After much pondering and poring over my notes from the Agent Education Program, I’ve decided that the simplest way to begin sharing all this wonderful information is chronologically. I’ll be starting with the things I learned at the beginning of the week and gradually working my through, breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Some of this may make you say, “Duh, Audra. I already knew that,” but I’m hoping there will be some “A-ha!” pieces in here for you, too. I know there were for me.
In the beginning, there were four parks.
Okay, that’s not even true. In the VERY beginning – October 1, 1971, to be exact – there was one park and two resort hotels. The Magic Kingdom was the first park completed at Walt Disney World, and it is the most popular and well-known. Each of Disney’s four parks tells a story, and at the Magic Kingdom, the story is all about fantasy becoming reality. Whether you seek adventure, fantasy, or to venture into the future, the Magic Kingdom brings out the kid in you. There really is something for everyone here. I am a sucker for the nostalgic attractions – Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, and The Haunted Mansion. I love taking my kids on the very same rides I loved when I was their age.
The second park to open at Walt Disney World, in 1982, was EPCOT Center, later shortened to just “EPCOT.” EPCOT is twice the size (land-wise) of the Magic Kingdom and is Disney’s park of discovery. EPCOT is separated into two very different sections – Future World and the World Showcase. I love EPCOT. I always have, even as a child when the 1980s computers couldn’t understand my Southern accent. It feels calmer than the Magic Kingdom. I love spending the morning riding Soarin’, Test Track, and Journey Into Imagination, then in the afternoon, slowly exploring the 11 countries of the World Showcase (especially the yummy food). Then, you can end the day sitting by the lake, watching Illuminations. Even though I do a lot more walking, it is relaxing to me in an unusual way.
There is a common misconception that EPCOT is not a good park for kids. This is not true. Everyone loves Soarin’. Test Track is one of Disney World’s best thrill rides, and also one of its fastest, topping out at 65 miles per hour. When the ride was reimagined a few years ago, Disney incorporated an interactive aspect where you get to design the car you will ride in while you wait. My eight-year-old has never ridden Test Track (he wasn’t quite tall enough on our last trip), but whenever we mention visiting Disney World again, it is the first ride he talks about. He really wants to design his own car.
Also in Future World, you can ride The Seas with Nemo & Friends and see Turtle Talk with Crush in the same building. This is a funny, interactive show where kids get to talk with Crush from Finding Nemo.
As you tour the countries of World Showcase, there are KidCot stations where kids can do crafts and create their own souvenirs for free! If you want, you can purchase a passport where they can collect stamps from each country as well.
Last, but certainly not least, there is Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure. You go undercover as a secret agent and help Agent P defeat the Evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, looking for clues throughout the World Showcase. You can do this as a group, and each mission takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. So you see, there is plenty to do to keep children busy at EPCOT, encouraging them to learn and discover new things.
The third Disney World park opened in 1989 – Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (You may have known it by a different name then. I won’t go into that crazy backstory here.) The story behind this park? Show business! When the park originally opened, there was a working production studio on site. I remember seeing a live taping of Mickey Mouse Club on the Backlot Tour when I was a kid. If only I had known then what I know now, I might have taken some pictures. ;) There are a number of amazing shows here – Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!, MuppetVision 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show, just to name a few. Hollywood Studios is home to two of Disney’s most popular thrill rides – The Tower of Terror and The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They’ve got Star Wars fans and Jack Sparrow fans covered, too with Star Tours, Jedi Training Academy, and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Oh! And let’s not forget what may be the best Disney attraction to date – Toy Story’s Midway Mania! Even waiting in line for this ride is fun. You feel like you’re toy-sized!
Again, this park has a very different feel than the Magic Kingdom, but there is still something for kids of all ages here.
The fourth and largest park is Animal Kingdom, Disney’s park of adventure. Animal Kingdom opened in 1998. From the moment you step through the gate, you are encouraged to explore, immediately immersing you in adventure. There are multiple paths to choose from, and you decide how your Animal Kingdom adventure begins.
One of the most popular attractions here is Kilimanjaro Safaris, where you get to see wild animals up close and personal. As with the other three parks, there is something to entertain everyone here – thrill rides, shows, and our favorite, The Boneyard playground. You can even become a Wilderness Explorer here (you know, like Russell, from Up) and earn merit badges. There are over 30 activities throughout the park to engage your kids’ interest and help explore the different areas. This park is a favorite with animal lovers, as well as adventurers. There is an exciting new expansion beginning at Animal Kingdom, too…an Avatar area. I can’t wait to see how it progresses.
One last tip? Animal Kingdom, and specifically Kilimanjaro Safaris, is a great park to tour in the rain. The animals herd together, and you actually get to see more of them!
I cringe whenever a client tells me they want to skip a park, or when they tell me they don’t think their kids will enjoy EPCOT. Each park is very different, but you truly can find a way to enjoy yourself everywhere. If we’re planning your vacation together and you’re unsure what to do in a certain park, I will gladly make suggestions. :)