Secret Tips for Exploring Disney World This Year

By Judy Koutsky

Arguably, one of the best family-friendly places to vacation is Walt Disney World. Traveling with kids couldn’t be easier with meal plans, fast-passes and the Disney app (which estimates wait times for various rides). And these days, it’s not just for kids. Plus, the great thing about Disney is that it does not rest on its laurels. Every year the park introduces new rides, restaurants — and plenty of Disney magic.

Photo: David Roark/Disney Parks

So if you’re planning your 2016 getaway, here’s what you need to know.

Night safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge

It’s hard not to be wowed when you come within inches of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and warthogs under cover of darkness with night goggles at the ready. This family-friendly attraction is definitely one of the nature highlights well worth putting on the itinerary.

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The unveiling of Disney Springs

Morimoto Asia at the new Disney Springs. (Photo: Matt Stroshane/Disney Parks) 

What used to be called Downtown Disney is now officially called Disney Springs, and the number of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues doubles from 75 in 2015 to 150 in 2016. If you’re a foodie, this is where you need to be (plus there are lots of kid-friendly choices). Morimoto Asia is sure to be a must: the Peking duck, sushi and dim sum are simply delicious. Other new restaurants that you’ll want to check out in Disney Springs include: Sprinkles (a cupcake bakery); STK (a steakhouse); The Edison (American cuisine with live entertainment and a great cocktail bar) and Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza (great for kids). New retail shops include: UGG, Lilly Pulitzer, Zara and Tommy Bahama.

(MORE: Sunny Destinations to Visit If You Love Disney World)

Star Wars in the sky

Photo: Todd Anderson/Disney Parks

With all the excitement of the new Star Wars movie, this is sure to be a huge hit. The Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks display combines great music with amazing imagery. Hollywood Studios may just bump the other parks out of the water when it comes to nightly entertainment.

Related: An Insider’s Look at Disney World’s new ‘Star Wars’ Experience

Star Wars on the ground

Photo: Disney World

With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hollywood Studios has released a bunch of new additions in the fight between good and evil. The Jedi Training Academy, which has long been a favorite if you’re traveling with kids, is upping the fun factor by adding new characters and new villains to the battle. The Star Wars Launch Bay and Star Wars the Adventure Continues are new interactive experiences including meet-and-greets with a slew of intergalactic characters, behind-the-scenes clips and paraphernalia from the movie, and on-site locations that will have your kids feeling like they are in definitely in a galaxy far, far away.

The new Rivers of Lights show

“Rivers of Light” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Photo: Disney World)

Animal Kingdom is upping the ante with its Rivers of Light after-hours show. When the sun goes down, the Animal Kingdom comes alive with music, dancing, colorful entertainers, floating lanterns, and amazing feats of water.

(MORE: Accommodations at Disney World for Large Families)

More Frozen fun

Photo: Disney World

If your child loves all things Frozen (and really, who doesn’t?), then Epcot is the place to visit in 2016. The much-anticipated Frozen Ever After ride will make its debut, making Epcot even more kid-friendly. Located in the Norway Pavilion, the Frozen Ever After ride replaces the Maelstrom water ride, which has had its home in Epcot for 27 years. At the new ride, kids (and adults) will board log canoes that will transport them to the famous mythical city of Arendelle, a magical land where winter meets summer thanks to Elsa’s magical powers. The ride goes through the Bay of Arendelle and on to Elsa’s Ice Palace where the famous Let It Go theme song will be playing as favorite characters from the show make an appearance. Scenes from the movie, new lyrics to favorite songs and an interactive winter wonderland await. There will also be a meet-and-greet location where kids can interact with Anna and Elsa in the flesh.

Related: Sunny Destinations to Visit If You Love Disney World

Soarin’ around the world

The Soarin’ ride will re-open and include all new destinations for you to experience. (Art: Disney Parks)

Fly above some of the most amazing places on earth in the new Soarin’ debut at Epcot. Make sure this is one of your fast-pass choices, as it’s going to be a big.

Related: Around the World in 11 Drinks at Epcot

Kilimanjaro after sunset. 

Photo: Disney World

Ask anyone who has ever been on safari, and sunset is when the magic happens. The sherbet sun melts into the savannah as the animals come alive. Well, Disney’s Kilimanjaro Safari daytime ride has long-been a hit, so they are extended this attraction after sunset starting in the near year.

Related: Would You Pay $2000 for an Over-Water Bungalow at Disney World?

And for 2017… 

Concept art for Disney’s new Star Wars-themed land, including the Millennium Falcon. (Art: Disney/LucasFilm)

Of course you need a little something to look forward to down the road. Disney, in partnership with Star Wars, is planning their largest single-theme land expansion ever. Piggy-backing on the hype of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this new area in Hollywood Studios will be introducing a new planet—some characters and places will be familiar, some all new. Two big adventures in this 14-acre land expansion include getting kids (and adults) behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon for a secret flying mission, plus battling it out between the First Order and the Resistance in the never-ending fight between good and evil. This new Star Wars land will make sure Hollywood Studios is a family-friendly draw for many years to come.

WATCH: How to Vacation Like a Disney Princess

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