No matter how long or short your stay, the conundrum at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando will be deciding what you're NOT going to have time to do, because this resort that spans 43 square miles and more than 30,000 acres has an array of attractions to keep you enthralled and engaged. As if its four theme parks weren't enough, the resort is also home to more than 30 accommodation options, four golf courses, two water parks, ESPN's Wide World of Sports and Downtown Disney, a huge entertainment, dining and shopping complex. And that's only scratching the resort's magical surface.
Rooms at Walt Disney World Resort
Disney has any type of accommodation you can imagine, from basic "value hotels" that are slightly less than $100 (Disney's All-Star Movies, Music and Sports Resorts) up to the deluxe-level Animal Kingdom Lodge, Contemporary, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge and Grand Floridian (starting at just under $300 to more than $500 per night in season). If you really want to splurge, try Saratoga Springs Resort's three-bedroom treehouse villa set amid a forest canopy along the Sassagoula River (about $725 in season). However, you also can bring your tent and camp out under the stars at Fort Wilderness, which is the least-expensive way to stay ($70 or below). Rates are typically reduced in less-busy times such as late summer to early fall, and the resort also offers special packages that include rooms, multi-park tickets and even meals at a reduced rate.
Must see/do at Walt Disney World Resort
Start with the Magic Kingdom, Disney's iconic theme park, where Cinderella's castle, the colorful Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade, the cosmic indoor roller coaster Space Mountain and a nightly fireworks extravaganza make it a must. Epcot's World Showcase transports you through 11 nation-themed sections, with each offering a taste of a particular country's cuisine and culture. Epcot also has added more ride experiences in recent years to keep the kids captivated, including Mission Space, Test Track and Soarin'. After a couple of days at the parks, cool off with a trip to Blizzard Beach. Only Disney could build a water attraction that resembles a ski resort that has melted and monikers such as Mount Gushmore, Melt-Away Bay, Tike's Peak and Summit Plummet. Corny or not, there's just something special about wearing your bathing suit while being surrounded by ice and snow.
Best and Worst Time to Go To Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World is always busy, but there are times when the crowds thin out, typically from mid April to late May or from mid-September to mid-November. Amazingly, those also coincide with the times when Central Florida's weather is at its best -- and dryest. For food and wine lovers, there's no better time to visit Disney from late September to mid-November, when the crowds are down, the weather is typically perfect and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival –- included with ticketed Epcot admission –- is in full swing. Guests can pair beers, wines and cocktails with dishes from nearly 30 international marketplaces as they travel the World Showcase in the pay-as-you-eat format. The festival also includes signature dining experiences at Epcot restaurants, culinary demonstrations and "Eat to the Beat" live concerts. Avoid March and early April near spring break and Easter, summer weekends and the weeks of Christmas and New Year's, when the parks are at their busiest.
Parking and Public Transportation at Walt Disney World Resort
A parking fee of $17 to $20 is required at all Disney theme parks, but you only have to pay the fee once if you hit multiple parks in one day and parking is free for resort hotel guests and some annual passholders. On-site resort guests receive free bus transportation from their hotel to the theme parks. But it's way cooler to silently glide on Disney's famed Monorail, which departs from Disney's Transportation and Ticket Center and three resort hotels -- the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village -- to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Water taxis also travel every 15 or 30 minutes from several hotels to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney. Resort guests who fly into Central Florida also receive another big perk: complimentary transportation on Disney's Magical Express bus system from Orlando International Airport to their resort and then back to the airport.
Other Places to Visit at Walt Disney World Resort
If you need a break from the parks, Downtown Disney has you covered with dozens of restaurants and shops, a Cirque du Soleil theater, nightly live music at the House of Blues, a 24-screen movie theater and Splitsville, a 30-lane luxury bowling alley with five bars, live music and dancing, upscale dining and billiards tables. Disney's BoardWalk, a short stroll or boat ride from Epcot and Hollywood Studios, is a quarter-mile waterfront promenade that lights up beautifully at night and has restaurants, shops, arcades, street performers, a dance hall and even a dueling piano bar. You also can explore the boardwalk on a bicycle built for two, four or six. For miniature golf lovers, Disney has two of the best courses around at Fantasia Gardens and Fairways, adjacent to Disney's Swan Hotel. One is made for beginners and families, and the other is more challenging, with severe slopes, sand traps, water hazards and par-5 holes that span more than 100 feet.
Insider Tip for visitors to Walt Disney World Resort
Honestly, Disney isn't known for its thrill rides, but Hollywood Studios -- the least-visited of the four theme parks -- has the resort's most hair-raising attractions: The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster shoots you almost immediately out of the gate at 60 mph on a rollicking ride along faux L.A. freeways that include two rollover loops and a corkscrew, all while rocking to a blaring medley of Aerosmith's greatest hits. And the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror hurls you up and down the spooky, 13-story elevator shaft of a haunted Hollywood hotel. Get there right when the park opens and beat the crowds to these two rides, then continue your day at Hollywood Studios or another of the resort's many attractions. After all, you have plenty of options.
Author's bio: Kevin Adams is a freelance writer who has lived in Orlando for more than a decade and has had travel articles appear on USAToday.com and in Golfweek magazine.