By: Tangled Diva
I have been to Walt Disney World so many times in the past few years, that it requires very little planning for trips now. But, that was definitely not always the case. It wasn’t until the past 4 years that we fell in love with Disney parks and started frequenting them as often as we do. Many people hesitate to go to Disney World becuase they are so overwhelmed by all the planning and preparation that goes into a trip. So, I’ve put together a list of tips for Disney World first timers.
- HAVE A PLAN – In my opinion, this is the most important. Disney is so big that if you do not have at least a general plan, you are not going to enjoy your trip. Especially with the new fast pass system, you need to carefully plan which parks you are going to be in on what day and pick your fast passes accordingly. I typically plan on what park to go to by checking out a crowd calendar. It not only gives you the crowd level but also lists extra magic hours (if any) and special events going on. You also need to make your dining and fast pass reservations as soon as possible. Places like O’Hana’s (Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and Cinderella’s Royal Banquet fill up quickly. Fast passes that go quickly include meeting Anna and Elsa and Toy Story Mania. Dining reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance and up to three fast passes can be selected 60 days from your trip. Make sure that your dining and fast pass reservations don’t overlap–you want to give yourself time to get from one to the other.
- FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE PARKS – All Disney parks have maps and Times Guides in the front of the park. And, there is NOTHING wrong with using the map (just try not to stop and look at it in the middle of a walkway–this is a common pet peeve). But, it is helpful if you familiarize yourself with the parks so you have a general idea of where everything is and don’t have to waste time looking at the map every few minutes. Also, grabbing a Times Guide is a must!!! Even if you’ve been to Disney hundreds of times the times often change, so you want to grab one on your way in. This will tell you the times for parades, special shows, character meet’n’greets and more.
- FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM – Disney has multiple modes of transportation–boats, buses, and the most popular, the monorail. But, not every location utilizes every mode of transportation. So be sure when you are planning what park you are going to that you also plan what mode of transportation you are using to get there. While not always the fastest mode, the boats can be a fun way to see a different side of Disney property that you wouldn’t otherwise see, so if you are at a place where you can use them and aren’t in too big a hurry, I highly recommend catching a ride. The biggest mistake I made our first trip was not realizing that there is no mode of transportation that runs from resort to resort. For example, if you are staying at Disney’s Pop Century resort but have dinner reservations at O’Hana’s, which is at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, you can’t just hop on a bus to get there. You will either have to go to a park and then get on the bus or monorail to get to the Polynesian or take a bus to the transfer station and then get on the monorail to get to the Polynesian. Also, during non-peak times, the buses don’t run as late as during peak times. We had a late reservation at O’Hana’s and ended up having to take a bus to Downtown Disney to get home because the monorail wasn’t running that late and the parks were closed. It took us over 2 hours to get home. I highly recommend avoiding this. I would gladly just pay for a cab (which are always available at Disney resorts) before I would do this again.
- PACK A PROPER BAG/BACKPACK – While bags do mean that getting in to the parks takes a little longer because you go through bag check, they really are a must at least for one person in your party. I highly recommend a light weight backpack. In my backpack you will always find the following: hand sanitizer (cuts down serious time in the bathroom especially with little ones); Band-Aid Friction Block (highly recommend for preventing blisters); sunscreen; cheap ponchos (I like having the ones from Dollar Tree to throw on when I ride water rides and then just throw them away after)/ snacks/water (Disney lets you bring food into the park, so this can be a big money saver), phone (make sure you have the Disney app installed because this is where all your reservations and fast passes will be saved in case you need to change them or refer to them); charging stick and/or phone charger (I use my phone to take most pictures at Disney which can really drain your battery, so I always pack a charging stick and phone charger. There are multiple places to charge your phone. My favorite is, of course, the Tangled area in Magic Kingdom where the tree stumps are charging stations, but there are other places too.
- SKIP THE PARK HOPPER – For your first trip, and especially with the fast pass system like it currently is, I do not recommend a hopper on your first trip. You can only initially select three fast passes per day. Once those are used you can select additional ones (one at a time) at any park. But, by the time you have used your three fast passes, typically the rides you would want fast passes for are already out of them. As a Disney “newbie” trying to coordinate your way around the parks and then coordinating transportation between parks is not worth it on your first trip. You will waste too much time. ALL of the Disney parks have well over a day’s worth of stuff to do. Now, if you are limited in the number of days you are going to be there but still want to go to all four parks, then you will need a hopper. You CANNOT simply buy a ticket for an extra day and try to use two in one day. For example, let’s say you are going to be there for three days and want to do all four parks. You cannot just buy a four day pass (because it is cheaper than adding the hopper) and use two days on the same day. Disney will not allow this. You would need the hopper to go from one park to another in the same day.
- TRAIN YOUR CHILDREN – Using the magic bands can be a little tricky for little ones, so I highly recommend letting your kids practice before your trip. The biggest hold up I see at Disney is people not knowing how to use them properly when getting in the park (Adults must scan their band and their finger–make sure you use the same finger this time. Kids just have to scan their bands) or when utilizing their fast passes (your fast pass selections are programmed in your magic band, and you have to scan them, typically twice, before you get on the ride). You can’t always control which side of your body the scanner is on, so be sure and practice scanning both sides. I also highly recommend that you train your children to recognize Disney staff (referred to a Cast Members). My son and I were separated on one trip (you know the drill, turn your head for a second and they’re gone). I tried not to panic and started walking back up the path to the last place we were at. Not a minute later, I found him walking at me with a Cast Member. Luckily, without us discussing how to handle such a situation, he was smart enough to go to the last Cast Member he encountered because he didn’t consider them a “stranger.” He said he went to her and told her he had lost his mom, she immediately stopped what she was doing and helped him find me. I also encountered a lost child in Pecos Bill on one trip. I was trying to help her find her mom when a Cast Member noticed us and started helping to. Despite me already looking for her, he would not leave us until we found her, which we did just a few minutes later. This was especially comforting to me because where I was trying to help her find her mother, I could have just as easily walked out the door with her and no one would have know. The Cast Member was trained to prevent such things from happening. He was very kind and even offered me a free dessert for helping. Recognizing Cast Members can truly be a life saver at Disney.
- LEARN THE LINGO – Disney, like most things has lots of lingo and acronyms associated with it. Most of us that have been quite a few times speak, and mistakingly (and sometimes snobbily) assume everyone else does. Our friends at Chip and Co. have a great article to help you with the ling – click here to read it.
- MAKE A MUST SEE LIST – Be sure and make a list of the things you absolutely must do so you can be sure to do all of them. Everybody’s list is different but here are a few items that I think should make everyone’s list: Toy Story Mania, Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Festival of the Lion King, Fantasmic (This show does not happen every night so make sure you are at Hollywood Studios on a day when it is showing), Everest, Festival of Fantasy Parade, and Soarin’. These are all popular rides and shows, so I highly recommend fast passes where possible.
- BE REALISTIC – Walt Disney World is HUGE. You are never going to do it all in one trip. I have been about 9 times and there are still so many things that I haven’t done. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all–it will ruin your trip. Set realistic goals for your trip and, most importantly, have a magical time.
I hope you found these helpful. For Disney pros, feel free to add your own items in the comments to help others plan their trips.