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8 Absolutely Essential Disney World Tips for First Timers

A Disney vacation is often a splurge, and if you are planning a family vacation to Walt Disney World, there are some things you need to know. While I have lots of in-depth tips on this site, it can be overwhelming to Disney World first-timers. To make it easier for first-time visitors to Walt Disney World, I created this post with tips for first-time Disney guests as a starting point – although these Disney tips are great for any guest.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post (including on the map) may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. I am a past member of the planDisney panel and have gone on some complimentary press trips in the past. All opinions are my own.

Save money on your Walt Disney World theme park tickets by booking through Get Away Today. They offer vacation packages as well as individual ticket sales. A Disney travel agent doesn’t charge guests an extra commission and can help you find deals.

Magic Kingdom train station (Disney tips blog post)

8 Absolutely Essential Disney World Tips for First Timers

You can’t just wing it when it comes to planning a Walt Disney World vacation

You can try to go with no plans (or last-minute plans), but you’ll probably be disappointed, especially for a first trip. To best enjoy your Walt Disney World vacation, I’d definitely recommend doing some research well in advance (at least 6 months in advance).

Pick up a guidebook, ask some questions of friends, study blogs (like this one), and ask questions on the planDisney Panel (where I was a panelist).

For our very first Walt Disney World vacation as a family, I did a combination of these things. I talked to friends with kids that were the same age as mine, as well as people on message boards. Guidebooks and blogs were also a huge help. Keep in mind that things change frequently so you’ll want to make sure the information that you have is the most current.

One thing you will find with Disney World is that there is no lack of resources. In addition, most people who frequently visit love talking about the four theme parks, two water parks, restaurants, and resorts, so you’ll get lots of information to help if you want it. Remember that everyone’s experience is different, and it’s always nice to get multiple opinions.

Currently, you’ll have to have a park reservation to enter a park each day in addition to park tickets. You’ll want to do that as early as possible so you don’t miss out. If you have a park hopper option on your ticket, you only need the reservation for the first park and then can hop, based on availability, at 2pm (which may be different by day).

In addition, you may be wondering when is the best time to take a Walt Disney World vacation. Undercover Tourist offers a crowd calendar that can be helpful in figuring out a good time to have your first visit to the Walt Disney World resort if you are hoping to avoid the largest crowds.

Yacht Club exterior

Staying on Walt Disney World property is usually the easiest

There are lots of hotels, guest homes, motels, and resorts in the greater Orlando area. But it’s often much easier to stay on Disney property, especially for a first-time visit.

Convenience is one of the big benefits, but there are others. In addition, it’s easy to use Disney transportation to get around (this is free transportation, so you won’t have to rent a car until you want to). The Disney Resorts are heavily themed, so staying there adds to your vacation.

Disney hotel guests also can take advantage of early theme park entry. You’ll be able to enter the parks 30 minutes before outside guests. It’s a great way to avoid long lines for the most popular attractions. Those traveling with young children may want to take advantage of “rope drop” (when the park opens and things are less crowded).

If you are staying at a Disney Deluxe Resort, there are Extended Evening Theme Park Hours for very limited days. These evening hours can be a great way to experience the attractions with fewer crowds, but young children may find it to be too late. It can be a very full day unless you go back to your hotel room for a break in between.

Be Our Guest dining room

Make Advance Dining Reservations well in advance

Did you know that you can (and should) make advance dining reservations for Disney table service restaurants in advance? While it can be difficult to think about when and where you want to eat well before your vacation, it’s important if you have specific places you want to go to.

Reservations for the most popular places (especially the princess character meals and Be Our Guest) do book up VERY early. If you are traveling over a busy time, it’s especially important. Make those reservations and then plan around them.

You do not need reservations for quick service locations, so those are a great option when you aren’t exactly sure which park you’ll be in. You can save time by mobile ordering through the app when you are ready to eat.

Make a Plan for Your Days

While there is no longer a need to make FastPass+ reservations in advance, you’ll still want to establish a plan for your days. Genie+, the replacement for FastPass+, is a paid program that you can purchase on the day of your visit.

Genie+ allows you to go through the lightning lane which is typically a much shorter wait time. Individual Lightning Lane is a separate paid program that is offered for the most popular rides at an additional charge.

Having a basic plan is a good idea to maximize your day, regardless of whether or not you purchase the upgrade. The free Disney Genie program on the app can help you do that. Set your preferences and it will tell you the best time to go to each attraction.

If you don’t use Genie+ or individual lightning lane, some rides offer a single-rider line. This can be a great way to save time but keep in mind that you will be split up and won’t be able to ride with them.

Spaceship earth from a distance

All 4 Walt Disney World theme parks are worth a visit with kids

Often first-timers to Walt Disney World think it’s not worth going to all of the parks. EPCOT, especially, has a reputation as being a more “adult” themed park. But my kids love all four parks and we always try to visit all of them.

The best way to visit all four of the theme parks is to purchase the park hopper option on your Disney park tickets. That way, you’ll be able to visit more than one park per day (currently after 2 pm on the day of your visit).

During our family vacations, we always visit two parks per day. When the kids were younger, we took a break around lunchtime and then went to a second park later in the afternoon.

You will be doing a LOT of walking during your Walt Disney World family vacation

For instance, it’s 1.2 miles from one end of the World Showcase in EPCOT to the other side. Bring comfortable walking shoes and wear them. Make sure that you’ve already broken into these shoes before your vacation. You won’t want to be breaking them in during your vacation.

If you are visiting with young kids, you may find that you’ll need a stroller, even if your kids don’t usually use one. Luckily, rentals are available at the parks if you don’t bring yours along. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to bring these back to your hotel room, so if you need a stroller at the hotel, bring your own.

There are lots of character experiences at the Disney Parks

You can make advance dining reservations for character meals and get a Genie+ for character meet and greets, but you’ll also find characters throughout the parks. Check your Times Guide or the My Disney Experience app each day for specifics. Young kids especially will love getting autographs from the characters.

If there’s a character that you absolutely want to meet, it’s a good idea to use Genie+ or make a character dining reservation at a place where you can see the character. Lines can sometimes be long.

You can’t do it all at Walt Disney World

You can try, but it’s nearly impossible to do everything in one trip, five trips, or even ten trips. Do your research, make your reservations, and then have fun!

I always recommend that you save some time to spend at your Disney hotel and at Disney Springs. You don’t always have to be running around the theme parks to have fun.

If you are traveling with kids who are a bit older, you should include them in any discussions about advance dining reservations and ride plans. It’s a good idea to have buy-in from the whole family when planning a vacation with teens and tweens. That way, no one is disappointed with the plans once you are on property.

Are you looking for more specific tips for planning your vacation? Here’s a collection of all of my Disney tips.

If you are going to Walt Disney World, I recommend the following hotels. Note that I have stayed in some of these resorts as part of press trips, but all opinions are my own. 

You can also find lodging options on this map (affiliate links).

Can I take a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World?

It’s become more difficult to do that. You’ll at least need a park reservation, preferably in advance. While some may be available on the day of your visit, you won’t want to risk it.

Should I stay on Disney property for my first visit?

It’s up to you, but it can be easier to stay on Walt Disney World property.

Should I visit all four Disney parks?

We love all four parks, and recommend visiting them all!

When are the parks the most busy?

Typically, you’ll find that they are the most busy during school vacations and holidays. They can also be busy during special events, like the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.

Cinderella Castle, Tower of Terror, Exterior of Boardwalk at sunset

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