Top 10 Disney World First-Timer Mistakes
We’ve all been there: that first trip to Walt Disney World and the inevitable “learning experience” that comes with discovering we’ve made a mistake. If you haven’t been there, it’s not because you’re perfect…it’s that you have been there and you just don’t recognize it. (Updated August 20, 2022.)
That, or because you literally haven’t been there, with there being Walt Disney World, and are planning your first visit. If that’s the case, take some solace in the fact that everyone makes some mistake their first trip. No amount of planning can prevent the inevitable error. On second thought, maybe that’s more disconcerting than it is reassuring. I guess just know that you’re in good company.
This post takes a look at what we feel are the “top” (and by top we don’t necessarily mean “best”…more like most common) mistakes first-timers to Walt Disney World make based on various blog post comments, social media feedback, and more. It’s hardly a scientific top 10 list, but hopefully it provides some good food for thought, nonetheless.
So what are the biggest mistakes first time Walt Disney World visitors make? The answers may SHOCK AND ASTOUND YOU. Well, probably not, but we have to trick you into reading this somehow… 😉
10. Excessive FOMO
Social media has ushered in an ugly new form of keeping up with the Joneses. Between your own friends and the army of wannabe Kardashians showing off their extravagant experiences, it’s easy to get caught up and envious of the fake version of the lives that people present.
In fairness, there’s also a less insidious version of this. Parents see what their friends are doing, all of the endless possibilities for add-ons at Walt Disney World, and want to ensure that their kids’ rite of passage vacation is as special as possible. It’s less jealousy and more a misguided attempt at manufacturing perfection.
When it comes to Walt Disney World, there are so many upcharge offerings to make a “magical” vacation. VIP tours, dessert parties, special events, behind the scenes experiences, private cabanas, photo shoots, floral and cake delivery, even Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. That’s just a partial list–the options are endless, the budgets are limitless.
While many of these can improve a vacation, absolutely none of them are necessary to have a great vacation at Walt Disney World. For one thing, savvy strategy can overcome a lot. For another, it’s important to remember why you’re there in the first place–to spend time with family and friends, and make magical memories that will last a lifetime.
Both of those goals can be accomplished for the base ticket price. It’s impossible to buy your way into a memorable vacation and, frankly, it often backfires. The expectation of perfection creates pressure and stress, which is often the undoing of Walt Disney World visitors.
9. Not Packing for Florida Weather
Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” but I think that is a huge misnomer. In fact, I don’t really know why people flock to the state for its weather. Yeah, it doesn’t snow there and it’s sunny much of the year, but the summers are miserable with humidity.
And, as we cover in our Winter Packing Tips for Walt Disney World, weather fluctuates dramatically in winter and humidity can make the feels like temperature much worse than the temperature readout suggests. Between that and single-day temperatures that can have a 30+ degree swing, the weather in Florida can be rough.
Okay, so the weather is still better than in the vast majority of states, but a common first-timer mistake is assuming Florida weather is perfect. You need to account for the reality of what you might encounter, rather than just assuming it’ll be all sunny days and puffy clouds. In the summer, you have to account for humidity and heat. In the early fall, it’s storm season at Walt Disney World. Late fall through winter and you have temperatures that range from freezing to the 80s, requiring that you pack for a variety of situations.
8. Going During Major Holidays
“Why was [insert holiday name] so crowded?! I heard before that [insert holiday name] usually isn’t busy because everyone is at home doing [insert activity].” We have received virtually this message from people pertaining to Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the Super Bowl (not technically a holiday, but celebrated as such in many households).
If you’re wondering if the parks are busy during a particular holiday, don’t. They are. Some holidays are slightly less busy than others, but all holidays are busier than the norm. Granted, this doesn’t include the important holidays like Antzar Eguna, Namahage, or National Burger Day. However, it does include every single federal holiday (even ones like Veterans’ Day are shockingly busy) as well as school breaks in the South (like Mardi Gras).
Now, this isn’t to say that you will have an awful experience if you go during a holiday. To the contrary, we actually like visiting around certain holidays. Longer park hours and a certain ambiance to the parks can make for an enjoyable experience. With that said, there’s no way on earth I would ever have wanted to take my first trip during a major holiday. It would have been overwhelming, and the potential for it being my last trip would have been too great.
7. Eating Burgers, Hot Dogs, and Pizza
Theme park food has a reputation for being uninspired and overpriced. Like sporting events and other entertainment venues, parks often do the bare minimum, realizing they have a captive audience that will simply have to eat during their visit.
This is not necessarily the case at Walt Disney World. There are unquestionably some basic fast food places that phone it in as they feed the masses hot dogs and pizza both so suspect that I am hesitant to categorize them as “food.” Conversely, there are also some really intriguing and unique dining options at Walt Disney World that are quite good. Don’t go for the low-hanging, “safe” fruit.
Try the restaurants that look interesting, and be rewarded. This also helps from a planning perspective–the more ambitious the restaurant’s cuisine, the less popular or busy it tends to be. (In other words, popularity is a terrible barometer of food quality when it comes to Walt Disney World dining.)
6. Sleeping In
The first 2 hours the parks are open are going to be the most productive hours of your day. Getting up at the crack of dawn and being to the parks early doesn’t jive with the notion of relaxing and unwinding on vacation, but the simple reality is that you’d be better off showing up for the first 2 hours and last 2 hours and skipping the (roughly) 8 hours in between than you would by showing up 2 hours late, doing those 8 hours in the middle of the day, and leaving 2 hours before park closing.
If relaxation on your vacation is important, take a break in the middle of the day to go back to your hotel and nap or enjoy the pool. You really benefit greatly from being in the parks right at rope drop, though. Likewise, crowds are lightest again at the end of the night (and the atmosphere then is unbeatable).
Savvy standby strategy beats buying Genie+ and Lightning Lanes most of the time! From Early Entry to regular rope drop to Extended Evening Hours, you really come out ahead by arriving early or staying late. These are the simpler and straightforward ways to beat the crowd, requiring less (or no!) screen time and being infinitely less frustrating that Genie Plus.
This is Walt Disney World 101. Yet, it’s probably the most common mistake first-timers make.
5. Not Allowing Enough Time for Transit
Walt Disney World’s transportation system makes the metro Detroit bus system look like the pinnacle of efficiency. Buses take convoluted routes, make too many stops, and generally follow a perplexing “schedule”, all of which means it could take you up to an hour to get from your hotel room door to a park. Want to go from hotel to hotel? Good luck!
First-timers (or any logical human, for that matter) might assume that it would behoove Walt Disney World to have an incredibly efficient transportation system, as time lost in commute is time that is not spent in the parks. Instead of waiting for that bus, guests could be spending time–and money–in gift shops or restaurants. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this is not the case. Transportation–particularly the buses–is inefficient, and it’ll take you longer than you expect to get anywhere.
Fortunately, we have a resources that will help. Our Time Saving Walt Disney World Transportation Tips post has some “shortcuts” that can save time.
4. Buying the Wrong Tickets
Walt Disney World tickets are highly customizable, which is both a good and bad thing. On the downside, if you haven’t done your research and are prone to being upsold on things, you might end up purchasing more than you need. On the upside, if you have done your research, you can pay for only the options that you really need, passing on extras you likely won’t use.
For example, you might be able to use the Park Hopper Plus Option to extend your trip. You might be able to get away with no Park Hopper if you have small kids. You may find that one person in your party buying an Annual Pass is worth it for the discounts. There is a lot to consider, and no one size fits all solution. We cover the possibilities, pros and cons of each, and offer some recommendations in our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. That’s a great place to start before purchasing your park tickets.
If you’ve been a Disney fan long enough, you’ve invariably heard from a friend or colleague who returned from their first trip and had an awful time. Upon probing a bit, usually this is self-inflicted, and the result of under-planning. Did they make Advance Dining Reservations? Nope. Have a plan of attack? Nada. Get up early or stay out late? Nah. The questions and answers continue in that same fashion (with “what’s that?” often replacing the variants of “no”).
People lament the ‘death of spontaneity’ when it comes to a Walt Disney World vacation, and to some extent, I agree. There’s a lot that it’s imperative to know before you go, and that’s in large part why sites like this exist in the first place. However, I visit a lot of non-Disney destinations, and no matter where you go, you will always (ALWAYS!) come out ahead by planning. I can think of literally no location I have ever been that does not benefit greatly from research and planning.
When it comes to Walt Disney World, you need to know some basics about the place before you go to make the most of your time. You also need to make some plans and reservations prior to arrival. A good starting place for learning the basics is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide, which is comprehensive.
Alternatively or in addition to that, if you’re overwhelmed or simply don’t want to invest the time necessary to planning the trip, and would like the assistance from a professional, click here to get a quote from a no-fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They get their commission from Disney, so there is no charge to you for them to book your trip, help you plan, etc.
As paradoxical as these last two entries might seem, the idea here is that you need to find the happy medium. Just as showing up without any plan can lead to a bad experience, so too can planning everything down to the minute or even hour. We cover our ‘planned spontaneity philosophy’ for visiting in our Being Spontaneous at Walt Disney World post.
The problem with a planning binder or minute by minute itinerary is that it sets unrealistic expectations, especially for first timers, and does not allow for spontaneity. If you plan a trip checklist style with 20 things to “accomplish” in a given day, that’s a recipe for disappointment. The practical realities of Florida heat, navigating crowds, or other unplanned variables mean you will almost always accomplish less than expected. And that’s okay–you’ll still have a lot of fun in the process!
It’s better to factor in these variables, be flexible, and lower your expectations. Likewise, if you don’t plan for some spontaneity (another contradiction in terms), you might be reluctant to avail yourself of an opportunity for unplanned fun because it doesn’t fit neatly into your schedule. Walt Disney World does require planning, but you should never become a slave to a checklist or plan. Sometimes we have the most fun when we toss aside our plans.
1. Skipping Country Bear Jamboree
This isn’t just here to underscore my love for Country Bear Jamboree. It’s also here to illustrate the point that tastes absolutely do vary, and you shouldn’t base your itinerary on the preferences of others. I know this advice is somewhat at odds with the premise of an opinion-heavy blog like this one, but the last thing you should do is trust my advice. (Except right now, when I’m telling you not to trust my other advice.)
If you spend enough time on any Disney forums, you will invariably encounter people who love and hate literally every attraction (yes, there are even fans of TriceraTop Spin–like the Great North American Snipe, they are a rare creature, but they do exist). I am a man with exquisite tastes in many things. You know that, I know that. But uh, not a lot a lot of things; a few things. Yet, I find I am sometimes in the minority when it comes to my opinions on certain Walt Disney World attractions.
There’s a good chance you might find yourself liking things others don’t–or disliking things others love. Walt Disney World Park Itineraries can be useful, to be sure, but you also have to account for your personal preferences or be quick to dismiss things out of hand on the basis of what random strangers think about them.
I think that about covers it for the “top” mistakes first timers make when visiting Walt Disney World. Now, there are no shortage of possible mistakes…this is really just the tip of the iceberg. So, if you don’t mind sharing some of the mistakes you or a “friend” have made when visiting Walt Disney World, please share them in the comments. Remember, your learning experience could help someone else avoid running into the same problem. Feel free to change the names to protect the innocent.
If you are planning a first trip to Walt Disney World, make sure to check out our Disney Tips & Tricks page for a lot of helpful tips to outsmart the masses. Also check out our dining reviews to find the best restaurants and our trip planning posts to figure out what to pack, where to buy Walt Disney World tickets to save money, which discounts to look for, and all the other ins and outs of a trip to Walt Disney World, all of which are covered extensively in our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
Did you make any mistakes before your first trip to Walt Disney World? Planning your first trip now and wondering how to avoid some specific common mistakes? Any tips of your own to add? Please share any of your own stories or questions you have in the comments below!
I laughed so loudly when I got to number one that I woke my dog up. One of the reasons I am so well prepared for my upcoming trip is that I never skip reading your blog because I know how funny it’s going to be. Thank you!
My husband and I took our kids (then 9 and 6) on their first trip to Disney World in June 2021. It was also my first time back in 20 years and my husband’s first time back since he was 2! Covid restrictions were still in place, and we didn’t really know what to expect. With the help of our Disney planner and this blog (thanks, Tom!), we prepared the best we could and kept our expectations low. In my opinion, super high expectations lead to nothing but disappointment. Let me tell you, we had the BEST vacation! Yes, we got rained on every day. Yes, we had to wait in line some but not nearly like what I imagined. We rode every ride we wanted and were able to score all our ADRs we wanted though not necessarily at the exact times we wanted. Now we’re heading back in November 2022 and looking forward to Ratatouille, Guardians of the Galaxy, and fireworks! Proper planning and realistic expectations made our first trip a success.
I grew up with Disney World and have been so many times — probably more than 50 — but this summer was the first time I’ve had a chance to go with just my partner. Previously I’d always been with grandparents, parents, my own three kids, vacationing with a whole other family, etc. It seemed like a magical opportunity to navigate just the two of us, and I took that opportunity to cram in more “grown-up” activities plus a bunch of extras I’d never done before. On a 2 1/2 day trip we:
Spent an evening with Yeeha Bob
Went to Hoop De Doo Musical Review
Saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Eat to the Beat
Went to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto
Sampled nearly everything worth while (mostly based on this blog’s assessments!) at Epcot’s Food & Wine festival
Met a local friend for brunch at Disney Springs
Took my parents to dinner at the Boardwalk
Did a split stay at Port Orleans and Beach Club
Pool time (duh)!
PLUS we did two pretty full days in the parks (AK & Epcot)!
We did have a lot of fun, but we agreed that we should never ever do that again. Even with taking a hotel break in the middle of the day, between Virtual Queue return time at Cosmic Rewind and Early Entry agendas and trying to maximize our snacking opportunities I managed to walk ELEVEN MILES for the Epcot day. We were so dead after those three days!!
(My kids would never put up with that abuse but my partner did (he’s kind of the greatest). So now I know not to trust him to be the voice of reason, which leaves … no one, since clearly I’M not likely to gain any sense of self-control when it comes to Disney visits.)
My grandson & I are going to WDW the first week of December. This will be my 11th trip to WDW but this will be his first trip to WDW. I have learned from previous mistakes made over time. The last two visits I have learned to do Magic Kingdom twice during my visit. So what I do is just book a 4 day park visit and have one free day to do resort hopping, shopping and book a character meal at the Contemporary on our 5th day. I’m not a big fan of Disney Hollywood Studios. So I don’t do that park. Not really a whole lot to do there. The last time we went to DHS. We did some rides and then found ourselves just walking around in circles until our meal at the Brown Derby. Then another long wait til Fantasmic. Since Disney has taken away so much at DHS. I don’t care to ever step foot in the park. And here is the topper. Every single time I was in that park. It would rain. Monsoon rain too. I kid you not. But anyway, I’ve learned to do Magic Kingdom twice. I do one half of the park one day and do the other half the next day and stay for the Castle show on one of those night. This way we are not so exhausted at the end of the day. Magic Kingdom can be overwhelming because there so much to do there. This way taking my grandson who is 13 years old will get to experience all that the Magic Kingdom can offer. Also EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I always do Magic KIngdom last because it is the best park ever. Save the best for last I always say.
I wanted to add for a first timer. Do research on the parks online and know what to expect before booking. Read blogs from real people who have a handle of the parks. Overtime this has helped me prepare for my next visit. There’s nothing more disappointing then spending high dollars on a Disney Vacation and find yourself not planning out your trip as you would expected to be. It takes careful planning and time to get the most out of your Disney Vacation.
At 13 you may want to find out if he is a big Star Wars fan. Because if he is then he would love Galaxys Edge in Hollywood Studios. Was our favorite part of our vacation.
He’s not a Star war fan. Already asked him about that. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t reserve a day for DHS. And he is not into coaster rides. At least the extreme ones.
ROPE DROP, ROPE DROP! Can’t say it enough. We do Disney every year at Christmas without problems by utilizing this simple trick. The early bird gets it all at Disney. You want to be headed back to your hotel room when the sleepyheads are headed out. Nap shower and head out for dinner and round two.
DOn’t bring an engagement ring with you unless you’re REALLY sure you want to get married. If you’re on the fence and they find it, you’ll be pretty lonely on Splash Mountain.
we love triceratops spin or as the grandkids call it, “Dumbosaurus”.
And we love bear jamboree.
so what does that say about us?
Biggest mistake I ever made was on arrival day – we went to AK on the Kali River Rapid ride, got soaked and couldn’t navigate our way back to our room at Coronado AT ALL. We now had to change and we’re running late for dinner. Then we stupidly thought we could catch a bus to AK Lodge from Coronado – wrong! Didn’t realize we had to go to a park to catch a bus to AK Lodge. Luckily, they were kind enough to hold our reservation. The lesson? Just do a counter service at the park you’re at on arrival day or go back to the resort and do a counter service there. Keep it simple on arrival day!
I absolutely agree with number one as some of my favourite rides/experiences like Its A Small World, TTA, Carousel of Progress, Country Bear Jambouree, and Living With The Land to name a few are dismissed out of hand by many but I love them and will ride/experience them multiple times on a trip. The obverse however is also true. The recommendation that you absolutely must try something because it it the best ride ever should also be taken with a grain of salt. My adult daughter and I recently visited Disneyland and a ride we had avoided up to now was Tower of Terror however as we love all things Marvel and because of so many rave reviews we decided to give Guardians of the Galaxy a try, even though we had always avoided it before because we knew our thrill capacity and had always thought it would be too intense. Well we should have listened to our gut because our gut did not come away from this ride in a great state. We had the worst experience we have ever had on any ride ever, and were both praying for the damn thing to be over and done with so we could get the heck out of there. I actually felt quite panic stricken as after the first drop I realised that I was now stuck on this ride and had no way of getting out and I was terrified the whole time. I love Big Thunder, Splash and Space Mountain but you will never get me on an inversion coaster no matter how smooth or “amazing” it is as I know that that type of ride is not me. My take on this is know yourself, be prepared to give things a go for yourself but also read thoroughly about rides before attempting them and never second guess your instincts that a ride might not be for you just because others think it is amazing. My life lesson learned thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy.
I absolutely agree with both the over- and under-planning pitfalls. (and I also LOL-ed at the last one.) The last trip we took — which was our third; we should have known better — it was the pinnacle of overplanning. I had not stopped to think that if we have a late-ish dinner reservation, and have to make it back from the park and walk to our room (Little Mermaid — no small walk), and get two kids and two adults ready for bed, and get two kids and two adults up and out in the morning, and allow time for transportation … it’s not a good time for an early-morning anything if you hope to get any sleep at all. In other words, stagger things. Try to minimize late night/early morning turnarounds. Which most people could figure out on their own, but not us, I guess. … Still better than the first time we visited, though, when we actually figured, nah, no need to get a meal before we get to the park! (which was about lunchtime due to a transportation situation out of our control) We can just as quickly, easily and cheaply grab a meal there! D-oh. Hilarious error in judgment. (Looking at you, Casey’s Corner.)
#10 and #2 are spot on and needed to be said!! I’m not surprised that it was by you. I returned last week and was immediately struck by the sheer volume of Loungefly bags and group t-shirts. People are just lemmings. I stayed away from all the high pressure drama you so eloquently penned. I encourage families to set expectations for their children so they don’t become overwhelmed-which I saw too much of. Thos is a stellar article!
I have been to Disney World with my children as they were growing up and now recently with my grandchildren. It is impossible to see everything in 3 to 4 days at Disney World. Racing through the parks in an attempt to do so is not a good idea. When my kids were young we would get to each park at least a half-hour before it opened and we would not leave until after the evening shows that each park has such as the fireworks around the castle in the Magic Kingdom. When I went last year with the grandchildren, we did not make it to one of the evening performances as we were simply far too tired and grandpa had aged. Take the time to enjoy the sitdown performances and to watch the crowds as you are eating lunch or having an ice cream.
The Country Bear Jamboree is THE best attraction in the whole of Orlando. Anyone who misses is, misses the point of Disney.