Going to Disney World for the first time is super exciting, but it can be stressful planning a trip to somewhere that you have never been before. Here are 10 of my best tips for planning your first trip to Disney World.
Don’t Over Plan
Let’s just get something out of the way right away… You WILL NOT be able to do it all on your first trip… won’t happen, so don’t even try!
It can be tempting to try and plan every single second of your trip to try and maximize the time that you have there. I have don’t it and I can tell you that by doing that is a sure-fire way to take the fun and magic out of Disney. There is a certain amount of planning that needs to go into any trip, however, you need to leave wiggle room for long ride lines, child (or adult) meltdowns, and other unforeseen issues. The best trips that we have ever taken to Disney were some of the least planned ones.
Come up with a must-do list of rides and work on those. Dining reservations can also be something that people overdo. I would not do more than 1 reservation per day. With all of the fantastic quick-service restaurants and the availability of a walk-up waitlist, you don’t need to reserve 3 restaurants a day and have to rush around from one meal to the next. Another tip I can give you is if you can plan for 1 nonpark day in the middle of your trip. You will thank me later for this. There is nothing like just taking a day to relax around the pool and chill around your resort. There are a lot of great resorts to choose from, why not take advantage of their amenities?
Picking the Right Hotel
Talking about hotels brings us to my next tip. Take the time to find the best resort for your family. A resort that is great for a couple could be all wrong for a family. It also depends on how many kids you have. Many resorts on Walt Disney property offer great options for families, whether it is family suites at Art of Animation (our favorite family resort) or rooms with a 5th sleeper like Port Orleans or Caribbean Beach. If you are trying to save some money on the resort, we recommend Pop Century, it is a value resort with fantastic amenities.
There are also some really great off-property options if you just can’t justify spending Disney hotel prices. You should also look at the amenities at the resorts and figure out what is important to you. Do you want to be close to a specific park? Easy access to more than 1 park? Do you want a lot of dining options at your resort without having to leave? If you want to be close to the Magic Kingdom you can’t go wrong with any resort on the Monorail loop.
Close to Epcot? Try Boardwalk, Beach Club, or Yacht Club. Hollywood Studios? Stay at any of the Skyliner resorts and you are a short ride to the park as well as Epcot. For a resort that offers a lot of dining options, we love Wilderness Lodge or Saratoga Springs because they are right next to Disney Springs.
Make Park Pass Reservations Early
Now that we have to make park pass reservations this is something that you should do as soon as you book your trip. Depending on the time of year that you are visiting Disney World passes can go quickly.
Also, make a plan for what days you want to visit each park so that when you go to book your passes you have everything you need. For my family, we usually go for a week and we like to break up the week with a nonpark day in the middle, book 2 Magic Kingdom days, 2 Epcot days, 1 Animal Kingdom day, and 1 day at Hollywood Studios. It might look something like this….
Day 1 Magic Kingdom
Day 2 Epcot
Day 3 Hollywood Studios
Day 4 nonpark day
Day 5 Epcot
Day 6 Magic Kingdom
Day 7 Animal Kingdom
Personally, I always avoid my last park day being Magic Kingdom, that’s because I would get super emotional on our last day and Magic Kingdom is my favorite park so it is just too much leaving at the end of the night.
Disney Springs is a Must Do
Disney Springs is a great option for the day that you arrive if you are getting there halfway through the day and don’t want to rush off to the parks. It is also a great option for a nonpark day. There are so many shopping and dining options that it can be easy to spend several hours walking around looking at everything.
If you want to get some amazing views I also recommend taking a flight on the hot air balloon, Aerophile. The balloon will take you 400 feet above Disney Springs where you will get views on everything below as well as views around Orlando. You can see as far away as the WHeel at Icon Park and all 4 Disney theme parks. If you have little ones they will love the small train located near the pin traders shop in the marketplace area. It costs $3 per person. Children under 42” but me accompanied by an adult, but the adult isn’t required to pay.
PhotoPass Photographers Will Take Free Photos
Everyone knows about the photo service that Disney offers for a fee called photo pass. The Disney photographer will take group shots around the parks and if you buy the package you can keep all of the photos for a set price. It is a great option if you are going to take a ton of those photo pass pictures.
But what about if you don’t use the service much to get your money’s worth? Or what about if you can’t afford it for your next trip? Not many people know that you can ask the photographer to use your phone or camera and they will gladly do so. That way you can get everyone in the picture and save a little money in the process.
Rider Switch Allows Both Parents to do Rides Their Children Can’t
Many families have little ones who are too short to ride on some of the more popular rides that the rest of the family might want to ride. Disney has come up with a system so that everyone in the family who is tall enough can ride without having to stand in the line more than once.
Rider switch is really helpful and can save you time on your trip. Let’s say there is a family of 4 for example. Mom, Dad, Big sister, and little brother who isn’t tall enough to ride Expedition Everest. How it works is everyone gets in line and waits the posted wait time, once you get to the head of the line you let the cast member that you want to do rider switch.
Mom and big sister get to ride on Everest while Dad and little brother wait off to the side. Once mom and big sister get off the ride, Dad gets to get on Everest without having to wait in the line over again. Some rides might have a specific waiting area for the other family members but generally, this is how it works.
Download My Disney Experience App Before You Go
Over the years the My Disney experience app has come a long way. You can have your park tickets and room key loaded into the app as well as a credit card to make purchases while in the parks. You can also book dining reservations, see entertainment schedules and even get walking directions to anywhere in the parks and resorts. Nowadays it is almost
Don’t be afraid to use Strollers for older kids
Depending on what age child you are traveling with you may be thinking about using a stroller for your vacation. I can tell you that we used a stroller for the first 2 trips that we took our daughter on even though she was not using a stroller when at home.
She was 4 and 5 for her first trips and she simply didn’t have the stamina to go all day in the parks without using a stroller. Because she was a taller child we chose to simply rent the Disney Strollers in front of the parks. We did not have to worry about bringing them on the plane, loading them on and off the busses, and storing them at the resorts. You simply pick them up at the front of each park and return them when you leave.
Those strollers are best for children who can sit up easily. If you have a really little one and you want to have a stroller more like you have at home, you don’t necessarily need to bring it with you. There are several companies in the Orlando area that will deliver a stroller right to your resort for the length of your stay and pick it up when you are done. We have an article with everything you need to know about renting strollers for a Disney vacation.
Pack Some Snacks for Lines
Let’s face it, lines can get long at Disney World. Little ones (as well as some adults) can get bored or hungry while waiting in long lines. That’s why I have over the years brought some pre-packaged snacks for my park bag to be able to bring out when needed. Things like fruit snacks, granola and nuts are great options to satisfy a hungry belly so that you can get on the ride with happy campers. This is a time and money saver. You wouldn’t want to have to get out of line to go and try to track down a snack cart and it also saves money because snacks at Disney aren’t cheap!
It can be tough to not buy everything that you see and want while on a Disney vacation. Over the years we have brought a lot of junk souvenirs and ended up throwing them away once they broke or the kids lost interest. The last few trips we have taken I have started looking for things that I will use a lot for souvenirs. I like to buy coffee mugs, wine glasses, and other kitchen accessories. It would always make me smile to see these items around my home when I couldn’t be at the parks. Now that we live close to the Magic, I have completely decorated my kitchen with Disney items.
Before you leave make sure you check out our full guide to planning your trip to Disney World as well.