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I did the Disney College Program. Here are 12 of my favorite things to do in the parks.

hayley and her boyfriend in the italy pavilion at epcot and a shot of cinderella castle at magic kingdom
I used to work at Disney World, and I visit the parks often. Hayley Hutson
  • I worked at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, through the Disney College Program.

  • I like to hop on popular rides during the parades and stick around for the fireworks.

  • Tower of Terror and Kilimanjaro Safaris are both must-do attractions.

During my time working at Disney World via the Disney College Program, I had the privilege of hitting the parks on my days off.

This allowed me to explore at my leisure, rather than trying to cram everything I wanted to do into a single week like many vacationers.

Although I no longer live in Florida, I still visit Disney World whenever I can. Here are my favorite things I always try to do when I'm there.

I ride the PeopleMover or Spaceship Earth when I need to rest.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot in August 2021.
Spaceship Earth is inside the Epcot ball in the theme park. Amanda Krause/Insider

When I need a break from the sweat-inducing Florida heat and feet-numbing walking, I love taking some time to relax on easygoing rides that typically have short wait times.

My favorites are the PeopleMover in Magic Kingdom and Spaceship Earth in Epcot.

This is also a good time to check out iconic shows like "Mickey's PhilharMagic" in Magic Kingdom and "Festival of the Lion King" in Animal Kingdom.

Eating and drinking around the world at Epcot is always a good time.

hand holding a yellow cocktail in epcot at disney world
I love grabbing refreshing cocktails in the pavilions. Hayley Hutson

From grabbing beers in Germany and sipping margaritas in Mexico to enjoying poutine in Canada, Epcot's World Showcase has provided me with some of my favorite Disney memories.

Watch your wallet, though — it's easy to overspend if you get caught up in the fun.

During parades, I always hit the popular rides with famously long lines.

sign for seven dwarfs mine train ride at magic kingdom in disney world
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a popular ride at Magic Kingdom. Megan duBois

Don't get me wrong, I love a Main Street parade as much as the next Disney fan. But when thousands of people are lined up waiting for the show, that's thousands of people who aren't in line for popular rides.

I've found that parade time is the best time to hit attractions like Space Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during the fireworks is epic.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster Disney World
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is even more impressive at night.Kim Renfro/INSIDER

If you can time it right and get on Thunder Mountain during Magic Kingdom's nighttime fireworks, the adrenaline rush of the coaster is amplified by the mesmerizing sounds and views.

The first time I did this was a happy accident, and now I always try to time it right if I don't want to stand and watch the nighttime show.

The Tower of Terror is my favorite ride in Hollywood Studios.

hayley and her friends posing in front of tower of terror at Hollywood studios
I always ride Tower of Terror when I'm at Hollywood Studios. Hayley Hutson

Hollywood Studios is my least favorite Disney park, but Tower of Terror has been one of my favorite rides for years — and it never gets old.

Disney's "Tower of Terror" movie with Kirsten Dunst is such a classic, and I love seeing it brought to life with the level of detail you can always count on in a Disney park.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is also an absolute must.

giraffes on kilimanjaros safari at animal kingdom in disney world
Kilimanjaro Safaris is a ride at Animal Kingdom. Megan duBois

Kilimanjaro Safaris is easily one of the coolest things Disney World has to offer, and I'll never pass it up when I'm visiting Animal Kingdom.

Seeing cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, lions, rhinos, hyenas, and crocodiles grazing in the "wild" (Disney's savanna) is an unforgettable experience.

Pro tip: Go in the early morning or late afternoon for the best chance at ample wildlife sightings.

The resorts are magical during the holiday season.

hayley and friends posing in front of the grand floridian Christmas tree at disney world
The Grand Floridian puts up a giant tree for Christmas. Hayley Hutson

When I'm ready for a lunch break or to call it quits for the day, I love visiting resorts like the Grand Floridian, BoardWalk Inn, and Beach Club.

During the holiday season, they transform into winter wonderlands with grandiose decor that makes you feel like you've stepped into a movie.

Even if you're not staying there, it's worth a visit just to see it all in person and snap a few pictures.

Every Disney fan should try Dole Whip.

hand holding cup of dole whip at disney polynesian resort
Dole Whip is available at some of the parks and resorts. Samantha Tetrault

Did you really go to Disney World if you didn't enjoy a Dole Whip? I could visit a million times and that would mean eating a million Dole Whips.

I don't know why the treat tastes so good, but the pineapple-flavored soft serve is the most delicious way to cool down on a hot day.

I turn into a kid again when I catch a live show.

castle show happening on cinderella castle stage in disney world
There are shows on the castle stage in Magic Kingdom. Hayley Hudson

No matter which Disney park you're visiting, there are always plenty of opportunities to see live entertainment throughout the day.

You could honestly walk around aimlessly and stumble into one, but you can also plan it out by using Disney's daily event calendar.

The "Festival of Fantasy" parade is a personal favorite of mine — watching it always makes me feel like a little kid again.

Epcot is full of amazing photo backdrops.

hayley and her boyfriend posing in the morocco pavilion at epcot
There are tons of places to take pictures around the World Showcase. Hayley Hutson

I'm not saying you should trick your friends into thinking you went on a fabulous vacation, but if you wanted to, Epcot is the place to be.

The park's World Showcase is filled with architecture inspired by countries from all over the world, with replicas of legendary monuments like the Trevi Fountain, Torii Gate, and Eiffel Tower.

My best Disney photos have all been taken here.

Mickey pretzels hit the spot every time.

mickey mouse shaped soft pretzel
I love a good Mickey-shaped pretzel.Maciej Badetko/Shutterstock

Before I worked at Disney World, I was never a fan of soft pretzels.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a good photo opportunity, but Mickey pretzels quickly changed my mind. Now they're my favorite park snack.

If you haven't tried the sweet version that's coated with cinnamon sugar, you're seriously missing out.

Ending the night with a fireworks show is truly magical.

fireworks over a lit up castle at disney world
I love watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks.Jennifer Greene

I'll never forget the first time I watched the fireworks show in Magic Kingdom as an employee.

Everyone in the crowd was singing the words to "Let It Go" from "Frozen," and I couldn't help but feel proud to work for a company that created that kind of magic for people from all over the world.

It's impossible for me not to get swept up in it — in the best way.

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