Whether you’re heading to Walt Disney World for the first or the fifth time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. After all, there’s a lot to see and do throughout the parks, and with limited time, what should you prioritize? You’re bound to discover your own favorites that you’ll return to every vacation, but if you need a bit of help narrowing down the list, look no further. Here are some essential experiences at WDW that are the perfect jumping off point when planning your days in the parks!
1. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
If you experience only one thing while you’re at Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it should be Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It’s unlike any ride you’ve ever been on before. It’s nearly 20 minutes long, and full of dozens of Audio-Animatronic figures, including Stormtroopers, Droids and even Kylo Ren. There are a whopping 18 show areas, making it seem much more like an immersive Star Wars adventure than a ride. Your favorite heroes from the films (Finn, BB-8, Rey, Poe and more) show up to help you on your mission, and you’ll travel through Batuu’s caves, take part in a space battle, and even escape from the Star Destroyer – if you’re lucky!
2. Kilimanjaro Safaris
Don’t leave Walt Disney World without going on safari! Our favorite experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Kilimanjaro Safaris, which allows you to experience the best of an African safari, without leaving the US. You’ll ride in a rustic safari vehicle through Harambe Wildlife Reserve, which consists of more than 100 acres of land populated by 34 species. Your eagle-eyed guide will point out all the animals you come across, and you’ll be mesmerized as you get up close and personal with zebras, giraffes, hippos, lions, rhinos, and more!
3. Pandora at Night
Visiting Pandora: The World of Avatar is one of the most unique and immersive experiences in Walt Disney World. But if you just visit during the day, you’re missing half the fun! When darkness falls, Pandora is transformed, as bioluminescence brings it to life around you. Wander around and check out the alien plant life glowing in various gorgeous shades, and don’t forget to look down, because even the path beneath your feet glows with bioluminescent footprints, tracks and other natural features. The most impressive spot is the glowing waterfall, which makes for a perfect selfie!
4. Happily Ever After
Walt Disney World comes alive in a completely different way at night, and an essential WDW experience is watching one of the fireworks spectaculars on property. We recommend the Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After show, which features your favorite Disney songs and celebrates the most heart-warming moments of Disney animated films. The show transforms Cinderella Castle through lasers, projections and special effects. And then there are the fireworks themselves, which – fair warning – will honestly ruin you for fireworks anywhere else!
5. Meet Mickey Mouse
Of course, one of the most iconic Walt Disney World experiences is meeting the world’s most famous mouse himself! So where can you find Mickey to get that coveted photo opp and famous autograph? Head to Disney’s Epcot to the Imagination! Pavilion, where Mickey appears as part of the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival. The meet and greet spot is right inside the entrance, and you can check out Mickey’s new backdrop, which celebrates his impressive career, as you meet the world’s most famous mouse!
6. Finding Nemo – the Musical
Live entertainment at Walt Disney World is, predictably, unparalleled. And our favorite live show on property is Finding Nemo – the Musical, at Animal Kingdom. Imagine your favorite characters from the animated film brought to life as huge, whimsical puppets, amid extraordinary sets that make you feel like you’re truly actually under the sea with Nemo and his friends. There’s a beautiful original score to accompany the beloved story, and you’ll be blown away by the combination of acrobatics, vocal talents and special effects that make this show a masterpiece.
7. Photo Opps in Toy Story Land
Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land is a ton of fun for the whole family! And luckily, our essential experience here doesn’t even require waiting in line. Toy Story Land is a feast for the eyes, and you can enjoy it by simply walking around, taking advantage of the many stellar photo opps scattered throughout the land. Keep your eyes peeled for the larger-than-life Woody at the entrance (he’s hard to miss), the popsicle stick wall and checkerboard wall, the ginormous Buzz Lightyear (by the Alien Swirling Saucers), and the Babybel cheese chairs at Woody’s Lunch Box, among others.
8. Space 220
One of the most highly anticipated restaurants opening in 2020 at WDW is Space 220, which promises to be a dining experience unlike anything currently on property. An elevator will transport you to a space station, where you’ll dine in full view of stunning panoramic space views from 220 miles above the earth. You’ll be able to choose from international dishes, and more than 1000 bottles of wine, while you gaze at the captivating view of our planet. The restaurant will be located beside Mission: SPACE, (suitably) in Disney’s Epcot.
9. Haunted Mansion
Waltzing spirits, a disembodied Ghost Host, Madame Leota and her eerie seance, a delightfully spooky graveyard and the famous Hitchhiking Ghosts – what’s not to love about the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion? We ride this attraction multiple times whenever we visit Walt Disney World, and can’t get enough! The interactive queue sets the mood for the ride, and the creepy pre-show is so memorable, many guests have memorized the lines! Board your Doom Buggy and get ready to meet the 999 happy haunts that call Haunted Mansion home.