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Walt Disney World Resort Overview, Brain Dumps

Overview Index Walt Disney World Index

One Man's Dream
One Man's Dream in Disney's Hollywood Studios is a highly recommended (by me, anyway) attraction that every Disney Fan should see. Sponsored by D23, this building holds items from the Disney Archives, from costumes, to props, to concept models of attractions, even a multi-plane camera and Walt's second grade school desk that he defaced with his initials in 1956...

Brain Dumps are bits of knowledge I've written about in trip reports and other venues, but consolidated here into some almost coherent thoughts. This page will probably grow as I go through my notes...

This really isn't planning material, if that's what you're looking for. It's more specific looks at various aspects of the parks. Note that I've specifically avoided any attempt at telling you how to plan a trip to Disney, since there are a bazillion other sites with that information who are probably more qualified than I am. Besides, I'm probably not your typical Disney Vacationer.

However, should you want to know how I do plan a trip, read the introductions of the post-2008 Trip Reports I've written. They sometimes get pretty detailed. They may not tell you how to plan your trip, but it does describe my sometimes twisted planning process.

Some terminology and definitions used on this site

As I rewrite this part of the website, I'm trying to eliminate all the Disney "slang" that crept in over the years. However, like any other industry or business, Disney and the Theme Parks have a unique language sub-set. (Sit in with a bunch of very technical computer programmers talking about work, and you'll soon find yourself wondering if they're still speaking the same language as you. This is true not only for computers, but finance, medicine and just about any other institution.)

What I'm including here are common terms you'll find on this site. Some may be obvious, but others might not be to non-Disney... enthusiasts.

Some Disney-centric Terms

Park-centric Terms

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I am trying to write out all abbreviations. If I do use one, I'll make sure I highlight the abbreviation in the paragraph or two previous. For instance, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP). Yes, I could paste in "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party" in every instance, but... I'm not.

Some legacy abbreviations (or one's that might/will still appear):

Regardless, these abbreviations will be used in an obvious context.
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CHH Garbcan
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, even the garbage cans at Disney World are themed...
Themeing is a common term at Disney. The parks are, after all, called Theme parks.

Themeing refers to the decoration and ambience of a space toward a particular concept. In the world of show business, it might be called "set dressing". In the real world, it means design, decoration, color, lighting and sound, and sometimes touch. (And sometimes even smell.) Attention has to be given to the guests entire surroundings, not just what's in front of a lens on a set. And this extends to any and all public areas owned by Disney, from a Disney Store in any city, to a Disney Resort, to an attraction in one of the Disney Parks.

There are general overall themes to Walt Disney World, which is generally followed in the absence of a more specific theme. For example, you'll rarely find straight lines at Disney World, unless a more specific theme demands it, cause straight is boring, and curves give new views all the time. So all the roads, waterways and guest paths curve. Another is most man-made structure or machinery which looks like it doesn't belong is hidden. For instance, pipes and valves are enclosed in a building, hidden by vegetation, or are backstage out of the eyes of the guest. But the pipes and valves in Living With The Land is visible in the greenhouses, because that's exactly what you'd expect to see in a greenhouse. But the pumps, pipes and valves that move the water to propel the boats are not.

However, once a more specific theme is established, nothing should break that theme unless practicality demands it. (For instance, you can theme the lobby and registration areas of the on-site hotels, but there's not too much you can do to theme the registration terminals and other office equipment.)

The theme is not only about the surroundings, sound and lighting, but extends all the way to how the cast members are dressed. Disney even has their own costuming department which turns out all the costumes and uniforms the cast members wear, from the guy who empties the trash cans, to the custom made dresses the princesses wear. (And for those ultra-high-profile characters such as Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, etc, those dresses are custom made to fit those cast members.) It's an incredible operation.

Of the four parks at Walt Disney World (or all six American Parks for that matter), Animal Kingdom has got to be the best themed park. (Not the best park, imho, the best themed park.) Stop just about anywhere, and look around. The buildings, light poles, and even the benches (or places to sit), have been given amazing detail and match the surroundings as if they belong there.

The best themed attraction is probably Haunted Mansion. From the queue that lets you see the Manor (and the new graveyard) to the Pet Cemetery, it has to be Imagineering's finest. Honorable mention to Toy Story Midway Mania and Expedition Everest's queue.

A Discussion About Entry Passes

There are essentially two different kinds of Entry tickets. The Magic-Your-Way pass, and an Annual Pass. (Florida and Foreign visitors have other special passes, which I'm not covering here. Florida residents can get some very decent deals if you can tolerate blackout dates...) I am using 2015-2016 Disney prices in the examples below, not including tax, because that penalty isn't Disney's fault. ;-) I don't have kids, so I've never looked at the children price structure, but I imagine it's similar.

All ticket (and room key-card) media is credit-card sized.

Magic-Your-Way (MYW) Passes

MYW Pass
Typical paper ticket issued by Disney today. This is a Magic Your Way pass, but an annual pass or a Magic Kingdom party ticket will be on the same media.
The majority of passes bought at Disney World are Magic-Your-Way (or MYW) passes. These passes for the masses are oddly priced, based I'm sure, on some very sound marketing research. I'm sure it makes sense to someone.

Magic-Your-Way Rules:

Base Magic-Your-Way Pricing and Park Hopper Option

The basic or Base Magic-Your-Way pass allows you entry into one park, with return privileges. Once you enter a park, you may not enter another theme park the same day with the same pass. Two (additional cost) options may be added to the Base Pass.

The most popular option is the Park-Hopper addition. This option allows you to enter any and all four theme parks, with return privileges. I can't imagine any multi-day pass without a Park Hopper option. It allows tremendous flexibility for a rather low (relatively speaking) cost.

The third option (with a fourth option combining options two and three) the Water Parks and More option, is discussed further below.
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Table 1: Base Ticket and Park Hopper Option Prices

Base Ticket (BT) Prices Park Hopper (PH) Option
Days BT Cost Inc/day Cost/Day Cost/Day vs.
1-day BT
PH Cost Cost/Day BT+PH BT+PH/Day Cost vs.
1-day BT+PH
Cost vs.
1-day BT
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(Note: 1m is a single day at Magic Kingdom and finally broke the three digit price in 2015. However, I'm using the $97 price for the other three parks as the 1-day base ticket price comparisons.)

The base Magic-Your-Way passes are heavily front-loaded, with the majority of the expense occurring in the first 3 days, where the price per day stays above 90% that of a 1-day pass. Heavy discounts per additional day occur thereafter. The fourth day costs $30, less than a third of a 1-day ticket, and $10 for days 5 through 10. (Put another way, the difference in price between a 4-Day pass and a 10-day pass is $60 for the last 6 days.) Because of the discounting that occurs, average price per day (versus a 1-Day pass) is less than 50% by Day 7 (by Day 5 with a park hopper option), and less than 40% by day 10. (This is why the news reports of Disney raising their prices using single day ticket prices are (to me) misleading. They're factual, but it's like focusing on how much a quart of milk costs versus a gallon.)

The Park Hopper option is interesting. It is a flat $50 for the first three days. ($58 for the standard 1-Day pass to make the final price equal to the 1-Day Magic Kingdom ticket, since entry to all four parks is entry to all four parks...) The cost is then increased to $64 for four to ten day passes, but not only does it still decrease the average cost per day, but the increase is readily absorbed by the Base Ticket discounting.

I highly recommend purchasing the Park-Hopper option. It allows quite a bit more flexibility during your visit. For instance, if the park you're in is too crowded, many times you can just change parks for relief. Until Animal Kingdom becomes a nighttime park, you may want to change parks, rather than call it a day. I've changed parks just to get to a better food venue.
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Park Hopper
Once upon a time, before the Magic-Your-Way pass, all ticket media was good forever. I could go to one of the parks today, and have this Park Hopper pass converted into a Magic-Your-Way pass, and be credited for all the days remaining on the Park Hopper. (Note the "3". This pass has three days left on it. I always did this because I got tired of having to go to guest services and ask which pass had been used on my last vacation...) This pass, bought in 2002 was $217, or about $43/day. A 5-day park hopper today is $379, or $75.80/day, and expires in 14 days from first use.
(No Expiration Option)

There used to be a big discussion on the No Expiration option here. Disney had been making this option less and less attractive through the years, and as of 2015 discontinued it altogether. My summary was the way it was structured, it wasn't worth it anymore, except under exacting conditions, like taking trips of three days or less per year. It should be noted that Disney will still honor all non-expiring passes. Even my Park Hopper at the right from 2002.

Water Parks and More (and Park Hopper) Magic-Your-Way Options

This brings us to the last option, the Water Parks and More option. This option operates somewhat differently. Rather than being restricted to days, it provides a number of "Entries" based on the days purchased on the pass. So a 5-day pass will have 5 Entries to Disney's other entertainment venues on property, a 10-Day pass will have 10 Entries. The exception is a 1-day pass, which allows two Entries. They are not tied to a theme park entry, nor are they restricted to the number of entries per day you can use. So for instance, you could do a Water Park and DisneyQuest on the same day, unrelated to whether or not you enter a theme park.

Entries are valid for the following venues (Prices are from 2015-2016):

Any unused Entries will be lost when the pass expires.

Water Parks and More (WP) OptionPark Hopper + Water Parks and More (PW) Option
DaysWP CostEntriesCost/EntryBT+WPCost/dayPWCostCost/DayPW-PHCost/EntryBT+PWCost/dayCost vs.
1-day BT+PW
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The actual cost for the Water Parks and More option when added to a Magic-Your-Way pass is a flat $64, except for the 1-Day standard (Epcot, Animal Kingdom or Disney's Hollywood Studios) pass, at $72, making it equal to the Magic Kingdom (total) pass price, which makes no sense if you think about it.

There is also an option of combining both the Park-Hopper and Water Park option, for a flat rate of $90. ($98 for the standard 1-Day pass to make it equal to the Magic Kingdom 1-Day pass, which at least makes a little sense.) What's interesting is the price doesn't get the $14 bump at Day 4 like the Park Hopper pass does. Under the assumption (there's that word) that one would normally get the Park Hopper option anyway, the Water Parks and More option could cost as little as $26 for passes of 4 days or more. (See the 'PW-PH' column above, which is the cost of the Park Hopper and Water Park option minus the cost of a regular Park Hopper.) This is less than half the cost of a single entry to a Water Park.

It makes me wonder if this is a way Disney is trying to entice guests to get out of the over-crowded parks to other less crowded venues. You can easily spend a day at Disney doing a Water Park, Miniature golf and DisneyQuest, spending 5 days at Disney on a 4-Day pass.

Let me finally say that a Water Park entry is probably more valuable in July and August than December and January. A Water Park in August can really beat that Florida heat. Winter is a different problem. There are times it's been in the 80's and 90's in December, other times Disney had shut down the Water Park (typically one Water Park is closed during the winter for rehab in any event) because of the cold. Should you be planning on going to a Water Park during the Winter, I might wait until your vacation before putting that option on your pass.
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Annual Passes

annual Pass voucher
An Annual Pass voucher. You can use it to plan your vacation, but it must be exchanged for an Annual Pass that will allow entry to the parks when at Walt Disney World. The clock on the pass doesn't start until this exchange takes place.
Then we have the Annual Pass (AP) for $654. It's allows unlimited entry into any of the four parks for one person for 366 days. (The pass will expire the same day plus one year.) If you order one via Disney World's web site, you'll get a voucher for the AP. This voucher will allow you access to the AP section of Disney World's web site for room discounts and vacation planning. You must go to a Guest Services at Downtown Disney or one of the theme parks to get this voucher converted to an Annual Pass that can be used as entry media, at which point, the clock starts. (An Annual Pass purchased at the Parks will be active immediately upon purchase.)

If we look only at the Annual Pass as an entry to the parks, it costs four dollars more than two 3-day Park Hopper passes. Clearly, if you're going to make it to Walt Disney World twice in a year for more than 3 days each trip, an Annual Pass is worth the price.

However, in addition to park entry, Theme Park parking is included as an AP perk. There are also hundreds of discounts available around Walt Disney World, from Water Parks to merchandise to food to hotel rooms. (See "Reserving a Room".) Always ask if there's an AP discount. You'd be surprised how many places have one. (A booklet is available at all Guest Services and ticket counters on the discounts available. It's 16 pages of really, really tiny print.) If you stay on site, AP room discounts can easily save another couple hundred dollars across two trips. Also remember only one person has to have an AP to get most discounts, so the rest of the family can use MYW passes if it's more economical.

There are sometimes extra perks, one time it was a free calendar with Disney Concept art, another time it was a medallion celebrating Disney-MGM's 15th anniversary, as well as exclusive pins and merchandise. A newsletter is published quarterly with such information, as well as an exclusive AP section on Disney World's web site.

Should you renew an Annual Pass? The discount given when renewing an AP (renewal is $554) is currently equivalent to 56 days. If your next trip is less than 56 days after the expiration of your annual pass, then you should renew. Otherwise, you may as well let the pass elapse, buy a new voucher, and activate it at the start of your next trip. This will essentially extend your expiration date, and you never know if an unexpected trip could come up... Heh...

Back when I took yearly vacations down at Disney World (at first fall, then Christmas), my strategy went something like this.

So I would essentially buy and use one AP every two years, even though I would vacation every year. It worked out very well.

To round out the AP options, there is a $125 up charge to a Premium Annual Pass ($779), which adds unlimited access to the Water Parks and DisneyQuest. This is a few dollars cheaper than a separate WP+DQ Annual Pass. (Speaking of Water Parks, I got a whopping $4 Annual Pass discount at Typhoon Lagoon when I went there. It almost paid for a couple bottles of water... There is also a Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort premium pass, but I'd have to get into the pricing at Disneyland and California Adventure, and I've got no clue how they do it on the West Coast.)

Finally, to end this discussion, I do realize you might have to be a little bit clairvoyant to know how many days you'll be spending at the parks in months down the road. Of course once, before I really sat down and did the math, I actually took a trip to the World to justify the cost of an annual pass renewal. So there is that...
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On or off site?

First, yes, you have to make reservations before you go, regardless of where you stay. Walt Disney World is a popular place. It's been over 10 years since I've stayed off-site, so I'm probably a useless source of information in that regard. The best I can tell you, is the two best options for rooms is probably on US-192 to the South, and in Lake Buena Vista to the East.

However, do the math. A cheaper hotel isn't always the cheaper option, when you consider having to rent a car or take a taxi if your hotel has no courtesy van. Airport to hotel runs and daily transportation to the park can get expensive by taxi. Renting a car and driving to the parks every day will incur a parking fee ($17 per day unless you have an Annual Pass). There was a time when I was staying off-site, arrived early to the hotel about noon, and was turned away until the 3pm check-in time. The lobby was full of people just waiting with their luggage for rooms.

Contrast this with staying at a Disney Resort. Yes, I may be a bit biased, but these are the advantages, I think.

Of course, you are then essentially held hostage by Disney throughout your vacation, but that isn't the worst thing. Disney had made it enticingly easy to not leave their property. It's true things like food is more expensive on-site, but you may find some of Disney's package deals more than make up for it. You just have to do your homework and figure out your costs for vacation packages with meal plans, or figure average cost of your food when making dinner reservations. (There are sites on the web that actually has menus from the dozens (hundreds?) of restaurants on property.) Though I don't personally advocate the meal plans, it does control the cost of a Disney vacation by pre-paying the majority of the expenses (lodging, food, park passes and even airfare), and is sometimes quite a deal.
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So the following mostly pertains to staying on-site.

A Discussion on Room Types

AoA room interiors
Adjoining rooms at Art of Animation. A typical room has twin beds, and one with a King bed (only available, I believe, as a handicap room.) The King Bed room frees a considerable amount of floor space for a scooter or wheelchair.
Reserve a room as soon as you know you're going to go. The earlier you reserve, the better the chance of getting the resort and room type you want. Disney Park's website is very good at explaining their room types.

Things to keep in mind about Room Types.

There is usually an upper tier of rooms called "Preferred Rooms". These are room close to the main building or lobby (registration, food court, restaurant, etc.) and the bus stop(s). Are preferred rooms worth it? Typically, yes, at least to me. I've gotten rooms that were just as convenient as a preferred room, but I've been in rooms that had a different Zip Code than the lobby and/or building elevator. The extra cost is even more justified when it's hot and humid, or when Florida decides it's time to rain.
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Seasonal Boundaries and Blocks of Rooms for Special Offers

If you buy a package of some type, the price of the room is the price of the room. However, if you don't buy a package, and reserve a room a-la-carte, there are a couple of things to know.

First is price fluctuation. Rooms are more expensive on weekends than on weekdays, prices are higher during the tourist seasons and holidays than off-season. (Which may not really exist anymore.) If you happen to be staying during a seasonal boundary, the price of the room could go up or down by more than a few dollars. The daily breakdown of room costs will be shown to you before you finalize the reservation. If you have the flexibility, it might be worth it to move your vacation a week forward or backward to save a few dollars. This also applies to Annual Pass rates, which could go up or down or exclude certain resorts.

A more frustrating problem can arise if your vacation lies across offer boundaries. Let me give you an example of what happened to me.

I was making Annual Pass reservations for two rooms, one a normal room, the other a handicap accessible room, from date X for seven days. The Annual Pass rates expired two days after date X, so if you looked at the reservation, the first two days were at the AP rate, and the last five were full rack rate. This normally isn't a problem. Once Disney announces the new AP rates, you can call and have those last five days converted from full rack rate to the discounted AP rate.

This is where you have to understand how Disney allocates the hotel rooms. There isn't an unlimited number of special offer rooms. So there's a certain number of rooms allocated for Annual Pass rates, another set for another offer, etc. Even at the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts, there are blocks of rooms for DVC owners, with another for mortal rentals.

So when I called to convert the rooms to an AP rate, I found they didn't have the combination of rooms available in the new block of AP rate rooms, so I was stuck with a reservation with five days at full rack, which I couldn't get at AP rates, even though I had the reservation in hand for the rooms. (I ended up canceling everything and starting over, which was an adventure in its own right. You can read about it here.)
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The discussion on resort "levels" (Value, Moderate, Deluxe, etc.) and amenities are addressed on the Walt Disney World On-site Resorts page.
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Getting There by Car

As mentioned before, I'm probably not your typical guest. For starters, I live more than a thousand miles from Walt Disney World, and I drive there. (I quit flying decades ago, and I really like being on the road, so the drive is just part of the vacation.) If you decide to drive and the trip will take more than a day, see my section on How I plan a Road Trip for some travel tips and suggestions.)

If you're like 99% of the country and live North of Orlando, Florida, then your approach to Disney World is via I-75 or I-95.

If you're coming down I-75 through Atlanta, you'll see the entire South Georgia Pecan and Peach Tourist Corridor, then the Florida Citrus and Disney World Souvenir Tourist Corridor. Fifteen or twenty miles past Ocala, is the Florida Turnpike. Take it, it's worth the toll. The free alternative is to take I-75 South to Tampa, then I-4 to Disney World, but you'll waste more money in gas, than you would for the toll.

Once you pass the Okahumpka rest stop, you'll have two choices. The first is Florida SR-429, another toll road, which will bring you into Disney World from the West, through the Western Way entrance. This really isn't a backdoor, but it's definitely less crowded entering the World via Western Way.

However, if it's your first time driving to Disney World, you might want to continue on the Turnpike to I-4, and take I-4 toward Disney World. (Just follow the signs, you will be making a confusing 270 degree turn from the Turnpike to I-4, so they can funnel you through the toll booth.)

If you are coming South down I-95, you'll want to exit onto I-4 just past Daytona Beach. (If you want to see Kennedy Space Center, continue South on I-95 to KSC, then Florida Tollway-528 (the Beeline) will take you straight to Walt Disney World.)

Either way, coming down I-4 will show you where Universal Orlando and SeaWorld are in relation to Disney World, as well as some of the circus along International Drive, a place that only exists because Walt decided to build his East Coast park here.

Going this way is also easier to find your resort, since they have separate exits for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Downtown Disney and Animal Kingdom, the current four resort groupings. This route will also have access to hotels with exits to International Drive, Buena Vista, and US-192.

Are you a newbie (or at least a rookie) planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Here's a shameless plug for someone I know. It's a book titled So ... You're Going to Disney World: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the planning process by Steve Russo, and it's available on Amazon. (He's more the norm, or at least he was (snicker), flying to Orlando, taking kids, and other things I'm either not qualified to talk about, or just don't want to talk about, like where to eat or stay.) It's humorous and informative, and the even the seasoned pro will find him/herself agreeing with his observations. No, I don't get anything for the plug, and the last time I saw Steve, I bought the scotch. Now there's gratitude for you...

I should put a disclaimer here that Disney is implementing some changes that will revolutionize the park experience, and this book won't cover those changes. But it will still provide insights into how to plan things.
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End Walt Disney World (overview) - Part 2.

Jump to: Part 1, History Part 2, Brain Dumps Part 3, Pictures and Theme Parks Overview

  • 06/10/2015 - Page split
  • 06/21/2015 - Rewrite and update