Planning your first trip to Walt Disney World? We’re so excited for you! Disney World vacations are extra special, and we’re thrilled to help our readers prepare for them. The process can be pretty overwhelming, considering there’s so much to know, but don’t worry — you can do it.
Today, we’re starting with the basics and giving you 50 things that you need to know when planning your first Disney World trip!
- First of all, Disney World is BIG — probably much bigger than you realize. The whole Walt Disney World Resort is made up of more than 25 resort hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, Disney Springs shopping and dining district, and so much more. The entire property is the size of the city of San Francisco. (That’s 40 square miles!)
- Magic Kingdom is Disney World’s first park, very similar to the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. Magic Kingdom is home to Cinderella Castle and six themed lands: Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street, U.S.A..
- Disney’s second park is EPCOT, which originally stood for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It’s divided into two parts, World Showcase and Future World, but it’s currently undergoing a massive transformation that will change the layout of the park. World Showcase has 11 themed pavilions dedicated to different countries from around the world, with shopping, dining, and attractions themed to that country’s culture. Future World has a variety of rides and attractions and will be changing drastically during the transformation.
- The third theme park is Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which takes you both to old Hollywood and into your favorite films and shows. Many people get this park confused with Universal Studios (where Harry Potter is), but they’re not the same! Most of the park here is themed to old Hollywood, with places like Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. You’ll also find Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge here, which have drawn big crowds to this park!
- The fourth park at Disney World is Disney’s Animal Kingdom! The various lands of this park are focused on nature and animals; the park’s landmark attraction is Kilimanjaro Safaris, where guests can spot all kinds of species roaming a replica African savanna! The theming in this park is very detailed, and it’s somewhat of a cross between a theme park and a zoo. (But, like, a really cool zoo!)
- Disney Springs is Disney World’s shopping and dining complex, where guests will find dozens of restaurants and brand-name stores. You could spend a whole day at Disney Springs itself if you want to see everything, but this would also be a great place to visit on your arrival or departure day.
- Disney World also has two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. They’ve both been closed since the parks closed in March 2020, but Blizzard Beach will be reopening on March 7, 2021.
- Disney’s Resort hotels come in a few categories: Deluxe, Moderate, and Value. Individual resorts are separated into those categories based on price, so Deluxe Resorts often have more amenities or are closer to the theme parks. (Sometimes even walking distance!) Guests can also choose to stay at Disney Vacation Club properties (great if you want a kitchen/kitchenette) or at Disney’s campground, Fort Wilderness.
- Each of the Disney Resorts have food options for their guests. The Deluxe Resorts will have Table Service restaurants as well as Quick Service, while the Value Resorts are limited to food court-style dining.
- It’s important to note the location of your resort when booking. They are spread out all over the property, and the time it takes to travel to each theme park varies wildly by Resort hotel. If you’re interested in visiting certain parks more often than others, then you’ll likely want to choose a resort nearby.
- To start your planning, you’ll need to make an account on the Disney World website. This website will be essential to your planning, as it’s where you’ll book your resort, tickets, make your park and dining reservations, and learn more about the various offerings of Walt Disney World.
- After you make your Disney account, you’ll want to download the My Disney Experience app to your smartphone. The app can do a lot of the same things that the website does, but you’ll also be able to use the app in the park to check wait times, look at park maps, mobile order your food, and much more. You DEFINITELY want to become familiar with the features of this app before you leave for your vacation!
- We highly recommend that guests make all their various reservations in advance. You can make Advance Dining Reservations 60 days ahead of your trip, and you’ll need to make them ahead of time if you want to visit the most popular restaurants. Currently, you’re also required to make reservations for each park that you visit on each day of your trip through the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Sometimes these days fill up, so do this as soon as you know your plans. Finally, you’ll definitely want to reserve your dates and times if you plan to build a droid or a lightsaber in Galaxy’s Edge at Droid Depot or Savi’s Workshop.
- It’s also important to note that there are different types of park tickets. The 1 Park Per Day option allows guests to visit (you guessed it!) one park each day of their visit. You can purchase a Park Hopper ticket for more money, and it will allow you to visit multiple parks a day but with some restrictions.
- If you’re planning on purchasing a Park Hopper ticket, there are a few things to note. Everything is based on availability, so if a park is at capacity, you won’t be able to “hop” to it. (There’s a phone number you can call to check availability.) You must make a Disney Park Pass reservation for your first park of the day and scan into that park before heading to your second. You also won’t be able to park hop outside of the Park Hopping hours listed on the Disney World website, which means you’ll have to wait until 2PM to visit your second park.
- Traveling during less busy times of the year can make a HUGE difference in your Disney World vacation. It’ll help you avoid big crowds and long wait times. In general, Walt Disney World tends to be most crowded during the Spring Break season, any long holiday weekend, Thanksgiving week, the weeks of Christmas break, and the summer months. Basically, any time students are out of school.
- Make sure to check out the park maps online or in the My Disney Experience app before you visit. This will help you get a layout of the parks in your mind and plan out your day so that you aren’t zigzagging back and forth. Take note of all the rides and attractions, and decide which ones you’d like to accomplish most!
- When picking your dates, make sure to check and see if any events are happening. Look for festivals at EPCOT, holiday celebrations, and any ride opening dates. Visiting during an EPCOT festival is something that many guests enjoy, but if you show up at a park on the day of a ride’s grand opening, you may be in for some shockingly large crowds.
- For those looking to save some money on their Disney trip, we definitely recommend checking out the Special Offers tab on the Walt Disney World website. Here, you’ll find all the current deals on resorts and tickets, and these discounts can often be added to your reservation after you book — you’ll just need to call Disney to get them applied.
- It’s also important to note that most of Disney World’s pricing is date-based, which goes back to the benefits of traveling during the less-busy times. Tickets and resort rooms are going to be much more expensive the week of Christmas than they are in the middle of September. You could literally save hundreds (or maybe thousands, depending on your party size) by traveling during slower times.
- A smaller, but still very useful, money-saving tip is that guests are allowed to bring their own snacks and drinks into the parks! As much as we love Disney snacks, buying them every day of your trip can add up, and you can save a good bit by not purchasing water bottles and sodas in-park.
- Let’s talk about the big one: Rise of the Resistance! It’s Disney’s most popular attraction at the moment, and the only way to ride is to get a virtual boarding pass. There are a lot of technicalities to this that you’ll want to research in advance, so click here to learn more!
- For the rest of Disney’s attractions, there’s currently no way for typical guests to skip the line. Disney World used to have the free FastPass+ system, but it has not returned since the reopening of the parks. The only people that you’ll see skipping the line are those using Disability Access Service or on a VIP Tour (unless the ride broke down and guests received return passes). Unlike other theme parks, Disney World doesn’t offer a pass that you can purchase to skip the lines at rides.
- Many rides at Disney World have height requirements for guests’ safety. If your child is too small to ride, then you can always try the Rider Switch system, where one adult rides while the other waits with the non-riders, then the adult that sat out gets to board the attraction without waiting (since the first group already waited).
- If you’re concerned about finding rides that your whole family will enjoy at Disney World, then don’t worry. Most of Disney’s rides are family-friendly, even the coasters. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Expedition Everest are Disney’s most intense coasters, and some rides (like Tower of Terror, DINOSAUR, and Mission: SPACE) can be a bit scary, but you’ll still have PLENTY to do with the whole family.
- Wait times get the longest in the middle of the day at the parks. If you want to avoid the long lines, the best time to visit the popular attractions are first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. (Pro Tip: You can get in line for rides up until the minute that park closes.) When the lines get longer in the middle of the day, that’s a good time to visit the less popular attractions or shows, those with short wait times.
- You’ll want to make your Advance Dining Reservations as soon as they’re available to book, which is currently 60 days ahead of your trip. The popular restaurants will book up quickly, so hit up the Disney World website to make those reservations 60 days out at 6AM ET.
- If you’re not planning on dining at Table Service restaurants, you’ll want to become familiar with the Mobile Order system on the My Disney Experience app. When visiting Disney World’s Quick Service dining locations, you’ll likely be asked to Mobile Order your food, so take some time to practice using the features before you leave for your trip!
- For those who are big fans of Disney characters, you may want to consider booking a character meal. During these meals, various Disney friends will walk by your table and greet you and your family. It’s a slightly modified experience with health and safety precautions, and there are only a few character meals open right now, so you’ll want to research this more if you’re interested.
- There are SO many great snacks out there, so it’s probably wise to research them ahead of time and decide which ones you want to try. Take note of their locations so that you can find them in the parks. If you skip this step, you might miss a ton of great eats!
- EPCOT has four festivals throughout the year that offer unique activities and delicious small plates at various themed food booths. The four festivals are Festival of the Arts, Flower and Garden Festival, Food and Wine Festival, and Festival of the Holidays. We recommend taking a look at the menus for the booths before you arrive so that you won’t fill up before trying the things you really want to try!
- Before the pandemic, Disney World used to offer a few different Disney Dining Plan options, where guests could essentially pre-pay for their food. However, we haven’t seen any Dining Plans return since the parks reopened, and Disney hasn’t released any details on when they might come back.
- If you make a dining reservation and you can’t show up, do your best to cancel more than 24 hours in advance. Many Disney restaurants have cancellation fees, so pay attention to the details when making your booking.
Health and Safety
- Since the reopening of the parks back in July 2020, several new health and safety measures have been put into place. All guests ages two and up are required to wear appropriate face coverings for their whole visit. The only time these may be removed is when eating or drinking while stationary, or while visiting a Relaxation Station. You can also skip the mask when in the pool.
- Guests will also be subject to temperature checks when visiting the theme parks and Disney Springs. Any visitor with a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be given a few minutes to cool down, then they will be checked again. If you fail the temperature check twice, you and your whole party will be required to leave.
- Due to the new health and safety precautions, several offerings are temporarily suspended. There are currently no fireworks, parades, or character meets. Much of Disney’s live entertainment has been cut, and several restaurants still haven’t reopened. As more of these things return, we’ll be reporting on them, so make sure to stay tuned to AllEars!
- Disney has plenty of free transportation options to help guests get around the property! These various options can be used whether or not you’re staying onsite.
- Disney buses are the most common form of transportation, and they’re also the most widespread. With Disney’s bus system, you’ll be able to travel to and from the parks, resorts, and Disney Springs.
- The Disney Skyliner is the newest form of transportation. It’s a gondola-style system that offers great views of the resort but isn’t the best for those with a fear of heights. It travels between EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, with stops and lines that extend to Disney’s Caribbean Beach, Riviera, Pop Century, and Art of Animation Resorts.
- Disney’s Monorail is perhaps the most famous method of transportation. It travels from the Magic Kingdom parking area (located at the Transportation & Ticket Center) to Magic Kingdom Park. A second line travels between these two locations with stops in-between at Disney’s Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian Resorts. There is also a line that travels between the TTC and EPCOT, but it hasn’t operated since the parks reopened.
- Friendship Boats travel between EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, with stops along the way at Disney’s Yacht Club, Beach Club, BoardWalk, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts. The boat ride isn’t Disney’s fastest mode of transportation, but it’s certainly relaxing!
- Guests are also welcome to drive their personal vehicles to Disney World. If staying onsite, you’ll pay parking fees per night at your resort, and if staying offsite, you’ll be required to pay for parking at the theme parks. It’s $25 a day for basic parking.
- When visiting Disney World, make sure you factor in time for transportation! For instance, if taking a bus to a theme park, you’ll walk to the bus stop, wait for it to arrive, board, travel, unload, and then go through the process of getting in the park. We recommend budgeting an hour to travel around the property, even when driving your own vehicle.
Things You Didn’t Expect
- When visiting Disney’s theme parks, you will be walking a RIDICULOUS amount of steps each day. We’re talking 20,000+ steps, which is likely twice what you’re taking each day at home. Prepare yourself ahead of time with some extra walking, and make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
- Another thing that tends to surprise first-timers who choose to drive is that you don’t actually park at Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom’s parking area is at the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC), not actually attached to the park itself. Once you park, you’ll be required to take the Monorail or Ferry Boat to the Magic Kingdom park entrance.
- Guests are allowed to leave the parks and come back later, and you’ll only be required to pay for parking once. If you’re getting tired midday or the parks are too crowded, then take a break and come back later! It could be a great time to take a nap in your room or go for an afternoon swim.
- Occasionally, there is last-minute availability for popular experiences. If you’re looking for a specific dining reservation, experience reservation, or Disney Park Pass, keep checking your My Disney Experience app in the week before in case of cancellations. For dining, it could also be helpful to visit the host(ess) stand and ask about walk-up availability.
- Florida’s weather is incredibly unpredictable, so you’ll definitely want to prepare for a variety of possibilities. It rains nearly every day in the summertime and the temperature changes drastically throughout the day in the winter. Don’t forget your rain gear, and pack clothes that can be worn in layers!
- There’s a LOT to do at Disney World, and you likely won’t be able to get everything done, and that’s okay. Prioritize the things you most want to see and experience, and if you get those things done, then consider it a successful trip!
- Perhaps the most surprising thing for first-timers is how much you’ll want to come back again! If you get the chance to relax, enjoy yourself, and let go, then you’ll probably end up falling in love with Disney and want to visit over and over again!
That’s a wrap on our 50 things that you need to know for your first trip to Walt Disney World! We hope this list of tips is helpful in planning your first Disney World vacation, and we encourage you to stick around for more Disney news and planning advice!
How many times have you been to Walt Disney World? Tell us in the comments!