First Time Disney World Visit Tips


First time visitors to Walt Disney World make a lot of mistakes. There are many things that are simply impossible to know until you go, and due to many planning resources being written by seasoned Disney veterans, it can be easy for those sharing tips to completely gloss over something because they are so familiar with the parks and just take certain things for granted.

With that in mind, we’ve written this blog post with some important things that first time visitors ought to know. If you’ve been to Walt Disney World even one time, you will know most or all of this information. In that case, you might ‘pay it forward’ by sharing a basic bit of info about Walt Disney World that you didn’t know before your first trip, but that you consider important.

Okay, let’s dig into our list of some basic things first time Walt Disney World guests should know…

Walt Disney World is Huge

If you’ve done any amount of research, you probably know that Walt Disney World is the “big place” in Florida and Disneyland is the “little place” in California.

It bears reiterating: Walt Disney World is HUGE. It’s located on 25,000 acres, has 24 hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, and more “other stuff” beyond the parks than you can shake a stick at. On the one hand, it’s awesome to have so many different great things to do. You could easily visit for 2 weeks and not run out of things to do–the options beyond theme parks, from fishing to golfing to spas and more are staggering. On the other hand, because there is much, the distance between hotels and parks, parks and other entertainment, etc. can be fairly substantial. Walt Disney World is not a place that you can cover on foot.

The other consequence of this is in terms of time. Whether you rent a car or use Disney’s free transportation, you are going to spend a lot of time during your trip commuting. The best case scenario, if you only visit one park per day and rent a car, puts your total commute time at an hour. If you park hop and use Disney transportation, you might spend 3 or more hours per day commuting. Yes, all of those options are great, but the time it takes to get from one of them to another is not. We have a post dedicated to Walt Disney World Transportation Tips that can help you take shortcuts (not literally) to save time with Disney’s transportation system.

Make Advance Dining Reservations

You can make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) to Walt Disney World restaurants 180 days before your trip. Take advantage of this, because popular restaurants like Le Cellier, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest Restaurant, and Chef Mickey’s book up months in advance.

While the importance of ADRs isn’t as significant as it once was thanks to Disney putting in a new deposit system, if you want to dine at the most sought-after restaurants or you travel during busy times (or during the “Freem Dining” promotion, the importance of ADRs for popular restaurants cannot be understated. We’ve heard horror stories from guests who book Free Dining, then just show up, expecting to eat anywhere…and unable to find a table at even the most unpopular restaurants. Make your reservations as early as possible. When we have used the Disney Dining Plan in the past, we’ve made reservations months in advance. Sometimes, even at 170+ days, we still didn’t get what we wanted.

Rental Cars Are Expensive in Orlando (But Don’t Have To Be)

We normally use Disney’s Magical Express, which is a complimentary transportation service from the Orlando International Airport to Disney-owned hotels, and that’s partly because renting a car at the airport can be prohibitvely expensive. In fact, when we’ve priced it out in the past, the prices have often been substantially more than we’re used to paying whenever traveling elsewhere.

There are two ways to avoid this. The first is renting a car at an off-airport location, and taking a shuttle to get it. Likewise, you can use Disney’s Magical Express (if you’re staying at a Disney-owned hotel) and then take a bus to the Swan & Dolphin to pick up a car when you need one. An Alamo/National rental desk is located near guest services at the Dolphin. This can be a real money saver if you only need a rental car for a day visit to SeaWorld, Universal, or another theme park.

Another option is a new rental car agency called Firefly that is located in the Orlando airport. We recently rented from them, and they rate we paid was about one-quarter the price of the next lowest agency (it worked out to be $15/day AFTER taxes). In doing some random searches, this seems fairly typical. Our experience with them was fine, although they were more aggressive than the major agencies with upsells and trying to push insurance. This is just one experience, but I’ve heard the same thing from a few other people who have used Firefly. The point is that they’re legit, but the try to get around those low base prices by selling you add-ons you don’t need. Stand firm.

Visiting Walt Disney World is Physically Exhausting



Walking around the parks for a day will tire you out. Walking around for an entire week can leave you downright exhausted. Seriously.

This is not to say that you need to do some sort of marathon training regime prior to visiting Walt Disney World, but if you plan on lasting the entire day in the parks without fatigue and blisters, you should physically prepare yourself for the trip. How you prepare is ultimately your call, but you’ve been warned. (This could explain why moleskin is one of the top recommendations from commenters on our Unique Disney Packing List post.)

Everything Takes Longer Than Expected

What’s that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men? That might as well have been written about you and Mickey. Once you’ve developed a daily itinerary for your trip (and you absolutely should make at least a loose one), take a red pen and randomly cross off about half the things on that list. That’s how much you should actually expect to get done–if you end up finishing more, consider it a pleasant surprise.

Everything takes longer than you’ll expect at Walt Disney World. The odd thing here is that this is usually not a result of waiting in lines longer than you expect (in fact, usually posted wait times are higher than actual wait times). Instead, you’ll find that transportation, walking between attractions, dining, and various other things all take longer than you plan.

In some cases, this is a good thing. There will be times in the parks when you’ll stumble upon roaming entertainment or a fun detail that will preoccupy you for a bit, and these diversions are a pleasant surprise. Other times, this is a not so good thing. You plan for 30 minutes to get from your room to a park, but due to bus delays or parking time, it might actually take an hour.

Downtown Disney Isn’t For Everyone

If you want me to be completely honest, the heading on this one would be “Downtown Disney is a Waste of Time.” However, I know some people really like Downtown Disney for whatever reason, so I’m trying to be a bit more balanced. The reason I think Downtown Disney is generally a waste is because its biggest draw is shopping, and virtually everything sold at Downtown Disney can be found in one of the parks. The second biggest draw is dining, and with few exceptions (we recently dined at Raglan Road for the first time, and it’s a big exception), there are far superior restaurants in the parks and Disney hotels.

Essentially, Downtown Disney is a sprawling outdoor mall with a mix of real world locations and Disney-specific locations. If you live in a major US city, many of the highlights of Downtown Disney will also exist in your hometown. Add to this the fact that Downtown Disney is poorly laid out and now contains plenty of construction walls as it’s being reinvented as “Disney Springs.” Finally, transportation to and from Downtown Disney is inconvenient, as is parking, and you have a location that will not appeal to everyone.

In fairness, a lot of people love the shopping, dining, and ambiance at Downtown Disney, so take this opinion with a grain of salt. It just seems to me that if you have limited vacation time, that time is better spent doing something totally unique to Walt Disney World, not going to a glorified mall similar to what you might have back home. If you’re looking for places outside the parks to visit, we suggest the Boardwalk area (a short walk from Epcot’s International Gateway) and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Both have dining, entertainment, and ambiance superior to Downtown Disney.

Long Wait Times Do Not Equal Popularity or Quality

“If there’s a long line, it must be for something good.” While this sounds a bit silly, this describes Disney guest behavior to a degree. (Seriously, we have heard multiple stories about guests lining up for Be Our Guest Restaurant because there was a line and they assumed it was a good ride.)

Just because an attraction has a long line doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it, and just because it has no line doesn’t mean it’s no good. There are a lot of factors affecting wait times, including an attraction’s hourly guest capacity, its location in the park, the type of attraction it is v. other attractions in the park, etc. Some of our favorite attractions at Walt Disney World rarely have waits, and that’s often because they have highly hourly capacity or aren’t thrill rides (as a general rule, thrill rides have the longest waits–even though they’re typically the shortest and least-detailed).

Rider Switch Allows Parents To BOTH Do Rides Their Kids Can’t

Beyond Disney’s free FastPass+ system, another similar time-saving option is the Rider Switch Pass (more commonly known as a “Child Swap”), which can be obtained from Cast Members outside attractions with height limits. This pass allows one parent to stay with the kids who don’t meet the height requirement for an attraction while the other parent (or group of above-height people) waits with the kids.

When the riding parent/group is done, the waiting parent/group (up to 3 per pass) can use the pass by going to the FastPass+ return line. Since three people can use the pass, your kids or other party members who are tall enough to ride the attraction can conceivably go twice: once in line with the first parent, and the second time by using the pass with the parent who did the watching the first time!

You Can Schedule Attraction Times in Advance

Spaceship Earth at Epcot.

As part of a new system called MyMagic+, guests can now schedule time windows for bypassing the lines at attractions via something called FastPass+. FastPass+ can be obtained via the My Disney Experience app or via in-park kiosks and are stored on the MagicBand. Guests then “redeem” their FastPass+ by swiping it against an RFID reader outside applicable attractions. Guests are able to book 3 FastPass+ tickets in advance of their vacation (so, from home) 60 days in advance.

This can be a confusing and convoluted system for the first time guest to understand. For further information about FastPass+, check out our MyMagic+ FAQ. To figure out where you should use your 3 FastPass+ per day, check out our Disney Ride Guides.

Lines to Meet Characters Are Often Long

A lot of Disney commercials show kids and Disney characters romping around the parks hand-in-hand, as carefree as can be. While there are some spontaneous character interactions, most of the time you will need to wait in line in order to meet Disney characters. In some cases, these wait times are longer than what you’ll encounter for popular attractions. In fact, right now the Frozen meet & greet in Norway at Epcot has the longest lines in that park, with waits longer than any attraction in the park.

While Frozen is a bit of an anomaly due to its incredible popularity right now, it’s not uncommon to wait 30 minutes or more to meet “ordinary” characters. That can be less or considerably more depending on the time of year you visit, and the character’s popularity. To make matters worse, many of these lines are outdoors and do not offer shade.

If you must meet characters, doing a character meal is a good way to save time by having the characters come to you while you eat. Of course, there is an additional charge for these meals, and most of them are not cheap. (Here are our recommendations if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan.) Still, it can be worth your time, money, and sanity if your kids are really into characters.

Disney Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

Bowling Pin Pool at Disney's Pop Century Resort with larger-than-life Lady in the foreground.Read our Pop Century Review: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/pop-century-review/

In pop culture, Disney trips are portrayed as expensive, highly commercialized affairs. This sentiment has become so commonplace that Jungle Cruise skippers often joke that everything leads to a gift shop. While much of this is deserved, visiting Walt Disney World doesn’t have to be ridiculously expensive.

Guests can stay in cheap, off-site hotels that are in abundance around Orlando. (We far prefer staying on-site; click here to read our article weighing the pros and cons of off-site v. on-site.) Disney allows guests to bring their own food to the park (a rare policy among theme parks), but even if you don’t do this, prices are still significantly lower than what you’ll find at a movie theater or ball park. You can buy discounted souvenirs at nearby outlets or online, or have freebies offered in-park substitute as souvenirs. About the only thing significant aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation that can be done significantly cheaper with an alternative approach is theme park tickets. Then then, though, you can save money by purchasing them from a third party.

Walt Disney World will never be as inexpensive as visiting a state or National Park, but compared to a lot of other entertainment and vacation options, it can be a better deal. It’s just a matter of perspective and being willing to do things a certain way to save money.

PhotoPass Photographers Will Take Free Photos

PhotoPass is a free service where Disney photographers around the park will take photos of you in front of park icons and other photogenic scenery. Normally, the catch is that while the taking of the photos is free, downloading and printing them costs money (as does the Memory Maker package).

This would render that “free” tag illusory, but for the fact that PhotoPass photographers (and any Cast Member, for that matter) will also take photos for you with your camera.

Given the fact that PhotoPass will take photos of you with your own camera, I have always had a really hard time recommending guests purchase Memory Maker. Granted, there are benefits if your camera isn’t very nice, and the PhotoPass photographers are more “aggressive” in getting good photos with their own cameras than with yours, but to me, that’s not enough to justify spending over $100 on Memory Maker. Most guests would come out ahead buying a cheap point & shoot (or even had PhotoPass photographers use their phones to take photos), had PhotoPass photographers use that to take their photos, and then purchased photobooks through reputable online services.

Advance Planning is Necessary

One theme of this post is that planning is important. This really cannot be understated. While it’s true that every destination you visit is best experienced with advance planning, this seems especially true at Walt Disney World. There is so much to do, and so many of the things that exist at Walt Disney World involve waiting or lines, making it seriously advantageous for anyone who is knowledgeable or has an efficient plan of attack.

Some guests go all out, planning every detail of their trip, making binders full of color-coded stuff, and all sorts of other craziness. This type of thing is best reserved for those who actually enjoy doing those things–more power to you if that fits your personality. That degree of planning is not necessary, and the amount of time you’ll expend on those efforts will be grossly disproportionate to the amount of time you’ll save over someone who is moderately prepared. (Moreover, you’ll put pressure on yourself to have an unattainably ‘perfect’ vacation.) Instead, read a variety of blogs, find some planning tips on Pinterest or Facebook, and/or skim a book like The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. You’ll spend anywhere from a few hours to several days doing this, but you will poise yourself to have a great vacation.

Planning, or a lack thereof, is ultimately the key difference between those who visit Walt Disney World for the first time and have a great time, and those who have an awful time. As with all things, you get out of it what you put into it.

That’s it for our list of first timer tips. If you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World, make sure to check out our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for comprehensive planning ideas, our dining reviews to find the best restaurants, and our 101 Great Walt Disney World Tips posts.

For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

If you are a Walt Disney World veteran, what other ‘overlooked’ things to know would you add to this? Which would you emphasize, and with which do you disagree? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? Chances are if you have questions still, so does someone else! We love hearing from readers, so please share your thoughts in the comments.

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53 Responses to “First Time Disney World Visit Tips”

  1. Melios says:

    I would add, don’t use the dining plan as a first timer. Your feelings on the dining plan are well documented, but it might make first timers feel good, like, “this is paid for” but When my husband and I went for his first trip, and the first I planned as an adult, I felt having to use “quick service meals” with desserts, kept me from enjoying all the “snacks” I would have preferred, plus all the yummy sounding appetizers at my table service meals, and I probably would have done more table service breakfasts. Basically, the dining plan is good if you already know what you want to eat and that it will work. If you like Drinking alcohol, Snacks, table service breakfasts etc, Only the most expensive dining plan will work, and why do that?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      This is a great point. Not only in terms of freedom, but in time. I feel like table service dining is something that’s better for frequent visitors who have otherwise ‘seen it all.’ Maybe that’s just me.

    • Debbie V. says:

      We went to WDW in Jan and got the Deluxe plan (3 table service meals). We did NOT like it because the portions are so huge there was NO way we could eat all that we had paid for and we felt guilty only eating half of our servings. I actually lost my appetite thinking about it and asked the waiter to PLEASE bring me small portions (which he did).
      So we will be doing the 1 table servie – 1 quick meal on our next trip.
      All the meals were excellent by the way and served in a very timely manner. I’d say 1 hour per meal.

  2. Erica says:

    Very valid points above. Whether you are using your Disney Dining Plan or splurging I’d like to add how long table service takes; no matter what park we’ve gone to we have spent roughly two hours in each table service restaurant. I’ve noticed buffet’s are slightly quicker, but they still take time. My recommendation is if you like leisurely or you want character dining go for table service. My next recommendation is if you are using your DDP go ahead and “pay” before you are done (this is simply a case of charging the meal against your dining plan;you can still eat but cannot make additional charges). However, if you’re trying to fit a lot into a small portion of time, grab quick service meals. Sometimes the quick service meals are better. In MK one restaurant gave us huge flat bread personal pizzas (one could feed two of my kindergizzles), and at HS they have an outdoor area where we always get hamburgers, fries, a cupcake (HUGE CUPCAKE), and a soda with our DDP.

    • Amanda Susan says:

      Interesting about dining, I’ve mostly had the opposite experience. The last time I ate at Liberty Tree Tavern our food came out less than 5 minutes after we ordered. Unless I’m eating at a Signature I’ve found that they try to scoot you out as fast as possible and I’ve actually had to ask to wait to bring my food.

  3. Kerry says:

    Don’t pay for water! The counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water! That can be especially helpful during the hot Florida summer!

    • Jessica says:

      Yes!! I did not discover this until my brother (who works at Team Disney) told me last year. As someone who drinks only water, this was a great tip and one I wish I’d known years earlier!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, this is a great tip, and possibly worth including. It’s already on that 101 list, though, and I don’t want things to be *too* redundant.

      It’s tough coming up with fresh Disney advice, but we get a lot of ‘what advice do you have for first-timers’ emails, so I figured I’d write this post to address them!

    • Amanda says:

      September 2013 I took my then 7 year old to WDW for her first trip. She is a water drinker, and we had just gotten to the park, walked right down main street, got to the hub and she wanted some water. The guy at the snack place kinda gave her grief “are you sure you just want a cup of water”. I was a little annoyed by it, but she got her water anyway.

    • Karla says:

      It’s not just in Disney world it’s all over Florida it’s the law that if they have food they must give free water if someone asks

  4. Gail Morrison says:

    Two of the best tips I got before our first trip: Buy a rain poncho in the park because it will rain. Better than packing rain gear. Second buy a water bottle strap in the park and one bottle of water (per person). The strap makes the water hands-free and fountains are easily found to refill as you go along. Bonus: both items are fine, reusable souvenirs.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great ideas!

      I’ll one-up your second tip: buy a collapsible water bottle (there’s one on that Unique Packing List above) before the trip to carry with you. Takes up almost no space and is reusable!

  5. Do not try and squeeze everything you want to see at any one park into one day. Even though the park hopper option for you ticket adds about $57-$60 dollars to the price per person per ticket, it is well worth it. You will end up missing out on something if you pack everything into one day. You will also be extremely frustrated which will make the rest of your Disney vacation suck!

  6. Sarah says:

    Yay! Thank you for this! I love your blog. My husband and I have been enjoying your ride guides, too. I’m visiting Disney World for the first time at the end of April / beginning of May. Going for the first time as an adult but have wanted to go since my grandparents brought home ears with my name on it when I was a kid. My husband has been, but not since he was a kid.

    I have a couple of questions:

    How long do you ballpark estimate it takes to get from the airport to a park on the first day of a trip? Do you typically stop at a hotel en route to the park? In trying to figure out when to schedule fast passes on the first day of our trip.

    Do you have any advice about how to do dinner at the Brown Derby and Fantasmic into one evening? I don’t have a sense of when to make dinner reservations in relation to getting to see fireworks / evening entertainment at each of the parks at night.

    Thanks!

    • Mi Mi says:

      Since we now always stay off property (no kids,) we rent a car and then check into the hotel before heading to Disney. Makes for a more relaxed “entrance” to the magic. Separates the real world from the magical one. With the toll booths along the way, and the possible check in times, changing clothes, getting settled, etc., it can be up to 2 hours before we enter the parks. The drive isn’t bad from airport to hotels, but why rush it? Why not soak in the Disney ambiance and arrive at the parks refreshed from your travel, having the stress behind you? Even when we have little grandchildren with us, eager to get there ASAP, we find everyone has a much better time if we are well-planned and not frantic. As Tom mentions over and over, a little planning and breathing makes all the difference.

    • Diane Downs says:

      Generally it takes 40 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel using magical express. Some hotels are on the same bus route, usually 2-3. We usually land around 9am, and are in the parks by lunchtime

  7. Bernadette says:

    We were first-timers on our August 2012 trip; by far, our biggest mistake was buying park hoppers. Our kids were 14, 9 and 6 at the time, and the two younger ones were wiped out after one park (as was my husband, lol) – we never used them once. Our second trip was this past September – our biggest rookie mistake was going to Downtown Disney the first afternoon/evening of our trip. We are not big shoppers, and it was just crowded and overwhelming – to make matters worse, it took *forever* to get a bus back to our resort. We would have been much better off relaxing by the pool – lesson learned.

    • Sean says:

      I know a LOT of people absolutely swear by them, but I really find that if you plan out your trip enough, not buying the park-hoppers is a great money saver. I’m going in March and it will be my first time on base-ticket. In the past, each trip I have bought park-hopper and at the end of the trip, realized that I only really used it for what its meant for, once or twice and it was for small things like just going into Epcot to grab a drink.

      When I go to WDW, I don’t generally try to park-jump all day, I usually spend my whole days in a specific park doing all I can do, so this time around I decided to experiment with non-hopping.

      The best time to go to DTD is definitely during the afternoon or much later in the evening. I was there around 10 or 11pm for drinks and the place was virtually empty, save for the people who were there for the same reason I was!

  8. Sarah says:

    I just thought of one more newbie question: do the buses from the resorts go to all four parks? Or do you have to transfer somewhere, or do you take a bus marked with the destination you want to go to on it?

    • NancyB says:

      You take a bus marked for the specific park you want. There are one or more bus stops at a resort (plus some very large resorts have an internal bus system), and busses for each park will come by.

      A couple of times catching a bus early (headed to a tour or a breakfast reservation), the ‘wrong’ bus stopped, the driver asked where we were headed, and he called in and got approval to take us to the park we wanted. Just a little Disney magic!

  9. Robin says:

    My husband and I are annual passholders.
    One of the things we like to do is sit on a bench
    and look at people’s shoes. I know it sounds
    crazy but it is amazing to us what people wear
    on thier feet to walk around all day. Think comfort
    people, not cute

    • Sara says:

      “think comfort, not cute” — LOVE this!!
      You are exactly right, and my family enjoys noticing all the “fancy footwear” as well!

  10. Heath says:

    Great information!

    One point to add about hotels- you mention the many cheap off-site options, but I’ve never found them to be worth it. The rate per night may be lower than Disney, but there are lots of costs that you may not consider. You’ll almost have to rent a car to stay off-site (and as you say, that can be expensive) and you’ll have to pay parking at the parks ($15/day). We’ve found that off-site park shuttles can be unreliable. They may be scheduled routes that only leave three times in the morning and return three times at night, and one shuttle may stop at 10-15 other hotels on the way to the park! (No returning mid-day for a nap or a swim). They also drop off at the Transportation and Ticket Center (Magic Kingdom), so you still need to transfer to get to the other three parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.

    There are also varying levels of quality off-site. We’ve encountered bed bugs and roaches before, and indifferent front desk staff. Every Disney hotel, no matter the tier, provides excellent service and a clean, relaxing environment.

    If saving money were the sole objective, I’d stay at a Value Resort (All Stars, Pop Century, or Art of Animation), use the free Disney Magical Express from the airport and use free Disney transport while on property to get right to the front gate of every park. It may cost another $30-50/night, but it’s worth it for the convenience and the money saved on other aspects.

    • Nate says:

      Good point on the incidental costs of staying off-site. I was going to make the same point, but you beat me to it! :-)

      • Heath says:

        No worries! I suspect many of us have learned about Disney vs off-site from experience.

        We’ve had terrible experiences off-site, and perfect vacations staying at everything from All Star Sports to the Polynesian. Once you’ve stayed on property, it’s hard to go back to I-Drive or Kissimmee.

  11. Bethany says:

    I give the same tips to everyone visiting for the first time:

    1) if you’re ok with tap water, drink water for free at counter service locations (ask for a cup of water) … don’t pay $4 for bottle

    2) Buy a poncho BEFORE you go to Disney. A good small pack emergency Coleman poncho is $1.30 at my local Target. A flimsy Mickey one at DW is 3 or 4 times that. Save yourself a few bucks per person.

    3) Ask each family member what is the ONE thing you want to do or see. You won’t get to do everything but you can at least make attempts to do what’s most important to each person and make that thing special. Everything else is treated as icing on the metaphorical cake.

    4) and last … if you want an awesome photo op in the magic kingdom for your family, schedule breakfast in the park before it opens (Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Table), arrive early before your ADR, and smile for the camera!

  12. Cindy says:

    All of your comments are very helpful, but I tend to disagree with your opinion of Downtown Disney. We love to go there on our last day or evening, buying things that we didn’t purchase in the parks that we wished we had, etc. If you need some down time away from the hustle and bustle of the chaotic parks, this is a place we go for that. A nice, leisurely stroll though Downtown is very relaxing. Also, yes, staying off Disney property will no doubt be cheaper, but you will not get the ambience of being at Disney. We enjoy having the full Disney transportation for our entire vacation instead of having to drive into the parks every day, plus not having to pay for parking each day, which adds up. Another reason for staying on property would be, if the parks are at full capacity, they can turn you away if you are staying outside Walt Disney World. I’ve seen it happen, especially at the busy season. Well, worth it to us to have all the perks. As in anything, all of this is a matter of opinion.

    • Sean says:

      If you’re a non-park hopper, and don’t have the freedom of going back to a park just to buy a shirt or pin or hat, Downtown is a great place for you to get your Disney souvenirs. I usually head to DTD one or two nights during my trip just for a drink or two, never spend a large amount of time there, unless I’m at Raglan Road!

  13. Diane Downs says:

    The one piece of advice that I give my newbie friends is don’t try to equate how much money you’ve spent on this vacation with experiences. Along the lines of your section above, disney world is huge. There is no way you’re going to ‘do it all’ and ‘get your money’s worth’. The best way to have a memorable trip is to slow down and not stress out. If the sun rises and sets over Ariel for your 4 year old daughter, then by all means wait in that hour line for a picture and skip the stuff she’s not as interested in. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and creating an experience that makes you want to go back again.

  14. Sean says:

    I think you nailed to two most important points that first-timers should know.

    Advanced planning is ABSOLUTELY necessary. Whether its your first time, or the 3rd time you’ve been there this year. In order to make the most of your vacation, get the most bang for your buck, and do as much as you can do in the time you have, you need to plan ahead. I wake up early on my 180-day mark to make sure I get every dining reservation I need or want at the time that my party has agreed is best. My trip is planned out 180-days in advance so we know what parks we are doing what days in order to make dining reservations for restaurants that are in certain parks.

    Plus, if you hate waiting for your trip to come around, planning your trip in advance is a fun way to make it seem like it’s not 200 days away :)

    Another great point is that Disney does not need to be expensive. Yes, it does cost more than say your average trip to Bush Gardens or SeaWorld, but, staying at a value resort, NOT getting the dining plan, buying base-ticket rather than park-hoppers can literally save you hundreds of dollars. So if the first thought in your mind is “we can’t do Disney, it’s way to pricey”, get on some of these forums and boards and chat with people who will be more than happy to share some cost-cutting advice, because I would wager than 90% of people who travel to Disney every day, have a budget they need to abide by.

    ps. glad you loved Raglan Road! I threw a few suggestions out to you on twitter the night you visited, I’ll be there on St. Patricks day, as it falls right in the middle of my trip next month!

  15. Kevin says:

    Good tips!

    I’ll offer a light defense of Photopass, particularly if you don’t own a decent camera. Some of the character locations have really challenging lighting (Enchanted Tales with Belle, outdoor greets after dark, a few others) and the photopass CM’s will have an off-camera flash. If you don’t have one, their picture might end up much better than yours. Also, obviously, it potentially means that you don’t have to carry a camera around all day and risk losing/forgetting/having it stolen.

    The last point for Photopass is much more YMMV. When your child is running to give Cinderella a hug for the first time, you don’t have to worry about trying to catch it on film. Instead, you let the photographer worry about it and you just enjoy the moment. (Of course, the flip side is some photographers are better than others and you are putting your trust in another person – I have a hard time with this!)

    Even with the plusses, it’s hard to justify the price. We used it once as part of a photopass share where we paid much less and found it to be a worthwhile supplement to our own camera. At full price, it’s tough to justify.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Fair points. PhotoPass definitely has its places, especially parents who don’t want to live the moments with their kids and photos in situations where lighting will be tough.

      I still am not a fan, but if the budget allows, it’s not an awful purchase.

      • Kate says:

        I will also say, though I too am not typically a fan of paying for Photopass or Memory Maker, I did end up buying it for a trip taken at the start of the month – we were traveling in a group of six adults (two new to WDW, and two who hadn’t been in 10+ years), and split between us all the cost wasn’t prohibitive.

        What sold me on it for that particular trip was that Memory Maker includes all ride photos as well. With six people, we were often split into 2-3 cars on rides, and at $15 a pop for a photo, we made out like bandits on that one. Some of our funniest shots were those ride photos – and we even managed some poses on return rides. It’s not something I’d buy for every trip, but in our particular case it was worth it.

  16. Ashley says:

    Great points, everyone!

    Along the lines of drinking water, I like the idea of buying a 24 pack of bottled water (as we ‘locals’ do when we stay in a resort for a weekend), or sending one to your room via an online grocery shopping service if you’re traveling from out of town. I personally drink the free water from counter service locations, but I’ve read so much about the funny tasting Florida tap water that this is a point worth mentioning. Plus, it’s nice to have a bottle to put the lid on so you can take it on rides with you or toss it in a backpack if need be.

    Also, if you’re staying for four days or more, do everyone in your party a favor and build in some pool/down time. I recommend doing so in the afternoon when the heat and crowds build. If you’re there for more than four days, why not give your party a ‘down day’ to sleep in a bit, eat at the resort, resort hop, enjoy the pools, etc. It’s amazing what just a little down time will do to recharge your batteries. I know several families who hit the pool in the late afternoon/early evening for the kids to swim while the adults enjoy a cocktail or beer poolside before getting ready for dinner and evening park hours. You ARE on vacation, after all!

    Finally, like has been mentioned above, factor in the extra cost and stay on site. Part of the magic is being in the ‘Disney bubble,’ and it really does add a priceless feeling to the entire vacation to be immersed in the World the whole time.

  17. Kimberly says:

    All the suggestions and comments are great – we go every year in December, and I have the pleasure of being the “tour guide” for 16 first-time family members going in May, so yes, I’ve got the Advanced Planning down (especially with a group that size)!

    One suggestion to add to the moleskin (a must), but the Dr Scholl’s roll, but then cut it in approximately band-aid sized strips. Target sells a travel size first aid kit (slightly larger than a deck of cards, in a plastic container), and I fill it with the following…precut moleskin, safety pins, pain reliever, sample packets of sunscreen if you can find them, packets of wet wipes & Shout wipes, hair bands, immodium/pepto/gas-x strips/allergy meds/dramamine or motion sickness patches, listerine strips. And I usually use a hair band to make sure it stays snapped shut in my bag. That way you don’t have to carry all those full-size items around with you (leave them all in a gallon-size Ziploc in your luggage). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use a safety pin – popping blisters (use alcohol wipe or match to “sanitize”), fixing broken bag strap, fixing zipper that the pull-up tab broke off…lots of uses, and used every time!

    Also, for footwear that isn’t the least bit constrictive and THE MOST COMFORTABLE shoes I own (at least 15 pairs), are Fit Flops…they may not be beautiful, but they are more comfortable than athletic shoes, especially for those of us whose feet tend to swell after hours on them or in the heat! I wear them every single day – never had a blister, are like walking on sponges! And my legs aren’t tired at the end of the day!

  18. Amanda Grimm says:

    Throwing this out there in re: rental cars, as it seems to be a bit of an unknown item. There is also a Hertz counter at Shades of Green. We accumulate a ton of Hertz points through business travel, so this discovery saved us hugely when we wanted to spend a day at Harry Potter World, uh, I mean Universal. SoG is a short walk across the street from the Poly, so if you prefer Hertz, just know it’s there and it’s easy to get to.

  19. Marcia says:

    Small tip: If you take the Magical Express from the airport, your luggage will be delivered to your room, but it could be hours after you arrive. So if there’s anything you’ll want or need sooner, keep it with you.

  20. Patrice says:

    I’m returning for my third trip with my boyfriend & my two kids (10, 7) in the last 8 years… this time, though, we are lucky enough to have my dad & his fiance joining us as a “linked” member of our party – and by fate, my friend, along with her husband, mother, and 3 kids (6, 4, and 1) who lives across the country from us will be there the same week, as her husband has a conference for work there. We aren’t staying in the same resort. I’m trying to figure out the best ways to give everyone their time to do what fits them best, as well as some meet up time for everyone to play together…. Any tips?
    Also, if we are all staying in different resorts, can we go play at each of the resorts together?

  21. I love Disney World. I grew up in Southern California and went to Disneyland all the time, but I must admit that Disney World is my favorite. But I have never been to Disneyland France. That is next on the list I guess. I love and admire all things Disney, but nothing more than the fine art. The artists behind Disney are wonderful. I have a shop on Etsy where I put up my own art but I will never be as talented as Walt Disney. I don’t know how I have never seen your blog. But I love it! Thank you for putting in all the time to run such an awesome Disney resource.

  22. Heather M says:

    Thanks for such a great blog. We are taking our soon- to- be 6-year old daughter and two-year old son to DisneyWorld in early May and staying on-site. We just booked our trip (and 3 character lunches) last weekend. It is a surprise for my daughter’s birthday, and will be our first time as a family. (I was last there about 20 years ago as a teenager.). My question is this: we bought a five- day pass but are only there for four full days. (With a free day offer, it was almost the same price as 3-day.) We are not doing the park hopper, but could we feasibly use two tickets in the same day to visit two different parks?

    • jamie says:

      We tried to do that back in 2005 and it was a no go. we visited animal kingdom in the morning and tried to visit magic kingdom in the afternoon using one of our extra days. the rule was one park per day if you didn’t have the park hopper option.

  23. Stephanie says:

    Great tips and totally agree looking back on my first trip as an “adult” in 2007. By your second trip you feel like a pro! A few musts for our family:
    1. Plan out what park you will visit each day
    2. ADR’s are a must, especially on the dining plan
    3. Always get the dining plan
    4. Park hoppers waste time
    5. Downtown Disney is meh and also a waste of time
    6. Pack cheap ponchos
    7. Check rehab schedules
    8. Try to visit different times of the year to get a different experience
    9. Ride the ferry and monorails
    10. Visit a resort or two (Grand Floridian at Christmas!)
    11. Read read read blogs and tips, learn a few “secrets”
    12. Relax and have fun!

  24. daniel says:

    is june a good time to visit DWorld with my 4yr and a 1yr old daughters? any specific tip with those ages?

  25. Matthew says:

    I’m planning a trip to Disney for my family in mid September. We are staying off resort at a time share resort that my parents belong to. I’m looking at tickets right now and I have some questions. Since we are not staying on the resort will our tickets have the FastPass+ feature on them or am I able to purchase the FastPass+ at an additional cost? If it is not included in the ticket prices is it worth the extra cost (if available since we are not staying on the resort)with the time of year that we are going? Our kids are young (8 & 6) and we are also debating if we should purchase the Hopper Pass or not. I have read your blog on this and it sounds as if it is worth the extra money but how often is it with young kids that you are visiting more than one park per day?

  26. Kiki says:

    I disagree about staying off-site. We have a time share at Vistana and it is fabulous. It takes us about 10 minutes to get to most of the parks. As a family of 8 we always drive, so renting a car is not necessary. We save a ton of money just not having to eat out for every single meal. We’ve stayed at the resorts on many occasions and the transportation was spotty and time consuming, so if we stay on site again we’ll definitely plan on driving rather than using the buses.

  27. Shelby Dougan says:

    What lens did you use when shooting Spaceship Earth above?

  28. Heather d says:

    So total newbie question. Are there cubbies at each ride by where you board to put your backpack/other items? I know there are lockers at the front of the park, but I’m wondering about the camera and stuff you carry along. Thanks!!

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