This page is an introduction to the four Walt Disney World theme parks.
Here you’ll get a good overview of the basics and links to each of the detailed pages for each park.
Walt Disney World has four different theme parks, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Each park varies in size, look, and feel, but all offer attractions (that’s Disney speak for rides and shows), and a combination of entertainment, parades, and nighttime fireworks or other type shows. You’ll also find many varieties of food at various prices, plus lots of souvenirs for sale.
Walt Disney World’s Theme Parks:
Theme Park Admission
The proper theme park admission is required for park entrance.
Here at Military Disney Tips we have a huge amount of content dealing with Military Discounted Tickets.
- Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets
- Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets
- What’s the Right Military Ticket for Me?
- Disney Military Tickets – Your Start to Finish Guide
Theme Park Reservations
Since reopening after the 2020 shutdown, Walt Disney World has implemented a system of Theme Park Reservations. In order to visit a Disney World theme park. You must have made a reservation prior to entry. Disney uses this system to limit attendance in each park and it is possible for a park to stop taking reservations for very high demand days, sometimes well in advance.
A valid ticket is required and you must link it to those making reservations in your My Disney Experience app. You then use the app to choose what park you would like to visit on what day.
See my WDW Theme Park Reservation Primer
And my Technology Overview for more.
Some of the more thrilling attractions have height restrictions. If children are shorter than the set limit, they cannot experience the attraction. Disney will not bend on these restrictions as they are for safety purposes; in many cases they have to do with the attraction seating and associated restraint capability. In some cases just because your child is tall enough to ride, doesn’t mean they are mature enough.
Attractions with height restrictions will be designated for attractions like this: (H33) the H designates height restriction and the following number designates how many inches tall you must be in order to ride. In this example (H33) you must be 33 inches tall to ride. Cast members will measure those in question.
At select Disney World attractions you may “Rider Switch.” If you have a little one who is too short or who doesn’t want to ride the attraction, your family will not have to wait in line twice for each parent to ride while the other stays with the child. Simply tell the attraction cast member at the entrance that you’d like to Rider Switch. Then one adult will wait with the child in a designated area while the other experiences the attraction, then that adult and the child will wait while the rest of the party rides.
On the Theme Park Pages, I’ll be describing the seating capacity and layout of the attractions in the parks. You will find all types of ride vehicles at Disney World; from small continuous feed ride systems to huge stadium seating theatres.
Many rides are of the continuous feed variety. This means that the ride vehicles are mounted one after the other on a track and while running continuously follow each other around the track through the ride. The ride is not turned off (except for handicap boarding) and you board and exit the ride from a moving beltway (like at an airport) moving at the same speed as the vehicles.
When I mention seating capacity, I’ll use terms like theatre seating, four across, and 2+. What I mean when I use the + sign which is usually with the number 2 is that two adults can comfortably sit in the vehicle, 3 can squeeze in or mom and dad with 2 smaller kids. You are free to try to fit all four of you in one car or split up into two.
25 Top Disney World Rides for the Whole Family
The NEW Mountain Challenge in Disney World!
FastPass Plus or FastPass+ was suspended when the parks re-opened after their 2020 closures in order to use the queue space for social distancing. In late 2021 FastPass Plus was replaced by Disney Genie, Disney Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane Purchases.
The Disney Genie is an update to the WDW My Disney Experience and Disneyland smart phone apps, that replaces FastPass+ at Disney World and both FastPass and MaxPass at Disneyland.
Gone are the Days of planning way ahead!
Many will be pleased that the days of making your FastPass+ reservations 60 or 30 days ahead of time (which did not line up with dining reservation limits and currently theme park reservations) are over. Many complained about the lack of spontaneity that the old paper FastPass System allowed.
Disney Genie is a totally Day of Your Visit system!
Disney Genie offers 3 levels of service, 1 free and 2 paid. And staying at a Disney Resort Hotel will offer scheduling advantages.
How Disney Genie Works
There are 3 levels of Disney Genie Service:
- Disney Genie
- Disney Genie+
- Individual Attraction Selections
At the basic free level Disney Genie will help you through your theme park day.
Simply setup what you are interested in doing, by clicking on rides and attractions, Or if you’re not sure just general interests like Star Wars or Princesses.
Then as you tour the park Disney Genie will let you know the forecast best times to experience those things in order to have the shortest standby wait times.
Here are a few more features:
- Get Itinerary Updates from Morning to Night: Disney Genie will continue to update the Guest’s itinerary throughout your day, so they can be more spontaneous and go with the flow.
- Find Favorites at a Glance: Guests can create their very own personal tip board to instantly see their favorites. It will display current AND forecasted future wait times, helping Guests predict when they might experience quicker entry to attractions.
- Guests can join a virtual queue at certain attractions, make dining and experience reservations, mobile order food at many locations, get help from a virtual assistant and more.
The free Disney Genie service in the My Disney Experience app will “maximize your park time” via a personalized itinerary feature that will “quickly and seamlessly map out an entire day.” It will also offer forecasted wait times throughout the day and attraction suggestions, so you can save time in line.
The Plus level is the first paid level, offering a service just like the old paper FastPass System orDisneyland’s MaxPass.
Genie+ costs $15 per day per person at Walt Disney World and $20 per day per person at Disneyland.
When purchasing ahead you must purchase for all days of your stay, so for a family of 4 using 4-day Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets at Disney World it would be $240.
You may purchase single days as you enter the parks, but this eliminates the Disney Resort guest advantage (which we’ll get to in a sec).
Genie+ allows you to use the “Lightning Lane” (the old FastPass Lines) at a variety of attractions and experiences at a designated time. The way it works is Genie+ will show you an available 1 hour long time slots at the various attractions. After selection one you’ll do other things while waiting on your time slot to open. Once your slot opens you’ll experience the attraction by entering the Lightning Lane. Afterwords you’ll then be able to select your next attraction at which you’ll use the Lightning Lane. You can do this continuously all day long and multiple parks.
In this chapter Genie+ elegible attractions will be indicated by (Genie+).
Disney Genie+ will also include:
- Disney parks-themed audio experiences
- Photo features to capture your memories – augmented reality lenses for those visiting Walt Disney World Resort
- Unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads from your day if you are visiting Disneyland Resort (why it costs more at DLR)
I understand the audio experienced will be tour type trivia that you can play about your current location in the parks
Photo features from what I’ve seen are still and video character interactions with you in your pictures and selfies.
Guests can make their first selection at 7 a.m. the day of their visit.
Individual Lightning Lane Purshases
This is a pay to skip the line feature that can be used to purchase scheduled times to arrive at two highly demanded attractions each day using the Lightning Lane entrance.
Guests can use this option without paying for the Genie+ Service.
Examples are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom Park and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT.
Attractions covered by this pay to skip the line feature are not be included in the regular Lightning Lane scheduling of Genie+.
This feature may be used a more than 1 park per day, which is good for Park Hoppers!
Pricing for this option will varies by date, attraction and park. To date prices have been in the $9-$17 range per person per attraction.
In this chapter Individual Lightning Lane Purshases elegible attractions will be indicated by (Individual Purchase).
Guests staying at Walt Disney World Resorts, Shades of Green, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts can purchase Individual Attractions at 7 a.m. the day of their visit.
All other WDW guests can purchase after the park in question opens.
See my Disney Genie Page for full lists of attractions more info.
Single Rider Lines
Several attractions at Walt Disney World have single rider lines. These lines are used to fill all available space on the ride vehicles. For instance, a party of three will take up two rows in a ride vehicle that seats in rows of two. A rider from the single rider line will be placed in that empty seat. The single rider lines move much more quickly than the standby line, but you almost certainly will not ride (in the same row or even the same ride vehicle) with others in your party. Attractions with single rider lines:
- Test Track
- Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster
- Expedition Everest
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
Character meet-and-greets are locations where you and or your child get to interact one-on-one with a Disney character, get an autograph if desired, and pose for a picture(s). Disney PhotoPass photographers are almost always on hand. Some meet and greets are “open air” where people queue up at an outdoor location and take turns interacting with the character while everyone else watches, others are private meet and greets conducted for your family privately in a closed room/set.
Check your daily park schedule or My Disney Experience app for times for the open-air meet and greets. The private meet and greets are held in buildings all day long.
See my PhotoPass Page for more info.
Each park offers – Counter service, grab-and-go carts, table service and some buffet restaurants. At least one table service restaurant in each park offers a character meal.
The many outdoor food carts are too plentiful and changing to list here. You’ll find carts selling, popcorn, drinks, adult beverages (except in the Magic Kingdom), ice cream and frozen treats, churros, turkey legs, and fresh fruits & vegetables. These are just some of the constantly evolving offerings from Disney World Outdoor Foods.
During Character meals, designated Disney characters (different at each location) will circulate through the dining area periodically. They will stop by each table for personal interaction, autographs, and pictures.
Advance Dining Reservations may be made up to 180 days in advance for restaurants with Table Service, Buffet, and Character Meals. ===>Note: The reservation window has been reduced to 60 days.<===
Online Meal Ordering – You may use you’re my Disney Experience app to order and prepay for meals at designated Counter Service restaurants. Just complete your order and then upon arrival click the “I’m here, prepare My Order” button, then go to the online pickup line/window once the app advises you it is ready. Some locations have a single pick up location and others have numbered ones, the app will let you know. A credit card stored by the app is required.
On the Theme Park Pages look for these keys to the rough cost of restaurants and the meals they offer:
- $ = Less than $15 per adult
- $$ = $15 – $30 per adult
- $$$ = $30 – $60 per adult
- $$$$ = over $60 per adult
- B = Breakfast
- L = Lunch
- D = Dinner
- S = Snack
Note: alcohol is served in the Magic Kingdom only in table service restaurants. At the other parks adult beverages are widely served in all restaurants and at walk-up counters and carts.
As you tour Disney World’s theme parks you will find a wide variety of merchandise and souvenir options available to you.
You’ll find Disney character and theme park centric items like stuffed characters, clothing, hats, and many other varied items. Some of these will be generic, others will be themed for the land or area they are being sold in, e.g. a Mickey Mouse in a space suit in Tomorrowland, Aerosmith items at Rock n’ Rollercoaster, and Star Wars items at Star Tours. Other items are not at all Disney centric, e.g. Books on American history at the American Adventure, Canadian souvenirs at the Epcot’s Canada Pavilion, or wines and foods from the various counties at Epcot’s World showcase.
Walt Disney World makes lots of money on souvenirs (and food) that helps offset discounts like the Armed Forces Salute. They use many techniques to encourage you to make purchases such as, when you exit the parks, the merchandise shops are on the right side of the street or pathway (Americans naturally walk on the right, morning type foods are on the right as you enter) or by designing their newer attractions so the ride exits into a gift shop which sells items associated with that attraction. They will also pipe tantalizing smells, such as that of baked goods to the outdoor areas near restaurants to encourage you to enter!
A great service that Disney World offers is Package Delivery. Any item that you purchase in the theme parks can be delivered to either your on-property resort (Disney Resorts, Shades of Green, the Swan and Dolphin, Disney Springs Hotels, and The Four Seasons) or to the park entrance (for pickup on your way out). This way you do not have to lug your purchase around the park all day!
===>Note: Not available at this time. But you can still ship directly home from merchandise shops.<===
Bag Check… Bag Check…… Bag Check!
Great News! Walt Disney World used their closure period to install new scanning technology. They were forced to do this to keep contact between security personnel and things you have touched down.
Rather than the old slow bag check where they pawed through your bages, purses, etc. You now walk through state of the art scanners at a normal walking pace! This takes the place of the old long lines for the 2-step bag check and metal detector process.
See my Walt Disney World Security Overview
Wi-Fi service is available for free in all Disney World theme parks and resort hotels!
Strollers, Wheelchairs, and Scooters
Strollers, wheelchairs, and scooters, are available for rent from Disney World at the theme parks and downtown Disney.
Strollers – Disney strollers are made from rigid plastic and they don’t recline. They do offer a canopy for sun protection and seat belts. Note: these plastic strollers really heat up in the afternoon Florida sun!
WDW Stroller Price – Single $15 per day ($13 multi-day), Double $31 per day ($27 multi-day).
There is a pouch on the back to hold items, but no cup holders. These strollers can only be used within the park, which means at the end of a long day, you will be stuck carrying your children back to the car, tram, bus, or monorail.
They are not available at water parks or at the resorts, which means more carrying children around. Note: infants and children under age 2 don’t do well in these strollers; they just aren’t designed for them.
There are many Orlando area companies that rent modern strollers at reasonable prices. These companies deliver to and pick up from your resort, so you’ll have the use of the stroller for the entire vacation, not just in the parks.
Scooters and Wheelchairs – The same is true for Scooters and Wheelchairs, Disney rents them in the parks and at Downtown Disney but you cannot take them elsewhere and Disney’s prices are high.
WDW Scooter Price – $50 per day plus a $20 refundable deposit.
There are many Orlando area companies that rent Scooters and Wheelchairs at more reasonable prices. These companies deliver to and pick up your rental, so you’ll have the use of the stroller for the entire vacation, not just in the parks.
Lockers are available for rent on a daily basis at the front of each theme park. Many find it convenient to stash sweatshirts for later in the evening, purchases, camera bags, or other bulky items for later retrieval. Current rates are: $10 per day for a small locker (12″ x 10″ x 17″), $12 per day for a large (15.5″ x 13″ x 17″), and $15 per day (Magic Kingdom and Epcot only) for a jumbo one (17″ x 22″ x 26″) in addition you’ll be charged a $5 refundable key deposit. Your locker fee is good for locker use the entire day at any park, so save the receipt.
Theme Park Hours
The regular hours of operation of WDW’s theme parks usually vary depending on the time of year and expected attendance. Below is these generally look like, excluding Extra Magic Hours.
All of WDW’s parks open at 9am except during Morning Extra Magic Hours
Magic Kingdom – The hours of operation at the Magic Kingdom vary the most closing anywhere from 6 pm to 1am.
As a general rule, about the same amount of attractions can be accomplished on a short day as can be on a long day. This is because of the much lower crowd levels and associated attraction wait times on short days.
Epcot – Epcot is usually open until 9 pm, but occasionally will stay open till 10 pm. While the Future World section opens at 9, the World Showcase doesn’t open until 11 am. During the slower times of the year Future World attractions will close earlier than 9 pm. Since re-opening after the 2020 closure World Showcase has been opening with Future World
Hollywood Studios – Closing times at the Studios vary between 7 and 10 pm.
Animal Kingdom – Animal Kingdom has closing times usually around 9 pm.
Those staying at Disney owned resorts and some third party ones like Shades of Green are eligible for the new Early Entry benefit. Early Entry is available 30 minutes prior to regular theme park hours at every theme park every day.
During the Christmas 2021 season, WDW bumped this up to 60 minutes early.
See my Early Entry Page for more info.
Extended Evening Hours
Guests staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts at Walt Disney World including Shades of Green are also be able to enjoy Extended Evening Hours on select nights in select theme parks.
See my Extended Evening Hours Page for more info.
That’s it for this theme park overview, check out the pages for each individual park below:
This MDT Post By: Steve Bell
Steve is the the Military Disney Tips Founder. He a retired U.S. Military Member who's been touring the Disney Parks since 1971! Steve's mission is to help military families with their Disney vacations in every way. Check out Steve's Bio.
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Planning a Disney Trip? Want to get the best military discounts that are available? Feeling a little confused? See Our Great Disney Discount and Planning Info:
- Disney Veteran & Military Discount Eligibility Guide
- The Military Family’s Walt Disney World Comprehensive Vacation Planning and Preparation Guide
- Military Disney Tips Disney Packing Checklist
- Disney Military Tickets – Your Start to Finish Guide
- Resorts/Hotel Overview Page
- Dining Overview Page
- Transportation Overview Page
- Technology Overview Page
- Shades of Green, WDW’s Military Only Resort
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