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An Easy Guide to Visiting Disney World, Florida

By September 12, 2018March 26th, 202112 Comments

We are kind of the biggest Disney fans ever here at Pure Wander. Personally, I’m partial to Disney World in Florida, while Ashley is bananas for Disneyland in California. We’ve heard great things about the mouse in Paris and Tokyo too. When it comes to the theme parks worldwide, we know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to where to stay, how to optimize your time and the best food to eat every day. We even know things like the best age for Disney World and what the kiddos (and adults) love the most.


As a first, I spent a good week at Disney World in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2018, right in the thick of vacation-time for families. Not to mention, it was stupid hot out, paired with torrential downpours in between. Some may think it’s silly to do Disney World in the summer, but I found it a thrill.

spaceship earth at epcot in disney world

On top of the crowds and weather? We did Disney….with teenagers. The toughest crowd to please. Good news is, both us adults and the teens had a blast. Need a game plan? Here’s how we did Disney below so you can gear up for next year, or Disney Holidays 2020!

Table of Contents

The Plan 90 Days Before Disney World

Want to look your best for your Disney World trip?

I recommend the Shop Disney site for authentic mouseketeer gear!

magic kingdom at night disney worldWhere to Stay


Even the most spontaneous of travelers and vacationers need to have a rough idea of how to tackle Disney World. Last time I spent multiple days at the parks was when I was a kiddo, and the tech was far from there. Nowadays, Disney makes it easy to plan your visit way ahead of time to make for smooth sailing. You can book accommodations, know which parks to visit first, make dinner reservations and even scope out the best seating for shows in the Disney app and online.

A Pop of Convenience

Choose a good place for your budget and timeframe to stay at first. We loved the Pop Century Resort and were super surprised by it’s wonderful, Scandinavian-style rooms. Simple, yet clean and cozy, the room had one pop-up murphy bed, regular bed and sliding bathroom doors. I was impressed by the storage space as well as the full-size toiletries that are installed in the room. It’s wonderfully eco-friendly and I’m happy I didn’t have to wrestle with some tiny to-go shampoo bottle! The teens loved the pool scene at night too. It seems parks are forgoed at night so they can hang back at the hotel and relax. A cocktail bar and plenty of loungers makes the area pleasant for adults too.

rubix cube pop century resort disney world

Pop Century is close to the parks and offers free shuttle services like all other resorts within the park. To be honest, the food service at this resort was a bit lacking – lots of heavy roasts and fried foods that weren’t preferred in the dead of summer. But luckily there’s tons of options in the parks themselves to skirt this issue.

African Elegance

For a more upscale experience, we were highly impressed with the beautiful Animal Kingdom Lodge. Located just outside the main park (backing up to the actual wildlife reserve) is this beautiful property. While a little vaguely just “Africa”, they do touch upon a bunch of different cultures and do try to differentiate each country and it’s gifts. Most of the staff are from various African nations.

tree of life animal kingdom disney world

We had one of the best evenings of the trip at Boma, highly regarded as one of the best restaurants at Disney World. Buffet-style, this place offers endless dishes hailing from more than 50 countries in Africa. Stews and roasts, salads and mains dishes, vegan-friendly options and of course, dessert, are all available. They have an excellent South African wine selection as well. Boma is ideal for a mixed group with teens, as they do have pasta and chicken options too for picky eaters.

FastPass Tips!

After investing in tickets, hotels and flights to Disney, the last thing you might want to do is shell out for a FastPass. But don’t worry – it’s now included in all standard tickets!

You can reserve your favorite rides up to 30 days in advance per day. Pick wisely, as the limit is three per person up front. Choose the busiest rides, like coasters and new attractions. After you do the first three (go for the morning if you can), you can then reserve the next ones while in the park on the day of. This streamlined our experienced so much, especially as we can reserve them together as a group through the Disney World app.

its a small world disney world

Once You’re There: Best Disney Parks and Plans

Speaking of the app, this was a lifesaver almost every day we were exploring the parks. Make sure you bring a spare battery pack so your phones don’t run out of juice. You can track just about everything through the app – wait times for each ride, maps of the parks and even dinner reservations. Paired with my MagicBand, it’s a breeze to navigate the crowds with little stress.

This might be a basic tip, but leave room for lots of spontaneity. One of my favorite things to do is simply soak up the magic (just like I did freaking out all over Happy Potter’s Diagon Alley in Universal). Leave time for shows passing by, character run-ins, people watching and even the occasional ride that goes down for maintenance.

Do the iconic rides first and leave a whole day or two for Magic Kingdom. I also loved a day in Animal Kingdom, even if just for the giant Everest roller coaster and the Kali River Rapids.

english cottage in epcot disney world

Epcot is fast becoming a new favorite – now that’s I’m a grown-up kid. It was like a gift to go through each country too. I thought I might think it kitschy to stroll around England, France or Morocco, but even the sometimes cringey stereotypes made for a valiant effort and did remind me of the actual destinations.

A Little Coco Loco!

fiesta margarita in epcot disney world

Recently, Disney has transformed the somewhat vague Aztec/Mayan/Mexican area into a shrine for the Coco movie. Coco is a special work of art, and I was delighted to see they found a home for it in Epcot. Check out the small Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) exhibit in the temple. With a Viva la Mexico margarita tower in hand, of course.

You’ve Got A Friend in Me

woody mural toy story land

Your strategy might be different if you’re a huge Toy Story fan – the new park inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios is well worth an afternoon. We were there for the opening weekend and it was UNBELIEVABLE. The Disney details are not to be missed in this walk down memory lane. Rumor has it there will be a Star Wars experience coming to this park soon too, so its reboot makes for allotting more time there.

slinky dog dash tory story land disney world

Toy Story has one new roller coaster, the Slinky Dog Dash. Other attractions include the 4-D Toy Story Mania ride and alien-themed saucer spinner. But just to walk around the full-on environment of primary colors, giant resin retro toys and lots of fun characters. I’m a mush anyways, but I definitely teared up walking into Toy Story Land to re-live the movie I loved as a 10-year-old.

toy soldier at toy story land in disney world

For the Kids: What to Teens do at Disney?

I was with a large group of teens from the In Sync dance studio in Massachusetts. They were selected to perform in a parade through the Magic Kingdom, as well as a medley show at Epcot with other troupes from all over the country. So, the packs were large and really, really honking pumped to be there.

Besides literally taking a selfie at every brightly colored pit stop, teens do loads of fun stuff at Disney World.  Here’s a couple of tips.

teen dancers best age for disney world

Leave time for photos. For real. My mother-in-law and I walked around Epcot sipping margaritas on our own and managed to cover all the countries at a brisk pace in a couple hours. When we had three teenage girls in tow, this took for-ev-er. When they met up with their guy friends and a few more girls with GoPros, the pace slowed to a crawl. This is part of the fun though – they’re all hanging out in a controlled environment, off the web and living in the moment. Let them enjoy the parks the way they want and allow for extra strolling time.

The teens loved the wildest rides too of course. I paired up with my 14-year-old brother-in-law, deciding that Everest and Splash Mountain were some of our favorites. After a stomach full of snacks though, we definitely should have skipped “Mission Space”. In Epcot it’s one of the more unassuming attractions, but it simulates 2.5Gs of pressure at your launched to Mars…not a fun feeling. Also not fun for those who aren’t thrilled about tight spaces. NEXT.

disney world cinderella castle at night

The shows are often a bit too young for teenagers, but there are a few dance-centric parades that caught their attention in Magic Kingdom. The guys also like the Japanese drum performance outside in Epcot, and the African music dance and band in Animal Kingdom. The girls did like some of the more nostalgic spectacles, like the Once Upon a Time Castle Show in Magic Kingdom that plays lots of old tunes and stories.

Visiting Disney World: Current Times (2020)

Of course, for those reading in 2020, Disney World is looking, well, entirely different. The coronavirus pandemic had fully shut down the theme park from March through early July.

While Disney World is re-opened now, it doesn’t look anything like before. Various new safety regulations are in place, from temperature checks to social distancing and mask requirements (yes, on rides too!). Packed lines for rides and hugging your favorite Disney character are things of the past.

There have been numerous articles written about whether or not it’s worth it to visit the reopened park. Ultimately, it is up to you what kind of trip you are looking for, and whether the increased precautions would damper your mood or are welcome changes. For instance, lessened crowds might be exactly what you were hoping for. Either way, be sure you are complying with safety guidelines in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep yourself (and others!) healthy.

Have a blast at your next Disney trip and feel free to leave a comment anytime with your questions! We’ve love to help you plan and get excited about the magic.

pure wander's guide to disney world

Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Instagram @Pure_Wander.

More posts by Eileen Cotter Wright

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Elaine Masters says:

    I fondly remember grad night parties at Disneyland and wandering the park till midnight without chaperones! Those were the days. We didn’t have all the Disney garb and cool rides like today. Still if I had a teen I’d definitely be into taking them to Disney World and hanging out myself.

  • Heather says:

    I love Disney too and although I’ve been a million times, I’m not an expert. I grew up in Alabama so of course, I love Disney World. Living in LA for a few years gave me the opportunity to explore Disneyland. While I had the best time at my first Mickey’s Halloween Party, I was pretty disappointed with Disneyland-especially the castle. But I will still visit when I’m in LA! I’ve also been to Disneyland Hong Kong and that was pretty interesting. Pop Century looks really fun and I’ve always wanted to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge! That FastPass is now included with standard tickets?? SCORE! And of course, there’s now an app…so much has changed since I last visited apparently! I also would love to revisit Epcot now that I’ve been to a lot of its “countries”. 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    Ahhh so many amazing memories! I haven’t been back to Disney for ages, but used to go almost yearly when I was growing up. The Pop resort looks great but honestly Animal Kingdom Resort FOREVER. I love that place so much!

  • Andi says:

    I’m not a big fan of Disney, but these parks are incredible and getting more intricate and more elaborate over the years! It’s definitely fun for families at all ages.

  • Janiel Green says:

    Anything that has DISNEY attached to it is my kind of party! I didn’t know that they had a whole section dedicated to Dia de Los Muertos – I love it when they celebrate different cultures & ESPECIALLY glad to see that the Margarita didn’t go to waste 😉 I also had no idea that they had a toy story roller coaster! I love the shootout toy story ride in Disneyland, so this looks super fun!

  • Cat says:

    The last time I was at Disney World was 10 years ago. I was a poor student – didn’t stay at a Disney resort or dined at their restaurant, but we fully took advantage of the fastpass. A lot has changed since then, and I want to go back again, this time with my husband. Boma sounds lovely! It has such a beautiful space. I bet the food is equally impressive!

  • I am a disney addict too! When I purchased my first AP was like….world rebirth AHAHA. I agree with you about BOMA…I think the world does, its just such a delicious restaurant with so many AMAZING options. Uhhh I can’t even! I am also a sucker for Spice Road Table in Morocco, so fabulous. I am looking forward to my Oct/Nov trip after reading this!

  • Julianne says:

    I looooove Disney World and Disneyland! I know what you mean about having to wait around for people — when it’s just me and my husband, we can get through things quickly, but if it’s our whole family? Forget it. We’re lucky if we get through one ride in two hours, haha (not to mention that deciding where and when to eat takes a while). Hoping to get back to Disney World next year! 🙂

  • Juliann says:

    Your photos are fantastic!! It definitely cements your point about taking time to take pictures. I’m not a huge Disney fan, but enjoyed taking my kids there as adults. We rode everything! Plus, with my son in the military, we got some great discounts.

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