Planning your first time at Disney World is exciting but it can feel overwhelming. These are the best and most helpful Disney World tips for first timers planning their Walt Disney World resort vacation.
This post may contain affiliate links.
There are a lot of tips for first timers visiting Disney World that it can feel like a lot! As a family who has visited many times, I have realized you only need to know a few basic things to have an amazing Disney World vacation.
We first visited Disney World when my kids were 5, 2, and 10 months. It was a busy trip and I left wishing I knew some of the basic planning tips before we went.
Since that first trip we have visited a few times a year and have learned what works and doesn’t work for us. We have figured out how to have the best family trip to Disney World and we are sharing our tips.
Check out our partners for the best deals on theme park tickets, hotels, and attractions to save money on your trip! Theme park tickets, resorts, and car rentals check out Undercover Tourist .
Basics for Your First Time to Disney World
Walt Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida. There are 4 Disney theme parks, 2 water parks, a dining district and over 25 Disney resorts.
The four theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. The two water parks are Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. The dining and shopping district is called Disney Springs.
These are three important things to know for your first visit to Walt Disney World.
- Purchase tickets and make park reservations before you arrive.
- Decide if you are staying on-site or off-site.
- Download and become familiar with the My Disney Experience App
Book Your Tickets and Park Reservations
All guests need to book a park ticket and make park reservations. If you are visiting multiple parks a reservation needs to be made for each date you plan to go to the park. (There are rumors that reservations may go away in 2023. I will update this post as needed)
Always purchase your Disney tickets before you arrive at the Disney Resort. You do not want to waste any time sitting in the ticket line when you could be entering the park.
Decide Where You are Staying
Decide if you want to stay on-site or off-site. There are pros and cons to staying on-site at Disney World. One of the pros is the access to free transportation from the resorts to the parks.
This includes bus transportation, boat transportation, monorail transportation, and the Disney Skyliner. Deluxe resorts also include early theme park entry.
We haven’t stayed at all the Disney Resorts but here are a few of the reviews from the ones we have stayed at.
- Disney Riviera Resort Review
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort Review for Families
- Disney Art of Animation Review and Family Suite Room Tour
If you are looking for an off-site location check out the houses at Encore.
Download the My Disney Experience App
The My Disney Experience App has everything you need to help plan your visit. You can book dining, the dining plan is not back yet. Guests can see wait times and make Genie+ reservation.
Disney World has introduced Disney Genie to the My Disney Experience App. Disney Genie is free and shares an personalized itinerary for guests to help maximize their day. Honestly I don’t know anyone who finds this useful.
If you are visiting for the first time and want to play around with it on the app before you leave for your vacation, it will help you familiarize yourself with the most popular rides but most people do not find it useful to use at the theme park.
Disney Genie+, not to be confused with Disney Genie, is a paid service that allows guests to reserve ride times for certain attractions. Genie+ will help guests skip the long lines and enter through the lightning lane.
Using Genie+ is a good idea when you are visiting on high crowd days. Check this crowd calendar for best time and worst time to visit.
Genie+ is an additional cost and starts around $15.00 a day per person. This allows you to reserve times for attractions that use the Lightning Lane. The list of rides can be found here.
The most popular rides offer individual ride reservations. This is in addition to Genie+. Ride prices range from $9.00 to $17.00 for individual attractions.
Guests do not have to use Genie+ and can use the regular line to ride. This may result in longer wait times. This is also a good time to use the single rider line if it works for your family.
Disney also uses a virtual line for some of its most popular lines. Currently Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot uses virtual lines or guests can purchase an individual lightning lane. This can be booked on the app. Learn more here.
Planning Your First Disney World Vacation
Planning a Disney World vacation is like planning a visit to a city, it is that big. It helps to know what to expect at Disney World, do your research and plan before you arrive.
The more planning you do before you leave for your vacation, the easier it will be.
Read this article, Disney World 7 Day Itinerary Planning Guide, it goes into all the details for planning tips.
Disney Trip Planning Questions
- What parks do you want to visit?
- Decide how long you want to visit. How many days will you go to the parks? Rest Days? Disney Springs?
- Will you stay on-site or off-site for your visit? Read this to learn more about staying on-site at Disney World.
- What rides, attractions, and shows do you want to see? Check out my Disney World articles to start research.
- Book Dining reservations. This can be made up to 60 days in advance.
- Will you want to use Genie+ during your visit? (Genie+ is the ride reservation system that has replaced FastPass)
It may seem like a lot of planning ahead of time, and it is! Doing this will help you see and do everything you want to experience during your visit.
If you prefer to visit without planning ahead you can, but you will wait in longer lines and may miss some attractions. This is not always a bad thing, we have missed attractions only to find something different and new.
The biggest tip for visiting Disney World is to plan the trip for you and your family. Don’t worry about what others have done on their trips if it doesn’t work for you.
6 Disney World Tips for First Timers
1. Know your Travelers
Are you traveling with kids 5 and under? They may need a mid day nap and will probably do more character meet and greets.
Are you visiting Disney with teens? Thrill rides may be their first choice for rides.
Grandparents? Understand what types of ride restrictions they may have. During the planning process it is a good idea to talk to everyone and find out their expectations.
Some people in your group may want to sleep in while others want to be up before the sun. If you know what to expect from each other you will cut out a lot of confusion at the parks
If you are traveling with a large group expect that you may not be together all the time. Allow everyone an opportunity to do their own thing, and then meet for a meal, a show/parade, or at the pool.
When planning with a large group take time to research the best resorts for larger families. Walt Disney World offers many on-site options for groups of 5 or more and they are in different price ranges as well.
2. Plan a Non-Park Day to Rest
When planning your Disney World vacation you often spend a lot of time finding the perfect resort for your family. You want to enjoy the resort as well as the parks and it is important to plan a rest day.
On our first trip to Walt Disney World we made the mistake of not planning a rest day. We spent five straight days at the park.
The kids were all under 5 years old. We went to bed early and got up early so it worked. On our last visit we planned a day to sleep in a little and take a slower pace.
It was nice to relax and enjoy the resort. This “day off” gives you an opportunity to explore the resort. Check out the food options, pools, and playgrounds.
Need ideas for what to do on your day off? Check out: How to Enjoy Walt Disney World on a Non-Park Day.
We used our day off to plan a character meal at the Polynesian Resort. Our ‘Ohana breakfast was awesome.
I love exploring the hotels too. We were able to check out the Polynesian, enjoy a great brunch and be back for an afternoon at the pool.
Most resorts also offer pool side activities. During our stay at Caribbean Beach Resort we participated in the pool side activities led by cast members.
The kids played a trivia game and won!! They also made Tie-Dye shirts($15 each at the time). These made a perfect and affordable souvenir.
If you are staying at a Disney Skyliner Resort you can resort hop and take the skyliner to check out new resorts.
Related Posts: Disney Value Resorts Overview and Disney Moderate Resorts Overview
3. Check Ride Requirements & Refurbishments Before You Leave Home
Always check the Walt Disney World website before arriving. You don’t want to promise a ride to your child to arrive and find it closed for Refurbishments or that your child is not tall enough.
On our last visit we changed the dates of our vacation, before we booked, because Big Thunder Mountain was closing for refurbishments.
All the kids wanted to ride it and we were looking forward to it. Sometimes it is not possible to do this but at least you can prepare your kids for attractions that may be closed.
Of course, you can’t always change your dates but at least everyone will be prepared. Disney can change these at any time.
During one of our visits the Jungle Cruise was closed for one day-the one day we were at Magic Kingdom. This announcement came about a month before our trip.
At that point we had to just accept that we would miss it and add it to the list for next visit. Undercover Tourist offers an updated list of ride refurbishments that I like to reference when planning our visits.
4. Bring Your Own Snacks & Water
If you are on a budget for Disney you can bring your own snacks and water into the park. Disney does have amazing snacks but you can balance purchased snacks with snacks you bring to ease the cost.
We always pack a few refillable water bottles(click here for our favorites) and snacks in a backpack. Our family likes to try all the food options at the park, but we always have granola bars, goldfish, pretzels, etc. on hand for when someone starts to get hungry and it is not meal time.
Florida gets hot and it is very important to stay well hydrated. Any counter service restaurant will give you a glass of water and there are water fountains around the park to refill your water bottles.
When you have little ones bring their cups from home and refill through out the park.
5. Have a Plan…but be Flexible
Can you go to Walt Disney World without a plan and have a great time? Of course! Should you? Not for your first visit to Disney World.
A Disney World vacation is a big expense. You don’t want to get home and realize there is a Frozen Attraction in Epcot and you missed it because you did not do your research and have a plan.
I spend a lot of time planning and sometimes we stick to it and sometimes we don’t, but it’s always a guide if we are not sure what to do next. I like the planning part and it is part of the excitement of vacation.
When we walk in the parks we usually stick to the plan, but I also like the surprises and magic that a Disney vacation has to offer.
At Magic Kingdom we missed Celebrate the Magic(Projections on Cinderella’s Castle) before the fireworks because we stopped at the Incredibles Dance Party. The kids got to dance with Mr. & Mrs. Incredible and Frozone from the Incredibles movie.
I couldn’t have planned it better!! I was bummed that we missed the show but we had so much fun dancing it didn’t really matter.
6. Do your Homework
Plan out a basic itinerary well in advance of your arrival that involves what day you are going to each park and a few of your must-do rides and attractions.
Check the park hours, show times and parade times for that day and begin planning your dining reservations. These can be booked 60 days in advance and some you absolutely have to book early! (Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Castle)
Check to see if there is a special event like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This will impact the park hours and you will have to leave early if you don’t have a ticket to the event.
You should book early but don’t worry if you can’t. I changed our reservations a lot as we got closer to our date. If something is not available keep trying. Try different times or lunch instead of dinner.
Bonus: My BEST Disney World Vacation Tip
If you can…arrive early!! This is my biggest tip!! You will get more done in the park in the first few hours when the crowds are low. We once went on 7 rides before 11:00am on a visit to Magic Kingdom.
If you want to sleep in on vacation you can try to take advantage of evening crowds, but arriving early is the best way to get on a lot of attractions in a short time.
On our last visit to Magic Kingdom we arrived at 7:45 for “rope drop” (Rope drop is when they literally drop the ropes to allow guest into the park.) We were able to get a most of the Fantasyland attractions done.
We have done rope drop at all of the parks and it has always helped us get on our must-do attractions. Our typical day starts early at the park with attractions followed by lunch.
Then we head back to the resort for an afternoon break. After our break we will mobile order dinner from our room and head back to the parks for dinner and evening hours.
Your first time Disney World vacation will be full of fun surprises. Follow these Disney World vacation tips and you will be well on your way to an amazing and magical day at Walt Disney World.