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).
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.
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.
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!