Walt Disney World might be “the most magical place on earth” but it’s also a vacation with a lot of moving parts and lingo to learn. Planning your trip can be daunting. To help make sure your first-ever trip to the magic goes as smoothly as possible, here are six things you should never do on your first visit to Walt Disney World.
By Jill Robbins
1. Wing it
If you are the type of traveler that believes planning your vacation down to the hour spoils the fun, you will need to adjust your mindset for your first trip to Walt Disney World. Whether it’s your first or 101st trip, Walt Disney World isn’t compatible with the “wing it” philosophy.
A Walt Disney World vacation is fun and magical but, for first-timers, navigating ticket purchases, park reservations, transportation, Genie+, and the parks themselves requires research and planning. Some locations are conducive to just showing up and figuring it out on the fly, but Walt Disney World is not one of them.
2. Try to do it all
With four theme parks, two water parks, an entertainment district (Disney Springs), and 25+ resort hotels, Walt Disney World is roughly the size of San Francisco. A first-time visit will likely be about four days to a week. It’s impossible to do and see everything in this amount of time, especially if you have children in your group.
Don’t let fear of missing out dictate how you spend your vacation days (and dollars.) Get rid of the “Let’s crush it” mentality and make a list of attractions and experiences that are a priority. Don’t try to see everything Disney World has to offer in one visit. Ditto for trying to pack too much into one day.
3. Be unprepared for lots of walking
A day at Walt Disney World involves a lot of walking, and when you’re not walking you’re standing in line for rides and character meets. Plan for (or schedule) rest breaks and make sure your footwear is up to the challenge.
If you plan to do an open-to-close kind of day, make sure you’re scheduling some downtime (or at least some get-off-your-feet time.) If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel (often referred to as “on property”) then consider a midday pool or nap break. If you’re committed to staying in the parks all day, make a dining reservation in the park you’ll be visiting or at a table service restaurant in a nearby resort.
The temptation to plan your outfits for head-to-toe picture perfection may be strong, but make sure you pack comfortable, broken-in shoes. If you’re going to be doing several days in the parks, pack two pairs of “park shoes” per person and switch shoes each day.
4. Stay off property
Walt Disney World Resort has more than 25 hotels. Disney hotels are referred to as “on property” while other hotels in the Orlando area close to the parks are referred to as “off property.” Staying in a hotel owned and operated by Disney has several advantages, such as included transportation to and from the parks and early entry (30 minutes) into the theme parks. The Walt Disney World Resort hotels are located at varying distances from the parks, but, in general, you’ll spend less time traveling between your resort hotel and the parks if you stay on property.
Walt Disney World Resort hotels are designed around a theme and tell a story that keeps guests immersed in the magic. Resorts are at three price levels – Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Deluxe-level resorts also have Deluxe Villas, which are apartment-like accommodations designed for Disney Vacation Club members (often available for non-members to book.) Guests staying in Deluxe-level resorts and Deluxe Villas can enjoy extended theme park hours at select parks.
Although first-time Walt Disney World guests certainly can have a satisfactory stay at an off-property hotel, the Walt Disney World Resort hotels are closer to the parks and offer that feeling of continued immersion inside what some refer to as the “Disney bubble.” Getting to and from the parks is faster and taking a midday break is more convenient when travel time is minimal.
5. Not planning a resort day or a non-park day
Walt Disney World vacations are not usually known for being restful. Too many long park days back-to-back might leave a first-time visitor feeling burned out or grouchy. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, dedicate a day to enjoying the themed pools and onsite restaurants and shops.
Aside from exploring the resorts (or hopping on Disney transportation and checking out a neighboring resort) giving yourself a day at the midpoint to sleep in or turn in early can recharge you for the rest of your vacation. Disney Springs has lots of options for shopping, dining, and entertainment. If you’ve got full park days scheduled it can be hard to find time to squeeze in Disney Springs.
6. Buy park tickets for arrival day
If you’re taking an early flight into Orlando and plan to do a quick bag drop at the hotel (Guest Services will hold your belongings until your room is ready) and then head straight to the parks, take a minute to talk yourself through all the things that could potentially go wrong.
If your flight is delayed or canceled, you won’t get your money’s worth out of a park ticket, or even lose it altogether. Give yourself time to settle in, learn the lay of the land, and go over your schedule for the coming days. Your first day is a great day to reconfirm that all your plans are listed in My Disney Experience, that you have the necessary apps on your phone and that they’re working properly, and to rest up for your first big park day.
Here’s to your first-ever visit to Walt Disney World being full of magic and wonder – have fun!