"The mighty Roman empire bridged three continents with a vast system of roads - the fastest information highways the world had ever known. East, west, north, and south - all roads led to Rome."
These are the words Jeremy Irons used to intone on Disney's Spaceship Earth. While that may be true in Europe, it's not the case in Walt Disney World. In WDW, all roads lead to Epcot.
I consider myself to have a pretty decent sense of direction. If necessary, I'll bet that I could traverse the 1061 miles from my front door to the WDW gates without the aid of a map. Once on property, however, all bets are off.
Maybe I'm too excited to think properly. Maybe I'm thrown off by the purple signs or have a hard time seeing around all of the buses. All I know is that no matter where I'm trying to go in Walt Disney World, I always seem to end up in the Epcot parking lot.
Okay maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. I guess I've ended up in the Magic Kingdom parking lot by mistake a time or two, as well.
People who live in the area or who visit the parks several times a year tend to gush about how clearly the roads are marked, and how easy they are to navigate. I suppose they are, once you get used to the weird way they are set up. Therefore, I'm going to give you a quick primer in Disney navigation. Because, you know, I'm here to help.
1. Disney property maps are meant to be pretty more than informative. Just because it looks like a through road on a map doesn't mean it is one. Case in point: Epcot Center Drive. If you look at it on a map, it appears to be a road connecting World Drive and Buena Vista Drive. Don't be fooled! Whichever side you come from, it dumps you into the Epcot parking lot. Then you have to face the pity in the security guard's eyes as you explain your error and he redirects you. You just know he's muttering "stupid tourist" under his breath as you drive away, because you're already thinking it yourself.
2. Disney assumes that your real destination is a theme park, whether you think it is or not. Imagine this: it's 9:00 PM; you've just left the Magic Kingdom, and after fighting a tangle of cranky drivers, you have finally managed to escape the parking lot of the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and are heading back to your resort. All of a sudden you see a sign that says "Magic Kingdom Straight Ahead" and you think (or actually scream like I do), "Noooo! I just got out of there! I do NOT want to go back!" Don't panic; it's okay. You aren't really heading back there. Disney just wanted to provide you with an alternate route (or several) in case you decided that you weren't ready to leave after all. Ignore the sign and continue on your way.
3. Disney seems to have some sort of weird prejudice against left turns. Again, you're consulting the pretty little map that your resort so kindly provided when you checked in, and you're thinking, "I'd like to go to Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner." and jump in your car to head over. You come to an intersection with the intention of turning left, and find it isn't possible. Here's why: Disney has designed many of their intersections to work more like highway on/off ramps. Sometimes, your exit will be on the right when you know you want to go left. It's okay; just go with it. Disney doesn't take kindly to you creating your own off ramps, as I've discovered to my embarrassment and dismay. Also, they may decide to have you bypass your destination entirely, turn left at the next intersection and then turn right into your destination. Again I advise letting Disney have their way, as other drivers tend to get upset if you start driving horizontally across their traffic lanes.
Finding your way around inside the theme parks is pretty easy (often much simpler than finding your way around your resort), but I would still advise picking up a guide map and park schedule as you enter. It will provide you with a lot of useful information like park hours, show times, height restrictions, ride closings, etc. One quick note, however. When I first went to Epcot, I was sure Disney didn't know east from west. You see, as you entered the park, Communicore East was on your left, and Communicore West was on your right. To my experience, that was not how east and west worked. It wasn't until years later when I looked at an aerial photograph of Epcot that I realized that as you enter the park, you are facing south. I just always assumed that the top of the park map was north, because north is up, right?