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With some advance planning and a little – OK, a lot – of research, a trip to Walt Disney World can bring more than a bit of magic to kids and their parents.

The resort is really four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – covering nearly 40 square miles. This is not a spur-of-the-moment endeavor.

Spend some time online and make sure you plan far in advance. If the budget permits, plan to stay at one of the WDW resorts. Hotel and package discounts, some including free dining, are offered at various times throughout the year. Staying on site offers the advantage of easy transportation, via bus, monorail or boat, depending on the hotel. It also gives guests early and late access to the parks on select days. These Extra Magic Hours mean avoiding the crowds and getting easier access to the most popular attractions. The hotels all feature great themes, pools and restaurants. Look online for extra touches like outdoor movies, children’s activities and more.

Plan ahead for Fastpasses, which are separate line passes to major attractions that can be reserved 30 days in advance, and dining reservations, which are available up to 180 days in advance for table service restaurants. Character dining can fill up fast.

Pack comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and patience. For many, Walt Disney World is more than nostalgia. It’s a place to make family memories that last a lifetime.

More: An Upstate Girl Scout troop's adventure to Savannah: Visiting Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace

Try these sites to get you vacation ready

Walt Disney World https://disneyworld.disney.go.com

Intercot http://www.intercot.com

All Ears http://www.allears.net

Mousesavers https://www.mousesavers.com

Touring Plans https://touringplans.com

 

What’s new

  • Toy Story Land is brand new at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This 11-acre land lets you step into Andy’s backyard. Ride a family-friendly roller coaster on the back of Slinky Dog and experience an alien saucer attraction. Toy Story Mania is also expanding to accommodate more riders.
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios has expanded its Star Wars experiences, including Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, where kids can train with lightsabers, and Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, a Star Wars-themed fireworks, laser and special effects show.
  • At Epcot, Frozen Ever After, which replaced the Maelstrom boat ride, can have oppressive wait times when the park is crowded. If you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, you will have access to the park during Extra Magic Hours, which can mean almost no wait for this ride. It is beautifully done and really brings Anna, Elsa and Olaf to life.  
  • Animal Kingdom is home to Pandora — The World of Avatar, which includes two very popular experiences. Avatar Flight of Passage engages all the senses in a simulated flight soaring on a Banshee over an alien world. It is truly immersive and spectacular, but it may not be suitable for those who don’t enjoy such intense experiences. The line here can be long, so try to hit this one during Extra Magic Hours as well. It is worth the early arrival. Na’vi River Journey is a very family-friendly boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest. Animal Kingdom has also expanded to include nighttime experiences throughout the park.  

Coming soon

  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a new Star Wars-themed land, is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019. The park will feature attractions that allow guests to take the controls of the Millennium Falcon while on a customized secret mission, as well as a Star Wars adventure that puts guests in the middle of a climactic battle. 

Plan ahead for these annual events

  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (September-October): A family-friendly Halloween festival in Magic Kingdom featuring trick-or-treating throughout the park and more. This evening event requires a separate ticket instead of regular park admission.
  • Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (September-November): This festival features food from around the world, guest chefs, culinary demonstrations, seminars and winemaker dinners.
  • Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort (November-January): Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom brings holiday fun and even now to the park. (It requires a separate ticket instead of regular park admission.)  Candlelight Processional at Epcot features celebrity narrators who tell the Christmas story.
  • Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival (March-May): Featuring more than 30 million blooms, interactive garden activities for kids and workshops with national gardening experts, this festival welcomes summer with conservation education, a butterfly house and more.

More: How to save money and stay sane on your summer vacation

 

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