Planning a magical trip to the happiest place on Earth? Here’s the Best Disney World Tips for First Timers!
Walt Disney World is an amazingly awesome place to vacation. But, there’s a lot you need to know if it’s your first time visiting!
First of all, Walt Disney World is massive in size. It is made up of 4 different parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Plus there’s also 2 water parks on property as well as Disney Springs, which is a shopping/dining district for Disney outside of the parks.
I absolutely recommend visiting all 4 parks. Each one has their own amazing energy, vibe and atmosphere. To break it down quickly….
Walt Disney World Basics
Magic Kingdom is home to Cinderella’s Castle. You’ll find 4 awesome roller coasters including Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railway, Space Mountain, and the new Tron Lightcycle coaster. Plus, there’s classic rides like Dumbo, Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Magic Kingdom has the most rides and attractions of all the parks.
Epcot is known for it’s World Showcase where you can experience many different cultures and foods in a fun immersive way. This park is not just for grownups! There’s amazing rides there as well including Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Soarin’, Test Track, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and of course more!
Hollywood Studios is home to Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. Both lands have amazing rides plus you’ll also find the Tower of Terror, Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway, and more at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Studios is also home to some awesome shows as well including the Indiana Jones Stuntspectacular and a Live version of Beauty and the Beast!
Animal Kingdom is a fun mix of immersive experiences. To me, it’s as though Disney mixed the World Showcase cultural atmosphere with a zoo. There’s nothing like it! Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to the world of Pandora which includes Avatar Flight of Passage and Navi River Journey. Plus you won’t want to miss amazing rides like Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, and Expedition Everest.
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Planning your Disney Vacation
Disney Vacations take a lot more planning than your average family vacation. You can’t really wing it. There’s park tickets that need to be bought before you arrive. You will also need to make park reservations as well.
The best place to start your planning is checking out the Crowd Calendar over at Undercover Tourist. This calendar will help you pick the best time of the year to visit the parks as well as which park to visit.
If you want a little more information on when to visit – check out my article on Best Days of the Week to Visit Disney.
You’ll also want to explore your hotel options. There’s a big choice to be made whether you want to stay on-site, at a Disney Hotel. Or if you want to save some money and stay off-site.
Saving money is always good, but the Disney Hotels do have perks (which are ever changing). Sometimes you can get early access to the parks or later hours at the theme parks. There’s free transportation to and from the parks via bus or Skyliner (if you stay in a resort with Skyliner access). You can get earlier access to reservations for various things as well.
For our family, staying on-site helps us get into the parks earlier and quicker. There’s no traffic to worry about and we love using the Skyliner (a gondola lift system that runs between certain hotels and Epcot and Hollywood Studios). It’s the absolute best way to travel!
My Disney Experience App
Disney has a phone app. And…. you’re going to need it.
You’ll definitely want to start using the My Disney Experience App before your trip so that you can figure out how it all works.
This app allows you to do multiple things.
You can check the wait times on various rides and it can act as your park map.
Also, you can mobile order food to save time at quick service restaurants.
In addition, you can make Genie+ selections and Individual Lightning Lane reservations as well.
It’s a great idea to get used to using the app before your trip, so that you know exactly how it works.
Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
Genie+ replaced the old FassPass system. The Genie+ Lightning Lanes system allows you to pay a fee for each person in your group (per day) to get in a shorter line for the rides.
There are parameters and rules for this, like you can’t use it for certain rides and you can only use it once at each ride per day. You have to make a reservation on the My Disney Experience app for your Disney Genie + time as well.
Our family of 6 with young kids has found Genie+ to be worth it on most days and in most parks. I would say it’s best used at Magic Kingdom since there are so many rides there. It makes less sense to buy it for a park with less rides like Animal Kingdom.
Genie+ Lightning Lanes include over 40 attractions at the parks. However, there are some premium rides that are excluded from this list. Those premium rides also have a shorter line you can pay for – called an Individual Lightning Lane.
So, yes….there’s 2 paid programs. With confusingly similar names!
Genie+ Lightning Lanes = over 40 attractions – doesn’t include certain premium rides.
Individual Lightning Lanes = Premium rides
You might be wondering when can guests make Genie+ Lightning Lane selections? Guests who have purchased Genie+ can choose their first selection at 7:00 am on the day they will visit the park.
To buy individual Lightning Lanes for premium rides, guests who are staying on-site at a Disney Resort hotel can make their first purchase at 7:00 am on the day they visit that park. All others who are staying off-site can make their first purchase at park opening.
The pricing and availability can vary depending on the date of your visit, which park you are at and the attraction. Supply and Demand.
If you want to explore more options – be sure to check out How to Avoid Lines at Disney World.
Advance Dining Reservations
If you’d like to experience one of the amazing sit-down restaurants at Disney World, you will need to make a dining reservation. These reservations open up 60 days in advance and some of them fill up very quickly. You can make your reservations here, or on the My Disney Experience App.
You can find some of my personal favorite Disney Restaurants with gluten free options here.
Can’t get a reservation? No worries! There’s tons of amazing options in the quick service restaurants too. You don’t need a reservation for those and there’s plenty of great options!
We usually plan at least 2 fun sit-down meals during our trip. It’s a great way to cool off and refuel for the rest of your day.
Disney World is Huge
Walt Disney World properties (including the parks, resorts, etc.) sits on about 27,520 acres. That’s 43 square miles.
Even if you are staying on Disney property you will want to make sure you allow plenty of time for travel. So, if you want to be at the parks right when they open, you will need to plan ahead. If you want to beat those crowds and get to the park early – check out this article on When is Rope Drop?
And of course, since the parks are huge, you will be doing a lot of walking. Plan to wear comfortable shoes (ones that you have broken in and worn for at least a few weeks.) Make sure your little ones have great walking shoes as well. Here’s the Best Shoes for Kids for Disney World.
You might hear a lot about Magic Bands and Magic Band+ as you prepare for your first visit to the parks. Magic Bands are not necessary, but they are handy.
MagicBands hold your park ticket information as well as act as a room key for your Disney hotel room. You can also attach credit card payment information to your Magicband and pay for things with it.
We find that it’s a good idea to get a Magic Band if you intend to utilize the Genie+ Lightning Lanes. Otherwise, you are getting out a card to swipe or your phone – each time you pass through a ride queue. So, it’s not necessary – but it’s handy to have.
Magic Band+ is the new fancy version of MagicBand. Basically it is more expensive, but it interacts with various items in the parks. It lights up vibrates and interacts at various shows and displays.
It’s hard to say if it’s worth the additional cost of a normal Magic Band. The item is new, so it will be interesting to see how Disney incorporates it into the parks.
Character Meals and Character Meets
If you have little ones they are going to love meeting their favorite Disney Characters. There’s plenty of character meet and greets throughout the parks, however just like the rides, you are going to possibly wait in long lines depending on the character and of course, how busy the park is that day.
We have 4 young children, so we have found that a great way to meet Mickey Mouse and some of the other popular characters is to visit them during “down times” in the day. We watch the wait times and if we are nearby a character when the line is short, we jump on the opportunity!
Another great way to meet characters on your Disney trip is do a Character meal. There’s plenty of dining options that include Character Meet and Greets. You will pay a premium fee for the meal – it’s usually a fixed price menu, but overall it’s usually worth it.
You will save time as the Characters will come by your table and visit your kids as you eat. There’s tons of options for character meals. You might want to choose based on favorite characters OR on where you want to dine!
Some of the most popular restaurants are Cinderella’s Royal Table – where you actually get to dine in Cinderella’s Castle and meet princesses. Another popular Character meal is Be Our Guest – meet the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and explore the Beast’s palace. If you really just want to meet Mickey Mouse – be sure to check out Chef Mickey’s. It’s sure to be a great time!
More Tips for your First Trip
Keep in mind there are ride height requirements for some rides. You will want to measure your child before your trip to see what they are able to ride.
This will help their expectations go well at the parks as they won’t be disappointed last minute by not being tall enough to ride something they were anticipating. You can find all of the Ride Height Requirements for Disney Parks here.
Want to learn all about the rides at Disney? You can find the Best Rides for Toddlers here.
Find all the Best Rides at Animal Kingdom here (and which ones to skip!)
Plus you can find more information on rides in our Disney section.
Also, if you or your child tends to get motions sickness, you will want to be prepared for that. Here’s a list of the rides that could potentially give you motion sickness and what to pack in your bag to avoid feeling nauseous: Tips to Avoid Motion Sickness.
Lastly, be sure to check out our Ultimate Disney Magic Kingdom Tips guide. You’ll find all of our best tips for having the most magical trip!