In 1982, a month-long celebration preceded the opening of Epcot Center, a futuristic complex and extension of the theme park. “Epcot” is short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and was the idea of Walt Disney himself. He envisioned a community completely self-governed and existing along side the theme parks. His plans have come to fruition. The Walt Disney World Vacation Kingdom today is known officially in the Florida statutes as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the legal body governing the whole Disney Complex. The company has the power to build roads, enforce building codes, and supervise mayoral elections for the district’s two towns, Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the resort’s third theme park, which opened in 1989 seven years after Epcot. All the technical glamour, wizardry, and artistry associated with motion picture are showcased.
Disney’s fourth theme park is the Animal Kingdom, which opened in 1998. It is the largest of the four parks. Encompassing 500 acres of land, the Animal Kingdom is themed around animal conservation. The zoo-like park consists of seven themed lands, most of them featuring real-life animals in artificially created habitats. Most of the lands also feature, rides, 3-D film, or musical shows and performances tied to the theme.
This Utopian kingdom of Disney boasts some of the most highly advanced facilities and services, including a monorail land transport system that is noiseless, elevated, and completely computerized. The entire complex is retrofitted with a fully electronic telephone system. There is also a fleet of 400 ships, including steamboats and submarines, making it the world’s fifth largest navy.
Disney World opens at 9:00 in the morning year-round, but visitors are often let in early. To avoid the worst crowds, it’s best to visit Epcot in the mornings and Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom in the afternoons. If you visit any of the theme parks in the morning, it’s best to run to the attractions that are most distant from the entrance gates and then work your way back to the attractions closer to the entrance. In the summer, the theme parks stay opened for a few hours longer. Magic Kingdom closes at midnight, while Epcot and Hollywood Studios close at around 11:00PM. The Animal Kingdom closes a few hours earlier. The busiest days are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, while the quietest days are usually Fridays and Sundays. The best time to get on rides is in the late afternoons and evenings. Christmas through New Year’s Day is the busiest time of the year. The other peak times are during major U.S. holidays. The quietest time of the year is in the summer, especially late August.
Transportation is convenient and efficient. The monorail runs every day from 7:30AM until 11:00PM, departing from the Transportation and Ticket Center. This is where all other forms of transportation to the different attractions converge. Buses are color-coded to match their destination. The ferries and boats also depart from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Transportation is free for visitors staying in an on-site hotel or for those who have purchased a joint Magic Kingdom-Epcot Center passport.
It’s impossible to see everything on the same day. For one thing, the theme parks are huge and miles away from each other. To relax and see everything at a leisurely pace, including the outlying attractions, you really need at least four or five days. Some of the lesser known attractions include Discovery Island, River Country, the Shopping Village, and Hotel Plaza. You should visit City Hall in Magic Kingdom or Earth Station in Epcot Center, grab a map, and plan a route. Also, take advantage of the 3:00 daily parade of Disney characters in Magic Kingdom. During this parade, which lasts for a half hour, the lineups to the best rides are not as long. Skip the parade and get on some of the most popular rides while everyone else is distracted.
Magic Kingdom is reached by taking a monorail or ferry boat from the Transportation and Ticket Center. The entrance gates lead you right into the Town Square, which is home to City Hall, a lost-and-found office, an information center, and a railway station where you can hop onto a train and take a 15-minute journey around the 98-acre park. The Town Square is the lively hub of the theme park where Disney characters greet you, Dixieland bands play, and stalls selling merchandises abound.
Main Street, USA
Main Street, USA is only steps away from the Town Square. Its streets are lined with cinemas, arcades, shops, restaurants, cafes, and ice cream parlors. The buildings are all styled with early 20th century facades. At 3:00PM everyday, the Disney characters parade down this thoroughfare to the Town Square. The Electric Parade of giant floats also takes place here everyday from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM.
The 18-story Cinderella’s Castle stands at the end of Main Street, reached by crossing a bridge over a moat. The castle represents the heart of Magic Kingdom. From the castle, you can take many different routes that lead to other lands with Main Street, of course, being one of them.
Adventureland is one of the most crowded sections of Magic Kingdom. Its top attraction is the Pirates of the Caribbean, which takes you through a cannon battle, among other buccaneering adventures; the Jungle Cruise takes you up the Amazon and down the Nile in a 10-minute ride; the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse offers amazing views of Magic Kingdom from its labyrinthine concrete structure.
Frontierland transports visitors back to the Gold Rush days and the era of the Old West. The most popular attraction is the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a twist-and-turn runaway train ride through a mine. You can also take a rafting ride on peaceful Tom Sawyer Island. Frontierland is also home to the Country Bear Jamboree, a group of singing, audio-animatronic bears.
Liberty Square is themed on Colonial and American history. The Hall of Presidents feature animated figures of well-known past leaders of the nation delivering famous speeches. A 15-minute movie here tells the story behind the writing of the American Constitution. Liberty Square’s most popular attraction, however, is the Haunted House. There is also a riverboat ride that passes by scenes depicting the Old West.
Fantasyland is easily the most popular section of Magic Kingdom with children, probably because it is the farthest removed from reality. Attractions include a replica of Captain Nemo’s submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You can also take a trek ride through the forest to meet up with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You can also take a horse-ride on Cinderella’s Golden Carousel. Whether on the rides or along the streets of Fantasyland, you’ll run into all of Disney’s cartoon or fairy-tale characters. The most popular attraction in Fantasyland is “It’s a Small World”, a trip aboard a small boat as it navigates past a world of dolls placed to represent the global village. All throughout the voyage, you are entertained by the “It’s a Small World” song familiar to all.
The last main section of Magic Kingdom is Tomorrowland, home to the exciting Space Mountain, a roller-coaster ride that simulates space travel. Children under three are not allowed to go on the ride and those under seven have to be accompanied by an adult. Children will also enjoy the Grand Prix Raceway, driving cars with speeds of up to seven miles per hour.
From Tomorrowland, you can get make your way back to Main Street or Cinderella’s Castle. The monorail outside the gates can take you on a three-mile trip to Epcot Center.
Epcot Center is an educationally-oriented complex that has less to do with thrill rides. It is two times the size of Magic Kingdom and features two sections, Future World and World Showcase. Both sections are divided by a lagoon. Epcot greets visitors with a 17-story spherical structure that rises 180 feet high at its peak. Known as Spaceship Earth, this is where you can pick up maps and guides to Future World and World Showcase. Spaceship Earth is actually the starting point for Future World. To get to World Showcase, you just take the sidewalk, which crosses the lagoon.
World Showcase features a series of cultural pavilions devoted to representing a specific nation’s art work, films, exhibits, and general way of life. Each pavilion is based around a replica of a famous world landmark or building. The French pavilion, for example, is based around a replica of the Eiffel Tower, the Japanese pavilion around a pagoda, and the English pavilion around an English pub. Daily displays are shown at the front of each country’s pavilion. Cultural crafts and artifacts are sold at stalls inside the buildings. There is also live folk dance and music from time to time. Samples of national cuisine are often served, especially at the Japanese, French, and Mexican pavilions. Countries with pavilions include Mexico, China, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Norway, Morocco, Canada, Spain, Equatorial Africa, and Israel. China has a brilliant replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Italy boasts a reproduction of Venice’s St. Mark’s Square.
The centerpiece of the World Showcase is the American Adventure pavilion. It revolves around a Colonial-style house. Inside, you can go in and watch a show featuring animatronic characters re-enacting American history. The show is hosted by Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
Future World begins at Spaceship Earth. This section of Epcot provides an entertaining educational tour of technology and science. It focuses on the advances of man and explores subject matters such as computers, communications, energy, and transportation. Displays and exhibits also trace the history of linguistics, taking a look at man’s attempt to communicate with others, from the time of the first cave paintings to today’s satellite technology.
Innoventions is popular among children, mostly for its educational computer games. This section of Epcot, however, also features the Universe of Energy, which dramatizes the formation of fossil fuels by going back to prehistoric times and simulating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. On display, you can also watch audio-animatronic dinosaurs roaming around. Horizons is a different kind of experience than the one offered by the Universe of Energy. It takes you forward into the future. Riding solar-powered theater cars, you move forward into the next century where you’ll observe zero-gravity baseball being played in space, farms run by robots, and cities located under the ocean.
Journey into the Imagination
Journey into the Imagination with Figment is an educational thrill ride hosted by characters called Dreamfinder and Figment. They take you through exhibits that show how films, art, and literature is born from one idea and is then expanded and modified multiple times to become a completed work.
The Land is the least imaginatively named attraction at Epcot and is more popular among adults than children. The Land encompasses six acres of walking area filled with displays that educate the public about the latest techniques and methods of food production. One display shows how food might one day be produced in outer space. Produce grown from The Land can be sampled at the Good Turn Restaurant.
Coral Reef Restaurant
The Coral Reef Restaurant is one of the most exciting attractions at Epcot. It is an underwater seafood restaurant located in a six million gallon aquarium about five fathoms deep. The aquarium is inhabited by hundreds of various sea life including tropical fish, barracudas, and dolphins.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Great Movie Ride
At the heart of the park is a replica of the renowned Grauman’s Chinese Theater of Hollywood. Inside, you can experience the Great Movie Ride, which takes you on a journey through Hollywood’s history, paying homage to the industry’s biggest stars who appear in audio-animatronics form. The ride lasts for 20 minutes.
Studio Backlot Tour
The Studio Backlot Tour is a 30-minute ride that offers an up-close look at a TV and motion picture studio. The shuttle passes through the studio, providing views of props, costumes, and the backlot. In an excursion through Catastrophe Canyon, you’ll also learn how movies create gigantic fires, floods, and earthquakes.
Magic of Disney Animation
Magic of Disney Animation is a show and tour that enlightens visitors on how Disney artists create and design animated characters. You also get to go behind the scenes and learn about some of the production techniques used in the making of Disney movies such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast.
Muppet Vision 3-D
Muppet Vision 3-D is a 3-D tour of the Muppet Labs. The tour is a cinematic experience of song and dance that introduces you to the Muppet Show characters in audio-animatronic form.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular is a stage show that lets visitors experience first-hand the stunts and special effects of Indiana Jones’ onscreen adventures. The crashes, traps, and explosions are re-created with the help of extras chosen from the audience.
Star Tours is an intergalactic thrill ride that takes you through some of the recreated space effects seen in the Star Wars movies.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a 13-story drop from a hotel elevator that will leave your heart throbbing with terror. You are led into the elevator, which reveals the park below. But the doors shut just as the elevator takes a straight down drop.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a hybrid of a zoo and a theme park. Natural habitats with animals are on display mixed in with typical Disney rides. Among the rides, you’ll find a raft ride through a tropical rainforest, a jeep safari ride past jungle animals from Africa, a time travel ride which brings you close to dinosaurs, and a roller coaster ride called the “Expedition Everest” which takes you up close to a live Yeti. There are also musical shows and performances involving animals. The park is divided into seven themed lands: Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Asia, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and DinoLand USA.
Blizzard Beach Water Park
While not a theme park, the Blizzard Beach Water Park does offer some fun. It is a ski resort located next to Disney’s All-Star Resorts. Blizzard Beach features a 90 foot slide down Mount Gushmore that slithers into a tropical lagoon.
Typhoon Lagoon is a water park with tropical beach theme featuring several slides, a huge surf wave pool, and a snorkeling lagoon with living sharks.
The Walt Disney World Village at Lake Buena Vista (go west on Epcot Center Drive, then north on I-4) is the place to go for shopping. The shopping complex has hundreds of stores selling electronic goods, the latest fashionable clothes, and other quality gifts. Prices are high, though, so it’s better to do your shopping in Orlando.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Florida, 2nd Edition. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc., 1995. ISBN: 1556504527.
“Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney%27s_Animal_Kingdom>
“Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Lagoon>
“Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.” < http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/parks/attractionDetail?id=IndianaJonesEpicStuntSpectacularAttractionPage>
“Muppet Vision 3-D.” < http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/parks/attractionDetail?id=JimHensonsMuppetVision3DAttractionPage>
“Star Tours – The Ultimate Star Wars Thrill Ride.” < http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/parks/attractionDetail?id=StarToursAttractionPage>
“The Magic of Disney Animation.” < http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/parks/attractionDetail?id=TheMagicofDisneyAnimationAttractionPage>
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