Going to Disney World is a really exciting experience for anyone but especially for kids and families. After all it is the Happiest Place on Earth, right? What could be more thrilling than having fun on rides and attractions plus getting to meet some of your favorite characters?
Through all of the fun and excitement, if it is your first time at Disney it can also be extremely overwhelming because there is so much to do and so much to see throughout four separate parks that sometimes you just don’t know what to do first or where to begin.
Coming from someone that was feeling really overwhelmed before her first trip to Disney as a parent, I totally get what you’re feeling. That’s why I want to share with you a few tips and tricks to make your first experience a little more enjoyable and less overwhelming.
When I was planning for our trip a lot of what I read was overwhelming and missing the basics, because the advice came from experience goers and they just assumed you knew the basics, when in reality I didn’t. I’m hoping this post makes it easier for you to plan your visit to Disney World!
Disclosure: Disney was kind enough to give us 2 free tickets, so we jumped on the opportunity since we had never been with our children and we were going to be in Orlando for a few days. The rest of the tickets were paid by us as well as all the extras we did and bought at the park.
13 Essential Tips for Your First Visit to Disney World
Plan Ahead – seriously!
I cannot stress enough to plan ahead when it comes to your trip to Disney. Buy your tickets as early as you possibly can and be sure to purchase online because tickets tend to be at least $10 cheaper than at the gate.
Plus you cannot wing it at Disney, a lot of the rides have long lines, which are ideal to use your fast pass on. Also, most dinning places require you to make a reservation and if you want to score a meal in a famous place like Cinderella’s castle, you need to book this 6 months in advance.
If this is your first visit and you’re going to stay there for a few days, at the very least book this trip 7 months in advance so you can have an entire month to research before you need to make reservations.
If you’re going for a one day trip, you don’t have to worry too much about making reservations ahead of time. There will always be a place a eat, maybe not your first choice, but still pretty good and you will get on plenty of rides. The stuff that requires the extra research time are all the extra activities and if you want to go on specific rides/adventures.
Skip the Park Hopper Passes
If you want to visit multiple parks, I wouldn’t suggest doing it in one day and avoid the costs of the park hopper pass. Instead of getting a multi-day ticket, do one park per day. There isn’t even enough time to do everything one park has to offer, so a multi-day ticket is just not useful, even if you’re going for just one day.
We had tickets to visit multiple parks in one day and never left Magic Kingdom. It is just so difficult to get a full experience with one park and still try to travel to another park in the same day. One park a day is perfect, and even more so if you’re going with children.
Wear comfortable shoes
I know some people like to dress cute for picture purposes for Disney World but I would highly recommend going for a more comfortable choice because you will be doing a whole lot of walking and waiting in line.
When I say you’ll be doing a whole a lot of walking, I mean it. You spend the entire day either walking or waiting in lines, so comfortable shoes are a must.
For my kids, we brought shoes that would dry fast if they got wet. And it actually rained when we were there so having fast drying shoes was a lifesaver because there’s nothing worse than walking around wet shoes.
Bring a stroller or babycarrier for your children
If you’re going with children, at the very least, bring one umbrella stroller so your child can take a rest while you push the stroller. If you have a younger child that likes to be in a babycarrier, I suggest it you bring it too. My youngest even took naps in the carrier!
Remember that you will be there day the whole day and your kids will get tired so being able to rest is key to keep them from getting overwhelmed! Plus, every ride has a stroller parking section next to it so you will always have your stroller close to you.
We also found the stroller to very useful for carrying our stuff since we had diapers and change of clothes for my kiddos. I packed all their stuff in one bag (we took our Ju-Ju-Be BFF which was perfect for this since it’s waterproof and machine washable). However, I also brought a second smaller bag where I put my valuables (phone, wallet and keys). I carried this small bag everywhere and took it on every ride with me. If you look closely on the photo you can see the bag strap from the small purse.
The reason I did it this way is so we didn’t have to bring a big bag into every ride with us. Some rides don’t even let you bring big bags which means you have to leave them behind and I just don’t feel comfortable leaving my valuables.
By packing this way, we could park our stroller outside the ride and leave it there with the diaper bag. If someone were to steal my bag it would have had stuff we’d miss but not the valuables since those were in my small purse.
If you don’t want to bring a stroller, you can also rent one at the park. More information on that here.
Don’t Waste Your Money on Photopass
Photopass is a service that Disney offers where photographers around the park will take your photo in front of iconic areas around the park (The Castle, the Walt Disney Statue, etc.).
What a lot of people don’t know is that those same photographers will take those photos in front of those same areas for free using your own camera or smart phone. We took our nice camera and took all of the pictures ourselves.
However, if we didn’t have a camera or this was a place where we were only going once or twice in our lives, I would have probably invested in the photopass so we could capture every moment. This is one of those things that is not a must, and where you can save money, but if you can afford it, then why not?
Download the My Disney Experience app
This is a must! For our first visit we were only going one day and I didn’t think I needed the app but I am SO glad we got it!
You can view photos taken by the photopass photographers, book your fast passes (see next point), see maps, book meals and even check ride wait times. We found that checking ride wait times using the app was so useful and since we had little ones with us we just went to the rides with the least amount of wait time.
You can also see the day’s schedule and make sure you don’t miss out on any cool shows. You can even create your own schedule, so the night before I looked up all the activities and added them to “My Plans” section so we knew what was going on throughout the day that we didn’t want to miss.
You can also book meals with characters using the app. We found out we were going to Disney about 2 months in advance and I thought that our chance to book a character meal was gone but since people can book and cancel these characters meals, you can find available spots using the app.
The week of our visit a lot of character meals options showed up in the app and the most amount of options showed up the night before (people have 24 hours to cancel without being charged and that’s why you’ll see a lot of character meals come up during week before your trip).
If you want to book a character meal, make sure you keep checking the app. Keep in mind that if you were hoping to eat in Cinderella’s castle this might not work since that’s a very sought after meal that you need to book 6 months in advance. However, we were able to book a Winnie The Pooh character meal and even had several time slot options!
Book Your Fast Passes Early
Fast Passes are passes that allow you to jump to the front and wait in a much smaller line. Fast Passes are free but you are limited to three a day and you have to plan them ahead of time.
Once you used up your 3 fast passes of the day, you can keep adding more fast pass rides throughout the day, one at a time. I recommend you book your 3 fast pass rides early in the day so that you can use them up and then keep booking more fast pass ride as the day goes by. Since our children didn’t have a ride they just had to do, we used the fast passes this way and were able to skip many lines!
You can book your fast passes as early as a month in advance (or 60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel) and you book them through the My Disney Experience app. You can book the fast pass rides for all members at once or select just a few members. You can even use your fast passes to meet your favorite princesses!
I would recommend booking your fast passes as early as possible for the attractions that you want to ride the most so that you definitely get the opportunity to ride them!
Get Your First Visit Button
Did you know you can get a first visit button for free? Yup! You sure can! I didn’t even know but when we were showing our tickets they asked the girls if this was their first visit and then we all got buttons.
I can’t tell you how excited they were for those buttons. It was the perfect way to start the Disney magic experience!
Make sure you ask for them when you’re showing your tickets.
Water is Free
Do not buy bottles of water at the park, especially if you’re trying to save a money! You can walk up to any food stand and get a cup of water for free, or you can even bring your own water bottle and they will fill it for you as well.
We took these water bottles that have a filter because I’m paranoid about that tap water…and it all worked out great!
Be prepared to buy souvenirs
Your kid just walked into a magic land and everything they see, they want. I don’t think you have to get your child every single thing they want but you should be prepared to buy a thing or two. They’ll want to get stuff from their favorite characters or as a keepsake of their visit to Disney World.
Our kids got several things but our favorite one was the bow and arrow from Brave, which my oldest got to use when she met Merida. To this day, she still talks about her experience and as a mother, every time I think about it it fills my heart with joy.
The princesses actually talk to you
I don’t know why we thought we would come and meet the princess, get a quick photo and go…but Disney princesses actually take their time and chat with your kids. As a parent, I appreciate this so much because it makes the whole experience more memorable.
When we met Merida and she saw my child had a bow and arrow, Merida grabbed the bow and arrow and started showing my child how to use it. I started crying – seeing my child so excited because she met one of her favorite princesses and got to shoot arrow with her is something she will probably never forget…and neither will we.
We ended up visiting several princesses and my oldest chatted with each one anywhere from 5-10 minutes. We used the fast passes for the princesses that had longer lines and just waited in line for most since the wait wasn’t too bad.
Get There Early or Late, but Early is Better
Everyone will be there waiting for the parks to open. It is not enough to get there on time, you will definitely want to get there about half hour early because you will be waiting to get in the park. You can also just come about an hour after they open and not wait long in line.
Keep in mind that if you go when schools are out, the lines might be long so come prepared with a snacks and water if you have little ones with you.
If you’re staying outside of Disney World, you will most likely have to drive to the park and the park is BIG. From the entrance of Disney World to the entrance of Magic Kingdom it took us about 10 minutes. Then you have to wait in line to show your tickets or to buy them, and once you enter, you have to take the monorail or the ferry.
All in all, we were in Magic Kingdom about an hour after we had arrived to Disney World, so keep that in mind when making plans, and especially if you’re booking early fast pass rides.
Magic Bands are not required but they are convenient. You can link your tickets to your magic band, as well as your fast passes, and you can even link a credit card to your band and use it to pay around the park. They have all sorts of colors and designs and they are fairly affordable.
We decided to skip the Magic Bands for our first visit since we were only going one day and we found that we didn’t need them. However, if you’re there for more than one day they are pretty convenient!
One last tip, don’t forget to check the schedule for the fireworks the week before your trip. We were lucky enough to see 2 firework shows, one right after the other and right in front of the Disney castle. They were having a Pandora special and they also did their regular fireworks so if you’re lucky you’ll get to see fireworks more than once!
Disney World can be extremely overwhelming if you’ve never been there but with a little research you plan the perfect family vacation.
Above all don’t stress about your visit, relax and take it all in and most of all enjoy your stay with your friends and family! No matter what, even if things don’t go as planned, it will still be an amazing experience for your children so enjoy the magic!