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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disney World Primer

I grew up in Arizona (and later lived in California). Disneyland has always been my park. I finally made it to Disney World to check it out the differences. People on the East Coast have no clue what Disneyland is like, and I think many on the West Coast similarly have no clue about Disney World.

So here’s a primer.

Disney World consists of four theme parks and two water parks. They’re based in Lake Buena Vista, FL (bordering Orlando), but in a much (MUCH) larger area of land – like 30,000 acres versus Disneyland’s 85 acres. Yes, you read that correctly. Disney World is basically its own city, and the resort opened in 1971 (versus Disneyland’s 1955 opening).

The theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. The water parks are Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. These properties are spread around, and you need to take a bus to them, which means if you want to park hop, you need to plan the bus trip into the agenda.
Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Magic Kingdom is the basic equivalent of Disneyland. Don’t call Magic Kingdom “Disney World” because it’s not and people will get very confused. Magic Kingdom is very similar in rides and layout to Disneyland. Though the rides are mostly the same, it does not have
the beloved Matterhorn bobsled ride, nor the Indiana Jones Adventure Ride. It does not have the Blue Bayou restaurant, nor Club 33 (not that you can get into that anyway).

Will these kids escape? Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
A few things it offers that Disneyland doesn’t: Stich’s Great Escape, which is like a simulator, theater-in-the-round experience. It’s cute. It has an Aladdin Magic Carpet Ride (similar to Dumbo), a splash water play area. It has the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which is a fabulous interactive comedy show. While Disneyland used to have Tom Sawyer Island, it’s changed to Pirate’s Lair. Magic Kingdom retained the Tom Sawyer part. Toontown closed at Magic Kingdom in 2011.

The grand finale. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Some similarities: Magic Kingdom has amazing fireworks every night, just like Disneyland, but Fantasmic has its own theater (but it's at Hollywood Studios). Both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland have castles and haunted mansions, they look different.

Everyone has this shot. With different kids. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Epcot (at 300 acres) is a mishmash of a park, but one we really liked. It focuses on technical achievement and international cultural, very much of a permanent World’s Fair. You’ll know Epcot from the giant golf ball contraption in the front. You can go in it on one of the rides. Good times! There are a handful of actual rides (like the awesome Test Track, similar in style to the new Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure). 

But there’s a lot of other things going on as well, like the countries section, where 11 different countries have their own building, cultural display and/or ride. It’s really different, and fun. There’s also a Phinneas and Ferb phone scavenger hunt game in that area, that’s awesome for the kids. When we went, it was Kim Possible, but it’s changed with the times.

In the London phone booth figuring out their next clue. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Beer and wine is available at the park, and they even have a food and wine show (don’t go then – unless you want your kids trampled on by drunk people – personal experience). There’s a light/music show, IllumiNations, at night at their lake. Our kids were too tired (and there were too many drunk people there) – so we didn’t stay for it.

Animal Kingdom is a slightly smaller park that may not need a whole day (but a half day is too short). If you like the Lion King, you’ll like Animal Kingdom. They have a real safari ride with 1,700 animals and 250 species, plus other jungle trails to walk which are really well done. Their live Lion King show is great. It’s a beautiful park to walk around. The thrill ride is Expedition Everest – a real roller coaster that I could only ride once for fear of getting sick. Spoiler: it actually goes backward at one point. It’s a great themed ride. The Kali River Rapids is very much like Grizzly River Run at California Adventure. Dinosaur is similar in style to Indiana Jones, but too loud, jarring and scary. There aren’t a ton of rides here.

Expedition Everest is in the background. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Hollywood Studios – More shows than rides, this was our least favorite park. Here, you’ll find Toy Story (with FastPasses – though they go early). The waiting line here is filled with life size games and toys – much better waiting experience than in California. You’ll also find Tower of Terror here – it’s better than the California version, because the elevator car actually leaves the shaft and enters the hotel a bit – hard to explain, but it’s better. Here is the Rock and Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. It’s a definite E-ticket ride that blasts you out quickly (60 mph) and goes upside down. They now have the new Star Tours (which we rode at Disneyland - awesome!!!). They also have a lot of shows that are excellent, like American Idol and the Studio Backlot  Tour.

This show was a lot of fun. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Unlike Disneyland, which has three hotels, Disney World has 24 – and they’re all themed. Another nine non-Disney owned properties are on Disney land, and include camping and time share condos.

If you stay on property, you’ll get early admission to some parks on specific days. There’s also a transit system to get you around between hotels, Downtown Disney and the different parks. There’s a range of luxury and economy hotels.

While you can buy a package plan with hotel, tickets and meals for Disneyland, it’s much more common at Disney World where you’re likely spending 4+ days and eating all your meals there. If you’re looking into a Disney Worldtrip, here are some planning tips.

Which Disney park system is better? It all depends on your perspective. I prefer Disneyland partly because it’s what I’m used to. But I also find it more manageable, and have heard that from others as well. Disney World is a zoo to navigate and it took me longer to plan that trip than many overseas trips! It was like learning a new language and system. If you’re in California for vacation, you could easily combine a few days at Disneyland with other Los Angeles area attractions, and Legoland is an hour or so south. 

I’m really glad we did Disney World, and wouldn’t mind heading back there to check out what we missed (a lot of Epcot, and more of Animal Kingdom). Plus we haven’t checked out Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.

Have you been to both? What do you like better and what differences do you see?

Coming soon in the Disney series:

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