Walt Disney World Orlando

Mickey Mouse. Tinker Bell. Cinderella. What would childhood be like without the magic of Disney? When kids and adults want to go to the theme park, they're heading to Disney. Here you're walking amid people from around the world and meeting characters like Snow White and Donald Duck while rides whirl nonstop and the irrepressible "it's a small world" tune and lyrics run through your head. You can't help but believe dreams really do come true here.

The Magic Kingdom is the heart and soul of the Walt Disney World empire. It was the first Disney outpost in Florida when it opened in 1971, and it's the park that launched Disney's presence in France, Japan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. For a landmark that wields such worldwide influence, the 142-acre Magic Kingdom may seem small—indeed, Epcot is more than double the size of the Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom is almost triple the size when including the park's expansive animal habitats. But looks can be deceiving. Packed into six different "lands" are nearly 50 major crowd-pleasers, and that's not counting all the ancillary attractions: shops, eateries, live entertainment, character meet-and-greet spots, fireworks shows, and parades.

Nowhere but at Epcot can you explore and experience the native food, entertainment, culture, and arts and crafts of countries in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the Americas. What's more, employees at the World Showcase pavilions actually hail from the countries the pavilions represent.

Epcot, originally the "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow," was the inspiration for Walt Disney World. Walt envisioned a future in which nations coexisted in peace and harmony, reaping the miraculous harvest of technological achievement. The Epcot of today is both more and less than his original dream. Less, because the World Showcase presents views of its countries that are, as an Epcot guide once put it, "as Americans perceive them"—highly idealized. But this is a minor quibble in the face of the major achievement: Epcot is that rare paradox—a successful educational theme park that excels at entertainment, too.

Disney's Hollywood Studios was designed to be a trip back to Tinseltown's golden age, but the park is now looking to the future, and the focus has shifted to spaceships and Star Wars.

The result is a theme park that blends movie nostalgia with breathtaking rides and Star Wars themes. The park's old-time Hollywood atmosphere begins with a rosy-hued view of the moviemaking business of the 1930s and ’40s, amid sleek art-moderne buildings in pastel colors, funky diners, and kitschy decorations. Toy Story Land, expected in summer 2018, is where familiar childhood toys come to life. And, behind the construction fences, in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars dreams are becoming reality.

Thanks to a rich library of film scores, the park is permeated with music, all familiar, all evoking the magic of the movies, including Star Wars, and all constantly streaming from the camouflaged loudspeakers at a volume just right for humming along.

Disney's Animal Kingdom explores the stories of all animals—real, imaginary, and extinct. Enter through the Oasis, where you hear exotic background music and find yourself surrounded by gentle waterfalls and gardens alive with exotic birds, reptiles, and mammals.

At 403 acres and several times the size of the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom is the largest in area of all Disney theme parks. Animal habitats take up much of that acreage. Creatures here thrive in careful re-creations of landscapes from Asia and Africa. Throughout the park, you'll also learn about conservation in a low-key way.

Amid all the nature are thrill rides, a 3-D show (housed in the "root system" of the iconic Tree of Life), two first-rate musicals, and character meet and greets. Cast members are as likely to hail from Kenya or South Africa as they are from Kentucky or South Carolina. It's all part of the charm. Pandora—The World of Avatar, based on the movie Avatar, opened in 2017, a fitting addition, since the film’s theme of living in harmony with nature reflects the park’s eco-philosophy.

Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are two of the world's best water parks. What sets them apart? It's the same thing that differentiates all Disney parks—the detailed themes. Whether you're cast away on a balmy island at Typhoon Lagoon or washed up on a ski-resort-turned-seaside-playground at Blizzard Beach, the landscaping and clever architecture will add to the fun of flume and raft rides, wave pools, and splash areas. Another plus: the vegetation has matured enough to create shade. The Disney water parks give you that lost-in-paradise feeling on top of all those high-speed, wedgie-inducing waterslides. They're so popular that crowds often reach overflow capacity in summer. If you're going to Disney for four days or more between April and October, add the Water Park Fun & More option to your Magic Your Way ticket.

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  • 1. Avatar Flight of Passage

    Animal Kingdom

    This stunning thrill ride puts you atop a dragonlike mountain banshee for the ride of your life. After a trek deep into the jungles of...Read More

  • 2. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

    Magic Kingdom

    Set in gold-rush days, this thrilling roller coaster simulates a runaway train. It's a bumpy ride with several good drops (pregnant women and guests wearing...Read More

  • 3. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

    Magic Kingdom

    Based on the wildly popular Toy Story, this ride gives you a toy's perspective as it pits you and Buzz Lightyear against the evil Emperor...Read More

  • 4. Crush 'n' Gusher

    Typhoon Lagoon

    If flume rides, storm slides, and tube races aren't wild enough for you, get ready to defy gravity on Disney's multipassenger water coaster. Designed to...Read More

  • 5. Downhill Double Dipper

    Blizzard Beach

    If you're on your way to Snow Stormers or Toboggan Racers on the purple slopes, you might notice this cool-looking slide on the left. It's...Read More

  • 6. Enchanted Tales with Belle

    Magic Kingdom

    Stroll the path through an artfully planted woodland and meadow to a rustic French cabin complete with waterwheel, where Belle's father, Maurice, tinkers with his...Read More

  • 7. Expedition Everest—Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

    Animal Kingdom

    A fierce yeti guards the route to Mt. Everest. Of course, you're willing to risk running across the big guy in your roller-coaster quest to...Read More

  • 8. Festival of the Lion King

    Animal Kingdom

    If you think you've seen enough Lion King to last a lifetime, you're wrong—unless you've seen this show. Disney presents a delightful celebration of song,...Read More

  • 9. Finding Nemo–The Musical

    Animal Kingdom

    Although favorite songs such as "Go With the Flow" and "Big Blue World" are guaranteed keepers, Disney has been busy "reimagining" this fan favorite, so...Read More

  • 10. Frozen Ever After

    EPCOT

    In Norway's dandy boat-ride homage to the popular Frozen film, you pile into a 16-passenger, dragon-headed longboat for a dark-ride voyage around Arendelle. The familiar...Read More

  • 11. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

    EPCOT

    The peace-loving planet Xandar, from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, has opened as the first other-world exhibit at EPCOT. However, Rocket and his pals...Read More

  • 12. Haunted Mansion

    Magic Kingdom

    The special effects here are a howl. You're greeted at the creaking iron gates of this Gothic mansion by a lugubrious attendant, who has one...Read More

  • 13. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!

    Disney's Hollywood Studios

    The rousing theme music from the Indiana Jones movies heralds action delivered by veteran stunt coordinator Glenn Randall, whose credits include Raiders of the Lost...Read More

  • 14. Kilimanjaro Safaris

    Animal Kingdom

    A giant Imagineered baobab tree is the starting point for exploring this animal sanctuary. Although re-creating an African safari in the United States isn't a...Read More

  • 15. Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway

    Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Inspired by the newest Mickey and Minnie shorts, this ride begins with you inside a new cartoon about Mickey and Minnie's desire for a perfect...Read More

  • 16. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run

    Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Star Wars fans will love being able to actually pilot the Millennium Falcon on a supply run. Hondo Ohnaka, who fans will recognize from Star...Read More

  • 17. Mission: SPACE

    EPCOT

    It took five years for Disney Imagineers, with the help of 25 experts from NASA, to design Mission: SPACE, the first ride ever to take...Read More

  • 18. Na'vi River Journey

    Animal Kingdom

    To enter this gentle river ride, you must first wander through the inventive landscape of Pandora, designed by Disney Imagineers to include many tropical and...Read More

  • 19. Pirates of the Caribbean

    Magic Kingdom

    This is one of the few rides in the world that inspired a film (Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy and Jungle Cruise with The Rock...Read More

  • 20. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

    Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Although this is an indoor roller coaster like Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain, the similarity ends there. With its high-speed launch (0 to 60 in 2.8...Read More

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