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10 Tips For First Time Disney World Guests

Updated on November 22, 2015
Glenda Motsavage profile image

Glenda has been a Florida Resident for 17 years and delights in publishing travel articles from her journeys throughout the South.

Entrance to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Theme Park
Entrance to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Theme Park

10 Tips For First Time Disney World Guests

So, you've just booked the vacation of a lifetime. You're going to the 'Happiest Place on Earth!' The kiddos can hardly believe it and Dad is already making plans to work overtime for the next six months to pay for it. Walt Disney World, Florida - this is the stuff dreams are made of. There's only one problem; you've never been there and have a ton of questions you wish you could ask Mickey himself.

Well, I'm not the famous Mouse, but perhaps the next best thing. You see, I've been going to Disney World every year since 1976. But, it was an awfully long drive from Pennsylvania, so in November of 2000 I took the plunge and moved right next door to the Disney Theme Parks. (Okay... the Mouse was not the motivation for the move, but he doesn't have to know that!) Can you guess the very first thing we did when we arrived in the Sunshine State? Well, you're almost correct. The DMV was our first stop; becoming a Disney Annual Passholder was actually the second thing we did - but only because we needed a valid Florida license in order to get it! My husband and I have been Passholders ever since, and after a hundred or so visits, we've stopped counting.

One of my favorite things to do at the Disney Parks is to talk to first time visitors. I love giving them tips to make their Disney experience more enjoyable. Certainly, I don't know it all, but I've gained a ton of knowledge over these past 38 years. In this article I will share my Top 10 tips for first-time visitors to Walt Disney World.


# 1 ~ Advance Planning Is Necessary!

At the Walt Disney World Complex you cannot possibly see it all in one visit. Seriously. It's HUGE! It covers 25,000 acres, contains 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, and 24 themed hotels. Do your homework. Decide beforehand what are the most important things you would like to see. Let everyone in the family have a say. Make a priority list and stick to it - everything else will be icing on the cake!

To help you plan, I recommend reading a variety of blogs, searching Pinterest and FaceBook for planning tips, as well as reading 'The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.'

The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World - Reading this will help first-time WDW visitors to minimize any mistakes!

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014

I recommend reading this excellent publication in preparation for your trip. It will help you plan and be better prepared!

 

# 2 ~ You Don't Need The Highest Priced Admission Ticket

We Exchanged Our Plastic Tickets For The New MagicBand!
We Exchanged Our Plastic Tickets For The New MagicBand!

As a seasoned Disney veteran, I strongly recommend that you consider the basic multi-day Pass rather than the Park-Hopper option. Park-Hopping simply means the ability to go from one Park to another during the same day. First of all, the basic Pass will save you money. Secondly, it will save you valuable time. Yes, it could take a lot of time to get from one Park to another. Once you use the free Disney Transportation System a few times you will agree. Whether you choose to transfer by monorail, boat, or bus, the lines can be quite lengthy. The wait time, depending on the time of year, could be 30-60 minutes. Then prior to entering the new Park, you will have to wait in line once again to go through the security check.

I've learned that everything at Disney takes longer than expected. Therefore, planning to do only one Park each day will maximize your vacation time.

Be Our Guest Restaurant Inside Beast's Enchanted Castle - Magic Kingdom
Be Our Guest Restaurant Inside Beast's Enchanted Castle - Magic Kingdom

# 3 ~ Make Advance Dining Reservations

This is a biggy! Whether you upgraded to the Disney Dining Plan as part of your vacation package or not, reservations are vital. (Many first-time visitors erroneously think that because they upgraded to the Dining Plan they can just show up to any restaurant they want. Not so! You are still required to have reservations.) Disney will accept your dining reservation up to 180 days prior to your arrival.

I can assure you the most popular restaurants book up many months in advance. For instance, the one shown in this photo is called 'Be Our Guest Restaurant' located in Fantasyland inside the newly built Beast's Castle. Even booking 6 months early may not allow you to get into this one! On occasion, my hubby and I have been turned away from certain restaurants (for both lunch and dinner) because we failed to plan ahead and make reservations. When you have walked the Parks for many hours and worked up an appetite (and you certainly will!) this is very disappointing. You may have to try several restaurants before finding an available table, which may not occur until after 9:00pm.

# 4 ~ Use Disney's Free FastPass+ System

The New Disney MagicBand Is Available In Several Color Choices!
The New Disney MagicBand Is Available In Several Color Choices!

The FastPass+ is another time-saving option. This is also something you can do from home prior to your trip - up to 60 days in advance. FastPass+ is available via the 'My Disney Experience App' or via kiosks within the Parks. Your selections are stored on the MagicBand and redeemed by swiping it against an RFID reader located at the entrance to your selected attraction. (Recently, Disney replaced our old-fashioned 'plastic' admission tickets with the MagicBand. As you see in the photo, this is conveniently worn on your wrist. Now, we simply swipe it to enter the Parks and also swipe it to enter our FastPass+ attractions. As a brand new MagicBand option, we can now attach a credit card to our account which will be stored in the MagicBand and therefore eliminate the need to carry credit cards while anywhere on Disney property! How super convenient for us, as one year I lost a card inside The Magic Kingdom Park.) You are able to schedule 3 FastPass+ attractions per day.

If you're not familiar with FastPass+, here's how it works. You choose your top 3 must-see attractions or shows and schedule a time-slot in advance. You will have a 2-hour window in which to show up for the attraction; for example, between 1:00 and 3:00. After swiping your MagicBand, you proceed to a special entrance, bypassing those who are waiting in the regular entrance line. Usually, you will not have to wait more than 5 minutes. Most times we used the FastPass+ system, we were able to walk right onto the attraction with no wait time at all. This is where a little pre-planning and a daily itinerary comes in handy.

My Hubby's New MagicBand! (We chose the neutral gray color!)
My Hubby's New MagicBand! (We chose the neutral gray color!)

Do You Like The Concept Of The New Disney MagicBand?

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# 5 ~ Disney PhotoPass Photographers Will Take Pictures For Free!

PhotoPass Photographers are strategically stationed throughout the Disney Theme Parks in front of icons and other photogenic scenery. It's true, taking the pictures are free - but downloading and printing them is not! For example, the Memory Maker package will cost $100.00 or more. BUT... here's what I've learned. These same PhotoPass Photographers will take your picture with your own camera (or cell phone camera). All you have to do is ask!

After Dark In The Park!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cinderella's Castle At Night!  Magic Kingdom ParkUnder the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid Attraction at Magic Kingdom ParkSpaceship Earth (from a distance) in Epcot
Cinderella's Castle At Night!  Magic Kingdom Park
Cinderella's Castle At Night! Magic Kingdom Park
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid Attraction at Magic Kingdom Park
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid Attraction at Magic Kingdom Park
Spaceship Earth (from a distance) in Epcot
Spaceship Earth (from a distance) in Epcot

Have you ever been to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida?

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# 6 ~ Keep It Simple With The Shoes!

Okay... confession time. I've learned this little tip the hard (and painful) way! I love shoes - I don't think a woman can ever have too many. I love shoes with bling, I love shoes with crazy colors, I love designer one-of-a-kind shoes... get the point? I love shoes! But when it comes to Disney, leave the fancy footwear at home. Comfort, not cute, is the unspoken rule.

Once, many years ago, I opted for the 'cute.' Once! By the time I was leaving the Park (it happened to be Epcot), I had taken my shoes off and was walking barefoot back to the car! I had acquired blisters that lasted for weeks. I have never done that again. Now, I wear the oldest, most comfortable shoes that I own. Put your pride aside and pack those 'oldies but goodies!'

At Walt Disney World Your Shoes Have To Be Comfortable... Not Cute!

FitFlop Women's Walkstar 3 Sandal,Black,8 M US
FitFlop Women's Walkstar 3 Sandal,Black,8 M US

This is the type of comfortable shoe I wear at the Disney Parks! Remember... comfort, not cute!

 
My Best Friend, Lucy, with Mary Poppins!  Epcot Theme Park
My Best Friend, Lucy, with Mary Poppins! Epcot Theme Park

# 7 ~ Schedule A Character Meal

This tip may not apply to everyone, but could help those with children. When it comes to Disney Character meet-and-greet sessions the lines can be very, very long - sometimes longer than popular attractions. It's not unusual to wait 30 minutes or more just for one photo opportunity or an autograph from your favorite Disney Character. For example, Disney has added a 'Frozen' meet-and-greet at Epcot in the country of Norway. The wait times are longer than anything else in that Park!

Recently, during a visit to Epcot with my best friend Lucy, she insisted on meeting 'Mary Poppins.' I reluctantly agreed, and we ended up waiting about 40 minutes. Remember, most of the Character meet-and-greets are outdoors... with no shade! A better alternative, in my opinion, is to schedule a Character Meal and have the Characters come to you while you eat. This is an easy way to meet many Characters all at the same time. You can choose between breakfast, lunch or dinner options at various restaurants in the Theme Parks and Disney Hotels. Caution: Character dining options are not cheap, but they are a major time-saver!

# 8 ~ Hydrate To Avoid The Hospital!

Today, as I write this article, it's 95 degrees with the heat index at 105 degrees. I'm sure I do not have to tell you it gets hot in Florida. Dangerously hot! I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to Walt Disney World in the Summer months. Since I'm local and can attend the Parks anytime I wish, I choose to go during the cooler months or coolest times of day. I realize, however, most vacationers do not have that option. I cannot stress to you enough the importance of hydration. Yes, it's true, Disney has its own Hospital, but how many of us build that into our itinerary? At Disney, most of your time is spent either waiting in line in the hot sun or walking from 'A to B' with the sun reflecting off the super-hot pavement. Every day people are carried off on stretchers because of heat-related illnesses.

Be wise and wet your whistle regularly! Here are some little known (and unadvertised) facts about water at Disney. Did you know you are able to bring your own water into the Parks? (Actually, Disney allows you to bring your own food too, but that's even more of a secret!) I recommend bringing at least one bottle for each member of your family. After that, you don't have to pay for water if you're okay with drinking tap water. Most counter service restaurants will give you a cup of water for free. Bottled water costs at least $2.50. They may give you a bit of attitude about this, but Florida Law states that if a company serves food, they must give free water if someone asks.

I also love the idea of a collapsible water bottle. It requires almost no space when packing and is reusable. In addition, I highly recommend bringing some Gatorade G2 Powder Packs (or something equivalent) that are easily added to your water and provide necessary electrolytes for hydration. Another great item for hydration health is the Brita 24-ounce Water Filter Bottle (especially if you're drinking tap water).

Brita 20 Ounce Sport Water Bottle with 1 Filter, BPA Free, Dark Turquoise
Brita 20 Ounce Sport Water Bottle with 1 Filter, BPA Free, Dark Turquoise

Now you can have clean, filtered water where ever you go! This Brita bottle has a replaceable filter built right in.

 

# 9 ~ Pack A Travel Size First Aid Kit

This one is a money-saving tip. Purchase a travel size first aid kit (from your favorite Discount Store). It doesn't have to be much larger than a deck of cards. Then fill it with these invaluable items in advance of your trip: pre-cut moleskin or band-aids (remember those blisters I had?), pain relievers, packets of wet wipes for your skin, packets of Shout wipes for your clothes, safety pins (trust me, you will need this), dramamine (or other motion sickness medication), immodium/pepto/gas-x strips, allergy meds, antacids, and hair bands. Be proactive - these items will be costly to purchase on Disney property if you need them. By bringing this small, fully stocked first aid kit means you do not have to carry all those full-sized items around with you.

Two additional items that will not fit into the kit are an absolute must. Ponchos and Sunscreen! Ponchos because when it rains in Florida... it pours. I mean torrential, tropical-like downpours. Oftentimes, these brief afternoon storms come with little warning. I cannot tell you how often I was at Disney in the rain - unprepared. The ponchos you bring from home will be better quality and far less costly than those available in the Parks with Mickey's name on it. Sunscreen is essential. Remember, you'll be spending a huge amount of time in the hot Florida sun. Even on a cloudy day the sun's ultraviolet rays get through. It breaks my heart every time I see a sunburned baby or child at Disney. We have a saying here in Florida that goes like this: 'You can always tell the locals from the tourists; the tourists are the ones with the sunburns!'

Necessities For Your Disney First Aid Kit!

Coleman Emergency Poncho - 1 Poncho - Assorted colors
Coleman Emergency Poncho - 1 Poncho - Assorted colors

Ponchos are a necessity at the Theme Parks. They fold up nice and small to fit in your pocket, AND… cost less than a dollar if you bring them from home!

 
All Terrain KidSport SPF30 Oxybenzone-Free Natural Sunscreen, Mickey Mouse Packaging, 3-Ounce, Spray
All Terrain KidSport SPF30 Oxybenzone-Free Natural Sunscreen, Mickey Mouse Packaging, 3-Ounce, Spray

Remember to purchase your sunscreen BEFORE arriving at Disney for a much better price. And don't forget to apply it often, especially after sweating or water rides!

 

# 10 ~ Remember, You ARE On Vacation!

Slow Down… (Bench photographed at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival)
Slow Down… (Bench photographed at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival)

Years ago I can remember some of our Disney vacations that didn't feel like a vacation at all. By the time we got back home to Pennsylvania, I felt like I needed a vacation. The whole time we were at Disney World, we would go, go, go. We would try to squeeze in as much as possible, which didn't leave much time for rest. There are boatloads of beautiful benches (like the one at Epcot in this photo) just waiting to be found!

Walt Disney World can be physically exhausting! Make sure you plan for some down-time to recharge your batteries. Spend the afternoon at the hotel pool or water park. Explore some off-the-beaten-path places that Disney properties have to offer. You may be pleasantly surprised with these dazzling diversions. Slow down... you ARE on vacation, after all!

Image Credit

All photos in this article taken by me, Glenda Motsavage, with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150

© 2014 Glenda Motsavage

© 2014 Glenda Motsavage

Do You Have A Recommendation For First Time Disney Guests? Please share your Disney travel tips with our readers!

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    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 19 months ago from The Sunshine State

      Hello aesta1. Happy New Year to you my fellow road warrior! There's only one thing worse than being hot and exhausted at Disney… and that's being hot, HUNGRY, and exhausted. Thank you for confirming the necessity to make advanced dining reservations before mingling with the 'Mouse!' Blessings to you!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Enjoyed reading your tips. Really valuable. I had been there several times be you are right about reservation in restaurants. The first time we were there, we also thought we could just get in. We learned our lesson.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 2 years ago from The Sunshine State

      Okay… I get it. You're really an angel in disguise. God knows we need more of them on this earth! Blessings right back to you…

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear Glenda,

      LOL! You are blessed not only with a wonderful writing talent, but a sharp sense of humor. Swollen head. LOL. But you deserve it.

      And I emant each thing that I said to you.

      Stay in touch with me. God bless you my talented friend.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 2 years ago from The Sunshine State

      Wow! Words fail me right now, Kenneth. Be right back… I need to go get an aspirin for my swollen head…

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Glenda,

      Great read. Loved your lay-out. I hope to take my grandkids to this place very soon. Thank you for sharing this.

      I will tell you the truth. I really love this hub. And here are the reasons why:

      1. This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing work.

      2, I loved the way you worded this hub.

      3. Graphics, superb.

      4. This hub was helpful, informative and very interesting.

      5. Voted Up and all of the choices.

      6. I loved your topic.

      You are certainly a gifted writer. Please keep up the fine work.

      Sincerely,

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 2 years ago from The Sunshine State

      Even as a veteran Disney Passholder, I take my own advice every time I visit the Parks! Thanks, Dr. Bill, for visiting!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Great suggestions. It's been years since we visited, but it looks like it is still as much fun. Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    • michelleart profile image

      Michelle Collins 2 years ago from Florida

      I haven't been to Disney since my girls were small, but now, with my granddaughter 14 months old, looks like we will be heading back in the near future!

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 2 years ago

      We are annual passholders and also homeschoolers so we get to go when the crowds are down and not so hot. Love Disney and you have some wonderful tips.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Rhonda Lytle: I do hope a visit to Disney is in your future... AND... you are never too old to mingle with the Disney Personalities (Characters) - even Grandma's do it (wink, wink!)! Thanks so much for visiting poetvix!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      I've not been to Disney World since my son was a wee one, but sure enjoyed it back then. These are great tips for most any theme park visit.

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 3 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      I have never been but always wanted to go. If I ever do, I'm going to remember these tips especially the time savers. I must admit, I'm too old for it but I would really love to meet some of the characters.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Ruthi: Oh Ruthi, I'm sure you would love all the recent expansions Disney has added since you've been here! Yes, I suppose the 'Tips' could transfer to almost any tourist destination! Thanks, and always appreciate you visiting!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Elsie Hagley: Some of these tips would be valid for non-Disney vacations as well! It's always a 'Happy Day' when you visit kiwinana!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      So very helpful tips here, nicely done. I live in NZ and most likely never get to Disney World but enjoyed reading what you wrote, things I most likely would even think of. Happy Days.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @lbrummer: Yes, you make a great point - the tips listed here work for everyone, not just first-time guests. I do hope you have the opportunity to see Disney someday! Thanks for stopping by!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 3 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      So many great and informative ideas for anyone planning a trip to Disney World. I've never been there, but a couple of my kids and their families have. I'm sure they could have used your tips.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Merrci: Plenty of time there? Oh yes, about 12-15 visits a year! You're absolutely correct in saying the size of WDW can be overwhelming! Proper planning is probably my best piece of advice. I cannot tell you how much heartache families have endured simply because they didn't make advance lunch or dinner reservations. And yes, I always recommend using the FastPass system whenever possible. Thanks for the visit Merrci - always good to see your smiling face!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Merrci: Plenty of time there? Oh yes, about 12-15 visits a year! You're absolutely correct in saying the size of WDW can be overwhelming! Proper planning is probably my best piece of advice. I cannot tell you how much heartache families have endured simply because they didn't make advance lunch or dinner reservations. And yes, I always recommend using the FastPass system whenever possible. Thanks for the visit Merrci - always good to see your smiling face!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Great suggestions and a fun, informative lens! It sounds like you've spent plenty of time there. We haven't been there in decades, but the size of Disney World was overwhelming. The first suggestion to plan is in the right spot. I bet most never know about the reservations and free fast pass. Enjoyed and pinning.