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 September 24, 2023.)
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. Underestimating 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. A common first-timer mistake is assuming Florida weather is perfect or underestimating just how bad it can be.
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. During Florida’s 47 weeks of summer (give or take), you have to account for humidity and heat. This can truly be debilitating, and ‘feels like’ temperatures in the triple digits are possible pretty much any time between April and October.
This type of weather can cut your day short, leading to meltdowns and making midday breaks necessary. Accordingly, we highly recommend dressing appropriately, and planning for whether to interfere with your plans. Arriving early (before it gets really hot), leaving midday for pool or rest time, and returning once the temperatures cool down is smart. It’s unlikely that you’re going to last all day when the temperatures are over 90 degrees.
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. 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.
8. Not Knowing About Virtual Queues
The biggest recently-added ride at EPCOT is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, which is a hybrid roller coaster. This blockbuster attraction opened at Walt Disney World at the start of last summer. Cosmic Rewind is awesome–the best new ride at EPCOT in decades.
Magic Kingdom is home to the biggest and newest ride at Walt Disney World: TRON Lightcycle Run Roller Coaster in Tomorrowland behind Space Mountain. As with Cosmic Rewind, this is the biggest addition to Magic Kingdom in a decade. Neither Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind nor TRON Lightcycle Run offer standby queues!
We see so many confused guests go up to these roller coasters at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT only to be told they can’t ride without a boarding group or purchasing an Individual Lightning Lanes (which can sell out early in the day). These two attractions are likely a big reason why many first-timers take trips to Walt Disney World, as both are central to the company’s marketing campaigns.
But the advertisements don’t mention that you need to get up at 7 am join a virtual queue. Oh yeah, and you also need to be fast, as these VQs can fill up in milliseconds! The end result is that some first-timers cannot experience the thing that caused them to book the vacation to begin with. Ouch.
Suffice to say, you’ll want to consult our Virtual Queue Strategy Guide for TRON Lightcycle Run for speed strategy to improve your chances of success for joining the free virtual queue. Same goes with our How to Ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind & Virtual Queue Speed Strategy (that’s largely redundant to the TRON Lightcycle Run Ride Guide–you really only need to read one or the other).
Selfishly, we prefer virtual queues as knowledge and “skilled” Walt Disney World guests. We ride TRON Lightcycle Run and Cosmic Rewind more than most other headliner attractions because the wait times end up being shorter. But we also recognize that the virtual queue is incredibly unfriendly to first-timers. (Not only that, but the VQs favor repeat visitors and those who might otherwise balk at long standby wait times.)
There’s also a pretty good chance that Moana’s Journey of Water at EPCOT will use a virtual queue when it opens in October 2023.
7. 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. We want to draw your attention to the weeks around a few specific holidays that continue to be underestimated: MLK Day, Presidents’ Day, Mardi Gras, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. The higher crowds around all of these weeks continue to catch Walt Disney World guests by surprise.
Granted, this doesn’t include the important holidays like Antzar Eguna, Namahage, or National Burger Day. And there are actually some holidays that aren’t too bad. This includes pretty much all of the summer ones–in recent years, crowds have not been bad around Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Labor Day. See our list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023 to 2025, which includes a lot of holidays–good and bad.
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.
6. 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.)
5. 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.
4. 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.
3. 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 account for these factors in advance, be flexible, and lower your expectations. All of that will lessen the likelihood of disappointment.
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. If there’s a random hoedown in Frontierland, you stumble upon a pirate band in Adventureland, or your family is having a blast just sitting in Cosmic Ray’s sitting to Sonny Eclipse, don’t pull them away just because the spreadsheet says you should move on to the next thing.
Don’t stop your kids from playing in the Boneyard or Moana’s Journey of Water even if they run over the allotted time for fun. Just remember, you dictate the schedule–the schedule does not dictate your day. Walt Disney World does require planning, but you should never become beholden to a checklist. Sometimes we have the most fun when we toss aside our plans.
BONUS. 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!