There comes a time in most family’s lives where they contemplate a family vacation to a Disney theme park. With six different theme parks over two resorts in the United States, you’ll have a lot of options for your family.
Since Walt Disney World offers four separate Disney theme parks, and Disneyland Resort offers two different theme parks, you can definitely visit multiple parks during a visit to one of the resorts. With locations in both California and Florida, some families choose to go to the closest resort to where they live. Here’s our guide to the Disney theme parks, including which parks families should consider visiting.
I am a former member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel and have been on some complimentary press trips at Walt Disney World, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.
All About the Disney Theme Parks in the US
Walt Disney World, Florida
Walt Disney World Resort is the second Disney resort opened in the United States, and it offers four different theme parks. Disney World is absolutely huge – much bigger than Disneyland Resort in California. It’s extremely popular, so you’ll definitely want to do lots of research in advance before going.
Walt Disney World Resort is located in Orlando, Florida, right in the heart of Central Florida. It was the first of the theme parks located in Orlando.
Magic Kingdom Park
The Magic Kingdom is probably the park you are thinking of when you think about Walt Disney World. Featuring Cinderella Castle in the center of the park, the Magic Kingdom is home to many iconic rides and attractions that Disney theme parks are known for.
In the Magic Kingdom, you’ll find Fantasyland, Adventureland, Main Street USA, Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. Popular rides include it’s a small world, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and its newest ride, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Restaurants at the Magic Kingdom include Cinderella’s Royal Table, the Crystal Palace (one of my favorite character meals at Walt Disney World), Be Our Guest, and Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen Restaurant. We also like to walk over to the Contemporary Resort to eat at the Wave restaurant.
The Magic Kingdom can be visited in one day, but we usually like to take two days there. It can be accessed by monorail, bus, and boat, depending on where you are staying. The Magic Kingdom offers two holiday parties – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
If you only visit one Disney theme park, I would visit the Magic Kingdom. It’s got so many classic rides and experiences.
Many families consider skipping Epcot, because they think it’s only appropriate for older kids and adults. Its original name, EPCOT Center, meant Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, leading families to think that it may be boring for kids. But Epcot has changed a lot over the years, beyond just a name change. There are so many things that little ones will love, so it’s definitely worth the visit.
Epcot is made up of two different areas – Future World and the World Showcase. Popular rides at Epcot include Spaceship Earth, Frozen Ever After, Test Track, and Soarin’ Around the World. The World Showcase is especially fun, because it includes different country pavilions that you can visit. These pavilions offer attractions, movies, restaurants, character interactions, and much more.
Epcot is also home to several festivals throughout the year, including the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. My personal favorite is the Food and Wine festival, which is held in the fall. However, all three festivals now offer delicious food and drink booths.
Animal Kingdom Park
The first time I planned a visit to Animal Kingdom, I was reminded that it isn’t a zoo. While you’ll definitely see animals there, the park offers so much more. In the past, Animal Kingdom was thought of as a “half-day” park. But now, with the opening of Pandora – the World of Avatar, it really has become more of a full day park.
Popular attractions at Animal Kingdom include Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safari, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Na’vi River Journey, and DINOSAUR. Flight of Passage, which is part of the new Pandora land, is my favorite ride at all of Walt Disney World, so you won’t want to miss it. It’s still extremely popular, so you’ll want to make FastPass+ reservations as early as possible to make sure you won’t have to wait in a long line.
My favorite quick service restaurants are also located at Animal Kingdom. Flame Tree Barbeque offers huge plates, which can be a great bargain for families. The food is delicious. There’s also the new Satu’li Canteen quick service restaurant within Pandora, which has some great healthy options. Arrive early, because the limited seating fills up quickly, especially on busy days.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is about to get a whole lot more exciting. This park, originally known as Disney’s MGM Studios, has been undergoing a major transformation. Some original areas of the park closed over the past few years, making way for some brand new areas.
Toy Story Land opened last year, with Slinky Dog Dash, the Alien Swirling Saucers, and a new track for Toy Story Midway Mania (adding additional capacity). But that’s not the only new reason to visit. The eagerly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be opening August 29, 2019, although it may take some time for all guests to be able to see it. I’m sure there will be many very long lines and guests will need reservations to access the new land at the beginning.
In addition to these new attractions, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is also home to other popular attractions. These include the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Rock N Roller Coaster, and Star Tours. If you are interested in riding the Disney thrill rides, you’ll definitely want to include some time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
There are also some delicious restaurants at Hollywood Studios. These include the Hollywood Brown Derby (one of my favorites – get the Cobb salad!), the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, and the Hollywood and Vine.
Fans of Disney Junior shows will definitely want to visit Hollywood Studios. In addition to character greetings with these characters, there’s also the Disney Junior Live on Stage Show, as well as character dining opportunities at the Hollywood and Vine. This is the only park at Walt Disney World where you can see these popular Disney Junior characters.
Beyond the four Disney theme parks at the Walt Disney World, there are plenty of other ways to spend time while you are at the resort. Although not officially a theme park, you’ll also want to consider visiting Disney Springs. It offers shopping, restaurants, and entertainment, and doesn’t require a Disney park ticket. It’s a great way to spend a day if you don’t want to use a ticket.
At Disney Springs, you’ll find the Rainforest Cafe, an AMC dine-in theater, Splitsville, Planet Hollywood, the Boathouse restaurant, Morimoto Asia Restaurant, the House of Blues, and so much more (with even more to come).
At Walt Disney World, you’ll also find two water parks – Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach. These are separate ticketed parks, although you can purchase park tickets that include water park admission (as well as separate water park tickets). In the off-season, typically one of the two water parks is closed for renovation so look at the schedule before you purchase your ticket.
Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, is the first of the Disney theme parks ever built. It’s much smaller than Walt Disney World, but it’s also so easy to navigate. The two Disney theme parks in Anaheim are adjacent to each other, and it’s so easy to go from one park to the other. No transportation is needed – you can just walk between the parks.
Even though Disneyland doesn’t offer nearly as many attractions and restaurants as its Florida counterpart, I definitely think it’s worth a visit, even for those families living on the East Coast. It’s very manageable, and doesn’t require quite as much advanced planning. I love being able to easily walk from park to park throughout the day.
Read about the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Disneyland Park is where it all began! It’s most similar to the Magic Kingdom, but is smaller. Lands within the park include Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Main Street USA, and Frontierland.
Popular attractions include Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, it’s a small world, the Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Pirates of the Caribbean. If you are more familiar with the Magic Kingdom, it’s fun to experience some of these rides that have the same name, but are a different experience.
There are also so many great snacks at Disneyland. My favorites during my trip were the Mickey-shaped beignets and the ever popular Dole Whip.
Disney’s California Adventure Park
I absolutely loved my experience at Disney’s California Adventure. I think it may be my new favorite of the Disney theme parks.
Disney’s California Adventure is different than the theme parks at Walt Disney World, although it’s probably closest to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Lands at the park include Hollywood Land, Cars Land, Pixar Pier, Buena Vista Street, Grizzly Peak, Pacific Wharf, and Paradise Gardens Park. It’s home to the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, and will be home to the brand-new Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party.
Popular rides at Disney’s California Adventure are Soarin’ Around the World, the Incredicoaster, the Grizzly River Run, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT, Pixar Pal-a-Round, Toy Story Midway Mania, and Radiator Spring Racers.
I was most surprised by Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT. As a big fan of the Tower of Terror, I didn’t love the idea of the new theme. However, I really like the new theme too!
If your kids love Disney CARS, you’ll definitely want to take them to Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure. It’s my favorite themed land so far, and it really does look exactly like I’d expect Radiator Springs to look.
In addition to the two theme parks, there’s also Downtown Disney, a smaller version of Disney Springs. This entertainment/shopping/restaurant complex offers lots of things for families to do, without needing a ticket to enter Disney World.
Restaurants at Downtown Disney include the recently opened Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes (one of our favorite NYC kid-friendly restaurants), Earl of Sandwich, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. There’s also a Splitsville Luxury Lanes, which offers dining.
Shopping is also available at Downtown Disney, and you’ll find lots of options, which include Sephora, World of Disney, the LEGO Store, Rinse Bath and Body, and more.
Although this article is focused only on the Disney theme parks within the United States, there are also Disney parks outside the US. Other Disney theme parks around the world include Disneyland Paris (Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park), Tokyo Disney Resort (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea), Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disney Resort.
Of these, I’ve only had the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris. I really enjoyed it, and it was so much fun to experience my love of Disney in another country.
Which of the Disney theme parks is your favorite? Have you been to all six parks in the United States?