The New Must-Sees At Disney

This summer, Disney World is celebrating its 45th birthday with a major rejuvenation—rolling out a dozen new attractions aimed at everyone from junior Jedis to tykes who tirelessly trill “Let It Go.”

You’ll Want To Get FastPasses For These.

At EPCOT, you can now sail off to Arendelle on “Frozen Ever After”, a gentle, glittering boat ride with groundbreaking animatronics, then pop next door to meet Anna and Elsa at the “Royal Sommerhus”, their summer cottage. The “Soarin’ Around the World” flight simulator swoops by some of the planet’s most dazzling destinations, from the Great Wall of China to Mt. Kilimanjaro to Taj Mahal. Recent debuts at Hollywood Studios include “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away”, a dynamic stage show featuring key moments and characters from the saga; at night, “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” sets the skies ablaze with fireworks, lasers, and projected scenes from the films, paired with John Williams’ majestic theme music. “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” at Magic Kingdom is a joyous princess-palooza: Tiana, Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa cavort with princes and pals in a show packed with dancing, stunts, and special effects. This month, the park also welcomes Elena of Avalor, the first princess inspired by Latin cultures. Also new: for the first time in its history, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is remaining open past sundown (currently until 11pm). Visitors can hurtle through the Himalayas in darkness on the “Expedition Everest” coaster, and creep through the savannah on safari to spy the nighttime rites of lions, hippos, and wildebeests (special lighting mimics sunset). Other highlights include a kaleidoscopic illumination show at the park’s iconic Tree of Life, and a live Bollywood-inspired “Jungle Book” spectacle at a new waterfront amphitheater. 

The Early Bird Gets The Good Seats.

Planning should start well before you land in Orlando: character breakfasts open up six months in advance, and are often sold out. Get acquainted with the park’s free FastPass+ system, which allows guests to pre-book 3 rides for particular time slots, often reducing wait times to 10 minutes. Those staying at a Disney resort can arrange FastPasses 60 days in advance through the MyDisneyExperience site; off-site guests can do so 30 days ahead. Build an itinerary for each day, and plan to be at the park at opening, or even a half-hour earlier. Once inside, make a beeline for the top rides on your list, and then work your way from the back of the park forward, counter to the crowds.

Opt For An Intermission.

Duck into one of the park’s theaters when you need a break; Mickey’s PhilharMagic (in Magic Kingdom) and the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival (at EPCOT) both feature fun 4D flicks with short wait times and gloriously bracing AC. Other respites include the Walt Disney World Railroad, which wends it way through Magic Kingdom, and the nearby Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, offering a 10-minute amble past notable attractions (though some wee ones might be spooked by the ride’s brief path through Space Mountain). 

Dine And Dash. 

Noteworthy additions to Disney’s 370+ eateries include Art Smith’s Homecoming (Florida-inspired comfort food); Rick Bayless’ Frontera Cocina (contemporary Mexican); and Morimoto Asia (pictured above), which plates up sushi and noodles from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto). But your best bet when touring the parks is the speedy efficiency of counter service or kiosks. In Magic Kingdom, try Prince Eric’s Village Market, a snack spot with hummus, fresh veggies, and apple slices; across the park, Aloha Isle doles out fresh pineapple spears. At EPCOT, Sunshine Seasons offers fresh salads, yogurt, and fruit cups. Anaheim Produce at Hollywood Studios sells celery, carrots, and rice chips, and at Animal Kingdom, Terra Treats serves gluten-free bagels and soy milk.  

Hire A Honcho.

A VIP guide can whisk you through rides with minimal wait times, thanks to a bit of Disney magic (insiders say it’s a combination of FastPasses, crowd algorithms, and texts from park staffers). It’s pricey: Disney’s fees can hit a jaw-dropping $4,200, including perks like chauffeured rides between parks, front-row seats, and backstage meet-and-greets. We like Stone VIPs, run by two former Disney cast members. They charge $750 for a 6-hour tour for up to 10 people and ensure you’ll experience all the “must-do” items on your list. They’ll also fetch apple juice or coffee, cheerfully push a double-stroller uphill, and will even help draft a game plan for a day when you’re hitting the park unescorted.

Stay Someplace Special.

The Four Seasons Resort Orlando is even better than you’d imagine. The comfy rooms, excellent food, thoughtful service, and spectacular Splash Zone and Lazy River make it worth the inconvenience of not being on the monorail. You’ll most likely use the room for sleeping and showering only, so skip the suite and book a basic Park View room (with views of the fireworks). The resort’s restaurants, Capa and Ravello, are decadent, but don’t underestimate PB&G—the pool bar and grill, which delivers fantastic fare right to your lounge chair. 

 

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Elizabeth Gerst

Elizabeth Gerst is an award-winning producer and reporter whose work has appeared on CNN, NBC, CNBC, Reuters, NY1, Yahoo! Finance, and the Vineyard Gazette.  Her stories have taken her everywhere from Bulgaria to Bora Bora. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.