Essential Things You Need to Know About Disney World If You Haven’t Visited In a While

in Walt Disney World

Child wearing Mickey Mouse hat with parents in front of Cinderella Castle

Credit: Disney

Walt Disney World Resort has changed a lot since it reopened after the pandemic closures of 2020. Many argue the Resort — found in Orlando, Central Florida — is increasingly difficult to navigate with all things Park Passes, Disney Genie+, Virtual Queues, and then some. Some things have stayed, some things have changed, and some things are just completely different.

If you haven’t been to The Walt Disney Company’s leading Disney destination in a while or just want a refresher on what to expect on your next visit then take a look at these essential must-knows before heading out to the Sunshine State and visiting Disney World.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on their Festival of Fantasy — Disney Parade — float
Credit: Disney

Visiting Walt Disney World Resort

First off, before we get into Lightning Lanes and return times, mobile ordering and Resort hopping, let’s first set the scene.

What theme parks are at Walt Disney World Resort?

Four theme parks make up the part of the massive Disney Resort that sits on over 25,000 acres of land — of which only a fraction has been used. There’s Magic Kingdom Park, EPCOT Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

Magic Kingdom features the impressive Cinderella Castle and hosts the premier nighttime spectacular, Disney Enchantment (note: the show will be retiring in the next couple of months, but more on that later). The Park, the most popular out of the four in terms of attendance, is home to multiple theme lands such as Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. Similar to Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort, it is in this Disney Park that Guests can stroll down the famous Main Street, U.S.A.

Spaceship Earth
Credit: Disney

EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is a long way from what Walt Disney envisioned for the Park, but the essence of education, innovation, and furthering knowledge still remains. Here, Guests will encounter the iconic “golfball”, Spaceship Earth, and the biggest feat celebrating world culture at the Resort, World Showcase. The latter comprises 11 nations plus a small additional pavilion called the African Outpost. The nations included are Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure (United States of America), Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

hollywood tower of terror sunset seasons greetings
Credit: Disney

Disney’s Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, is steeped in that Golden Era Hollywood charm. The Disney Park has some of Walt Disney World’s newest additions — Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. In addition to the shiny newness of attractions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Slinky Dog Dash, it is at Hollywood Studios where Guests can take the fall of their life in the drop towers of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and enter the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater for the nighttime show, Fantasmic!

disney world animal kingdom tree of life
Credit: Disney

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest theme park in the world, and that should excite you. It’s at this Park that you can ride around the African savannah, and experience drinks and eats from continents like Africa and Asia; it is where you can take on a Yeti or a Carnataurus, watch Simba and friends at Festival of the Lion King, or see birds glide over you. Animal Kingdom is a hub of conservation — if EPCOT is all things technology, Animal Kingdom is nature through and through.

Olaf and Snowgies at Blizzard Beach
Credit: Disney

What water parks are there at Walt Disney World Resort?

The Bay Lake Disney Resort boasts two water theme parks — Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. The former has the popular wave pool, while the latter is home to the third tallest and fastest slide in the world, Summit Plummet. While neither water park requires a reservation like the theme parks do, at the time of publication Typhoon Lagoon is closed for maintenance at this time.

grand floridian resort walt disney world
Credit: Disney

What hotels are there at Walt Disney World Resort?

With such a large Resort, and a highly-popular one at that, Disney World needs plenty of accommodation for all the Guests that visit year after year, the full list of Disney hotels and Resorts (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe) is as follows:

  • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  • Disney’s Riviera Resort
  • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
  • The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
disney's boardwalk at night
Credit: Disney

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Walt Disney World Essentials

So now you’ve got the lay of the land, it’s time to dig into what you need to know before you visit Walt Disney World Resort.

What you NEED to know if you haven’t visited Walt Disney World Resort in a while

1. Theme Park Reservations

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the theme park industry. When Walt Disney World Resort reopened in July of that year, many new health and safety procedures were put in place to manage attendance, provide adequate protection for Guests, and limit the potential spread of the virus.

Disney Merchandise in front of Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney

There was plexiglass in abundance, social distancing, and a reduction in certain experiences like meet and greets across the Resort. Most of those measures have now since vanished but one that has remained is the, often polarizing, Park Pass system. Disney World’s Theme Park Reservation system requires ALL Guests — ticket holders, those staying in select Resort hotels, and Annual Passholders — to book a Park Pass for the Disney Park they intend to visit in addition to purchasing admission to Disney World. Note each of these types of tickets has varying amounts of Park Pass availability, and the correct calendar should be selected when choosing reservation dates.

Guests do this by using Disney World’s online tool to select the dates and Parks they wish to visit. At any time, Guests can cancel and amend their reservation selection, as long as there is availability to do so. At this time, the Disney water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach) do not require Park Passes to visit.

A recent update to the Park Pass reservation system came in early January when it was announced that Annual Passholders are NOT required to hold a Park Pass for any Disney Park they wish to visit after 2 p.m.

Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella Castle during the 50th Anniversary
Credit: Disney

But what about Park Hopping? Park Hopping, while at first restricted upon Disney World’s reopening, is now a very useful tool for those Guests with Resort hotel packages or ticketholders with the Park Hopper add-on. At 2 p.m. daily, you can hop to any other theme park without the need for a Park Pass reservation. Bear in mind, you must first check into your selected Park first before hopping anywhere else. Disney states that the Park Hopper option is still subject to availability and in the instance a Park becomes unavailable due to capacity, Guests will be sent a push notification alerting them so.

magic kingdom sign
Credit: Inside the Magic

2. Booking Windows

Let’s first acknowledge the elephant in the room — Disney Dining Plans are still absent from Disney Parks, meaning you need to be even savvier when it comes to those dining options throughout your stay (more on quick service and mobile ordering later). A big part of the dining experience at Disney World is the booking window prior to your stay. That’s right, Disney World ticketholders can book select dining locations 60 days in advance. However, there are different rules for different types of Guests when making an advance dining reservation:

  • Guests with a Disney Hotel Resort reservation can make dining selections for their entire stay (up to a 10-night stay) at the 60-day mark, meaning most, if not all, dining selections can be made at one time instead of day-by-day.
  • All other Guests must make their reservations 60 days in advance of their selected day.
stitch ohana dining polynesian resort
Credit: Disney

There are numerous table service restaurants spread across the four Disney World theme parks as well as Disney Springs (a ticket or Park Pass reservation is not needed for Disney Springs).

According to the official Disney World website, booking for dining opens at approximately 5:45 a.m. Eastern Time (ET), and access to a table service restaurant must be booked in advance although there are opportunities to walk up to the restaurants and speak with Cast Members to check availability on the day. You can also utilize the My Disney Experience app, to join walk-up lists for nearby restaurants to secure last-minute, spontaneous bookings. In most places, there are also QR codes situated at the restaurants to make a booking.

Family dining at Crystal Palace
Credit: Disney

Currently, the only restaurant that requires an upfront payment at the time of booking is Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom. The magical dining experience takes place inside the Disney Park icon and sees a three-course meal combined with a Princess meet and greet all with views of Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland. If by any chance you need to cancel your pre-booked table service reservation then you must do so at least 2 hours before the booking to avoid any penalties, which is a $10 per person fee charged to the card provided at booking. The Dinner Show Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at The Campsites at Fort Wilderness Resort — a table dining meets interactive musical showcase — also requires complete prepayment at booking.

For the full list of table service, and reservations accepted restaurants then click here.

Dole Whip
Credit: Disney

But what about Quick Service and Mobile Ordering? In addition to booking table service restaurants, Disney World Resort is home to a whole portfolio of Quick Service dining locations. These aren’t just your typical fast food and amusement park fare, but the wide variety of cuisines throughout the theme parks, not to mention the variety of dishes found across the 11 nations of World Showcase, is a feat in itself. Quick Service locations are cheaper than table service, and some places have those traditional Disney Park snacks like Dole Whip, Mickey Premium Bars, and Cheshire Cat Tails.

For the full list of Mobile Order restaurants to utilize on your Disney vacation head here.

Disney Tip! Don’t skip the many offerings at Disney Springs. The retail and recreation area has a wide variety of options such as Chicken Guy!, Gideon’s Bakehouse, and The Polite Pig.

family eating at morimoto asia in disney springs
Credit: Disney

3. Disney Genie+, Individual Lightning Lane Selections, and Virtual Queues

At the end of 2021, and after almost two years of Guests having no access to a “FastPass“-style service, Disney Parks announced Disney Genie, Disney Genie+, and the a la carte Individual Lightning Lane Selections. The Disney Genie tool is found on the My Disney Experience app and offers Guests itinerary suggestions, tailored recommendations, and a tip board showing options and potential ideas of what your party should try next based on forecasted wait times. In addition, you will also be able to check into virtual queues, book restaurants, and view check-in times for purchased Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane a la carte purchases.

disney genie plus
Credit: Disney Parks Blog

Disney Genie+ is one of the paid elements of the tool and for a varying price per Guest per day, you can select 2-3 attractions (according to Disney) to gain speedier access to rides using the Lightning Lane entrance. Disney Genie+ was previously priced at $15 per Guest per day at Walt Disney World (and $20 per Guest per day at Disneyland Resort), but that has since been rescinded in favor of a varying price scale that reflects the seasonality and how busy the Parks are projected to be — Disney Genie+ will be pricier on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example.

mom taking picture of two daughters by cinderella castle at disney world
Credit: Disney

Disney Genie+ must be purchased on the day of your Park visit (unless your booked package includes the service, or can be added on as an additional cost — for United Kingdom travelers, for example, the service can be added to the overall booking at selected times and offer windows throughout the year). The service means you can book a return time for an attraction, visit that selected attraction during the chosen window, and access that attraction through the Lightning Lane entrance, bypassing the standby queue.

Attraction selections can be made from 7 a.m.; you can make your first selection at the Park you hold a Park Pass for OR for any other Park if you have a Park Hopper ticket. Note, that return times for alternate Parks to where you begin your day will be after 2 p.m. only (the time Park Hopping hours begin). Guests can only hold one Genie+ Lightning Lane (not including the a la carte attractions but more on that later) at a time and can book the next one once it has been redeemed OR after 2 hours have passed — whichever comes first.

Big Thunder Mountain at night
Credit: Disney

Each theme park has a list of attractions that can be accessed using the Disney Genie+ service but each attraction can only be accessed once per day. Yes, if you book attractions like Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run or Space Mountain using Genie+ and wanted to experience it again, you would have to join the standby queue. For the full list of attractions that can be booked with Disney Genie+, check here.

To round up:

  • Disney Genie+ must be booked on the day of your Walt Disney World visit.
  • The first selection can be made at 7 a.m.
  • Only one Disney Genie+ attraction can be made at a time.
  • The next selection can be made once the current one has been redeemed OR 2 hours have passed.
  • Genie+ selections can be made for other Parks you plan on Park Hopping to that day (if you have a Park Hopper ticket)
A couple of Guests using Disney Genie+ in front of Cinderella Castle at Disney World
Credit: Disney

Note that certain shows and parades are also included in Disney Genie+. You can get a preferred viewing location at Magic Kingdom’s Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade, or access the new Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond! musical performance at Animal Kingdom, for example.

So, what is an a la carte Individual Lightning Lane Selection? Alongside the Disney Genie+ offering, Walt Disney World Resort has one attraction per theme park that can only be accessed using the Lightning Lane entrance if they are purchased separately. Of course, these attractions can be experienced using the traditional standby entrances, but the popularity of the selected attractions often means the wait times are higher than others. You do NOT need to purchase Disney Genie+ if you only want to access an a la carte Lightning Lane ride and you can have an active Genie+ and a la carte Lightning Lane return time booked concurrently.

Stormtroopers in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Credit: Inside the Magic

The price of these individual selections, like Disney Genie+, varies day by day and can be checked on the My Disney Experience app. Guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels can book from 7 a.m. while all other Guests must make their booking when the theme park opens. The attractions include Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney World’s newest attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT.

Kid riding flight of passage in pandora at disney's animal kingdom
Credit: Disney

OK, so Disney Genie+ — check, Individual Lightning Lane — check, what about Virtual Queues? A Virtual Queue is another type of attraction access that is currently only being used for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT. The World Discovery attraction, found in the new Wonders of Xandar pavilion, is Disney World’s latest ride. The major Marvel-themed coaster does NOT have a standby line and can only be experienced by purchasing an a la carte Lightning Lane or by attempting to join the Virtual Queue at either 7 a.m. or 1 p.m. daily to acquire a boarding pass.

If you are joining the Virtual Queue at 7 a.m. you do not have to be in the Resort to book but you must have a Park Pass reservation for EPCOT. At 1 p.m., Guests must be in EPCOT to book into the queue. On selected dates, such as when there are extended hours, another Virtual Queue may open at 6 p.m. for Guests staying at a Disney Deluxe Resort, Disney Deluxe Villa Resort, or other select hotels.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at night
Credit: Disney

From April 4, 2023, TRON Lightcycle / Run presented by Enterprise will also be utilizing the same Virtual Queue method as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Like Cosmic Rewind, TRON Lightcycle / Run can also be experienced by paying for an Individual Lightning Lane Selection when it opens in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.

Disney Tip! Book attractions using Disney Genie+ for slightly later in the day and utilize the usually quieter morning period — or “rope drop” — to join standby queues for other attractions, for example, the Individual Lightning Lane options like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. This could potentially save you from paying out for your entire party to ride it later in the day.

TRON Lightcycle / Run Sign
Credit: Disney

Anything else?

MagicBand, MagicBand+, and Magic Mobile

MagicBand and MagicBand+ use Radio Frequency technology and allow Guests to unlock Disney hotel room doors, pay for purchases such as food and merchandise, and access attractions using the Lightning Lane entrance. While the MagicBand was previously complimentary for hotel Resort Guests, they now must be purchased. As for the MagicBand+, this gives you everything that a MagicBand gives you but with additional features such as light patterns, haptic interactivity, and experiences like Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters (which can also be played on the Play Disney Parks app). MagicBand prices begin at around $15.

Disney World Guests with MagicBands in front of "it's a small world"
Credit: Disney

Disney MagicMobile is a complimentary offering found in the My Disney Experience app that enables you to add your Disney vacation pass to your mobile wallet. This acts as your Disney Park ticket, Virtual Queue boarding pass, PhotoPass link, and room charge. If you have a Disney Genie+ selection or a la carte Lightning Lane booked, then you can also use MagicMobile to scan in for these, too.

Guests can also get a Key to the World card from the front desk of their hotel which acts as both a room key and theme park ticket.

For all services to work, they must be linked to your account in the My Disney Experience app.

A close up of a hand wearing a MagicBand+
Credit: Disney


For a round-up of all transportation Walt Disney World Resort offers, including monorail, bus, boat, the Minnie Van service, and the Disney Skyliner, then head to the official website here. For those needing transport from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World Resort, the retirement of the beloved Magical Express means that Guests must find alternate options — there are suggestions found online here.

Nighttime Entertainment

For nighttime entertainment, Walt Disney World offers a plethora of experiences across the Resort. You can find:

Disney Enchantment (through April 2, 2023, then Happily Ever After returns to the Park from April 3) at Magic Kingdom, Harmonious (through April 2, 2023, then EPCOT Forever returns to the Park from April 3) at EPCOT, and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can experience both Fantasmic! and Wonderful World of Animation. Less lively nighttime entertainment includes Tree of Life Awakenings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon near Magic Kingdom and selected Disney Resort Hotels. All times for entertainment can be found online and on the Disney World app.

Happily Ever After Fireworks at Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney


A final word to the wise — refurbishments. If you aren’t aware of when attractions are being closed for planned maintenance, this can severely affect the enjoyment of your trip. Of course, as with any theme park, unplanned closures happen all the time, but on occasions throughout the year, rides can go dark for days, weeks, if not months, while Disney Parks carries out essential maintenance. For the full list of closures, you can access the refurbishment calendar here. And yes, Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World Resort is now closed to make way for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure which arrives in late 2024.

Splash Mountain statue of Br'er Bear and Br'er Fox outside the ride
Credit: Disney

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From the world of the Genie to the advance dining reservation booking windows, Park Passes to MagicBands, this has been your essential reminder of what to do and what to expect before and on your Disney World vacation.

What is your number one tip for a Disney World vacation? Let us know in the comments down below!

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