If you’ve never been to a Walt Disney World park before and you’re planning your first visit, then you’re in for a treat! Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping, and dining district, dozens of themed resorts, and hundreds (yes, HUNDREDS) of restaurants.
We’ve been to Disney World a few times (ok, ok, more than a few…) and we have some tips to help you tackle the challenge of planning your first Disney trip.
Ok, the fine print. This is not an exhaustive list of EVERYTHING you need to plan for. Disney is SO big with SO many experiences, there are guides that are literally 900+ pages filled cover to cover with planning tips. This is NOT that article. These are the big 10 tips that will help you have an amazing first Disney trip, or have the potential to start you down that rabbit hole of further Disney research!
And another little preface, this isn’t a traditional top ten list resulting in a number 1 ultimate tip. All ten of these tips are valuable, useful, important, and really listed in no particular order. So if you’re looking for a grand reveal at the end of the post. Well, TA-DA! Consider yourself prepared.
You May Not Get Everything Done, And That’s Okay
Disney World is massive — the size of San Francisco — so you likely won’t get to do everything during your vacation. There are dozens of attractions, rides, and shows across the four theme parks, not to mention a ton of other things to do, see, and eat. If you don’t get everything done, it’s okay. Just focus on a few really important things, and prioritize those.
You’re Going to Walk a LOT of Steps
Did we mention that Disney World is big? Well, it is! Many first-time visitors to Disney World don’t realize just how many steps you’ll walk in a day. On a full day in the parks, 20,000 steps are pretty standard. Because of this, we advise frequent breaks and wearing comfortable shoes that are well broken in. We also suggest, starting a little walking regimen at home to build up that stamina (especially if you drive a desk for a living).
You’ll Need to Make a Disney Park Pass
Just having a park ticket isn’t enough to get into your park of choice for the day. Ever since the Disney World parks reopened in July 2020, they’ve been operating with a theme park reservation system, Disney Park Pass. This system is how Disney is currently limiting capacity in their parks, and you’ll need to make a reservation if you want to be let in the gates. (You can’t just waltz in with your ticket anymore!) As soon as you know your travel dates, decide on your parks for each day and make your reservations online. If you don’t, the park you want may fill up!
Know How to Minimize Your Time in Lines
Disney Genie+ was rolled out right along with the 50th Anniversary Celebration and has been a hot topic ever since. Genie+ is a paid service that works similarly to FastPass+ and allows guests to choose return times for select attractions and bypass the standby line. But, certain rides are available as Individual Attraction Selections, meaning instead of paying one price to skip multiple lines, you’ll have to pay one price for just one ride.
If that’s not exclusive enough for you, there is the option to pay for a VIP tour. On these tours, a Cast Member guides your family through the park, allowing you to learn more behind-the-scenes info about Disney World and skip the lines on some of your favorite rides. Be warned, though, that these tours cost hundreds of dollars an hour and must be booked for at least 7 consecutive hours, so they’re definitely not for everyone.
If you’re a family with children who don’t quite meet the height requirement for all the rides, don’t worry, the adults don’t have to miss out! Disney’s Rider Switch system allows one adult to wait with the child while the other members of the party experience the ride. Once the first group is done, the adult who waited will be allowed to board the ride without waiting in the standby line, since the rest of the party already waited.
Familiarize Yourself with Disney Tech
If you’ve already executed the tip above, you’re well on your way to conquering this tip, as well. When planning your trip, make sure that you download the My Disney Experience app! This app, also known as the Disney World app, is the way that guests can view ride wait times, Mobile Order their food, check out park maps, and search for all kinds of important information. It’s a lifesaver, and these days, it’s nearly a necessity for your visit!
Bring a Phone Charger and Battery Pack
Since you’ll be using the My Disney Experience app for several aspects of your vacation, you’ll want to make sure that your phone is well-charged. While there are some places around the parks to stop and plug in, you won’t want to waste precious time tethered to a wall by a phone charging cord. A portable battery pack and charging cord will be incredibly helpful.
Plan for your Dining Priorities
When there are so many rides and activities to enjoy, people often put food on the back burner, figuring they’ll just “eat whatever” in the parks. If you do that, you may end up spending too much money on less-than-exciting snacks and meals. There are actually some truly spectacular dining options out there, and skimming some online reviews ahead of time will help steer you in the right direction. Some of the most popular and iconic dining experiences can book up 60-days in advance, so you’ll need to plan to make Advanced Dining Reservations for those can’t-miss meals.
Just because it’s a theme park doesn’t mean that your only options are hot dogs and hamburgers. Those options are available, but you can find some really unique eats at table service restaurants. If you want to dine at a sit-down place, make sure to make some reservations in advance, and if you plan to eat at Quick Service locations, then familiarize yourself with Disney’s Mobile Order system.
Finding the Characters
If you’ve seen Disney World commercials, then you’ll probably be led to believe that your child can go on rides and spend the day with Mickey Mouse in Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, in Disney World, things don’t work that way. Characters are found at specific meet-and-greet locations or spotted in character cavalcades and parades.
Guests can find their favorite Disney friends at character meet-and-greet locations around the parks and through Character Dining experiences. You won’t find them roaming about the parks and chatting it up with guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. Characters are known to roam a bit more freely in Galaxy’s Edge, but that’s generally the only area where you’ll find that type of experience in Disney World.
If a hug from Mickey or your favorite Disney Princess is on your vacation bucket list, make sure you scroll through My Disney Experience to know where to find them, or book one of those popular Character Dining experiences 60 days in advance
Check the Weather, But Prepare for Anything
Florida weather may not be what you expect during your trip, so make sure to check it ahead of time. And even after that, make sure to pack for a variety of climates, considering the weather could change rapidly. Most of the year, you’ll need to bring some kind of rain gear, and in the winter, it’ll be helpful to wear layers. Even if rain jackets and umbrellas don’t fit in the suitcase, pick up a few ponchos from a big box store or dollar store, and toss them in your backpack. You’ll be glad to have them when you see guests forking $12 (or more!) for a Disney poncho.
And if you’re visiting in the summer — it gets hot! Becoming dehydrated is a big problem in the parks. When you’re running around to different rides and checking off everything on your list, it’s easy to get distracted and forget about drinking water. You’ll find free cups of ice water at Disney’s Quick Service restaurants and bottle refill stations all around the resort. We recommend bringing your own bottle so that you don’t have to pay $5 for one at a snack stand!
Stay Tuned to AllEars!
Ok, it’s a shameless plug, but it’s still a great tip for first-timers! We post tips every day to help guests like you make the most of your vacation! We understand that you only have a certain amount of vacation time and vacation dollars, and when you have a family, you only get that “summer after 3rd grade” once — no do-overs. So sign up for our newsletter, visit our website, and watch our videos to become a Disney pro and have the Disney trip like a master!
No matter what you decide to do or which park you decide to visit, you can have a great day if you just relax and enjoy the ride!
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Which Disney World park did you visit first? Tell us in the comments!