Whether you’re planning your first trip to Disney World or if you haven’t been to WDW in a long time, one of the best things you can do is compare the four theme parks. How much time should you spend at each park? Which park has the most rides? Which park has the best rides? Which park is best for kids? Which park is best for adults?

These are all questions that I am going to answer today.

In this part of the Beginner’s Guide 2 Walt Disney World, I am going to give you a basic rundown of all four Disney World theme parks. I’ll tell you what you can expect from each park, which rides I consider must-dos for beginners, and who should prioritize which park.

What are the differences between Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom? Read on to find out.

Magic Kingdom – The Most Popular Theme Park In The World

Magic Kingdom - 50th Anniversary Castle Decor

There are a few reasons Magic Kingdom is Disney World’s most popular theme park. First of all, it’s Disney World’s first theme park. Magic Kingdom has the most rides of all the WDW parks, and it’s not even close.

The second reason that Magic Kingdom is so popular is that it’s a Castle Park. Modeled after Disneyland, Disney Castle Parks have a castle as their icon sitting at the center of the hub which is surrounded by themed lands. It’s a formula that’s so successful that Disney has built six castle parks across the world: Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland.

Magic Kingdom is divided into the following themed lands:

  • Main Street, USA: Turn of the 20th century America
  • Tomorrowland:  The sci-fi future that never was
  • Fantasyland:  Step into the worlds of Disney’s fairytales
  • Storybook Circus: Similar to Fantasyland, but more focused on silly cartoons
  • Liberty Square:  Step back in time and experience colonial America
  • Frontierland:  A land themed to the wild, wild west
  • Adventureland:  Explore exotic jungles, the rivers of the world, and encounter a group of pirates and scoundrels

Magic Kingdom has most of the iconic Disney theme park experiences, from Dumbo the Flying Elephant to Pirates of the Caribbean to the Mad Tea Party Tea Cups. If a ride has been referenced in pop culture, most likely it’s at Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom Must-Do Rides and Attractions: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, Disney Enchantment Fireworks. See our complete ranking of the Best Magic Kingdom Rides and Attractions.

Who is Magic Kingdom for? Magic Kingdom is the best park for all ages, as it has such a wide range of rides. The roller coasters are all kid-friendly, providing moderate thrills. This will change when the Tron roller coaster opens up, as it reaches speeds of 60 miles per hour. Magic Kingdom is great for toddlers and small kids, as there are plenty of rides with no height requirement. However, if you have a group with wide array of ages, Magic Kingdom will have something for everyone.

EPCOT – Travel the World in a Single Day

EPCOT is currently undergoing a major overhaul, with the front portion of the park still under massive construction. This currently makes navigating EPCOT a bit of a challenge and takes away from the feeling of the park, although this is a temporary issue.

EPCOT’s theme could be described as exploring the progress of the human race on planet Earth and beyond. EPCOT used to be divided into two sections: Future World and World Showcase. As part of EPCOT’s new identity, EPCOT is now divided into four neighborhoods:

  • World Celebration: The center of the former Future World, this neighborhood is a place to gather and celebrate. With rides focusing on communication and imagination, World Celebration will also feature a festival center once it is complete.
  • World Discovery: With attractions that take you into the digital world and out of this world, World Discovery is thrill ride central at EPCOT.
  • World Nature: Explore the Land and the Seas in this section of the park focused on the natural world around us.
  • World Showcase: Eat and drink around the world at World Showcase, featuring 11 pavilions themed to different countries.

When EPCOT opened, it had a strong educational focus. While there’s still plenty to learn at the park, the focus has shifted more toward entertainment and thrills. EPCOT opened in 1982 with no recognizable Disney characters, but now characters can be found throughout the park. From Frozen Ever After to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure to the Guardians of the Galaxy Roller Coaster, there are plenty of experiences featuring Disney characters front and center.

The name EPCOT comes from Walt Disney’s original vision of the city of the future: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. However, some cheeky guests have said EPCOT stands for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.” That’s because EPCOT is massive. The walk around World Showcase lagoon is 1.2 miles. Unless you’re visiting EPCOT with zero backtracking, you will definitely get your steps in as you go from ride to ride.

Must Do EPCOT Rides and Attractions: Soarin’, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Test Track, Spaceship Earth. Check out our full list of the Best Rides and Attractions at EPCOT.

Who is EPCOT for? EPCOT is the best park for adults traveling without kids, or anybody who enjoys eating and drinking. EPCOT has the best lineup of restaurants, and every EPCOT Festival features an amazing lineup of unique food and beverage offerings. EPCOT is great for guests who want to have unique experiences, learn about technology and other cultures, and be able to have lunch in Japan and dinner “in space.”

Hollywood Studios – The Thrill of the Movies

Millennium Falcon - Galaxy’s Edge

Step into the movies at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When this park opened as Disney MGM Studios in 1989, it was a working film backlot and animation studio. It’s been years since any production has been done at the park, and the focus on going behind the scenes of the movies has faded to black.

Now Disney’s Hollywood Studios is all about bringing the thrill of being inside a movie to you. From a galaxy far, far away to Mickey Mouse’s cartoon world, Hollywood Studios delivers immersive environments that make you feel like you’re transported into the cinematic universe of your favorite movies and TV shows.

Hollywood Studios has several sections, either themed to Los Angeles neighborhoods or film franchises.

  • Hollywood Boulevard: The Main Street of Hollywood Studios, this entrance street transports you to the golden age of Hollywood. The park’s icon, a recreation of the Chinese Theater, sits at the end of this stretch.
  • Sunset Boulevard: An extension of the golden age of Hollywood theme, featuring two of the best thrill rides at Disney World.
  • Echo Lake: Stroll around a smaller (but nicer) version of LA’s Echo Lake. Featuring attractions themed to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
  • Grand Avenue: See the Muppets and get a brew at a very nice Gastropub
  • Animation Courtyard: The former home of Walt Disney Animation’s Orlando Headquarters, this courtyard now is where you can find Disney Jr. characters.
  • Toy Story Land: Shrink down to the size of a toy and explore Andy’s backyard, with three Toy Story attractions.
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: Blast off to a Galaxy Far, Far Away in this massive and highly-detailed land. Guests can explore Black Spire Outpost, an original location featuring a cantina, a docking bay, a marketplace, and a hidden Resistance Base.

Hollywood Studios has arguably the best lineup of rides of any Disney World park. The park has 9 rides, and 8 of them could be considered E-Ticket attractions, meaning that they are top tier in terms of quality and popularity. No other park comes close in terms of percentage of high quality rides. Hollywood Studios also has an excellent lineup of shows and entertainment.

Must Do Rides and Attractions at Hollywood Studios: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours

Who is Hollywood Studios for? Families with older kids, teenagers, Star Wars fans, thrill seekers, fans of themed dining.

Animal Kingdom – Go Wild at Disney World

Animal Kingdom Tips - Disney World

Animal Kingdom is both a world class zoo and a fully-fledged Disney theme park, all in one. Animal Kingdom is Disney World’s newest park, and it features some of the best theming of any Disney Park in the world. The level of detail is amazing, and the park succeeds in delivering a transportive experience across almost every land.

Animal Kingdom is different from the other theme parks, and it’s best to approach it with a different attitude. Yes, there are several amazing rides that you should make part of your plans. But Animal Kingdom rewards discovery and exploration. At Animal Kingdom, try to take things a bit slower. You’ll notice more of the small details or stumble upon a hidden gem. Animals are spontaneous and unpredictable, and your day at Animal Kingdom should have some room for that.

Animal Kingdom is divided into the following sections:

  • Discovery Island: The park’s entrance sets the tone of discovery. Home to the Tree of Life.
  • Pandora: The World of Avatar: See the floating mountains of James Cameron’s Avatar and discovery the world of the Navi in this massive and highly detailed land.
  • Africa: See African Animals, explore the village of Harambe, and go on an African Safari.
  • Asia: See Asian Animal or go on an expedition to encounter the mythical Yeti.
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch: Learn how Animal Kingdom is helping in the conservation effort, and get up close with animals at the petting zoo.
  • DinoLand, USA: Get transported back in time and come face to face with a dinosaur. Also features a section with carnival rides and a dig site-themed playground

Must-Do Rides and Attractions at Animal Kingdom: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Avatar: Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Festival of the Lion King

Who is Animal Kingdom for? Animal lovers, fans of the Avatar movie, anybody who wants to add a sense of adventure to their vacation.

The Beginner’s Guide 2 Walt Disney World

Planning your first trip to Disney World? Find out everything you need to know to plan an amazing vacation.

Also be sure to check out these other helpful resources:

If you need any extra help, reach out to our friends at Vacationeer for free Disney World vacation planning. Their travel agents are Disney experts, and they provide their services at no charge to you.

We want to hear from you!

Do you have any questions about going to Disney World for the first time? Let me know in the comments below! I’m going to be updating this guide with new sections in the near future, and I can answer any question you have about WDW.