What To Do Your First Day In The *WORLD*
After months of anticipation, researching, reading, planning, your first day at Walt Disney World® has finally arrived. So, now what??
If you’re like me, you are so excited that you want to do something, anything, right away. But, depending on the time of day of your arrival and how you and your group are feeling, touring one of the parks might not be the best use of your time and/or theme park admission. Never fear, there are plenty of alternatives to using those precious theme park tickets on a partial day.
- Is there a rumbly in your tummy? If so, consider having a meal at one of the resort restaurants. I usually take the earliest flight of the day (to maximize my first day at the World), so I have been up since 4 a.m. My nourishment has consisted of a quick fast-food breakfast at the airport. By the time I am checked into my hotel, I need lunch, even though it’s only 10:30 a.m.
- If you’re staying at a Disney resort, get the Park Guide Map and Times Guides for each of the theme parks and head over to the Food Court. Chances are (if you arrive during the day) it won’t be very crowded, allowing you to get a feel for the place. This is also a good time to find out if anything special is going on during your visit.
There are plenty of things you can do to immerse yourself in Disney Magic without entering a theme park — and some of them are even “free!”
- Consider putting on your swim suit and heading to your resort’s pool. This is a great way to unwind after your trip. It gets you into the fresh air and sunshine and you can stretch out those muscles that were cramped for hours while you sat in the car or in that tiny airplane seat. All Disney pools are heated and you will find the water refreshing. If it’s too cool for the pool itself, see if your resort has a hot tub.
- If you’re traveling without kids, maybe you’d like to spend a couple hours at a Disney spa or get a massage. It’s a great way to decompress from your busy life back home and feel relaxed. You might want to schedule your spa/massage before you leave home.
- Enjoy watersports such as parasailing, personal watercraft and more at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre at the Contemporary Resort Marina. There’s a special discount for AllEars® Readers too!
- Several deluxe resorts have marinas with pontoon and water sprite boats. The pontoon will probably fit your whole group (up to 8 people) and it cruises along at a nice slow speed so you can enjoy the Florida sunshine and your surroundings. The water sprites are personal watercraft for faster jetting around the lake.
- Explore the lobby of your resort and find out what special programs might be available for you and/or your children. All Disney resorts now have “Activity Sheets”, some resorts have Hidden Mickey Challenges (Wilderness Lodge), tours (Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian, Yacht Club), kids’ recreation by the pool (Old Key West, Port Orleans) and even entertainment (Polynesian).
- Ask for a jogging map at the front desk, too. Even if you don’t jog, the map will show you a nice area to take a stroll. I recommend the paths between Ft. Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge, since they are shaded and usually quiet. Another nice walk is between Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside.
- Hop aboard the Monorail and take a ride all the way around the loop. You’ll get a good view of the three monorail resorts, as well as the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. Get off at each of the hotels and look around. Get something cool to drink and people-watch in the lobby. If you’re adventurous, you can walk from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian!
- Head over to Disney Springs! There are lots of places to eat and shop, with every conceivable Mickey Mouse accessory. Window shopping is not just allowed but encouraged! If you are hungry, stop into one of the many restaurants for a meal (Earl of Sandwich has great inexpensive meals) or visit Ghirardelli’s and splurge on an ice cream sundae or killer chocolate milkshake! Rainforest Cafe (Marketplace) and T-Rex (Pleasure Island) offer unique themed dining experience!
- Go to one of the many Disney themed dinners. Two very family friendly restaurants are Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge and ‘Ohana at the Polynesian. Both offer all you can eat dinners and have activities for kids. The characters are ready to entertain you for dinner at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary or at 1900 Park Fare’s Dinner at the Grand Floridian. If you are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to tell your server! (You’ll need to make Advance Reservations for any of these restaurants before you leave home.)
- While in the Magic Kingdom resort area after dinner, go to the beach and enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant and the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
- Two Disney dinner shows are also offered! Enjoy some finger-licking good vittles and knee slapping at the very popular Hoop de Doo Revue at Ft. Wilderness or a enjoy the tropical atmosphere and entertainment at the Polynesian Luau. (Advance reservations are required for both.)
- At Fort Wilderness: There are several family fun activities here. Pony rides are available for the wee ones and older folks can actually go horseback riding. In the evening, head over to the Campfire program, where Chip and Dale are your hosts for a free sing-along and Disney movie. You can also purchase sticks and marshmallows to toast over the fire!
- The Boardwalk area offers several non-theme park options, as well. Have dinner in one of the Epcot resort area restaurants, or board one of the Friendship Boats, which cruise in a loop from Epcot to the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Swan and Dolphin and then the Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is especially pretty at night.
- Grab a pizza from the Boardwalk pizza window and sit at one of the nearby outdoor tables. Or walk over and dine on a bench at the Boardwalk’s Garden Gazebo, right across from the ESPN Club on the lake. This also happens to be one of the prettiest places to watch the sunset (if you time it right)! Rent a surrey bike and pedal around Crescent Lake, or after dinner, take a romantic stroll around the dimly lit Boardwalk area, over by the Swan and Dolphin and Yacht and Beach Club.
- Try your hand at a round of golf at WinterSummerland (more family friendly) or Fantasia Gardens (more golfer friendly). They are much cooler and more enjoyable in the evenings and are usually open until 11 p.m.
I could go on and on because the possibilities are endless — but some things are fun to discover on your own.
Remember, it’s just your FIRST day at Disney World! Now, go get a good night’s sleep! You have your whole vacation in front of you!
What do you like to do on your first night? Submit Your Suggestions Here!
With the Magic Your Way packages, an extra day on your park ticket can cost just a couple of dollars! So no matter what time my husband and I arrive (usually before 2pm, though) we RACE right to the Magic Kingdom and head straight to Pirates of the Caribbean. We also make sure to have a nice dinner reservation at Crystal Palace or Liberty Tree Tavern, and we leave the park BEFORE the fireworks so we can get back to our hotel early enough for a good nights sleep… so we can be at Magic Kingdom for opening the next day! KMusgrave
Hi, this is a tip aimed at fellow Brits. Our flights tend to arrive in Orlando in the late afternoon and we get to the villa, or wherever we’re staying by 5 or 6 pm. This is 10 or 11 PM back home in England and bedtime for the adults and past bedtime for the kids. However if we go to bed and manage to get as much as 12 hours sleep ( not very likely ) we will still be waking up far too early. Here’s what we always do now. When we have checked in and unpacked we take a trip to Disney Springs. We then check what is on at the cinema. There is always plenty to chose from and usually some good films that wont even be shown in England for a month or two. Let the kids help chose, as the idea that they are seeing a film that none of their friends back home will have seen (bragging rights) helps to keep them awake. If you do find you cant keep your eyes open the seats are so comfortable, like being in a recliner, you’ll have no problem catching a few zzzzz’s. I find this helps us get used to the local time much quicker and we can start having fun straight away. It is possible to check online what will be on at the cinema, when you arrive in Orlando, before you leave home. Lomby
We usually are up before the sun on the day we arrive at the World. With two small children, (1 and 3 years old), we are all usually exhausted and a little cranky our first day. We like to check in to our resort, take naps, and unpack. Not to use a pass day for so little time, we head over to Disney Springs. It has lots of Disney atmosphere to get us going in a Disney frame of mind. The kids love going in to the World of Disney store to get an idea of what souvenirs they want to get, and mom and dad too. The playground outside the Lego store is a great place for them to run around after being “strapped in” transit for a good portion of the day. The playground has stuff to climb on and huge bins of Lego blocks to use. If the kids are really itching to get on some rides they can go on the carousel and the train. We usually eat dinner at one of the restaurants there and then head back to go to bed early so we can get a fresh start for a full day at one of the parks the next day. Jettabrain
We usually drive from Pennsylvania. We plan our arrival for a Saturday night, stay in an inexpensive hotel near WDW. Then we rise early, go to church then off to our hotel (or in our case Disney Vacation Club Resort). We pick up our tickets then proceed to one of the parks where we grab a quick breakfast and enjoy our day. We check with the resort every hour or two for our room availability. When it is ready we return and unpack, have a swim or nap, before we’re off again for an evening of park visits or dinner. JElliott
We drive to WDW from Houston and arrive around noon the second day. (the anticipation of arriving at WDW is the best part of the drive) We check in, look around the resort, head to the food court and purchase the refillable mugs, then we head straight to the Magic Kingdom. Our vacation does not officially start until we walk through the gates of the MK and set our sights on Cinderella’s Castle and smell the wonderful aromas of Main Street. Then it is off to Casey’s Corner for the best hotdogs around. Nothing says WDW like the Castle, Main Street and a Casey’s hotdog. KRathgeber
After driving for 6 hours and arriving at our favorite resort- the Swan- We can unload our luggage, grab a bite to eat- relax for a little bit and hop on the bus for Disney Springs. What a wonderful evening to begin a vacation- see some of the sights and get into the Disney spirit right away. Once back to the Hotel- we can usually watch Illuminations and drift off after a great day, and be ready for our first park in the morning. Can’t wait for December to roll around again- Disney at Christmas is just fantastic. MJarvis
Each time we have arrived from New York early, on a nonstop flight which takes less than three hours. Since we are in our hotel by 11:30 at the latest, we have them store our luggage and head to one of the parks. The best place for doing this are the Epcot resorts (Yacht and Beach club, Boardwalk, since you can walk to Epcot, or take a short boat ride to MGM). I always make reservation for dinner at a World Showcase restaurant (or other depending on what park we will be in.) Then, we have a whole afternoon and evening to see the sites. The parks tend to empty out in the afternoon, which makes it fun. We have found that if you arrive before noon or 1 at the latest, it is worth using a pass. In the summertime, the parks are open later, so you can do more. One year we went in mid-August, and Epcot was almost empty by late afternoon. Acioffi
We usually arrive at WDW on a Saturday and leave on a Saturday. When we first arrive we are just plain old tired. We check in, take a walk around the resort we are staying (we have stayed at ALL the moderates and All Star Music). We found a home at Port Orleans Riverside and have stayed there since 1999. Continuing on our first day …after check in, we grab lunch and then go to the pool. What a way to relax and “freshen up” for the week . Dinner is usually spent at the Boardwalk – ESPN Club. I am a sports fanatic and this is the one time during the stay my wife lets me pick wherever I want for dinner. After dinner we spend a quiet evening on the Boardwalk soaking in all the surroundings and catching the EPCOT fireworks show. PParrilli
After driving for about 16 hours in a van with 3 very excited children, my mother and my husband, we arrived at Disney’s Yacht Club, around 1:30 p.m., our room was ready so we were able to unpack. We grabbed our bathing suits, towels and sunscreen, headed for the quiet pool, for relaxation. Around 4 p.m., we decided to venture to the other side of the resort to float down the lazy river. How relaxing is this? Later, we ordered pizza from a local pizza delivery, ate dinner on the balcony of our room. This was very nice, I think it made the pizza taste even better. Returned to the pool area where we enjoyed the warm breeze and watched the fireworks in the sky. Decided to retire to our rooms for refreshing shower and a peaceful night’s sleep. What a way to begin a wonderful vacation. D. Stranix
My husband and I always make dinner reservations at the Coral Reef in The Living Seas at Epcot the first night we are at Disney. As soon as we are checked into our resort hotel, we stop at Magic Kingdom and then head for dinner at the Coral Reef. The atmosphere there really puts us into the Disney magic mood. It’s a good transition from the real world to the Disney World!!! 🙂 SKucsma
The earliest flight available to us will arrive in Orlando at around noon. Thanks to the wonderful Town car service you recommend we are saving time by not waiting for a shuttle. They also include a 1/2 hour grocery stop. We will probably arrive to Port Orleans French Quarters at approx. 1:30 or 2pm. We are receiving a free round of Miniature Golf per person at any of the courses and are planning on doing that shortly after we arrive. We have also made “dinner with Pooh & friends reservations” . We may try to catch the fireworks and water pageant from the beach. Since my children are 5 and 2 it will probably be an early night so they are well rested for our WDW park experience the following day. Thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions and recommendations. Steven
Our family goes to WDW once a year. We try to stay at a different Disney Hotel each time. Upon arrival, we unpack and head for the swimming pool! Yes, even in January as the pools are heated. (I admit we live in Minnesota and have different ideas as to what is warm!!) But we find after being cramped in a plane or car for many hours, it is heavenly!! We then go out to eat at either ‘Ohana at the Poly, Chef Mickey’s or California Grill at the Contemporary, Narcossee’s at the Grand Floridian, or Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge. After dinner we walk out to the beach and either watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks (which sometimes we watch from the restaurants) or the Electric Water Pageant (which I think is just wonderful)! Afterwards head home to our hotel to gear up for tomorrow! One year, when we were staying at the Yacht Club, we chartered a pontoon boat. Just before we departed, room service arrived with our pizza (that we had ordered from our room). We had a lovely time watching Illuminations and eating pizza from our own private deck. Jeanie Johnston
Spending the night in downtown Celebration is a must on our first night. We used to go toDisney Springs, but have found Celebration a wonderful change from the hectic pace of rest of the World. After dinner we go and sit on the rocking chairs around Celebration Lake and my sons (age 5 & 3) look for alligators floating in the water (yes, we have seen one). It gives us all a nice relaxing start to our vacation after the stress of traveling and before the upcoming busy days at all of the parks. Tanya
I agree – going to the parks if you don’t have a full day is a waste of money, as much as you’re dying to go especially if it’s your first time in the World. Downtown Disney is a great idea – it will get you in the mood and you can do most of your souvenir shopping so that you don’t have to lug things around the parks. KLaggenbauer
After we arrive and check in and after the 30 minutes of giggling and screaming with glee that it is finally here…we get all the brochures together and check out the resort. Then my favorite thing is to go to the Magic Kingdom and just walk up Main Street. Main Street is one of my favorite places and I love to go into all the shops. We then play on the monorail or boats and just ride around. If you time it just right you can get into Main Street around dinner time and it is nice and quiet. BSiegfried
I am traveling to Disney World in October. For our first night there my boyfriend and I bought tickets to the Not So Scary Halloween Party. There will be no better way to get into the Disney groove than to dress up as our favorite characters (Tink and Pan) and tour the MK!! Tinkerbell
At arrival to our Resort – Fort Wilderness – we arrive prior to check-in and so rent a golf cart. We have a day bag packed with swim suits and a change of clothes and other essentials so that we can go exploring and do whatever we want depending on the mood. We also made reservations for a horseback ride in the afternoon and Hoop-Dee-do Review for the evening followed by a hay-ride! We can then take our golf cart to the beach and watch the fireworks. (Mrs.V28)
We will be arriving at Coronado Springs about 2:30pm, just about check in time. But first, we will stop at Goodings for all the groceries we need during our vacation. We opted to shop before we flop, because if we flop, we will NOT shop! We will drop off the luggage, grab our bathing suits and relax in the Mayan pool! I heard there is a snack bar by the pool, that will do fine for dinner. About 7 or 8pm, the kids will be ready for bed and we can unpack, watch a Disney movie and get ready for the Magic Kingdom in the morning! (SD Clarke)
We usually like to head over to Disney Springs to take a look around at what is available. Then when we go to the parks we know what must be bought there w/out a discount. Later in the week we head back to Disney Springs for what usually amounts to a rather expensive shopping trip and use our Discounts (DVC and/or AP) to purchase everything at once. It is best not to go on your last night, then you can have the packages delivered to your room instead of hauling everything around. PLau
If we arrive late – too late to go to the parks – we just settle in and order a room service pizza. Always delicious! The next day, or if we arrive early, we take the first bus that comes along, whatever park it’s headed for. We know we’ll be at WDW long enough to do all we want, so we love that little surprise element the first day! (Margaret A)
We always stay at a Disney resort with one of those ‘everything included’ passes. We take the earliest possible flight to Orlando and are usually checked in our resort by 10:30am. We head right over to the Magic Kingdom. There’s something about seeing Cinderella’s castle and strolling down Main Street that really captures the WDW experience and we really feel like we have arrived! Immediately we buy the kids autograph books and hats/mouse ears. (The hats look good in the vacation photos) We grab a quick lunch on the run and have a planned reservation for a character dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern. During the afternoon, we tour MK and get photos with the characters. We schedule dinner after the 3pm parade but before the electric light parade/and or fireworks. Hint for the second day: never schedule an early breakfast reservation. you are much more tired than you realize having been up since 4am the day of your flight! SMitchell/RStevens
Since EPCOT may stay open later than the other Disney parks, we like to go there to get a bite to eat if there’s time, & then the Illumination fireworks show. An evening well worth the price of admission! (CMorris377)
After visiting Disney Springs we head over to Disney’s Boardwalk. After strolling around the Boardwalk a little and enjoying the kind of atmosphere that only Disney can create we stop at a little restaurant called Beaches and Cream. Beaches and Cream not only have the very best burgers anywhere on the Disney property but the price for them is reasonable as well. We have never gone when we have not had to wait to get a seat but the wait is an easy one. There is an arcade right next door for those of us interested in that and for the others there are outside tables situated in viewing area of the incredible lazy river and swimming pool that patrons of the resorts can enjoy. (Cindywou56)
We usually take the first flight out in the morning, so by the time we check in and get moving, it is lunchtime. The last two times we visited, we made reservations in advance at the Crystal Palace and had a delicious lunch with Winnie The Pooh and all of his friends. It’s the best way to see the Characters and get right into the Disney mood! (Christine Grafstrom)
The first night in Disney is the most exciting time for my family. After we check in the resort, we head for the Magic Kingdom. If I don’t see the “Castle” I don’t believe I am in Disney World. My three girls and myself stand at the one end of Main Street and look down and see the castle standing there. As the tears roll down my face, my children look at me and say “Mom’s crying, now we can start our vacation”. The next thing we do is head for Casey’s for one of their wonderful hot-dogs. YUM! KFenimore
When my family (all 12 of us!!) recently went to WDW I arranged for all of us to have dinner at 1900 Park Fare around 6pm or so. There we got to have dinner with characters. It really put everyone in the Disney mood! Afterwards we went on a fireworks cruise where we had champagne (should I add that all 12 of us are adults??). It was a wonderful way to relax after a hectic day of traveling and it really started out our whole magical trip with a bang! (Cheryl)
The first night in WDW we will usually take it slow. We will take in a leisurely dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, like Le Cellier in Epcot or Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. Then we’ll head over to the Grand Floridian to watch the Electric Water Pageant. This is a great way to get into the Disney spirit with out running ourselves ragged! (Melissa)
We have annual passes, so it is worth heading to Epcot if you get in before 8pm. We drove over to Epcot, grabbed some fish & chips from the take out window, & staked out a spot! What a way to end a long day of being cooped up on a plane! (HGavens)
We love Jelly Rolls on the Boardwalk. (Freddi6440)
We usually arrive mid-morning, and relax a bit, head over to Epcot and have a late lunch/early dinner–ending with Illuminations. We almost always arrive on Mondays, and typically we fly. It works out well, and if we need to, we can sneak a nap in. We travel from West Michigan and even flying can mean being up and out of the house by 6 am. We started this ‘tradition’ when my 12 yr old was 4, and with my youngest now 5, we continue our ‘first night at Epcot’. (Wendy)
During our May trip to WDW, we found the Fantasmic show at the Hollywood Studios to be a wonderful way to begin our vacation. The show is just amazing and, with the inclusion of so many of the Disney characters and the electrifying effect of being part of such a large audience, we felt as though we’d been transported right into that truly magical Disney experience. We had tons of fun that evening and I delighted in seeing the look on my 5 year-old daughter’s face as she experienced her first up-close dose of Disney magic. Our experience at Fantasmic truly set the tone for the rest of our vacation. CHead
Our family truly believes that WDW is the happiest place on earth The journey from UK, however, is long and very tiring. We now feel, after several trips, that we have perfected getting over the jet lag. If you catch a flight that gets you to America about 3pm we always want to go to sleep but we have found this is really bad as you will suffer the jet lag longer and will wake at 3 in the morning!!! Instead we collect all the park brochures and go to Disney Springs for a meal and look over the brochures at dinner and do a bit of planning. After this depending, on the time we found a trip to the cinema was relaxing. By then everyone was tired enough to sleep reasonably well and was not be affected by the jet lag so much. However it will still affect you a little!!! You will wake early!! We took this as an opportunity to go to Animal Kingdom before it opens and get on the Safari while its still quiet. We saw loads of animals and were the second safari to leave that day. After this everyone is tired so we go to a water park for the day just to unwind (and get a headstart on the tan!!!!). this plan might not work for you but it certainly helped us a great deal!!! (JWiggins)
For those with kids: Try to get back to your resort early enough for the kids to swim & explore. We usually stay at Wilderness Lodge & our kids would almost rather hang out there than hit the parks. Plus it’s a great way to unwind after the drive. For couples or other adults : Definitely take the advice to tour the other resorts. “Resort hopping” is one of our very favorite kid-free pastimes. There is SOOOOO much to see that is not in the main parks. (Arcadia)
My cousin and I take a trip to Disney every year. We always take an early morning flight from New York (where we live) so we arrive in Disney around 10:00 – 10:30, get a car service to the resort, check in, store our luggage and head right over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we take our very first ride on Tower of Terror. It is our Disney ritual. (Annmarie)
Believe it or not, we always work all day, or almost all day, and take the last flight out to WDW! We arrive and stay at the Hyatt right in the airport. This makes our first day at WDW so much more pleasant! On our last trip (2 weeks ago) we were able to check into our resort room at 9:00 a.m. — lucky us! Otherwise we would have stowed our luggage and away we would go to the Magic Kingdom. This is how we maximize our time at the beginning of our trip, every time. (Diane)
First, we get our first shopping out of the way with an afternoon trip to Disney Springs. That way we know anything we see in the parks to BUY in the parks when we see it; we already know what’s on the other side of the metaphorical fence. After all that, we time a trip to the Contemporary Resort so that we’re settled into chairs in the lounge next to the California Grill, with a glass of champagne and perhaps some appetizers, and we toast our trip as the fireworks light up the sky over the Magic Kingdom. (DDon)
On our daughter’s first trip to Disney we enjoyed watching her “light up” with excitement by spending our first night getting a taste of the magic. We didn’t want to waste our hopper pass but we wanted Mickey, Minnie and the gang. We booked an early dinner, 4:45 pm at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. It was great. The food, the service and the entertainment was superb. We are going again this December and plan to do Chef Mickey’s on the first night again. (Karen)
We love to go over to the Polynesian resort and sit on the beach, watch the monorails circle around, seeing the Contemporary resort all lit up as is the Grand Floridian, watch the fireworks and listening to the soft sound of the waves of the Seven Seas Lagoon then realizing that this is just the beginning of another magical Walt Disney world vacation. (Mark)
One of my favorite ways to begin our WDW vacation is to head to Disney Springs & have a quick dinner (i.e. Wolfgang Puck Express) and then head to the AMC to catch a movie! It can be hard to see movies at home with our busy schedules, and the theaters are really nice at Disney Springs. It is a nice relaxing way to start our trip! (alsblonde)
We usually try and check in early and unpack and get settled in our room. Then make reservations at Chef Mickey’s. After that we take a ride on the monorail. Then go back to our room and get ready for the next day. (Cindy)
A nice dinner… a monorail ride… touring the resorts are all good options for a WDW first night. But, on our next trip to the “magic,” I think we will be topping all of those; my husband and I will be renewing our wedding vows to celebrate our 10th Anniversary! By the time we arrive at our hotel (the Animal Kingdom Lodge), we will just have time to check-in, have some lunch, do a quick “safari” around the hotel, and change clothes before our limo will arrive to take us to the Boardwalk pavilion on the lake for the ceremony. After the ceremony – complete with a violinist playing Disney love songs, a champagne toast, and a wedding cake topped with Mickey and Minnie – we will get back into the limo and head for a romantic dinner at Cinderella’s Castle — topped off by coffee, dessert, and the Magic Kingdom Fireworks show right outside our window! I can’t imagine a better way to begin a wonderful second honeymoon trip to our favorite place in the world! DHance
(Revised 2018, Originally published May 29, 2001 – Issue #88 ALL EARS® Weekly Newsletter.)