I didn’t really start visiting Walt Disney World until I was an adult. My first trip to Disney World was as a child, a trip with my grandparents and 2 cousins, but I was 6 and would have rather spent time in the pool than in the Magic Kingdom – that was the only park at Walt Disney World at that time. However, since becoming an adult, my love for the mouse has grown, and it all started with a trip that my wife and I took before we even had kids.
We knew nothing about a Disney World vacation, but back in the early 2000’s, you really didn’t need to know much to have a successful trip. I remember being able to get a walk up reservation at Le Cellier in the Canada Pavilion of World Showcase in Epcot. Now, if you are not on the My Disney Experience App or on the Disney website at exactly 180 days from when you want to eat there, you probably won’t get a reservation (unless you use a service like WDW Dining Finder). That trip was great, but it really took going with our first child when she was 3 to really see and understand what Disney was all about.
Seeing the magic through a little girl’s eye is simply incredible. We took yearly trips after that, and continued that annual pilgrimage after having our son, and then became annual passholders after moving to North Carolina in 2014. We now travel to Disney World multiple times per year and here I am, writing about it. Crazy right? From that little kid who wanted nothing to do with getting on a fake submarine to counting down the days until he can try that new snack or experience a new land or attraction, that is the magic of Disney.
As Walt Disney World has evolved through the years, it has become more and more important to plan. As you plan your first trip to Disney World, you’ll have to understand that gone are the days that you can just show up, ride what you want to ride, eat where you want to eat, and do what you want to do (at least without an extraordinary amount of waiting) without having at least some semblance of a plan.
These are the days where the internet is bursting at the seams with information, there are blogs and vlogs for all to read and watch, and where all of the information is constantly right at their fingertips. These days you have to plan, plan, plan. So, if you are thinking about taking a trip to Disney World for the first time, and want to know how to make the most of this epic adventure, read on.
How to Make the Most of Your First Trip To Disney World
There are many things that you need to think of when taking not only your first trip to Disney World, but really to any trip to Walt Disney World. Not only do you have to have park knowledge, but you need a place to stay, food to eat, transportation, the list goes on. Using the knowledge that we have gathered over years of Disney trips, the Capture the Magic family wants to help you make your first trip to Disney World memorable.
These are not going to be “tips and tricks” (that’s another article you can find here), but these are ways to experience Disney in a way that you can get the most out of it. Disney World (like the real world) is a big place with a lot to experience, especially for your first trip to Disney World. Though you will obviously have a great time if you just go to Magic Kingdom for 4 straight days, stay at a local hotel, and eat nothing but pizza. However, if you take the below thoughts and apply them to your first pilgrimage to the House of the Mouse, you will experience Disney World to the fullest. And, if you are not able to experience it all, that’s ok, it will just allow you to start thinking about the next time.
Stay at a Disney Resort
This one might sound extremely obvious as a first trip To Disney World tip. However, with the abundance of hotel and resort options near Disney, you can make yourself crazy trying to determine where to stay. Staying at a Disney resort, though maybe more expensive than an off-property option, provides benefits that outweigh the extra cost. First, you have the incredible theming that each Disney resort has. Whether it be the larger than life statues at the All-Star Resorts, or the tropical island feel of the Polynesian Resort, the resorts at Disney World can transport you to a place like no others.
You also will have access to extra magic hours at each park. Whether you are going to Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, you will have access to each of the 4 theme parks either before the park opens or after the park closes to the general public. Each park has it’s own Extra Magic Hours schedule (they don’t happen every day at each park), but think of what you can accomplish with fewer people in the park.
“Early” access to making FastPass+ reservations (more on this in a bit). Easy park access – whether you want walking, boat, or monorail access to a park – there are resorts for that. Some of the best pools are at Disney resorts, and you’ll want to take advantage of these during your day(s) off or mid-day breaks.
Tour the Parks Early and Late
Now, this may not be an ideal option if you have smaller children that can’t stay out late, but you can at least take advantage of getting to the parks early. For the first couple of hours and last couple of hours that the parks are open they are generally the least busy. Either guests don’t want to get up in the morning or they want to get to bed early (or hit Disney Springs for a late night bite to eat or drink), but the parks are just not as busy during these times.
Especially with your first trip to Disney World, take advantage of these times by getting to the park for “Rope Drop” (Disney speak for when the park opens – there used to be an actual rope but alas, no more rope), take a mid-day break for some swimming and relaxing, then go back to the parks after dinner for some late night fun. This way you get to take advantage of the parks when they are less busy and get to miss the waves of people that enter around 11am and stay until early evening.
Make Your Reservations
This first trip to Disney World tip does not only apply to eating at a restaurant. At Disney World, you can make reservations (called FastPasses) for rides and attractions in the parks. All reservations can be made either online or through your My Disney Experience app. I did mention that there would be planning, right?
Advanced Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World can provide some of the best dining experiences you will ever have, and not just at a theme park. Disney World is a destination for some people when it comes to food. This is why you need to make sure that you get your Advanced Dining Reservations as soon as you can. These reservations can be made up to 180 days before you dine. You might be thinking, I don’t know what I want to eat tomorrow night, how will I know what I want in 6 months. We at the Capture the Magic Network feel your pain, it’s a tough decision.
However, with the amount of people visiting the Walt Disney World Resort on any given day, there is competition to get into each and every restaurant. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants, and there is something for every type of eater. Whether you are vegan or a meat eater, have dietary restrictions or not, Disney restaurants can accommodate. Whether you choose to dine at a theme park, at a resort, or at Disney Springs, to ensure you get a reservation to the restaurants you want, you will need to plan 180 days out.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, a few years ago Disney implemented a system where you can make reservations to rides and attractions in advance. This was an upgrade to the legacy FastPass system where you would go to a kiosk outside of each attraction and get a ticket that provided a return time. Now, as long as you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can make your FastPass + reservations up to 60 days in advance.
If you had made your Advanced Dining Reservations at 180 days, you have a good idea of which park you will be in which days, so it helps take the decision of where to make your FastPass+ reservations out of the equation. There are certain attractions at each of the parks that, unless you are making reservations right at 60 days, you will most likely not get. This includes 7 Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom, and multiple rides at Hollywood Studios.
As I mentioned earlier, the benefit of staying at a Disney Resort is that you get to make your FastPass+ reservations for the whole length of your trip, starting at that 60 day mark. If you do not, you do not have access to FastPass+ reservations until 30 days out, and they have to be made day by day, not for the length of your trip.
Take Time to Enjoy the Small Things
Whenever you hear people talking or see advertisements for the Walt Disney World, you see people meeting Mickey Mouse or going on attractions. Yes, both of those things are outstanding and highlights of any trip to Disney World. However, there is so much more to Disney, both inside the parks and out. Take the time to look around, check out the details, have conversations with your family (or strangers – you’ll meet a lot of people standing in line).
These are some of the things that make not only waiting time go by faster, but will give you memories that will last you a lifetime. If you are simply running from one attraction to another you might miss the Streetmosphere performers. If you are simply playing on your phone, you may miss out on all of the intricate details of the queue you are standing in. There is so much to take in while in the Disney Parks, it is almost overload. But I feel that is a good thing. For one, you will never be board. And second, you’ll never get to do or see it all in one trip – so you’ll need to come back!!
Take Time Outside of the Parks
Taking your first trip to Disney is one of the most exciting times, and you’ll probably want to spend all of your time riding rides and meeting characters. I’m right there with you, there isn’t much that I enjoy more. However, Disney World is so much more than rides and characters. We have already spoken about all of the dining available. Here is what else you can do outside of the Disney parks:
Enjoy all of the Disney Resorts
Earlier in this article I talked about how staying at a Disney Resort is paramount in making your first Disney World trip a special one. It is not only the theming, early access to fastpass+, and transportation that make staying at a Disney Resort awesome. It’s the entertainment, pools, restaurants all working together that make them so great.
The best thing is that you can visit all of the Disney Resorts and experience just about everything that a resort has to offer – the only thing you can’t is the pool. This is great around Christmas time when the resorts are all decorated for Christmas. Check out the Christmas trees, the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian and the carousel at the Beach Club. Taking a day to relax and check out the resorts, you might just find where you want to stay on your next visit.
Visit Disney Springs
Disney Springs (formally known as Downtown Disney) combines Disney, dining, shopping, and entertainment all into one space. Both kids and adults will find plenty to do and see at this eating, drinking, and shopping haven. Enjoy strolling through this outdoor marketplace where you can visit both Disney and non-Disney related stores, eat at some of the most delicious restaurants on property, and catch many different types of entertainment.
There is something for everybody here, not just those on their first trip to Disney World. If you like to shop, you can find everything from surfing gear at Ron Jon Surf Shop to everything Disney at the World of Disney. If dining is your preference you’re covered there. Nosh on some good ol’ southern cooking at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, taste the upscale Asian flavors at Morimoto Asia from Iron Chef Morimoto, or grab something quick and easy from one of the many food trucks available.
Want to be entertained? Cirque du Soleil has a brand new show. Bowl a couple of games at Splittsville. Take in a movie at the AMC Theatre. Or, take in all of the free Streetmosphere and entertainment scattered throughout. As you can see, you can spend hours, if not a full day here and have it be a memorable part of your first time at Disney.
Visit a Water Park
Did you know that outside of the 4 theme parks Disney has 2 water parks? Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon can be a great way to not only break up your time in the theme parks, but help cool you down on those hot summer days. From the thrilling Summit Plummet at the ski resort themed Blizzard Beach to the coaster-like Crush ‘n’ Gusher at Typhoon Lagoon, to the wave pools, lazy rivers, and kids play areas, these water parks are perfect for getting out of the real hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom while still being able to get your rides and thrills in. Outfitted with private areas and umbrellas for an extra charge, tasty food options, libations, and plenty of sweet treats, you are sure to enjoy your fun in the sun. This may not be on your radar with your first trip to Disney World but it’s something that is a lot of fun and if you’re able to do it we highly suggest it.
Now that you have read through some of the best ways to make the most out of your first trip to Disney World, I bet you cannot wait to get there. I know that it is a lot to take in and digest, but I promise that all of the planning and researching will be worth it in the end. It does not matter if this is going to be your one and only trip or if it will be your first of many to come, you want to make sure that you get the most out of your time here. As, at least for me, that next time cannot come soon enough.
If you not only enjoyed this first trip to Disney World article, then you may also be interested in checking out our Disney World Trip Report Podcast Trip Tales to help you plan a fantastic Disney World trip! Also, don’t forget to listen to all of the podcasts on the Capture the Magic Network and follow us on Social Media.