The Walt Disney World Resort is as big as the city of San Francisco! That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? And within the 40 square miles that the resort takes up there are hotels, restaurants, and entertainment galore! And, of course, the parks themselves. If you’re a Disneyland native, or just haven’t ever done a Disney trip, you might be wondering about the Disney World parks.
What are they? What can you expect to find inside each of them? What makes them different? It can easily be overwhelming, so this guide to the Disney World parks is here to help you get oriented.
In this guide, I’ll be walking you through all of the above so that you know which parks you want to visit, and what to expect inside of each of them. After you’ve learned about the parks, you might also want to check out my blog post: Beginner’s Guide to a Disney Vacation, for help on making all of the important decisions as you plan your trip!
Disney World Park Overview
There are 4 main parks at Disney World in Orlando – not to be confused with the 2 parks at Disneyland in California. These 4 parks are Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
In addition to those main parks, Disney World also has two water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. These two parks are much smaller than the others, so those sections are significantly shorter than the main four, but I wanted to make sure I at least mention them!
Opened October 1, 1971, Magic Kingdom was the first park to open at the Orlando resort. (Currently, the 50th anniversary celebration is taking place throughout all of the Disney World parks to celebrate! This 18–month long celebration has introduced new merch, new events, new fun, and new foods – don’t miss the 50th Anniversary Cronut in EPCOT if you go. Amazing.)
For many people, when they think Disney, Magic Kingdom is what they think of. This is where you’ll find Cinderella’s castle, Main Street, and all of the other quintessentially “Disney” things.
Inside of Magic Kingdom, you’ll find six lands:
Main Street, USA
Themed to a turn-of-the-20th century small town, Main Street is where you’ll find plenty of shops to explore and treats to snack on. It’s also what funnels you up towards the castle, which is essentially the center of the spoke that is all of the other lands in Magic Kingdom.
Originally meant to be themed as an area to explore the future, this land in the park has become quite the mismatch of space, aliens/monsters, and obsolete futuristic ideas. Technology has improved so drastically in the last 50 years that Tomorrowland just couldn’t keep up!
In this land you’ll find the first of “The Mountains” – Space Mountain, as well as the Carousel of Progress, which is personally one of my favorite attractions because of it’s hokey-ness. Plus, the new Tron coaster opening in 2022!
Given a major makeover in 2012, Fantasyland is themed after Disney’s animated fairy tales and is home to the castle.
Some of what you’ll find in Fantasyland include Be Our Guest, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Peter Pan’s flight inside of Fantasyland, as well as Storybook Circus. This area pays homage to Dumbo, has a playground for young children, and allows you to meet characters at Pete’s Silly Sideshow!
With a theme focused on America in the 1800s, you’ll feel like a Pioneer as soon as you cross into Frontierland. If you look closely, you’ll notice that walking Frontierland takes you from settling the frontier up to the antebellum South (or vice versa, depending on your walking direction).
Main attractions here include Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Tom Sawyer Island.
Meant to replicate America during the time of the Revolutionary War, you won’t find any bathrooms in this land! It’s true – you have to hop over to a neighboring land to find one. This level of attention to detail is what makes Disney so magical!
What will you find in Liberty Square? The iconic Haunted Mansion ride, and the underappreciated Columbia Harbour House quick service restaurant are just a few examples of what to expect.
For all adventurers, you’ll find a mix of African-safari and tropical island themes. It sounds odd, but does seem to work together well inside Adventureland.
Here you’ll find many Disney classics – such as Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Enchanted Tiki Room. (Also considered a bit odd by most, but a great way to cool off and escape that Florida heat!)
Disney World Park 3: EPCOT
Opened October 1, 1982 on Walt Disney World’s 11 anniversary, EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Originally, Walt’s idea was to create a futuristic city that included things like self-driving cars, solar-powered homes, and homes that were electronically connected to a network of information services. (If only he could see our world today!) However, if you’re familiar with the Disney timeline, you’ll know that Walt actually died in 1966 before Magic Kingdom ever opened, so he was not around to see EPCOT come to fruition.
Those in charge created a park with two distinct areas – Future World, and the World Showcase. (Fun fact: My grandfather had a construction job building EPCOT, and my mom was able to go on opening day. Thus began what would become a generational love of Disney.)
Future World was meant to be futuristic, educational, and all about how technology could improve the way we live. Similar to Tomorrowland, the future caught up a little too quickly, and for many years, Future World was in the midst of an identity crisis.
Currently, if you visit EPCOT you’ll find that most of Future World seems to be under construction. When things open back up, there will be three lands within.
World Discovery will be what is currently known as Future World East, and include the attractions Test Track, Mission: Space, and the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride opening soon, and the new Play! Pavilion.
World Nature will be what is currently known as Future World West, and include the other three pavilions: Imagination!, Land, and Seas.
Inside of the Imagination! pavilion, you’ll find Figment, and some fun fountains to check out (I won’t spoil why they’re fun).
The Land is where you’ll find Living with the Land (one of my personal favorites), and Soarin’.
The Seas contains SeaBase, which is a large saltwater aquarium, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, as well as Turtle Talk with Crush.
World Celebration well be the central area of EPCOT, and include Spaceship Earth (aka the Golf Ball), and Club Cool (sponsored by Coca-Cola, you can find free unlimited samples of soft drinks from around the world in here).
The World Showcase is on the back half of EPCOT (or, if you’re staying at an EPCOT/Hollywood Studio area resort, you’ll have easy access to that second entrance and that will become your front half. See Beginner’s Guide to Disney World Hotels for more.) and this is where you’ll find 11 different areas themed after countries – including architecture, food, drinks, and educational cultural information. You’ll also find plenty of live entertainment from various countries.
You’ve likely heard of adults who love to go to World Showcase and then proceed to eat and/or drink around the world. However, EPCOT also has plenty to do for your kids – pick up a Passport Kit at one of the shops, which will allow them to “stamp” their passport for each country they visit. Or, check out the Kidcot Fun Stops. Set up around the world, these are tables set up in each pavilion and you can find cast members handing out postcards, or coloring/craft projects at these.
There are constant rumors about new countries being added to the World Showcase, but here are the 11 current ones:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Next up on our Disney World parks tour: Hollywood Studios. Originally named Disney-MGM Studios, the newly dubbed Hollywood Studios opened May 1, 1989. Initially, when Hollywood Studios was created, it was meant to be both a theme park inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood and an operating production studio. MGM had a problem with this, which ended up with them suing Disney and Disney counter-suing them … but ultimately Disney kept the MGM Studios name until 2008.
Now, as Hollywood Studios, this park has become less “studios” focused, and more focused on immersive theming from movies. Here, you’ll find 7 different lands.
A recreation of the true Hollywood Boulevard during the Golden Age of Hollywood, this is the main entrance street – similar to Main Street in Magic Kingdom. You’ll find plenty of stores to meander through, a Starbucks, can take any of the side roads to other lands, and the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride inside of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre replica.
Featuring a mini-lake, in this land you’ll find the Frozen Sing-Along (highly recommend), the Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular, and Star Tours.
With what must be the smallest “land” in all of Walt Disney World (somebody, fact check that and let me know in the comments if there’s a smaller one), Grand Avenue is home to only a single attraction – MuppetVision 3D.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
When Disney decided to move into the direction of immersive lands, they hit the ball out of the park with Galaxy’s Edge. Set on the planet of Batuu, Galaxy’s Edge is meant to exist between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker movies. But even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, it’s hard not to appreciate this land for it’s true immersion. You really feel like you’re inside of Star Wars when you walk around.
You’ll find a little of everything – shopping, dining, attractions, in Galaxy’s Edge, but the two stand outs are Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, and Rise of the Resistance. I personally haven’t ridden Millennium Falcon (sounds dangerous for those of us that are prone to motion sickness), but have only heard good things. And I know for a fact that Rise of the Resistance is one of the most incredible attractions of all time. Objectively, Disney went above and beyond designing this attraction and truly turning it into an experience.
Adjacent to Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll also find the brand new hotel – Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. Again, this is less a hotel and more a total experience – booking your room means you’re signing up for a two-day role-playing experience. (And all the introverts said no, thanks).
Toy Story Land
Meant to make you feel as if you’d been shrunken down to the size of a toy, Toy Story Land is definitely the area of the park geared most towards children. Host to three attractions (Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Mania, and Alien Swirling Saucers) and one quick service restaurant, this land is fun and immersive, as well. Although nothing is quite as immersive as Galaxy’s Edge.
This “land” has become a hodge-podge mess, in my opinion. Here you’ll find everything from the Star Wars Launch Bay (with props and character meet and greets), to a Disney Junior show, to a stage show of the Little Mermaid (which hasn’t reopened since the pandemic, and is rumored to be closed for good).
Similar to Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll find plenty of dining, shopping, and street entertainment along Sunset Boulevard. However, this is also where you’ll find three shows, and the two thrill rides of the park. Stroll down to check out Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and Fantasmic (closed at the time of writing this post).
My personal favorite park, Animal Kingdom opened April 22, 1998. The entire park is themed around the animal conservation, and the celebration of animals and creatures “real and imagined”.
Many will consider this a half day park, but there’s plenty to do if you’re open to slowing down and really taking things in. Set apart from the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort, for the comfort of the animals, this park has a much different vibe than the rest of the Resort as well. Here you’ll find over 1,700 animals within six different lands:
Similar to Main Street in Magic Kingdom, The Oasis is the main road into the park. However, unlike Main Street, or Hollywood Boulevard, instead of immediately shooting you straight up into the central hub, The Oasis is full of meandering paths that you can take to look at various animal exhibits.
The central hub of Animal Kingdom, Discovery Island is truly an island, with the other lands connected to it by bridges. Prepare to see a lot of Discovery Island, because you have to backtrack to it to get around.
This is also home to the Tree of Life (which is then home to the A Bug’s Life show), more trails and animal exhibits, and the post for Wilderness Explorers ( a parkwide scavenger hunt and puzzle-solving adventure game).
I’m sure it comes at no surprise that this land is themed all around dinosaurs. Here you’ll find a boneyard playground where young ones can get their energy out and uncover fossils, the Dinosaur ride where you are sent back in time with the mission of bringing home a dinosaur before it’s extinction, some smaller attractions, and a replica of the T-Rex fossil that is the most complete T-Rex fossil round to date. There are also some live animal displays within Dinoland – such as a crocodile and a tortoise.
Set in the fictional east African port village of Harambe, Africa is the largest of the Animal Kingdom lands. Here you’ll find animal exhibits, The Festival of the Lion King Show (can’t miss), the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction, and the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch isn’t a true land in and of itself, but you do have to take the Wildlife Express Train up to the area. This is also the only area of Animal Kingdom not connected to Discovery Island. Here you’ll find the Conservation Station (the animal care-center), and a petting zoo.
Set in the fictional kingdom of Anadapur, you’ll find both the riverside village of Anadapur and Serka Zong, set in the foothills of the Himalayas. In this land you’ll find Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, more trails and animal exhibits, and the Feathered Friends in Flight show. This show is fascinating, and unless you actively dislike birds, it’s a must attend.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
Here’s where those imagined animals come into play. The newest upgrade to the park opened in 2017 and was Disney’s first foray into truly immersive lands. Walking through the Valley of Mo’ara makes it feel like you are truly there, and of course it’s completely gorgeous. Here you’ll also find the Avatar Flight of Passage, and Na’vi River Journey attractions
Disney World Park 5: Typhoon Lagoon
The first of the two water parks at Disney World, Typhoon Lagoon opened June 1, 1989. You enter into a tropical rainforest only to discover it has been wrecked by a Typhoon – expect to see things in unexpected places.
You’ll see all of the typical water park attractions – water slides, lazy river, etc – at Typhoon Lagoon but their real claim to fame is the “surf pool” that puts out 6 foot high waves every 90 seconds.
Our final stop on the Disney World parks tour: Blizzard Beach. Opened April 1, 1995, Blizzard Beach is the second of Disney World’s two water parks. The back story for this park is that there was once an entrepreneur who decided to open a ski park in Florida during the winter, but when winter ended and the snow melted, the resort remained. Thus, the water park.
If you’re into water slides, Blizzard Beach is the water park you’ll want to hit up with 15 of them.
And there you have it! Everything you need to know so that you know what to expect inside of the 4 main parks and 2 water parks at Walt Disney World! If you still have questions about the Disney World parks, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll help you out. And if you’re gearing up to plan your next magical escape, be sure to check out my Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Disney Vacation blog post!