Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is comprised of four different amusement parks, each of which are in the top 10 list of most visited amusement parks in the world. Thanks in part to the brand and image that Disney has built, it is often touted as the happiest place on earth. With Magic Kingdom being the top visited park in the world with over 18 million visitors in 2013, it just may be.
In order to visit Magic Kingdom, you park at the transportation center and then catch the iconic monorail or ferry to the park. While this is a novelty at first, it can add 30 – 60 minutes to your round trip journey to the park.
Our primary reason for visiting Walt Disney World this year was the long awaited opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. While it is a standard mine train ride experience, it has been Disneyfied. With the roller coaster cars swinging based on the movement of the trains, it absorbed any ‘jerkiness’ and was the most comfortable mine train I have ever ridden.
The new roller coaster is part of the new Fantasyland, a retheming of the back section of the park incorporating many existing rides and adding a few more. They also added some new eating establishments including Gaston’s Tavern. The cinnamon rolls at Gaston’s are exceptional.
If you are a frequent visitor of the park, you may notice a major change. Magic Kingdom didn’t seem much different to us than it was when we last visited in 2009. In some ways that is good when you want to keep a constant atmosphere.
Main Street USA was filled with holiday cheer…and crowds. People were everywhere creating lines for nearly everything. Demand is clearly higher than supply. While Main Street USA offers a great view, it is a big bottleneck and very difficult to navigate a wheelchair through.
The clear highlight of Christmas at Walt Disney World is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When the sun sets, the streets are packed with people admiring the lights set to music. They even have real snow flurries to get you in the holiday spirit.
I am sad to report that we were not able to ride it’s a small world during our visit. [sarcasm] While I love the message that it sends, the never-ending sound track could potentially drive you crazy. The family vote was unanimous to skip this ride. Maybe next time. Or not.
I always have a camera of some sort with me including my phone and often a simple point and shoot. Sometimes we also lug around the more expensive camera but most of my pictures come from the two former devices.
One attraction that you don’t want to skip, especially for Monsters Inc. fans like us, is the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. Even if you are not a fan you are sure to appreciate how well the show interacts with the audience.
Swiss Family Treehouse is a nice change from the usual amusement park attraction. It is a ‘walk through’ attraction where you explore a remake of the tree house from the classic novel, The Swiss Family Robinson.
Mystery Mansion is a dark spooky ride that you don’t want to miss. Each time you experience it you find something new that you didn’t previously see. It showcases some of the technologies Disney has integrated into their attractions. Don’t worry, they are dying to see you.
Magic Kingdom is also the home of parades. The odds are very high that there will be a parade during your visit and you will probably have a choice of two or more different parades depending on the season. Even if you aren’t interested in parades, you will want to know when they are scheduled because getting down Main Street, USA in either direction is extremely limited during those times.
Let’s move on and explore the other Disney parks at Walt Disney World Resort. We’ll take them in order of attendance.
Moving over to Epcot, the second park built at Walt Disney World Resort, we see Spaceship Earth. Inside the world famous ball is a 15 minute dark ride that takes you through the history of advances in human communication that has shaped our world.
The most notable feature of Epcot is World Showcase. It is a showcase of cultures from around the world that takes you to different countries as you circumnavigate World Showcase Lagoon. This is very popular with adults who like to sample the various food and drink choices symbolic of similar fares around the world.
The third park that we are exploring is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It is the newest park at Walt Disney World Resort, and the sprawling 500 acres that it covers makes it the second largest theme park in the world. It is also our favorite in terms of how well it is themed.
The Tree of Life, an artificial tree spanning 50 feet, towering 145 feet in the air, with a theater built inside its base, is the iconic main centerpiece of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You’ll notice that there are a wide variety of animals carved in the trunk of this amazing tree.
My favorite ride (of course!) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. You board a train that speeds through the Himalayan mountains while trying to avoid the Yeti.
For a more relaxing train ride, you’ll want to check out the Wildlife Express Train that runs from Africa and takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. There you can take a leisurely stroll and learn about conservation efforts. You may even get a chance to pet a variety of animals at the Affection Station.
That brings us to the last of the four parks at Walt Disney World Resort, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It is immediately recognizable by the large recreation of The Sorcerer’s Hat from Fantasia. Enjoy the large hat while you can because it is scheduled to be removed in 2015 from what appears to be a much needed major overhaul of this park.
We never fail to miss a visit to this park because our favorite drop tower ride of all time is located here – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Don’t miss it because it is an experience like no other.
Also here is a great 4-D shooting dark ride. Not only is the ride a lot of fun, the queue line itself is a blast. Unfortunately that just about does it for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There is more to do here but it’s not anything that we find very interesting.
With all the crowds and long lines, it isn’t quite the happiest place on earth. However it might be one of the closest that you will find.