Now to the fun stuff! The hotel and logistics information I went over in Part 1 is all part of the Disney Magic, too, but really — you go to Disney World for the parks. And when you travel (or when I do), a big part of the experience is the food and drink.
First, let me start by saying that January is my new favorite time to go. It’s warm as opposed to hot and hurricane-y like it is in the summer, and while Magic Kingdom is perpetually crowded, the rest of the parks were pretty empty. Blizzard Beach in particular was deserted. I’d never seen so many empty beach chairs, and the longest line we had to wait in for slides was a total of one person.
Of course, where all the magic begins is at the Magic Kingdom. While the roller coasters are always fun, my favorite rides are the ones that combine great Imagineering detail and storytelling. As home to Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Kingdom always has a soft spot in my heart. And while all parks are immersive, there’s some nostalgic element in the park that tugs at me more than the others. Also, Wishes has been my favorite firework show ever since it first ran. Highlights of this visit were: Be Our Guest restaurant, Seven Dwarves Mine Train (the longest line I waited in during the trip too), and Great Moments in History with the Muppets (which I ended up watching twice.)
Next in line, EPCOT. I really disliked this park when I was a kid since… there weren’t really rides. They’ve since added a bunch of “thrill” rides to the Future World part, and in my older age I appreciate the World Pavilions more. (I’ve also now been to every country featured in the World Pavilion!) They were holding the first Epcot International Festival of the Arts, so had lots of artists selling work, special exhibits, and pop-up food stops. One regret I have from the trip is not exploring the festival more. I also missed out on Frozen: Ever After, but it probably would’ve just made me miss the Maelstrom anyway… Highlights here were: Meeting Baymax, beer in Germany, and dinner at the Rose and Crown.
Hollywood Studios — formerly MGM Studios — also has a special place in my heart since I’m a sucker for Old Hollywood. I fear that the Great Movie Ride might not last much longer… but the rest of the retro-Hollywood vibe is still there. (And, by the way, is much nicer than the actual Hollywood.) I’m still adjusting to all the Star Wars in the parks, and this one has the most Star Wars stuff going on. Call me a traditionalist, but I think it’s weird seeing Storm Troopers walking around and Darth Vader on a stage with fireworks. Highlights here: Tower of Terror (RIP Disneyland version), cocktails at The Brown Derby, and dinner at Sci Fi Diner.
Animal Kingdom is the newest park, but one of my favorites. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is awesome, too, if you ever get the chance to visit or stay there. There’s still not a lot at this park, but what is there is really well done. The theming is great, food is delicious, and the few rides there are really well done. Highlights: Kilimanjaro Safari, Expedition Everest, and I love that damn Flights of Wonder show.
It’s not a park, but it is worth going to if you have the time: Disney Springs. This very recently opened and looks incredible. It reminds me a bit of outdoor malls like The Grove in LA. But lots of good shopping and good food selections as well. It’s not as aggressively Disney, too… Well, as not-aggressively-Disney as you can get for being on Disney property.
Lots of parks means some pretty full days and lots of steps on your fitness trackers! Between the rides and entertainment, there’s always something to do, too. Let’s not forget the food and drink, which we’ll look at in Part 3!