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25 Ultimate Things to Do at Walt Disney World

PHOTO: Mariah Wild / Disney

Whether you’re a first-timer or a die-hard fan, make sure you check these experiences off your Disney bucket list!

We’ve gathered our favorite Disney attractions, restaurants, and park secrets to make sure you have the most magical vacation on earth.

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PHOTO: Ali Nasser / Disney
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Meet the Characters

One of the best parts of going to Disney? Meeting your favorite characters. From Minnie and Mickey to your favorite princess, there are lots of ways to get a hug and an autograph. You can find scheduled meet n’ greets throughout the parks—check the map when you arrive as they’re subject to change—and you can also schedule Fastpasses in certain locations to meet several characters at once, like Anna and Elsa from Frozen.

If you have a specific character that you must meet, do some research ahead of time to see where they hang out. For example, if you’re dead-set on meeting Alice or Mary Poppins, head to England in the World Showcase. Similarly, you might find Buzz Lightyear in Magic Kingdom’s Tommorrowland.

INSIDER TIPFor the best experience, reserve a character dining restaurant for one of your meals. Instead of using a precious Fastpass+ or waiting in a long line, the characters come to you! Meet Winnie the Pooh and friends at Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace, the Disney princesses at Cinderella’s Table, or Mickey and friends at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. There’s also a chance at certain resorts, too: Meet Lilo and Stitch at ’Ohana in the Polynesian, Mickey and friends at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort, or Rapunzel and Flynn Rider at Trattoria al Forno in the Boardwalk.

 

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See the Fireworks

At the end of a long day in the parks, there’s nothing better than watching a spectacular fireworks show. Shows come in two different styles that basically break down to seated, formal shows in specific locations and standing, park-wide shows often accompanied by a parade.

If you’re looking for a quintessential fireworks experience, definitely head to Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After show. The castle magically comes alive with animation, story, and song to tell the stories of your favorite characters.

If you’re looking for seated options, try Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom or Fantasmic! over in Hollywood Studios. Both options offer Fastpasses and you can purchase food and drink while you watch, which is perfect for finicky little ones. For showtimes or Fastpasses, make sure to check times once you arrive on the map, as they might change based on special events or Extra Magic hours.

INSIDER TIPTo beat the crowds, purchase a dessert and fireworks package, which offers special seating in the parks and your choice of yummy desserts!

 

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Celebrate the Holidays

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

Disney is a place for celebration, so why not celebrate? Special events throughout the year make for an extra magical visit. Come for Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween party to trick-or-treat within the park, or come for the holiday season to experience a little Christmas magic. These experiences do cost a little bit extra, but only those with tickets to the holiday parties are allowed in the park, making it a great opportunity to ride attractions you might not otherwise be able to—and create some special memories.

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PHOTO: Matt Stroshane / Disney
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Get Spooked at the Haunted Mansion

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

No matter what time of year, the Haunted Mansion is a must for your Fastpass+ list. Get spooked by the ghosts and ghouls that reside there—just beware the hitchhiking ghosts! It’s a family-friendly, slow-moving ride that delights in everything paranormal.

INSIDER TIPWhile you’re waiting on line, be sure to check out some of the fantastically punny gravestones for a good laugh.

 

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PHOTO: Todd Anderson / Disney
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Go on Safari

WHERE: Animal Kingdom

At Harambe Wildlife Reserve, spot lions, elephants, giraffes, and more on the Kilimanjaro Safari, an immersive ride that’s fun for the whole family. Your guide will take you through “four months” in the bush, pointing out elusive wildlife along the way.

If you’re looking to make your trip extra special, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Reserve. You’ll get up close and personal with the animals and learn from a knowledgeable guide about the conservation efforts at the park. This is a pretty pricey option, but unforgettable if you choose to do it.

INSIDER TIPTry to ride as early as possible in the morning for best wildlife viewing. You’ll also be able to ride this ride at night for some completely different sightings!

 

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PHOTO: Matt Stroshane / Disney
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Dine at Be Our Guest

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

Step into Beauty and the Beast at Be Our Guest, one of the Magic Kingdom’s newest restaurants. Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious!

It’s nearly impossible to get a reservation here for dinner, so if it’s on your list, make sure to know exactly when you’re able to book a table (if you stay on property, you have a better chance of getting that coveted reservation). But if you can’t get in for dinner, don’t worry! Lunch is a great choice and still gives you a peek into the incredible theming. And if you strike out, you can find a similar Beauty and the Beast-vibe at the counter-service Gaston’s Tavern.

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Trade Pins

It’s no secret that Disney is full of souvenirs. You’ll have your pick of anything from Mickey spatulas to jewelry to stuffed animals and more. But one thing unique to Disney is their selection of tradeable pins. You can find these everywhere throughout the parks, resorts, and at Disney Springs.

Once you purchase a pin to trade, simply approach any cast member wearing a lanyard or ask to see the pin boards behind the counter at stores around the parks and at Disney Springs. You’re allowed to trade two pins at a time to any given cast member.

INSIDER TIPCast member lanyards are refreshed throughout the day, but if you’re looking for a specific pin, you’ll want to try and trade in the morning.

 

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PHOTO: David Roark / Disney
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Ride Soarin'

WHERE: Epcot

Soar around the world with Epcot’s epic ride, Soarin’. Make sure to grab a Fastpass+ for this one to skip the long lines! Located in The Land, Soarin’ lets you travel around the world in a single simulator ride. With 180-degree panoramas and other special effects, you’ll feel the magic of flight for the first time.

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PHOTO: Disney
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Ride Expedition Everest

WHERE: Animal Kingdom

Journey to the summit of the world’s highest peak for Expedition Everest, Animal Kingdom’s biggest attraction. This thrill ride goes forwards and backward—and you might even catch the terrifying Yeti!

INSIDER TIPWhether or not you have a Fastpass+, be sure to head to Everest as soon as you enter the park—it tends to have some of the longest lines.

 

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PHOTO: Matt Stroshane / Disney
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Sing Along

WHERE: Epcot or Hollywood Studios

You won’t have to let this go: Sing along with your favorite Frozen friends in not one, but two places: Frozen Ever After in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion and a Frozen Sing-a-long at the Hyperion Theater in Hollywood Studios.

First, travel back to Arendelle with Frozen Ever After. This slow-moving river cruise is short, so be sure to get a Fastpass+ for this one if it’s a must-do for you.

Over in Hollywood Studios, the Frozen Sing-a-long retells the story of Frozen with a hilarious live cast in a 30-minute show. You’ll sing along to your favorites from the movie—plus some surprises along the way!

If you’re still caught up in Frozen fever, you can meet Elsa and Anna throughout the parks, though the best place to catch them is right after your Frozen Ever After ride at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot.

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PHOTO: Disney
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Dine (or Drink) Around the World

WHERE: World Showcase at Epcot

Every fall, Epcot’s World Showcase fills with booth after booth of delicious food from countries all around the world for the Food & Wine Festival. Whether you’re looking for comfort food (hello loaded mac ‘n’ cheese!) or to try something completely different, like escargot in France, you won’t leave Epcot hungry.

If you’re not planning on visiting Epcot during the Food & Wine Festival, there’s still plenty of dining to experience. Each area in the World Showcase offers food and drink traditional to that country. Step into Mexico for a real hacienda lunch at the San Angel Inn, be wowed by fine dining at Le Cellier in Canada, or enjoy true Moroccan hospitality at Spice Road Table.

INSIDER TIPSchedule your dinner reservation outside at Spice Road Table or at La Hacienda in Mexico for prime-time Illuminations viewing without jostling for a seat.

 

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Summit Mountains

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain remain the most sought-after attractions at Disney, and they’re absolute must-dos! If you can, try to get a Fastpass+ for one (or all three) of these attractions.

Ride your rocket through the far reaches of space on Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. You’ll zoom past shooting stars, orbiting moons, and other spacecraft in this completely dark, thrilling ride.

You’ll find Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain in Frontierland. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad takes you on “the wildest ride in the Wilderness!” You’re in for a bumpy, thrilling ride around an abandoned mine—watch out for some interesting views at the top.

Then, cool off from the Florida heat with Splash Mountain. This lengthy ride takes you and your hollowed-out log through the story of Br’er Rabbit, who sets off for adventure from the Briar Patch—and boy, does he find it! You will definitely get wet on this one!

INSIDER TIPSplash Mountain is currently closed for refurbishment.

 

Book a Hotel

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Use the Force

WHERE: Hollywood Studios

Calling all Jedi masters! While the new Star Wars experience (and brand-new resort) doesn’t open at Hollywood Studios until 2019, there are lots of ways you can journey to a galaxy far, far away already. Hitch a ride on Star Tours for an all-new adventure featuring Rey, Finn, and more.

Or, if you think your youngling might be force-sensitive, sign up for Jedi Academy, an all-day experience for kids from 4 to 12 years of age. They’ll train to be Jedi masters, wield lightsabers, and may even face off against Darth Vader himself!

At night, stick around for Hollywood Studios’ new Star Wars Spectacular fireworks show, weaving together stories from movies new and old.

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Experience Pandora—The World of Avatar

WHERE: Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom’s newest section of the park takes guests to Pandora, the world of Avatar. Experience new 3-D rides like Flight of Passage, which takes you soaring on your own Banshee across Pandora. Wander through floating mountains and take in the luminescent plants at night.

Then, cool off at Sat’uli Canteen for brand-new dining options. Inspired by the flora and fauna of Pandora, you’ll find plenty of vegetarian-friendly and healthy options here.

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PHOTO: Todd Anderson / Disney
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Shop ‘til you Drop

WHERE: Disney Springs

Disney transformed Downtown Disney into the expansive Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping mall filled with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Since it’s not attached to any park, anyone can enjoy a taste of Disney magic. You’ll find some incredible restaurants here, including classics like the Rainforest Café and Wolfgang Puck’s, and some brand new offerings like the Boathouse, Morimoto Asia, and more.

Disney Springs is a great, relaxing way to kick off your vacation, especially if you arrive midday or in the afternoon, and allows you to escape the parks for a little bit.

INSIDER TIPIf you stay at Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, or Port Orleans, take one of the complimentary river cruises over to Disney Springs for an extra special treat.

 

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Stay at a WDW Hotel

To make your stay truly magical, staying on-property at one of the many resorts and hotels is a must. Staying on property offers significant advantages, namely public transportation (with an extensive bus, monorail, and boat system), early access to Fastpass+ bookings and restaurant reservations, and Extra Magic hours, open only to guests staying on-property.

Disney owns 27 different resort hotels at multiple price points, ranging from the relatively-affordable Pop Century or All Star resorts to the luxurious Grand Floridian. With themes ranging from an RV campground at Fort Wilderness to the shores of Hawaii at the Polynesian, you’ll find Disney magic wherever you stay.

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PHOTO: Disney
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Snack on a Dole Whip

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

This pineapple soft-serve has a cult following among die-hard Disney fans. Found at the Aloha Isle stand at Adventureland at Magic Kingdom, you can choose to have this treat as a pineapple float or as regular soft serve. Either way, you can’t beat it as a quintessential Disney snack—you won’t find it anywhere else.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head over to the nearby Sunshine Tree Terrace for a citrus swirl, a delicious mix of soft-serve vanilla ice cream and orange slush.

INSIDER TIPThe Dole Whip is also served at the Polynesian Resort and at Epcot during the Food & Wine Festival if you’re in need of a pineapple fix.

 

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PHOTO: Matt Stroshane / Disney
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Ride the Seven Dwarves Mine Train

WHERE: Magic Kingdom

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to the Seven Dwarves Mine Train we go! This thrill ride takes you through the caverns and caves of Snow White’s story, making it one of the most popular rides in Magic Kingdom.

If you are waiting in a super long line, don’t fret. You’ll be kept busy sorting, washing, and collecting jewels in the ride’s interactive queue.

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PHOTO: Matt Stroshane / Disney
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Enjoy Tea Time with Alice

WHERE: The Grand Floridian

Fall down the rabbit hole with an enchanting tea service at the Grand Floridian Resort. This Alice-in-Wonderland-themed afternoon tea is a great break from the hubbub of the parks for kids aged 3-10. Capped at 25, this experience also allows kids to decorate their own cookies and cakes as they sip a special brand of tea—apple juice. They’ll dine with Alice and the Mad Hatter, who will tell stories of their grand adventures and celebrate everyone’s very merry un-birthdays.

This is a little off the beaten path, but it’s easy to get to Grand Floridian even if you’re not staying at the resort. You can take a monorail or a boat ride directly from Magic Kingdom.

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Ride the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

WHERE: Hollywood Studios

This attraction is a classic at Hollywood Studios. Step back into the world of 1930s Tinseltown at the Hollywood Tower Hotel, open during the Golden Age of movies until a mysterious elevator accident caused it to close in 1939. If you’re brave enough, the service elevator still works…and it’ll take you straight to the Twilight Zone.

The best thing about this ride is that it’s different every single time you ride it. You’ll never know when the next stomach-flipping drop is coming.

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PHOTO: Ryan Wendler / Disney
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Watch the Festival of the Lion King

WHERE: Animal Kingdom

Re-live the story of The Lion King with Timon, Pumbaa, Simba, and a few friends at the Festival of the Lion King. This 30-minute show has you singing, dancing, and roaring along with acrobats, dancers, and more. You’ll leave fully embracing the “Hakuna Matata” philosophy—it means no worries.

INSIDER TIPBook a reservation for lunch at the nearby Tusker House and catch the 1 or 1:30 p.m. show right next door. It’s a great way to stay cool in the hottest part of the day, especially after an all-you-can-eat buffet!

 

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Give Your Princess the Ultimate Makeover

WHERE: Bibbidi Boppiti Boutique, Multiple Locations

If you want to give your little princess or prince a very special makeover experience, you’ve come to the right place. Bibbidi Bobbiti Boutique will transform anyone into a Disney princess (or pirate or cowboy) for a hefty fee.

You’ll find the boutique at multiple locations, including at Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom or in Disney Springs.

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Ride the Waves

WHERE: Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach

If you’d rather play in the waves all day, you have two different water parks to choose from at Disney World: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. You’ll splash through whitewater rapids in the aftermath of a huge storm at Typhoon Lagoon, while Blizzard Beach takes you straight to the ski slopes.

Both offer relatively similar attractions—you’ll find lazy rivers, wave pools, and thrilling drops at both. Where you want to spend your time is up to you!

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PHOTO: Preston Mack / Disney
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Stroll the Boardwalk

WHERE: Stroll the Boardwalk

Disney’s Boardwalk Resort is a great alternative to Disney Springs if you’re looking for a date night. Themed after a 1950’s seaside boardwalk, you’ll want to belt out your favorite doo-wop tune.

Marvel at street entertainers, rent a bicycle to ride around the resort, and eat your heart out at Trattoria al Forno or the Flying Fish—and of course, don’t forget to stop at Ample Hills Creamery for a scoop or two of the best ice cream in Disney.

You can get to the Boardwalk a few ways, either by walking from Epcot, taking a bus from any of the other parks, or the old-fashioned way: a cab.

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Eat A Special Mickey-Themed Breakfast

WHERE: ’Ohana or Chef Mickey’s

These buffets come to you! Known as “all-you-care-to-eat,” you’ll be served family-style Mickey waffles, pancakes, eggs…you name it! With all the fun of a big buffet and none of the hassle, these breakfasts are a great way to finish off your trip before heading back to reality.

Bonus? You’ll be able to meet Mickey and his friends as they come around to your table. It’s the perfect Disney dining experience to cap off a magical vacation.