also opening Toy Story Land in June of 2018 and expanding the Star Wars experience through 2019. This is still a park worth visiting until these exhibits open and expand, but you may be able to conquer this park in the first half of the day so you can experience more at other parks in the evening, or take the morning and afternoon to relax at your resort and come to Hollywood Studios in the late afternoon and stay for the night shows!
1. Secure Fast Passes for Tower of Terror, Rockin Roller Coaster and Star Tours, or if traveling with younger ones, switch out the Tower of Terror and Rockin Roller Coaster for Toy Story Mania and The Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. As usual I try to balance out rides and shows to give us time to sit and rest in between exploring.
Star Tours with a 9am Fast Pass Time/Muppet Vision 3D/Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
Tower of Terror with a 12 noon Fast Pass Time/ Rockin Roller Coaster with a 1pm Fast Pass time/Beauty an the Beast Show
Lunch *I try to hold off on lunch until after the Tower of Terror and Rockin Roller Coaster
After this my kids and Star Wars fans like time to explore in the Star Wars Launch Bay and catch the March Of the First Order and a Galaxy Far Far Away show.
Since my kids are older, they do not want to see the Frozen Sing Along Celebration or Disney Junior Live on Stage, but younger visitors will enjoy these interactions.
2. There is a very unique exhibit that takes you through Walt's journey called "Walt Disney Presents" This is a great place to step into for a break from the heat or during one of our afternoon rain storms.
3. If traveling with Star Wars fans, use the park show times guidance to ensure you can catch all the interactive shows and character greetings. This could easily take two to three hours all on its own. Grab a cocktail and catch a photo with a Storm Trooper and friends. My boys have Jedi Robes that I bought from a Halloween Store and light sabers. They love stepping into character while in this park.
I love Disney Springs. This is a concept that should be embraced at Malls and Markets around the country. A place for shopping and dining with the ability to grab a cocktail and keep on going. This spot used to be known as "Downtown Disney" and feature shops with all the Disney merchandise you could ever want, but now Disney Springs has transformed. There are non Disney Themed shops including Free People, Under Armor, Zara and Sephora and a cornucopia of dining options ranging from well priced quick service spots to special occasion celebratory experiences.
1. At the holidays this is where I go for my gift shopping. Friends and I can grab a cocktail from any of the restaurants "to go' and step in and out of stores to find thoughtful items for almost everyone. Last holiday season Disney Springs offered a Christmas Tree Trail with uniquely themed trees decorated and on display. Florida "Snow" fell occasionally while you strolled through the trail and listened to iconic holiday tunes.
2. Most of the restaurants book up quickly for dinner. Set a reservation for where you will want to eat on the night you know you will be in Disney Springs. Some of our favorites for dinner are Fontera, Boathouse, STK or Homecomin', but there are new spots coming that I am anxious to check out and update to this list!
3. There are truly amazing quick service food spots too that are great for lunch. Some of my favorites are Blaze for Pizza, D Luxe Burger and Earl Of Sandwich.
4. Desert options abound at Disney Springs. Even if you're not a desert fanatic, save space for some of the delicious and unique options including Sprinkles with a cupcake ATM, Amrourette's and Ghiradeli.
5. Disney Springs also has a large AMC theater. This can be another way to escape the heat. Wait and see that new blockbuster while on vacation.
6. After dark, Disney Springs comes to life with live music and entertainment sprinkled all around. Friends and I truly enjoy grabbing cocktails from different restaurant bars and just sippin and strollin.
Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach
Two fun water parks! While visiting during winter months it is possible one of the parks will be closed for refurbishment during your visit. Not to worry, both parks offer very similar adventures just with a different theme, so if you can only get to one, you will be okay. I try to get to the water park early when it first opens so that we have time to get back to other parks in the evening. Typically I advise enjoying one of the water parks during your visit. Get there right at 9 or 10am and plan to wrap up around 2pm. This gives you time to go back to your room, shower and be ready for a dinner seating by 6pm at one of the parks. Unless you're staying at a resort that has a walking path into one of the parks, give yourself one hour to get from resort to inside a park.
1. Bring a hat and sun block. Our Florida sun can be intense even in the winter months. Don't make yourself miserable for the rest of your vacation by burning in just a few hours here. Because there is so much to do in the water, your body won't feel hot, so check each other regularly and keep adding that sun block.
2. Consider renting the Getaway Glen Umbrellas at Typhoon Lagoon or Polar Patios at Blizzard Beach. Both offer a shaded retreat and your own personal space. The beach area at both parks can get very congested and feel a little too close for comfort when wanting to get out of the water and relax for a bit.
3. Both parks have good food options. As a local I pack a picnic lunch but when indulging in the full Disney vacation experience there is plenty of food and cocktail options to keep your belly and liver inspired.
4. Bring something dry to slip into when leaving. It is not fun to be hot and wet to get onto the bus back to your resort. While it means an extra bag to carry, believe me you will feel so much better in a a dry pair of shorts for the drive back to your room.
Don't forget to check out the other posts in the Walt Disney Series:
Disneyland California: by Maggie of From Toddler To Traveler