by Character Diva
A Disney vacation is something every child dreams about. So whether you’re taking your kids, or are just young at heart looking for a little fun, a first trip can be a wonderful and magical vacation. It isn’t called the Happiest Place on Earth for nothing! While Disney does have its own Vacation Planning Guide DVD, here are my top ten tips for first timers!
1. Look at the online maps. You can find them here. By looking at the maps ahead of time, you can get a rough idea of what rides you want to ride, what restaurants you want to eat, where the nearest bathrooms or baby centers are, and where you can find the character meet and greets. Even if you decide to be spontaneous and skip using a map (or a map app) in the park, it still helps to have a tentative game plan. This way, you won’t be wasting valuable time scrambling around trying to zig zag from one area to the next in order to get everything you want done.
2. Make a list of what everyone in your party wants to do, and have everyone pick their “Top Three”. For example, if your toddler loves the movie The Little Mermaid, eating at Ariel’s Grotto or riding the Ariel’s Undersea Adventure may be good choices for your family. If your son is really into Star Wars, you might want to take him on Star Tours or have him train with the Jedi Academy. You get the idea. Disney Diva Tip for the Star Wars lovers: There are also certain weekends set aside as “Star Wars Weekends”. Here are two reviews from Tangled Diva and Jayship Earth.
3. Rides- Everyone has their favorites… since I am a native Californian and have more experience with Disneyland than Disney World, here are my recommendations: For kids: Dumbo, the Teacups, and in California Adventure, there’s Disney Junior Live on Stage!. For thrill seekers: Hollywood Tower of Terror (in California Adventure), Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain (it’s pretty slow for 99% of the ride, but the drop makes it worth it). For tired feet and for people who just want to relax: The Disneyland Train, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and watching whatever parade they have going on.
4. Parades- Parades are wonderful. I have always loved The Electrical Parade and was thoroughly devastated when they moved it to Disney World… both the first and second time. But Disney does have a lot of wonderful live entertainment and their parade floats are beautifully detailed and everything is exceptionally choreographed. Just remember, whatever you are seeing, make sure you get there early!!!!! Prime locations fill up quickly, and it isn’t very pleasant to go and watch the parade standing three or four rows back and trying to bob and weave around other guests. For Fantasmic Diva’s review on Walt Disney World’s Festival of Fantasy Parade (their latest parade), click here.
5. Eating- If you’re traveling with another person, or in a group where you are able to leave someone behind, waiting for a parade to start can be a great time to eat! You can select where you’d like to watch the parade, and then send someone in your party to order food and drinks, and bring it back to your location. This way, you can have a nice picnic on the curb (or wherever you’re sitting). It’s perfect for filling your stomach, and making the time go by faster… which is great if you have kids… or just get impatient like me.
6. Characters- If you’re going with kids, or are as obsessed as I am, taking pictures and getting autographs with the characters is a must. As mentioned above, try to make a list of which characters you would like to see. Due to the popularity of the movie Frozen, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa are in high demand, and guests can be waiting hours to see them (though I have heard Disneyland’s line is shorter than Disney World’s, but who’s to say on any given day?). Talk to a cast member and try and find out when the best time to see a character is or where they will be.
7. Prepare beforehand! If your child is terrified of Santa and the Easter Bunny, he probably won’t be too thrilled about hugging a five foot mouse, no matter how many times he has seen Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or worn images of him on his clothing. Taking your child to see mascots (think restaurants, law enforcement agencies, and so on) beforehand can definitely be a big help. For more tips on going with small or terrified children, read here.
8. Shopping- Like preparing to meet characters, there are some things you can do beforehand, like shopping. Target, Walmart, the Dollar Tree, and the Disney Store are all great places to get Disney merchandise and souvenirs. You can either give them the gifts beforehand to announce the trip, or keep them entertained in the car or on the plane, or you can give them while you’re on your vacation. Odds are your child will be equally happy to have a Minnie Mouse fan or a light up Buzz Lightyear, or even just some simple glow sticks than all of the stuff that costs a fortune at a Disney theme park.
9. Souvenirs- You may want to peruse the Disney Store online in their Disney Parks section to see some of the souvenirs you can find there. In addition to clothing and toys, you can also find autograph books, Mickey Mouse Glove Mitts, and a wide variety of Duffy the Disney Bear items. If you do want to buy souvenirs from one of the theme parks, I recommend doing it at the very end (or if possible, while you’re waiting for a parade or something else to start).
10. Fastpasses- While the fastpass system is changing (they have moved away from a paper system at Disney World), fastpasses are worth taking advantage of. First- they are free. Second- They allow you to go on certain rides during a scheduled time (you have an hour time slot to get in line for whatever attraction you have), which depending on the wait, can mean that you have a much shorter wait. Just remember, when it comes to fastpasses, there are some very important tips to remember: They are very strict about the timeslot, so make sure you are in line sometime during that hour… if you are early, they will not let you through, and they have gotten very strict about people returning late, in which case, you may not be able to use it at all. Also, see how long the “Standby” wait is. It may not be worth it to get a fastpass if the wait time is only ten or fifteen minutes. Finally, since you are only allowed one fastpass at a time, I recommend waiting near the fastpass machine of something else you want to go on, right around the time of your first fastpass being ready to use. For example, if you have a fastpass from 12:00-1:00pm for Space Mountain, and want to go on Splash Mountain next, I would go to Splash Mountain right at 12:00. Then you can get a fastpass for that and start waiting for that one to become available while walking back to Space Mountain to ride that. Of course, at Walt Disney World, fastpasses are linked to your MagicBand and can be scheduled before your park visit.
11. Getting Around Inside the Park with Little Ones- If you have little ones with you, you may want to consider bringing your own stroller. There is A LOT of walking involved (the last time I went to Disneyland, I walked over 11 miles and that wasn’t even at a fast pace). So make sure you are prepared when it comes to helping the little ones get around. Otherwise you will most likely be carrying kids or taking frequent stops and breaks (not to mention the risk of potential meltdowns or tantrums). Disney does provide strollers for rent, and if you’re traveling and don’t want to lug yours with you, you can also research stroller rental companies nearby who can deliver them to your hotel room. The point is, be prepared!
12. Where to Stay- If you’re lucky and have family or friends nearby, you may be able to stay with them. If not, I recommend one of the Good Neighbor Hotels at Disneyland, such as Tropicana Inn & Suites, Candy Cane Inn, the Fairfield Inn, or the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel (they offer many of the same perks as the three Disneyland hotels, but at a fraction of the price. ), or if you’re at Disney World, one of the Value Resorts. They not only have a great Disney ambiance, but they are the cheapest of the Disney World hotels and still include most all of the benefits. However, if you’re like me and would rather spend your money on things inside the park the Value Resorts are the way to go. While I haven’t had a chance to stay there yet, I can’t wait to stay at the Art of Animation Resort. I love all the Disney themed areas, and it’s still considered a “Value” Resort. For Nick the Disney Devo’s Review on the Art of Animation Resort, click here. Disney Diva Tip for those staying at Disneyland: To watch a video showing the proximity of Good Neighbor hotels to Disneyland, click here. For an article comparing Active Diva’s thoughts on if it is better to stay at a Disneyland Resort or a Good Neighbor Hotel, click here.
Those are a few of my favorite First Timer tips. What are yours?
Note: Portions of this article first appeared on My Disney Cloud.