The Disney World Navigation Guide

So it’s one of your first few times in Disney World. And you decided to take the kids. Well good for you. More power to you and best of luck on this magical first journey. Try not to stress, and remember, just breathe, it will all be okay. Tell me how it goes upon your return, okay?!

I’m just kidding. You didn’t think I’d actually send you off without at least a little guidance, did you? Or a lot—seriously, peruse through this blog a bit, you might find something helpful. To start, here are 5 Disney World location “factoids”, i.e. the basics which will help you navigate and get around:

  1. Disney World is not a Park, it’s not a castle, it’s basically a city. Well, a city within a city, technically. Okay, so it’s not an actual city, like it doesn’t have it’s own zip code or anything, but it pretty much operates like one otherwise. They have their own transportation system, their own Lyft/Taxi system called “Minnie Vans” (I mean come on, that’s super cute, right?), their own construction company, their own colors and theming on just about everything. When you drive beyond the magical arched “Walt Disney World” sign with statues Mickey and Minnie waving at you, try not to get distracted by your cheering, screaming kids to really notice what’s around you. The signs of Orlando, Florida suddenly changed to purple—they’re no longer green highway/street signs; the lawns are perfectly manicured everywhere; mini-vans and walking backpack clad tourists galore. And way too many things are named after “Buena Vista” and “Bonnet Creek”. Once you drive beyond that arched sign you are in Walt Disney World. NOT once you get to the gates of Cinderella’s Castle—once you drive past statue Mickey and Minnie Mouse. They’re waving and welcoming you into their large, purple-signed, utopian, happy, magical home that will make you wish you could bottle up the happy air in that little mini-city and take it home with you.

  2. There are 4 Main Disney Theme Parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. (There are a couple large water parks, but since these 4 are the main ones everyone visits/knows about that’s what I’ll be focusing on.) And within each park are “lands”. I’m going to do a quick breakdown of some of the lands in each park and their main/most famous attractions (i.e. the attractions most advertised and/or most viewed on commercials):

    • Magic Kingdom (the most famous): Contains Cinderella’s castle, Mad Tea Party (the tea cup ride), Dumbo ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion (one of my personal favorites!), the mid-day character parades, and many of the childhood characters we know and love. Oh, and the “It’s a Small World” song—it comes from this park. Just be warned when you ride it—that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the day.

    • Hollywood Studios: Contains the most recently famous Galaxy’s Edge (i.e. “Star Wars Land” as my kids call it) with the famously difficult to board ride “Rise of the Resistance”, Toy Story Land, and many of the Disney Junior characters, along with Disney Junior Live on Stage. It’s also home to Disney’s newest ride as of last week—Mickey and Minnie’s Railway Adventure.

    • Epcot: Another super famous Disney park for it’s unique theming and ideology. This is the park that contains the white golf-ball (which actually isn’t a golf-ball at all. Keep reading.) The term EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” where good ole Walt wanted to create a land where he could showcase all of his futuristic visions/plans. It’s almost a celebration of our world, with the largest area in Epcot called “The World Showcase” with actual life size walk-through areas of many of the different countries and their monuments. It’s pretty darn cool and one of our all-time favorite Disney places to visit. A total-must see, in my opinion. You can walk through France and try real French Macarons. You can walk through England and grab real Fish n’ Chips. And you can meet Belle in France, Mulan in China, Aladdin in Morocco, Anna and Elsa in Norway—it’s awesome! And that huge golf-ball? That’s actually one of the most famous Disney rides called “Spaceship Earth”—a ride that takes you inside from the bottom of that ball to the top showcasing how the world evolved, grew, prospered, and changed throughout time.

    • Animal Kingdom: Before Galaxy’s Edge, there was Pandora, The World of Avatar—and it lives here. If you’ve never watched Avatar, I suggest you do. This is the other movie that made Director James Cameron famous (the first movie was—let’s all sing it together—”my heart will go onnn and onnn”—Titanic!) and for good reason: this blue planet is pretty coool. What’s even cooler is when Disney bought the rights to the franchise and created a world based off the movie—yes, it actually glows at night! The other most famous Disney World ride lives in this land (after the current most famous “Rise of the Resistance”), called “Flight of Passage”. And obviously it wouldn’t be called Animal Kingdom without the star of the show: animals. And there are plenty. Live ones which you can walk around and see, or in their live habitats during one of my favorite rides, The Kiliminjaro Safari. You can also see them in the form of your favorite Disney friends, where you can meet characters like Rafiki, Timon and Pubma, Kevin the bird, etc.

  3. The other major landmark/area is called “Disney Springs”, but it’s NOT a park. Disney Springs is as an outdoor entertainment/shopping haven with a lake in the center surrounded by shops and restaurants. The largest Disney store in the world is located here, ironically called “World of Disney”, an absolute must-see and the best place to buy souvenirs. They have pretty much every Minnie/Mickey Ear Bands you could think of, mugs galore, t-shirts for every character, and toys bigger than your luggage would even allow. There’s also TONS of amazing restaurants, dessert shops, and coffee places all of which can be accessed on the My Disney Experience App just like at the parks. Disney Springs is also home to the only Disney Cirque du Soleil show, as well as many, many other entertainment experiences located throughout. For us, Disney Springs is a multiple visit kind of experience, opting to go on multiple days/evenings.

  4. The location of everything is relative to the Parks (except for one). There are 5 main areas of Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom area, Epcot area, Animal Kingdom area, Hollywood Studios area, and Disney Springs area. Did you notice a pattern there (well except for the one that didn’t fit)—each area is named after a park. Hotels are located in relation to parks and are even listed as being in the “Magic Kingdom area” or the “Animal Kingdom area”, as are restaurants and other major attractions. The other largest area in Disney World is Disney Springs, which is also the “Bonnet Creek” area. Bonnet Creek actually hosts some of my family’s favorite hotels in Orlando, which we love because of it’s close location to Disney Springs.

  5. There’s a map and guide for everything on the App. Ok, first things first after you’re done reading this post (assuming your actually take a trip to Disney World soon): download the “My Disney Experience” app. It’s completely free and is your answer to everything. If you were Aladdin this app would be the Genie. This is where you find maps to everything, opening/closing hours, transportation information, make hotel and dining reservations, check ride wait times, book fastpasses, find Baby Care Stations at the parks (yes, those exist!), etc, etc. When in doubt, always check the app first.

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