Disney World can indeed be the most magical place in the world. At its best it’s pure, stress-free fun and a blissful escape from the real world.
To make the most of a trip to Disney and avoid long queues, you need to plan in advance. Prioritize the attractions you most want to do and ride them first thing in the morning or use a FastPass. A little planning makes Disney much more enjoyable.
Disney World in Orlando, Florida has four main parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. Each one is very different and I recommend dedicating at least one full day to each park.
Below I have listed the best Disney World rides not to miss in each park, as well as a FastPass strategy to help you avoid queues and our favourite places to eat.
I’ve focused on the best things to do at Disney World for adults and older kids, but many of these are suitable for the whole family.
This post was originally published in January 2019 and last updated in January 2021.
- 2021 Changes
- Use FastPass+ to Avoid Queues
- Best Rides at Magic Kingdom
- Best Rides at Animal Kingdom
- Best Rides at Epcot
Best Rides at Hollywood Studios
- 17) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- 18) Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster
- 19) Slinky Dog Dash
- 20) Toy Story Mania!
- 21) Star Tours
- 22) Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- 23) Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run
- 24) Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- The Best of the Rest at Hollywood Studios
- Best Fast Passes for Hollywood Studios
- Where to Eat at Hollywood Studios
Much has changed since our last visit to Disney World, and if you plan to visit the parks in 2021, not all of the advice below will be valid while restrictions are in place, although most of these top rides are open. Check the Disney website for the latest details.
The main restrictions currently are:
- Masks must be worn in the parks.
- You must make a reservation to visit a park using the Disney Park Pass Reservation System on their website.
- FastPasses and Extra Magic Hours are currently suspended.
- Parades, fireworks and some attractions are currently suspended.
- Some restaurants are temporarily closed.
Use FastPass+ to Avoid Queues
There are two main ways to avoid long queues on the best rides at Disney World, and by using them we rarely queue more than 15 minutes (30 minutes is our maximum).
The first is to arrive at parks at least 30 minutes before the official opening time (which you can check on the Disney World website) as they sometimes let people into the parks early. For the first hour of the day, you can get on most rides without much queuing.
If you are staying at a Disney resort, each day one park will have Extra Magic Hours when you can enter a park an hour early or stay a few hours later than everyone else. This is great for resort guests, but avoid those days if you are staying off-site.
Check this Disney World crowd calendar for the best days to visit each park.
The second way to avoid queues, even if you don’t arrive early, is to use Disney’s FastPass+ system. FastPasses allow you to choose a specific time to ride and skip the queue.
The easiest way to book these is using the My Disney Experience app or website—you can book up to three FastPasses per day 30 days in advance or 60 days in advance for resort guests. FastPasses for popular Disney World rides do run out fast, so book as far in advance as you can.
Read more about using FastPasses in our post on planning a trip to Disney World on a budget.
Best Rides at Magic Kingdom
If you only have time for one park at Disney World, make it Magic Kingdom. It’s the most classic Disney park with the fairytale castle and famous characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
The best attractions at Magic Kingdom for adults are the three mountains. I haven’t included any Fantasyland rides below as they are aimed at small children, and the queues for rides like Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh are usually very long and not worth it to us.
The most popular ride of all is the gentle rollercoaster, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We rode it once and enjoyed it, but we don’t think it’s worth the very long queues. If you really want to ride it, get a FastPass or head there first thing (but everyone else will be doing the same and it gets a bit crazy).
1) Space Mountain
Magic Kingdom’s most thrilling ride is a high-speed rollercoaster in the dark with plenty of twists and turns (but no inversions or large drops). As you fly through the galaxy you never know what’s coming next. We often ride this first thing and it’s quite the way to wake up!
It’s indoors inside a mammoth futuristic structure, and there are interactive games to keep you occupied in the queue (which we never have time to use as it’s usually quiet after park opening).
Space Mountain is definitely a Disney World must do.
2) Thunder Mountain
Thunder Mountain is a fun outdoor rollercoaster in Frontierland, which is our favourite area of the park with its Wild West theme. It’s not as wild as Space Mountain, but we love the theming—you’re on a runaway mine train during the Gold Rush—and the views of the park.
3) Splash Mountain
We have a real soft spot for cheery Splash Mountain, and it’s certainly one of the best rides at Disney World on a hot day.
This leisurely log flume ride tells the story of Br’er Rabbit who goes off in search of adventure with Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox in pursuit.
The ride is mostly inside with cute animatronic characters and catchy songs, before going outside for a fun drop down a five-story waterfall. We don’t usually get soaked, but it is possible if you’re sitting in the wrong seat at the wrong time.
There are rarely queues for Splash Mountain in the morning or evening and we usually ride it multiple times.
4) Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean is a gentle indoor cruise through scenes of a pirate raid from the bombardment of a fortress to debauchery after the victory. Every time we ride it we notice new details. The films were inspired by this classic ride and you can now see an animatronic figure of Captain Jack Sparrow.
5) Haunted Mansion
A slow ride through a haunted estate full of ghosts and ghouls. It’s fun (and often humorous) rather than scary with lots of spooky details and special effects to enjoy. The queue features interactive elements like a musical crypt, so a slightly longer wait here is fine.
6) Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
On this Toy Story themed interactive ride, you shoot targets with laser cannons and earn points as your spinning car (you control the spin) makes its way through the scenes. It’s not as good as the similar ride at Hollywood Studios, but Simon still wanted to ride it again to beat his score.
The Best of the Rest at Magic Kingdom
Once you’ve got the main rides out of the way, one of the best things to do at Magic Kingdom is just wander, soak up the atmosphere, and pop into one of the random shows and attractions that rarely have long waits.
If you are wondering what to do at Disney World when you’re feeling hot and exhausted, I recommend musical shows like the Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree (which is surprisingly racy!), and Mickey’s PhilharMagic. You won’t need to wait for long and they are perfect when you need a break.
We also love having a picnic on Tom Sawyer’s Island, clambering up the Swiss Family Treehouse, and getting on the water on the pun-tastic Jungle Cruise or the leisurely Liberty Square Riverboat.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover takes you behind the scenes of Tomorrowland’s attractions and is especially lovely at sunset when you can see the park from above. We enjoy taking the Railroad around the park in the afternoon when we’re feeling tired.
Finishing the day with the Magic Kingdom fireworks above the castle is a Disney World must do.
Best Fast Passes for Magic Kingdom
The number one FastPass to get at Magic Kingdom is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train as even at park opening the queues are very long. You’ll probably need to book 60 days in advance to snag one, though.
Thunder Mountain would be my second pick as these tend to get booked up quickly. We usually get a FastPass for Space Mountain too, but if you go first thing in the morning (or just before closing) you won’t need to queue. I would choose a Fastpass for Buzz Lightyear before the other rides above.
Where to Eat at Magic Kingdom
We’re only eaten at the cheaper quick service restaurants at Magic Kingdom. Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn in Frontierland is our top pick for eating at Disney World on a budget as they have a huge free toppings bar where you can liven up your meal with salsas, cheese, jalapeños, pickles, and lettuce.
The veggie nachos and veggie rice bowl with beans and vegetables are pretty tasty once you’ve added the toppings. Save time by ordering on the Disney app.
Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square is another good option. We enjoyed the hummus and broccoli slaw sandwich and vegetarian chilli.
Best Rides at Animal Kingdom
With the addition of the new area, Pandora – The World of Avatar in 2017, Animal Kingdom has become one of the most enjoyable parks at Disney World.
There are fewer major attractions than at other parks, but this makes for a more relaxing experience (with fewer queues), and there’s still plenty to do.
7) Avatar Flight of Passage
Avatar Flight of Passage is by far the most popular ride at Animal Kingdom and this unique experience is a Disney must do.
Queues were up to three hours when we visited, so it’s essential to get a FastPass (difficult) or arrive before the park opens (ideally with Extra Magic Hours).
We arrived 30 minutes before Extra Magic Hours opening (they let us in early) and only had to wait 25 minutes.
Flight of Passage is well worth the wait and the beautiful queue and fun pre-show are part of the experience. This may be Disney’s best ride yet.
It’s an exhilarating 3D flight simulator ride where you fly on the back of a dragon-like banshee. You can feel it breathe beneath you as you soar over the extraordinary Pandora world through forests and waterfalls. While flying over the ocean a whale even jumps out of the water and splashes you. It’s magical and incredibly immersive.
While it’s not necessary, I’m glad I watched the Avatar movie before we went on the ride.
8) Na’vi River Journey
The second Avatar ride is not as spectacular, and the queues are nearly as long, but it’s worth doing if you don’t have to wait over an hour (we got a FastPass for early evening).
Na’vi River Journey is a peaceful river ride in the dark through a bioluminescent rainforest. It’s a beautiful world with plenty to see, and the graceful Shaman of Songs is Disney’s most life-like animatronic character yet.
9) Kilimanjaro Safari
On Kilimanjaro Safari you board a jeep to head out into Disney’s safari park to see real live animals. It’s best first thing in the morning (we went after Flight of Passage and didn’t wait) when the animals are more active and the queues shorter.
The guides are genuinely informative and we got to see elephants, lions, giraffe, rhinos, and cheetahs.
10) Expedition Everest
Expedition Everest is a fast rollercoaster train that speeds through the Himalayan mountains trying to avoid the mythic Abominable Snowman. The details in the queue (and in the whole Asian area of the park) reminded us so much of Nepal.
There’s a single rider line that’s much quicker, so Simon usually rides it a couple of extra times by himself.
11) Kali River Rapids
This whitewater rafting ride is fairly gentle with a few thrilling drops. The fun is in the nervousness over whether you’ll get just wet (as everyone does) or truly soaked (as about one person per raft does).
The Best of the Rest at Animal Kingdom
If you have time, the Dinosaur ride is surprisingly scary and was empty at the end of the day.
There are many attractions at Animal Kingdom that don’t have queues. It’s well worth walking the informative Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek to see gorillas, tigers, and many other animals.
Our favourite show is It’s Tough to be a Bug, and it’s also worth seeing the Festival of the Lion King and UP! A Great Bird Adventure. There’s plenty of street entertainment going on all day, too.
In the evening, don’t miss the Tree of Life Awakening (every 10 minutes after dark), Rivers of Light show, and wandering through Pandora.
Best Fast Passes for Animal Kingdom
More than any other park in Disney, it’s essential to book your Animal Kingdom FastPasses as far in advance as you can (60 days before for resort guests if possible). Your first choice should be Avatar Flight of Passage, but if not get Na’vi River Journey (you can only get a FastPass for one of the two).
After those choose Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safari.
Where to Eat at Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom has the most vegetarian-friendly food in all of Disney World and there are lots of options. For breakfast we love to share a giant Mickey cinnamon roll at Kusafiri Bakery.
On our latest trip, as it was Simon’s birthday, we had lunch offsite at Sanaa restaurant in the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge. You can watch giraffe and zebras wandering past as you eat and the Indian food is delicious (but pricey).
Best Rides at Epcot
We always start the day at Epcot thinking there’s not much to do, then end up running out of time.
The park is divided into two sections—Future World has the most rides, while World Showcase (which opens a few hours later at 11 am) has pavilions representing 11 countries with shows, shops, and restaurants.
Epcot is currently undergoing major changes with new rides including Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and a Guardians of the Galaxy rollercoaster. Openings for both of these have been delayed and may not take place until 2022.
12) Soarin’ Around the World
Soarin’ is a wonderfully relaxing hand gliding ride where you soar above the world and see famous sights like the Great Wall of China, Iguazu Falls, and Sydney Harbour. It’s my favourite ride at Epcot.
13) Test Track
Test Track is unique because you design your own vehicle, choosing to prioritise power or efficiency or responsiveness, before taking it for a high-speed test ride.
There’s a quicker single rider queue for Test Track, but you miss the design stage, so I’d only use it for a repeat ride.
14) Mission: SPACE
If you’ve ever wanted to be an astronaut, this space shuttle simulator is for you. The Orange Mission is intense as you experience the real feel of a space launch as you rocket to Mars and dodge meteorites. The g-forces are incredibly realistic and unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
The Green Mission is a less intense ride without spinning where you orbit the earth.
15) Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth is a gentle journey exploring the history of communication from the Stone Age to the computer age. After the ride there are interactive games and displays in Project Tomorrow—it’s areas like these that mean Epcot takes longer than you expect.
16) Frozen Ever After
Epcot’s newest ride takes over the old Norway ride and follows the same route. It’s a must for Frozen fans with excellent animatronics of Elsa and friends as you slowly ride a Norwegian vessel through the wintery world of the popular movie.
This is the only ride in World Showcase that opens at park opening.
The Best of the Rest at Epcot
In Future World you can follow Nemo on The Seas and visit the aquarium afterwards. Living with the Land and Journey into Imagination are also worth doing.
In the afternoon, heading over to World Showcase is a must do Disney experience.
You don’t have to worry about queues here—just make your way around the different countries, eat and drink your way around the world, and pop into any of the shows that take your fancy. Impressions de France is very pretty. The American Adventure is also a must-see.
Best Fast Passes for Epcot
There are two tiers for Epcot FastPasses. In Tier 1 I recommend Test Track or Soarin’ (or Frozen if you can’t get one of the others). Ride the other two that you didn’t get a FastPass for as soon as the park opens.
We had a FastPass for Soarin’ and rode Frozen (no wait) followed by Test Track (30 minute wait broken up by the design phase), but the other way around would have been better as Test Track queues get longer more quickly.
In Tier 2 book Mission Space and Spaceship Earth (although you’ll rarely need the latter). The other rides in Tier 2 don’t get long lines.
Where to Eat at Epcot
Eating and drinking your way around the world is part of the fun at Epcot and there’s plenty to choose from.
On our last visit, we had a late lunch at San Angel Inn in Mexico. It was fun to have a romantic candlelit meal under the stars overlooking a river, temple, and volcano.
The vegetarian options looked rather boring, but we shared the guacamole and Plato Vegetariano (sautéed vegetables and black beans with tortillas) and it was delicious.
We also loved their range of interesting margaritas, especially the Wild One with ginger liqueur and passion fruit and mango purée.
Best Rides at Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios has two of our favourite Disney World rides, and we love the Hollywood theming of this movie-focused park.
There have been some exciting changes at Hollywood Studios. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the newest land and opened in 2019. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the newest ride and opened in March 2020.
17) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Tower of Terror is a Disney classic and is brilliant (and different) every time we ride it—it’s probably our favourite Disney ride.
The theming of the abandoned hotel is exceptionally detailed and atmospheric, and there’s nothing like the anticipation as you ascend in the elevator and wait for it to plummet.
18) Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster
Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster is one of the best things to do in Disney World for thrill-seekers.
It’s the scariest rollercoaster at Disney with a fun introduction (you join Aerosmith on a race to their gig), super-fast launch, and fun inversions.
There’s a single rider queue which saves time, so Simon rides this one again and again. It’s one of the best rides at Disney World for adults.
19) Slinky Dog Dash
Toy Story Land opened at Hollywood Studios in 2018, and its main ride, the Slinky Dog Dash, is one of the most popular attractions at the park.
It’s a gentle outdoor rollercoaster designed to look like Andy built it out of Tinkertoys. It’s fun but I wouldn’t queue too long for it.
You’ll need a FastPass for this or head there as soon as the park opens.
20) Toy Story Mania!
This is a much better, 4D version of the interactive Toy Story game at Magic Kingdom where you rack up points by shooting in carnival games.
21) Star Tours
Head into space on a 3D, motion-simulated space flight to popular destinations from Star Wars. Each ride is different so it’s a good one to repeat.
22) Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Hollywood Studios’ most popular ride (which opened in December 2019), is in the new Star Wars land.
This immersive, interactive ride takes you to the distant planet of Batuu where you join the Resistance in an epic battle against the First Order.
We haven’t ridden it yet, but it’s supposed to be Disney’s most ambitious ride yet, and we’re very excited to experience it.
FastPasses are not available and you can’t just turn up and queue for this ride. Currently the only way to get on is to join the virtual queue on the My Disney Experience app.
The rules for the virtual queue are constantly changing, but currently you have two chances to join the queue at 7am and 1pm. Have the app ready in advance because places run out in minutes.
Once you’ve joined, you will be notified later in the day when it’s your turn to ride and will have two hours from then to get to the ride. Make sure you enable notifications from the app on your phone.
23) Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
Star Wars fans will also want to ride the new Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. On this interactive experience you fly the Millennium Falcon on a smuggling mission as the pilot, engineer or gunner.
24) Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is Hollywood’s Studios newest ride and opened in March 2020. As it’s a new and popular attraction, you’ll likely want to pick up a FastPass for it.
This trackless dark ride takes you into the world of cartoons with Goofy driving your train. It’s charming and fun with unexpected twists and is suitable for all ages.
The Best of the Rest at Hollywood Studios
There are some good shows at Hollywood Studios including Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D, and Beauty and the Beast (the latter is not a must-see but good for a break).
It’s worth staying after dark for the Fantasmic show using pyrotechnics, water, laser lights, and fireworks.
Best Fast Passes for Hollywood Studios
There are two tiers of FastPasses at Hollywood Studios and there were some major changes to them in early 2020.
In Tier 1, you can choose one from Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
I would lean towards choosing Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway as it’s the newest ride and queues are likely to remain long for now. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run queues tend to die down later in the day.
In Tier 2 you can choose two rides. I recommend choosing Toy Story Mania, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror. Tier 2 also includes Star Tours and a number of shows, but these don’t require a FastPass.
FastPasses are currently not available for the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride. It uses a virtual queue system instead (see above for details).
Note that for now, Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway are not open during Extra Magic Hours, which means resort guests don’t have an advantage with these.
Where to Eat at Hollywood Studios
The food at Hollywood Studios tends to be more junky than at other parks and we usually end up getting pizza. On our last visit we enjoyed lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater instead. We got a table without a reservation, but had to wait 40 minutes in the bar next door which has a surprisingly good selection of craft beers.
The restaurant is very cool—a huge space set up like a drive-in with a starry sky, vintage cars which you sit in to eat, and a screen showing 60s cartoons and movie clips. We enjoyed the tofu lettuce wraps and falafel burger.
After three visits to Disney World Orlando as adults, we can attest that the magic is still alive!
I hope our round-up of the best things to do at Disney World has helped you prioritize your time in the parks. Make sure you book your FastPasses in advance, arrive early, and have fun!
If you are wondering how much a trip to Disney World costs, we share our expenses in our post on visiting Disney World on a budget including lots of tips to save money and still have an amazing trip.
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