Planning a Disney vacation for the first time, are we? Well, then get ready for the magic, but also the overwhelming excitement of a long to-do list!
The Walt Disney World Resort is a colossal 25,000-acre wonderland with four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), mini golf courses, top-notch resorts, and shops and more at Disney Springs. It’s where cinematic worlds and beloved characters come alive, enchanting all ages.
To truly soak it all in, you’ve got to be ready. How to prepare for Disney World? Where do you start in the planning? What do you need to boo first? How do you even get there? And where’s the best food?
No worries, we’ve got all the answers right here. This ultimate Disney World for Beginners guide spills all the key info, handy tips, and those little extras that make your trip unforgettable. For more indepth information on key points, do check out the Disney category.
This article is aimed to gently introduce to Disney World so you can begin to plan your visit with the basics without feeling overwhelmed. So let’s dive in!
Disney World For Beginners: Planning Beforehand
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When it comes to first time Disney World visits, it’s crucial to plan in advance for tickets, passes, and accommodations to avoid any hassles. You may be restricted with when to visit Disney World – but if you have some flexibility, these tips will help:
- Opt for less crowded times such as post-winter January or September, although keep in mind the Florida heat in mid-September.
- Avoid public holidays e.g. Presidents Day and cheerleading group trips.
- Weekdays are generally less busy than weekends, offering a more relaxed experience. While you can purchase tickets at the park gates, it’s recommended to secure them online to prevent last-minute confusion and delays.
- The best days to visit tend to be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
For a 4 to 5 day visit, budget around $5000 for internal USA flights, park entries, accommodations, meals, and souvenirs for a family of 4. However, this is a rough estimate – depending on where you stay, how expensive flights are etc. Remember, onsite guests have free parking at the Disney hotels and the parks, but often pay more for the convenience of staying at a Disney Hotel. Budget conscious guests may prefer an offsite hotel but would have to pay for parking if driving to the parks. Parking rates as of October 2023 are :
- Standard parking: car or motorcycle – $30 per day
- Preferred parking: car or motorcycle – $45, $50 or $55 per day*
- Oversized Vehicle Parking: Shuttle, Limo, Camper Trailer, RV, Bus or Tractor Trailer – $35 per day
How many days do you need at Disney World?
So, how long should your first Disney World adventure be? Well, it really depends on your schedule and budget. With so much stuff to see and do in the parks and resorts, you’ll have a blast every day of your first trip to Disney World.
For a relaxed and enjoyable visit, we suggest around 6 days in total, including your arrival and departure days. Keep those two days free from the parks, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of fun stuff to check out (we’ll spill the beans in a bit). We advise this as if there are any flight delays, you will not stress about the potential of missing a day at the park.
Split the remaining 4 days among the 4 parks, and don’t forget to include the water park with your Animal Kingdom day. This way, you’ll get to soak up all the must-see moments without feeling rushed.
If time is tight, the Park Hopper Pass is your superhero. It lets you jump between different parks in a single day, making it super flexible. Genie Plus – we will come on to that later – also has a park hopper option too.
If you have a little more time, Magic Kingdom is better over two days as is Hollywood Studios. Those with younger kids not really interested in food but love Frozen and Ratatouille- could do EPCOT in a day and Animal Kingdom in a half day. There is of course SO much more to do – but this timing would enable you to see the key parts.
Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Cheat Sheet
Timings, Genie +, Lightning Lane, and More
Let’s break down Disney’s hours. Every park has its schedule, which can change throughout the week.
For the most accurate times, check the official Disney World website or the MyDisneyExperience app. Disney World first-timers, remember that these hours affect both Early Park Admission and Park Hopper times, so double-check before you go.
Now, the MyDisneyExperience app is more than a map – it’s like having a personal guide, one of the best guides to Disney World there is! Use Disney Genie for a free trip plan and to check out ride times before you go – then you can see what is most popular and plan accordingly.
Tell Genie your preferences, and it creates a day plan with top attractions and short waits. It’s your key to Disney World’s best rides. Plus, it’s a multitool – check waits, book dining, set show reminders, even order food. It keeps you updated with real-time info, detours, and more.
It’s time to talk about queues – they’re part of the Disney experience, but they can get quite long. That’s where Disney Genie+ swoops in to save the day.
Disney Genie Plus (is different to Disney Genie which is free) For a fee, this Genie Plus skip-the-line service lets you snag time slots, essentially placing you in a virtual queue. It covers nearly 50 rides across the parks, and you can currently only purchase it on the day of your visit from midnight, online from the Disney World Genie app.
Oh, and don’t miss the Lightning Lane selections – available at some rides. You can nab one reservation at a time, unless the wait hits 2 hours, then you’re cleared for another. If you’ve got Genie+, you’re in for Lightning Lane treats at select parks, and it’ll set you back at least $15+ per person. The fee varies on the day according to how busy the park is – and has gone up to $29 per person.
And last but not least, Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) reservations! You don’t need Genie+ for these. You can get purchase up to two reservations a day, one at a time. Disney Resort Hotel guests can secure these at 7 a.m., while others can start their booking spree after the park opens. See the chart above to explain all the difference between Genie+, Lightning Lanes and Individual Lightning Lanes.
Packing For Your First Trip to Disney
To ensure your first time at Disney World is a breeze, you’ve got to ace packing! Keep it light and smart for the whole family.
Pack clothes suitable for the season – think easy-breezy for summer, layered for winter, and rain gear, ponchos are a must) just in case. Comfortable shoes are a must, and don’t skimp on skincare basics.
Remember, Florida weather can be a challenge, so pack sunscreen, shades, and hats for everyone. Hydration is key, so toss in insulated water bottles.
Don’t forget some fun extras like power banks and cameras if you’re into that. And for the ultimate Disney touch, bring along Mickey ears, pins, bags, and princess gear.
These fun props add a touch of magic to your adventure!
Choosing Your Chambers
Walt Disney World Resort is home to a range of luxury hotels and resorts, each brimming with Disney charm and top-notch amenities. While you have the option to stay off-site, there are some added benefits to booking a stay at these magical resorts.
As a Disney Resort Guest, you’ll enjoy exclusive access to the parks before and after regular hours. This means fewer crowds and more time to enjoy select attractions, shops, and dining spots.
Getting around is a snap for resort guests too. Complimentary transportation to and from the parks is a fantastic perk, including buses, boats, and the iconic monorail.
Don’t miss the Disney Skyliner – a gondala that glides you through the sky, connecting parks and resorts for a unique ride!
And here’s the icing on the cake – the Disney experience is woven into every corner. From themed rooms and dining areas to pools and pathways, the magic is all around you.
So, if you’re up for a truly enchanting stay and the budget allows, these resort accommodations are a perfect fit for Walt Disney World beginners. Alternatively, these hotels are all near Disney World and have shuttles.
If you’re flying down to the city for your first time at Disney World, chances are you’ll be landing at the Orlando International Airport (MCO).
From here, the most popular options for small families or groups of Disney World first-timers are Uber or Lyft rideshares. This will allow you and your little ones to skip the hassle of a busy public bus, which would involve multiple tickets, long walks, and minimal storage space.
Surge pricing may occur with cab services, but it ensures the convenience of being dropped right at the doorstep of the parks.
Private ride facilities are also available at the airport, and you can request additional features such as booster seats for your child.
On a budget during your first time at Disney World? Shuttle buses by popular services such as Mears Connect are readily available at the airport and are much more affordable than Uber or cab services.
Another tip for your ultimate Disney guide is to try rental car options if you are traveling with a bigger family or group and require your own vehicle for the trip. Parking is also available at Disney World, for Park visitors and those staying at one of the resorts within the park premises.
Inside Disney World And Its Popular Attractions
The best Disney World guides always recommend giving yourself a breather on your arrival day, especially if you’re dealing with flight delays or jet lag. Take that time to recharge – explore your hotel’s amenities, enjoy a swim, or venture out to nearby eateries.
But if you’re raring to dive into vacation mode, Disney Springs is a fantastic option for your day one. It’s a hub of unique shopping, live entertainment, and delightful dining experiences that cater to all palates.
Disney Springs is also a useful pitstop if you have any ticket or pass issues as there is Guest Service located there. You can also pick up your First Visit Button/Badge there as a free souvenir.
For a captivating start, don’t miss the chance to soar on the Aerophile – the world’s largest hand-painted helium balloon. It’s an enchanting way to ease into the Disney World magic, offering panoramic city views.
Pro tip: Aim for sundown – It makes a surreal introduction to the magic of Disney World for beginners due to the views being truly breathtaking.
Kids can hop on the Train Express for a tour or enjoy a spin on the Marketplace Carousel to break up the walking. When it’s time to unwind, House of Blues awaits with its relaxing atmosphere and diverse music performances.
Foodies, rejoice! Disney Food Trucks offer street-style bites, while the waterfront Boathouse is perfect for a more refined dining experience. Dinosaur fans will love T-Rex and animal fans will enjoy the Rain Forest Cafe.
For your first time at Disney World, you must stop by Amorette’s Patisserie – indulge yourself, and let your little ones join the Cake Decorating Experience.
Explore unique finds at quirky stores like Once Upon a Toy and Lefty’s, offering specialized merchandise for left-handed individuals. Don’t forget to satisfy the comic book and superhero enthusiasts in your group at the Star Wars Galactic Outpost and Super Hero Headquarters. Or make your own Lego figure at the incredible Lego Store.
Lastly, always check online calendars for theme park availability. Disney Springs’ website is a great resource for event updates, from live music and dance performances to culinary experiences and jewelry exhibitions.
Magic Kingdom Park
This park is a favorite for both newcomers and seasoned visitors alike, especially families with little ones who are sure to be enchanted by its magic and older kids and adults with nostalgia of days gone by.
Things to do and see
Prepare to be amazed by character parades, live shows, and larger-than-life Disney characters that will captivate your kids. Look out for Mickey and his pals in the Festival of Fantasy Parade, a highlight of Magic Kingdom that takes place twice a day, around noon and 3 p.m. Check out parade timings on the app, so you don’t mis seeing all your favorite characters at once!
Unmissable Rides and Attractions
Magic Kingdom offers rides tailored to all age groups. Hop on The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for thrilling family adventures. For a touch of spookiness suitable for all ages, check out the Haunted Mansion ride.
Make sure not to skip the indoor Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the iconic It’s a Small World ride, and the exciting Space Mountain dark ride. The Dumbo queue even has an indoor soft play area for little ones to climb and burn some energy off.
To avoid long lines, plan your visit for early morning or later in the day. With kids, you may prefer and early start, then a nap at the hotel for a few hours and then come back for the fireworks.
If you’re open to spending a bit more, consider using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. Just remember to check height and rider requirements for younger members of your group.
Where to Dine?
Dining, unless Quick Service meals, needs to be pre-booked and can be 60 days in advance. Popular Table Services places such as Cinderella’s Royal Table often book out at this time. BUT don’t despair if you can’t get the day you want.
The Disney app, does allow you to check availability and people do cancel. This restaurant requires full payment at front but there is a 24-hour cancellation policy. If you do not cancel before then, you will still be charged the full price for the meal. So do check for cancellations the day before! Alternatively try, Be Our Guest for Dinner where the Beast can be seen.
If you’re sticking around for dinner, stay to watch the night sky illuminate with fireworks and the castle transform into a stage for the Happily Ever After show. This captivating attraction showcases your beloved characters and is best viewed from a distance, providing a panoramic view of the castle and the radiant sky.
On the flip side, if you’re seeking quick-service, grab-and-go options, be sure to visit Casey’s Corner for classic American fare and Cheshire Cafe for satisfying your sweet tooth. If you need to cool down, swing by the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor or Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies for a refreshing treat!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Unveil the magic behind the scenes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where your favorite movies come to life and immerse you in the action! This park is a treasure trove of iconic Disney attractions, with the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge a huge hit – so a little pre-planning goes a long way in maximizing your ride time and minimizing waits.
Arrive early, around 8:30 – 9:00 a.m., to make the most of the day and hit popular rides right away.
Unmissable Rides and Attractions
Step into the galactic adventure of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Craft your own lightsabers, embark on bounty hunts, and navigate a life-size Millennium Falcon and then head to RISE of the Resistance and help the Force escape.
Keep an eye out for Sith Lords, Jedi Masters, and beloved droids – seeing them up close is a must!
Don’t miss the vibrant Toy Story Land, where the Slinky Dog Dash ride twists and turns in exhilarating fashion. If your little ones measure 38 inches (97 cm) or taller, they’re ready to ride!
The Hollywood Tower Hotel might beckon, but its spine-tingling elevator drops are not for the faint-hearted.
For more lighthearted attractions, board Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway or Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. No height restrictions here, just family-friendly fun!
Live-action shows bring Disney classics to life with music, effects, and enchantment. Catch Belle and the Beast on stage or join a sing-along celebration with Elsa and Frozen’s characters.
Discover the secrets of action sequences at Indiana Jones: Epic Stunt Spectacular or have a blast with Andy’s toys in his backyard – the options for excitement are endless.
Where to Dine?
Recharge after thrilling rides at The Hollywood Brown Derby on Hollywood Boulevard. The ambiance transports you to the Golden Age of cinema while you savor all-American delights like expertly cooked meats and indulgent cakes, paired with their unique cocktails.
For a whimsical vibe perfect for the Disney World first-timers who are young at heart, Woody’s Lunch Box offers classic American fare. Dig into themed dishes and delightful drinks that kids will love.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Welcome to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a realm where nature and imagination come alive in the most magical way! Head to the quieter entrance through Rain Forest Cafe entrance and beat the crowds.
Unmissable Rides and Attractions
Start with a guided safari through Africa and Asia, spotting real tigers, rhinos, elephants, and more than 50+ other species. And if you want to know how these animals are cared for, swing by the Conservation Station to learn the secrets behind the scenes.
Next, journey to Pandora, inspired by Avatar, and its iconic Tree of Life. Venture inside the tree for a mesmerizing 3D journey through the habitats of your favorite bugs from A Bug’s Life. Don’t miss the Lion King Show!
Hop aboard a boat and glide through the glowing Na’vi River next and meet your favorite Avatar characters in a bioluminescent wonderland. It’s a magical dark ride that the whole family will love, making it a must on any beginner’s guide to Disney World.
For an exhilarating adventure, take flight atop a mountain banshee on the Avatar Flight of Passage. Just keep in mind that riders must be at least 44 inches tall to join in the soaring experience.
For a more earthly adventure, head to Expedition Everest for a rocky roller-coaster ride as you escape the Yeti. Take a break from all the flying and traveling to explore the cultural and celebratory beats of the Congo, showcased by native performers.
Where to Dine
Satisfy your cravings with international flavors and RDA mess hall fare in Pandora or indulge in familiar Earthly dishes. Grab a pick-me-up at the on-site Starbucks or Creature Comforts, or enjoy quick bites like pulled pork jelly doughnut sandwiches at Eight Spoon Café. For a leisurely meal, immerse yourself in pan-Asian cuisine at Yak & Yeti Restaurant (A table service restaurant), a charming mountain cottage setting perfect for lunch or dinner.
EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, and displays a culmination of the world’s greatest developments, with a peek into an exciting future. The theme parks house 11 pavilions modeled after various nations like Japan, Mexico, Italy, and more, filled with art, entertainment, and delicious bites to eat.
Promising immersive fun for the whole family, EPCOT deserves a whole day on your Disney World beginners guide and itinerary.
Unmissable Rides and Attractions
Buckle up for Spaceship Earth – a time-traveling escapade that whisks you from ancient wonders to cutting-edge achievements. Create your own destiny and watch it unfold before your eyes.
Join the Guardians of the Galaxy for an interstellar roller coaster thrill or design your own virtual ride for a high-speed spin! Ready for an out-of-this-world experience? Hop on the NASA-style shuttle that takes you on a mind-boggling trip to Mars.
Soar like a bird over famous landmarks or dive into a 4D culinary adventure with Remy from Ratatouille. And don’t miss the laughs with Crush, the cool turtle from Finding Nemo, as he answers your questions in his own hilarious style.
Wrap up your day with EPCOT Forever – an electrifying musical spectacle of fireworks dancing above the iconic Spaceship Earth.
Where to Dine
EPCOT’s dining scene is a global feast, bringing the flavors of the world to your plate.
Savor delectable French, Asian, and Italian fusion at Connections Eatery. Elevate your dining experience to the stratosphere at Space 220, where you’ll dine with jaw-dropping views of Earth.
For seafood aficionados, Coral Reef Restaurant is a must, serving up the freshest catches alongside mouthwatering sides, alternatively Akerhaus to join Disney Princesses for Storybook Dining inside a medieval castle with soaring archways and cathedral ceilings.
Beat the heat and have a blast at Disney World’s awesome water parks! These parks take turns being open, so before you grab your tickets, make sure to check which one’s splashing open during your trip.
Imagine a tropical island after a wild typhoon—that’s Typhoon Lagoon! This place is all about exciting details. Dive into the Surf Pool, where you’ll face gigantic waves.
There’s no need to be super tall, but little kids should have a watchful grown-up nearby for wave adventures.
Grown-ups and big kids, get set for a wild ride on Crush ‘n’ Gusher! It’s like a roller coaster on water, and you’re in for twists and turns.
Tiny tots don’t have to feel left out because Ketchakiddee Creek is sure to be their play paradise. It has everything from slides and water guns to showers to keep them cool on hot days.
And when the tummy rumbles strike, you’ll find yummy snacks, cool drinks, and frosty treats to power you up for more water-time excitement!
Ever seen a ski resort transform into a summer paradise? That’s the magic of Blizzard Beach!
It’s as if winter and summer decided to have a wild party. If you’re all about thrills, make a beeline for Mount Gushmore.
The big star here is the Summit Plummet—a crazy tall slide that’s a heart-pounding, scream-inducing plunge! To take on this epic slide, you’ve got to measure up to at least 48 inches and be ready for a rush like no other.
Bond with family as you navigate intertwined rapid waterslides, or engage in friendly rivalry at the Toboggan Racers, an 8-lane aquatic track that culminates in a refreshing splash. Even the littlest members of your group can partake in the excitement at Tike’s Peak, a polar-themed haven adorned with junior slides and entertaining squirt guns.
And don’t worry about getting hungry. Blizzard Beach has cool places to grab a bite—think hot dogs, yummy burgers, and even cool cocktails!
Remember to plan which park is open when, and get ready to dive into non-stop fun at these Disney water wonderlands!
Disney World For Beginners FAQs
- Does Disney do anything on your first visit?
Absolutely! If it’s your first trip to Disney World, they’ll give you a “First Time” badge.
This nifty badge lets Disney Cast members know that you’re new to this enchanting realm, and they’ll be ready to provide you with assistance at every magical turn.
- What is the best age to first take a child to Disney World?
Disney World is a blast for kids of all ages, even the tiny tots. So, if it’s your first to Disney World and you’re bringing a baby, get ready for some serious fun.
Just picture the excitement in your little one’s eyes as they see the sparkling lights, meet the characters, and try out the cool rides. It’s sure to be a time filled with wonderful memories!
- Is Disney Springs free?
Certainly! You can enjoy Disney Springs without needing to buy any tickets or passes.
While the stores and shops might have their own charges for purchases, you’re welcome to explore and soak up the lively atmosphere without any cost.
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