Intro to the Parks

There are four theme parks at Walt Disney World. The most recent opened in 1989. If you’ve not been to WDW since then, you at least have one new park to visit. These are: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (used to be Disney-MGM Studios), and Animal Kingdom. Then there are two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. In addition, you have Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), Disney’s Wide World of Sports and several golf courses (including one mini-golf course).

Everything in all parks is based on HEIGHT, not age. So depending on your children’s individual height, they may or may not be able to ride specific attractions. If there is a height restriction, there will be a stand-up yardstick at the entrance to that attraction. Simply walk up to it BEFORE you get in line (sometimes the line end is FAR from the actual entrance… you don’t want to find out as you get that close).

However, all attractions have what is called Rider Swap in the event that you have a child that isn’t tall enough – but the rest of your family doesn’t want to miss out on the ride. Say you want to ride one of the roller coasters, and at least one child (or all children) is simply too small… but you are dying to do it (as is your spouse). All four of you wait in line. When you get to the boarding area, you tell the CM that you’re going to do the Rider Swap. One parent will stay back with the non-rider(s). The other will board with any other riding family member(s). The ride happens… and then you swap – so you now get to go on it… and typically, they’ll let any riding child go twice (ie: again).

Park Hours are also different depending on the park and depending on the day. When you check into your hotel, ask them for the park hour brochure – there will be one per calendar week… so you might have to get one at arrival and one again on the following Sunday. These will show you the operating hours for each park each day. As an on-property guest, you’ll be entitled to show up early or stay late for what WDW calls “Extra Magic Hours” (EMH’s). EMHs happen up to two times per day, rotating between the parks – either having a park open 1 hour early or close 3 hours later than usual. EMHs are great, especially the evening ones… since crowds are reduced. But they’re not easy to “get to” if you have kids or are going to bed. So they may not be THAT great for you.

Whichever park you plan to visit each day, get the map for that park the day before and plot out a general idea of your MUST DOs, WANT TO DOs, and DON’T WANT TO DOs. It makes the actual visit easier. Additionally, remember that with so many days there, you can even go back twice… so don’t feel you have to squeeze it all in. Even if you don’t get to everything you WANT to do, you’ll have done your MUSTs and can always save things for the next trip.

In fact, maps are incredibly important, especially for the infrequent park goer. And there’s one that, until now, hasn’t existed in any form – a map of every transportation method to-from-between the parks, resorts and other attractions. Mid-2012, Arthur DeWolf created a one-of-a-kind Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Map.  He updates it periodically and it’s amazing.


What makes it so special is the fact that this information isn’t otherwise published by Disney. While the general rule of thumb is that you can only move from resort-to-theme park but not resort-to-resort, there are a lot of exceptions. And between the busses, boats, ferries, trains, and, of course, monorails, it can be downright confusing to find yourself wanting to get from Point A to Point B and not knowing all available transportation modes.  His map shows how they are all connected.  It even includes the Skyliner.


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