We spend about one month out of the year or more at Disney World and although we consider ourselves experts on all things WDW , our first Disney World trip we basically went in blind. There are tons of sites out there dedicated to everything you would need to know about Disney but they always seem confusing and dated. And trust me when I tell you I did my research, days worth of it, but I still felt confused about the layout and the ins and outs of how everything worked. So we pulled our heads together and thought of everything that confused us on our very first trip to Disney World.
1. There are Four Parks. Yes, there are 4 different parks not including the two water parks, the Boardwalk or Disney Springs. It’s a little confusing for your first Disney World trip, but it’s easy to navigate once you see it all. Magic Kingdom is the main park where everything princess and Disney related lives. Animal Kingdom is the park that holds the safari reservation and shows other amazing Disney preservation efforts. Hollywood Studio is the smallest of all the parks currently as they are working on expanding with Toy Story Land and incorporating The Star Wars franchise but its a park that features old Hollywood glamour. Epcot is often described as “Disney World for Adults” and it’s home to the World Showcase which features countries all around the world. You also need a ticket for each park and if you want to go to more than one a day you’ll either need a park hopper or buy a new ticket at every park. The good thing about tickets is that once you buy one for that park you can come and go as many times as you please, so you don’t have to stay all day in the park.
2. Your Magic Band is EVERYTHING. When you book your vacation, you’ll get a package in the mail with your Magic Bands. They’re bracelets that hold all things Disney. Your room key – your park tickets – extra party tickets (like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party) – your meal plan – it’s even connected to your debit/credit card to make it super easy to purchase things throughout the whole property (including Disney Springs!) If you accidentally leave it at home, your hotel can give you new ones. You can also buy personalized ones – but you don’t have to. Just remember, those Magic Bands do it all.
3. Character 101. Every Character is different and there are dozens upon dozens for you to meet. Our first trip we thought that there would be characters everywhere at every park and you could just walk up and that’s not the case. Most characters are in specific spots and others are just roaming around. Always be prepared when you go to meet a character. Which brings us to character 101 rules. Always bring something to take a photo with, don’t kill yourself trying to meet too many characters, and make sure to keep your pen and signature book with you at all times because you never know who you’ll run into. Stick to 3 characters to meet, and I broke down the 14 most magical ones to meet and even break down if they have photographers or not.
4. Be prepared for sensory overload. I did not understand that there are so many people and so many things happening at once. I don’t know if anyone could have prepared us for that aspect of our first Disney World trip. There’s thousands of people – it’s mind-boggling… plus music… and smells… and parades… and every where you look is something that begs your attention. It’s amazing, but overwhelming. Both of my girls and I have anxiety and while both of them were fine, I was not. It’s an adjustment but we found the best way to overcome it is by find a cool building and and calm corner and just breath.
5. The “perfect” vacation does not exists. On our latest trip to WDW we noticed a mother with her family on their first Disney World vacation – and each member had a down to the minute itinerary to follow. There is no way you can map out every minute of the day something will happen and your plan will be non-exsistant. I understand that you want your family to experience the best vacation possible but just enjoy yourselves and the rest will follow. We tried mapping out our days to the seconds on our first trip and we ended up running ourselves ragged, it was so bad. So let errors happen and just enjoy the most that Disney World has to offer.
6. It will rain. This is not a omen or a warning- it’s a fact. Florida weather in Orlando is unpredictable, it’s hot and muggy all day and then at some point it rains. Don’t leave the park though, because after the rain lets up you’ll notice that at least half the park has left. Take advantage and hop on a ride.
7. Fireworks are Magic Kingdom is a must. Every park has a fireworks show but the hands down best one is the ones over the castle at Magic Kingdom. I always recommend going to see them on your first Disney World trip on the first day. Then maybe again on the last day. We’ve found the best way to view them is by getting dinner (to-go) about 45 minutes before they start and finding good view of the castle and enjoy your meal while you wait because the crowds for food after the fireworks show is INSANE. So be smart and eat while you wait and secure you’re spot for the fireworks show.
8. Three Things a Day. Every park features so many things that it’s overwhelming. Our advice to anyone visiting Disney World for the is to pick three things you want to get done at every park and everything else is icing on the cake. If you pick three you feel accomplished but not hurried and it’s the exact amount of fast passes you can book at once per day. That way you aren’t waiting in a whole bunch of line and can simply enjoy the most of what Disney has to offer.
9. UNIVERSAL IS NOT DISNEY WORLD. It’s a very common misunderstanding. They are in the same town, they both have rides and characters and they seem to be advertised together a lot. But they are two completely different amusement parks. Universal can be done in like three days – yet we still find new things to do at Disney. But if you’re vacation has a few days to spare consider going. The Harry Potter area is AMAZING – totally worth adding on a couple of days to see it if you can.
10. Transportation to the Parks. If you stay on resort there are free buses that depart every 20 minutes to every park all day long. All most all of the resorts have a monitor with the departure times on them letting you know what time the next bus will arrive. If you aren’t staying on resort they have transportation to your car in most parks. There is also transportation between the parks. You can take a bus to any park from any other park except from Epcot to Magic Kingdom or vice versa, you have to take the monorail – also for free. Many hotels also have boats to go to certain parks or to Disney Springs. Just check out all your options to and from your hotel. (PS – they are putting up a system of gondolas right now – I can’t wait to see them!)
11. Waterparks. Waterparks are their own parks – and you can either add on the water park option OR you can buy tickets individually. A lot of people skip them on their first Disney World trip – and it’s not a bad choice if your trip is only 4-5 days (hey – you have a pool at your hotel!) You have two options when it comes to Disney water parks: Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. We prefer Blizzard Beach which is the more kid friendly one. Typhoon Lagoon has more slides and you can go swimming with sharks. Blizzard Beach has an entire kiddie play area full of optical courses. They are both well worth the cost… and it’s a great way to beat that mid-day heat!
12. Disney world is not as expensive as you think. Every time we mention to someone that we go to Disney World at least two times a year it never fails that someone says, ” How do you afford to do that?”. First off, I work very hard to be able to do that but also we’ve found several smart ways to save on our Disney World trip. Check out my 21 ways to save at Disney World and find out how. Most people are shocked when they learn you can easily go to Disney World as a family of four for under $3,000.
13. Disney allows food. We didn’t realize that you can literally take a whole soft-sided cooler into Disney World and no one will bat an eye. It’s super convenient to pack up some snack or lunch and eat right there in the park. They only ask that you don’t bring in alcohol to the parks. We always pack at least a bottle of water or two. Often times we’ll munch on snacks we brought in while waiting in line, it’s a great way to do two things at once.
14. Allow for time. There are tons of people EVERYWHERE, and they don’t care about your plans. It will take you at least twice as long as you think it will to get from one point to another. It’s hard to explain just how big Magic Kingdom is before your first Disney World adventure. If you book too many things together you’ll more than likely miss something. Allow for time to be able to get from place to place or ride to ride.
So that’s some of my best tips for beginners. Want even more tips? Check out my 52 Disney World Hacks – full of my best secrets to get the most from your vacation!